Actions

Work Header

THE HEART SLIPS BACKWARD, REMEMBERING, REMEMBERING.

Work Text:

The square is, for the most part, empty. It takes Phil half a second to remember his purpose under the cloudless sky until a shout startles him back into focus.

Right.

Reconnaissance.

His eyes scan the abandoned stalls, May's voice echoing in his head.

"Not you too, Phil."

"Melinda -"

"Don't Melinda me. Pull yourself together. The princess is dead."

It's the kind of fairytale the optimist in Phil would love to believe - the whole royal family was slaughtered twenty-two years ago, in an act played like rebellion but which Phil knew read more like purposeful genocide. They had been inhumans, and HYDRA had been longing to start leaning into the nazi half of neo-nazi for a long time - Phil had been unsurprised to hear that the organization had been behind the murders. They were well known for their hatred of the "other," and he supposed they wouldn't blink at the chance to kill as many as they could.

Word was they'd stormed while most of the family had been asleep, left no one alive. Even servants hadn't escaped the slaughter - you were either inhuman, or you had worked under one, and both were equally disgusting in HYDRA's eyes.

Of course, there had been one royal unscathed - the king, who had at the time been on missionary service, aiding other doctors across the world. This didn't surprise Phil either - the king had happened to be the one member of the family who wasn't inhuman, and while they certainly didn't like how he had married one, HYDRA had few issues with white human men. They had not searched out Cal, and he had not returned.

What had struck Phil was the rumor which had been spreading for the better part of two years. The royal's daughter - Daisy, she was called - was suspected to be alive. Cal was offering a reward for anyone who could return his daughter to him, and Phil was more than happy to look. Here was where his optimistic side won out, where May's rational side did. The princess would have been eight at the time of the massacre - thirty now - and no one had escaped the bloodshed. Had anyone done so, it was very unlikely a young girl of eight would've been the one to manage - especially one on the run from nazis.

But there was a shot, and besides, if he could help the remainder of the Johnsons tell HYDRA where to shove it and reunite with each other, he'd call that a good day.

Maybe even a good week.

Across the market, a young woman is brushing away grime from the bricks of the street corner. His eyes catch on the back of her head, scan down her neck and her shoulders. He hasn't seen her here before, but Phil thinks he might be above using that line on a woman at this point. A few streets away, a truck backfires as it turns around a corner, and he watches her turn in on herself. Before he can cross the market to see if she's alright, a shadow hovers beside her - it's a HYDRA agent, he can tell that from this distance, even from the back. Phil, too curious for his own good, darts closer, listens in.

"It was a truck backfiring, nothing more." 

It's Grant Ward. What Phil wouldn't give to throttle his nazi ass.

"Those days are over," Ward is telling the woman, "neighbor against neighbor." His voice is far too 'friendly-neighborhood-watch' for a HYDRA goon, something tinging it sweet that crawls under Phil's skin. "There's a coffee place a little ways down," he's saying, and then Phil has stopped listening. Disgusting. He's hitting on her. When he tunes back in, Ward is walking away, discouraged. A smile quirks Phil's lips, despite missing the interaction, and he watches the woman tense again. For a moment, he imagines he's been noticed, but there's no way - she turns his way, and he ducks a little further into the shadows anyway. The uncertain twist of her lips, the dip of her brow - he considers the idea a little further. Maybe he has been spotted. He hardly has time to think on it, though, because he looks at her face - big picture, sees beyond the microreactions to the whole woman in front of him - and he thinks, no, Phil doesn't think, he knows... that face.

That's Daisy Johnson.


 

"It wasn't her, Phil," May is saying that night, over dinner. He's just recounted his morning, hands waving animatedly as he describes the feeling of Daisy Johnson staring at him, like she knew he was there. "It wasn't her. You probably just freaked some poor girl."

Phil frowns. "You weren't there, May. It was Daisy Johnson - it wasn't just some lookalike. It was her."

May is unimpressed. "Eat your dinner." She says, finally, and the topic is deserted for the night.


 

The second time Phil runs into Daisy, he can acknowledge that it is completely, totally purposeful. He wanders around the empty market for an hour and a half until he sees her approach, then keeps to the shadows again. He watches her brush the bricks, watches her sweep for half a minute as his eyes trail over her form again. She looks tired, he thinks. Like she's been denied a peaceful day for her whole life. And, to be quite honest, she probably has.

The broom stops in its tracks.

Daisy looks around the light first, examining the sunshine - for Ward, he imagines - but, finding nothing, her eyes shift to shadows, finding Phil almost immediately. There's no way she can see him, but -

"Come out." Her voice is quiet, determined, but shakes on the last syllable. "I don't want a fight."

Phil hardly even considers denying her - he steps out almost immediately, hands up. "I would prefer to avoid a fight myself." He tells her, only half joking.

Daisy looks unamused.

"Why are you watching me?"

"I... I think you might be someone very important." Phil says, skirting around the topic.

"I'm really not," she says, and he's surprised at how natural the words sound coming from her.

"I think you are," he says, almost like he's suggesting it, then holds out his hand. "Phil Coulson."

"Skye," she says, taking hold of his hand, and now Phil feels like he's back to square one.

"Just Skye?" He tries, a touch of a flirt in his voice, and he sees her eyes narrow, surveying him.

"You tell me, Mr. I Think You're Special."

Phil half-grins. "Skye," he says, not understanding the way the name fits in his mouth, "could I show you something?"


 

It turns out Phil has completely forgotten what the connotation of inviting a lovely woman back to your house is. Skye-Daisy hovers in the doorway, still surveying him, lip pulled between her teeth.

"Aren't you gonna invite me in, Mr. Coulson?" She asks, and the words sound heavy in the distance between them.

His mouth goes dry.

"Uh, won't you come in, Skye?" He stutters over her name, almost says Daisy, catches himself at the last second.

Phil has a book of inhuman history on one of these shelves, and its usually so easy to find it, but not with Skye-Daisy standing so close, eyes curious on his movements. After what feels like forever, his fingers catch on the spine. He tugs it out and opens to a familiar page. Tucked inside is a scrap of a copy of a piece of art - a painting, originally. The whole piece is of the royal family, Cal and Jiaying and Daisy all tucked together in a pose more familial then royal, but the scrap Phil has only has Daisy and Jiaying on it. It's funny how he had been looking at the little copy of Daisy, baby bright eyes and long limbs, but the woman in front of him bears the most resemblance to Jiaying. At the time of the portrait, Jiaying would have been a little younger than he is now - probably in her forties - but inhuman blood erases any fine lines and pulls her face into the mask of a younger woman. He feels Skye-Daisy come to a pause behind him as her eyes fall to the open page, land on the scrap.

"That..."

"I'd like to believe, Skye -"

"I don't believe," she rushes out, and it comes in one breath. "I don't believe in fairytales, Phil. Have I heard the stories, about the girl? Of course I have. They're not true. And I'm not her."

But her feet stay locked behind him, planted on his apartment floor.

"What if you were?" He asks softly, and he feels her breath stutter against his shoulder.


 

May doesn't believe it's true, is just helping for the sake of helping, and Daisy doesn't really believe it either, just likes the idea of the possibility - she's leaned into it well though, let them all start calling her Daisy to prepare. In the end, May handles basic prep - what's your mother's name, how does the government function - while Phil takes lead on some of the more gentlemanly pursuits. He teaches Daisy basic table setting, order of meals, curtsying and bowing - a whole list of how to do the important lady things. The last thing on his list, shortly before they're set to head out, is dancing. The afternoon the lesson is set to happen, he finds Daisy in his room, fiddling with his records. Her fingers brush over top of the stack, reading spines as she stands in the quiet.

"It's lovely." She says, as soon as he enters the room.

Phil smiles.

"I've never danced." She adds.

Sometimes, Daisy will do this - spill the parts of her life she keeps close at hand, if only you give her the space and the time to do so. So he does, remaining quiet for another moment.

"I don't think I'd be very good at it. You must be, obviously -"

Here, Phil feels it necessary to cut in. "Why?"

"Why? Because you're all... all charm school. I bet you always have the moves."

"The moves?"

Daisy shoots him a look.

"You know, Phil, it was a compliment."

"Thank you." He says, earnestly, and then he steps further into the room and takes her hand, uses his free hand to drop the needle down on his record player and let whatever's on there play. It's a jazz record he barely recognizes - not one he plays often, but not bad. "Come on," he says, starting to lead Daisy into the basic steps of a slow dance, "just let it happen."

The corner of her mouth quirks up a little and she curls her fingers into his shirt at his back. After a moment, when Daisy has begun to pick up on the subtler cues, he spins her and lets himself delight in her giggle.

"I like Dancing Phil. He's fun." She says, and her fingers arch against his back.

"And Regular Phil?"

"He's okay," Daisy says, but her eyes are light and soft on his.

"Good to know." Phil murmurs, and lets Daisy tighten her grip on him.


 

Daisy's chest feels heavy with nerves as she follows the HYDRA agent into their headquarters.

"It's... dangerous to be playing with such fairytales -" he trails off, and for that she is glad - his voice gets under her skin and itches - but the clear cue for a name throws her off. She's been going by Daisy, of course, has gotten so used to the name that Skye no longer feels like the familiar second skin it did when she used it to replace Mary Sue Poots, but there's no way Ward will let her off the hook if she drops the princess's name.

"Skye," she says, smiling falsely, and he matches the face. The name feels wrong on her tongue, she wants to say it's Daisy, Daisy Johnson, hears Phil in her mind stumble over calling her Skye in their earlier interactions and feels the smile on her face turn real.

"Skye." Ward repeats, "Be careful, Skye. The royal family is dead - of this, HYDRA is certain."

She tries not to flinch as he continues.

"I was young when they enacted the revolution -"

Commited the massacres, Daisy's mind fills in, helpfully sounding like Phil -

"But believe me, no one got away. I saw the daughter, just before they closed the gates. They're all dead now, Skye."

His voice takes on something of a comforting quality that eats at her, as if to say, don't worry, all the evil inhumans are gone, little girl. She tunes back in - he's wondering aloud about if he could shoot inhumans if asked - the kind of question Daisy could immediately answer for both him (yes) and herself (no), but that seems to be giving Ward pause. A moment later, and he's looking into her eyes.

"You're the woman from the street -" She tries to smile. Ward considers her again. "I'll let you off with a warning, this time. Be careful what dreams bring, Skye."


 

"Phil, ease up on the heart eyes."

"I do not have heart eyes."

May raises an eyebrow. "Sure you don't."

Across the train car, Daisy is making friends with a child on his first train ride. She's whispering conspiratorially with him, and Phil knows he's looking at her like she hangs the moon. Because she might as well.

Daisy comes back over, boy in hand, and leans against the railing.

"Ace and I are gonna go check out the caboose." She says, and Ace looks positively thrilled.

"Are you sure you should be out there? It's kind of dangerous." He knows he's being overzealous, but honestly, it's not even about losing work at this point. It's about losing Daisy.

Daisy raises an eyebrow that makes him shift in his seat. "Phil, do you really think I'm royalty?"

"Yes."

"Then start acting like it."

Daisy is hardly out of hearing range when May, whose eyes are trained on the morning paper in front of her, says, "Heart eyes," again.


 

Cal is not taking visitors at the moment. Especially not Daisies, the kind of implied plural which Phil wouldn't have blinked at a year ago but makes him ache with upset tension now. 

He's looking at this woman, who for weeks has been bright-eyed and optimistic with him, physically turning in on herself at the news. She's still wearing the bright blue dress and gloves from the ballet, and he's still in his tuxedo - not far away, he knows Cal is behind one of these doors, avoiding Daisy. Phil takes one final look at the scene in front of him, and then sets off, gone.

It doesn't take him long to find Cal. He's learned Daisy like the back of his hand, and at least some of that is due to her father - for instance, they both favor quiet, secluded hiding spots. Cal is sitting on a bench in a locked room when he finds him - Phil picks the lock, a skill he picked up from Daisy, and strides in far too aggressively for a man trying to speak with a past royal. His face feels flushed and his fingernails are pressing crescent moons into his palms, but he focuses.

"How dare you."

"What?"

"How dare you - she is out there, terrified that you don't love her, terrified that she came all the way here to find her family and worried the whole time instead she'd find nothing but a shell of an old man, and here you are, proving her right."

"Whoever you are, you have no right to say this to me -"

"Oh, right? Just like you have the right to deny Daisy her family? Because you're scared?"

"I have met a thousand Daisies."

"No. You've met a thousand women. I've met Daisy. There's only one person like her in the entire world."

Cal considers him for a moment.

"You care about her," he says finally, "quite a bit."

"Yes." Phil sees no reason to deny it. "I do. She's one of the best people I've ever met."

"And you truly believe - she... she's my daughter?"

Phil notes how his voice catches on the word. It feels familial, the fear of trusting in optimism.

"I have never believed in anything more. The woman out there is Daisy Johnson, daughter of Jiaying -" Cal's eyes blink owlishly at the name, as if he hasn't heard it in years - "And she has been on the run for twenty-two years. The very least you could do is bring her closure. Tell her she still has a father."

Cal pauses. He stands, and for a second, Phil worries. Then, he says, "She is very lucky to have you, Phil Coulson."

"No," Phil replies. "I'm lucky to have her."


 

May is walking her to the hall where Cal sits, where her father sits, and there's half of Daisy in the moment, half of her exploding, wondering where Phil is.

Cal doesn't stand to greet her, but she doesn't expect him to.

"What's your name?" He asks, with all the exhaustion of an old man.

"Daisy Johns -"

"No -" he interrupts, and it is so sharp Daisy jumps a little. "Your real name."

Daisy steps in front of him, suddenly bold.

"My name is Daisy Johnson."

"Daisy Johnson is dead."

"My name is Daisy Johnson." She says again, and she feels like Phil's record player, the one time she dropped the needle too hard and it had to be replaced. Repeat, repeat, repeat. 

"My daughter is dead!" Cal yells, and something snaps in Daisy. Her nerves feel on fire and she lets out a scream, feeling vibrations eminate from her body. They knock Cal a foot backward, and though he catches himself, he looks up at her, stricken. Immediately, Daisy turns in on herself, wiping tears from her eyes and blood from her nose.

"I've - I've never... I'm so... I never... It's..." She can't even finish the sentence, but in a moment, Cal's arms are around her, squeezing tightly.

"Daisy." He murmurs. "Jiaying always said you'd move mountains," and now he's crying too, and they're both sobbing, and suddenly, the vibrations which Daisy has always felt like second nature feel twice as strong, three times as strong - she can read Cal as Cal, not just a body, and she can tell May is outside the door, nervous, and she is sobbing harder. Cal tightens his grip, squeezes again.

It must be only an hour, tops, but it feels like days - years, maybe. She's rushed around, dressed in a gown befitting a princess, taught how to act at a press conference. May avoids her gaze and then seems to disappear. 

"Where's Phil?" She says at one point, and Cal's face betrays his pity.

"Your Phil said he was leaving. Didn't want the reward - said seeing you happy was enough."

That sounds like Phil - Daisy doesn't even stop to say not my Phil, just starts considering where he could've gone. Cal's hands find her shoulders.

"Daisy," he says, and it sounds familiar and sad. "Consider your options. Make your choice."

Oh.

She finds herself doing this considering in the room she found Cal in, not too long ago. She sits on the bench and thinks, thinks about the dress she's wearing and the tiara in her hair, thinks about Cal and Phil and May and -

"Daisy."

Oh.

The voice sends shivers down her spine.

"Or should I say... Skye? But who's to say what name a girl gets, really - if it's all such a game to you."

She hadn't even noticed him enter the room, hadn't felt a change in the air, but now the difference seems palpable. In the same way she could sense May was nervous, Daisy can read Ward's vibrations - he feels self-satisfied, confident. Determined in a way she's never recognized the air around him to be.

Daisy can do determined too.

She stands up, looks him straight in the eye. He's wearing a tuxedo, and the moments start to fall into place around her - the familiar shape she saw at the ballet but discounted? Grant Ward, in the flesh. Of course it was. His tie is red and he wears a little HYDRA pin, like he doesn't want her to forget it.

She could never.

He's holding a gun.

"Ward..."

His hand is shaking, just a little.

"If you are truly an inhuman," he begins, "If you are Daisy Johnson - I should finish my father and his patrol's work."

Daisy steps closer. "Then do it. Kill me."

The metal is cold on her chest, above pretty taffeta and lace. It feels somehow right. "I am Daisy Johnson," she begins, and it's different from the way she said it to Cal - it's louder, more veritable, it rings out in her chest. "The inhuman daughter of Jiaying and Cal Johnson. I am the rightful princess and I am my mother's daughter." She steps closer, lets herself feel powerful as she echoes in the room. "Are you your father's son?"

For half a second, Daisy thinks he might do it. Then, he lowers the gun. "I... believe you are. Daisy Johnson." He falls to his knees, and Daisy feels more like her mother than ever - there's a flash of her memory, her mother ordering a man to kneel before her as she stands tall, regal. In her memory, Jiaying reaches to crush the man's jugular. Daisy flinches subconsciously. She reaches to touch Ward, but gently, a touch on the top of his head. She may be her mother's daughter, but she is also her own person. She will make the decisions of Daisy Johnson, not the Johnsons.

Her inner monologue is interrupted by a touch on her hand - Ward's own, coming to close around her fingers. The gun has been disposed of on the ground, and his hands are shaking.

The decisions of Daisy Johnson, she thinks, trembling a little herself, and she suddenly feels comfort in her choice. Funny how staring down the barrel of the gun will do that to a girl.

Despite the moment she and Ward seem to be having, he's still a nazi - still HYDRA - and the pin on his jacket feels bigger than ever. Her stomach flips and she wants to act like her mother, but she can't bring herself to do it. Instead, Daisy leaves the room, means to find Cal or May, but instead locks the door - locks Ward inside and motions a guard over. She hands him her gloves, tells him to give them to her father. The guard bows and moves to leave, but Daisy stops him.

"One more thing," she says, gesturing to the locked door. "Would you keep an eye on him? Make sure he doesn't hurt anyone else."


 

Phil is sitting on his suitcase at the train stop, and Daisy can't even take the moment to feel silly for her tiara and gown in contrast with his jacket and old slacks. She stands inches from him, flickering with energy.

When he looks up, she gets some small satisfaction from the awe that flashes in his eyes, but she barely has time to relish in it before he's backing up, away from her. Like distance will do them any good.

"Your majesty," he says, and the words have been said to her a thousand times in the past hour, but Phil makes them feel earnest and new. He dips into a bow, avoiding her eyes.

"Phil. Phil."

He looks at her, finally, and something in his gaze feels broken. He's tugged his bottom lip into his mouth, like he's chewing on it to avoid speaking.

"I always dreamed my first kiss would be with a handsome prince." She feels the cold air against her arms and her whole body is alive, standing on end, waiting for his reaction.

Phil halfway smiles. "I'm not your prince, Daisy."

She's moving before she even knows what she's doing, shoving his suitcase toward him and stepping up atop it. "Princess Daisy Johnson would beg to disagree, Phil."

When they look back at this moment, neither of them will be surprised Daisy was the first one to move. She presses both hands against his face, pulling him toward her, and feels her chest vibrate, feels Phil's vibrations spike, feels his arms wrap around her waist as he melts into her. Phil scoops her up and she feels like she's in the clouds, swirling through the air until her feet find ground again. As soon as the kiss is over, she finds him again, fitting herself back against him. They both smile into each other's lips, grinning like idiots, and she laughs when they break apart.


"As of today, there will be no more Daisy," Cal is saying, while flashbulbs go off. "The reward for her safe return will be given to charity."

"There never was a Daisy," Ward is saying, in a different press conference, and pencils scribble notes across paper. "She was a dream."

"A beautiful dream," Cal says, of his daughter, and press corp will report the story with the quote as the headline for weeks.

"A dream... only time will fade." Ward says, of a girl he once thought he knew, and that will be his pull quote.

"So no more talk of the Princess Daisy Johnson," Cal is saying, and Ward is saying "We have no need for fairytales here. The case is closed."

"Still..."

Daisy Johnson picks up a newspaper the next day, reads the words people have said in her name. She folds it up and leaves it on her bedside table, tucked beneath a tiara, and turns back into the comfort and warmth of her sheets, of the comfort and warmth of Phil Coulson.

"Anything interesting in the paper?"

"Not at all. Just some boring stuff about some crazy princess."

"She sounds amazing."

"Suck-up." But she is fond, and he is fond, and their hands find each other's beneath the covers.