Grant Ward wouldn't have said that he lived a life without regrets. He certainly had them. But in his line of work, you had to learn to compartmentalize, to put thoughts and feelings and regrets aside or die.
The irony of that thought at this moment nearly made him laugh.
Because wasn't that why he was in this situation right now? The lack of compartmentalization between his mission and his personal feelings regarding his team?
He took in a breath - or tried to - and ignored the wet sucking sound coming from his wound, closing his eyes as his vision started to blacken around the edges.
Something soft tickled his face and he heard someone saying his name as if from a distance. Blinking his eyes open lazily, he found he was looking up into Simmons' face and her mouth was moving.
It was her hair brushing against his cheek and he let his gaze trace it from root to tip, watching as the sunlight caught strands of red and gold within the brown and made them gleam.
He felt a compulsion to touch, as he had many times before, if only to brush it off his face or tuck it behind her ear. Professionalism had always prevented it before. He let his eyes fall closed again.
He was going to die never knowing how it felt to touch Simmons' - Jemma's - hair. Never having held her hand. Never embracing her. Never kissing her. Never telling her about his feelings for her, which had come so far from the platonic respect he'd felt when the team first formed.
Her hand was on his face, cupping his jaw, and Grant turned into her palm, letting his lips brush against her skin. With his eyes closed, he could barely hear her over the sound of all the blood rushing out of his body, "Ward- Grant, please hold on. Please don't die. Fitz, where the bloody hell are you with that glove? His lung is going to…"
He heard her voice thicken as she choked on the words. Heard her fighting the tears. He didn't want her to cry over him.
He fought to open his eyes again and locked onto her gaze. "Jem-" he managed, but she moved her fingers over his mouth.
"Don't. God, Grant, don't try to talk. Fitz is on his way with a glove and we can use it to hold over the wound and keep your lung from collapsing until May can bring in the extraction, but I need you to just concentrate on breathing." She tried to smile reassuringly at him, even as tears ran down her face. "You can do that, right? You're big, tough Agent Grant Ward, of S.H.I.E.L.D. You can survive something as small as a nicked lung."
He let her ramble over him, knowing she was trying to distract herself as much as comfort him. Instead, he turned his eyes to her face, cataloging each feature. She really was exquisitely beautiful, another regret as he'd never get to tell her, never get to show her, never get a chance to worship her like he wanted to. He loved looking at her expressive face and her quick-to-smile lips and her gentle eyes. He loved watching her move, whether it was with the quiet confidence she had in the lab or the patience in the field.
Never in his entire life had he felt like this about a woman and now the chance for him to act on those feelings was slipping through his fingers.
In a burst of strength, he brought a hand up to rest over one of hers where she was applying pressure on his chest, startling her into silence. She looked at him and Grant tried to tell her everything he'd never been able to vocalize with that last look.
I'm glad that if I have to die, it's with you here. I'm sorry I never told you how I felt. I'm sorry I was too much of a coward. I wish I could have deserved you. Maybe in another life. Please please please don't blame yourself for this.
Something of what he was thinking must've been clear in his eyes or maybe she was just able to read him easily, because understanding dawned in Jemma's face as a fresh batch of tears welled in her eyes. "Oh," she gasped, almost a hiccup of realization. "Oh, Grant. Why didn't- No, it's not important. You are…" She swallowed thickly and brushed the tears off her face, her eyes moving away from him, behind him, for a moment, then a small hopeful smile crossed her face. "You are going to live, do you understand, Grant Ward?" she ordered, voice firm as a flurry of movement came from his other side. She took her hands away for a moment, only to return both of them to his chest. The sucking sound of air escaping his lung ceased and Grant was able to draw a very small, pained breath. "And then you and I are going to continue this conversation."
A new set of hands were on his chest and just before his vision went black, Grant felt Jemma brush a soft kiss against his lips.
His body felt weightless for a moment and Grant exhaled shakily and thought even if she were wrong and he didn't survive, he wouldn't mind so much now.