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Hard Feelings

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Her ex-boyfriend Miles used to call her a force of nature.

“Skye isn’t someone you meet. She happens to people. Like an earthquake or a hurricane. Tropical Storm Skye,” he would say, laughing.

Because she was nineteen and stupid, she took it as a compliment.

 

Alone in a dark room, she can’t move, can’t speak. She sees her reflection in glass, blurred, reaching a hand out toward her— it isn’t a reflection—

Isn’t her—

Isn’t glass—

It’s him, because he is always here.

Ward.

She’s so sure he died, but that could be wrong, because here he is, in his cell under the base, smiling at her from behind the barrier.

She wants to shoot him (again) but she can’t reach for her gun. Can’t even look to see if she has her gun, can’t tear her eyes away from his.

It’s like how he used to look at her before, before she knew what he was. In the field, or just hanging out on the Bus, his eyes would drift to meet hers like a compass finding north.

It used to be flattering, made her heart twist a little (but in a nice way). Instead of being just bone-chilling.

“I told you, Skye. I told you you’d understand someday.”

That’s not my name, she wanted to say, but her throat is dry, her voice won’t come.

He reaches out like the wall isn’t even there, his hand inches from her cheek—

And why shouldn’t he, because wasn’t he right all along? She sold her soul for the love of a monster, so isn’t she just like him?

In the moment of contact, his skin turns to dust and he blows away.

Gone, she tells herself. Really gone. And she reminds herself it’s a good thing. She hits the ground with a crash.

And then the room is blindingly bright, a glare of light and sound and that sharp antiseptic hospital smell.

No hospitals. But her voice still isn’t doing what she tells it to do.

She hears—

“Keep her steady—”

“Is that—”

“Don’t stare—”

“Is she gonna be alright?”

“Sir, you really should wait outside—”

She hits the ground and it shatters beneath her.

And sunlight glitters off distant mountain peaks, and Lincoln stands before her under the bluer-than-blue skies of Afterlife.

“You’re not a monster, Skye,” she says, stops, then with a crooked smile, corrects himself. “Daisy.”

Lincoln always says her new name with weight to it. Like he understands what it is to let go of the past, to be reborn. A lightness, but never quite free of the chains of your old life.

Because he knows, of course. They’re the same. His demons haunted him, too, but the darkness of his past never conquered the light in his eyes. Hers had dragged her down to hell with them.

The shadows dance around him, even now.

“It’s OK,” he says, and her eyes snap back to his. He reaches for her, and she reaches back—

The window blows out, darkness reigns, Lincoln is long gone. Elena’s necklace floats alone in the vacuum of space. Daisy hits the ground with a—

She must have fallen asleep in the passenger seat. Her eyes flicker open and take in— light, pain, Robbie seated beside her.

Has it been so long since she last saw him? Or was it yesterday that she fought him, tracked him, teamed up with him? Walked into danger with him beside her, trusting him to have her back?

That’s not something I just do, she wants to tell him.

He looks over at her. “Rest,” he says. The car isn’t—

—crash.

Not the ground, but a hospital bed. Dark room, tubes and wires, monitor beeping softly. A figure stands over her.

I need to get out of here. Her limbs won’t move, but she can at least feel her arms now. Some kind of restraints? She’s sore, but maybe she could quake her way out…

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Agent Johnson.”

Not a hospital, then— a HYDRA lab— a scalpel— the world tearing apart—

“Please don’t do this—” Finally her voice works but it’s to beg, to plead in an argument she lost a long time ago—

“We’re going to learn a great deal about the Inhuman body when it’s been pushed to its limits.” He peers down at her with Fitz’s face and a blank wall behind his eyes. “By all rights, you shouldn’t even be alive.”

“Neither should you. You died.”

“Fitz died, and he took all his weakness with him.” Was Fitz weak, or strong to make the sacrifice Daisy could not? “Where shall we start?”

“No—” No—

He reaches for her; she reaches for her powers and finds them, but they’re slippery in her grasp. The room shakes, lights come on, hospital after all, and beside her bed—

“Daisy, you’re going to injure yourself further,” Simmons says.

“You let him out,” Daisy replies, the words rasping. He hurt us both and you let him out. Some best friend you are, she thinks, then she remembers that monsters don’t get to have best friends.

“Yes, I did. But he’s gone now, you’re safe here. If you don’t trust me, trust the team. Everyone’s here, keeping you safe so you can get better.”

The team is better off without me, she wants to say, but she’s falling again, falling, falling—

Crashing, breaking, broken, metal and glass—

“This sure is a mess, huh, kiddo?”

She gets to her feet and surveys the wreckage and the man standing in the middle of it.

“Cal,” she says.

“You haven’t come to visit me in a while,” he remarks. “I got upset.”

There is blood on his hands. Hers, too, but who’s keeping track?

“Daisy,” he says, and he says it like it’s his favorite word. “Daisy.” And she hates it and loves it and hates it, because it’s her name, not his— because he gave it to her— because he gave it to her—

“Daisy.” How long has it been since she checked on him?

“Daisy.” A day doesn’t go by without her thinking of it, because can’t a girl go see her father once in a while?

“Daisy.” But she doesn’t trust what S.H.I.E.L.D. did to his brain not to backfire or break down and will she be strong enough to do what needs to be done, if it comes to that?

“Daisy, wake up.”

The figure at her bedside this time is Phil Coulson, smiling his enigmatic smile.

“Heard you’ve been having some bad dreams.”

“More like nightmares.” This is one, too; I just haven’t figured out how.

“I hate those. Like the one where all my teeth are falling out— you ever get that one? No? Maybe it’s just me.” His expression turns serious. “You seem pretty freaked out. But you’re gonna be fine.”

“I might be a lot of things, but fine usually isn’t one of them. Anyway, how would you know? You’re just a manifestation of my subconscious.”

“Am I?”

“Uh, yeah. You died. Just like Fitz… and Lincoln… and Ward…”

“Fair enough. Maybe your subconscious is trying to tell you something, then.”

“That everything I touch withers and dies?” Blood drips, glass breaks, Afterlife burns—

“Jeez, Skye, lighten up a little. Sorry, Daisy.”

She follows his gaze up to the ceiling, and for a moment, white plaster gives way to an expanse of blue, misty white clouds, whistling wind—

“I always liked your old name best, you know.”

“I know. You were stubborn as hell about remembering that I changed it.”

“I liked the idea that you picked your own name, your own life. But you wanted that history, that connection, too. I see that now.”

“Wow, the Coulson in my head sure likes to share.”

“There’s a lot I never told you.”

“Such as?”

He shrugs, looks around the room. The lights are dim, shadows long. This could be any of a dozen times he sat by her bed while she was recovering from injuries in S.H.I.E.L.D. medical over the years, but it isn’t.

“Come on, A.C., I’m in a full body cast, I need to entertain myself with the one hallucination that isn’t trying to kill me.”

“Humor as deflection. Nice.”

“Pop psychology as deflection. Or has my subconscious just run out of ideas?”

“My father died when I was nine.”

“Dude, lighten up a little.”

“I wanted to support you like a father would, but considering I grew up without one too, I might not have had the best insight into how to do that.” He nods thoughtfully, the music box plays, the parents walk away— “I put too much pressure on you.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Coulson. I’m just a mess.”

“No, you’re not. You’re a hero.”

“I’m two hundred broken bones in a sack of meat that forty-eight percent of Americans want to see behind bars.”

“You saved the world.”

“I came pretty damn close to breaking it.”

“But you saved it. We saved it. And then I had to go, but you keep on fighting. For the world, for your people, for your team.”

“They’re not my team.” Elena’s arms, Ruby’s blood, Fitz begging to be let out— plastic sheets, scalpel— the window blows out— raising a glass to Bobbi and Hunter—

“Sure they are. Don’t you remember the mission?”

The bright blue sky—

“The faster-than-light engine. For Simmons, so she can get to Fitz. You were following a lead.”

“She let him out.” She did it once, and she’ll do it again.

“You’ll cross that bridge when you come to it,” Coulson says. The room is getting fuzzy and so is his voice. “What happened?”

“Walked into a firefight. Couldn’t wait for extraction.”

“You had to take the more direct route down.”

Falling, falling, falling— “I jumped. I shouldn’t even be alive.” Metal— glass— blood—

“I can think of a few people who are glad you are. Myself included.”

You don’t get to choose who cares about you. “Cool. Good for you.” You’re gone, you left me here alone.

“I’ve been dead before. It sucked. Recovery’s a bitch. But then, one day, there you are. Promise me something, Skye?”

“Daisy.”

“Daisy.”

“What?”

“Keep going.” He stands to leave.

You didn’t. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay, I promise.”

“Glad to hear it. See you around, A.J.” He exits through the wall as the door opens.

She must have fallen asleep. A window floods the room with natural light. Daylight has banished all the visions. Beside the bed sits Yo-yo.

“Good morning.”

“How long?”

“Since you jumped out of a high-altitude plane and gave us all heart attacks?” She smiles wryly. “About 48 hours.”

“Mission status?”

“We got it. Or, we got something. Simmons and Mack are working on it.” She pauses. “Don’t you want to know your own status?”

“I have a pretty good idea,” Daisy replies, half to herself.

Yo-yo ignores this. “The good news it they’re not gonna be fitting you with robo-arms anytime soon. But anything you have that’s breakable? You pretty much broke it. You’ll be in that cast for a while, and your arms for longer since apparently your arm bones are chalk. Simmons says behave and listen to the hospital doctors while she’s away or else.”

In a tone of reciting Simmons’ instructions, she continues, “You’re healing fast but not overnight, and don’t try to quake out of your cast again, because we couldn’t have safely sedated you even before you had Centipede serum in your system.”

Daisy’s mouth is already dry, so she just feels straightforward, literal dread. “Centipede?”

“They found traces of it when they brought you in. I guess with your mom’s DNA they don’t know what do expect.”

Centipede and her mother’s DNA— now here is the nightmare, and one of her own making. She doesn’t want it. It was never supposed to be in her— she already has too much darkness, too much of her parents— she took the injection with no intention of being alive on the other side of it—

Jiaying takes Skye’s face in her hands, and for a moment she is the mother Skye always dreamed of, a refuge warm and safe from the cold winds on the deck of the Iliad.

“Skye.” She uses the name her daughter chose for herself, and imbues the single syllable with twenty-six years’ worth of love and respect. And then the pain starts.

“Daisy. Daisy, stay with me, no me hagas esto, if you die I swear I will kill you—”

The hands on either side of her face are Elena’s, just trying to get her attention when her whole body is in traction. Jiaying is gone.

She’s been gone a long time.

“Oh, shit. Please don’t cry. This sucks enough without the crying.”

Is she crying?

“Look… I don’t know the whole story with your mother… I get the feeling maybe she wasn’t your favorite person in the world. Family can be like that sometimes, yeah? But maybe this is like, like she’s taking care of you. Keeping you safe. That’s what family does. We keep each other safe.”

“I thought,” Daisy says, trying and failing to keep her voice steady, “you wanted me to stop crying.”

Elena chuckles, and it has a shaky quality to it, and maybe if they can share this moment, they’re going to be OK.

“There’s—” Elena starts, but cuts off when the door to the room slides open. Daisy expects a doctor or a nurse, but when she turns her head as fractionally as her casts will allow, first she catches sight of Elena’s startled face, and then—

“Elena, I have to head out— Daisy. You’re… awake.”

Robbie Reyes is standing in the doorway.

 

“—blood pressure seems stable today, that’s a good sign, and the nurses said you slept through the night?”

Daisy tunes into Jemma’s rambling just in time to mutter yeah, not that she has a clear notion of the distinction between day and night when she’s trapped in this bed 24/7, but one of the nurses had said the same so it must have been true.

“Wonderful. We’re quite in the dark with all this, of course. I sent a consultation request to the Wakandan Outreach Center in Oakland but I hear they’re receiving hundreds of such petitions every day and they’ve got to consider who has the greatest need, naturally, not that you don’t need help, but you seem to be doing quite well…” It’s classic Jemma, keep talking around the uncomfortable things, like the painful feelings between them dredged up by Daisy’s subconscious.

“Tell me about the ship,” Daisy cuts in.

“Oh! Well, preparations would go faster if we had Fitz, but if we had Fitz we wouldn’t need to complete the project. Still, some of the new recruits have proved competent, and Dr. Rambeau is flying in herself for final checks. All that’s left is to select the crew.”

“Count me in,” Daisy says immediately and Jemma’s face falls. “I’m serious. I want to help.”

“You’ve done more than enough,” Jemma replies carefully. “And the fact is, you can barely walk.”

“Right, but didn’t somebody just say that I’m getting better?”

“Yes, incredibly fast. But even once the casts are off, you’ll need weeks of physical therapy before your muscles can support—”

“Nobody walks in space, anyway. You just float.”

“Daisy.”

“Jemma.” She needs to go. Needs to be better, needs to prove she can handle it.

“You remember the gravitational pressure of exit velocity, don’t you? That is an incredible strain even on a body that isn’t full of fragile bones recovering from multiple fractures and compound fractures and microfractures—”

“Please stop saying fractures. I get it, okay. No space for me.” She wonders fleetingly how much they would have to delay the launch to allow for her recovery, but she won’t do that to Jemma, who has waited long enough for this reunion.

“I know being cooped up at the base is not what you had in mind after you finally get out of here,” she says.

“So don’t leave her cooped up at the base.”

She hears Robbie’s voice, the second time in as many days.

She looks over and he’s in the doorway again, this time with Gabe and flowers.

“As I’ve just been saying, Daisy is in no conditions to go on any missions until—”

Getting a word in edgewise when Simmons is in Doctor Mode is a skill Daisy has honed over several years, but Robbie manages it deftly.

“He’s been here every day since you were admitted,” Elena told her after he’d left last night, as the shock of seeing him was wearing off. “He’s the one who called us in. Apparently he’s been living outside Austin under S.H.I.E.L.D. relocation protocol for months. Mack called it ‘need-to-know’.”

And Daisy hadn’t needed to know, but she’d managed to crash through the roof of his garage and land on an old Saturn all the same.

Robbie says, “I didn’t mean missions. I meant she could come stay with us.” He looks at Daisy. “If you want.”

Daisy waits for Jemma to object. On what grounds, she doesn’t know. On the grounds of they can’t drag him back into Daisy’s blast radius now that he’s made it out of his own.

But Jemma looks thoughtful. “I imagine I could count on you two to keep her to her physical therapy regimen?”

“We have some experience in that area,” Gabe says, and he catches Daisy’s eye and gives her a lopsided grin.

If you want. She does want, which is a problem, because things Daisy wants do not pan out. That’s just the way of things. No family, no boyfriend, no saving Mike or Donnie or Trip or Jiaying or Cal or Charles Hinton or Andrew or Lincoln or Mace or Ben or Ruby or Talbot or Coulson—

“What do you say, Daisy?”

He’s never known her by any other name. She’s not an orphan or a hurricane or a monster or a world-destroyer. She’s just Daisy.

“Yeah, okay,” she says.

The world doesn’t shake and the windows don’t blow out. Jemma briskly flips through Daisy’s chart. “Excellent, it’s settled then. I’ll send a team to your place to make sure security is up to scratch.”

“Chill out, Level Orange,” Daisy mumbles.

“Security is important, Level Blue.” She almost, almost smiles. “I’d better get going. Robbie, Gabe— lovely to see you as always.”

An awkward silence is left in her wake.

Daisy says, “You don’t have to—”

Gabe says, “We’re going to.”

Daisy says, “I feel bad for wrecking your stuff,” and Robbie cracks a smile.

“S.H.I.E.L.D. is paying for the repairs.”

“We should have government agents fall through our roof more often.”

“And the car—” Daisy tries.

“Basically scrap metal already. If it had been my Charger, now, that would be a different story.”

“Shut up and go get some water for these,” Gabe says, rolling his eyes and passing his brother the bouquet.

“He was really worried about you,” Gabe remarks once Robbie is out of the room, in a deliberately casual way that Daisy understands as totally un-casual. “I think when he first found you he thought you were dead.”

“I thought I was, too.” She tried to catch herself with her powers, right? She thinks she wasn’t trying to die. She hates that she can’t be sure. “And I thought your brother was-- I don’t know, not on this plane of existence.”

“Yeah, don’t ask me. He says his contract was up, so he just came home and started fixing cars again. I don’t buy it, but gift horses, and all. Just glad to have him back.”

Daisy knows she’s waiting for the drop, for the explanation that makes it all make sense and probably points her in the direction of the next impossible fight. She tries to see it the way Gabe says, that maybe for once, the universe isn’t looking to screw her over. To screw them over.

“I guess if I’m gonna be living with you guys, you’ll have time to tell me all about college.”

“And you can tell me about fighting an army of evil androids. Whenever I ask Robbie about it, he’s all I was just doing what needed to be done.”

Robbie comes back just in time to hear this impression, and lightly cuffs the back of his brother’s head on his way to place the vase of flowers on Daisy’s bedside. Purples and orange-yellows and yeah, a few daisies. She’s met no one yet (herself included) who can resist the pun. She meets Robbie’s eyes with her own, he smiles, and she smiles back.

Bad idea. She tears her gaze away and focuses instead on the sight of her feet, trapped in casts and suspended above the end of the bed.

“See you tomorrow?” she hears him ask.

“Sure,” she says. She wants to cry or sleep or just be left alone. The force of all the Earth’s gravity is trapped inside her bones and it is all she can do not to let it out.

The creak of Gabe’s chair and the soft click of the door, and she is alone.

 

Mary Sue Poots spent her last few months of high school in a sleepy suburban town in Maryland, her first time south of the Mason-Dixon line since that disastrous summer spent with a preacher’s family when she was seven.

She was old enough to be jaded, to walk through the front door and catalog all the ways she didn’t fit— not white enough, not Christian enough, too old, too immature, just something about her, we can’t quite put a finger on it.

But the Kramers welcomed her. A white couple fostering two younger kids already, but they had a room made up for her and a place for her at the kitchen table; she could almost mean it when she closes her eyes during grace. She helped the younger ones with homework, helped Mrs. K in the garage and Mr. K in the kitchen. She still couldn’t bring herself to say Mom or Dad but she thought maybe, maybe someday—

Got good grades in school. Stayed out of trouble. Started to think she might finish out eleventh grade in the same school where she started it.

The social worker picked her up from school one chilly February afternoon. Her bags were already packed and loaded in the back of the SUV. She never saw the Kramers again. Her dreams of a family, blown to bits in an instant, again and again and again and again.

Daisy thinks Skye was born that day, a name she was already using online because no Mary Sue was ever going to kick ass at WoW. Crying alone that night in the gray room that had so often held her but would never be hers, she understood that no one in this world would ever make a place for her. She would have to go out there and make her own.

 

It was years before she ever thought it possible the family might have wept for her, too.