Author Note- Based on the song 'Begin Again' by Taylor Swift. I do not own Agents of SHIELD, I am merely borrowing Joss' toys once again.
For the sake of clarity, this fic is set in a world where Ward has never been and will never be part of Hydra, just because my delicate feelings can't take that kind of drama.
A big thank you to WelshWitch1011 for her betaing skills.
'I've been spending the last eight months,
Thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end…'
It was on a Wednesday morning in a picturesque little café in Giverny, that Skye and Ward finally got around to scheduling that drink.
If truth be told, the moment the proposition had first left Skye's lips as they hunkered down in a janitor's closet, with the unmistakable sound of gunfire filling the air around them, she had been certain that it would never happen. However, with the threat of Hydra now diminished, project Centipede shutdown, and the SHIELD hierarchy scrabbling to regain some semblance of order within their organisation, Coulson had decided that what the team needed most was a vacation.
With the exception of May, who appeared allergic to anything resembling relaxation, the team had been in unanimous agreement. The bus had been set down in Normandy the early hours of the following morning, and the team had awoken to the tantalising scent of the croissants that AC had been busy warming in the kitchen.
It had taken precisely two minutes for the pleasant aroma of baking dough to morph into the rather telling stench of burning charcoal, and Skye had watched, laughing openly, as May battled the small inferno engulfing the stove with a fire extinguisher and a sour frown. AC had been a picture in his beret as he stared bereft at the partially ruined kitchen, which had only made Skye laugh harder and May grumble louder.
Amidst the chaos, Ward had managed to sidle up behind her silently, and as his breath ghosted the shell of her ear, Skye started in surprise.
"What do you say we find our own breakfast?" he murmured, his index finger hooking around Skye's elbow as he leaned into her, "maybe a cup of coffee? I don't know about you, but I'm not real keen to stick around and watch Coulson call his latest repair bill into Hill."
"You sure? Last time I swear I saw the vein in her neck throbbing. Could be pretty entertaining," Skye replied, her voice a conspirital whisper as she kept her gaze trained on the mayhem unfolding in the kitchen. May, covered in white foam from the discharged extinguisher in her hands, was swatting Coulson away from the smouldering oven with a look of murderous intent in her eyes.
"You owe me a drink, Rookie," Ward had countered, and inexplicably Skye had felt herself blush. A hard knot began to take shape in her stomach, and Skye refused to turn around as she nodded her agreement.
As though he had already assumed her assent, Ward pressed a folded square of paper into Skye's hand. His fingers lingered against Skye's own just a little longer than necessary.
"Meet me there at nine. My shout," he promised, before fading effortlessly into the background once again, and leaving Skye with no other choice than to adopt the position of referee between Coulson and a rather bedraggled Melinda.
Now, as she stared at her reflection in the mirror affixed to the wall of her bunk, Skye sucked in a deep, steadying breath. The heeled knee high boots she had slipped on pinched her toes, perhaps in vengeance for the twelve month stint they had spent unworn in her closet, but she kept them on anyway, appreciating the extra three inches they afforded her. She cocked her head, giving her outfit the once over and deciding that she looked nice enough in her leggings and fitted red shirt. It had been the first time in a long time that Skye had even bothered to make an effort for a guy, and she was embarrassed to admit that as she had applied a thin dusting of blusher to her cheeks, a thrill of excitement had coursed through her.
For just a moment she was catapulted back to high school and the handful of happy memories she guarded; to a time when breathless excitement had been part of the ritual of getting ready for a date with a boy she truly liked. Her experience in the dating field had been rather limited since, and whilst Skye was far from chaste, she was hardly worldly wise where men were concerned. She supposed that was why she had hit it off with Miles so fast. He had not only been someone to look up to and learn from, he had offered her the first real home she had ever known, no matter how many lies he had sugar coated the truth with afterwards.
Miles had never really been concerned with what she had worn, and Skye had been content enough with that, believing their connection to be cerebral rather than physical. He had, however, always been quick enough to denounce those boots, or any item of her wardrobe he thought unbecoming. He claimed he was raised by old fashioned parents to harbour old fashioned Southern values, but his accusation that she looked like a twenty dollar hooker when she wore high heels, had done little to affirm that to Skye.
Finding that the frown she wore severely hampered her ability to apply lipstick, Skye banished all thoughts of Miles from her mind, refusing to stew in that place today of all days. She had wasted enough of the last eight months thinking about the errant hacker, and the ways in which he had hurt her beyond the bounds of forgiveness.
Skye had hitched a ride to the outskirts of the local town with Fitzsimmons, who were predictably thrilled with the prospect of an entire weekend of sightseeing. Thankfully for Skye, their excitement was enough to distract them from questioning her too thoroughly on the nature of her meeting with Ward, and she was able to escape the van relatively unscathed. She slipped the headphones of her ipod into her ears as she set off on the quarter mile walk to the address Ward had given her, guided by the authority of the GPS on her cell. She immediately recognised the gentle guitar strains of The Rolling Stones' and a smile invaded her lips, begotten by the lyrics of 'Wild Horses' playing out in her ears.
The song was one of her favourites, although she had been banned from playing it on the stereo system in her van during the 'Miles regime', as she had now taken to calling their time together. He said he didn't 'get it', and by extension of this he supposed that Skye would simply fall in line and not want to. But she did, and she wouldn't, and since his admission the track had managed to find it's way to the top of every playlist she had ever created on her laptop, much to Miles' chagrin.
Two tracks later, when confronted with a green painted store front set back on a cobbled street, Skye realised that she had reached her destination, and her mouth immediately went dry. A large awning was set up above white iron tables and chairs, and the café's unpronounceable name dominated the entire frontage in beautifully painted cursive positioned high above the windows. A handful of customers were visible milling about on the inside, some clutching half full glass coffee cups, and some talking animatedly with friends.
A glance at her watch informed Skye that there was still a respectable ten minutes until their date officially began, and she resolved to duck inside the toilets and obsessively fiddle with her hair until her stomach stopped attempting to convince her that she wanted to vomit, or at least until Ward actually arrived. However, as she slipped inside the doorway of the café, setting a silver bell above her head tinkling, Ward rose from his seat at a table in the centre of the room and raised one hand in greeting. Of course he was early.
Waving off the waitress who approached her, Skye crossed the room. When she finally came to stand in front of the chair that Ward had pulled out for her, she was too lost in admiration for the degree of chivalry he had managed to master even as a trained killer, to notice that the earbuds were firmly lodged in her ears still. Ward leaned forward and gently tugged one of the wires, allowing it to fall onto her shoulder.
"At least give me a chance to be boring before you start ignoring me," he teased, his smile only growing as, obviously flustered, Skye set about removing the other earpiece.
Ward reached across and plucked the ipod from her hand without invitation, beginning to scroll through the lists of artists and songs programmed into the device as he waited for Skye to shrug out of her jacket.
"You can tell a lot about a person from the music they listen to," Ward said without glancing up from the touch screen. Finally, after Skye had settled into her seat, Ward lowered himself into his own and scooted closer to the table.
"You learn that in 007 school?" asked Skye, wrapping her arms around herself and propping her elbows on the table. She doubted it was the type of establishment where leaning on the table was deemed at all acceptable, but her heart was racing so badly, she really couldn't bring herself to care much.
Ward only smiled in response to her joke, his attention affixed to the ipod, which every now and then he swept the pad of his thumb across. After several more seconds of somewhat uncomfortable silence, Ward twirled the device around in his hand and offered it back to Skye. As she reached across the table to accept it, the tips of their fingers brushed, and Ward declared instantly, "I don't think I've ever met a girl who has as many James Taylor songs on her playlists as I do ."
Skye swallowed her disbelief as she demanded, "You like James Taylor?"
Ward nodded and, prompted by Skye's thoroughly sceptical arched brow, he replied softly, " 'It won't be long before another day, we gonna have a good time, and no one's gonna take that time away. You can stay as long as you like.'"
Skye giggled, bobbing her head gently as she conceded, " 'You Can Close Your Eyes'. Very good, Agent Ward."
Ward flashed her a grin before proceeding to wave over the waitress, who appeared at his side far too quickly with a pad in hand and a more than willing smile affixed on her face. Ward continued to place their breakfast order in an offhand manner, although Skye was fairly certain his French was impeccable. Just when she was certain she couldn't stand any more industrious eyelash fluttering, the waitress scuttled away from the table and back towards the counter, and Ward's undivided attention was with Skye again. She swallowed hard, her nerves suddenly rearing their ugly head once more.
"So, what can you tell about me?" she blurted out, indicating the ipod set on the table at her side by way of explanation.
Without missing a beat, Ward responded, "You're reckless, slightly eccentric, definitely undisciplined, a terrible driver… but you meant from the music, right?"
Skye pursed her lips, and her SO threw back his head, his laughter loud and succeeding in drawing the gazes of several female customers nearby. Despite her annoyance, Skye found a smile twitching at the corners of her own mouth, but she refused to reward Grant with anything more than a slight smirk. His eyes twinkled merrily, and Skye was reminded of the little boys at the orphanage, all of whom had gone through the phase of being so thoroughly entertained by their own jokes that their resulting mirth was infectious to everyone, including the nuns. You positively hadn't lived until you'd seen a nun in spasms of laughter, Skye was near certain.
Miles had never laughed with such abandon, or at least not in her company, despite Skye's continual efforts. Jokes just weren't his thing, and sarcasm seemed to fly over his head, to the point that Skye eventually found it strange when anyone so much as quirked their lips in her direction. Skye had simply told herself that Miles was focussed, too driven and gifted to bother wasting his time behaving like some frat boy at a kegger. In retrospect, she had fed herself the lies that had led to the demise of their relationship, making continual excuses and choosing to see brilliance where there was only a cold, hypocritical manipulator.
Skye shifted in her seat, uncomfortable with the progression of her own thought pattern. She forced herself back to the present, inhaling deeply to ground herself with the aroma of freshly percolated coffee and French pastries that had not been nuked to a crisp.
"Have you ever been to France before?" Ward queried, thanking the waitress quietly as she returned with two mugs of steaming black coffee and a large plate of pain au chocolat, croissants and rolled crepes filled with a gooey yellow substance Skye could not identify.
Skye slid the sugar bowl across the table and began attending to her coffee as she shook her head.
"Not before SHIELD," she answered, her smile wry as she added, "although I have seen the world's largest frying pan twice."
"So cultured," Ward replied, chuckling softly as he reached for a crepe.
"I'll have you know I learned a lot on those trips," Skye retorted, working hard to hide her smile behind a falsely indignant expression, "there was this one time, I had my van parked up in the parking lot, and I hadn't eaten in like three days…"
Grant leaned forwards, his curiousity piqued, but abruptly Skye trailed off, shaking her head. Her gaze dropped to her coffee mug and she shrugged her shoulders. Miles had hated her stories, and made a point of telling her numerous times, sometimes publically, that she talked too much. That much was true, and a fact that Skye had come to terms with long ago during her childhood, but she could at least spare Ward the details of her pathetic life pre-SHIELD, since he was shouting the bill and all.
"Never mind… it's a dumb story…" she conceded, something in the self-deprecating tone of her voice causing Ward to flinch.
"Why do you do that?" he suddenly asked, reaching out and gently laying his hand atop Skye's. Her gaze lifted quickly, and she stared at her SO as though he had grown a second, undoubtedly equally attractive, head.
"What?" she faltered, looking around them, suddenly self-conscious, although they had long since lost the attention of Grant's admirers.
"Pretend that you're not interesting," he explained, shaking his head almost sadly as he continued, "you've lead this amazing life, but it's like you're convinced that nothing you have to say about it can possibly measure up to anyone else."
Skye guffawed, shaking her head as she replied, "Living in a back of a van without a dollar to my name isn't amazing, Ward. It's hard, and it's dumb, and it's miserable."
Ward remained silent, watching Skye with an unreadable expression spread across his features. He simply let her talk, aware that he didn't yet know her well enough to be able to place the reason for her apparent self-directed anger.
"You're the one who's done things… been places I can only dream about… how does America's largest kitchen utensil possibly compare to saving the world three times a week?" she near demanded, pausing to take a healthy bite out of a pastry she gripped so tightly that it had begun to crumble in her hand.
"Well, let's see," Ward said, and his voice held the unmistakable note of a challenge.
"What?" Skye inquired through a mouthful of chocolate and buttery goodness.
Ward smiled, "Let's trade stories. We got a whole weekend to kill, and I for one am in no rush to get back to the bus to disentangle Coulson from May's latest headlock."
"You saw that?" Skye asked, head cocked. Ward merely nodded.
"Okay," she agreed finally after a lengthy pause, a shy smile working its way across her lips, "I guess it could be fun."
Somewhere between their third pot of coffee and the baguettes that Ward ordered them for lunch, Miles Lydon managed to worm his way back into Skye's thoughts with an annoying kind of persistence. However, her smile never once faltered as she listened to her SO, who was in the midst of detailing a three month period during which he had posed as a lumberjack in Canada, much to her unwavering amusement.
Talking was something she and Miles had done in abundance, but always about the things he had thought mattered; government lies, military secrets, covert weapons manifestos. Those things had mattered to Skye too, of course, but never quite so much as they had to her idealistic boyfriend. They never discussed the issues normal couples around them did; their relationship, or more specifically where exactly said relationship may have been going. Sometimes, it felt to Skye that Miles simply viewed her as an extension of her computer, as a piece of hardware to be directed and utilised, rather than as a woman with whom he had professed to want to spend his life with. Looking back, she wondered how she could ever have been so blinkered as to think that what she had with Miles was truly real.
It had been eight months since their last meeting; eight months since Coulson had slapped a metal bracelet on the guy and abandoned him penniless in Hong Kong; eight months since Skye had been burned by the only man she had ever allowed herself to fall in love with.
Eight months since the hacker had told herself that love wasn't worth the risk, because all it could ever serve to do was break her.
"So then I'm standing there with this axe, and suddenly there's a moose stampeding through the trees towards me," Ward finished, collapsing on the table in uncharacteristic laughter as he drew to the close of his story.
Skye's features came to life with her smile, but she merely watched Ward closely, refraining from joining in his laughter. Suddenly, Miles' name was poised on her tongue and, even though she had no concept of where she was about to take her speech, Skye's mouth fell open with intent.
However, the beginnings of her garbled sentence were drowned out by Ward's next words.
"There you have it, my worst Christmas on the job," Grant explained, settling back in his seat as he added in a somewhat more pensive tone, "although not quite as bad as the Christmas my brother set fire to my Mom's copy of her favourite movie and blamed me for it. Boy was my Dad pissed."
Skye swallowed hard, asking softly, "Dare I ask what happened?"
"I'm positive you don't want to know," he answered, unable to hide the shudder that coursed through his body. As an afterthought, he added, "I still can't watch White Christmas."
The conversation fell into a natural lull and, as Grant sipped at what must have been his sixth cup of coffee, Skye reconsidered the name she had been prepared to drop so unceremoniously into her SO's lap. There was nothing she could hope to gain by bringing Miles up now, no additional healing that could be done, or achievement made beyond reminding Ward of how she herself had betrayed him and the team only a few months prior. She had been granting him squatter's rights in her brain for too long, allowing him to continue to occupy space in both her mind and heart that she was more than willing to give away to another. Miles was like a virus that had tried to eradicate everything good in her life, and Skye had almost willingly allowed him to. She had realised the depths of her stupidity in the nick of time, before the team had turned their backs on her forever. She doubted she would ever be that lucky again.
Wordlessly, Skye reached across the table and entwined her fingers with those of Ward's free hand. If someone like Grant, with the all the things he had been through and been subjected to, could bury his demons so effectively, then Skye was certain that she could.
It was best that the past remained just that.
It was on a Wednesday morning in a picturesque little café in Giverny, that Skye and Ward finally got around to scheduling that drink.
It was followed by breakfast, several pots of exquisite French coffee, lunch, and a revelation.
That afternoon, her hand nestled within Ward's, where it seemed to fit so perfectly, Skye watched her faith in love begin again.