1. Skye's at the heavy bag in the cargo hold, when Melinda's voice floats down to her. "I thought Ward had talked to you about lowering your shoulders."
Skye twitches, unable to hide her surprise, and looks up to where Melinda is leaning on the railing.
"Your shoulders are too high," Melinda says again, descending the spiral staircase. The look on her face is indecipherable, and Skye regards her with slight suspicion. She's been in enough shit lately that she's wary of more critique coming her way, and she's not sure where Melinda is going with this; she doesn't know if Melinda means to be encouraging or discouraging.
It's a tenuous thing, the trust Skye's working hard to rebuild. It's a reflex for her to flinch when Melinda reaches for her with both hands, and she laughs a little, embarrassed at herself. "Sorry," she says. Melinda just looks at her with the poker face Skye's grown so accustomed to. It's almost comforting.
"Like this," Melinda says, arranging Skye's hands to her liking, and pushing gently on her shoulders to get her into a better pose. "Throw a punch, and bring it forward like this." Her grip is firm as she slowly turns Skye's body to demonstrate.
Nodding, Skye breathes like Ward taught her and does as she's told. It feels--better. More powerful. Ward, for all that he's a good SO and clearly willing to give her another chance, never touches her like this anymore, and all the direction in the world doesn't come close to hands-on teaching. It's like the trust that was broken has put a wall between them that's tough to tear down again. She's determined now, more than ever, to go the distance with this SHIELD thing. Determined to make a difference in not only her own life, but maybe do some good in other people's lives, too.
"Better," Melinda says with something like satisfaction in her voice. "Feels better too, I bet?"
"It does," Skye admits, a little stumped as to why she's suddenly receiving help, but unwilling to overlook the offering for what it is.
Melinda regards her for a long moment, and Skye's starting to feel a little self conscious. It's hard to get a read on Melinda, though Melinda clearly prefers it that way. In the beginning, Skye thought maybe Melinda's glares were reluctantly approving, but nowadays she tends to feel more judged and less approved of.
"Well," Skye says, unsure of what else Melinda wants from her.
"You're doing good," Melinda says shortly, and one corner of her mouth quirks up into a hint of a smile. "Keep practicing."
Skye knows her face reflects the stunned surprise she's feeling, but they can't all have poker faces like Melinda and Coulson.
Melinda disappears again without a word, and it's not until the door to the upper level slides shut behind her that Skye realizes she didn't say thanks.
When Skye wants something, she goes for it. She doesn't always stop to think about things, and it's gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion--but she gave things a lot of thought before coming onboard the Bus.
She's still not sure she made the right choice.
Sometimes, acting without thinking is easier.
2. The liquor burns on the way down, and Skye's face scrunches up against her will.
"Hit me again," she gasps, voice hoarse and throat on fire.
Fitz laughs but still obeys. "All right," he warns, "this is the last one, though!"
"No kidding," Skye says, fighting back tears as he refills her glass. "Where'd you even get this stuff?"
"His granny," Jemma giggles, and even Coulson smiles then.
"I had a grandma who made moonshine," Coulson muses. "She passed away while I was still far too young to try any, though. Couldn't say how it compares."
"Here," Skye says, holding out her glass towards Ward. "Share with me!"
Ward, whose face has been set in a vague scowl ever since they started drinking, purses his lips and looks at Skye like he's disappointed. It makes something uncomfortable stir and crawl in the pit of Skye's stomach. She remembers offering him a drink on their first mission together, and the memory stings. She feels like she's lost--someone important.
Standing up, Ward ignores the glass Skye's holding out. "I'm going to go take a shower," he says.
To everyone else's credit, they don't make it awkward. FitzSimmons start chattering about something science related, and Coulson watches them with something like fondness in his eyes. Skye's still fighting back tears, for a whole different set of reasons.
She doesn't so much as twitch this time, when Melinda sits down next to her and plucks the glass from her hand. Melinda takes a careful sip of the moonshine without any of the exaggerated faces Skye and FitzSimmons have been making all afternoon, though Skye can see her left eye spasm a little.
"That's got quite a kick," Melinda says, and sounds uncharacteristically pleased.
It's unexpected, and Skye blows out a surprised breath. "I thought you'd be all, 'You call this alcohol?'" she says, making a voice for the latter half of the sentence.
Melinda smiles at her and holds up the glass. "There's nothing wrong with admitting when something is tough to swallow," she says sagely, "it's all about how you handle the pain." She knocks back the rest of the moonshine without so much as a twitch.
"That's a pretty hamfisted metaphor, don't you think?" Coulson asks. He doesn't even look drunk, the bastard, even though he's had probably twice as much to drink as everyone else. Skye wonders if SHIELD agents are trained in alcohol resistance.
Melinda shrugs and hands Skye the empty glass. "It works," she says to Coulson.
They smile at each other, and for a moment it's painfully obvious how close they are, Melinda and Coulson. The look they share is familiar and fond, all their years and shared history laid bare in front of everyone present, and for a moment Skye can't breathe with how much of an outsider she really is.
She wonders if she'll ever outgrow the desire to belong.
Then Melinda's hand lands on her back and pats her awkwardly a couple of times. It's by far the least graceful movement Skye's ever witnessed from Melinda. "Stop moping," Melinda says with determination, and Skye's fairly certain she's trying to be comforting.
"That easy, huh?" Skye asks. She wants to be fine, badly, but she's not Melinda. She's not even Jemma. She knows she has her strengths and weaknesses, but she's not sure it's enough for her to make the cut. All she can do is keep pushing--but sometimes, when Ward looks at her, eyes filled with disappointment, it feels like she's not strong enough to carry on.
"Never said it was easy," Melinda says firmly.
Their attention is diverted elsewhere, when Coulson, still looking sober, falls off the couch for no apparent reason.
Skye meant it when she told Coulson she'd never stop looking.
It's only sometimes, late at night, lying in her bunk and staring at the ceiling, Skye really feels scared of what she'll find.
3. It's hard to think straight.
Skye's heart is pounding in her chest, her throat is burning, her lungs are burning, her entire torso feels like it's on fire, she's so desperate for air; there's a pressure steadily building in her cheeks, behind her eyeballs. It's hard to remember the guy's name. Dan? Dave? Dirk? D-something.
His grip around her throat tightens, and tears flow down her cheek, and this is not like TV. This is not like any previous mission. This isn't momentary panic with a neverending spark of hope blooming in her chest. This is despair, because Darren the telekinetic is going to kill her, and she has no family, nobody who will miss her, and it'll be like she never even existed in this world. Skye wants to cry, but is physically unable to.
She thought she was prepared. She doesn't feel prepared. All she feels is blind terror, rising with every second that ticks by without oxygen in her lungs.
"You gonna watch?" Dale hisses to Ward, who's looking increasingly panicked himself. Dale's breath is hot against Skye's ear as he cowers behind her, uses her as a shield, his forearm unyielding against her windpipe. "You gonna watch while I choke your slut? Gonna watch the light go out of her eyes, pretty boy?"
Skye would be offended he thinks she's Ward's anything, but it feels like every part of her body is falling asleep, slowly, withering away under the impossibly strong grip of her captor.
"Let her go!" Ward says again. At least Skye thinks that's what he says. It's like someone stuffed cotton in her ears.
"Almost," Fitz says behind him, kneeled over where her laptop had fallen. "Almost!"
"Put it down!" Derek demands of Fitz, "Put it down, or I end this now!"
Fitz's hands fly off Skye's keyboard, raising like he means no harm--but through the fog, Skye can see him nod, once, grimly. Something stirs in her mind. A spark. Fitz got the device working, she realizes, which means that Dane's powers are blocked. It means he's vulnerable now, and Ward says to her, "Skye, Skye!" like he worries. Like he cares.
Like he's trying to tell her something.
Skye fights the darkness and dizziness creeping in along the edge.
She's in a chokehold. Ward taught her this. One, two, three, four, she goes through the steps in her mind, fighting the fear and her lungs hurt so much, one, two, three, four, use your right hand, Skye, step back, bend down, put your leg behind Darryl's--
She doesn't think anymore. She's got one chance to do this.
It feels like a monumental display of strength--like she's lifting a boat or throwing a car--but Skye does what Ward taught her. The first inhale of air into her lungs hurts almost as much as the oxygen deprivation did, but she can't dwell on it, because she's barely out of Dorian's grip. It's instinct now, adrenaline rushing through her. Out of the chokehold, under his arm, kick his knee out, then block and bat his arm away, and follow it up with a punch to the throat. At the last moment she hears Melinda's words in her mind, Lower your shoulders, and she does.
The surprise she feels when her punch connects is fleeting, because then it's over. Damon stumbles backwards, clear of Skye's personal space, still on one knee, and that's all Ward needs.
His bullet hits with deadly accuracy. Skye remains standing in shock, gasping for air, sucking in huge lungfuls of it, because she's never seen anyone shot up close before, and she's probably going to need therapy for the rest of her life, fucking hell!
Dawson's body's barely hit the ground before Ward's there, right by her side, worry etched in every line of his face. Fitz is right behind him.
"Skye," Ward says, urgently. "Skye, are you okay?"
Skye looks at D-whatthefuckishisname's face one last time, reassuring herself he's really dead, before looking back at Ward. Ward's looking a little blurry around the edges--or maybe that's just her vision? "D--D--Douchebag," she breathes, and then promptly faints.
She doesn't realize it at the time, but Ward catches her. Of course he catches her.
3. Melinda finds her after--after everything. After they get Coulson back. After the dust has settled.
"Hey," she says, quietly.
Skye doesn't look up from her computer screen.
"Coulson's asleep, so I'm in charge for a while," Melinda continues when Skye doesn't immediately acknowledge her presence.
"Mhm," Skye says, trying to sound nonchalant and hating how her eyes sting.
Melinda hesitates in the doorway of Skye's bunk, body twisting just a little like she's about to leave, before she sighs. "Listen, Skye, I'm--I'm not good with apologies. But--what I'm trying to say is, I'm sorry."
The words and numbers on Skye's screen blur into an unintelligible mess. She's not sure how to react.
"Right," Melinda says. "I'll just--" She gestures towards the front of the plane.
Skye stops her before she can leave. "Do you have family?"
Melinda's face instantly grows serious, and she doesn't answer--but she doesn't leave, either. Skye thinks about Quinn and what he told her about SHIELD. She thinks about her own recruitment and about everything she's read about the Avengers and their family histories. Most of them don't even have family records at all, apparently.
"Then," Skye hedges, "maybe there's some part of you that can understand?"
Melinda remains silent for several long seconds, but her face softens a fraction. When she does speak, it's to say, slowly and with great care, "We would not have gotten Coulson back without you, Skye. You are very valuable to this team. One day I hope you realize that."
Skye tries to make her tongue work so she can form words, but honestly all that comes out is a weird stuttering sound. "Um," she says as her brain struggles to process Melinda's words. "Can you teach me some of those fancy martial arts moves?" is what eventually comes out.
Melinda considers. "Ward is your S.O.," she says blankly.
"Yeah, but he can't take down a man with nothing but his thighs and a death glare," Skye quips. Ward is good. Ward is great, even, but Skye really wants some of those fancy martial arts moves that Melinda knows.
Melinda's eyes narrow just a little, before an actual, honest-to-God smile creeps onto her face. "We start tomorrow."
Skye largely taught herself how to hack. She spent years obsessing over code and programming languages, because what the fuck else was she going to do with her time? The realization that she could bring information to people was a revelation. Skye knows a thing or two about having doors shut in your face. As far as she's concerned, opening doors, making sure that information is distributed to the people instead of hidden away, is the best thing she could ever do with herself.
She never in a million years envisioned herself working for SHIELD--but then again, she never envisioned anyone like Coulson working for SHIELD, either.
She's scared, sometimes, of what she's becoming. She's scared her ideals will be buried, disappear, get twisted under some form of bizarre Stockholm Syndrome-like brainwashing, due to the complicated feelings she's developed for her entire team.
When Coulson looks at her, though, she thinks maybe, just maybe, there's at least one person on the Bus who really gets it. Who won't let her lose herself.
4. "Get in, get in, get in," Ward urges, slamming the door shut behind Coulson and putting his full weight against it. "No lock. Figures."
"All right," Skye says, surveying the room quickly, "this is the right place, yeah." There's a big control center by one wall, with an advanced looking keyboard controlling a multitude of screens, and Skye heads there immediately.
"Can you shut the machine down?" Coulson asks.
Skye nods, eyes already focused on the lines of code flying across the screen. "Yes, if I can get past the security system."
"We're on the clock," Ward grits out from the door, shouting to be heard over the steadily increasing noise from outside.
"Yes, thank you, that's very helpful," Skye snaps back, because it's not as if she doesn't know. It's not as if she somehow suddenly forgot that if she can't shut this whole system down, there's a pair of spinning blades on the upper level of the compound that will turn Melinda and FitzSimmons into mincemeat.
The security systems are beyond anything she's ever seen before--better than SHIELD's even--but she supposes that was a given, considering they're implemented by a guy who can talk to computers.
Ward grunts as the door heaves inwards, and Sky glances back just in time to see one of the crazy cult followers managing to push through. Skye wants to see what's happening, but she turns back to her screen, and the scuffle appears to be over fast. "Coulson," Ward says, sounding out of breath. When Skye looks again, the cult follower is unconscious on the floor and Coulson's leaning on the door next to Ward.
"There's more coming, I can hear them," Ward says, before addressing Skye. "Any closer?"
"It's been like five freakin' seconds since you asked last!" Skye shouts, frustrated, and it's not that she can't work well under pressure, it's just that this is a little more pressure than she's used to!
"Ward, you and I will go out there, hold them off," Coulson orders. "Skye, you will stay here and shut down the machine, don't leave this room, okay? We will come get you."
Skye's head whips around so fast she nearly gets dizzy. "What?" she squeaks, unable to conceal the terror welling up in her. "Don't leave me here!"
"Trust us, Skye," Coulson says, looking directly at her. "You'll be fine, just shut down the machine. You can do this."
"Of course I can freakin' do this, it's the bit where people want to kill me I'm not good at!"
Coulson shakes his head, even as he's checking over his firearm. "We'll be right outside, all right? We won't let anyone get in here, I promise, but this position is not defensible. We need to meet them. We can bottleneck them in the hallway, by the stairs."
"What if they get you?" Skye asks. "What if that guy wakes up?"
"He won't wake up," Ward assures her, "I hit him with a tranq. He'll be out for hours. And you won't take hours, right?"
Skye swallows. If she takes hours, they'll all be dead anyway. "No, sir," she answers.
"We won't let anyone through," Coulson repeats. "And we will come get you afterwards, okay? I promise. Trust us."
Skye's heart is in her throat and her pulse is racing, but she nods. "I trust you."
Ward regards her for a moment, not more than a second or two, before nodding once and turning his attention on Coulson. "Age before beauty, sir."
"Don't think I'm letting that one slide," Coulson says, and then they slip through the door, closing it firmly behind them.
Skye watches the door, and listens. She can't hear anything over the steadily increasing roar of angry cult members. Breathing deeply once, twice, she turns back to her keyboard; she has a job to do, and she will do it well, because people depend on her.
A gunshot rings out from somewhere beyond the door, and Skye startles in her seat, hands flying off the keyboard to cover her head on instinct before she can help it. Glancing back to confirm the door is still shut, Skye shakes her head and blinks a few times. "Focus," she mumbles to herself. "Focus."
It takes her eight minutes to break past the security system and shut down the machine.
She doesn't know if she's in time to save Melinda and FitzSimmons. She can only hope.
She doesn't dwell on it though. She refuses to let it distract her. She can't afford it yet. Instead, Skye starts hacking and slashing away at anything she can find, so to speak; power grids, water supplies, automatic gate and door locks, electrical fences, backup generators--she spends sixteen minutes in all, doing as much damage as she possibly can, before she's satisfied. Nodding to herself, Skye turns towards the door and waits, like Ward and Coulson had told her to.
The shouting and sounds of fighting has gotten more faint, but it's still there. It's still terrifying, watching the door, not knowing what lies on the other side. Part of her feels utterly helpless. She wants to leave the room, which is feeling more claustrophobic by the second. But the knowledge that she doesn't have near the fighting experience to take on as many goons as this compound holds is enough to make her stay put.
Ward and Coulson said they'd be back for her. She just has to wait.
It takes another seven minutes before something happens. Rapid footsteps are approaching, audible now that the sounds of the fight are all but gone, and Skye is just looking around for a place to hide when the door flies open. Melinda stands framed in the doorway, backlit by a bare light bulb, looking every bit the hero Skye knows she is. And sure, Melinda's looking a little worse for wear, but she appears unharmed and something in her face softens when she sees Skye.
"Time to go," Melinda says.
Skye scrambles to follow Melinda out the door and down the hallway. "Is everyone okay?"
"Everyone's fine," Melinda assures her, then gives Skye a smile--a full-on smile--over her shoulder. "You did good."
The hallways are empty. Skye's not sure where the crazy cultists have gone, but even though Melinda's steps are long, she doesn't seem overly concerned. Ward and Coulson meet them where the stairs exit to the upper level. FitzSimmons are huddled behind Ward, looking a little stressed, but also unharmed. "Told you we'd come get you," Ward says with a smirk.
Just then, engines approach, and they all look up in time to see multiple Quinjets approach the area, some of them lowering down to land, others taking off towards the forest beyond.
"Hunting for cult members, I guess," Coulson says. "We've got our chief troublemaker restrained, but his little followers took off into the forest.”
"Happy hunting," Melinda says with a smirk.
Skye's never had siblings.
Skye thinks Ward is an amazing brother.
5. They file out of the plane together. Coulson's leading the way, FitzSimmons following behind him with their arms linked. Ward and Melinda are a few steps behind them, slightly spread out as if covering their flanks, and Skye marvels at how seamlessly they fall into a defensive sort of formation, whether consciously or subconsciously watching out for their team. Unsure of where she fits in, Skye falls into step at the very back of the group.
"Oh my God, could you be any slower?" Ward complains, and before Skye really has a chance to register that he's talking to her specifically, he's pulled her into a gentle headlock. "Come on, Skye, the bar waits for no man--or woman!"
It's on the tip of her tongue to protest, panic briefly flaring underneath her skin as she recalls Dirk-David-Derek--what was his name, anyway?--but then she smells the faint traces of Ward's soap. Skye remembers that smell. She's smelled it probably hundreds of times before, over breakfast in the kitchen, when they meet for sparring sessions, when they play board games. Inexplicably, Skye feels safe, and she's not sure who's more surprised, Ward or herself, when she twists out of his headlock with a giggle.
"Somewhere out there," Ward says, gesturing grandly, "there's a dartboard with our names on it. And I aim to thoroughly beat your ass at drunk darts."
Skye narrows her eyes. "You're on. Prepare to eat those words, Grant Ward! I'm great at drunk darts!"
"Sure," Ward says, like he doesn't quite believe her.
"Seriously," Skye insists. "I am!"
Ward's face suddenly goes serious for a moment, and he meets her eyes directly as he nods. "You said so. I trust you," he says, and Skye gets the distinct feeling they're not just talking about darts anymore.
It's enough to make her steps falter, but Ward just walks on, unconcerned.
Melinda comes up next to Skye and nudges her arm with her own. "See? Wasn't that easy?"
Skye looks at Melinda and thinks about all the months that's passed since the--incident with Miles.
"Not really," she answers honestly.
Melinda smiles serenely at her. "Atta girl."
To Skye's surprise, Melinda then links their arms together, mirroring FitzSimmons where they're walking several feet ahead. "Come on," Melinda says. "We can team up at darts and hustle Grant for some cash."
When Skye was little, she learned that family was fleeting. Family was not permanent. She stopped expecting it to be, and eventually she stopped hoping, too.
For the first time since childhood, Skye hopes.