Warning, more angst and less humor. Also, I'm lacking sleep so there might be more mistakes than usual.
Previously: Skye touches an 0-8-4 that shrinks her into a toddler but keeps her adult memories. The team goes out on an errand when they run into one of her previous foster guardians, triggering panic in Skye who clutches to Ward for comfort. They head back to the BUS.
Last chapter: Strapping Skye into the car seat, Grant easily convinces Simmons to take shotgun as he sits next to his rookie. She falls asleep within minutes, her fingers wrapped around his hand that rests lightly in her lap.
Ward gently pries his hand away from the tiny fingers before quietly moving to the other side of the SUV where he opens the door to pull out his rookie. It's amazing how much smaller she looks when she sleeps.
How much more vulnerable she is.
He clenches his hands into fists as he remembers that this same tiny girl had once been tossed into the trunk of a car for two days for simply breaking a plate.
He reminds himself to breath. To shove the emotions down for when he can actually do something about them.
Only once he's calm does he allow himself to gently reach out to the sleeping toddler, trying not to wake her. He manages to pick her up before she stirs. Lifting her head, she looks around with a daze before her glossy eyes land on him and she relaxes. Letting out a yawn, Skye rests her head back on his shoulder, burrowing her face into his neck.
Grant would be lying if he didn't admit that he was caught off guard. Trying his best to look unaffected as FitzSimmons shoot him looks of interest and Coulson's face has that damn, I know what's going on grin, Ward goes straight to the ramp.
Halfway to the second floor, he smiles when he hears Fitz grumble to Coulson, "how come Ward doesn't have to take in the groceries and unpack?"
Walking into Skye's bunk, he slips her tiny shoes off before gently placing the hacker into her bed. He crouches at the side, tucking her in. She turns towards him, curling up. "I'm not sleepy," she mumbles, her eyes half closed.
"I know you're not," he quietly lies and patiently waits.
Unable to fight it any longer, the small hacker closes her eyes. Though it is only five in the afternoon, Skye has had an emotionally draining day.
Ward hears the footsteps pass the bunk and it hits him how much of a sap he is. He pulls his hand away and turns off the light before walking out, leaving the door slightly ajar.
Skye wakes up feeling disoriented as she wonders when the last time she had taken a nap was. She rolls out of bed, or attempts to until she finds herself on the ground with a thud.
The day's events come crashing around her as she is harshly reminded that she is three feet shorter.
Walking to the kitchen, she finds the team busying themselves with prepping dinner. She's disappointed when she realizes that Ward isn't there, but pushes the feelings aside.
Coulson finally catches a glimpse of the quiet toddler. "Hey sleepy head," he greets lightly before chuckling at her appearance.
Skye doesn't respond and he's not surprised as she looks like she is in the middle of waking up. Wiping his hands on a towel, Coulson crouches in front of the kid, his hands gently straightening her hair that has managed to go everywhere.
"What do you say we go and get you cleaned up? Dinner is almost ready," Phil offers.
Skye looks back to the kitchen before her stare lands back on him. She rubs her eyes tiredly and nods.
Coulson lifts the sleepy child up and she rests her head on his shoulder. The older man smiles, forgetting what it felt like to carry such a small human.
"Where's Ward?" are her first words.
"He had to go out on a mission," he simply responds but then remembers that this is an adult stuck in a child's body and that she probably wants a more thorough explanation.
Before he can get another word out, "He left?" she asks, her expression pulling a pout that he doesn't think she's aware of.
Coulson rethinks the need to go into details on her SO's assignment. "Fury said it was a quick one. It shouldn't take long," he reassures.
Skye studies him before turning her attention to the sink, her disappointment and doubt easily seen but she says nothing.
"He'll be back before you know it," Coulson tries again, desperate to get that sad look off of her face. But his reassurance does nothing.
Skye remains quiet throughout dinner but stays close to Coulson at all times. Even as he washes the dishes, the young hacker stands by his feet, patiently waiting.
It throws everyone off from the bubbly, impatient personality they had seen just a few hours ago.
"Do you want to help clear the table?" Simmons asks as if she's talking to a three year old.
Skye's eyes sharpen in annoyance at the tone but she moves over to help anyways, not acknowledging Simmons', "Sorry."
The hacker is frustrated when she can't even see over the table at her current height, though it doesn't stop her from trying as she blindly reaches up.
Jemma bites her lip nervously at the struggling toddler. She remains quiet until she sees her hand inch towards the knife. The biochemist reaches to intervene but before she can get the full warning out of, "Skye watch out for the-"
The young hacker has managed to wrap her little hand around the sharp end of a knife. Skye jerks it away at the sting of pain and knocks over a cup that sits at the edge. The glass falls and she watches in horror, unable to act in time as it hits the floor and shatters.
Skye studies the pieces and her illogical mind wonders if she can put it back together, but there are too many pieces and it has never worked in the past. The young girl hesitantly raises her eyes to Coulson, stepping away from the shards scattered across the floor.
Phil starts to reassure the kid but she bolts before a word leaves his mouth. Instinctively, Coulson runs after her, catching up within a few steps. Wrapping an arm around her, the older agent stops the hacker but she continues to fight to get away. "It's ok. Skye, it's ok. I'm not going to hurt you." He turns her to face him, hoping if she sees him, it will calm her down.
"It was an accident!" She defends, though she doesn't know if she believes it as this is not the first glass she has broken. "I'm sorry," she whimpers out, struggling to get out of his grasp. "Please-" she requests, tugging to free her arm.
"Skye," Coulson gently calls out. "It is ok. It was just a plate," he slowly repeats.
The hacker stops fighting to get away as she studies the man in front of her. Her eyes move to take in her surroundings, as if she is just now realizing where she is before they return to the man crouched down before her. "Coulson?" she questions faintly.
"Yeah," he simply confirms, his concerned eyes studying the young hacker. "You ok?" he gently asks.
Skye nods. "I just forgot where I was," she softly replies, her hand rubbing her head.
"Ok," he tells her calmly, unwilling to let her see his worry. Coulson loosens his hold, taking her bleeding hand in his to examine the damage. "Come on, lets get that cut cleaned up."
Skye yanks her hand away. "You're not gonna put the burnin stuff are ya?"
Phil is amazed and pained at the amount of fear reflected in the brown orbs staring back at him.
Coulson shakes his head and the analyst slightly relaxes. "Can I pick you up?"
Skye merely nods, allowing him to take her back to the kitchen where FitzSimmons are almost done sweeping the shards off of the floor. The team leader sets the girl on the counter and proceeds to clean her hand out with water and soap. May steps on the other side of Skye with a first aid kit in tow.
"This will help with the bleeding and stinging," she quietly states, pulling out a Neosporin tube.
Skye is hesitant as she reaches out to Coulson's hand with her uninjured one.
It's as if she is unsure if she wants to rely on his comfort. Phil wraps his hand around hers, making the decision easy for the young girl.
The hacker squeezes Coulson's fingers in anticipation of the cream but does not withdraw her injured arm away from the pilot.
"It's ok Skye. It won't hurt, I promise," Coulson reassures.
"Adults make a lot of prom-" Skye begins to mumble under her breath but stops herself.
Coulson shares a worried look with May but neither comment. Once the gel is applied, the team leader steps over to Simmons, allowing May to finish bandaging up the cut.
"Simmons, I think we need to run a few tests," he states, being sure the shortest member doesn't hear them.
"I couldn't agree more," Jemma replies in a whisper.
"It's almost as if she's digressing," Fitz joins in.
"We'll get the lab ready," Simmons continues before the two scientists leave.
"Hey Skye," Coulson walks up to the kid. "We gotta…" the older man stops himself, realizing that he was wording it like he spoke to a child. "We need to run a few tests, make sure nothing has changed."
Skye shrugs in response, uncaring.
Phil hates seeing her this depressed and wonders how much of it might have something to do with a certain specialist. He picks her back up off of the counter. "He'll be back," he quietly reassures the hacker as he makes his way down the stairs and to the lab.
Skye studies his face but doesn't reply.
Once the tests were finished, the youngest member had asked if she could go to bed. Coulson couldn't blame her as she looked exhausted beyond what a little human her age should look.
He had walked her up, helping to get her teeth brushed and pulling out her Captain America pajamas that he had gotten her. She'd simply raised a brow when she had first seen them and he had shrugged in reply. She'd mumbled something about child abuse and shook her head before walking to her room to change. It had been the most like Skye she had been since the store.
Having tucked her in Coulson had asked if she wanted some company till she fell asleep and she had declined, stating, "I'm a big girl, Coulson," before she turned her back to him to face the wall.
Coulson had left the door cracked before going to the briefing table where FitzSimmons and May waited.
"That was some lousy timing of taking Ward on a mission," May states upon seeing the dejection on Coulson's face.
The leader nods in agreement before turning to Simmons. "What did you find? Any changes?"
"There were no changes in the brain development," the biochemist replies, pulling up images of the before and after of the brain scans that none of them can read, but Coulson nods anyways.
"But." The screen changes to one of lab values. "Her stress hormones are much much too high," she sadly states.
Coulson crosses his arms, attention on the lab value highlighted in red. "After she broke the glass and ran, she actually admitted that she had forgotten where she was."
Jemma nods, as if what he has just said is normal. "I'm afraid with her stress hormones being so high, she's more likely to have flashbacks. And we all know that Skye's childhood was no walk in the park, even before today."
"But she's still herself?" May asks.
"Yes and no. There are no changes from the previous tests other than the cortisol levels. However, our 23 year old Skye is having to process things at the emotional capacity of a three year old."
"A traumatized three year old," Fitz corrects.
Simmons cringes at the reminder. "Precisely."
"But why the drastic change?" May asks.
"Not only are her experiences and memories as an adult being filtered through a toddlers brain, the stress is making it hard to distinguish her identity as an adult versus a toddler," Simmons answers but is met with confusion.
"Fear is one of the strongest emotions, especially in a child who can't completely comprehend it. Skye has just been turned into a tiny human that can't defend herself. She was fine at the beginning of the transformation because she could distinguish that she was simply an adult stuck in a child's body. She was safe, therefore, to her, nothing had changed except her height. But at the store-"
"She was forced to face a childhood fear," Coulson interjects.
"Precisely. Her fear and stress are instinctual, overriding any logic," Jemma states.
"And now, she thinks Ward left her," Coulson adds.
"To Skye, it probably is more on the major scale of abandonment," Simmons states. She immediately regrets the words at the pained expression on Coulson's face.
"There's no physical danger to her for now," Fitz points out. "But emotionally, she's struggling."
"PTSD?" May questions.
"She's having flashbacks," Coulson concludes. "How else would she forget that she's on the BUS."
No one argues against the conclusion.
"With how high her levels are, I imagine her anxiety is through the roof," Simmons picks up. "The best thing we can do right now, is make her feel safe. As Fitz said, she's not in any current danger…just miserable."
Coulson nods, absorbing all of the information in. "How long till we get something off of the 0-8-4?"
"We're not exactly sure. Could be a couple of hours," Fitz shrugs.
"And that's just for the diagnostics," Simmons clarifies.
"Why so long?" May asks, surprise in her tone.
"The object is emitting frequencies and it seems to go through a set of different patterns on repeat. We're currently trying to find the one that was associated with when Skye touched the object," Jemma replies.
"We're hoping if we find a way to reverse it, it will turn Skye back to herself," Fitz continues.
"With lots of testing before hand," Coulson states more than asks as he tries not to imagine Skye withering away.
"Of course!" Simmons replies as if he's just offended her.
Before he can apologize, he catches a glimpse of a movement in the shadows of Skye's bunk.
Walking over, he opens the bunk door to find the small toddler holding a ball of…clothes?
His eyes move to the bare bed and it all clicks. The young hacker backs up against the wall, her eyes downcast in shame.
"It…it was an accident," she stutters in a tiny voice.
Coulson looks back to the team. "FitzSimmons, let me know when we can start running some tests," he dismisses the two scientists who take the hint and head down to the lab. The head of the team just gives May a look and his second in command walks right over.
"Skye." Stepping into the room, he crouches. It's only then that he can see that the child is visibly shaking. He turns to the pilot, "Mel can you get the lights?" he softly asks as not to frighten the girl in front of him.
"No!" Skye exclaims, her fear filled eyes shifting to the bed.
It's not hard to understand why she wants the room dark. She's scared that they will see her mess. "It's ok Skye," May crouches down beside him, leaving the light off. "Accidents happen," she reassures softly, almost catching Coulson off guard. But Coulson knows she's always had a soft side to her.
Phil reaches to take the sheets from her, but the tiny girl tightens her hold, drawing them closer to her chest. He lowers his hands, slowly. They are already blocking the only exit and he doesn't want to frighten the poor kid any more. "Did you have a nightmare?" he asks conversationally.
Skye thinks it over, confusion crossing her features. "I was in a trunk," she finally replies. Her eyes drift back to the bed, as if she's trying to put two and two together.
"Skye," he draws her attention back. "Do you know where you are?"
She thinks it over. "The BUS," she finally replies, her shoulders sagging in relief till her eyes drift to the bundle of shame in her arms whose dampness has grown cold.
"How about you go with May to get cleaned up and I'll take care of the bed," he offers gently, again reaching out for the sheets.
"It's my mess, I should clean it up," she replies.
Coulson wonders how many times she's woken up with a nightmare and has had to clean up her own mess as a child. He shakes the thoughts away. "It was an accident," he reaffirms. "I'll just toss that in the laundry," he shrugs, like it is the easiest task in the world to complete as his fingers tighten on the cloth.
Skye hesitantly lets go. Her gaze moves to the floor once more as she shyly makes her way to May, whose already grabbed another pair of pajamas.
Coulson and May share another concerned look as the pilot leads the young hacker to the shower room. Phil shudders when he tries to imagine what little Skye is feeling right now as she deals with the shame of a 23 year old who wet the bed but is processing it with the emotional capacity of a toddler.
He wonders if Ward's return will even make a difference at this point, despite the younger Skye's fascination with him.
They need to figure out how to undo this, and fast.
AN: Sorry! I didn't even realize how long ago this story was submitted! I honestly would have loved to do this as a long story, but alas, I told myself I'm not allowed to without Tainted Perception being finished. I'm thinking one, maybe two more chapters to wrap this up.
Again, sorry for taking forever! Would love to know your thoughts!