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Without Flinching

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AT QUINN’S VILLA:

 

Coulson:              Where’s Skye?

Quinn:                  You know, Agent Coulson, it’s dangerous to keep sending her in like that all alone when she means so much to you…

 

Coulson punches Quinn.

 

Coulson:              Search the house! Find her!

 

IN THE WINE CELLAR:

 

Coulson:              Oh…no! Oh God—Simmons! Get down here! Oh—oh God…Hang on, just hang on, okay? Oh, God…She’s been shot…

Simmons:            Keep her upright!

Coulson:              I’ve got no pulse…

Simmons:            She’s lost too much blood—I don’t…Put her in there!

Ward:                   Do you even know what this thing is?

Simmons:            It’s a hyperbaric chamber and I said put her in there—now!

May:                    Okay

Coulson:             Come on, let’s go!

May:                    All right…Gentle…

 

Team places Skye in hyperbaric chamber.

 

Simmons:            I need to get her temperature down, Fitz!

Fitz:                    Yeah, I got it, I got it. Temperature’s dropping.

Simmons:            Pressure’s stabilizing.

May:                    Is it working?

Coulson:              Is it working?!

Simmons:            For now.

 

ON THE BUS:

 

Simmons:            Her core temperature is hovering around 44 degrees Fahrenheit. If we don’t bring her back up to temp in the next few hours, she could sustain permanent                                    brain damage. We need to get her to a medical facility and fast. Until then, I’ll do everything I can to keep her alive.

 

                            Excuse me.

 

Simmons breaks down crying in Fitz’s arms out of sight of the rest of the team.

 

LATER…

 

Triplett:                               Tough when it’s your team. You guys go back a ways?

Simmons:                            Not really. A few months. We have nothing in common—couldn’t be more different.

Triplett:                               But you can’t imagine your life without her.

Simmons:                            Yes. You’ve experienced that, Agent Triplett?

Triplett:                               I have. Sometimes, a person takes you by surprise.

 

***

 

It had been a nightmare of Skye’s blood slick on her hands, of Skye coding over and over and over, of Skye’s terrifying seizure after being injected with the GH-325 formula. After Skye had stabilized, and all signs of crisis had passed, May, of all people, had ordered her into the shower, made her sit down and eat something (she would never be able to recall what it was), and then had directed her to a cot that had been placed inside the med pod next to Skye’s gurney. She dimly remembered May’s hands, firm but gentle, that had helped her lay down. After she closed her eyes, she fell asleep to the steady, reassuring rhythm of Skye’s heart monitor and the comforting weight of May’s hand on her shoulder.

 

She woke to the sound of soft whimpering and immediately got to her feet. Skye’s eyes were closed; she was having a nightmare. Jemma bent to stroke Skye’s forehead. “You’re safe, love,” she said softly. “You’re safe. I’m right here.”

 

Skye’s eyes fluttered open and Jemma smiled down at her. “There. That’s better. Bad dream?”

 

Skye swallowed and nodded, her eyes never leaving Jemma’s face. “Thirsty,” she managed to rasp out.

 

Jemma nodded and opened the cooler she had brought into the pod. It was filled with water bottles and ice chips. She opened one of the plastic containers of ice chips and took out a small plastic spoon.

 

She carefully fed Skye ice chips, a tiny spoonful at a time, until Skye sank back into her pillows, exhausted by that small effort. Skye winced and whispered, “I hurt.”

 

Jemma stroked her forehead again, saying, “I bet you do. Hold on, and I’ll get you something for the pain.”

 

The morphine made Skye’s face smooth out and her eyes began to flutter closed. “Stay?” Skye whispered to her.

 

Jemma blinked the tears away and sat down in the chair Coulson had managed to squeeze in front of her cot. “Of course, love,” she said to Skye, who finally closed her eyes as Jemma’s hand found hers.

 

“I’m not going anywhere.”

 

***

 

She woke with a start hours later when she felt the firm pressure of someone’s hand on her shoulder. She was still in the chair, holding Skye’s hand. She blinked to clear her eyes and realized that it was Coulson who was gently squeezing her shoulder.

 

When she looked up at him, he said softly, but firmly, “I want you to go have something to eat, take a shower, and sleep in your own bunk.” When Jemma opened her mouth to protest, he immediately cut her off by saying, “That’s an order, not a request. I’ll sit with her. I need you—Skye needs you at your best, and that’s not going to happen if you don’t take care of yourself, Jemma.” She couldn’t remember the last time he had called her by her first name.

 

She nodded wordlessly and untangled her fingers from Skye’s. She stroked Skye’s hair once, then left the pod and the lab, heading towards the galley.

 

She did as Coulson asked. She ate, she showered, she pulled on her pajamas, and settled herself in her bunk. But when she eased her head down on to her pillow, she could smell Skye’s shampoo, and she lost all control, shaking as she wept. She vaguely heard her bunk door slide open and assumed it was Fitz.

 

But it was May who was kneeling next to her bed, stroking her back, with a look of complete and utter understanding on her face. The next thing she knew, she was being held and rocked as she wept herself hoarse into May’s shoulder.

 

“How am I supposed to sleep?” Jemma demanded angrily through her tears, fisting her hands in May’s shirt. “How am I supposed to sleep without her here? I need to know that she’s still breathing, that her heart’s still b-beating, th-that she’s still here—”

 

May reached out and pressed a button set in the nightstand that controlled the screen on the opposite wall. Skye’s medical pod came into view. Jemma could hear the soft, steady beeping of Skye’s heart monitor and she could see every breath that Skye took.

 

Then May was sitting next to her, rubbing her back in comforting circles. Jemma found her sobs tapering off as she watched Skye, her girl, alive, breathing, heart beating. She wiped ineffectually at her face with her hands until May passed her some tissues. “Wipe your eyes and blow your nose. I’ll be right back,” May said softly, leaving Jemma’s bunk.

 

The rational part of her thought she should be incredibly embarrassed, but she found she was too tired, and too thankful to care. May had known. May understood. That was all that mattered.

 

May came back with a cool, damp cloth and a bottle of cold water. “Thank you,” Jemma said softly, wiping her face and hands with the cloth and grateful for the cold water that soothed her sore throat and washed away the taste of tears.

 

“You still need to rest,” May said firmly, and helped Jemma back under the covers. This time, Skye’s scent was soothing and restful, and for the second time, the rhythm of Skye’s heart monitor and the gentle pressure of May’s hand on her shoulder followed her into sleep.

 

***

 

She didn’t know how long she had slept, but no one had come to wake her, and when she looked at the monitor, she saw that May had taken Coulson’s place at Skye’s bedside.

 

She was still a bit shaky, but she felt better after a hot shower. As she headed back to her bunk to get dressed, her stomach growled and she realized that she could smell pancakes. She smiled to herself and hurried to get dressed. When he was in the mood to cook, Fitz could make wonderful pancakes.

 

She entered the galley. He and Ward were having what sounded like a good-natured argument over tactics used during their latest Call of Duty marathon. They both went silent and solemn-faced when they saw her and she smiled reassuringly at them. “Thank you both, but you can stop worrying. I’m okay as long as there are some pancakes left for me,” she said.

 

Fitz grinned and rose, grabbing a bowl off the counter. “I managed to save some for you, despite Ward’s bottomless pit of a stomach,” he said.

 

“Hey, I wasn’t the one who was ‘feeling a bit peckish’,” Ward objected, brandishing his fork at Fitz. Fitz snorted in reply as he ladled out batter.

 

Jemma made herself some tea while Fitz finished making her pancakes. Ward set a glass of orange juice down next to her on the counter. When she looked up at him, he blushed slightly. “Make sure you drink it. Skye’s going to be an impossible patient. You’ll need the vitamins to keep up with her,” he said gruffly, then went back to clear his dishes off the small table so she could sit down. She bent her head to hide her smile.

 

After tea, orange juice, and a stack of pancakes, she walked down to the lab. She slipped her lab coat on, grabbed her clipboard, and a pair of latex gloves. When she peeked in the window of the med pod, she smiled to see that Skye was awake and alert, her head turned to the side, deep in conversation with May.

 

Jemma knocked lightly on the door, entering the pod when May gave her a small smile and a “come in” gesture. Skye was looking at her with eyes filled with…guilt? And tears—those were definitely tears. Jemma hurriedly dropped everything she was holding on the nearest surface and moved to gently cup Skye’s face in her palms.

 

“Love, what’s wrong?” she asked softly, forgetting that May was even in the room. Skye’s bottom lip was trembling and then Skye’s arms were around her waist and Skye was sobbing into her stomach, and all Jemma could do was gently hold whatever parts of Skye she could reach.

 

“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” Skye kept sobbing over and over. Jemma looked over at May, who had a look of alarm on her face.

 

“What happened?” Jemma asked, looking at May.

 

“I don’t know,” May replied, leaning over to rub Skye’s back gently with one hand. “She had some questions about training, and then you knocked on the door and she saw you…” Suddenly, May sighed. “She saw you, Jemma, and she’s feeling guilty about scaring you because she loves you. It’s not rational…but I’ve seen it before,” May finished quietly.

 

Jemma gently disengaged herself from Skye’s arms so she could sit on the side of the gurney. She carefully took Skye in her arms, trying to calm her and keep her still. “It’s all right, Skye, I promise you that you have nothing to feel guilty for, but you need to try and calm down, or you could hurt yourself.” She stroked Skye’s hair and looked at May. “May will stay right here and I’ll be right back.” She extricated herself again and dashed into the lab.

 

When she came back, she pushed a small dosage of diazepam through Skye’s IV port. “See, I came right back, Skye,” Jemma said softly, carefully wiping the tears from Skye’s face with a tissue.

 

“Please don’t hate me…I’m so sorry…shouldn’t have gone in by myself…so stupid…I could have died and I love you so much…” Skye was saying as she clung to Jemma, who had put her arms around Skye again. Thankfully, Skye’s muscles were relaxing and her words were turning into whispers.

 

“I love you so much, Skye. I love you and I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here. It’s all right, love. It’s all right,” Jemma said over and over as she stroked Skye’s hair and back. Jemma breathed a sigh of relief when Skye snuggled closer to her and rested her head on Jemma’s shoulder, her breathing slowly evening out.

 

Jemma looked over at May and smiled softly. May smiled back and rose from her chair. “I’ll give you two some time alone,” she said, and Jemma knew that May meant she would keep everyone else away as well.

 

“Thanks, May,” Jemma whispered. “Thanks for everything.”

 

If Jemma didn’t know better, she would have said that May flushed a bit, but she just placed a hand on Skye’s head and squeezed Jemma’s shoulder before leaving, closing the door gently behind her.

 

Jemma pressed her lips to the top of Skye’s head. Skye sighed contentedly and slipped her arms around Jemma’s waist. They sat like that for a few minutes, then Jemma gently began to ease Skye back onto her pillows. Skye whimpered and clung to her.

 

“I’m not leaving, love,” Jemma murmured, “but you need to lay down and rest. You should have some water if you feel up to it and you probably need something for the pain, hmmm?”

 

Skye nodded wordlessly, keeping her eyes on Jemma’s face. She watched, calmer now that the diazepam was kicking in, as Jemma moved swiftly and efficiently between the pod and the lab, coming back with a tray.

 

“Let’s get your face and hands clean,” Jemma said, putting the tray down on Skye’s bedside table and settling herself on the gurney next to Skye. She picked up a cool, damp cloth and gently wiped Skye’s face. She used a warmer towel to wipe each of Skye’s hands. She held a straw in a small cup of cool water up to Skye’s lips and she obediently drank.

 

“Are you in pain, love?” Jemma asked, and Skye nodded. Jemma, after checking Skye’s chart, gave her another dose of morphine.

 

“I’m just going to give you a quick once-over,” Jemma said reassuringly, and did a swift, but thorough exam of Skye and her injuries. She made notations on Skye’s chart, then put it to the side and picked up Skye’s hands.

 

“I love you,” Jemma whispered, moving in to kiss Skye on her forehead. “You’re my girl. You can’t get rid of me that easily, you know.”

 

Skye’s eyes were glassy as she gazed at Jemma. “You’re not mad at me?” she asked, childlike.

 

“The only person I’m furious with is Ian Quinn,” Jemma said firmly. “And he’s locked up tight in the Fridge and you’re safe, and alive, and I am so relieved and grateful to whatever deity watches over S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and keeps us safe. Or are you forgetting that we got together in the first place because I tried to skydive without a parachute?” She gently pressed her forehead against Skye’s, closing her eyes and letting her own tension drain out of her.

 

“Now,” Jemma said softly, getting up and releasing Skye’s hands, “let’s get you as comfortable as we can, and then I’m going to read to you. How does that sound?”

 

“It sounds wonderful,” Skye whispered, smiling back at her. “But if you’re taking care of me, who’s taking care of you?” she asked, worry seeping back into her voice.

 

Jemma smiled at the question as she straightened the sheets and blankets, tucking them carefully around Skye. “Let’s see…Coulson, May, and the boys. So no need to worry.”

 

Jemma picked a book up off of the tray and held it up. “The Secret Garden. One of my favorites. Did you ever read it?” she asked Skye as she settled herself in the chair at the head of the gurney.

 

“Yeah,” Skye said softly. “I think I read that one at St. Agnes until the binding broke.”

 

“That’s good, because I’ll read some to you now, to pass the time.” Jemma settled herself more comfortably in the chair and opened the book. Skye smiled at her, blinking sleepily.

 

The Secret Garden,” Jemma began. “Chapter One: There Is No One Left. When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.” Jemma reached out and took Skye’s hand in hers and continued reading. “It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression…”

 

***

 

Skye had fallen asleep when Coulson popped his head in again. “I was wondering if I could request that the good doctor go take a lunch break,” he said softly, encouraged by Jemma’s smile.

 

“It’s a request that will be happily followed. She’s asleep right now, and probably will be for the next few hours. I could use a break and there are some tests I need to run in the lab,” she replied just as softly. “Do you mind staying with her while I eat? I don’t want her to wake up and find herself alone.”

 

Blushing slightly, he indicated the files he had under his arm. “I brought a little light reading with me, just in case.”

 

Jemma just smiled at him and said, “Thank you, sir,” before leaving the pod.

 

***

 

Jemma was able to have a quiet lunch and some companionable time in the lab with Fitz before her hands started shaking again. She swallowed audibly and she felt Fitz place his hand on her shoulder. She noticed how shallow her breathing had become and she heard Fitz say, “Go on, Jemma. You two need each other right now.” She turned and hugged him tight for a brief moment, then headed towards Skye’s med pod.

 

She must have been working longer than she realized because Skye was awake and Ward was with her. He heard her open the door and he dropped Skye’s hand and reached for his sidearm before realizing who it was. Jemma had never seen Ward’s eyes so haunted before, even after his traumatizing experience with the Asgardian berserker staff.

 

“Hey, Quick-Draw,” Skye teased, tugging at his hand, forcing him to look at her again. “I’m okay. It’s just Jemma, and I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t try to practice your marksmanship on my girl.”

 

Ward grinned sheepishly and ducked his head. “Sorry about that,” he said. Jemma smiled in understanding and walked over to where he was sitting, nudging him playfully on the shoulder.

 

“My turn,” she said to him, and this time, when he looked at her, his eyes were clear.

 

“No problem. Let me know if you need anything,” he said, squeezing Skye’s hand one last time before leaving.

 

Skye sighed, tired. She had spent the last hour with Ward and his unnecessary feelings of guilt. She had talked to him until her voice was hoarse and listened until she had a headache, and she knew that he was going to be her shadow until someone was able to convince him that all the blame belonged to Quinn. She must have looked like five miles of bad road because Jemma, who had come in looking a little exhausted herself started bustling around.

 

“Something for the pain and something to drink and some more sleep,” Jemma said decisively, straightening Skye’s covers.

 

“Add some kisses and cuddles and Jell-O and you’ve got yourself a deal, Doctor Simmons,” Skye replied with a smile, relaxing back into her freshly fluffed pillows.

 

“I think I can arrange that,” Jemma said, stroking Skye’s cheek before leaning in to kiss her gently. She felt Skye’s hand come up to touch her cheek and Jemma deepened the kiss for a moment before pulling away.

 

Skye smiled at her. “Love you,” she whispered to Jemma.

 

“I love you, too. Now, let’s get you comfortable,” Jemma replied. Soon, Skye was settled comfortably, with Jemma indulging her by feeding her small spoonfuls of Jell-O.

 

“Is there any way in the world that I can get clean?” Skye asked. “Or, at least, regular clothes since Coulson and the boys are in and out of here all day?”

 

Jemma nodded. “I made sure to pick up a supply of bathing cloths. They’re like rather large, thick baby-wipes that you warm up in the microwave. I also have some dry shampoo that we can use on your hair. We can do that tomorrow if you’d like, and get you into fresh linens and some clean pajamas.”

 

“That sounds like heaven,” Skye said after taking a drink of water.

 

When the Jell-O was gone, Skye looked at her, then looked at her hands. Jemma noticed and immediately sat down next to her, asking, “What’s wrong, love?”

 

Skye looked back at her, tired and teary. “Can you stay? For a little while?”

 

Jemma leaned down and Skye snuggled against her. “Of course I’ll stay. I’ll get out the cot and we’ll each have a nap.”

 

Skye nodded and sniffled. Jemma carefully rocked her and stroked her hair. “Oh, love,” Jemma whispered softly. “You’re getting better so quickly that we’re forgetting everything you went through. Do you think you can talk to me about it?”

 

“I-I’m afraid, Jemma,” Skye sobbed. “I’m just…scared. I keep seeing Quinn—he—the bastard held me when he shot me the second time, and then he put me down on the floor so gently…and I couldn’t talk and then I couldn’t breathe…”

 

Jemma pushed her anger aside to deal with it at another time. She kept one arm around Skye, who was weeping into her shirt, and fished her phone out of the pocket of her lab coat with the other. “Do you want May or Ward as a guard, love?” she asked Skye with calm she didn’t feel.

 

“Wh-what?” Skye looked up at her, confused.

 

Jemma looked down at her, absolutely serious. “If you’re afraid that Ian Quinn can still hurt you in any way, I want you to feel safe. We have Seal Team Six and the Cavalry on this plane right now. Who do you want to stand guard while we sleep? Oh, just so you know, May almost beat Quinn to death after we received your initial prognosis at the trauma center. I think she broke his nose in two separate places,” Jemma finished, matter-of-factly.

 

Skye looked momentarily stunned. “May,” she whispered, looking back up at Jemma. Jemma just smiled and kissed Skye’s forehead.

 

“Well, let me give her a call and set up the cot. Then I’m going to sit right here with you until you fall asleep, and then I’ll be right beside you while May guards the door,” Jemma said, brushing Skye’s hair off her forehead.

 

When May came down to the lab, she sat down on Skye’s other side and pulled out her sidearm to show Skye. “It’s a real gun. With real bullets. No one, not even another member of this team, is getting through that door without my say-so.”

 

“Thanks, May,” Skye whispered.

 

May nodded and closed the door behind her, taking up her position in front of it. Jemma had Skye lay down again and sat next to her, gently stroking Skye’s forehead. Skye’s eyes quickly fluttered shut and Jemma stood up so she could hang up her lab coat, turn down the lights, and lay down. She found that she was absolutely exhausted, and she fell asleep moments after her head hit the pillow.

 

***

 

May gave Coulson a nod as he approached the med pod a few hours later.

 

“Is there something I need to know about?” he asked softly, when he saw her sidearm. He knew that if May was carrying, it was loaded, with one in the chamber.

 

“I’m guarding the door to Skye’s medical pod per Doctor Simmons’s request.”

 

Coulson returned her nod, and continued towards the lab to meet with Fitz.

 

They had saved her life.

 

They would keep her safe.

 

They were her family, after all.

 

“When everything goes to Hell, the people who stand by you without flinching—they are your family.”

                                                                                                                                     --Jim Butcher