Daisy thought that being back here would feel the same. That the whole orphanage would look just like it did before, that the smell would be the same and that she'd feel like that scared kid again.
The building felt the same. The stains on the walls remained there and the nuns were even still there. She didn't feel scared though. It was like she was trying on the clothes she wore when she was a kid. This orphanage just didn't fit.
The whole town felt so small. Daisy remembered how terrifying everything had felt, how dark the sun was, how harsh the cold. Now it was different.
She had people with her. People who loved her. Daisy knew that. This place felt like a caricature in comparison.
Daisy was pretty sure that the others didn't know she'd lived here. She had mentioned it by name only once, years before, and it wasn't really a detail that they would remember. Who cared which specific orphanage she'd been stuck in for the first years of her life before she ran away? It didn't matter.
What mattered now was the mission, and Daisy shouldn't be distracted by whatever the bad word for nostalgia was. She shouldn't be thinking about how many times she'd cried in these halls or how scared she'd felt the night she'd run away without anything more than the clothes on her back.
If Mack noticed her hiding behind him when they were talking to the nuns, he didn't say anything. That was good. She didn't need to be scared to not want to face them. Daisy remembered all too well their comments, their 'help'. Some of them tried. One or two. Most of them were just vindictive though.
May's eyes met hers questioningly as they walked down the hallway, and Daisy offered a small smile in return, trying to wave off her concern. She didn't think she succeeded, but May nodded. It was nice to know that she noticed.
Jemma sighed sadly, seeing one of the rooms through an open door. "Oh, those poor children." She murmured, seeing the dirty beds, the bunks creaking with no stimuli.
Daisy dared to look. The beds were the same. How pathetic was that? She lagged behind the others and, after making sure that no nuns were looking at her, hid several pairs of wooly socks in one out of place nook, then some books in another. The nuns had never used it in her day, but the kids did.
She couldn't help these kids, but at least she could give them a nice surprise.
The group passed a common area with an obviously staged set-up. Daisy knew it well. Pick the cutest kids, sit them all in view of any visitors and tell them to behave themselves and smile or else. She still didn't know whether it was worse to be picked or not.
In this case it was just cruel. The nuns knew that the team was here to investigate, not to adopt. The kids probably didn't though.
The nun who was supervising perked up at the sight of them. Probably bored from spending five minutes alone with the kids, Daisy thought bitterly. She shrunk to the back of the group, remembering this nun to be one of the ones who had especially hated her. It was only at the back of the group, however, that she spotted one of the kids, sitting alone at a table in the corner. It was a little girl, skinny, with her brown hair in neat pigtails. She looked to be about eight, which Daisy knew meant that she'd done her own hair. The girl wasn't crying or visibly upset, but she frowned at the homework in front of her.
Daisy knew that look. She remembered. That was the look of a kid who'd been called stupid so many times that she believed it. The look of a kid who really needed help, but was scared to ask, because she didn't want them to call her that again. Who thought that she could make herself smarter if she just wanted it enough.
She didn't notice her legs moving until she was standing beside the kid. "Hey." Daisy said softly. "Can I help you with that?"
The girl looked up and immediately hugged her homework to her chest. She didn't say anything, but Daisy didn't really expect her to. Instead she smiled. "Is it math? I suck at math, can you show me how to do it?"
Daisy noticed the others leaving, but didn't follow. They'd be fine, and she was there if they really needed her. The could just call her comms.
When she looked back the girl was looking up at her with wide eyes, her homework looser in her grip. Daisy grinned and pulled a chair over. "Is it multiplication tables?" She asked, "I hate multiplication tables."
The girl giggled. "Me too." She whispered.
She put the papers down and Daisy groaned. "Oh no, the sevens? Those are the worst." She had only written in the first two, and Daisy looked up at the ceiling in mock thought. "So, if two sevens are fourteen, then three sevens are... Can you count with me? I don't wanna get your homework wrong."
Daisy noticed the other kids slipping away now that the team had gone, but didn't protest. They had enough adults telling them what to do.
Once the two had finished the table, Daisy softly asked, "What's your name?"
The little girl looked up, but her cheeks flushed. "Mary." She muttered. It was clear that she didn't like it.
Daisy smiled. "They used to call me that too."
Mary swallowed, clearly scared to ask the wrong question. "Who?"
Part of Daisy wanted to look back over her shoulder to see if anyone was listening. To make sure no one else would hear. She didn't though. "The nuns." She said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Sister Catherine was a real stickler and always called me 'Mary-Sue.'" She said, putting on a funny voice.
Mary didn't laugh. "You didn't live here."
"Did so." Daisy said, expecting the resistance. "Is there still that hole in the wall in room five?" Mary shrugged, clearly not buying it. "How about Sister Gertrude? Is she still here? She always hated me cos I never folded my clothes properly."
Mary still looked hesitant. "How's properly?"
Daisy grinned ruefully. "Sleeves inside and collars ironed!" She said in an imitation of the nun she remembered, and this time Mary giggled.
"You did live here." She said quietly. "Did- did you get adopted?"
Daisy paused, part of her wanting to say yes, thinking of her team, her family. "No." She said. "I didn't."
Mary looked down. "I don't know if I will either." She whispered. "I-I'm old."
Daisy smiled. "Wanna know a secret?" She asked in a hushed voice, "Sometimes you find your family, or they'll find you. Even if you don't get adopted."
Mary looked at her. "You do?"
"Definitely." Daisy stiffened at the voice from the doorway, and turned to look.
Jemma. Of course.
Daisy couldn't help the strange tension as she approached them, smiling at Mary and putting a hand on Daisy's shoulder. "The others wanted me to check you were okay." She said softly. "There are no leads so far, but we have a few more questions to ask."
Daisy swallowed and looked to Mary. "You good to finish that homework off? I'll come check in before we go, I promise." Mary nodded quietly and Daisy smiled. "Thanks. You'll be okay, got it?" Mary nodded again and she stood.
"Thanks." Mary whispered.
Daisy gave her a pat on the shoulder. "Thank you." She said. "Anyone who doesn't want to hang out with an awesome kid like you is missing out."
Mary smiled as Daisy stood to rejoin the team.
She and Jemma walked down the hallway in silence until Jemma sighed softly. "I feel so naïve." She mumbled. "I knew- I knew that these places were bad, just- not like this."
Daisy looked at her. "You lived on an alien planet for six months."
"It's not the same." She said. "I wasn't a child. And even though I was alone I still knew that I had people who cared. Not just- adults who say things are for their own good but clearly aren't. It's not- it's not that it's torture, but this place- it's so draining." She swallowed. "And you lived here."
Daisy swallowed. "I didn't think you guys remembered." She muttered.
Jemma looked at her, surprised. "Of course we did." She said. "Everyone's... processing it I suppose. If May hears one more snide remark about the children I think she'll punch that nun."
Daisy snorted. "It's- not that big a deal."
Jemma hesitated, then stopped to pull her into a firm hug. "The fact that you think that means it is." She said into Daisy's hair.
Daisy smiled, hugging back. "I'm fine though."
"It's no thanks to this place."
Daisy swallowed and pulled away. She had to say this to someone she respected. Someone she loved. "I'm not letting this define me." She said. "They took a lot from me but they didn't change me, no matter how much they tried to."
Jemma smiled affectionately. "You're amazing." She murmured, squeezing Daisy's hand. "You really are."
Daisy shrugged bashfully. "So are you." She muttered.
Jemma let out a breathy chuckle and shrugged a shoulder. "I try."
Daisy continued to hold onto her hand until they were almost at the office where she knew their team was. Their team and Sister Meredith. Daisy knew she would recognise her. She'd caused enough trouble to warrant that.
The two stopped for a moment, and Daisy took the moment to be weak, to squeeze Jemma's hand and take a deep breath. She wasn't really scared, but she was nervous. Some small part of her still worried about what this woman thought of her, and what judgement she might impart.
No. Her friends knew everything about her that was worth knowing. More than Sister Meredith ever had or ever cared to know. Daisy pulled her hand away and swallowed. "Let's go." She said, pushing the door open.
The others fell silent when she and Jemma entered, but before Daisy could feel like she'd done something wrong, Coulson smiled. "Daisy." He greeted. "Sister Meredith here was just telling us how little David managed to run away without anyone knowing." His voice held a certain ice. Looking around, Daisy could see that same feeling in all of the others.
Sister Meredith either didn't notice the team's anger, or chose to ignore it. "Yes, it's the first time this has happened." She said, looking squarely at Coulson. "I'm not sure how he could have gotten away."
Daisy felt her powers thrumming with nervousness inside her, but kept them at bay. "It's not the first time someone's run away." She said softly, finally drawing Sister Meredith's gaze. "And it won't be the last either."
It took a moment for the recognition to flicker in the nun's eyes, but it did. She faked a gasp, placing one hand over her heart. "Mary-Sue?" She said in an astonished voice. "Goodness, I thought you'd be in jail by now!"
Daisy grit her teeth at the sound of the name they had forced on her. "Well I'm not."
Sister Meredith smiled in that sickly sweet way that Daisy had always hated. "Talked your way into some community service, I suppose." She said. "You were always good at getting out of punishment. I suppose it makes sense that we have criminals roaming the streets given the kind of people you're hiring to protect us." She said, looking to Coulson.
Daisy couldn't quite bring herself to look at Coulson. At any of her team. There was cold anger in his voice when he replied, "We only take the best."
Sister Meredith seemed to be struck dumb by his refutation, and Coulson took the opportunity to continue. "So as far as this little boy goes, you don't have any idea how he got out, where he might go, or have any useful information to help find him?"
"I- no, but-"
"Then it's time for us to go." Phil didn't need to look to know that the others were following.
Daisy stood for a moment, surprised, until May's hand on her shoulder guided her out. She noticed May glaring at Sister Meredith but didn't say anything. She didn't know what to say.
Melinda kept the seething rage inside, not letting herself say the things she wanted to say, to do the things she wanted to do. That wouldn't help. Nothing she could do would erase all that Daisy had suffered here. She hated it.
When Daisy slipped into the common area on their way out, May stopped to make sure she was okay. She watched as Daisy spoke softly to a little girl doing her homework, and smiled a little as she gave the girl a high five. Daisy grinned tentatively at her when she saw May watching, but neither of them said a word. They didn't need to.
May let Daisy walk ahead of her by a couple of paces. It was amazing how Daisy stayed so hopeful, so caring, after all she had been through. After this place.
"Excuse me." A soft voice stopped her, escaping Daisy's notice. May turned and saw a different nun looking at her, a file in her hand. She raised an eyebrow, resolving to walk away if this woman said a single word against Daisy. If for no other reason that SHIELD had enough bad press as it was, and punching nuns wasn't going to help.
This one had a different look in her eye to Sister Meredith though. She looked... kind. And tired. She held out the file. "I held onto this." She said softly. "I try to keep as many files as I can, just in case."
May didn't take it. "In case of what?"
Before the nun could answer there was the sound of soft footsteps from behind her. Phil. "Is there a problem?" He asked.
The nun smiled. "My name is Sister Mackenzie." She said. "I was one of the nuns that looked after Skye while she lived here."
"Daisy." May corrected on impulse.
Sister Mackenzie looked surprised but then smiled. "I'm glad she found you." She said warmly, pressing the file into May's hands. "She wanted to for so long."
Melinda took half a step back. She glanced at Phil, but he looked just as stunned as she did. "We're not-" She tried to say, but couldn't quite bring herself to do it.
Phil's hand gently clasped her shoulder as Sister Mackenzie spoke again. "I've seen enough parents' faces when they saw this place to recognise the look."
May and Coulson looked down at the file, seeing the name stamped on it in aged ink 'MARY-SUE POOTS'. Phil swallowed, knowing what this file contained. The memories, the pain. "Thank you." He said roughly.
Sister Mackenzie nodded to them. "She was a good child. A trouble maker, but she always stood up for the little ones, and she never lost hope when it came to finding her family." There was a softness in her gaze. "I'm glad that she did."
When the two were silent, Sister Mackenzie sighed and pursed her lips in worry. "Find that boy, Peter. Please. He needs help that we can't give."
"We will." Coulson said, tearing his eyes away from the file. "We should go now."
"Go." Said Sister Mackenzie. "Thank you for looking after Daisy."
May only nodded in farewell, tightly clutching the file.
She knew what she had to do with it.
Daisy wasn't sure how to feel about the others' reactions to the orphanage. They had barely taken three steps out the door when Elena and Mack had simultaneously wrapped her in a crushing embrace. She laughed in a bemused kind of way, but returned the hug anyway. "Guys, I'm fine, you know that right?"
"I know Tremors." Mack rumbled, "I know."
Elena squeezed her tightly. "Oh mi niña." She murmured. "You did not deserve this."
"No one does." Daisy said softly. "But I'm good now. I got lucky. I had some amazing friends."
She had just freed herself from their embrace when Fitz gave her a quick hug of his own. "Luck's got nothing to do with it." He whispered.
Daisy smiled. "Love you too."
Jemma groaned as they made their way to the carpark. "Ugh, I don't know how you could stand Sister Meredith for so many years. I barely made it ten minutes without shouting at her!"
Daisy laughed and the others hummed in agreement. "I mean, I didn't let her get away with it." She grinned.
Elena smiled. "I am not surprised."
Daisy raised her eyebrows when May and Coulson caught up with them. "Where did you guys disappear to?" She asked, a teasing smirk growing on her face. "The broom cupboards are too small to hook up in, trust me."
May rolled her eyes and Coulson shook his head. "Don't worry about it." He said. "We should head back to the Zephyr to see what we can find on security cameras and news feeds." He nodded to Mack, Elena, and Fitzsimmons. "You guys see what you can find in town."
"Ten four." Mack said, "Let's get going, that kid's only gonna get further away."
Daisy knew that something was up. May and Coulson didn't exactly have some kind of tell that gave them away. It was subtler than that. She waited until they were almost at the SUV to speak up. "Where'd you go?" She asked. "Really."
They looked at one another and Daisy fought not be let her nerves show. There's nothing to be worried about. She thought. Nothing can scare them off, not after everything.
Coulson spoke first. "We met Sister Mackenzie." He said.
Daisy smiled after the initial surprise. "She was always nice to me." She said, looking back in the direction of the orphanage. She almost wanted to go back and see her. Almost. "Even when I was kind of shitty."
May shook her head. "She didn't have a bad word to say about you."
Daisy sighed, leaning against the SUV. "This place wasn't that bad you know." She said. "At least it was consistent. They were mean, sure, but they weren't..." She trailed off.
The words that filled the silence made May's blood boil, but instead of pressing Daisy, she pulled the file from her jacket. "Mackenzie gave us this." She said, "But it's yours. You should have it."
Daisy took it automatically, but her mind was still processing what May had said. It was hers. Everything in this file, every detail, every day that she had spent at that place and every other place that they had sent her. It was all hers. Her history
She flicked the file open, noting that May and Coulson looked away as she did so as not to glance at it. None of it was new information, especially not now. There was an envelope of pictures which it was clear were the good ones. The faked ones where they made her smile, had pinched her cheeks until they were rosy and dressed her in 'nice' clothes. Daisy handed that to Coulson without a second thought. The rest was in some contrast to those pictures. References to injuries she had suffered, some accidents but most of them... not.
The few pictures not intended for potential parents and fosters pulled her up short. She looked... like a kid. A skinny but normal kid. It was so easy for Daisy to think that even then she had been different, that the only reason she was in foster care was because she was different in some way. In that roundabout way, she was never meant to have a family.
Except she wasn't different. Not really. The Daisy in the top picture didn't look particularly different from Mary doing her math homework. A little scared, a little lost, and in need of a home. She deserved a home. She deserved a family.
The injustice of it all made her hands clench and Daisy forced herself to look away. The first thing her eyes fixed on was the sky, as bright blue as the day she had decided she wanted to be called Skye too. The second thing she saw was May and Coulson.
They weren't looking at the pictures. Coulson held the envelope loosely in one hand, but neither of them had opened it. He was looking at the envelope with some trepidation, May kept glancing at her out of the corner of her eye.
Daisy took a breath and a few steps closer as she came to her decision. She leaned against the car beside May and Coulson, and opened the file for them to see.
She didn't speak as their eyes scanned the pages, taking in the pictures, the accounts of the homes she had been to. It didn't take long for the silence to feel shameful, and Daisy's eyes flickered to the ground.
Coulson tried to keep his anger hidden, he really did, but those pictures of the bruises on Daisy's skin made his blood boil. The stories of the families claiming that she was so clumsy made him want to scream, and even those who just said she wasn't a good fit for them hurt in ways Phil had never expected. Daisy was amazing, and any family would be lucky to have her.
What was wrong with these people?
Daisy swallowed. The silence was becoming deafening, but just as she was about to say something, anything to break it, May cursed loudly in Chinese and wrapped a possessive arm around her shoulders. "You're better than them." She said firmly. "You always were."
"Thanks." Daisy mumbled, smiling gently. It was a nice thought. "I guess I thought... that I was different, and that made all of it okay."
"It wasn't." Coulson said, finally in control enough to trust himself speaking. "None of this was okay."
Daisy sighed. "I know that now." She said. "I just can't figure out if that makes it worse. At least when I was a kid it felt like there was some reason it was happening. Now..."
"Now you have us." Coulson said, and Daisy laughed softly. That wasn't really what she meant, but it was a nice reminder either way.
"Yeah." She said softly.
May cocked her head, trying to figure out if Daisy was upset about this even as she flicked to the next page. "Are you okay?"
Daisy looked up at her, surprised, then smiled. "Yeah." She said. "I'm good." She closed the file with a sigh. "We can't change any of this now."
Coulson put a hand on her shoulder. "That doesn't stop it hurting."
"I know." She murmured. "But Peter's out there. He's scared and lost, just like I was." Daisy closed the file, reaching for the car door. "We can help him."
May's lips twitched into a proud smile. "Not standing around here we can't." She said, nudging Coulson none to gently to the other door.
"Jeez, pushy." He teased as the three of them climbed into the car. "I thought I was the boss here."
May smiled and Daisy snorted. "What made you think that?" Melinda said with a smirk, pulling the car away from the orphanage.
Daisy leaned back in the back seat of the car, listening to them playfully bicker. It had taken a little longer than she'd hoped, but her family was pretty great.