When Coulson gets back from the Iliad, he's not aware of much. Pain. Noise. The pressure of Mack's belt, turned into a hasty tourniquet around his forearm. Simmons' voice, ordering meds and tests and procedures. It's a little like dying, he thinks, although that was colder. His chest doesn't hurt, now, just his hand, an ache in his skin, in the bones of his fingers (it's ghost pain, he thinks, there's nothing there to hurt). There's the sharp sting of an IV line being inserted, and then soft, dreamless morphine sleep.
He wakes, in the night, to the beeping of machines and the warm pressure of another body at his back. He turns his head sluggishly, just enough to see who it is. Skye has climbed up on the narrow bed, boots and all. She's still in her tactical gear, although he can feel that she's not wearing body armour. She wakes, briefly, looks muzzy and disoriented.
"Hey, 's wrong? In pain?" she whispers, and he shakes his head. The morphine's still in his system; he doesn't hurt at all. "G'back to sleep, then," she mutters, presses her forehead between his shoulderblades and very gently rests a hand on his side. She's not under the blankets; he worries that she might be cold, but she feels warm. He feels safe, in a sea of drugs and warmth and calm.
In the morning, she's gone, and he'd think it was a morphine dream but for the crumpled blankets, the way his body is still curled as if another body was curved around it.
"Skye slept in my bed," he tells Andrew, their first session (he's still in a hospital bed, and he's tired of the cotton nightgown, misses his suits). "The first night I was - after this." Andrew raises his eyebrows, looks at Coulson too intently.
"How do you feel about that?"
"It's... it's not good compartmentalization, right?" Coulson asks. "I mean, and professionally..."
"No," Andrew agrees easily, "but we can talk about compartmentalization later. How do you feel about it."
"I felt safe," Coulson admits, "like she had my back. Like she was looking out for me. Maybe a reaction to trauma, hers and mine."
"I think so," Andrew agrees, and Coulson feels a little warmer, at the assessment.
Skye seems to be handling everything remarkably well, Coulson thinks. He knows she's working with Andrew - he wouldn't have suggested the visit to Dr Winslow if Andrew hadn't agreed, although their sessions are otherwise confidential - and she's not getting nightmares. She's even talking to him about it, teasing him about refitting Lola for a one-handed driver, discussing the new Caterpillar team with quiet surety. She seems so well-adjusted that it's a surprise, at first, when she knocks on his door the night they visited Cal.
"Skye? What's wrong?" he asks, waving her in (and trying not to feel underdressed, in his t-shirt and shorts). She's in sweats, her hair in a loose plait, and she looks restless, unhappy.
"I just, I... I couldn't sleep," she admits, "and you're the only one I felt like I could talk to, I guess. Not that I really want to. Talk, I mean, I just... I don't know. It's difficult." She gives him a look that's familiar but which he can't quite decipher, and then remembers, all in a rush. I just need you to be my friend right now.
"Well, I was just watching tv in bed, so... you want to come sit with me?" he suggests, and her face lightens.
"Sure," she says, climbs into bed and snuggles down under the covers, leans against the headboard with her knees up to her chest. He un-pauses the David Attenborough nature documentary he'd had on, and she gives him a sideways look.
"Coulson, you're in bed watching a documentary about turtles?" she says, and he grins.
"It's very soothing, actually," he replies, settles into his own half of the bed. They're not touching, he's not holding her or anything, he thinks, but he wonders what it'd be like, to have her head on his shoulder, to gently stroke her hair. He falls asleep, instead, while the documentary plays on all blue light and liquid ocean sounds in the background, and wakes just enough to feel Skye nestle against him, her knee pressed up gently against the back of his thigh. They're both fully clothed, he thinks, this is just Skye needing the comfort of another body. Her hand is spread out across his ribcage, warm and solid and secure.
Skye's cheerful, in the morning, looks less haunted by the ghosts of her family. "I slept well," she tells him, "you're not wrong about Attenborough being soothing." He agrees, realizes he slept well too. Better than he has so far, he thinks. He wonders what Andrew would say (but Andrew's on vacation, so he'll just have to interrogate his own brain).
"Sorry guys," May tells them, over crackling comms. "Your current location is pinned down too tight, you're going to have to sleep the night there and relocate in the morning. Just sit tight, okay?"
"Copy that," Skye says, ends the comms line. "At least it's not too cold tonight, right?"
"Yeah," Coulson says, "although I think you'll find sleeping in the back of the SUV is not the greatest thing."
"Dude," Skye reminds him, "I slept in a van for a year, it's fine. We've got emergency rations and sleeping bags in the back, we'll just put the back seat down, it'll be fine."
Emergency rations suck, Coulson remembers, when he pulls them out. He and Skye chew the bars dispiritedly, wash them down with lukewarm water, try not to think about grilled cheese sandwiches or candy bars or food that tastes like food. "I wish we had some MREs," he says, finds a pen and writes STOCK MRES across the inside of his wrist, practicing his non-dominant handwriting. Skye eyes up the note, takes the pen and adds candy: hershey's kisses to it in neat cursive. The feeling of the pen drawing across his skin makes Coulson shiver enough that her final s is a little shaky.
They fold the seat down flat, lay out the sleeping bags. Coulson considers his suit jacket, pulls it off and drapes it over the driver's seat back, tugs off his tie, and Skye says, unexpectedly, "you can, uh, you don't have to sleep in your suit pants, you know." He glances at her, and she clears her throat, gives him a direct look. "I mean, it's a nice suit. Don't sleep in it if you don't have to. You're wearing an undershirt and boxers, right?" He is, he guesses, so he shrugs, unbuttons his shirt and unlaces his shoes. By the time he wriggles out of his pants, she's already tucked into her own sleeping bag, doing some kind of intense hacker business on her phone.
"We'll be safe," she tells him, "for the night, I mean. Our location's secure." She waits for him to get into his own sleeping bag and then rolls on her side toward him. "Sleep well," she says, is out like a light, except that when he rolls onto his side himself, she snuggles closer, melds the curve of her body against his back. Her arm's not around him, or her hand on his ribs - it's too cold for her to have an arm out of the sleeping bag - but he can feel her breath gust across the back of his neck.
He falls asleep to the rhythm of her breath soft and even as waves.
When they wake up he puts his suit back on (sans tie) and they eat more depressing emergency rations until May extracts them from the relocation spot. He throws himself into a shower as soon as they get back to base, scrubbing himself back into a crisply-put-together version of himself, and it's not until he's pulling on a new shirt that he remembers the list written in cheap ballpoint on his wrist. 's kisses, it still says, in faded ink, and he presses his vibranium fingertips against it like a promise, like a bruise.
Skye's nightmares have gone, Coulson knows, but when the base starts trembling, he jerks awake, runs to her bunk, opens the door to what he knows he'll find. She's tossing in her sleep, muttering, and the shaking is getting worse. He touches her shoulder, gently, with metal fingertips, and the vibrations still abruptly as she fights herself awake.
"I'm okay, I'm okay," she says, pushing a hand across her face in what he recognizes as an exhausted gesture. "Sorry, did I- did I wake anyone?"
"Only me, I think," Coulson replies gently, letting her get her bearings. He sits down, near her blanketed knees, far enough to maintain what he's still thinking of as compartmentalization (it's not compartmentalizing when you run to wake her from nightmares, he knows, but-). "Just a little quake, I think."
"Okay," Skye says, breathing slower, her gaze far away. Coulson knows she's centering herself, something she's practiced with May, waits it out. "Thanks, I- I think it's dealing with the new Inhumans. Bringing it back up."
"You want to talk about it?" he asks, and she pauses, considers.
"With Andrew," she decides, and reaches for her water bottle, takes a sip of water and then another. "I promise, I'll... I won't bottle it up. It's good, talking to him. It helps. I'm glad he's here, for me and the others."
"Sure," Coulson says, resting a hand briefly on her shoulder. "Ready to go back to sleep? I'll leave you to it."
"Oh," she says, soft, and then, "could you just... Will you sit with me, for a while? I think the vibranium mutes it, actually. Watch." She sets the water bottle down, gently vibrates trembling rings into the water, and then reaches her other hand out to him, tucks her fingers into his metal palm. The water settles, glassy calm.
"Huh," is all he can think to say. "So it's like..."
"It's like they reconstructed you with a failsafe switch for me," she quips, and then her breath hitches. "I mean, I guess it's good, right? To have an off-switch?"
"I guess so," he agrees, although he's not sure how he feels, that he's her off-switch. She settles back down, one hand pressed under her cheek and the other still wrapped in his, and falls asleep quickly, looking wrung-out.
He must fall asleep too, because when he wakes in dim grey light, he's half-sitting, half-lying, with Skye spooned against his back, her arm stretched over him so her fingers can stay tangled in his. It's uncomfortable, and he's cold, but he doesn't want to wake her - it feels too early, and she'd been exhausted - so he shifts his legs up, stretches out properly. Skye pulls her hand away, and he thinks at first she's woken up anyway, but she's just tucking the blanket up over him, shifting even closer so her body is one long curve of warmth against him. She slides her arm back over his ribs, wraps her hand in his, and as he relaxes into the warm haze of sleep, he could swear she presses a kiss between his shoulderblades through the cotton of his t-shirt, quick and soft and intimate.
Coulson's shocked, when Andrew raises it. "Skye said she's having a hard time. She wants a few days away, at the Retreat," he says, pauses to scrutinise Coulson's face. "She's asked if you can go too."
"Why would she-" Coulson asks, all reflex. Andrew gives him a long look.
"Our first session," he says eventually, "you made an assessment."
"She feels safe," Coulson remembers. "Like we've got each other's back."
"Yeah," Andrew agrees. "Phil, she said she didn't want the SHIELD guy. If you go - I know you still think you should compartmentalize. Do you think you'd be able to?"
"No," Coulson says, honestly, "but then, that's been a problem since I met her." Andrew laughs, gives him another look.
"Maybe just stop trying," he suggests. "At least in the way you're thinking." When Coulson gives him a surprised look, he throws up his hands. "I told you a while ago. I don't work for SHIELD. I work for Skye. And for you. Maybe SHIELD wants its agents all neatly compartmentalized but that's not human nature, is it, or healthy. You can be the Director of SHIELD and be a human, you know. You should be."
The Retreat is just as idyllic as it had been when he dropped Skye off the last time, but this time round, he's not going to leave. He feels like it's a better call. They eat a simple dinner; Skye makes tomato soup and tries to spy on his grilled cheese process to figure out the secret ingredient. "It's a secret for a reason, get away," he tells her, and she swats at him, cheeky, with a wet dishcloth.
They sit out on the porch, after dinner, watching the sun blaze and fade into a glorious sunset. Skye looks contemplative, and settled in a way he hasn't seen for a while. "Thanks for coming with," she says eventually, and he shrugs. "Seriously, I... I knew I needed to get away, to decompress, but the thought of being here alone, after last time, it didn't especially appeal. It's way less creepy with company." She shivers, and he gets up to grab a blanket, but she shakes her head, gets up too. "I brought my laptop," she says, "so we could curl up and watch a movie? I brought those nature ones you like." Coulson laughs, at that, and she smiles, shy and pleased.
She makes it through two-thirds of the movie before yawning widely and dropping her head onto his shoulder. "Sorry," she says, "sorry, I think it's time to turn in, I haven't... I haven't been sleeping so well, I guess." They brush their teeth side by side, in the small cabin bathroom, and then Coulson realizes.
"Hey," he says, hesitant. "I'll - I'll sleep on the couch, okay." Skye looks surprised.
"No, why?" she asks. "Phil- Coulson, it's fine, it's not like we haven't shared a bunk before, right? And trust me. That couch is gonna be really uncomfortable." She's right, he guesses, so he shrugs, takes off his suit and hangs it up before climbing into the cabin bed. Skye takes longer, combing her hair, matter-of-factly changing into a big, soft-looking t-shirt, shucking off her jeans and stepping out of them, leaving them crumpled on the floor.
She steps into bed, quiet and easy, and slides close to him, rubs a cold foot against his calf, pushes her knee up against the back of his leg. It's the first time he's felt her bare skin against his, he realizes, and freezes for a second before relaxing into it, letting her wrap an arm around his stomach. He takes her hand, tucks it in closer against his heart, and feels her sigh, a long breath out, before she presses her face into his shoulder. This is familiar now, he thinks, comforting and safe, for him as well as her.
In the night, she rolls over and he does too, some sleeper's instinct following the warmth of her body. She settles back against him, presses her body into the curve of his just as easily as she's always spooned up against him. He puts an arm around her, more asleep than awake, breathes the scent of her hair. It's very easy to go back to sleep.
When he wakes, in the morning, she's still nestled close, her ass pressed up against him. This is the worst possible timing to have an erection, he thinks. "Shit," he mutters, tries to pull away, and she moans sleepily, reaches out and grabs his hip, pulls him harder against her. "Skye, I-" he tries again, and she grinds into him, takes his hand where he's rested it on her shoulder and pulls it down to cup her breast. Coulson's vision flares white, for a moment, and his mind goes blank.
"Coulson," she says, frustration in her voice, "can you just stop thinking about this for a minute, please," and emphasizes her words by sliding her hand down to rub his cock. He wraps his hand around her wrist, not hard but firm, because he does need to think about this, needs to know what she's thinking.
"Skye..." he whispers. "What, I mean- what." She rolls over, at that, grabs him by the back of his neck and kisses him hard, pulls back and gives him a look that's equal parts defiant and 'catch up with the play, Phil Coulson'. "Oh," he says, stunned, reaches out to pull her closer.
"Oh?" she asks, teasing. "I've been pining after you for months and oh is your response?"
"Skye," he murmurs, kisses her again. "Sorry. In my defense, I was trying to be very respectful and at least a little professionally appropriate."
"Director," she breathes against his mouth, "I really don't want you to be professionally appropriate."
"...Okay," he manages, as she trails kisses down his jaw, pushes his shirt up so she can scrape nails lightly across his ribs. "I can -oh god- I can go down on you for like an hour instead? Is that better?"
"So much better," she says against his throat, and bites.
(Afterwards, they fall asleep again, and Skye's pressed against his back, like always. He's used to it, now, used to the way her body curls around his all sleepy and warm. It's better when they're both naked though, he thinks, and when she leans in to press a kiss to his spine, it sends a shiver through him. She's got his back. They're safe.)