"So…you're saying it's…not possible." Skye blinked at the two SHIELD scientists, afraid that one wrong move might send them off on another jumbled tangent of words and unfinished sentences and more words that she was pretty sure weren't actual words and sharp hand gestures and being whatever Fitz/Simmons was. Were.

Fitz and Simmons glanced at each other.

"We're not saying that."

"We're not exactly saying that." Simmons shot a calculating look at her colleague. For his part, Fitz seemed much more enthusiastic than she did. Which made sense. Fitz was big on tech. And this would definitely be some big tech. Still, she was very pleasant about it. "Only that it's blessed unlikely that anyone has the technology to successfully store and integrate the complexity of human consciousness into a non-biological mainframe—at least not without processing flaws. What was it that brought this up, then?"

Secrets were Skye's business. She could do discrete. However, she was also flustered and used to understanding things, and besides, really truth was her business, which might be the reason she may have just blurted her answer like she was under that amped-up truth serum, "I think Agent Coulson's a robot."

Funny. She would've thought it would sound less crazy if she said it out loud. She had miscalculated.

Simmons' eyebrows went right on up her forehead, pulling the corners of her mouth up, too. Fitz pulled his face into about sixty different incredulous, furrow-browed expressions in the time it took him to go, "Wh…wuh…mm…hrm…ah…hm…" and by then Skye was already backing out of the room.

Well. This was a bad idea. She could feel her face getting red, and probably she should've played it off as a joke, and much more probably she should've kept her mouth shut and stuck to typing things out, sending them off into cyberspace where they couldn't hurt her, and nobody could look at her like she was…

Thud. The sound of Skye backing into an obnoxiously firm and familiar chest. Good. Because really, this could only get better. She tried not to look reluctant as she turned to face the smirk. Yep. There it was. Agent Ward looked down at her, with that odd mix of irritation, exasperation, protectiveness, and bemusement she'd come to know and…wonder about.

"Did I hear that right?" he asked the two scientists, and Skye tried not to roll her eyes.

"If you heard that Skye thinks Agent Coulson's a robot," Fitz replied helpfully, "then yes. Of course, even if he were mechanical, he wouldn't actually be termed a robot per se. More of an android." At least the two scientists were always polite. And at least their accents were pretty.

Ward's smirk grew almost to a full-blown grin as he looked at Skye. "So…when you called me 'the T-1000' back in the interrogation room day one, it wasn't a witty aside; it was an actual theory." Insufferable. Absolutely insufferable. In that moment she even hated the fact that he didn't have a cool accent. "How many robots do you think are out there, Skye?" Of all the... "Do you see any in the room with us now?"

Sky stopped trying not to roll her eyes. But she did try to salvage any scrap of respect her new…whatever they were…might have had for her. At least Agent May's not here. It was intimidating enough just with all these people she wasn't even really all that intimidated by. "It was just…Look, I wasn't…" They were all looking at her. She was usually better than this, wasn't she? "I'm just saying, I think something's going on there. I don't think we have the whole story on him. I'm not even sure he does."

Ward tilted his chin back, scrutinizing, but didn't quite lose the smirk. "Really?"

"Has anyone asked him about his time in Tahiti? 'It's a magical place; it's a magical place' every time. If that doesn't sound like a programmed response, I don't know what does."

"And that equals robot?"

"Android," Fitz corrected.

Skye shook her head. "No. But it's not just that. Nobody else thinks it's weird that he's back in the field so soon after getting stabbed?"

"He got caught in the chest," Ward argued. "It's all in the report. The man got lucky; there's nothing cloak and dagger about it."

"Well. A bit more dagger than cloak at least," Simmons cut in, and she and Fitz both smiled at her tiny joke.

"He got stabbed through the heart," Skye told them. "That's what he said. He got stabbed through the heart, and he was dead for somewhere between eight and forty seconds. And you think three weeks in Tahiti, regardless of how 'magical' a place it may be, was enough time for him to come back, fully cleared for field ops? Not to mention, we just had a hole torn out the side of our plane. People getting sucked out left and right, and Coulson, who, by my understanding of stabbed through the heart, should not even be sitting up by himself, manages to hang on by one hand." She looked at Ward, some doubt showing on his face, and it was a much more welcome sight than the smirk. "You know what it took to hold on during all that, how hard it was, physically. And you're like a freaking mini-Thor." She winced. He rolled his eyes. "Anyway, explain to me, any of you, how a man who recently sustained catastrophic injuries pulls off something like that."

"So you think Agent Phil Coulson…has been replaced by a robot." Ward raised an eyebrow. "So this is like a Surrogates scenario? Coulson is basically Bruce Willis?"

"What? No." She made a face. "Did you even see that movie? That's not even a relevant reference right now."

"So where's the real Phil Coulson?"

She swallowed. "I don't know. Maybe he's dead."

"You read too many comic books. This really isn't the time for your little conspiracy theories."

"Conspiracy theories? Are you kidding me? You work for SHIELD. You people conspire to conspire to create conspiracies."

He'd returned to smirking. "So how do we kill RoboCoulson? Missile launcher? Car crusher? Massive EMP? …Remove his batteries?"

Even though she knew he was openly mocking her, she crossed her arms uncomfortably and muttered, "I never said I wanted to kill him."

Ward huffed a frustrated sigh and waved his arms at the "twins." "Could you please just explain to her that this whole thing is ridiculous? Either one of you."

Fitz tapped his lips several times in quick succession, thoughtful and a little excited. "You know…"

"It's all very experimental. Mostly rumored," Simmons cut in quickly, but she was smiling like always.

"True, but she makes a valid point, and if ever there were cause to question… After all, maybe we're not talking a simple android. Perhaps we're talking about a Life Model Decoy. That's not impossible, is it?"

"Wouldn't that require the subject to still be living?"

"I'm not sure, but if not, that would've required a massive amount of…" Fitz was cut off as his face suddenly exploded in a shower of blood and bone and tissue, and Skye couldn't process it, and suddenly all she could hear was her heart pounding in her ears.

Everything slowed down. The look of soundless horror that should never have marred Simmons' previously grinning face as her partner's body fell. Her shock as a hole ripped through her chest, spraying blood as she fell next to him. Skye turned, eyes searching for Ward. Before she find him, May's body flew through the door, hitting the wall, twisted, impossibly twisted, eyes wide open, still and final. Something pushed Skye from behind, and she landed on her knees and turned. There was Ward. Fire and metal tore through his middle, and his eyes, always the color of warm maple syrup, stared at her as they glassed over and went cold. He choked, reaching for her. He choked and fell. Blood. Everywhere blood and smoke and death, and she was all alone.

Skye stood frozen, and she couldn't breathe, was afraid to breathe, didn't want to smell so much death. And through the haze of smoke and tears, there was the shape of a man. Red glowing eyes, familiar face twisted into a sick, perverted version of his calm smile. "They cannot know my secret," this Coulson said. She felt her body go cold. He raised his arm, and it had become a gun, silvery metal where flesh should've been. He pointed it at her. "Don't worry," he said, and he sounded just like himself—that infectious composure, the simple, soothing, encouraging voice she'd already somehow come to search for when things got scary. He tilted his head to one side. "Think of it as…a vacation." And he fired.

A strangled gasp tore from Skye's throat as she shoved herself up from where she was lying on her stomach. She couldn't breathe. Pushing up to sit on the edge of the bed, she looked down at her chest in the dim light of her quarters, down where she knew a gaping chest wound should be. There was nothing. Just the clean cotton fabric of a t-shirt. Skye leaned forward as her lungs finally caught up with reality. Breathing. Just breathing. No smoke. No blood. No death. "Wow," she wheezed.

Well, girl. You've lost it. That's what happens when you throw in with a bunch of government alien chasers. She let out a tight sigh, ran her shaking fingers through her hair. Didn't even take a month. Awesome.

Her body was wired, trembling and still very much wanting to panic. Stupid, stupid. She could still see the looks on their faces…

Skye stood abruptly, opening the door to her tiny little room and running barefoot past the common area and up the stairs before she could really think too much about what she was doing. Her foot caught the top step, stubbing her toe and dumping her gracelessly on the floor, bruising elbows and maybe a hip. Ow. She scrambled up, nerves still firing, full battle mode.

His door was closed. She was only going to push it open a little. Just to check. Just to make sure. And yes, she knew she was crazy, and yes, that should've been enough to stop her, to turn her on her heels on a full retreat back to her room. But she was slightly too crazy to reason about being crazy.

She slid the door open a few inches. There was no warning. "Skye?" His face. Right there.

Skye reared back, almost falling in her haste to get away. The only weapon was a floor lamp, and she lunged for it, grabbing, ready to swing. With a mighty "Oomph," she was struck rather fiercely by the fact that it was bolted to the floor. She gave it another futile, experimental tug. Nothing. Well. This was going to be an embarrassing way to die.

Wincing, Skye looked up. There he was. Phil Coulson. Standing outside his bedroom door, hands at his sides, t-shirt and sleep pants, staring at her, mildly bemused. "What are you doing?"

"Uh. Uhmmm…" She gave a last involuntary pull on the lamp before convincing her fingers to loosen the death grip they had around it. With both hands suddenly free, she didn't know what to do with them. Pulled them into fists, released them, fiddled with her hair, tried to settle them into pockets before she realized her pajama pants didn't have any pockets. Finally, awkwardly, she crossed her arms, smushed her lips, shook her head, and said with an extremely false level of casualness, "Nothing."

Agent Coulson looked unconvinced. He tilted his head to one side. She imagined that his eyes glowed red. "You're trembling."

"It's cold," she said immediately.

"Okay. So…why were you trying to get into my room?"

Everything she'd thought, everything foolish and crazy and stupid about it hit her in the face. It was just Coulson. Plain old human Coulson.

"Oh. Ah…this is your room?" She laughed uncomfortably. "That's…wow. Whoops. Um. I thought it was…" Yeah. There really was no way to finish that sentence that wouldn't have made things worse. Oh, boy. She sighed and hung her head. "I was checking to make sure you weren't a robot assassin," she mumbled in a rush.

There was a beat of silence. "Mm." She could practically feel him nodding. "…How did you plan to check?"

Oh. Hm. Well… "I don't…I don't know."

"Well, go ahead."

Skye glanced up sharply. He stood there in the hallway, middle of the night, right after, she assumed, he'd been rousted out of bed by her failure to climb stairs, and he looked…like he always did. Calm. Unbothered. Non-threatening. Didn't even blink. "Go ahead?" she asked tentatively.

He shrugged with that same thin, agreeable smile. "I could wake Fitz. He's probably got some scan he can run that would answer your question. You know…with science." He didn't even sound like he was making fun of her. Like waking Fitz to run a scan to make sure he wasn't a robot assassin was reasonable. It was just so…kind?

She shook her head, somehow feeling more like an idiot for his refusal to treat her like one. "That's okay. It's…it wasn't a real question. Sorry. For…waking you." She tried a smile that probably wound up looking more like a wince. "Dumb. I'm just gonna…"she pointed with both thumbs back toward the staircase. "Yeah."


She turned back reluctantly.

"Follow me." He walked past her down the stairs. Before she even made the conscious decision to do so, she followed. Sat where he indicated at the table. "Wait there a minute." It was an order. But it was a Coulson order, and sometimes those didn't sound exactly the way orders should.

She laced her fingers on the table and waited, staring at her hands. It was a nightmare. A stupid nightmare. As if she really thought her new boss was some kind of psycho killer machine. She didn't. Really she didn't. And besides that, why should it affect her so much? She what? Saw her team—we aren't really a team—die? Yeah, that would be tragic, but…it wasn't like these people meant anything to her. Just a job. She didn't trust them. And they should never trust her.

A mug appeared in front of her folded hands. Steaming and marshmallows and smelling of chocolate. Well. She hadn't expected that. She wrapped her icy fingers around the cup automatically. Glanced up and raised an eyebrow as Coulson sat across from her. "How old do you think I am?"

"I don't know. Does it matter?" He smiled and took a sip of his own cocoa. "Marshmallows too much?" he conceded.

She took a sip. Warm and sweet and somehow made the tight muscles at the back of her neck relax a little. "Nope." Still, she didn't want him to think of her as a child. Even if she was young. She was pretty sure she looked older than she was. And she definitely felt older than she was, and that should count for something. She rubbed her thumb on the mug handle. "But you don't need to…" She had to pause and rethink whether she really wanted to tell her boss that this wasn't exactly a standard response to being rudely awakened in the middle of the night.

He gave a reassuring half smile. "I know. It's not because I think you're young."

She tried not to sound young as she asked, "So if Ward had a bad dream you'd hold his hand and make him hot chocolate?"

"If he needed me to. Sure," he said simply. "So. In this bad dream I was a robot assassin?"

She supposed she could let it be funny. Tomorrow. It could be funny tomorrow. Tonight there were Fitz's mutilated face and Simmons' horror and May's corpse and Ward's eyes. "Sure. Why not?"

"It's true. It would almost be another day at the office," he agreed. "We've got aliens and iron men and super soldiers and who knows what else. Why not add robot assassins?"

"Is that why you're not laughing at me?"

He shrugged. "Everyone has nightmares." His look was pointed. "They're very seldom funny."

Skye bit her lip. Hard. Just for a second. Kept her gaze on her mug. "You killed us. All of us. First them, one by one. Then me."Sounded real. Felt real. She managed to glance up at Coulson. His eyes were unreadable. But very human. Same way they'd been since she'd met him. Since he'd backed her up consistently. Since he'd chosen her. Since he'd fought for her. Suddenly she laughed. Chuckled. Buried her face in her mug.

"What?" he asked with a faint, confused grin.

She shook her head at the ridiculousness of it all. "It is funny. It's funny because…you wouldn't. Not even as a robot assassin." It surprised her. She shouldn't trust him. At all. Maybe even her subconscious thought so, and the dream was supposed to be some kind of reminder, a warning—if she believed in that kind of psychoanalytical mumbo jumbo. She shouldn't trust him. It was dangerous. But she did. At least enough to believe that if he were a robot, he'd be more Iron Giant than Cylon.

Coulson smiled, a brief, wide smile. Looked at her for that moment almost like he was proud of her. "Good endorsement. I may put you down as a reference."

"You could never get another job, old man."

"Not like this one," he agreed without hesitation.

She smiled, suddenly, inexplicably shy. Waved him off. "You should go back to bed. I'm fine now."

His eyes asked the question.

"I'm just going to finish this," she held up her mug. "Then I'll go sleep. I'm good. Really."

He nodded and stood from the table. "Good. You'll need to be rested for tomorrow."

"Why? You know what we're doing tomorrow?"

"Nope," he grinned. "That's why it's always better to be rested." He patted her on the shoulder as he passed. "Night."

"Goodnight." She sat at the table, pulled her feet up under her, warm and much more relaxed. "If you are a Life Model Decoy," she called over her shoulder, "they did a really good job."

AN: I just think he's a robot. That's all.