On the eleventh day of his stay in the White Room, as he’d come to call it, the blonde woman who had welcomed him (Bobbi, that was her name, he had to remind himself) presented Joey with a keycard on a lanyard. With a friendly smile that by now he found only a little intimidating, she told him that although they wouldn’t be able to transfer him to the facility where he would be actually trained (because they were going to train him) for a couple days, he was deemed stable enough (he shuddered) to be allowed out of the White Room on his own. He couldn’t leave the base or go everywhere within it, Bobbi was quick to add, but whatever door his keycard opened, he was free to explore. He thanked her and took the card.
It took him two more days to actually use it.
He woke what felt like the middle of the night (it was hard to tell without windows) from a restless sleep on the thirteenth day, and, after failing to go back to sleep, he dressed in a haste, grabbed the keycard, and, for the first time in nearly two weeks, and since his life had taken a sharp turn, he left the White Room.
Walking all alone on the dimly lit, empty corridors of the base was beyond eerie. Joey didn’t let go of his keycard for a moment—he held it gripped in his hand, almost like a weapon—, but except for a few times when he had no other choice, when the hallway ended in a closed door, he didn’t use it. He felt too much like the heroine in the tale of Bluebeard, fearing of stumbling into the Bloody Chamber on every turn. And even if the base did not have a room full of skeletons—literal or metaphorical—, Joey was sure there were things there he did not want to see, and this made him question his decision to leave the White Room at every closed door he passed.
Two hundred and forty-two steps away from the White Room, his heart was beating so wild that the sound of his own blood rushing in his veins was overwhelming—maybe that’s why he didn’t hear the noise first. At first it was just some strange sound far away, a whisper in the distance, something he barely registered, but as he kept walking, it grew stronger. Soon it made him stop and listen—it was a soft, mewling sound, something plaintive, almost like… Almost like a baby crying.
Half-sure his mind was playing tricks on him—or that he found the Bloody Chamber after all, where S.H.I.EL.D.… He didn’t want to think about it—, Joey started walking again, with quicker steps this time, towards the crying. He had no idea what he would find, or what he would do about it, but his instincts were telling him to go there.
Then, finally, rounding the last corner and passing through a glass door, he found himself in some communal space, with couches and loveseats and a long dining table with mismatched chairs next to a small kitchen. And in front of the fridge stood the first friendly face he met after emerging from his cocoon, the Inhuman agent named Skye. She looked worn out, tired—far from her battle-ready collectedness, she had her hair up in a messy bun, and wore plaid pajama pants with a T-shirt so big, it hung on her in a way that it highlighted how small her frame really was.
And she had a baby in her arms.
The image seemed so surreal at first, that Joey had to stop and blink—but no, the young woman searching through the freezer with one hand, while holding a mewling baby in the other was still there when he reopened his eyes. And by then she had spotted him too.
Their eyes met as the freezer door closed with a soft thud. For a moment, she seemed just as surprised to see him as he was to see her. And then she smiled—it was a tired, weary smile, but a smile nonetheless.
“Oh, hi,” she said softly as handed the baby the colorful object she’d just pulled from the freezer; the baby started gnawing on it right away. “Can’t sleep?”
Joey swallowed before answering. “No, I…” He stopped. He could he explain the claustrophobic feeling that has been following him ever since he’d emerged from his cocoon? The feeling of impending doom, the helplessness, the constant panic? “I couldn’t,” he said simply instead. “You?”
It could have been only the trick of the low lighting, but he could have sworn he saw understanding in her eyes.
“Well, I could sleep,” she said with a bit of playfulness in her voice as she adjusted the baby in her arms, “but somebody wouldn’t let me.” She pressed a quick, affectionate kiss to the top of the baby’s head, before continuing in an overtly serious tone. “She’s teething, which is a great trial for all of us.” As if she was agreeing with Skye, the baby let out a small, gurgling noise, which made Joey smile despite everything. Tentatively, he took a few steps towards the pair. “I’m sorry, I’m being a terrible host,” Skye went on (although Joey almost snorted at the word—he didn’t really feel like a guest here, more like a prisoner), “can I get you something?”
He shook his head. “No thank—“
“Some tea, maybe?”
“If you had something stronger?” he heard himself saying.
“Sure, I’ll get you something right away. Take her for a moment, will you?”
Then, before he could have protested, or at least processed what was going on, the baby was thrust into his arms, and Skye was walking towards the other end of the room. The little girl—Skye referred to her as a she—scrunched her tiny face at first, seeming upset, but soon returned her attention to the teething ring. (Somehow Joey had the feeling that she was used to being handed from one person to another, but he couldn’t put his finger on why.)
Looking around himself first, searching for help and finding none, Joey hold the baby a little closer to his chest, then walked over to the couch and sat down under the single lamp that was on, waiting for Skye’s return.
Only once settled down, did he take a closer look at the baby.
She was, based on his limited knowledge on infants, maybe about five months old and wore a dark blue onesie with the agency’s emblem on the front, which was either the testament of the sick humor of the people here or a very bad omen (he hoped for the former). She looked like… well, like most babies did, small and cute, with thick, dark hair and big, brown eyes, her features still too young to be really remarkable. Still, there was something familiar about her, in the slope of her barely-there eyebrows and in the shape of her eyes as she gazed back at him, her mouth full with the ring, something…
Truth to be told, when he had first laid his eyes on the baby in Skye’s arms, he was so taken aback simply by her presence, that he didn’t even think about why she was there. Then, sometime between Skye spotting him and thrusting the baby into his arms, he thought that the girl could be an orphan picked up by the agency, or even an Inhuman, taken into custody. But now, looking into her eyes, he had another idea.
“Here you go.” He was so lost in his own thoughts that Skye’s voice made her jump; she just smiled, holding a glass of amber liquid in one hand. “Let’s switch!” She first placed the glass on the coffee table, then relieved him of the baby–who gurgled happily at Skye’s closeness–, lifting her into her own arms, before sitting down on the other couch opposite of him.
Blinking away his stupor, Joey picked up the glass and took a great swing from the liquid; it was scotch, the good kind, burning along his throat as he swallowed. Feeling a little less dazed now, he looked at Skye once again—she sat sideways on the couch, leaning against the armrest, her knees pulled up, the baby, still munching on the ring, propped up against her thighs. The moment seemed so intimate, he almost felt bad for witnessing it.
“Is she yours?” The question was out before he could have stopped himself.
Skye slowly turned her head towards him, a small, almost unreadable smile on her lips. “Yeah. Her name’s Haylie.” Her voice was laced with that ungraspable, maternal pride. “What?” she added, looking into his eyes. “You look surprised.”
Joey leaned back on the couch, running a hand along his upper lip in embarrassment. “No, I just… I mean, you don’t… You don’t look like someone with a kid. And this young, I mean.”
Skye actually laughed at that; the baby seemed to like that, because she started giggling as well, shaking and almost dropping the teething ring.
“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” she smiled. “But I get it,” she continued, gazing at the baby with a sort of thoughtful look in her eyes, “it must be difficult to reconcile momma me and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent me. Sometimes it’s still difficult for me too. Hell, sometimes it’s still difficult for me to reconcile “me” me and superpowered, part-alien me.”
Joey cast his eyes down. “Yeah, I can relate.” Fixating his gaze on the rim of the glass, he let out a sigh. “Being Inhuman sucks,” he said, then took a swing from his drink. “Everyone is always going on about how great it must be to be an Avenger, to have powers like them, but they have no idea… This? This is a curse.”
Still staring at his own feet, he felt Skye’ eyes on him, studying him, but for a long moment neither of them spoke.
“Look, I’m not good at big speeches,” she said at last, making Joey look up at her, “but you look like you need one, so please, humor me.” She adjusted the baby so she way lying down on her chest, then continued. “First of all: I get it, okay? My change was not so different from yours. I walked into a place human, walked out Inhuman. I had no idea what was happening. No-one had any idea what was happening. I was scared–terrified–, I hated myself, I feared that I’d hurt my friends, and then whenever I got upset, I caused earthquakes. So, yeah, it sucked.” She paused and turned her gaze on the baby, who was on the verge of falling asleep, her eyes were steadily dropping. Tenderly, Skye brushed a small lock of dark hair away from her forehead, then went on, her tone thoughtful.
“You know what happens during the Change? When you’re in your cocoon?” Setting his glass on the table, Joey shook his head, but didn’t say a word, wanting her to continue. “Basically, your body reboots. It needs to do it to, well, to start running your new abilities–sorry for the computer analogy” she intercepted with a small smile, as if it was some inside joke. “But it’s not all it does: it also gets rid of everything that it deems unnecessary. Jemma thinks it might be even able to get one rid of cancer, but we can’t really test that theory, can we?” Joey almost asked who this Jemma was, but he wanted to hear Skye out, so he remained silent. “Anyway, do you know what my body deemed unnecessary when I changed?” After a short, dramatic pause, she answered her own question, “Birth control. I had this fancy, S.H.I.E.L.D.-issued contraceptive before–just a shot every six months, and you’re covered–, and the Terrigen flushed it right out of my system. Not that we knew it at the time.”
Joey glanced at the baby, who was by then gently dozing on her mother’s chest. “So that’s how…” He let the question hang.
“Yep,” Skye nodded. “So circa four months after my Terrigenesis, I got a bit of a surprise.”
She let that hang in the air for a moment, while Joey’s gaze drifted back to her face.
“But…” He had seen many unplanned pregnancies, knew how they went, and he wanted to phrase his question lightly, although he doubted such way existed. “At least the dad’s in the picture?”
Skye’s smile widened.
“Dad’s currently in bed, sleeping off his last mission; that’s why I go the night shift–we agreed he should sit tonight out.” She let out a short chuckle, “Otherwise he’d be here, fretting over Haylie. He doesn’t handle it well even if she has the slightest bit of discomfort.”
Something she said struck a chord for Joey. “Last mission… He’s an agent too?”
Skye nodded quickly. “Yeah, that’s how we met. He was my supervising officer in the beginning, actually. It’s a funny, story, really…” she said, but Joey was barely paying attention to her–instead, his thoughts took him back to the beginning of his stay at the base, Skye coming to visit him in the White Room, a tall man standing with her on the corridor, his hand on her elbow…
“Is it…” Joey interrupted her, then stopped, clearing his throat, and tried again. “Tall, dark haired, almost illegally handsome?”
One corner of Skye’s mouth twitched upwards. “That’s the one. And you left out the “body to die for” part.”
Raising his drink, Joey smiled into the glass. “Damn,” he muttered under his breath, “of course all the cute ones are straight,” he said with a sideways glance, wanting to ease the atmosphere with the joke.
Seemingly, he managed to do that; Skye’s eyes first went round for a moment, then she started laughing, covering her mouths so not to be loud and wake a baby, but the shaking of her chest still made Haylie start fussing. She reigned her laughter in almost instantly, and eased the little girl back to sleep before speaking again.
“Yeah, sorry,” she almost whispered, wiping a stray tear from the corner of her eye. “And he’s also kind of spoken for, too.” Then an almost mischievous glint appeared in her gaze. “But you have my permission and blessing to flirt with him.”
Joey frowned in confusion. “Why…”
Skye shrugged. “He gets all flustered when there’s even an inclination that a guy would be interested in him–I know it from experience. It’s not that he’s a homophobe or anything,” she added, mostly for his benefit, Joey assumed, “it’s just he has no idea how to handle it. And it’s fun to see him squirm sometimes,” she concluded with an impish smile.
Not knowing what else to add, Joey nodded towards her with a small smile, then took another sip from his drink. Comfortable, yet somehow still a little tense silence fell upon them. Joey twirled the remains of his drink around his glass, contemplating whether he should ask for a refill or not, while Skye turned her gaze on the baby, caressing her tiny head with a pensive expression on her place. In the end, she was the one who broke the silence, speaking in a more sober tone.
“It wasn’t… It wasn’t like Haylie’s the product of a one-night stand or… or some casual sex, or something like that, I don’t want you to think that. Not even close.” She shook her head, her hand caressing the back of her baby absentmindedly. “We had been together for a year and a half when we found out about her, we knew it was a forever kind of thing for us, and we had even talked about having kids someday. Just… not this soon.” Her gaze drifted from Haylie to Joey. “It was scary. I won’t lie. It was scary as hell, especially in the beginning. There were… a lot of crazy stuff going on right around the time I got pregnant, some of which I’m lucky I got out of alive, so when I found out about Haylie…” She sighed, as if it was hard for her to talk about it. “There were a lot of questions swirling around in my head, terrible questions. Like, what if I’ve hurt my baby? What if she wasn’t even alive? What if, what if, what if…?” she trailed off. “In a way, it was worse than right after my Terrigenesis. No,” she corrected herself. “It was a lot worse than my Terrigenesis.
“Then she was born and she was so tiny and perfect and, gosh, it’s gonna sound so cheesy, but suddenly everything made sense.” She let out a watery little chuckle and raised her hand to the corner of her eye to wipe away a stubborn tear. “I had a very messy life even before my Change, I hit rock bottom a couple of times, but then she was laying in my arms and all I could think of was that everything, every shitty thing eventually led here and that, in the end, I wouldn’t change a letter in my story.”
She fell silent, closing her eyes and letting her head fall a bit. Joey just watched her, watched them, mother and daughter, lying on the couch. He studied them in silence, the way Skye’s nose almost touched the baby’s head, and how Haylie, her teething ring forgotten and fallen on the couch, fisted her tiny hand in her mother’s shirt–they made a strange picture, a small spot of idyll, the beautiful woman and the slumbering child, against this gloomy, surrealist background painted by the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. He also thought about what Skye had just said, trying to make sense of it, figuring out why she had felt like she needed to tell him this, and although an answer was slowly taking form in his mind, he needed to hear Skye say it too.
“I told you I’m not good with great speeches,” Skye said after a short while with a low chuckle, her head still bowed. “I think I’ve strayed too much from the topic. What I meant to say is…” She raised her gaze to look him in the eye. “You know that old saying, how does it go… “When a door closes, another window opens”? That’s how you should view your Terrigenesis–not as a curse, not as an end, but as an opportunity for better things. Because life might suck right now…” Her eyes once again drifted back to Haylie “...but, in the end, all of this might lead to something amazing and meaningful.”
She didn’t say anything else–she didn’t need to. Joey understood everything from the pure love and adoration he saw in her eyes. And he could just only hope that something similar was waiting for him in the future as well.
“But it’s getting really late,” Skye said after a few moments of silence, as she started to get up from the couch, slowly, so she wouldn’t wake the baby. “I should get her to bed–maybe, if I’m lucky, she’ll let me have a couple hours of sleep,” she added with a small smile before look at him again. “You should sleep, too. Can you find your way back to your room?” Not wanting to keep her anymore, Joey simple nodded; he was fairly sure he knew his way back anyway. “Okay. And I can give you a proper tour tomorrow, if you want.”
Joey knocked back the last of his drink, and, glass still in hand, he stood too. “That’d be… nice, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. And good night.” And with that, she walked out of the room, holding the baby close to her chest, but she stopped at the door and looked back at him one last time. “And Joey? Stop fretting. You’ll do great.” Then, not even waiting for a reply, she left the room.
Joey watched her until she disappeared on the corridor, then, glass in hand, he walked over to the little kitchen. Stopping at the sink, he started the water (he noted with relief and a bit of pride that the tap remained solid) and washed his glass, setting it on the drying rack. He didn’t want to be a bad guest, especially since he started to find himself wanting to belong to this ragtag team. They seemed not at all that bad, after all.
And when he finally left the lounge, closing the glass door behind himself, to return to the White Room, he felt a lot lighter than any time in the last two weeks.