The Sky Cannot Fall

summary: Just when things are at their worst, a mysterious stranger shows up on the Bus and opens the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to a world even they never believed could be real. Takes place at the end of T.R.A.C.K.S..

I : Coulson couldn't help but feel sick as he stared down at her pale face. Quinn's words were ringing loud in his ears. /i/ You know Agent Coulson, it is dangerous to keep sending her in like that, all alone when she means so much to you./i He clenched his fists, his nails digging into his palms so hard he thought they would bleed. He almost laughed at the irony. The last thing anyone on this plane needed at the moment was more spilled blood.

One of Coulson's greatest regrets in life was that he hadn't got the chance to raise a family. Sometimes, in his loneliest moments, he would picture his life as it could have been. Recently though, those faceless children had been replaced with a bubbly, spunky little brunette full of sass and computer skill. Sometimes she had siblings. A stoic and overprotective but caring older brother, and twins, a boy and a girl, who enjoyed anything and everything science. Coulson knew logically that forming this kind of bond with his co-workers might cause him to become reckless on occasion, but it was worth it in the end. He grit his teeth bitterly. Apparently he had leaned on her too much, put too much pressure on her, given her shoes that she just wasn't ready to fill. 'Enough' he growled mentally. 'Reality won't change just because you blame yourself.' However, all his musings couldn't change what he believed; Skye was dying. And it was all his fault.

Hours passed, and everyone but Coulson had headed off to bed to pretend to get some sleep. Jemma lay wide awake in her bunk trying to keep down the bile that rose in her throat every time she pictured her closest female friend. Eventually she made her way to her partner's room and silently slid into his arms. Not a word was spoken, yet Simmons could feel Fitz's pain. She could see how red his eyes were from crying. Drawing comfort from being each other's arms, Fitzsimmons clung together, wishing they could just stay there forever and that all the world's problems would just disappear. After punching the sandbag until his hands were raw and swollen, Ward showered before returning to his quarters. He sat on his bed with his head in his hands, staring despairingly at the floor and wondering how the hell he could have let this happen. A picture of his team hung on the wall beside him. It had been Skye's idea to take it, and Fitzsimmons had soon jumped on the bandwagon. The three of them were standing in front of Lola, smiling and wrapping their arms around each other. Coulson was in Lola's driver's seat, wearing his sunglasses and attempting to look cool. May was in the passenger's seat, a tiny smile playing at the corner of her mouth. Grant himself was leaning against the hood, smiling fondly at the geeky trio before him as Skye and Simmons simultaneously gave Fitz a wet willy. Ward had been extremely fond of the photo since it had been presented to him by an exited Skye, but now it only seemed to mock him, a ghost of the happiness that was and may never be again. For her part, May was sitting in the cockpit, gripping the steering wheel so tight her knuckles were white and willing the damn plane to go faster. Yet the team leader remained at his youngest team member's side, keeping up a silent vigil and begging with every fiber of his being that Skye would be alright. Around midnight, Coulson was brought out of his desolate and self-depreciating daze by a strange tinkling sound coming from behind his righthand side. He spun around to face the noise, drawing his gun from its holster and leveling at the source of the disturbance.

"Are yo- Woah buddy I'm here to help!"

Coulson didn't budge. "Who are you and how the hell did you get on this plane!?"

The woman sighed and Coulson could tell that she had been in this kind of situation before. He was also surprised that she didn't seem to be at all afraid of him or intimidated by his gun.

"My name is Paige Matthews and I'm here to help Skye."

Coulson's lip curled upward in a snarl and he instinctively moved so that his body was directly between Skye and the stranger. Her knowledge made him uneasy. "You didn't answer my second question."

The woman across from him seemed about to roll her eyes when she thought better of it. "It's a really long story, and right now we don't have time for stories. I promise I'll tell you everything once I've healed Skye."

The back of Coulson's neck prickled and he had to work to suppress the tiny seed of hope that had taken root in his gut. "I'm going to ask you one more time. How did you get on this plane?" he paused, unlocking his gun's safety. "Answer or I'll put a bullet in you."

Even Coulson had to admit that he sounded like a madman, but at this point he was too physically and emotionally exhausted. However, to his surprise, the woman just sighed.

"For God's sake, Gun!" Coulson's eyes widened when he watched helplessly as his gun dematerialized from his hand in a swirl of blue lights and almost simultaneously appeared in the hand of the woman. She held it somewhat carelessly, but he tell from her body language that she was wary of the object. Coulson just watched as she placed it down on the table next to her, her eyes never leaving his. Defeated, he let his body relax. He was no match for someone like her. At this point, all he wanted was to wake up and to have this whole day to have been nothing but a nightmare. If he were being honest with himself, he was beginning to feel like this stranger was Skye's only hope. Besides, he mused if she'd wanted me dead, I would be already. Coulson eyed her warily, but he stepped aside and allowed her access to the comatose girl behind him.

"Fine." he stated eventually "do what you will."

The woman, Paige, nodded as she stepped forward, a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "I may not be an empath, but I can tell you really care for her."

Not even attempting to delve into the woman's hopefully but unlikely to be cryptic language, Coulson swallowed before replying. "Yes. She… she's like a daughter to me." The woman smiled warmly.

"I promise, she'll be ok." The woman paused, her hands hovering over the glass barrier between Skye and the outside world.

"Can you open this thing?" Silently, the senior agent reached out a shaky hand and unlocked the chamber that had thus far kept Skye alive.

Jemma's eyes snapped open when heard the alarm go off. She leapt up and spun around, shaking her bedmate awake.

"Fitz. FItz! Someone opened the hypobaric chamber!" The tech expert bolted upright, almost hitting his head on the ceiling of his bunk. Grabbing her still foggy friend by the collar, Simmons raced out to the living room. She stopped short when she caught sight of what was going on. A woman was standing over Skye, her back turned to the new arrivals. Her hands hovered over the comatose woman, and her hands were emitting a strange glow. But what scared Simmons most was that Coulson was just standing there a few feet away, watching the spectacle with an anxious but hopeful look on his face. Coming to his senses Fitz's eyes almost popped out of his head

"What the bloody hell-" Fitz stopped short when her saw a movement from inside Skye's chamber. He heard a mumble, followed by a weak, groggy voice.

"What's going on?"

Tears welled in Simmon's eyes, which surprised her, for she hadn't thought she'd had any left. Still dragging Fitz behind her, the mousey-haired scientist raced foreword to get a better look at her friend. Her eyes raked Skye in an attempt to examine her injury, but was absolutely dumbfounded when there was none. Even the blood from around the wound was gone, and if it wasn't for the gaping hole in the hacker's shirt, Jemma wouldn't have even known she had been injured. All the biochemist could do was stare at her friend's stomach and stutter. Skye, she noticed, was having a very similar reaction. The young agent to be was running her hand over the spot her bullet wound had just been, staring in wonderment and utter disbelief. Suddenly, she snapped her gaze up toward her savior.

"How did you… What did you… Is this real?" Paige smiled warmly down at the girl.

"Yep. Here, let me help you out of there. I know from experience that waking up from near-death in a glass coffin can be disorienting." Skye blinked in confusion but nonetheless took the hand the older woman had offered her.

"Th-thanks." she stuttered, trying to remember how exactly she had gotten back to the bus. The last thing she remembered was Quinn pulling the trigger… Her memories of the events that took place just before her shooting flooded back, and she turned to Coulson, with a wild look on her face.

"Mike Peterson is alive!"