Authorís Note: This fanfic was written as a RPG Ė role playing game between co-authors Hope1iz and BlackFox12 (aka Cat). It takes place after the season one finale, and has SPOILERS for the entire season. It's the first chaper in the series 'Redeeming Grant'
Summary: Coulson talks to Ward.
Disclaimer: We donít own any of these characers, and weíre not making any money from this story.
Warning: Dubiously consensual spanking of an adult by his former supervisor. Mentions of non consensual beatings.
Co-authorís website: You can read more stories by BlackFox12 on her fanfiction.net page.
BEGINNING OF THE END REVISITED
It was somewhat difficult to hide his impatience, but Phil thought he probably managed it. He still wasn't sure he really wanted to talk to Ward, but it made more sense for him to try and get any information out of the other man. The others, in particular May, had grown close to Ward, but Phil didn't want to put any of them in the position of having to do this. They were still his team and he felt protective over them.
Of course, somewhere much further down, there was a part of Phil that wondered if he could have read Ward so wrong. In a place where he didn't allow himself to look too closely, he'd become fond of the former agent... and he wanted there to be more to it than the facts he knew already.
But that wasn't something he could ask about as a priority. He needed information, especially considering how many other teams could have been compromised. Phil was surprised that Tony Stark had kept his promise to use his contacts to get him into the prison to see Ward alone. It wasn't that he thought Stark couldn't do it... more that he didn't think he would follow through; though Stark had seemed happy to see him when they'd run into each other.
Phil glanced up as the door to the interrogation room was opened.
When the guard had come to collect him, telling him he had a visitor, it was all Ward could do not to roll his eyes.
A visitor? Yeah, right. He'd be left in an interrogation room, where the guards would conveniently forget to turn on any monitoring equipment and leave him with whoever had come to see him and he'd be spending another two or three weeks getting over bruises that no one could see, but made it very difficult to move and in some cases breathe. He never said anything to the inspectors who came by periodically to check on his condition. They really didn't care- even if they made a good show of pretending they did and might actually do something for him if they knew what was going on. And it wasn't like he hadn't learned how to handle a bit of pain. Garrett had made certain of that. So he wouldn't say anything to the inspectors, even if they might help. It wasn't like he didn't deserve what he was getting anyway.
He'd been such a tool. Garrett had... well, he had followed Garrett without too much question. He owed the man his life, after all. If it hadn't been for Garrett, he would have remained in that prison for who knows how long, alone and a future going nowhere. And while Garrett's methods had really been cruel, it wasn't like Grant expected anything better than cruelty. Garrett had rescued him and given him a direction and that was what he had needed. He had owed the man.
He was obligated to help him get the cure he needed and if it meant betraying people who thought he was their friend... well, he really hadn't expected the act of betrayal to hurt him just as much as it had hurt them. He hadn't expected to feel anything for anyone else. Caring about anything or anyone was a weakness. Garrett had drilled that into him from the beginning, hadn't he? Attachments were a weakness...the fact that he had felt physically ill after he'd killed Fitz and Simmons was proof that Garrett had been right.
Of course it didn't help that Garrett had been certifiably insane by the time everything hit the fan; they'd been captured and Garrett had been killed. Maybe his mentor had not been crazy in the same way as the people who followed HYDRA because they genuinely believed in their Nazi ideals, but he had been certifiable all the same. Garrett hadn't been all that open with what the plan was supposed to be for after he'd been healed either. Had the man really intended to stick with the Nazi loons? Neither one of them had believed in HYDRA ideals- or at least Ward hadn't. Right now, he really couldn't be sure what Garrett had planned- not that it mattered. The man was gone. Ward was alone to think about what he had done, why he had done it, and to realize how truly screwed he was.
And they were almost to the interrogation room. Time to stop reflecting and focus on what was coming. They'd have questions, of course. They always did. One of these days, they would realize he wasn't giving answers and they'd either leave him to rot in his cell in peace, or they'd take it one step too far and put him out of his misery. Grant stiffened his spine and put a neutral, almost cocky look on his face before stepping through the door... and promptly stumbling as he realized just who was sitting at the table and waiting for him.
"Coulson..." he choked out, before clamping his mouth shut and trying to act like the other man's presence didn't mean anything to him at all.
There was a moment or two when Coulson thought perhaps he wouldn't be left alone with Ward, but after a final glance at him, the guard who'd followed Ward into the interrogation room left, closing the door - and although Coulson didn't hear anything, he assumed they'd been locked in the room.
Now that he was alone with Ward, Coulson allowed himself to look over the other man - and the first thing he saw was that he didn't look good. Or maybe it was because Coulson knew how SHIELD agents operated... and cared enough to look below the surface.
And notice the look on Ward's face before the other man had closed down.
"We need to talk," Coulson said, quietly and perhaps unnecessarily, since the very fact they were here indicated that they were going to talk.
"You aren't the first to say that. Everyone else has been disappointed." Ward would have been proud of the careless way he tossed out his retort if it hadn't been so difficult for him to say anything at all. He wasn't sure what information Coulson wanted from him, but he was fairly certain that if he had any of the information Coulson needed- it wouldn't be information he wanted to dredge up and put out in the open. It was easy to deny other agencies and agents the answers they sought.
Coulson knew him better than they did, even if his knowledge wasn't as accurate as he had originally believed...the best lies always contained an element of truth after all. Grant hadn't been able to completely hide himself in his guise, and he suspected Coulson would be able to figure out which parts were true fairly quickly. He wasn't certain he'd be able to keep his secrets if the other man actively sought them out. He swallowed and tried to keep his nervousness at bay, hoping that Coulson wouldn't be able to pick up on it- not confident that he'd hidden it well enough.
He slouched down into the chair that had been left for him and smirked in an attempt to regain control over himself. "So...I'm here now. Talk."
Again, Coulson took his time. He was good at interrogating people; he knew how long to leave between questions and when to push and when to pull back. Neither had he ever felt the need to resort to violence. He kept eye contact with Ward, waiting just long enough to make the other man uncomfortable, before speaking quietly. "That's quite an act you've got there."
Grant barely refrained from wincing, managing to turn it into narrowed eyes at the last moment. He didn't respond to the comment directly, choosing instead to attempt to direct Coulson's attention toward his act- and away from anything deeper.
To that end, he leaned forward slightly and hunched over, pasting a woebegone and scared look onto his face.
"I'm sorry...am I not being remorseful enough?" He straightened and changed to a relieved grin. "Or maybe I need to act grateful you came to see me, so I can show how remorseful and sorry I am for being such a bad boy.... Should I be begging for forgiveness and explaining how I didn't have a choice and please help me?" Grant widened his eyes in a helpless look.
Coulson waited, apparently patiently, until Ward had finished speaking. "Are you done?" he asked calmly.
Not giving Ward a chance to reply, Coulson continued speaking. "We've spent a lot of time together. I know not everything was an act... a game... to you. I'm here because I need to know how far it goes."
Coulson waited long enough for that to sink in. "There might be many agents like May, but there are just as many who are like Fitz and Simmonds... Skye. I know you - and I know you wouldn't want harm to come to any innocents."
Ward had been prepared to scoff and scorn Coulson's words about knowing not everything was an act...until he mentioned Fitz, Simmons and Skye. The rush of nausea that suddenly filled him caught him by surprise and he had to swallow hard to keep the bile down. He clenched his hands hard and pressed his mouth together in a thin, hard line and held his breath until the lack of air caused a slight dizziness and he had to draw in a ragged breath or pass out.
He attempted to scoff anyway, but his voice sounded weak and pathetic, even to his own ears, as he spoke. "Didn't you know? I was sure you knew after the way you threatened to make me pay for the rest of my life.... I was the one who killed Fitz and Simmons. I locked them in that container and pulled the lever that sent them plummeting into the ocean, where no one would ever be able to find their bodies.... So I don't think you really know me as well as you do." He attempted a mocking smile in an attempt to hurt Coulson enough that the man backed off. He wasn't aware that it looked more pained and ashamed.
He continued, in an almost hysterical tone, "As for Skye- if you knew what she was, she'd be here right beside me....Us monsters belong together, after all." His laugh sounded forced and desperate and he quit almost as soon as he started and looked away, upset at himself for losing control and giving Coulson more ammunition against him.
Yet again, Coulson didn't say anything, but he certainly took note of how Ward looked and what his voice sounded like. He waited a fraction of a second before speaking, addressing Ward's first comment to begin with. "They aren't dead. I wasn't informed about whether anyone told you that, but Fitz and Simmons are both alive... though Fitz is still in a critical state."
It was then that Coulson leaned forward, trying to draw Ward's gaze back to him. "Skye isn't a monster, Grant. And neither are you." This was maybe the first time he'd addressed Ward by his first name, but at the moment, it seemed called for.
Ward just stared at Coulson, not quite able to believe what he'd been told. "N...not de..." He swallowed the word and blinked his eyes rapidly, unable to keep tears from falling, although he managed to regain control over his emotions enough that he didn't start crying noisily. He shook his head in confusion. "No one talks to me..." he finally muttered. "They only ask questions...get angry when I...when I don't answer." He rubbed absently at his arm, unknowingly causing his sleeve to rise enough that various shades of purple, blue, green, and yellow were visible.
He shook his head again, whispering, "Raina said Skye was a monster...said we could be monsters together...." He blinked again and turned his face away from Coulson. "Skye said I was a monster. Raina was wrong...Skye wasn't." He shivered slightly, before straightening his back and pushing the emotions down in an attempt to remain apathetic. Garrett was right. Caring about anyone or anything was a weakness; and he was proving himself very weak at the moment.
Coulson's gaze went to the bruises on Ward's arm and he frowned, his suspicions about what had been done to the other man confirmed. Returning his attention to Ward's face, he silently took in the other man's reactions. "You didn't kill them," he reiterated. "And no matter what happens, I won't get angry with you. I promise," he added. "And I don't believe you're a monster." He was sure Skye didn't, either, no matter what she'd said when she was angry.
Ward turned back to look at Coulson, uncertain he could believe what the man was saying. Coulson wasn't one for lying unless a mission required it or it was to protect someone- but the man had no reason to try and protect him and Ward didn't feel like he was important enough to be thought of as part of a mission. His eyes narrowed in consideration as he tried to glimpse any tiny indication that Coulson was lying, but couldn't see one. He huffed slightly in exasperation, although he knew it was more at himself than at Coulson.
"You should... I betrayed you. I betrayed you and a crazy man almost won..." He snorted again, disgusted with himself- hoping Coulson mistook it for ridicule of what he'd just been told.
Coulson nodded slowly. "You did betray us - and you did make mistakes that hurt a lot of people, the team included." And, yes, him as well, even if Coulson wouldn't admit that out loud. "But I also know you. I know not everything was a lie. And I know you made some bad choices, but you don't have to continue making those."
Ward leaned back, eyes widening in disbelief before he started laughing hollowly. He couldn't help it- it was either laugh or cry and he'd already been too weak during this meeting. Licking his lips and then shaking his head faintly, he shrugged as if his answer didn't matter.
"Maybe it wasn't all a lie. Maybe it was. Does it really matter? My bad choices were.... beyond bad. Not having to continue to make them isn't an option- because I'll be lucky if I get to make any choices in my own life ever again." He chuckled darkly. "It's kind of difficult to make bad choices when you're in solitary." He smirked.
He leaned forward again, feeling slightly more in control- barely- and wanting to push that small advantage while he still had it to push. Coulson had managed to put him off balance for entirely too much of this conversation. "And why does it matter to you that I believe I'm not a monster, anyway? I would think you would want me to pay for the choices I made. Would want me punished. Doesn't trying to make me feel better about the mess I've made of everything kind of defeat that?"
He frowned as he tried to find some tell on Coulson's face that would let him know just what the other man was really after. "You couldn't have just come here to tell me I'm not the bad boy everyone thinks I am.... So what are you really here for?" His tone wasn't nearly as suspicious as he wanted it to sound.
"I told you what I was here for," Coulson pointed out calmly. "You're wrong about not being able to make any choices. You can choose to talk to me. You can choose to tell me what you know - if for no other reason than to stop any more innocent people from being hurt."
Ward's comment about punishment circled in Coulson's mind. He would never punch or kick anyone - and certainly not a member of his team who he still cared about. But there were other forms of punishment that didn't involve the kind of beating Ward had received too much of.
Ward frowned, a feeling of frustration overwhelming him. Coulson made it sound so easy. Just tell him what he knew. Stop more innocent people from being hurt. "Right..." He snorted, not even realizing he was talking out loud.
"So, what...I tell you everything I know and hope that amongst all the millions of trivialities, you'll get some bit of information that you didn't already have? Just when was I supposed to get this information that you need, huh? Or did it escape your notice that I've been pretty much under your nose for the last year..." He shook his head in exasperation, knowing that if he started talking, he likely wouldn't stop and Coulson would get the information he was after. And then he'd have no more reason to talk to him and Ward found he didn't like the idea of being forgotten; even if he did deserve it.
"You still managed to hide things from me, despite being under my nose for the whole year," Coulson pointed out. "I'm sure you have much more information that can help. And I'm just as certain you know what it is."
It was tempting to voice the other question - the one where Coulson asked... why. But even if he asked it, there was no guarantee that, even if Ward gave him an answer, he'd like it.
Ward stared at Coulson for a minute before looking at his hands and pressing his mouth together. Part of him wanted to talk...if only to make up for what he'd done to Fitz and Simmons. Part of him wanted to talk because, for the first time since he'd been arrested, he felt like maybe he wasn't as adrift as he had been feeling since Garrett's death...and that was due to this overwhelming need to follow Coulson's orders. He wasn't sure he liked that impulse.
Coulson had told him at his arrest that he would have to wrestle with the question of who he was, now that Garrett was no longer there to control him. Ward was afraid...."I don't know who I am without him controlling me..." He spoke his thoughts without realizing it, yet again, his voice soft and sounding lost.
"You have room to be your own person," Coulson replied without hesitation. "And it doesn't have to be who you were before. Make the choices you can make. I know you're capable of doing the right thing. You're the same man who jumped out of the helicopter after Simmons. And who trained Skye so she had some chance of defending herself. He wasn't in control of that... was he?"
Ward gave Coulson a pathetically confused and uncertain glare. Yeah. He had room to be his own person. He was told where to sleep, when to sleep, when to get up, when to eat and what to eat. He was told what he could or couldn't have in his cell, who he could talk to and when. There wasn't a moment of his day that wasn't controlled by someone else and Coulson was saying he had room to be his own person. The only thing he had control over was if he gave up his information or not- and if he gave it up then...then there'd be no use for him anymore and they could just shove him back in his tiny cell and forget about him. Like he should have been fifteen years before. He shivered slightly and wrapped his arms around himself without thought.
"He told me to be useful..." His uncertainty carried through in his voice and he didn't even try and hide it this time; Garrett had said be useful- he hadn't said become friends or become protective. That...that had been a choice Grant made on his own, but look what that had caused? Yet again, Garrett reminded him - from the grave even- that forming attachments and caring were weaknesses. Ward had always disappointed the other man- disappointed himself- with his weakness.
"Did useful also mean becoming their friend?" Coulson asked. "I know you care. About all of them. Even now." He spoke with absolute certainty. If Ward didn't, he wouldn't have reacted the way he did when Coulson told him Fitz and Simmons were still alive.
Coulson leaned forward once more, holding eye contact with Ward. "If I thought there was nothing more to you, I wouldn't have come here. But I believe in you, Grant. Even when you give me the information, I'm not going to just abandon you here."
It was disconcerting hearing Coulson voice his own thoughts about befriending the team. It was even more disconcerting hearing the man say that he believed in him and wouldn't abandon him. Ward wanted to believe that...oh how he wanted to believe that.
"H...how can you? How can you believe in me like that?" He hunched in on himself, knowing that his voice sounded small and weak and pathetic; he hated himself for it, but he had to ask the question anyway. He wanted to believe so badly. "You shouldn't...I'm not good. I've never been good. Did you know when Garrett found me...I was in juvenile detention? They wanted to try me as an adult, though- attempted murder." He shot Coulson a crooked grin before forcing his emotions back down and putting on the mask he was so good at wearing. He was a master manipulator; he'd been undercover for HYDRA and fooled everyone...there was no reason he couldn't keep a check on his actions and words now, even if he did feel adrift and helpless and, quite honestly, afraid.
"So knowing that? Knowing that my murderous actions began long before poor Agent Hand got in the way of what Garrett had planned...How can you believe in me that way?" He spoke in a dry, almost ridiculing tone, his voice perfectly modulated. Unfortunately he couldn't seem to control his eyes as they were becoming blurred by tears again. He quickly looked away from Coulson and tried to keep his eyes from view.
"I can't speak for your past... though I suspect there's more to that than is officially known," Coulson said. "But I can speak of the man I know now. And when I look at you, I see the good you've done. The good you're capable of doing." Coulson paused, briefly, and lowered his voice. "If all you are is a murderer, you wouldn't care that Fitz and Simmons are still alive. Or that Skye called you a monster."
Ward winced at the words, knowing that they were true. Of course, that didn't help him in his situation any. Even if he believed Coulson wouldn't just take information from him and then leave him to rot (and he found himself believing everything the man said...whatever happened to "Trust no one"?)...even if he believed that.
In a last ditch effort to rattle Coulson enough to get him to back off and leave - the way he knew everyone else would and the way Coulson probably should do - Grant went on the offensive. "Wow." His voice took on an amused, smarmy tone. "I can see how HYDRA was able to infiltrate SHIELD so easily... if everyone is like you and constantly looking for the best in people and ignoring everything bad.... Maybe I've had it all wrong. Maybe I should tell you everything you want to know. Make myself useful. Be that good little boy that you're so sure I can be..." He forced himself to sneer. "Then, when I've redeemed myself enough, I can get out of this hell-hole and destroy everything. That's what I'm best at, after all. Destroying stuff. Hey...maybe we can just skip all the in between set up? You can let me out of here now- since you don't really seem to want me to be punished for what I've done- let me loose. You can have the fun of trying to catch me again, once I've proven you wrong about how redeemable I am..."
Ok. That didn't sound too hysterical. He hoped. He leaned back, crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes- peering out from under his lashes to see what Coulson's reaction would be. The man should be irritated by now. Should be realizing that Ward was a lost cause. Should be getting up and calling the guard to let him out.
Coulson didn't move. If anything, Ward's tirade had convinced him more so that he was right. This wasn't a man who was trying to prove he was beyond redemption... this was another attempt to throw Coulson off; to make him leave.
But now that he was here, Coulson wasn't going anywhere.
"I think both of us know that isn't the truth, though I'm sure it would be easier on you if it was," Coulson said. "Because then you wouldn't have to feel the guilt and shame of betraying the people who care about and who trusted you."
Ward stared at Coulson. He had nothing more that he could say to get the man to leave. He was completely out of ideas. Garrett was dead. Any orders he may have given in this situation weren't being given by anyone else. It was pretty clear to him that HYDRA didn't care what happened to him- they'd likely only tolerated him because Garrett had a use for him. And Garrett had made it perfectly clear that he was only a tool to the other man...had even told him not to trust anyone, including himself... so there was no reason to remain loyal to HYDRA or what Garrett was aiming to do. He could easily give Coulson everything he asked for and then the man could leave and he'd be in peace. Or at least as much peace as he was able to find with guilt and shame weighing him down.
Because that was the one thing Coulson hadn't gotten right, in all the things he'd gotten right. Coulson leaving wouldn't be easier on him because he wouldn't feel guilt and shame- he didn't think he'd ever stop feeling that. It would only be easier because he wouldn't be having to try and pretend he didn't feel guilt and shame; trying to hide how badly he was falling apart from the other man; trying to hide how much he needed someone to be in charge and give him orders, because he really didn't know how to run his own life without being given directions. He already knew he was a pathetic excuse for a man- he didn't need to prove it to Coulson, who he actually admired (even when he was setting him up for a fall.)
Coulson looked steadily at Ward. The idea that had only been a small spark earlier had now come once again to the forefront of his mind. It wasn't about punishment - Ward had received enough of that already and with the bruises Coulson had only caught a glimpse of, he was sure other agents were taking their anger out on him.
"I don't give up on my team, Grant. And whether you believe you are or not, you're still a part of it. Because my team is my family." Coulson paused to allow that to sink in before continuing, "I don't abandon them. And I'm not going to abandon you."
"You'd be the first then..." Grant muttered softly and reached a hand wearily up to wipe at his face, not surprised to find his cheeks damp.
"So where do you want me to start? I really don't think I have as much information as you think I do. Garrett liked to keep things close to the vest- only told me enough to be able to find whatever it was he wanted me to find." His voice was soft, but not hesitant. If he was going to give in and talk, then he'd do it completely, with no holding back.
"Tell me everything, no matter how small," Coulson encouraged. "Even the smallest things can prove useful." He continued to hold eye contact with Grant, giving him a gentle, reassuring smile.
Just as if they were back on the helicopter and not in an interrogation room.
Sighing softly, Grant sat up again and then leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and let his head fall forward in a gesture of defeat. And he began to talk...starting with the first time he'd seen Garrett and how he had been recruited (giving a very brief explanation of why he'd been where he was when Garrett found him- and if he tried to explain his actions and why he'd done it in an attempt to make Coulson feel even a little sorry for him, well who could blame him?). He told Coulson what his orders had been, when he'd completed them and how, and who he had worked with that helped him accomplish his goals. He told him what little he knew of Skye's background- what Raina had told him. He talked for what felt like hours, elaborating when Coulson indicated he should, answering questions as they were given him.
By the time he was done, he felt drained...completely wiped out. "That's it..." he finally said, his voice gravelly. "I...I can't think of anything else right now. You can call the guard to come get me and be on your way...." He was so tired, he didn't even care that the hopelessness he'd consistently felt since everything went down clearly came through in his voice.
Coulson listened intently, not bothering to take notes - he'd remember probably everything that Grant had said. And every new bit of information only furthered his opinion of the other man, so by the time Grant was finished, Coulson's decision had been made.
"I'm not going to do that," Coulson said. "We're not finished here." Not yet. Not ever, if Coulson had anything to say about it.
At that, Grant looked up again his confusion plain on his face. "Not finished? I...I told you everything..." His voice trailed off and along with the confusion was a slight tone of worry.
Was now when Coulson would take his revenge for what Ward had done to the team? He was too tired to fight back (not that he would, it was easier just to take the beatings). He was even too tired to try and minimally defend himself (although usually, his tormentors made a point not to hit above his shoulders or anywhere that clothing couldn't cover. They also made a point of not hitting his kidneys...didn't want questions being asked about blood being in his urine, after all).
Coulson understood the source of the worry immediately. "I'm not going to beat you, Grant. I told you already that you're still a part of my family and I hope you know that I would never do that to someone I care about."
Pausing to allow that to sink in, Coulson continued, "I'm going to spank you." He stopped, waiting to see what Grant's reaction to that would be.
Ward blinked at the words, confusion warring with disbelief. Spank him? Oh. He knew what a spanking was...theoretically, at least. It was a punishment used for children though, wasn't it? Everything Ward had done had been completely adult in nature- not childish. At least, he didn't think a child would do what he had done. A beating, he could understand. When you did bad things and worked with bad people, unless you were big enough to defend yourself and not in a position where you had to submit, you got beaten. It was a fact of life. A spanking, though? Ward didn't know what to do with that information.
"Uh..." he started out ineloquently. He decided to grab hold of the part of Coulson's statement that he could make sense of...even if it didn't make any sense. "You care about me?" he finally asked in hopeful disbelief.
Coulson nodded. "I do," he confirmed. "I've been telling the truth about that. About everything else, too. I wouldn't play you for information like that," he said softly.
"I'm going to spank you because you are still a part of my family... and to help you understand that," Coulson added simply.
Grant noted that Coulson didn't say he wanted him to let himself be spanked. No, he said straight out that he was going to do it- meaning Ward didn't have a choice in the matter. Ward thought he really shouldn't be relieved at that fact and that he should argue...but just the action of Coulson taking charge (and he was actually being given direction again) was such a relief that he couldn't bring himself to do it.
Instead, he found himself blushing faintly as he asked, "What do you want me to do?"
Coulson took note of the lack of argument from Grant and realised that the other man had probably needed him to take charge, at least on some level. Still holding eye contact with Grant, Coulson directed, "Stand up. Walk round to me."
He could have easily walked to Grant, but Coulson knew it would be better to tell the other man what he expected.
Swallowing hard, Grant stood up. He was ashamed to notice that he was shaking slightly- nervous at what was going to occur- so he took a few seconds to regain control over his emotions, before carefully walking around the table to stand next to Coulson.
He was careful to keep his hands at his side and in full view. Coulson may still care about him and believe him to be a good man inside, but the agent wasn't an idiot and he'd be a fool to not be on guard against Ward being ready to attack. It would be better if Grant didn't act in a way that would indicate he was going to.
Coulson watched Grant as the other man walked over to him, carefully taking note of any stiffness that would indicate bruises that might need further treatment later. He also noticed the evidence of nerves... but there was little he could do about that.
Once Grant was next to him, Coulson reached up and gently grasped the other man's wrist. Instead of pulling it, he braced his other hand on Grant's back, pushing gently to encourage him to bend at the waist - and over Coulson's lap.
Grant flushed darkly at finding himself laying over Coulson's lap. He'd expected to maybe lean over the table, or bend over and hold his ankles, or something a little less...personal. There would be no way to hide anything from Coulson in this position. Even if he managed to keep control over his face, touching like this would enable the man to feel when he tensed, when he shivered, or when his breath hitched in an attempt to not be vocal...and he was fairly certain he'd have to fight being vocal. Usually, it was to bite back grunts of pain when fists were plowing into him, but this....
He didn't say anything, letting his hands drop awkwardly in front of him, uncertain where to put them. Finally, he used one of them to balance himself against the floor and wrapped the other - cautiously - around Coulson's calf to keep himself firmly in place.
It was a moment's choice to push Grant that little bit further and proceed to bare him. If Coulson was doing this at all, he was going to follow through. And although he could tell Grant wasn't comfortable, it was telling that the other man made no attempt to get out of the position... or even protest.
Coulson settled one arm around Grant's waist, tugging him in gently to make it easier to hold him in place. It wasn't necessary to speak - not yet, anyway - and so Coulson didn't waste any more time, lifting his hand and letting it fall crisply against Grant's backside.
Grant couldn't help the tiny whimper of mortification that he let out when he felt Coulson tug his pants down. He wasn't sure what he was most embarrassed by- the fact that he was willingly lying bare over the man's lap, or the fact that Coulson would now be able to see any residual bruising or scars and be able to tell just how far Grant had fallen. He only had a second to wonder about that, though, because Coulson's palm connecting firmly to his bare butt redirected his thoughts to shocking clarity.
His blurted, "Ow!" escaped his lips before he could stop it.
Coulson paused a moment to allow the pain of the swat to be fully felt, before bringing his hand down again and gradually working his way over Grant's bare butt with the stinging swats, careful to make sure they weren't truly harsh, but that they were definitely felt.
Grant winced and tried to hold still. If he'd been embarrassed before, he'd had no clue what embarrassment really entailed. Coulson wasn't smacking him hard (he'd been hit hard before and knew the difference). It really shouldn't be hurting as much as it was...and he certainly shouldn't be tearing up at the stinging swats. Not already! It was one more confusing situation added onto too many other confusing situations. He let his head drop and tried to tense up in an attempt to control his response.
Coulson continued the methodical swats for a couple more moments and then realised what Grant was doing. Shaking his head, he tightened his arm around the other man's waist before beginning to swat him again - this time with a little more force, but all over Grant's backside, making it impossible to tell where the next swat would land.
Grant couldn't hold back the gasp that escaped when Coulson began using more force...especially not when his ability to predict where the next smack was going to fall was taken from him. It didn't take long before his attempts to tense up and hold still were abandoned with attempts to squirm away from wherever the next blow was aimed- futile though it was. His attempts to remain quiet were abandoned as well and soon he was letting out tiny pained gasps or whimpers every time Coulson's hand connected.
Coulson kept Grant easily under control, completing two more circuits of the unpredictable swats before he moved his hand lower and began swatting the as-yet untouched sit spots, shifting Grant forward slightly to give him easier access.
Grant wasn't sure what prompted it- likely a combination of everything that had happened and was happening right at this moment- but the lost feeling he'd had for so long now (before Garrett had set their final plans in motion and he realized how weak he truly was because the team actually meant something to him)...the lost feeling just seeped out of him and a feeling of peace settled into its place. Coulson was in complete control of everything...and that was okay. It didn't scare Grant like it should have, or make him feel less than. If anything, he felt safer than he had in a long time...so when the urge to just let go and stop hiding came over him, he didn't fight it.
When Coulson tipped him forward and began smacking where Grant knew he'd feel it most later, the younger man let out a tiny choked sob...and didn't try and keep it in. He just allowed himself to go limp and cry.
Coulson stopped as Grant allowed himself to go limp. For several moments, he rubbed the other man's back, before tugging him up gently, pulling him in close without even needing to think about it, wrapping his arms around Grant.
Grant stiffened up fractionally for only a few seconds as he realized that his position had changed and he was now being held...being hugged...by Coulson. And then he decided that it didn't matter, because it felt good to not be pushed away to deal with his distress on his own. Hesitantly, not sure if Coulson wanted it or would even allow it, he wrapped his own arms around the older man and then hid his face against Coulson's chest and continued to cry, muttering softly, "I'm sorry...." over and over again.
Coulson didn't pull away or push Grant away. As if the other man was much younger than he really was, one of Coulson's hands move down to rub gently over Grant's back, tightening his embrace as he drew him in closer.
Grant let out a tiny sigh of relief and contentment when he felt the embrace tighten. He wouldn't believe this meant he was forgiven- not until Coulson said he was, would he believe that- but the affectionate show of support let him believe that forgiveness was possible. He was reluctant to pull out of the hug or pull away from the gentle back rub...but he could feel the coolness from the air-conditioned room on his well heated backside and he really didn't want a guard walking in and seeing him with his pants around his ankles. He didn't trust them not to come up with the worst possible reason and then use it to make his life more of a hell than they had been.
Slowly, he pulled away from Coulson and righted his clothing- only wincing slightly as the rough prison issued garb rubbed on his sore skin. Blushing, he glanced at Coulson- not sure what to say or what to do. Part of him wanted to crawl back into the other man's embrace again. He glanced away sheepishly. Seemed that being punished like a child made him want to react like one- the need for comfort and to be told everything would be alright was hard to ignore.
Coulson prided himself on being able to read people generally and his team specifically. He could tell that Grant still felt the need for comfort and to that end, he stretched one arm out and placed it around the other man's shoulders, to let him know that the comfort was there if he wanted it.
"As far as I'm concerned, this means the slate's wiped clean; between us, at least," Coulson said softly. "I can understand the actions behind your betrayal... and forgive you for it."
Ward was surprised- though maybe he shouldn't have been- when Coulson's words helped calm his unease. Coulson wouldn't lie about something like this, so he knew the man meant it when he said he forgave him. Ward didn't know that he'd ever be able to forgive himself, but then he'd had enough alone time sitting in solitary that he'd pretty much figured out he was a complete mental case anyway. Even if he managed to ever get out of jail (and he wasn't even hoping for that to ever happen), he knew he'd be in therapy for the rest of his life, if not in an actual institution. His seeming inability to make good decisions by himself without being led to do it by a stronger willed individual wasn't really a sign of good mental health, after all. He wondered briefly what would have happened in his life if it had been Coulson to find him, instead of Garrett.
He shoved the self-reflection down again and leaned into Coulson, hunching into himself so that the other man's arm enveloped him more fully. He didn't attempt to stop the tears- Coulson had just forgiven him for the unforgiveable...the other man deserved to see him at his lowest. "I...thank you," he finally whispered. "I don't deserve it, so thank you..." He swallowed hard, letting his head drop toward Coulson, not actually laying on the man, but close. "W...will you come see me again?" He didn't even attempt to keep the hope out of his voice.
Coulson responded, bringing his other arm up to wrap around Grant in an embrace once more. He knew it was a possibility that one of the other agents would come in, but it was an unlikely one. For all the others knew, Coulson had his own score to settle with Grant. Although he'd never mirror what was done to the other man, he was content to let the other agents think he would, if only to give him and Grant this time alone.
"I told you I would and I keep my promises," Coulson said. "I have a few favours I can call in... make sure you aren't left alone with anyone who'll hurt you." Grant was still part of his team. Coulson would work on bringing him back permanently, but until then, he would make sure he was kept safe and protected.
Taking a slow breath and letting himself relax against Coulson, Ward nodded slowly. "Okay." He wasn't sure what he was saying okay to. But he believed Coulson and even if the man wasn't able to get him the protection he wanted to offer, the fact that there was someone who still cared enough about him to try was enough. He owed Coulson so much.
"I...I still don't know who I am...when I have to make my own mind up what to do..." His voice came out sounding more hesitant and childish than he wanted and he winced, but continued, "...but I want...I want to be someone I can be proud of- you can be proud of. I'll do whatever it takes to try and make things right..." He swallowed again before hugging Coulson tightly one last time and pulling away to straighten up and act like the adult he was supposed to be.
"I know you will," Coulson replied. "And I won't abandon you here." He was sure the rest of the team would insist he was making a mistake with Grant... but Coulson was confident that he was doing the right thing; and that his faith in the other man was correct.
Grant gave a brief nod to show Coulson that he had heard and believed, then glanced at the door as he heard the lock click. Their time was up. Biting his lip, he gave one last smile to Phil before moving back to the chair he had been deposited to when he was brought in, placing his hands on the table and sitting so that the guard could put the shackles on him again so they could take him back to his cell. It would be hard, going back to solitary, and tomorrow was one of the days when one of the more 'hands on' of the guards was on duty...but for the first time in months, he felt like he could face it and be okay.
"Thank you..." he whispered to Coulson, just before the guard swung the door open and came in with the cuffs.