cover art by Port
Skye knows from the moment the door closes on her and Raina walks down into the caves that her life has been irrevocably changed, but it doesn’t really hit home until she wakes on the wrong side of the glass in a contamination cell.
She feels energy surge underneath her skin, an uncontrollable, unknowable amount of power that settles into her body like she’s nothing more than an ill-fitting glove. Panic churns in her stomach, acidic, making her want to hurl. The very core of her is starting to vibrate, shaking her from the inside out and wanting to flow out of her, shake up everything else around her too, and she wants to give in to it, knows she shouldn’t but isn’t sure she could even stop, she didn't manage it down in the city –
“Shh,” says Trip from behind to her, and oh god, how is he here, she saw him die, “calm down. Don’t panic. It’s going to be okay, I promise.”
He places a hand on her shoulder, and, instantly, her panic dissolves. The monster underneath her skin goes back to sleep, and Skye spins around, falling forward into his arms, holding on, loses herself to the soothing circles he draws on her back.
“It’s going to be okay,” he tells her again and again. “I’m here. You’re not alone. It’s all going to be okay.”
Somehow it's ridiculously easy to believe him, take a deep breath, and let it all go.
“Raina is here too,” Coulson says, glancing woefully at the glass wall that separates them. It's kinda cute. ”Simmons found her in the caves. Shot her, which didn't take, and then ran her into the arms of a few other agents.”
Before Skye's inner eye, a memory flashes. Raina with spikes, looking like the illegitimate offspring of a human and a porcupine. “Is she –“ she starts, but can't bring herself to continue. Changed is one thing she could've said. Like me is another.
Trip continues in her stead, not missing a beat. “Has she been changed? Transformed? When we saw her last, in the caves, she was... different.”
“Yes.” Coulson grimaces. He shudders a little, too. “Different is one way to put it.”
They have been at odds more often than not, but in this moment all Skye feels for Raina is compassion. She knows without a doubt that what happened to Raina also happened to her, but she got lucky. She doesn't wear the transformation on her skin.
Coulson clearing his throat tears her from her thoughts. “We'll run a few more tests,” he says. “Just to be sure. Then you're out of here. We can talk about anything else then.”
As soon as he's gone and out of earshot, Skye turns to Trip. Before she has a chance to open her mouth, he nods and smiles at her. “We're not telling them yet, right? Don't worry. Your secret's save with me.”
Any other time, she might wonder how he seems to know her every thought before she's even done thinking them. And it does occur to her, how it's not normal, but she's too exhausted and too afraid to follow that train of thought any further.
Simmons shows up a little later to take their blood samples, chattering on about how fascinating it all is, and it's familiar and calming enough that Skye forgets to be worried until after her blood is in the vial and it's too late to change anything. Trip holds his arm out next. He flinches a little at the pinprick, and as he does it, Skye knows it's not the pain – he's had so much worse. It's the needle. He hates those. As a child, he had nightmares of doctors and experiments, and it's carried over into his adult life. He never told Skye any of that.
She looks at him, the clues slotting together in her head. He gives a little shake of his, almost imperceptible. Not now.
Simmons packs up her toys and marches out of the quarantine cell. Skye gives her a little wave, but wheels around just as soon as she's out of earshot.
“Okay,” she tells Trip, who looks contrite and defiant all at once, and also a little lost. He looks how she feels. “Talk to me. What's going on?”
He bites his lower lip and glances the other way. “I think I died down there. And then I came back different.” Inhaling deeply, he raises his eyes to meet her gaze. “But I'm not the only one, I'm guessing.”
It shouldn't be so terrifying, to admit as much to him; especially not when she thinks he already knows, already felt it. And yet, she can't say it out loud, afraid that would somehow make it more real. She nods.
Trip leans forward and takes her hand, and for a second her fear joins with his and multiplies; beyond the transformation and its fallout, there are things she doesn't want him to know, not yet, not like this. But then she's flooded with an all-compassing sense of serenity and ease. The rest of the world falls away, and with it, all her worries and fears.
When Fitz and Simmons show back up together, glancing around outside the cell in a way that's both extra suspicious and kinda cute, Skye knows they've been found out.
“We ran your blood tests,” Simmons starts.
“Twice, to be sure,” Fitz adds.
Simmons nods. “Yes. Twice.”
There's a moment of careful, assertive stares on both sides of the glass, while neither party knows how the other will react to the truth that's about to be voiced one way or another. Skye tries to look innocent and clueless, ready to deny everything if this conversation goes the wrong way. Trip holds himself perfectly still, stoic expression on his face that gives away nothing. Fitz looks at his hands. Simmons's gaze darts every which way.
“Did you,” she starts, struggling for words like Fitz usually does, these days. “I mean, have you noticed any... changes?”
The first thing that forms on Skye's lips is a lie. No, we didn't. What is it? What did you find? Oh.... That can't be true. I don't feel any different.
But Trip beats her to the punch. He smiles at her briefly, and she recognizes the effect of his power, slowing down her heartbeat, the panicked rush of thoughts in her head. “We did. But it's under control. Even so, I know it's a lot to ask, but – “
Simmons shakes her head. “That's why we're here. We want you to know, your secret's safe with us.”
She and Fitz exchange a look and smile at one another, as if they're reunited in this new shared secret, protecting their friends together. Maybe it'll be the one good thing to come out of this whole mess.
“What, uh,” Fitz starts, then snaps his fingers in frustration. “The transformation. What did it do?”
Simmons glares at him. “You can't just ask that.”
“Oh please,” he shoots back. “We can't help them if we don't know what happened.” He stops, inclines his head. “Do you need help? Is it something bad? Do you want it to, uh. Do you want to... reverse it?”
More than anything in the world, Skye thinks. What she says is, “I could hurt people. I don't know what exactly I can do yet, or how to control it. All I know is that I have to keep it under control. I think... I think I caused the earthquake.”
Simmons smiles again. “You would never intentionally hurt anyone. I know that.”
“You don't know that. Someone could have died,” Skye argues, and Simmons shakes her head.
“But no one did. We all got out, and you got out, and now we can figure this out together.”
She puts her hand on the glass, and Skye recognizes the gesture, puts her own on the glass too.
“We'll figure it out,” Simmons promises before she withdraws, elbowing Fitz. His eyes dart every which way before he catches himself and nods.
“Yes,” he says, with more confidence and determination in his expression than Skye has seen on him since before he drowned. “We can fix this.”
Fitz's words swirl around Skye's head for the rest of the day, keep her up that night. We can fix this. But can they? Is there a cure? If it changed their very DNA, the core of what they are, how could that be possible? She looks at Trip's sleeping form on the bed beside her own and doesn't know if she wants to wake him so he can calm her down, or keep him asleep forever so he doesn't see any more of her thoughts and emotions. She doesn't want anyone to know how she works on the inside, and she can't figure out whether the fact that it's him makes things more or less complicated. Skye never really had a knack for picking the right guys to fall for. The last one... look how that turned out.
She watches him stir, and she wants to tell him before it spills out of her thoughts randomly. She watches him crack an eye open, and she never wants him to find out.
“What's wrong?” he asks, voice thick with sleep.
She shakes her head. “Nothing. Go back to sleep. We can talk about it in the morning.”
He's far enough gone, still, that he does; idly pushes at his pillow, rolls onto his back, and within minutes, his breathing has evened back out. He doesn't ask in the morning. Skye hopes he doesn't even remember he woke in the first place.
With the falsified DNA results, it's not long until they're out of quarantine. Skye expects normalcy to settle back in when she goes to sleep in her quarters, but she still doesn't feel any better when she wakes the next day. She's relieved to find no one's really looking at her differently; to them, nothing out of the ordinary happened. She and Trip landed themselves in quarantine after a mission; it happens. Nevertheless, when she walks into the hangar to find Mack fiddling with a piece of machinery she can't name and he pauses, calls her name, she finds she can't breathe.
Mack abandons his work completely to walk around the counter. Skye hears him talking, probably asking if she's okay, but the words refuse to knit together the right way and make sense. She's about to turn and flee back to her quarters when she feels a hand on the small of her back and the world comes into focus again.
“Her first time behind glass,” Trip says while he works his way underneath the fabric of her shirt, discreetly, at an angle Mack won't notice, and begins to rub circles directly into her skin.
Skye nods and manages a small smile. “Yeah. Scary.”
“Well,” Mack says, balling his hands into fists by his sides, like it’s suddenly awkward to be standing in the middle of the room, now that he no longer has reason to be worried. “It's over now.”
He turns his attention back to his work, and Trip leads her into the kitchen, arm slung around her waist. Sits her down, makes them coffee, and takes a seat across from her. The loss of contact makes the ants crawling under her skin surge, but it's bearable, now that they're alone.
“Still out of sorts?” he asks, concern lining his face. She can feel it too, and in some weird way, that's actually comforting.
Trip leans forward and takes both her hands across the table. “We have nothing to worry about. Fitzsimmons have a lid on it. No one else is gonna know, unless we decide to tell them. It's all right. We're safe. You just need to calm down.”
The last two words spread through Skye's body like something physical, balm applied to her frayed nerves, and she does indeed settle down enough to wonder how it comes so naturally to him, working his new ability like he was born with it. Maybe it's easier because it's not destructive. He doesn't have to control himself, can stretch and test without fear of losing control and hurting others. His natural empathy amplified; it makes Skye wonder how her own gift mirrors her personality, and how Raina's relates to hers. She can't decide which thought saddens her more.
“Okay, now.” He squeezes her hands and smiles. “Ready to face the music, Agent?”
He knows that she is, and she knows that he knows, and it's much less strange than it should be.
Trip comes to her that night, around 3 a.m., must have felt she was lying awake. He knocks and she knows it’s him, gives her permission not out loud but in a thought, an emotion, the desire to have him close.
“Ah girl,” he says as he slips into the room and quietly closes the door behind him, standing before her in nothing but loose, low-hanging sweatpants. “We probably shouldn’t do that all the time. I miss talking to you, I gotta admit. Out loud. Hearing your voice.”
Skye sits up in her bed and makes a space for him to sit by her side. “It’s so much easier though.”
He settles down next to her, and they’re close enough so she can feel the warmth of his body through the thin cotton of the T-shirt she’s wearing. The proximity makes her body vibrate in a different way, one altogether more pleasant than her newfound power, and she doesn’t bother hiding that from him.
“I know,” she concedes, feels him straighten against her, tense and then relax. Whatever it his he’s debating with himself in response to her emotions, she doesn’t try and get a peek. After a moment, he inches even closer and pulls her head down to rest on his shoulder.
“Then tell me,” Trip demands, smoothing her hair down. “What’s on your mind?”
She hesitates, because as natural as it’s become to let him in, talking about this, even to him, is infinitely harder. “I’m afraid of losing control. Terrible things will happen if I do, I know it. This… thing, I could hurt people.”
“So we make sure you don’t,” he says, and she wants to interrupt, ask him how, tell him they can’t, but he shushes her. “No, no, listen. You and me, together, we can do this. You’ll practice. I’ll be there. I’ll help you stay focused, right? It’s like any weapon, most dangerous when the one wielding it doesn’t know what he’s doing, and we can work on that.”
The task seems impossible, more than she’s capable of, but Skye has never once given up easily and it’s not like she’s got another choice. “Okay,” she agrees. “Together.”
Trip's approach to trying to trigger her powers when she's expecting to be triggered turns out to be simple and agent-typical: sparring. No holds barred training, the kind that makes it painfully obvious how much skill and experience he's got on her, and therefore manages to back her into enough of a tight spot to wake the beast beneath her skin.
Skye starts out skeptical, but as he has her down on the mat, her face pressed to the ground, her heart pumping so fast it's all she hears, all she feels, all she is and her fight-or-flight response makes her buzz and itch all over, she has to admit it works. He feels it, springs back, ceasing all contact and suddenly she feels their mental link severed as well. She's alone with her power. He retreats further, and starts talking nonsense at her. There's a lot of you can do it and I believe in you and you'll be fine, you'll see, and she focuses on it, his voice, his trust – he's close enough that, if she loses control now, she could hurt him too. She breathes in deep. She lets the air out in a swoosh. She tries, tries harder, panics when it doesn't quite work, and that's when he jumps forward and puts a hand on her arm.
“That was good,” he says, grinning at her like she accomplished more than just staving off her powers for a few seconds. “Couple minutes to calm down, and then we'll go again.”
Her skin still feels too tight for her body, and his hand, where they touch, electrifies her in more than one way. He looks down at his hand, where it rests on her arm, and slowly pulls back. She feels him forcefully shut a door in his mind, deliberately denying her access to his reaction.
They stand in silence for a few minutes, both breathing hard and trying to keep each other out of their respective thoughts and succeeding just enough to know that's what the other one's doing, and then Trip charges at her out of the blue and Skye becomes preoccupied with more pressing matters.
Raina, it turns out, knows about as much about the transformation as Skye does. For all the outlandish folklore she grew up with, the reality of it caught her by surprise just as much as it did Skye. She can't offer any other information either, no matter how often Bobbi puts her through the wringer. After about a week, Coulson decides it's time to move her off base and lock her up.
Two hours into the transport, they lose contact with the van. Another hour later, and the team's out there, playing hide and seek. Finding her isn't too hard; middle of the day, bright daylight, and Raina can hardly walk down the street with her fur and her quills. They find her hidden away in the back alley behind a truck stop, glowering at them with blood on her hands. Skye doesn't want to think about how it got there.
“What did it do to you?” Raina snarls in her direction, and Skye's heart misses a beat. They're not alone, May and Coulson are in earshot, and no no no, it can't happen like this, they can't find out yet, she's not ready. “I know it did something. I saw you, I saw both of you, it's not fair – “
That's when Raina's head snaps up, just seconds before the air starts to crackle and blue lightning gives way to a man Skye's never seen before. He's tall, about Coulson's age, and his eyes are... just not there. In their place is a thick wad of skin, and he stares at Raina, then at Skye. He starts off in her direction, and it might all be moot anyway because her body reacts on animal instinct, power surging under her skin to ensure her survival, but before she can raise her hands and aim, ruin everything, Trip steps closer. His proximity alone is enough to give her back some semblance of control. More than that; the stranger stops, inclines his head, glances around in obvious confusion.
He zeroes in on Raina again and she screams, a shrill and animalistic sound. A second later they're both gone, her and the stranger, vanished into another ball of blue lightning.
Skye and Trip turn in one motion, just in time to see Coulson and May exchange a look that can't mean anything good.
They're back on base, done debriefing, and when May comes to see her in her quarters afterwards, Skye knows the charade is over.
“Raina's right,” May says, in that tone she has, and it's not actually a question. “Isn't she?”
Skye just nods. Part of her is relieved to know there won't be any more lies, and the relief is almost stronger than the undercurrent of fear that's making her skin buzz. She didn't pay attention to where Trip went after the debrief, but she reaches out and feels him reaching back. He'll be here shortly. As long as she manages to convince herself May knowing isn't a threat in itself, she'll manage on her own.
May purses her lips and leans against the door frame. Her voice is gentle, understanding, when she instructs Skye to tell her everything.
What startles her most of all is how most of their colleagues – their friends, really – react with curiosity rather than rejection. May and Coulson talk about tests and monitoring and being careful, but they do so without malice. Mack is wary, but he'd been possessed down there so Skye can't really blame him. Bobbi seems reserved, but still friendly. Hunter jokes about getting himself a tinfoil hat for the next time he sees Trip.
No one runs away screaming.
The commotion doesn't last long either, seeing how Fitz soon figures out a way to track the stranger who took Raina. Skye doesn't get it all, something about wavelengths and electromagnetism.
“Point is,” he concludes when he notices he lost his audience during all the techno-babble, “I think I can extrapolate his, uh, his location. Not exactly, but the general area.”
“And?” Coulson gently prompts, and Fitz pulls up another screen, points at a map.
“China,” he says, finger drawing a circle around a mountain range with a glowing red dot in the middle. “Roundabout here.”
Skye stares at the dot, remembers the way the stranger with no eyes zeroed in on her.
“I'll go,” she says. Not unexpectedly, that gets her everyone's immediate attention, heads snapping her way. “He came at me before he even noticed Raina. He wanted to take me. We can use that.”
Trip, who has been listening from a seat in the back, rises to his feet. “I'm coming with you.”
Coulson glances at them both and sighs. “And to think people actually assume I'm in charge around here.”
Concerns are raised, alternatives are discussed, but needless to say, after some token discussion the two of them board a quinjet with May and Bobbi.
The place is heavily fortified, albeit in a rather medieval sort of way: it’s ensconced directly into the mountain, and where that doesn’t do the trick, high walls are made of solid wood. They’d need an army to charge this proverbial hill, Skye grudgingly assesses. The upside of it all is that her frustration only makes her skin tingle for a brief moment, gone again so soon that Trip doesn’t even bother to start hovering.
“Do you think you could, uh,” Bobbi says and waves her hand to indicate the walls, but she forgoes finishing that sentence when May gives her a stern glance. “Or maybe not.”
Viewing her ability as an asset rather than a threat, though, is not an angle Skye’s used to yet, and she has to admit to herself that it feels nice to have someone suggest it could be useful. Trip picks up on it, smiles at her when he marches past her to investigate the walls up close. He doesn’t get far.
The stranger with no eyes appears directly in front of Skye, close enough she has to look away from the intensity of the blue lightning. He holds a hand out as soon as the light has receded.
“I’m glad you found your way here after all,”he says, and as if to underline his statement, a door falls open in the wall a few feet left of them. “We have been waiting for you.”
Skye turns to send a questioning glance to May, who shrugs and gives a kind of half-nod. She chooses to interpret that as encouragement, doesn’t take the stranger’s hand but follows him through the door, Trip at her side, Bobbi and May trailing them.
Inappropriate a comparison as it may be, the first thought that springs into Skye’s head as she follows the stranger – who has since introduced himself as Gordon – is that the camp looks like the set for a Star Wars movie.
“We mean you no harm,” Gordon assures them. “This is a safe place.”
Skye has seen too many bad science fiction movies not to find that promise slightly unsettling, but instead of pointing out the obvious, she asks, “Where did you take Raina?”
Gordon shakes his head. “You’ll find out in due time.”
He leads them towards a cluster of small cottages, all having curtains of small glass beads instead of doors, another feature Skye doesn’t find particularly trustworthy – she's not super fond of places that pretend they don't allow secrets. In her experience, that's usually a cover for something big. He indicates one of the cottages and goes on his merry way, so the team is left waiting and staring at each other awkwardly. Skye is just about to ask whether she should go in or if they have to secure the perimeter or something instead, when a woman about May’s age steps through the curtain, the beads clinking together as she passes.
She has her hands held up in front of her body in an appeasing gesture and directs a pointed glance towards May, who, Skye sees when she follows her line of sight, has a hand resting on her gun, still holstered but at the ready.
“Surely there won’t be a need for violence,” she says, then directs her attention back to Skye. “You’re one of us.” She nods towards Trip. “And so is he. We would never hurt you.”
Over the next couple of hours, Skye hears a lot of new and unfamiliar words, like Terrigenesis and Inhuman, and more yet that are familiar but don’t make sense in this specific context. The woman introduces herself as Jiaying, claims to be a guide and a protector, and also the leader of this camp. By the end of it all, the sun has long since set, and they're invited to stay the night.
Long after everyone else has gone to bed in their guest quarters, Skye stands outside in front of her assigned cottage. Considering how warm it was during the day, it's now positively freezing, and she wraps her arms around her upper body. She's inhaling the cold night air, and it sears her lungs, makes her feel like she's drowning. A week ago, she thought she knew who she was, and now very little of it holds true.
Very little, but not everything. She turns around when he clears his throat behind her, but she sensed him before that. “Can't sleep either?”
“Noticed you couldn't sleep,” he says and smirks. “Kinda contagious, as it turns out.”
Skye doesn't think she'll ever get used to this shared consciousness of sorts, doesn't think she'll want to. And maybe they should have started working on that, too; if she can learn to control her gifts, surely there's a way to control his.
“Sorry,” she says, and he shakes his head.
“Don't be.” He steps closer, rubs the palm of his hand along the curve of her spine, spreading warmth throughout her body, even though she should hardly feel it through the cotton. She closes her eyes, doesn't try to hide the other things his touch, like this, without the intent to soothe her and provide support, makes her feel.
Trip's hand stills. He steps back, out of her personal space. “I'm not sure this is a good idea.”
Doesn't take a genius to figure out what this is. Skye swirls around, puts his hand back around her waist. “Why?”
He smiles, a little rueful. “Right now, I don't know where I end and you begin. I can't be sure whose idea this really was.”
There's more than one way to interpret this, and she has an inkling, but she needs to be sure. “Well, when did you start wanting it?”
His eyes narrow. “Sometime between that night at the pool, in the motel, last year, and finding the bunker.”
“Then I can put you at ease,” Skye says and grins up at him through her lashes, feeling something between unsure and exhilarated; she's never been a smooth flirt. “Because it wasn't much later for me.”
The implication takes a moment to sink in, but then his face lights up. “We're kinda dumb, aren't we? Neither of us catching a clue until one of us develops psychic powers?”
“Better late than never,” she says, pulling him closer by the belt loops on his jeans. In hindsight she won't be able to figure out who leaned in first, who initiated the kiss, but maybe that's exactly the way these things should go.
Raina, as it turns out, has exchanged one form of solitary confinement for another. She snarls at Skye when she and Trip are allowed to visit her with Jiaying for a guard on the second day, behaving rather like the wild animal she so hates to have become, and refuses to answer any other questions, doesn’t talk at all until they’re on their way out.
She spits out Skye’s name, and when Skye turns, tells her with a feral smile, “Family’s not all you expected it would be, huh? Tell your daddy the next time I see him he’ll get to meet the monster he made me.”
Her choice of words only strikes Skye as odd when she catches the expression on Jiaying’s face, because there’s not a lot of reasons for her to be set on edge by what Raina said. She waits until they’re alone, later that evening, before she confronts her host; she’s an agent and she’s here on a mission, but her father is her father, much as she might dislike that fact, and her father is personal.
Out of all the answers she had been prepared for, walking out of that conversation with a father and a mother was not what she expected.
Afterwards, she goes to find May. She and Bobbi have been relegated to the backseat since they arrived at the camp – Jiaying doesn’t quite seem to trust anyone who isn’t like her, and after considering the puzzle pieces that just fell into place, Skye can’t blame her too much for being wary of alphabet agencies – but it still feels like the natural choice, getting her opinion. She’s the senior agent. She’s Skye’s superior officer. More than either though, she’s her friend.
May listens, hands folded on the table between them, until Skye finishes. Then she simply nods. “Do you want to stay here?”
“I... what?” The question comes out of the left field, even though they both listened to Jiaying talk about Inhumanity and guides and training, and from that angle, it might make solid sense. But there’s a difference between what she maybe have become and who she is, and a camp in the mountains, far from everyone and everything she shared her baptism of fire with, isn’t the place she belongs. “No. I don’t.”
“Good,” May says and smiles. “Then we can figure the rest out as we go.”
Skye leaves the camp with unease deep in the pit of her stomach, the vague feeling that she’ll be here again and it might not be for courtesy visits or family time. There’s no evidence of anything unsavory, though, so she discards it as an aftereffect of her childhood; no wonder she doesn’t trust her mother to be genuine, her father to stay put and not cause her additional headaches. The wariness that wafts over from Trip when they say their goodbyes to Jiaying and the rest of the camp doesn’t help either.
She elbows him once they’ve settled in the back of the quinjet. “Don’t like my mother? Look at us, we’re a total cliche already.”
“I dunno.” He shrugs, leans back in his seat and closes his eyes; Skye’s not going to be so paranoid as to suspect he doesn’t want to look at her while they discuss this particular topic. “She’s keeping secrets, but I guess that’s no surprise, is it?”
Skye resists the urge to touch him for comfort. Somehow, after the kiss, being physically close to him is more confusing, not less so. “Yeah. It’d be naive to expect full disclosure.”
They don’t talk much for the rest of the flight, but then again, they don’t have to talk to know when they’re on the same page. Skye saves the worries about what being connected will mean the next time they aren’t in agreement for after he’s drifted off to sleep, lulled, she knows, by the familiar noises of the quinjet in flight.
The debrief for China is like every other debrief Skye’s been a part of over the last year, family ties and shared alien pedigree politely ignored. Being back in the bunker seems almost normal, and for a few moments each day, Skye finds herself forgetting that she’s changed at all. When she’s reminded, it’s mostly because of Trip.
He pulls back from her, which doesn’t bother her too much; being in each other’s heads twenty-four-seven was never going to be healthy to begin with, and if they want to give this whole relationship thing a go then a certain degree of mental privacy is even more of a necessity. What worries her is that he seems to pull back from everyone else too. The most prominent emotion he still telegraphs – can’t help but telegraph, she assumes – is exhaustion.
The third night back home, it’s she who pays him a nightly visit in his quarters.
“Hey,” she says when she finds him sitting cross-legged on his cot. “Can’t sleep?”
Trip glances up, and what starts as a lop-sided smile and the intention of a quip melts into a satisfyingly appreciative once-over. She’s wearing track pants and a tank top, head in a messy pony tail, not a look she would’ve classified as sexy. He seems to disagree, and makes no effort to hide his reaction.
“That’s not why I’m here.” Skye sits down next to him, reaches for his hand, relieved when he tangles their fingers together almost immediately. She smiles, deliberately repeats the very same words he said to her what already feels like a lifetime ago. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Too much,” Trip simply says. “Everyone. Everything.” He leans in, their foreheads touching, makes their noses bump and grins. “What do you think, girl, wanna help me forget for a while?”
As come-ons go it’s terrible and it’s a band-aid for a much deeper issue, but she can’t tell him no. She doesn’t want to tell him no. Their first time is slow and careful, all french kissing and lingering touches, holding hands in the dark afterwards, and despite the circumstances it just feels perfectly right.
Life goes on. People stop looking at Skye like she’s grown wings, or maybe horns. China sits in the back of her head like a bad headache that hasn’t fully formed. They get new cases, new missions. Hydra still exists alongside them, but Skye has begun to suspect that there’s not really too much to be done about that. It has been around for fifty years; expecting to crush them now, with an under-prepared guerrilla group of agents, seems like delusions of grandeur.
Trip doesn’t get better.
When they walk down the hallway, he’ll randomly glance after someone passing them, his eyebrows knitting together, his mouth thinning with a frown. He hasn’t told anyone the extent of his ability, no one but Skye; Trip’s an agent, a spy, and he knows all too well that other spies wouldn’t take kindly to a mind-reader in their midst. They know he can read their moods, but given how many of them wear those on their sleeves, the news hasn’t made that big of a splash. They know he can calm Skye down if need be, which is considered an asset rather than a threat, and somehow none of them has made the connection that he could do this for them too, or could turn it around. It’s like how everyone kept working for Coulson after the markings and the carving, no questions asked unless it’s on the quiet, among one another, but never to May or Coulson himself. They don’t want to know everything.
And all the while, Skye can’t figure out how to repay the favor he did her and help him. She wraps herself around him when he cracks under the burden of other people’s feelings, fragments of their thoughts, enough to piece together a little bit of what they’re thinking but never the whole picture. She asks him if he wants to share, tell her what he caught, but he considers that a betrayal, and she is left with nothing but the wave of trepidation that circles between them.
It’s in a meeting over a trail to Hydra’s latest activities when she sees his face pale, his hand reach out to squeeze hers, so hard it hurts, and she knows it’s so he can keep himself under control, not outwardly react any other way. Right before he averts his eyes, directs them to the floor, she follows his line of sight to Bobbi and Mack, nervously whispering at the other end of the room.
The rest of the meeting might as well have been held in foreign languages, for all the attention she manages to pay to it. Afterwards, she pulls Trip out of the room and back to their quarters, his hand still like a vise around hers.
“Okay,” she says, once she’s sat him down. “What is it? And don’t tell me you can’t say anything. This has long since stopped being about anyone else. It’s about what it does to you.”
He looks up at her, tormented. Trip’s best and worst quality: he’s fiercely loyal, even if it comes at his own expense. That might well be the very reason he followed her into the caves, and why he’s in this situation in the first place.
Skye shakes that thought off. The last thing he needs right now is having to deal with her guilt, her emotions, the hair trigger fused to her power, on top of everything else. She settles on a classic, places a hand on his knee, leans in to kiss him, deep and slow and unhurried, not aimed at anything more than temporary distraction, until she feels the storm in his mind begin to abate. He places his hand on her hip, low enough so it’s not quite an innocent gesture, but not venturing away, not even when they part.
He licks his lips. “Thanks.”
“Still feels a little bit like we’re cheating,” Skye says. “But, whatever works, right?”
Trip grins at that, and it’s everything. “Maybe not a good strategy to use in public, though.”
“Oh, it’s their fault for having sketchy thoughts and secrets in the first place.” She squeezes his knee. “They’d just have to deal.” She inches a little bit closer, places her head on his shoulder. “Please. Tell me.”
“Jemma feels guilty about Fitz. She might be in love with him, a little bit, by now, but she’s not sure it’s because of the guilt or because she always kinda was,” he starts, voice low, still feeling bad.
“Oh please.” She groans, exaggerated. “Ever heard of girl talk? I knew that.”
“Fitz is torn because he wants to stay now that they’re getting on better again,” Trip continues. “But he hatched the idea she might be better off without him while they were at odds, and he can’t quite stuff it back into the box.”
“I think I can solve that the next time I talk to her,” Skye suggests. “Without revealing my source. Next?”
He inhales, and she assumes he’s bracing himself for the big one, whatever it was he caught during the meeting and made him so upset. “Bobbi and Mack are up to something. He’s determined. She has doubts, torn between us and whoever else they’re working for. No, that’s not the right word – it’s more than a job. It’s about loyalty.”
Skye swallows. If it was just a job, if someone paid them for a deed, maybe it wouldn’t have hit Trip quite so hard. This is a much bigger betrayal. “So if Bobbi’s the one having doubts, we’ll look into her. I’ll track her emails, her cell phone, everything. We’ll find something, and then we’ll talk to her.”
She feels him shift, crane his head, and press his face into her hair, kissing the top of her head. “Ah girl, I love it when you’re being smart.”
“You haven’t seen the half of it,” she says, and curls in closer against him.
They both accompany Bobbi when she goes to talk to May and Coulson, delivering herself in regards to the other SHIELD. A truce is negotiated, but Syke doesn’t expect it to hold. Mack leaves a few days later, and everyone knows the destination.
It’s another fragile peace, the overture to a storm that’s definitely in their future. But Trip gradually stops flinching away from other people’s thoughts, settled into the knowledge that he’s doesn’t have to deal with them alone – that they can be dealt with, and that it can be done without risking exposure or blame. They’re going to run into a problem that’s too big to be solved by just the two of them at some point; Skye’s not delusional enough to think that isn’t a possibility, and neither is Trip.
That is why, a few weeks after Bobbi brought her secret to their director and his second in command, Skye and Trip do the same. May and Coulson do what family is supposed to do: there’s some yelling, some disappointment gets expressed, but in the end they’re offered help, not cast out.
Whatever storms are coming for them, they won’t have to weather them alone.