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I Bet You Kiss Your Knuckles Right Before They Touch My Cheek

Chapter Text

 

‘’As you can see those Picture Windows are lovely aren’t they? And the view is just breath taking’’.

 

Skye glances over to the wide clear glass, the sun gleaming onto the hardwood floor beneath her boots. The windows might as well be walls since they take up the entire length from floor to ceiling, but the realtor behind her isn’t wrong about the view. Outside rests a meadow as far as the eye can see, a creek resides somewhere along the property as well. It’s a beautiful day, a perfect day. Warm but not too much, a nice light breeze to take away the heat of the coming spring.

 

Birds take flight from a nearby tree, Skye watches them soar and climb far away from here. Wishing she could follow. Arms crossed she stands at the windows, let’s the silence wrap around her. This house is too big, too flashy and impractical. She doesn’t need six bedrooms or five baths, there’s no need for the huge backyard or three car garage. Skye has no use for all the extra space and rooms upstairs, she’ll probably never venture up there anyway. And the kitchen, well she’ll hardly use that at all.

 

She doesn’t need this house, not really. However she finds herself turning away from the windows to look at the realtor, a small woman with graying hair and bright red lipstick. Who looks terrified at being in close quarters with Quake, but is trying very hard to hide it. ‘’I’ll take it’’. Martha plasters a smile on her face, ‘’perfect! I’ll get the paperwork ready. Champagne?’’ Skye almost says no, a habit she has no use for anymore. Catching herself she nods, Martha heads toward the kitchen to collect the bottle.

 

Glancing out the window again her reflection stares back at her, black clothes and a leather jacket, combat boots and dark circles under her eyes. The same way she’s looked for years now, though the hair is different this time. Long still, curling down her back, but blonde now. It’s a subtle blonde, lighter on the ends but still maintaining some of her natural brown in waves. Running a hand through it Skye sighs and expects the weight of this decision to come rushing into her ribs.

 

But she feels nothing at all. Just like she didn’t feel anything when she dyed her hair a few months back, the feel of suitcases in her hands as she walked into Stark Tower a year ago. She’s just numb, cold and empty. It has nothing to do with the PTSD, panic attacks or nightmares she’s had over the years, in fact Skye’s mental health is better than it’s ever been. The suffering she’s been through since she was eighteen is finally nothing more than a trauma from her past. It no longer hinders her everyday life.

 

And it only took nearly twenty years to recover from.

 

Life it seems will never give her a break. It’s been a year since Thanos came and destroyed half the universe, and the Avengers are nowhere close to figuring out where he is or how to save everyone that was lost. Steve and Tony still aren’t on speaking terms unless absolutely necessary, and Natasha spends her days alone in mourning. Clint is still retired and Thor can usually always be found in Stark Tower down in Tony’s lab searching for an answer to all this madness. He’ll probably never find it.

 

Skye looks down to see that her hand has moved on its own accord to rest against her belly, snatching it away she turns around to face the living room, licks her lips, feels the ghost of the pain from a year ago start to lick up her spine. Martha pours the champagne in the kitchen but the thought of it begins to make Skye sick to her stomach. Traveling up the stairs to the master bedroom Skye takes a deep breath and opens the white door, steps into an empty room save for a king-sized bed and a dresser.

 

There’s a wide window here too free of curtains, the sun brightening the cream-colored carpet. She can’t take her eyes off the bed, it’s just a mattress, bare no sheets or pillows. It’s here Skye is reminded how alone she really is. Standing in the bedroom only she will enter, staring at the bed only she will sleep in, the bathroom tucked into the corner only she will shower in. Skye hasn’t been alone in nine years, hasn’t slept alone, eaten breakfast alone. It’s an adjustment she still can’t get used to.

 

She could easily change this new course of her life, pick up the phone and apologize, cry and beg for things to go back to the way they were. It wouldn’t even take five minutes. But there are some things, some pains you can’t get over. Nothing will mend it, nothing will make the throbbing loss any less difficult. A pair of arms won’t heal this wound inside her chest, there’s nothing anyone can say or do to help her. Even now a year later Skye can feel the crushing weight of it.

 

Dragging her down into those icy depths where nothing exists but death and cold. Getting up in the morning is still hard, but living, breathing, is easier. Time is helping, but it can’t heal. All time does is make the sadness fade into the background, you’re alive but no longer whole. You’re just half of the person you were before this tragic thing irrecoverably changed you. Skye has accepted this, but she’s never felt so isolated. The Avengers aren’t enough to ease the sting of loneliness, it’s like a second skin to her now.

 

The wound is all she can feel these days, and the cold, the numb. Skye can’t even remember what warmth feels like, what happiness is bubbling inside her chest. She stopped seeing her long-time therapist Paul, who would probably be able to help in this situation, but Skye can’t bear to look at his face. There are so many things she can’t bear lately. Before the sadness can swallow her whole and she’s tempted to let it, a noise, a vibration in her palms comes to life. Turning around she sees Tony Stark leaning in the doorway.

 

Assessing her carefully, arms crossed as he watches. She must be wearing her heart on her sleeve because he looks so distraught for a moment, before crossing the distance between them and pulling her into his arms. Skye curls into the warmth of his embrace, wants to stay here and never come out to face the world. But unfortunately, that isn’t an option. She’s reminded of this when his phone vibrates in his pocket. It’s ignored, and just goes off again and again.

 

‘’You don’t have to do this’’.

Skye sniffles, ‘’I know’’.

‘’You can live with me forever, you don’t need to move out’’.

But they both know why she is.

Stark Tower holds too many memories and she can’t handle it.

‘’I need my own space, besides Stark Tower is too far away from the Playground’’.

‘’You can always quit, being Director of Shield can’t be that great’’.

‘’I can’t’’.

Being in charge of Shield is the only thing that has kept her sane this past year.

Throwing herself into work, into missions and Inhumans has kept her alive.

‘’When was the last time you slept?’’ Tony asks, pulling away and holding her face.

Skye doesn’t even care what he sees anymore, there’s so much evidence from lack of food and sleep all over her face.

The pain is like a coat, wrapped around her skin, her body every single morning.

‘’A couple days ago and before you freak out and say anything, I’ve become a master at naps’’.

‘’That does nothing to reassure me. Do we need to start sneaking sleeping pills into your food again?’’

He’s being serious.

There was a dark chaotic time where Skye lost her mind, too blinded by grief to do anything at all, sleep or eat, breathe or move.

‘’No’’.

He cocks his head to the side like he’s about to call Nat, not trusting Skye’s judgement.

‘’I’m fine Dad’’.

He drops his hands to her shoulders and squeezes, ‘’if you’re not’’-

Knowing where he’s going with this she rips out of his hold and stands by the bed.

‘’You are not calling him’’.

He is a subject forbidden to discuss and Stark is fully aware of this.

It’s only brought up as a threat when she’s too far gone and Nat isn’t around.

‘’If you could have seen the look on your face when I walked in here, you wouldn’t be saying that’’.

Skye throws up her hands on the verge of tears again, ‘’I’m doing the best I can’’.

Tony looks guilty and oh so sad but Skye can’t deal with anyone else’s emotions anymore.

‘’I have to try to move on and this is the first step. I’ve never lived alone’’.

‘’But you don’t have to’’.

‘’But I need to’’.

He glances at the empty bed, ‘’what if you have a nightmare?’’

 

In the last nine years someone has always been there to wake her from the horrors she sees when her eyes close, but no longer. And in this past year one of the Avengers always had to sleep in her bed because she couldn’t fall asleep otherwise. This is the first time in nearly a decade that she’ll be alone when the lights are off and the moon is out. She’s been at the Playground for months now and she’d either fly to Stark Tower to sleep, or just go for days without rest and eventually crash, too exhausted to care if she was alone or not.

 

‘’I’ll be fine. And if I’m not, I can call you right?’’

He hugs her again and she allows it, ‘’of course’’.

 

By the time all the contracts are signed and Martha leaves, Skye stands in the middle of her new living room and cries. Tony is in the kitchen pretending like he can’t see or hear her, knowing she doesn’t want comfort. The next day the sun is shining as all of her things are moved inside. The house is on private property, no neighbors. Tony would have built her one if she asked, but Skye had no desire to wait months for it to be finished.

 

There isn’t much to move, Skye notices this for two reasons. One, there was no need to hire an actual moving company, so it’s just her team of Inhumans moving about. And two, there’s only three boxes to be moved from Stark Tower. One is filled with clothes that wouldn’t fit in the rest of her suitcases, and the other two just consist of a few pictures, books, random knick-knacks she’s collected over the years.

 

It’s sad. In her late thirties now, Skye figures she should have more to her name, she should have so many things to fill this house with. But it’s just her, a dresser and closet full of clothes, and memories in frames that do nothing for her. She’s standing in the middle of the driveway arms crossed, watching her team pretend that they aren’t looking at her. Victoria, Lincoln, Yo-Yo and Jackson are the only Inhumans who came back when she became Director of Shield.

 

Skye can’t blame the rest of them. Half of the Inhumans she started out with all those years ago either wanted no part of her plans in New York, the other half went running the second Ian Quinn starting kill off their kind. They’re all still required to keep in touch, but Skye has never forced anyone to be apart of this life if they don’t want it, and she’s not about to start now. Tony and Natasha are standing by his dark blue sports car, not hiding the fact that they’re staring at her.

 

Not in the mood to talk she turns to face her new home, it’s wood paneling instead of brick, the roof a sleek black, there are only two windows in the front of the house. The back and side of the house is where all the glass is. Here she is in another season of her life, still changing, evolving. There was a time when Skye thought she was done with all that, that she’d settled down quietly, retired and ready to live an easy uneventful life.

 

But things never work out the way she planned, clearly. That loneliness threatens to swallow her alive again, she can feel the despair starting to slip into her lungs. Her body isn’t used to not having another one beside it, and it probably never will be. No hand to hold, no chest to curl in, no one to wipe her tears or dance in the middle of the kitchen at three in the morning. Skye has no clue how to go back to a life without love, without sharing your soul, your breath with someone else.

 

It’s been a year and she’s still at a loss on how to live without him. He would hate this house, that’s all Skye can think about as she continues to stare at it. He’d hate the windows, the curved driveway, the three-car garage (he’d say it was unnecessary, a waste of space) and he’d despise the glass wall she admired yesterday. ‘’Too much open space’’ he’d tell her in that stiff controlled tone of his.

 

She can just see it now, him standing the sun next to her looking up at this house with a small scowl. Maybe that’s ultimately why she chose this place, because so many things he would be annoyed by are wrapped up in wood and glass. Eyeing the front door which is a pale brown color, Skye nearly smiles and catches the movement, he’d definitely want to paint that as soon as possible. The sound of a car driving up pulls her out of her thoughts, turning she catches sight of a black SUV parking behind Tony’s car.

 

The windows are too tinted to see who’s inside, but Fitz and Simmons step out and Skye sighs in just a small bit of relief. Simmons has her hair tied back and is carrying a small potted plant, Fitz has a large cactus resting in a red pot. Fitz stops to say hello to Tony and Nat while Simmons heads straight for her, expression concerned, so concerned as if Skye is just going to fall to pieces at any moment. In the past year she and Simmons have grown closer than ever, she’s become a dear friend.

 

‘’Gorgeous house’’.

Skye kicks invisible gravel below them, ‘’it’ll do’’.

‘’Fitz and I brought you a few house warming gifts’’.

Simmons thrusts the small plant in her hands, explains what it is, how much sunlight and water to give it.

‘’Thanks’’.

 

Nat and Clint gave her a bottle of scotch, Tony set up a brand-new flawless security system. Yo-Yo comes up on Jemma’s other side, a sight Skye never thought she’d see again. It’s so nice to have her team back, most days it’s the only thing that keeps her going. The best part is that as Director of Shield, no one has any say in how she handles Inhumans or her team, it’s a loophole Nick Fury gave her that will never be taken for granted.

 

When they were first all back together again, it was like no time passed at all. They just picked up right where they left off, as if years hadn’t flown by without contact or working together. They all flow well together just like it’s New York again and they’re all standing in the lobby of the Inhuman HQ, waiting on orders or getting ready to train. Things are different of course, Skye is forever changed and they are all down their favorite Supervising Officer.

 

Fitz walks up the drive and hands her the cactus, starts rambling about everything she needs to do to take care of it, Skye tunes out half of it. Distracted by the phone lighting up in his hand, a message alert. Knowing she’s not the only Avenger he’s friends with, it makes the back of her neck sweat. The monitor on her wrist beeps in warning as her heart rate accelerates, it takes a second to calm down. Nat catches her eye across the way and raises a brow, Skye just subtly shakes her head, she’s alright.

 

‘’Lincoln couldn’t make it?’’ Fitz asks, looking around the yard, ‘’He’s working, Jackson and Yo-Yo are the only ones here. Victoria couldn’t find a baby sitter’’. Adding her team into the fray of Shield agents wasn’t an easy transition, many objected to people with powers joining the ranks. Skye is still feeling the cold shoulder from some agents over this, not that she cares.

 

‘’Boss’’. Jackson walks over to her, a smile on his handsome face. He’s rougher around the edges than when they first met four years ago, not the young man with bright eyes she remembers. His blonde hair still curly though longer now, same green eyes, still tall but not overwhelmingly so. According to Fitz, Jackson is still very much in love with her, but Skye can’t see it. Besides anyone who knows her knows that there’s only one person on this entire planet for her.

 

The man she gave every single piece of herself to, but not even that mattered in the end. Nearly ten years together couldn’t save them when everything came crashing down. Skye isn’t sure she’ll ever see him again. Locking those thoughts in a box she returns her attention to Jackson who apparently has been speaking this entire time, and she didn’t catch a word he said. He pulls something out of his back pocket, seemingly nervous as he shows something to her.

 

‘’I saw this the other day and thought of you’’. Glancing down he places an object in her hands that immediately causes a smile to begin to form. A small hula girl bobbles in her hand, grass skirt shaking as the wind blows. No one catches Yo-Yo’s eye roll or the elbow Jackson throws into her ribs.

 

He nervously rubs the back of his neck, ‘’I can take it back if you hate it, it’s fine’’.

‘’Shut up I like it’’.

(He bought the bobble in California years ago and kept it in his apartment because for some reason it reminded him of Skye, but she doesn’t need to know that.)

Skye pockets it and squeezes his arm in thanks before Tony joins them.

‘’I have to get back to New York’’.

‘’Okay’’.

‘’Wow, okay? That’s all I get? Fine, I’ll just leave’’.

Skye rolls his eyes, Stark is dramatic as always before pulling him for a hug.

He runs a hand through her hair and whispers, ‘’I’m just a phone call away’’.

‘’I know’’.

With a kiss to her cheek and sharing a look with Nat, he’s gone.

Tony would have stayed here for days, had it all planned out and everything, but Skye forbade it.

She can do this by herself, doesn’t need him to hold her hand.

 

After keeping her company for a few hours with wine and the scotch Clint gave her, everyone slowly begins to leave as well. Fitzsimmons and her Inhumans slowly start to walk out the door, promising to see her in the morning. Skye nods in goodbye, on her third glass of scotch and not the slightest bit feeling the effects. Soon it’s just her and Nat laying on the couch in the living room, wine bottle and glasses between them.

 

Lights are dimmed low, the staircase dark and Skye imagines that they’re laughing at her because she’s afraid to walk up them. Nat shifts and starts running her hands through Skye’s hair in the hopes of relaxing her, it doesn’t work.

 

‘’I can stay if you need me to’’.

‘’No. I need to do this’’.

‘’You don’t have to’’.

‘’I’m aware’’.

‘’You can live with Tony for’’-

‘’He already gave me this speech, and you said the same thing last month when I mentioned moving out’’.

Skye sighs and sits up so they’re facing each other.

Quake looks to her best friend of almost twenty years, the one who knows her better than anyone.

‘’I have to prove to myself that I can live alone’’.

The Black Widow raises a brow, ‘’yourself or someone else?’’

Skye grits her teeth, ‘’don’t’’.

Nat tucks a piece of blonde hair behind her ear, ‘’I’m worried about you’’.

‘’You always are’’.

‘’That wasn’t a compliment’’.

 

Skye can’t be too hard on Nat though, there was a brief period when no one trusted her to be around anything that was classified as a weapon. Rising from the couch Skye takes a few stray glasses and washes them in the steel sink, sets them on the smooth marble counter to dry. The moon is shining brightly now, looming like a threat to what she’s about to face. That pressure starts to stir in her chest, her limbs already feel heavy, weighing her down.

 

Feels Nat come up beside her, ‘’I have to do this. I’m not eighteen anymore Natasha, you don’t need to take care of me’’.

‘’It’s different this time around’’.

‘’I’ll be fine’’.

Romanoff sighs, not happy with this plan but will give Skye what she wants.

After another twenty minutes Nat leaves, and Skye is finally alone.

 

Skye pads along every dark hallway with bare feet, opens every door, each reveals a bare room that will always stay empty. She turns off the lights, presses a few buttons on her phone that draws out a panel to cover the glass walls and windows. Once everything is shrouded in darkness Skye takes a hot shower, that is the one thing she’s finally grown used to, showering by herself. Her bed has fresh sheets and a quilt, Skye slips inside after setting Jackson’s hula girl on the windowsill.

 

She stares at the ceiling in the dark, a sheen of sweat already building on her forehead. There’s another reason she hates sleeping these days, and it has nothing to do with there not being a familiar body next to her own. It’s the dreams, more heart breaking than they ever have been. Skye closes her eyes, feels the pull of sleep trying to drag her off. But that pain has a stronger grip and it starts to eat at her. Sinking its teeth into her skin until blood seeps into her heart.

 

The only thing that keeps her from curling into the fetal position is her thumb drifting along her ring finger, still weighed down by her engagement and wedding band, the diamonds cool to the touch. She couldn’t bear to take them off, not after all this time, probably not ever. Right hand over her flat belly, the pain is too great to fight. It crashes against her in hot searing waves, knocking the breath from her chest, the monitor on her wrist now beeping out of control.

 

Grasping the sheets, sobbing into the quilt, the material scratching her cheeks. Body heaving, shaking, a scream builds up in her throat but when she opens her mouth, nothing comes out. This lasts for what seems like hours, the absence of body heat next to her own bringing on another round of hysteria. Eventually she cries herself to sleep, which provides no escape. The dreams take over in violent flashbacks.

 

A red light that turns green.

 

The smell of gasoline.

 

Headlights bright in the windshield.

 

A sudden impact against the car.

 

Metal crunching, the sound of an ear-splitting crash.

 

Smoke trapped in between the steering wheel.

 

And blood, so much blood.

 

The smell of it, the sight of it all over skin.

 

A flash of white and then a hospital bed.

 

A warm hand holding a cold one, it’s pulse steady, slow.

 

Skye wakes to sweat pouring down her back, her breathing heavy. Suddenly feeling ill she races to the bathroom and is violently sick. Laying her head against the toilet, hands shaking, she wishes she were dead.

 

It’s the same game every single night.

 

And she isn’t sure how long she can survive this particular chapter.