Several days had passed since Skye had been taken to the safe house, and she still couldn’t think of it as anything more than a glorified holding pen. True enough, it had games consoles, basic internet access, books, and a TV with all the channels known to man—and going by the content of a few she’d flicked past, several channels known also to aliens. But nothing pulled her back into reality faster than pointing out a funny line in a show to someone who wasn’t there. Occasionally she’d lose herself in a game, and would ask Fitz if he’d been watching before realising that she was alone. There were no jokes to be told, or pranks to be had; she even missed sparring with May.
Her only link to the outside world as she had come to know it was the occasional webcam update to Coulson. The pre-arranged time arrived, and the television hanging on the wall quickly showed Coulson’s warm, albeit tired face. May stood behind him a ways, arms folded as per usual and a look on her face that betrayed about as much emotion as a concrete wall—although Skye decided she’d be worried if she could read her SO.
“Sorry I’m late, it’s been busy.” Coulson’s voice echoed.
“Late? It was about twenty seconds.” Skye replied.
“Like I said, it’s been busy.”
“Speak for yourself; Lameville here isn’t exactly a theme park.”
Coulson’s face softened, “I know it’s not an adventure holiday, but it’s only temporary. We’ll figure it out, Skye. You’ll be back on active duty before you know it.” Skye didn’t miss the look May gave Coulson, but she nodded regardless. “I take it Simmons’ gloves are working?”
Skye grunted, “They itch.”
“Better than the alternative.”
Coulson pursed his lips, “Skye, listen, I know I said I’d come visit you every few days, but-”
“But you’re busy running the show over there, it’s okay, I get it.” She didn’t just get it, she’d already assumed for it.
“I’m sorry, Skye, I really am.”
“I know. So, nobody’s coming?”
“Not right now, I’m afraid. Lance is still AWOL, FitzSimmons are up to their eyeballs, and Mack and Bobbi… Well, they can’t make it either.”
“What about May?”
Coulson looked back, and mumbled something inaudible. May shook her head, her lips forming soundless words. “May can’t either, Skye. She’s needed here. We’re sorry.”
“Oh.” So that was that. She’d hoped that Coulson would send someone—anyone—in his place, but at the same time, knew it was unlikely. “So I’ll be stuck here on my own for a while longer? Awesome, I can start writing my memoirs, maybe take up knitting.” Coulson did look genuinely apologetic, though. “Look, I’m sorry; I’m just getting a little… cabin fever.”
“I understand, I do. Fury told me that Steve complained of that a lot, too. Said he enjoyed spending time in the forest, though, and I know I suggested fishing when you got there.”
“Now I can be bored outside, too. Yay.”
Coulson grinned back at her. “Someone will be around to resupply you in a day or two, until then you-” Skye frowned as static rippled across the screen. The lights around her dimmed, then brightened, and dimmed again. Through the tearing static, Skye saw Coulson tap on the webcam at his end, and May was fiddling with something out of shot. She heard parts of her name, and garbled sentences, until with one final burst of power from the lights, everything went out.
Skye had expected herself to panic, and yet, she didn’t. Instead she stood where she was, staring silently into the darkness that engulfed her, with the grim, dull late evening light slicing shallow swathes into the shadows from the windows. She could barely see her hands held in front of her face. Tugging her phone from her pocket—thankful that she’d charged it not long ago—she swiped to a flashlight app, and quickly turned the impromptu light on her surroundings.
Nothing seemed out of place—or, as out of place as anything could look in the dark with a flashlight shining on it—and Skye edged over to the light switches beside the door. Flicking them a few times elicited no response, and she abandoned the attempt. Growing acutely aware of rain lashing down with increasing intensity, she ruled out looking around outside for a fuse box, instead deciding on simply having a lie down and waiting it out. There’d be agents already trying to sort it out, she reckoned, Coulson wouldn’t risk leaving her unguarded, perhaps for more reasons than one.
With her phone in one hand, and her other hand against the wall to guide herself, she made it through to the bedroom, threw her phone onto the bed, and herself after it. The mattress was harder than she was used to, but comfortable enough, and the feather pillows offered her head little resistance. Laying, blinking in the darkness, she listened. Every gust rattled the windows as the weather outside the cabin fought against itself, wind vied with rain to be heard above it, and soon, the low peals of thunder made their presence known.
Skye couldn’t sleep. Maybe she wasn’t tired enough, but something just felt… wrong. Occasionally she’d hear other noises outside, and had started out dismissing them as wildlife, objects being blown around, or patrolling agents. Her curiosity steadily built up inside her, a gnawing feeling in the back of her mind that grew into a hungering need for knowledge. Growling in annoyance, she pulled herself up, and walked over to the window, drawing back the curtain just enough peek through.
Whatever stared back at her quickly looked away, disappearing into the darkness. Backing away in shock, Skye tried to rationalise what she’d seen. Was it her own reflection? An agent’s? Her mind playing tricks? It can’t have been her own; half of it would have been hidden by the curtain. An agent, perhaps, but why had nobody made any attempt to actually check on her, and why would they stare through curtained windows? It was her mind. It must have been all in her mind.
Three slow, stiff knocks reverberated through the cabin, and she gritted her teeth. She wasn’t crazy; she knew she’d seen something. Thankful, at least, for the pistol that Coulson had left her—or neglected to remove prior to her arrival—Skye retrieved it from a drawer in the bedside table, turned her phone on, and cautiously stepped into the front room. Another trio of knocks accompanied her, each one purposeful.
“Who’s there?” She shouted. Only the wind bothered to howl a reply. Three more knocks. She levelled her pistol at the door. “I won’t ask again.” Three more knocks. She sighted down the barrel, hoping the wooden door was thin enough for a bullet to penetrate. Three more knocks; her finger brushed the trigger; and the door swung sluggishly inward. She fired.
The bullet whizzed through the open door, off into the distance. Nothing stood before her except the elements. Maybe she was crazy. Erring on the side of sanity, she kept the gun levelled, inching forward to shut the door. She kept her phone, and her eyes, trained on the doorway, allowing herself to glance down only once to make sure she was close enough to kick the door closed. A breath of relief escaped her when she looked back up and found nothing returning the gesture. Lightning flashed. A figure emerged. Her phone hit the floor with a thud, and darkness enveloped them both.
She felt her heart pounding in her ears. Thunder roared overhead, and more lightning clawed its way across the sky. It was gone. The figure was gone. Skye couldn’t explain it. “I’ve gone crazy.” She muttered. “I’ve spent too much time alone, in this cabin, in these woods, and I’ve gone off the deep end.” And yet, she couldn’t bring herself to believe it. All she needed to do was shut the door, and wait for the power to come back on. But that wasn’t what she wanted to do. She needed to know. Sighing, she held the pistol in both hands, and took a step out into the rain.
Before she knew it, she was standing where it had stood, soaked to the bone and wishing she knew what to look for. The cabin door slammed shut behind her, and her question was answered. Spinning on her heels, she turned, felt the pistol being yanked from her hands, a foot in her chest, and the sodden ground at her back as she fell. Disoriented, she looked up as a flash revealed to her the last person she’d want to meet at night, and in the middle of nowhere.
Grant Ward’s smug face faded back into shadow with the dying of the lightning. Skye’s stomach churned. She wanted desperately to throw up. All she could do was stare at the darkened outline of the man who, when she’d last seen him, she’d shot and left for dead. He fumbled with something, and a flashlight beam burst into life. He focussed it on Skye, and smiled. “Miss me?”
Skye stayed silent. “You know it’s rude to ignore people, Skye? Or doesn’t Shield teach manners anymore?” Still, she bit her words back behind gritted teeth. Ward raised an eyebrow. “Guess not, though, I should’ve figured that out when you shot me several times in the back.”
“You deserved it.” Skye spat. Ward smiled wider.
“There you go, was that so hard?” Skye made to stand up, abandoning the attempt when Ward levelled the pistol at her. “Yeah, you can get up when I say you can get up.”
In the torchlight, Skye could see a different look in his eyes than he used to have. She’d come to abhor the glint that appeared whenever she’d approached him in the cell at the playground. It wasn’t there anymore. Scooping the sodden strands of her away from her eyes, she noticed that Ward was oddly dry, but she didn’t allow herself much time to dwell on it. “Why are you here, Ward? Coulson’s not coming.”
“I’m not here for Coulson, Skye, or May, or Fitz, Simmons, Trip-”
“Trip’s dead.” Skye almost thought she saw a hint of sorrow pass over Ward’s face.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Ward pursed his lips. “Regardless, I’m not here for anyone. Anyone, except you.”
Skye almost laughed. “Still? Still with this obsession? Didn’t you get the message? Are you seriously that dense?”
The smile had faded. “I got the message, Skye. I got all of them. They were painful, at first, but I found someone who cared enough to remove them. All that’s left now are scars.” He looked at a point behind Skye. “Pick her up.”
Skye felt someone hauling her up from behind and, noting the gun Ward was pointing at her, felt it wise not to resist. The person brushed against her shoulder as they pushed past, walking around Skye’s left to join Ward. It came like a punch in the gut. Ward’s flashlight illuminated May, sauntering over into Ward’s outstretched arm. But wasn’t May with Coulson? Had something happened?
“What did you do to Coulson?” Skye demanded.
Ward eyed her, and laughed. “Show her.”
May nodded, turning to face Skye and revealing the wide scar across her right cheek. Agent 33. “Pretty convincing, huh?”
It wasn’t May. Coulson was fine. That much, at least, was alright. “You don’t deserve to look like her.”
Agent 33 smiled back, looking more than a little unnerving. “Why not? Sounds like you don’t think very highly of her, if you think her capable of betraying you all. Maybe she already has.”
“You bitch.” Skye snarled. “I’ll kill you.” She made to lunge forward, deterred by Ward waving the pistol around again.
“Oh, there’ll be killing.” He said. “But I’ll be the one doing it. To you.” Skye could only stare. He hadn’t come to take her, he’d come to kill her. “Like I said, I got the message, Skye, and being the wall-mannered man I am, I’ve come, personally, to give you my reply.” He turned to Agent 33, “Just like I said.”
Agent 33 nodded, approaching Skye. With no other choice, and so much pent up anger, Skye took the opportunity, and met the rogue agent halfway, catching her off guard with a swift kick to the leg. Ward backed off slightly, but didn’t intervene, seeming more content to observe the fight from the side-lines. Agent 33 recovered quickly, blocking a punch aimed for her gut. Skye threw a second, which Agent 33 grabbed and used to lever Skye around, landing her own punch in Skye’s back.
Skye’s vision dissolved into a trance-like haze. Thankful for May’s training, she blocked strikes that would have otherwise quickly ended the fight, and managed to exploit weaknesses she might previously have overlooked. Agent 33 was good, though, and recovered well. After trading several bruises, Skye spotted an opening, and went for it. Thrusting both fists forward at Agent 33, she pushed them up at the last minute, deflecting what would otherwise have been a fairly simple block, and leaving the agent’s chest exposed for a brutal kick. The agent flew back, knocked off her feet, and Skye did the only thing she could do. She ran.
Her eyes stung as the driving rain lanced them, and she could barely see what lay before her, but she ran regardless. Trees passed her as barely recognisable blurs in her vision, wavering, watery illusions that she managed to dart around at the last second. Skye daren’t look back, knowing that Ward would be in full pursuit. His voice, laced with anger, confirmed it.
“What did I tell you, Skye?” He shouted. “Don’t turn your back on your enemies!”
Gunshots drove his point home. A bullet flicked past Skye’s ear and into the forest. Another embedded itself in a tree beside her, throwing splinters into her face. Thankful that the weather, at least, took no sides, Skye kept running, relying on the elements, and the trees, to throw off Ward’s aim. Another few shots rang out and flew wide.
“You can’t run forever, Skye! You’ll have to stop eventually!”
The gunshots had ceased as the trees grew thicker, and closer, eventually cutting off the worst of the weather. Skye’s legs ached, and her lungs burned. Gritting her teeth, she pushed herself to her limit. She wasn’t about to give in to Ward.
His growl was distant, and spurred her onward. Skye didn’t know where she could go from here, only that she needed to keep running. Stay on her feet. Don’t even stop for breath.
In a second, she hit the floor. Her vision swam. Why had she fallen? What was that smell? She tasted blood. Her head pounded, and her limbs throbbed, and no singular thought lingered for more than a second. Muffled noises echoed, as if heard through a tunnel filled with cotton wool. Skye tried moving her head, and the wispy haze in her mind shifted, her sight reduced to a swirling, tumultuous chaos of splintered images. And just what was that smell? It smelled clean—chemically clean.
Skye shut her eyes tight, her mind cleared, and she was back. It was disorienting, and her stomach was turning something fierce, but at least she could finally think. Something cold, damp, and metallic was pressed firmly against her forehead, as she quickly realised the time for thinking had already long passed.
“-Not sure what you thought it would accomplish, but a good try, anyway.” Apparently Ward had been talking. Skye didn’t feel particularly upset for missing out. “There’s one thing you get out of all this, though. You never have to see me again.”
At some point, she’d started crying, though she couldn’t remember doing it. Skye clamped her damp eyes shut for the gunshot that never came. Or maybe it already had come, and she was living out her last splinter of a second in her mind. Perhaps.
The call was faint, but definitely there; a dim lamp in the darkness--flickering, but recognisable.
A man, definitely a man. She knew him, or so she thought. He was too far away to tell.
“Open your eyes, Skye.”
But what if she was already dead? She didn’t want this last sliver of existence to end before it needed to. If she opened her eyes, she was dead. And yet…
“Come on Skye, you can do this. Open your eyes.”
She still felt the chill steel bite on her forehead; the dirt in her fingernails; her aching muscles, and the trails of raindrops down her sodden skin. She opened her eyes. Ward had his torch focussed on the shadows, his eyes scanning the darkness. Agent 33 knelt beside Skye. She must’ve tackled her down as she ran. As Skye’s eyes adapted to the torchlight, she saw the man calling her name step out.
It was strange. He looked right at her, and yet appeared to see through her. Ward pulled the pistol away, levelling it at Coulson. “One more step, Phil, and I will shoot you.”
Coulson took a step. “Skye?”
“I mean it. Coulson.”
“Skye?” Another step.
Skye watched Ward’s finger tighten its grip on the trigger. No.
Another step. “Skye?”
“I’ll kill her.” Ward turned the gun back on Skye.
Coulson stopped, and smiled. His face, wizened and wrinkled before its time, giving way to a look of absolute joy. Ward, with one move, turned the gun back on him. “Skye.” Coulson said, as the trigger depressed. “You’re safe, now.”
“NO!” The walls she’d built up collapsed. It surged through her; a second bloodstream, pumping, and coursing through invisible veins. It can’t end like this. In that instant, she moved freely through time. She felt that she could flit between the tree for hours, and spend only a second doing it. Skye watched the bullet leave the pistol, spinning its deadly path towards Coulson.
With intangible fingers, Skye plucked it from the air, holding it in place and inspecting it like a jeweller would his finest diamond. A single, unconscious command sent tremors through it; a deadly heartbeat pulsing within. Cracks and fissures split the lead surface under her scrutiny, growing into metallic ravines. The pulses increased. Skye could only watch the bullet sunder further, eventually tearing itself apart; a slow-motion firework of hot lead flakes that themselves shattered into nothing.
Time moved around her again--the bullet disintegrating in a burst of metal--but the pulsing didn’t stop. Coulson’s smile faltered.
“Skye. You’ve got to stop this.”
Ward looked at her, confused. Skye just sat there. It was all she could do. The power was on, the pulses had started, and the quakes would come. “I’m sorry.” She muttered. She knew, now, why she cried.
Around her, leaves spiralled down. Branches twitched, and dirt started rolling along the ground in swathes. There would be no end. Not this time. Agent 33 shuffled uneasily to Skye’s right. The rogue agent stared at her hand as they shook. Fine lines—cracks, began to form at her fingertips, and the screaming started. Watching, helpless, Skye thought back to the temple—to Trip. Was it as painful for him? Were his last moments spent in agony? Was he even still alive when she…
The emotion fuelled the pulsing. The very ground Skye sat on had begun tearing itself apart. Around her, branches were torn free, and trees split, exploding outwards in a shower of splinters and bark. Agent 33’s screams abruptly ended as the cracks converged on her face, each reaching a single central point.
She shattered. Just like Trip. She was still skin, and flesh, and blood, and bone, but still she shattered like stone. It wasn’t meant to be like this. None of it was. To Ward’s credit, he didn’t cry out as he, too, succumbed to the quakes; the shards of his being scattering themselves across the ground, and disintegrating to nothing. Only Coulson remained.
“You can do it, Skye.”
“I… I can’t.”
His smile returned, and he stepped closer. “Come back to us, Skye.”
“I can’t. I don’t know how!”
“Don’t come any closer.”
His next step sent an object skidding across the ground towards her. The pistol. It was the only way. He was within arm’s reach, now. It was now or never. She wouldn’t responsible for Coulson’s death. Then she noticed the lines crisscrossing his outstretched arms. Skye shook, through grief rather than the quaking. She should have let Sif and the Kree take her.
“Coulson.” She managed; her throat tight. “I’m sorry.”
He reached her as the fractures united, and held her tightly in his arms. “It’s alright, Skye.” She couldn’t watch him shatter, “You’re safe, now.” And her world exploded in darkness, and pain.
Skye couldn’t move for the first few moments. Everything ached, and she daren’t even twitch an eyelid. Eventually, she lifted one open, instantly closing it as daylight blinded her.
“She’s awake.” Came a voice. She recognised it, or rather, hoped she did. Someone’s hand covered hers, gently stroking the back with their thumb. “Everything’s fine, Skye; nothing to worry about.”
Cautiously lifting her eyelids, flinching again at the light, Skye let her eyes focus. She was in the cabin, with sunlight streaming through open windows. More objects came into focus: two suited men she didn’t recognise, one closing a duffle bag with a red cross on it, watched from the foot of the bed she lay on; May stood in the doorway, doing her best to look intimidating whilst at the same time flashing Skye a reassuring smile; and sat beside Skye on the bed, looking equal parts concerned and utterly relieved, was Coulson.
Now Skye was fully conscious, a wave of senses hit her at once. Sweat had managed to soak through her clothes, and her head felt as though it had been mistaken for a soccer ball. Opening her mouth stung her bottom lip, and the salty, metallic tang of blood coated her tongue. Birdsong had replaced the clamour of the storm; the discordant symphony of the elements giving way to trilled, harmonic melodies. Though every muscle in her body protested, she sat up.
“How do you feel?” Coulson asked, looking as if he already knew the answer.
“Like I was hit by the Bus.” Skye replied, managing a lopsided smile. “Twice.”
Coulson returned the smile in kind, letting his shoulders slump a little lower. May, too, seemed visibly more relaxed to see Skye sitting up and talking. “Do you remember what happened?” Coulson asked.
Skye shook her head. She had a feeling that mentioning the dream, or nightmare, or whatever it was, wouldn’t exactly help to get her back on active duty. No, nobody else needed to know about it. Not for now, at least.
Coulson nodded. “I thought as much. Good news is that it’s nothing to do with you, or your powers.”
It felt as if a mountain had slipped off Skye’s shoulders. “That implies there’s bad news.”
“A little.” Coulson remarked. “The gloves Simmons developed, you know I mentioned side effects?” Skye nodded. “Well, fainting or passing out is one of them. Something to do with the shocks they give to inhibit the powers. It’s rare, though. Shouldn’t happen again… She hopes.”
“Could you be a little more vague, please?”
Coulson rolled his eyes. “Hey, I’m not the scientist here. Anyway, the bad news is that you’re stuck with them until Simmons can fly out here to make adjustments. Think you can manage until then?”
No, was her first thought, but now she knew what it was, that it was just in her mind… “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” …And yet, she wasn’t fully convinced.
“Good. I’m loath to leave you on your own like this; I know it’s probably stressful.”
More than you could possibly know, she thought, “Na, it’s… I’ll be fine.”
Coulson nodded. “There’ll be agents on hand to help if it happens again, just like this time.”
“How exactly did they help this time?” Skye asked, genuinely curious. “I was kinda out of it at the time.”
“Well, first they knocked, because they’re polite like that.” It was Skye’s turn to roll her eyes, now. “They ended up breaking the door in, though. They let me know the situation, tried to wake you up any way they could, loud noises, smelling salts, stuff like that. May and I only got here a few minutes before…” He trailed off.
“Before the quakes.” Skye finished. She noticed that the windows weren’t open, the panes had simply shattered. Ornaments and things on shelves were scattered around the floor, most in assorted pieces. She dreaded to think what the rest of the cabin looked like.
“You knew they were happening?” Skye nodded. Coulson was contemplative for a moment, storing the snippet of knowledge away. “May and I can stay a while, if you’d prefer it.” Skye looked over at May, who gave her a slight nod.
“I’m fine now, really.” She matched Coulson’s raised eyebrow with a look of her own. “Really. Honestly, the sooner you guys get back, the sooner Simmons can be on her way out here to fix these gloves. Did you tell her they itch?”
They’d left a little later, leaving Skye alone to once again mope around the cabin. Relieved that it wasn’t her, or her powers, that had affected her, she still couldn’t shake the feeling that not everything had been explained. Deciding to follow in the footsteps of Steve Rodgers, she grabbed a jacket, and stepped outside.
The late afternoon light lent the lake a gilded sheen, as if she could reach out and pluck gold from the surface. It rippled gently in the light breeze, and a noisy family of ducks carved their way through, plundering the lake for treasure or, more likely, something to eat. Skye continued to walk around the water’s edge, feeling a little chilly as the sun began dipping below the horizon, but also strangely content. Before she knew it, the sun was half set, and she could barely see the lights of the cabin from her position in the trees.
It was then that something caught her eye. Glinting, in the trunk of a tree deeper into the forest, was something small and metallic. Digging it out, Skye rolled it in her palm. A bullet, squashed by the impact, and also a little corroded by the weather. Her legs were more curious than her attention span, and she wandered into a secluded clearing not quite sure how she got there, or why. Pacing around it a little yielded no clues, and she made to leave, stopping only to examine something half buried in the dirt below a knotted web of thick roots.
Kicking the dirt aside, she jumped a little as the barrel of a pistol emerged from the ground, pointing up at her. Kneeling beside it, Skye tugged it free. It wasn’t fresh; that much was obvious. Corrosion pock-marked it, and the barrel was clogged with dirt, mulch, and likely a few beetles that called it home. Pulling the bullet from her jacket pocket, and comparing the two, she dared to wonder for a second—only a second—before placing them both back below the root, and covering them firmly with dirt.
Maybe she had just followed in the footsteps of Captain America himself. A man like that makes more enemies than a politician tells lies. She made a note to perhaps ask him about it, one day. Maybe Coulson could set something up. Regardless, as the final rays of the sun fell below the horizon, and she ducked inside the cabin to close the door, she could’ve sworn she saw a figure standing in front of the lake. She blinked once, and they were gone. Satisfied for now that her blink had vanquished the threat, Skye smiled, shut the door, and was all too ready to resume being bored.