Daniel could already tell it was going to be one of those days when he woke up. The light filtering into his room was weak and grey, his sheets were crumpled on the floor, and his leg was throbbing.
He sat up with a hiss to find the scar tissue swollen and red. He massaged it as best he could, wincing as the throbbing upgraded to stabbing pains. Medical technology was the best it had ever been, but even that couldn’t fully treat the shrapnel wound that had festered for days and necessitated an amputation. The prosthetic he wore was top of the line, but even a top of the line prosthetic wasn’t much good when it couldn’t fit over his leg like it was supposed to.
“Crutches it is,” he muttered, and hauled himself to the bathroom.
His comm beeped just as he was finishing his breakfast. “What can I do for you, boss?”
Mack stared solemnly at him through the screen. “Knee acting up today, Sousa?” Nothing escaped the attention of the director of the Shine Foundation. Daniel had stopped trying to hide such things from him a long time ago.
“Nothing I can’t handle.” He raised his mug to his lips. Mack would know that no matter what the job was, Daniel could still do it. “So what is it?”
Mack surveyed him for a beat or two longer, then nodded. “RedWing called it in. There’s a woman causing a disturbance in Midtown. They’re reporting powers like telekinesis, but different.”
“She’s one of ours?” Daniel was already moving, downing a few painkillers. His leg was not going to thank him for it later, but there was no way he could do a retrieval on crutches.
“Most likely. RedWing has her contained but she’s not responding to anyone. I need you to calm her down and get her to HQ. Rodriguez will meet you there.”
“Try to take it easy, Sousa.”
Daniel shot a pointed look at the screen. “Gonna take your own advice someday, Mack?”
Mack just grunted, amused, and cut the call.
The address Mack sent led him to an alley in Midtown. As promised, Elena was waiting alongside Sam himself. With them was a stocky redhead who Daniel didn’t recognize - strange, given how closely Shine worked with RedWing. But then again, perhaps it wasn’t strange because she was clearly one of the Psy refugees that RedWing was rumored to have taken in.
Though he would be hard-pressed to call Natasha Romanoff a refugee. She moved like lightning made human and it was clear that no matter who or what she was now, she had been an Arrow. The Forgotten didn’t have a good record with Arrows.
“Sousa, this is Natasha Romanoff. Romanoff, this is Daniel Sousa, one of Shine’s best.” Sam’s gaze was bright gold and unflinchingly direct, a clear sign of the falcon he was.
Natasha’s head tilted a fraction of an inch to the side as she surveyed him. “The Forgotten are always like an echo in my mind,” she remarked. “Your psychic signature is there, but I can hardly hear it.”
“Likewise,” Daniel returned.
It had been four generations since the Forgotten’s ancestors rebelled against Silence. Four generations in which they’d interbred with human and Changeling alike. Though some psychic abilities remained in the Forgotten population, they were nowhere near the strength of the same abilities in pure Psy. Once the same, they were now distant cousins. But the Forgotten had begun to change, exhibiting new and varied abilities that had never been seen before.
Like the ones exhibited by the woman crouched at the end of the alley. Daniel frowned as they approached, taking in the way the air visibly bent and rippled around her. “Is that a force field?”
“Looks like it,” Sam confirmed. “It went up once she made it here, but before that, she was running down the street firing off these things like percussive blasts.”
Daniel looked sidelong at Natasha. “Tks can’t do that.”
“Not quite like that, no,” she agreed. “She doesn’t sound like you, either.”
He shrugged. “We’re all a little different in the ShadowNet.” He couldn’t see the woman there, but that could have been for any number of reasons.
“Her power is like something out of a comic book,” Elena said from his other side. That was a little rich, coming from a woman who basically embodied The Flash. “What was she running from?”
“Torture,” Daniel said grimly. He could feel it, in the terror and the sense of no don’t touch me wafting from her. “Someone was experimenting on her.”
Elena’s expression hardened. “Trying to find the source of her power and harness it.”
At Shine, their job was to make sure things like this didn’t happen to members of the Forgotten. They were family, for all that there were so few of them scattered throughout the world. It hurt to know there were those who had slipped through the cracks and had been hurt or taken advantage of because they had no clue about their ancestry or their powers.
“The Council does not like the idea of such new and varied things happening within the Forgotten population.”
“Tell us something we don’t know,” Elena snorted. “The Psy Council and its Arrows have been hunting us down ever since we decided we wouldn’t hold with Silence. This is just a new excuse.” We have to find out if this experimentation was Psy-led, she told Daniel through the ShadowNet.
And then we’ll torch it, was the grim reply. Shine did not respond well to threats against the Forgotten. Mack’s team had developed something of a reputation in that regard.
You bet your ass we will.
Daniel nodded in acknowledgement and then turned his full attention to the woman. He reached out, both mentally and physically, trying to soothe her. “Hi, I’m Daniel. I know you’re scared but I’m with the Shine Foundation. We’re only here to help you.” He projected warmth, comfort, and strength behind his words, hoping that the emotions, at least, would reach her.
Deep brown eyes shot through with shards of white light stared out at him from behind a curtain of long, matted brown hair. If he’d carried any doubts about her being Forgotten, her eyes quickly dispelled them. Like the Psy cardinals with their night-black eyes filled with stars, the Forgotten with strong and interesting abilities were beginning to present with unusual eyes. While beautiful, it made them stand out, made them vulnerable. “You expect me to believe that? She’s Psy,” she grated, jerking her chin towards where Natasha Romanoff stood. “Psy did this to me.”
Daniel felt his heart clench at the rawness of her voice. What had she endured? We have her now, he told himself. We won’t let this happen again.
“Romanoff’s with us now.” Sam was firm, his tone of voice brooking no argument. Indeed, no one would challenge a wing leader making such a claim. “We’re RedWing, the Changelings that control this territory.”
“You’re not though.” The woman turned back to Daniel. “You. And her.” She jerked her chin at Elena and winced. “You feel different. Who are you?”
“We’re like you. We’re the Forgotten.”
Daniel wanted to sock himself for being so dramatic - that was Mack’s schtick, not his. Before he could say anything else, the woman collapsed and her force field with her. He was at her side in a heartbeat, checking that her pulse and breathing were steady before he picked her up. In his arms, it was impossible to miss how fragile she seemed, how delicate. It was another strike against the Psy who’d done this to her. “Come on, we have to get her back to Simmons.”
“Sousa, your leg,” Elena began, picking up his cane.
“I can do this.” He gritted his teeth at the twinge in his leg that came with every step he took.
Elena sighed and turned to Sam and Natasha. “Thanks for bringing us in. We owe you one.”
“We know you’re good for it. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to track down the bastards that did this.” The pitch in Sam’s voice was reminiscent of a falcon’s screech just before they attacked. “If they did this on our turf…”
“She’s one of us, so we have dibs.” The reluctance in her voice was clear when she addressed Natasha. “She said Psy did this. If it comes to it, will we be able to depend on you for assistance?”
“We have no loyalty to anyone who hurt innocents.” There was steel in the Psy’s tone and a story behind it. “We’ll help.”
Daniel shook his head, bemused. The Forgotten and a new batch of Psy rebels. Current times made for strange bedfellows.
“Have you seen the video?”
Daniel glanced over at Mack, then turned his attention back to the window and the exam room beyond it. Inside, Simmons was still working on their mysterious woman. “No.”
Mack offered his datapad. “We’ve wiped as much as we could from Enforcement surveillance but there were still people out and about with their phones.”
Onscreen, the woman staggered down the street, her eyes wild with fear. When people tried approaching she lashed out, an invisible force shoving them away each time she raised a hand. She looked half-dead, the wounds on her arms bleedings sluggishly from where she must have ripped out IVs. She had done all that, escaped from wherever she’d been held and still managed to defend herself and get to relative safety.
“She’s a fighter,” Daniel murmured. Even under sedation there was a little furrow at her brows and a purse to her mouth that said she would probably come up swinging once she woke. The stab of admiration that he felt at that realization was genuine.
Mack chuckled. “Yeah, well, she comes by it honestly.”
That piqued his interest. “You’ve got an ID on her?”
“Not yet. Fitz is still working on it. But she’s one of us, so it’s true enough.” He tucked the datapad away and laid a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. The team was not overly touchy with one another but they made exceptions for Daniel, knowing how much he relied on such things. “I need to do more damage control. You’re staying here until she wakes up?”
“I am.” Odds were, she wasn’t going to like what she saw once she woke up. He had to do what he could to assuage her fears and let her know that she was safe.
“Yeah, I thought so,” was the amused reply. But Mack was already gone before Daniel could ask what the hell he thought he was implying.
Whatever. Daniel rubbed at his thigh, wincing as his muscles protested. The upside to holding vigil was that he could sit down and try to mitigate the way he’d aggravated his leg. Maybe Simmons wouldn’t even yell at him.
She looked up and through the glass as though she’d heard him. Her lips thinned and she pointed at him, mouthing, “ Stay. ”
Well, there went that idea. He stayed put. If Simmons was going to work herself into a towering rage, it was best not to add to it.
She came storming out half an hour later, her emotions in turmoil. Rage, helplessness, and anguish radiated from her and he automatically reached out to soothe her. That was the nature of an empath, the need to help those around them and share some of the burden. “When I get my hands on the ones that did this to her,” she hissed, motioning for Daniel to get to his feet. She automatically shifted to his side, bearing some of his weight.
“Should we be leaving her-”
“We’ll be right back once I administer a shot for you. You should have been on your crutches today, Sousa!”
He shrugged. “Mack called me in. You know there’s nothing I can do about that.”
“That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” She helped him into the next door exam room. “Now, drop your trousers.”
He did so without hesitation. They were all family and Simmons had seen them all in worse condition before. “What did they do to her?”
She scowled. “Physically? They’ve taken everything from her - blood samples, tissue samples, bone marrow, spinal fluid. There’s so much bruising on her arms and spine that I think that this has been going on for at least a few months, if not longer.” A cabinet door slammed as she turned back around, syringe in hand. “They could have done with just a simple DNA test but no, these bastards weren’t content with that.”
“Not everyone’s you, Simmons.” Her gift, a variation of the M-Psy abilities, allowed her to zoom in and focus on particular parts of the genome. It made her a geneticist beyond compare, as well as the best doctor they had.
“Flattery will get you nowhere, dear,” she drawled, injecting the medicine right into his thigh. It worked almost immediately, soothing and then numbing the muscles. In an hour, most of the inflammation would be gone. She sat back with a sigh, disposing of the syringe and her gloves as he tugged his pants back up. “Mentally...well, you’d know that better than I would.”
“It’s going to be a hell of a process,” he said bluntly. “But she’ll get through it.” He’d felt her determination and the strength of her conviction, even beneath the pain and terror. “Now, let me get back there so that she sees a friendly face once she’s up.”
For the first time, a smile crossed Simmons’ face. “Dear man,” she said affectionately, handing him his cane. “You really are our white knight, aren’t you?”
“I have no idea what you mean,” was the dignified response. His team was a pain in the ass but they were also family and he wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Daisy came awake with a short, bitten-off scream, surging upwards. The remembered pain was like a hammer to the mind, desperately trying to crack her open so that they could take everything she was and wipe her clean.
Hands immediately came to her shoulders and she struggled to get her own hands up, her power pulsing weakly at her fingertips, but the touch immediately withdrew.
Calm settled over her. The feel of it was warm and soothing and still, like being curled up on the couch with a mug of tea and wrapped in a blanket. “Hey, hey. It’s all right now. You’re safe, you’re fine. You’re with friends.”
“Am I?” she asked. She remembered the man settling into the chair next to her bed - he’d been the one in the alley. She didn’t remember him having those remarkable eyes, dark brown but filled with rainbow sparks that seemed to constantly shift and brighten. “You said we’re the same.”
“We are,” he agreed. “I’ll give you the whole spiel, but could you please tell me one thing first?”
The please threw her off-balance. The people who’d taken her, the people who’d experimented on her - none of them bothered to ask, they’d simply taken. “What?”
“Your name.” The man shrugged. “You know mine, after all.”
Right. His name was Daniel. “Daisy. Daisy Johnson.”
“Daisy.” He smiled, and she felt her nerves settle.
“How are you doing that?” she blurted. “You’re doing something to my emotions.”
“He’s an empath,” came a new voice from the doorway. Daisy startled badly, her hands coming up in self-defense, but the other woman’s eyes remained kind and her smile never wavered. “I’m sorry I startled you. I’m Dr. Jemma Simmons, but you can just call me Jemma, or Simmons. Everyone does. May I please check you? I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do.” Daisy could sense her the same way she sensed Daniel and the other woman in the alley. Forgotten, he’d said.
Daisy found herself looking at Daniel before she could even think not to. He nodded, motioning to the bandages on her arms. “Simmons is the one who treated you. We only want to help, Daisy.”
“Empath,” she repeated, rolling the word around her mouth. The Psy had empaths too, she knew that much. They also liked to pretend they didn’t have them because Silence was the seeming elimination of emotion. If the Psy were Silent, why would they need empaths? “How do I know you’re not manipulating my emotions?”
“Fair enough,” Daniel responded. He crossed his arms, his gaze open and direct on hers. “As an empath, I can sense emotion. I can amplify it or dampen it, which can constitute manipulation. There are times when I’ll do one or the other unconsciously. But I can’t put in something that’s not there.”
Why did she get the sense that he would never lie to her? “But the warmth and the comfort - that’s not coming from me.”
“I’m amplifying my feelings and passing them to you while taking away some of the fear. That’s all.”
Daisy bit her lip, her eyes darting between Daniel and Simmons. The other woman hadn’t moved the entire time. “Okay. I trust you, for now. Just...tell me what you’re doing.”
Simmons smiled and oh, she was young . She had to be around the same age as Daisy herself. “I can do that. Thank you, Daisy.” She kept up a light commentary as she raised the bed and checked Daisy’s vitals. Her hands were gentle and like she promised, she told Daisy exactly what she was doing and how it would affect her. “Most of the drugs they used on you are out of your system, but their effects will linger for another day. You might experience some dizziness and vertigo.” Her eyes were shadowed as she shook her head. “Drugs might not affect us quite the way they affect Psy, but they weren’t careful with their dosage at all.”
“So we’re related to Psy,” Daisy said flatly. The thought of it was like ants crawling over her skin. She knew the Psy were ruthless in their own way, and her job as a hacker meant she’d uncovered a wellspring of rumor with regards to how fiercely they policed their people. Still, reading it was entirely different from how she’d experienced it, strapped to that bed for months. They’d tortured her until she showed her powers and taken and taken from her and she was supposed to acknowledge their relation?
“Distantly. Our ancestors left the PsyNet rather than accept Silence. They’ve married humans and Changelings since then.” Daniel leaned forward. “We’re very much us. Especially with the kinds of abilities we’re starting to see.”
“Like yours. Do you know what they wanted from you?”
Daisy shut her eyes briefly and then forced them open again. She didn’t want to hide from what happened. She would not be their victim. Somehow, she’d survived all of this intact and that meant something. “He was young. He was a Tk and I could tell he could not understand that his abilities weren’t like mine. He wanted them for his own.” And if he couldn’t have them, he would have broken her and made her his puppet.
“That’s why they took so many samples from you,” Simmons remarked. Her voice was pure frost. “They were trying to unlock the secret of your ability from you in whatever way they could. May I ask how they found you in the first place?”
She shook her head. She’d wondered that too, in her lucid moments. “I’ve been keeping it hidden. It caused a lot of problems when I was a kid, but the orphanage where I...spent most of my time would have had a record of it.” She should have wiped the records when she had a chance but it had never occurred to her that someone would go sneaking around to that extent. “They pulled me off the street and then. Well. You know the rest.”
She still remembered the sound of her grocery bags hitting the ground, the tinkling of breaking glass when her jar of pickles shattered, and the red of the apples as they rolled across the sidewalk. They’d shattered her life in that moment.
Her life before that hadn’t been the life she’d dreamed of, but it was hers. Daisy had built it all on her own, from the little boho apartment with the plants she desperately tried to keep alive to her job with an activist hacker group. She was proud of her career and had cultivated it from the moment she realized she had a gift with computers. That was a skill she’d honed and worked for, giving her a livelihood - as opposed to the ability she’d been born with and only led to pain and complications.
The gift that created force fields and shockwaves had moved her from foster family to foster family until she eventually ended up at the orphanage. Those abilities had ostracized her, left her alone, and eventually led to this. What good were they?
Daisy was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she missed the look Daniel exchanged with Simmons, followed by the doctor’s quiet exit.
“Hey.” His fingertips grazed the back of her hand in a brief, fleeting touch that nonetheless demanded her full attention. “That’s a lot of self-loathing you’ve got going on there. Do you want to talk about it?”
Right. Empath. She was beginning to think that that ability was more trouble than it was worth. “No one can ever lie to you, can they?” she asked, curious.
“Sure they can,” Daniel replied readily. “It’s just a toss-up over whether I take their response at face value or decide to dig deeper.”
“Something tells me that your job always has you digging deeper.”
He shrugged. “Most of the time, yeah.”
“Don’t you ever want to turn it off?”
“There are times when it’s inconvenient, sure. But it does a hell of a lot of good for people, so I don’t mind it.”
Good . Daisy shook her head and laughed, the sound of it low and bitter. “Good,” she repeated. “I don’t think that this thing that I have can do any good.”
“I disagree.” Daniel’s eyes caught and held her, the kaleidoscope of color within the irises bright and arresting. “You’ve spent most of your life suppressing your abilities. Fearing them, misunderstanding them.”
“Of course,” she burst out. “They’ve only ever hurt other people or hurt me .”
“I get that. We all go through periods like that when we’re dealing with our abilities. But what if you used them to protect others and help them? There are a lot of Forgotten like you out there, Daisy. They’re alone, confused, and scared. There are people that would hurt them the way you were hurt.”
“Others?” She thought of the way the Psy who’d tortured her had practically taken pleasure in her pain and in reassuring himself that Psy were superior in every way. “This has happened to others?”
Daniel nodded, his expression grim. “The original defectors couldn’t keep track of everyone for long. They’ve been spread out across the world, pretending to be human. No one could have ever predicted that after all that time, our abilities would be like this. That’s what Shine does, Daisy. We bring our people home.”
Home. That was all she’d ever wanted.
“Daisy.” He turned his hand over next to hers, palm up. She stared, unsure of what that meant. “I’m sorry it took us so long to find you. We won’t fail you again.”
Oh, that’s what it meant. It was the promise of comfort and a vow that she didn’t have to be alone anymore. The aching, lonely part of her that she hid away came roaring to the surface, desperate to take what was offered.
When was the last time someone had offered such a thing to her, freely and without expectation? The people she knew from hacking were elusive and remote by nature, known only through a computer screen by their handles and the way they coded. In the real world, any relationships she had were surface-level at best because her ability was too much of a liability.
Could things be different this time?
“Okay,” she whispered, slipping her hand into his. His hand engulfed hers, all wide palms and calloused fingers, but somehow they fit.
“Okay,” Daniel echoed. He smiled, and it was beautiful.
Over the next few days, Daisy felt as though she’d met everyone in the upper echelons of the Shine Foundation’s hierarchy, from its enigmatic director Mack, to Simmons’ husband Fitz. Through it all, Daniel stayed at her side as much as possible, teaching her about the Forgotten and all of the ways that Shine worked to keep them safe.
One day he came in on crutches, his right pant leg pinned up and away, and Daisy learned about his time as a soldier and the wound that eventually had him leaving the service. “Mack had been after me to work for Shine for a while,” he told her, the two of them making one hell of a picture as they walked through the light and plant-filled atrium of the Shine building, him on his crutches and her with a walker. “I asked him if he still wanted me, injury and all, and you know what he told me?”
She thought of the few times she’d already met with Mack. The two men were cut from the same cloth, endlessly loyal and fiercely protective of what was theirs, so she could guess what he’d said. “That he’d have you in any capacity, injured or not?”
“So you’ve figured us out?” he laughed. “More or less. I was one of the last ones to join his crew so it took some adjusting but we got there in the end.”
“Something tells me it didn’t take all that long, Daniel, what with your-” Daisy waved a hand. “Empath-ness.”
Daniel shrugged, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “There’s always going to be a period of adjustment, especially when you’re dealing with strong personalities.” He sobered. “Speaking of. Would you be up for some new visitors? They’re Psy, but they’re allies.”
Daisy couldn’t help the way her entire body tensed at the mention of Psy. “Allies. Like the redhead in the alley?”
“Yeah. Hill and Coulson are with the Howling Commandos.”
“The Howling Commandos?” There were two major Changeling powers in the northeast - RedWing’s falcons and the Howling Commandos’ wolves, who were based upstate but whose territory and influence spread further. “They have Psy with them?” She whistled. “I guess the rumors were true.”
She pointed at herself. “Hacker, remember? There were rumors amongst my group about recent Psy defections but we all decided it wasn’t worth trying to hack the wolves or the falcons to find out. The last thing you want is a predatory Changeling group deciding it has a grudge against you. No one will ever hear from you again.”
“That’s true enough.” A group of people called out to Daniel from across the atrium and he raised a hand in acknowledgement. He turned back to her, eyes curious. “So you’re that good? To consider hacking them?”
“I’m better,” was the blunt response. She’d been that close to finding out the truth on the Psy end of things before she’d been captured. “Okay, so they’re allies. Why would they want to see me?”
“Hill can probably help you with your abilities. We don’t have any Tks that we know of and she’s the strongest Tk outside of the PsyNet. Coulson’s an expert on shields so we’re hoping he can figure out why you’re hidden in the ShadowNet.” The look he shot her was teasing. “Coulson’s a softer touch than Romanoff - the redhead - but we might have to bring her in if he can’t figure it out.”
Daisy bristled. “What, you think I need a soft touch?”
“Nah, you can take everything the world throws at you and more. That doesn’t mean you have to, though.”
“You are actually unbelievable,” she huffed, shaking her head in disbelief. “You’re asking me to trust these guys.”
“Yes, I am.” He didn’t add anything else, but then, he didn’t have to.
She sighed and rubbed her forehead. It was true that Natasha Romanoff had done nothing when she found her, but her presence still put Daisy on edge. That wasn’t really something she thought she’d be getting over anytime soon. Still, Daisy had told Mack she wanted help. If she really wanted to contribute to Shine, she’d have to hone her power and the Psy were probably her best bet. “All right,” Daisy said eventually. “I’ll meet these Psy of yours.”
“I’m pretty sure Steve Rogers would take offense to that.” He pulled out his phone and sent off a quick message.
Fifteen minutes later, the doors to the atrium slid open and two people strode in, a man and a woman. They were both dressed practically and unobtrusively in dark jeans and jackets, but they drew attention all the same. Perhaps it was their inscrutable expressions and the smooth, almost liquid way they moved. Perhaps it was that the woman herself was gorgeous, with exquisite bone structure and eyes like blue ice.
“Were they waiting outside or something?” she muttered to Daniel, getting to her feet.
“Hill can teleport,” he whispered back, then reached out to shake hands with the two. “Hill. Coulson. Thanks for coming. Daisy Johnson, meet Maria Hill and Phil Coulson.”
“I thought Psy didn’t like physical touch,” Daisy blurted out.
The man named Coulson didn’t quite smile, but she had the distinct impression that he was amused. “We live amongst Changelings now and they place a high value on touch,” he explained. “We have been adapting.”
“Within reason.” Maria Hill’s expression gave nothing away as she looked Daisy over, but then she didn’t expect it to. Even if they had defected, Silence wasn’t something that just went away. “Is there a place where I can see your ability in action?”
Right. Straight to the point. Daisy glanced at Daniel. “This way,” he told them, his hand coming to brush Daisy’s shoulder briefly before he led them towards the elevators. She wasn’t sure if the touch thing was an empath thing or a Daniel thing, but he was generous with them in a way she was grateful for. She’d never realized until now that touch could be a grounding thing - or was that also just because of him?
“You’re not usually without your prosthetic, Sousa,” Maria observed as the elevator doors closed. “Does your leg pain you?”
“Some days are better than others.”
She nodded. “I presume Betty will want to examine you, should you decide to come upstate.”
Daisy glanced between them. Why would Daniel want to go into the Howling Commado’s territory? Were the wolves and the Forgotten so close? The doors opened before she could think on it further, revealing what seemed to be a gym and training floor. Daniel led to a room down the hall, sparse with mats on the floor. “Will this work?”
“This will suffice. You and Phil might want to remain to the side.” Maria turned to Daisy and this time, she knew she was being assessed. Without warning, a mat peeled itself off the floor and hurtled towards her.
Daisy reacted instantly to the threat, a shockwave pulsing from her hand and knocking it aside. “What the hell?” she demanded, shaken by the sudden attack.
“From the report I received, it appeared that all use of your abilities was reactionary and instinctual rather than deliberate. I apologize, but it seemed like the best way to assess it.”
“So what did you conclude?” Her grip on the walker, she noticed, was white-knuckled.
The two Psy didn’t even make eye contact, but they had to be conversing. It was like an itch in her brain. “It is similar to Tk, in a way,” Maria said finally, turning that disconcerting gaze back on Daisy. “The outcome is similar but the means are not. A Tk will manipulate psychic energy, but you appear to manipulate vibrations. I imagine that with enough training, you might be able to release vibrations with the same magnitude as an earthquake.”
“The force fields you generate can likely protect from attacks of equal magnitude,” Phil added.
Daisy blinked at the implication. “And you can help me?”
Maria nodded, short and sharp. “The execution is different, but the theory is similar enough. As I have already suggested to Director Mackenzie, it would be better to move such training upstate.” Her tone was almost wry as she continued, “There is plenty of open and isolated space for practice.”
“Me. Training in Howling Commandos’ territory.”
“Mack asked,” Daniel answered. “He and Steve Rogers go back.”
She looked at him sidelong. “And you’d go with me?”
It was a question as much as a statement, and he softened at her words. “Mack asked me to find the ones who did this to you. I can do that anywhere.”
Her life had changed so drastically in only a matter of days, from hacker to prisoner to Forgotten. What was one more change in the grand scheme of things? Besides, she thought with dawning determination, they could help her master her abilities. Once she did, no one would dare make a prisoner of her - or the people like her - again.
The PsyNet was a landscape of endless night, dotted with the cold light of millions of stars. In a silent pocket of space, two minds met in a “room” that disappeared into the dark, untouched by the streams of data that flowed freely around it.
“You have been unable to retrieve the asset.”
“The Shine Foundation took it in custody before my team was able to initiate recovery.” There was no attempt to present an excuse for no excuse would be accepted.
“You have a mole within the foundation.”
“They report that it is being moved to Howling Commando territory. I will recover it then.”
There was a short pause. “Correct your mistake, but do not underestimate the wolves.”
“The wolves are savages. They will not be an issue.”
“See that they are not. You do not want me to send in your brother or step in myself if you should fail. You are dismissed.”
A week was all it took to get Daisy settled into the rhythm of life in the Howling Commandos’ den. Daniel could tell it was a shock to the senses at first, the noise and chaos and sheer number of wolves that lived together in the den. Even for someone like Daisy, who so clearly longed for home and family, it took some getting used to.
The Forgotten was a family, and Mack was ostensibly its alpha, but theirs was spread out because of time and necessity. Few Forgotten mingled outside of their own immediate family units unless they were involved with the Shine Foundation though they all knew that they only had to say the word and help would be offered unconditionally.
The wolves were more the type to offer without being asked.
“Careful,” Thor observed as Daisy disappeared under an excited pile of pups, some in wolf form and some not. “We just might keep her here with us. Look at how well she fits in!”
Daniel glanced up from his datapad. Her laughter was infectious and he found himself smiling in return. “You can try,” was the mild response.
Thor roared with laughter at that, catching the attention of the pups, They bounded over and piled on top of him, their light, playful growls mixing with his deeper one. Daisy sat up, caught Daniel’s eye, and sent him a thumbs-up before bounding up to join Phil for her daily shielding session. “There now little ones, I’m sure you’ll be interested to know of a rumor I heard about snickerdoodles in the kitchens.”
The distraction worked as expected - the pups streamed out of the room, though not without asking for some hugs and pats from the two men. “I’m pretty sure Pepper’s not going to thank you for that.” He flicked through a couple of deeds, but none of the owners stood out to him. All he needed was a single name...
“Pepper won’t truly mind. She always makes an extra batch just in case the pups come begging.”
“Something tells me it’s not just the pups who do that.”
“Lies, I’m sure.” He gestured towards the datapad. “You could ask Darcy for help, or even Daisy. Her reputation as a hacker precedes her.”
“I was planning on asking Daisy later.” He hadn’t wanted to at first, because her days at the den were filled with activity - from shielding with Phil, training with Maria, and even sparring with Carol. But this was her fight and he had no right to ask someone else just because her plate was full. “I was just hoping to have a concrete lead beforehand.”
Thor made a noise of assent. “It is good that you want to share the burden.” His solemnity faded away, replaced with an expression of mischief that wouldn’t have looked out of place on one of the pups. “You’re breaking some hearts, you know. I can list several wolves who were waiting for the opportunity to begin courting you.”
Daniel shook his head, hiding a smile. He’d been honored to exchange intimate skin privileges with one or two members of the pack before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Their passion and intensity were unmatched but he was beginning to realize that he’d been lost from the moment he looked into a pair of brown eyes shot through with white light. “I’m sorry to disappoint.”
“I’m sure you are, what with the way you’re covered in her scent, and her in yours.” Thor clapped Daniel’s shoulder and wandered off, saying something cryptic about checking on the wolves’ special guest. Every lieutenant had been rather vague on the subject and Daniel didn’t press. Steve would tell them once it was time for them to know and no sooner.
Meanwhile, Daniel’s thoughts shifted, as they had so often these past few days, to Daisy. The first night in the den, he’d woken to a wave of sheer panic and the smallest of tremors shaking through the walls. He’d stumbled out, prosthetic left behind and bracing himself on the walls and doorframes only to find Daisy already at his door, eyes wide with a silent plea.
“Daisy.” He reached out, his first instinct to comfort but unsure of what exactly she needed.
She filled the blanks in for him by stepping into the circle of his arms, her hands curling into the soft fabric of his t-shirt. “It’s just a little too dark in there,” she muttered.
One of the things her captors had done to torture her was shut her away in a room with no light, only bringing her out for experimentation and torture of a different sort. How could he have forgotten? What was safe and cozy for the wolves was uncomfortably close to a nightmare for her.
He looked up at the quiet sound of footsteps and met Maria’s eyes. As a former Arrow, she’d been trained to move as soundlessly as any predatory Changeling on the hunt, so he appreciated the courtesy. He nodded and she inclined her head in return before melting back down the corridor. “You can come in. Or we can go outside for a while. Whatever you want.”
Daisy tipped her head back to look at him, curious and searching. “You really mean that.”
“Of course I do.” Her well-being had shot to the top of his list of priorities, a revelation that he wasn’t going to examine too closely at the moment. They had time to figure it out.
“Let’s go outside then.”
The stars were beautiful overhead and Daniel could feel the way the stress and tension drained out of her as they found a perch on the grass with a clear view of the sky. “I’m sorry,” she said eventually.
She exhaled, long and slow. “It feels like I should be. For a moment, all of that darkness reminded me of being there in that room. Yeah, I was scared, but you know what I felt more than that?” She laughed softly. “Of course you do, you probably felt it.”
He had, but that was beside the point. “What did you feel?”
“Rage. They... he hurt me so badly. And for what? This power is not for anyone to just take, it’s mine . I want to hurt him for daring to try. I want to hurt others for thinking that’s something they can do to people like us.” Daisy shifted, and the taste of her unease made his stomach turn over. “Does that...you’re an empath, don’t you hate the idea of hurting other people?”
Ah, there it was. “My great-grandmother was one of the original defectors. They killed her husband and would have killed her and her children if she hadn’t fought back. And not long after I took the job with Shine, we received news that Bobbi and Lance had been taken while investigating some Forgotten disappearances.” He closed his eyes, remembering the gruesome scene they’d stumbled upon in a hidden lab in Siberia. “It was similar to what happened to you,” he confessed.
She inhaled sharply. “Were they okay?”
“After a while. When we tracked down the Psy that did it, I lost it.” He described the way he’d forced all of his fury and grief outwards and into their minds. It didn’t matter that he was no longer purely Psy. Emotion was emotion. “It overwhelmed their conditioning and they dropped dead on the spot.” The forceful snapping of the Silence protocols was like forcefully unleashing a pressure valve in their brains - too much and it would burst. “Just because I’m an empath doesn’t mean I can’t and won’t hurt someone, especially when they’ve done the same to our family.”
The Forgotten had fought bravely and lost so much for the right to feel. How could he not continue that fight?
Daisy shifted closer, until her side was pressed to his. “I don’t know why I didn’t think you’d understand,” she admitted. “But I’m glad you do.”
He nudged his shoulder against hers. “Of course I do. And whatever you decide to do, I’m behind you. We’re behind you. One hundred per cent.”
“I’ve been a fighter all my life, one way or another.” Daniel couldn’t take his eyes away from her even if he wanted to. He knew she was beautiful, it had been clear from his very first glimpse of her, but there was something special about moonlight on her face and stars in her eyes. “This...this is just another fight, but I have a new set of skills to use.”
“And a family to fight with.”
“A family to fight for ,” she corrected.
“The two are not mutually exclusive, you know.”
Her head fell on his shoulder. “You keep doing that.”
“You’re just…” Daisy waved her hands in the air. “Ever since I’ve woken up here you’ve been there to take care of me and make sure I settle in. Even if I don’t ask you’re just there .” In case she needed him. “Why? Be honest.”
As if, Daniel thought, he could ever lie to her. Her emotions swirled, a little tumultuous with trepidation, confusion, and something like hope. “I know people like you, Daisy. You’re a fighter. You’re determined to help with everything in you.” He smiled a little ruefully. “You’d run into a brick wall if it meant helping anyone who is vulnerable and hurting.”
That was a little pot, kettle, considering who he was and who he worked with. People like them had a tendency to gravitate towards one another. It was because he knew exactly how they worked that he worried for her, the urge to protect rising like a tidal wave inside him.
“Okay, but how-”
“Because when people like you run into those walls? You should have someone there to pick you back up.”
Her head jerked up and she stared at him, eyes wide. “And you...want to be that someone?”
“Not for everyone.” Daniel smiled and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “It helps if they’re fun to be around. If they say what they mean. And if they have this power where they can create earthquakes and force fields.”
Daisy huffed out a laugh, her emotions settling into something soft and fond, but still somewhat hesitant. “That is very specific.”
He hummed in response. “It is. But we have time.” Even in a world where some Changelings could identify their mates at first sight and mating bonds existed, he was content to take this slow.
Her head dropped back to his shoulder. “Yeah. We have time.”
The talk that night was like a door opening between them. She stayed with him afterwards, pressed back to back in his bed, because she’d been reluctant to return to her dark, unfamiliar room. She showed up at his door every night since, the two of them always sleeping back-to-back but waking up entwined. No wonder Thor and the other wolves could smell them on one another.
Daniel has been lucky enough to see stellar examples of romantic partnerships his entire life, from the stories of his great-grandmother and great-grandfather all the way down to his parents. At Shine, he was surrounded by them - Mack and Elena, Fitzsimmons, and Bobbi and Lance. The things they had with one another, he wanted for himself. Someone to fight next to, someone to fight for. Even if he hadn’t been born an empath, Daniel knew himself. He wanted to be able to care for someone and have them know that he was there for them.
For the first time in a long time, he carried the hope that perhaps Daisy was that person. She had already captured him, with her fire and drive and need to protect. He hadn’t been lying when he said they had time. Daisy was worth waiting for.
He was so absorbed in his thoughts and his idle scrolling through property deeds that he almost missed the polite knock through the ShadowNet.
A new presence has appeared on the ShadowNet near your location. Excitement buzzed along their connection. Is it Daisy? Has she figured out why we couldn’t see her?
Let me check.
He was in the ShadowNet in a matter of moments, the dazzling chaos of it stretching before him. If the PsyNet was a cold night full of individual white stars, the ShadowNet was the universe and its myriad stars, galaxies, and nebulas with each entity connected to others through bonds of emotion. The ties to his parents were coiled tight and echoed faintly with familiarity, laughter, and love. To his team there were lengths like steel cables, forged by duty and honed with trust and the sense of you are the family I choose.
Beside him was a star, burning bright and fiery and strong. He didn’t have to see the fledgling bond between them to know it was Daisy. Daniel touched it lightly in the telepathic equivalent to a knock. Welcome to the ShadowNet.
It took her a moment to respond. I was going to surprise you but, ah. Looks I’m the one who’s surprised.
It can take some getting used to. He could sense the curiosity of those connected to him and those nearby, drawn by the novelty of her and the sheer strength of her presence. How did you get back in?
Apparently I was always here, as you all suspected. Phil and I found a shield around my mind and he’s been helping me dismantle it. We’re still trying to track what was sustaining it because it wasn’t me. She sobered at that. Phil says if it were, I could have died by trying to take it down. Something about ripping out too many connections in my brain.
Something in him howled and raged at the thought of losing her. I’m glad that wasn’t the case.
You and me both. She poked mental “fingers” at their connection. Are bonds always like this?
No. They can grow stronger or weaker, depending on how we feel about each other. There was a loaded silence before he continued. If you look around, you will see the bonds you have with other members of the team.
Oh, there’s Simmons! Can I talk to her the way I’m talking to you?
Sure, just reach out and touch the connection lightly. He was peripherally aware of a chime from his datapad. I just need to check something.
He dropped out and back into his body, frowning slightly as he scanned the document. One name in particular jumped out at him and he swore, pulling up an email so that he could send it to Mack.
Bruce poked his head into the room at the noise. “Everything all right, Daniel?”
“Debatable,” he muttered. “Do you know where I can find Darcy?”
Daisy stared at the photo on-screen, her jaw clenching tight. She knew that pale, weasel-y face. It had hovered over her, ordered for sample after sample to be taken, had tortured her until she demonstrated her power. It was not a face she was liable to forget anytime soon and she knew she would not rest until his head was on a platter.
Or something like that. “Who is he?”
There was a noise like an escaping tire from behind the other computer terminal. “Nathaniel Malick, as in one of Councilor Malick’s sons?” Darcy Lewis was a dominant wolf in the pack, though not dominant enough to want to be a senior soldier or lieutenant. Instead, she trained when necessary and focused on her true passion: hacking and computers. According to Thor, she had recently returned from training in Tromsø.
“Precisely.” Daniel was furious and maybe that would have surprised Daisy once, but not now. Not after the conversation they’d had the first night here. He understood her anger and felt it himself and wasn’t afraid to act on it for the greater good. Was it any wonder that she gravitated towards him, drawn by the promise of his solidity and compassion? “Councilor Malick is known for his support of the Pure Psy agenda so it’s no surprise they’re involved.”
“How did you find him?”
“Fitz tracked you through RedWing and Enforcement surveillance to a single block - it was a little hard to tell exactly which building, since you came out of an alley. I’ve been going through the deeds for the buildings to see if any suspicious names came up and Nathaniel Malick’s did.”
“The company associated with him on the deed seems pretty generic,” Darcy observed. “Definitely a shell. I’m guessing that’s why you’ve handed it over to us.”
One corner of his mouth tilted up and oh. Yes. That was very attractive. “Between the two of you? Those rats will be flushed out in no time.” He backed towards the doorway. “I’ll leave you to it. Thor wants me to try the training run.”
“Wait, what?” Daisy asked, momentarily distracted. She’d seen Tony fall off it too many times to count yesterday and he was a lieutenant .
“Daniel’s really good at the training runs,” Darcy chipped in. “Thor always makes sure there’s a new one when he comes, just so that he can test it. He always attracts quite the audience.”
“‘Really good,’” Daniel scoffed, rolling his eyes. “It dumps me on my ass at least seven times before I finish it.”
“That’s still like, three less than everyone else who tries it and they don’t have a prosthetic leg,” Darcy argued back.
"I'm missing a leg?"
Daniel easily dodged the pencil she threw at him. "Oh my god, you're the actual worst." From Darcy's tone of voice, it was an old argument and an old joke. “You know you're practically the best at it. Well, next to the Psy, because they’re freaky, and Steve because he’s Steve. ”
Daisy’s train of thought was still derailed by the thought of Daniel on the course. If it was anything like the way he sparred with Carol, maybe it was a good thing she was stuck in here with Darcy. That Daniel could handle any of that with his leg was...well. Daniel glanced at her, eyebrow hiked up, and she wondered if her emotions were anywhere near as pink as her cheeks. “I’ll have to see that sometime,” she said vaguely, and felt her face get even hotter at the way his smirk widened.
Why? She thought despairingly. Why is that hot?
Darcy was looking between them like she was at a tennis match and overly delighted about it. “I think you will,” he responded. It sounded like a promise.
Her head hit the desk with an audible thump as the door closed behind him. “I’m gonna die,” she said to no one in particular.
“My sympathies, dude,” Darcy snickered. “I know a bunch of wolves who would trade places with you in a heartbeat. Daniel’s a favorite around here.”
“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.” Daniel, who seemed to radiate warmth and stability, who could soothe emotions with nothing but a thought? Who would give and give and give without ever asking for anything in return? No, she wasn’t surprised at all. “I think I went a little crazy there, at the end. I didn’t know anything but pain and fear. He pulled me out of the wreckage.” He’d shown her the way out and through, with nothing but a guiding hand.
“Yeah, that sounds like him. He’s a hell of a man.”
“He is. So, uh. All those people who want to trade places? I’ll have you know that I will fight each and every one of them.” Daisy wasn’t quite ready to do something about the thing between them, not quite yet, but she knew what she wanted.
“Noted.” Darcy waved her hand at the computer. “Come on, then. The faster we do this, the faster you get to ogle him while he does the training run.” A shit-eating grin spread over her face. “The guys have been known to lose their shirts.”
That was thoroughly evil and Daisy could appreciate that. Darcy felt like a friend and Daisy had had precious few of those in her life.
Hacking into a Psy councilor’s records was delicate work, but between the two of them they made short work of it. Daisy took in the way the other woman worked. There was something familiar about it...wait. She knew that digital signature. She jerked up and stared, only to find Darcy already staring back, nonplussed. “You’re MewMewTheHammer?” she exclaimed.
“You’re MaryJanePoots?” was the equally stunned response.
“Oh my god,” she muttered. “I am so glad that I never decided to hack the Commandos’ computers. You would have fried my computer and then sent Thor or someone to kill me.”
The other woman snickered, which did nothing to assuage Daisy’s lingering horror. “Well, you’re one of the few people who could have hacked us, so thank you for, you know. Not doing that.”
“No problem.” She tilted her head. “I’ve always wondered - what the hell is MewMew?”
Darcy threw her head back and roared with laughter. “Okay, so Thor has this honest to god hammer - it’s not a euphemism for something else, I swear - like, an actual warhammer that’s a family heirloom. Its name is Mjolnir and for the life of me, I could never pronounce it so now it’s just one big inside joke.”
The affection in her voice sent a pang through Daisy’s entire being. She could have that too, in time. Now that she was fully in the ShadowNet, Simmons had taken to checking on her twice a day, and she’d received overtures from Fitz, Elena, and even Mack. The wolves had been beyond welcoming as well and she found herself gravitating towards Maria, Phil, and Carol. The irony of two of them being Psy was not lost on her but there were miles between Maria and Phil and the rat bastard that had taken her.
With Maria, there was a sense of kinship. The two of them had been born with power beyond belief, even if they were fundamentally different. The former Arrow was a difficult trainer, but fair, and emphasized the importance of control - which made sense, for someone who was able to control things on a cellular level. For Daisy, it was a matter of magnitude, like bringing down an entire city block or a single building.
She rather liked the idea of bringing a building down on Nathaniel Malick’s head.
But first, she had to find him. “I’ve got the properties - you’re following the money, right?”
“You bet your ass I am.” Darcy cracked her knuckles. “It’s going to be a longer game once I have all the information, but once I do I’ll turn it over to Tony and Director Mackenzie.” Her grin was feral, her canines distinctively wolf-like. “They’re going to have so much fun cutting their finances out from under them.”
Daisy whistled. “Ruthless. I like it. We should do this more often.”
“Just say the word, babe, and I’ll be there.”
The bonfire cracked merrily, the atmosphere around it relaxed. Most of the ones present were the lieutenants not on duty, but other members of the pack wandered in and out, staying for beer and conversation before moving on.
Daniel never took for granted the amount of trust that was given to the inner circle of Shine and that they were considered friends and allies. Changeling packs rightfully carried the reputation of being territorial and extremely protective of their land and people, but the Howling Commandos were particularly ruthless. That he could be here, chatting with Carol’s wife Maria while their daughter Monica roasted marshmallows with some of the other children was a privilege.
“Get that license and I’ll take you out on my plane the next time you’re up.” Her eyes danced in the firelight as she took a sip of beer. “Everyone gives me shit about it because it’s so old but I’ve restored that baby from the ground up and made it environmentally friendly so they really can’t do anything about it.”
“I’d love to see it. It sounds like the kind of thing Fitz would lose his marbles over.”
“He can come see it too. I love showing it off.” Maria solemnly accepted the stick of roasted marshmallows that Monica presented to her, and offered one to Daniel. He accepted with a smile and thank you, prompting a happy beam from the young girl.
Steve, Maria, Carol, and Daisy appeared at the edge of the bonfire. Daisy’s face lit up when she spotted Daniel and she streaked around it to sit at his side. “You’re here!”
Once he’d uncovered Nathaniel Malick, there wasn’t much reason for him to stay upstate. Daisy and Darcy had the electronic trails covered and between Tony and Mack they were slowly beginning to uproot and destroy the Malick’s business empire. Daniel’s strength had always been fieldwork, so he went where Mack told him.
Luckily, Daniel was friends with Clint, and being friends with a natural teleporter had its benefits. “Hey, how are you?”
“I kind of got in trouble today,” she whispered. Luckily, Maria was distracted by Carol and Monica and wasn’t paying attention to their conversation. “We’re pretty sure that I can control the vibrations enough to approximate flying.”
“All right…” That sounded dangerous, but sure.
Daisy nudged him. “Don’t be such a square, Daniel.”
“Square? What is this, the 50s?”
She just grinned. “Anyway, I was practicing and overshot. I landed in front of this cabin in the middle of nowhere and this total hobo came out-” she coughed. “Turns out that the hobo is the ‘special guest’ everyone’s been talking about and I definitely wasn’t supposed to be there.”
“How much trouble did you get into?” Nothing was coming off her but soft amusement, so he wasn’t not entirely worried. “You weren’t in any danger, right?”
“Some scolding, no danger. He was pretty nice, for a hobo. He even told Steve I should come over and chat with him sometimes.”
Interesting. “Did the hobo tell you his name?”
“Nah, he thought it was too funny that I was calling him a hobo in the first place.” A cold gust of wind swept through the clearing, a clear sign that summer was turning to autumn. Daisy shifted closer to him on the log. “Was I supposed to ask his name?”
“Nah.” He liked being this close to her, their sides pressed together. “They can keep their secrets. You weren’t hurt, so that’s what matters.”
Carol passed over a bottle of beer, which Daisy accepted gratefully. “So, tell me about what you’ve been doing in the city.”
He told her about Miles, the kid from Brooklyn with unusual strength and reflexes. “Everyone thought he was just really good at parkour, until he scaled a six-story building that was on fire.” He shook his head. “Bare hands, no rope. All because he wanted to save an old lady’s cat.”
“My kind of hero. I assume he needs training?”
“We’ve got him going between Shine and the falcons. Romanoff was about excited as a Psy could get to have him as a student.”
She snickered into his shoulder. “Hey, speaking of Psy…” Her eyes moved meaningfully towards Maria and Steve, where they sat on the opposite side of the fire, their heads bent close together. “What kind of vibes do you get when the two of them are together?”
“Trying to get a leg up on the betting pool?” She certainly wasn’t the first to ask him that. “Look, it’s pretty unethical to do a scan without asking, especially when someone has their shields up.” And nothing leaked past Maria’s shields.
“Definitely a square,” Daisy muttered, but there was no heat behind it.
He understood the fascination. Steve and Maria had the kind of story that the readers of Wild Woman magazine would eat up by the bowlful - a forbidden romance between a powerful, dominant Changeling alpha and dangerous former Arrow. When was the last time something like that happened? Certainly before Silence. Steve was loved and respected by his pack and Maria was slowly reaching that status as well. It was no wonder that the pack was invested. “There’s definitely something there, but it’s going to take time. That’s all I’m saying.”
Daisy grinned. “Bet on a later date, got it.”
He snorted. “Sure.”
Daisy reached over and grabbed one of the hot dog skewers. “How long can you stay?”
“I can stay a while.” There was time enough, and the city could wait.
In the end, it was Nathaniel Malick who found her first.
Daisy was flat on her back in a remote section of Howling Commando territory while Maria stood over her. Her expression was impassive as ever, but after three weeks of training, Daisy kind of felt like she had her measure. Maria was as amused as she could get. “I still am not sure how practical that skill will be but I admit it is helpful in training.”
“Just you wait,” Daisy panted, trying to get her breath back. “I’ll be flying in no time.” Getting into the air was no problem - but staying at a consistent height and navigating were.
Carol came into view, her hands on her hips. “Don’t tell the pups that or they’ll be begging you for rides.” She paused. “And no few members of the senior soldiers and lieutenants, let’s be fair.”
The image of flying Thor through the sky was too much. Daisy laughed until her stomach hurt, and allowed the two women to help her up. “What, so it’s not enough for Maria to torture me today? Et tu , Carol?”
“I thought the goal was to turn you into a lean, mean, fighting machine.” The lieutenant jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “I can go that way, if you-” She threw her head back, sniffing the air. “Maria.”
Maria, who was already preternaturally still, froze in place. “Seven.”
“What? What’s going on?”
“Incoming,” Carol snarled. “No time to practice like the present, little Quake. Think of this as a trial by fire.” Light sparkled in the air as she shifted, leaving a magnificent golden wolf in her place. She howled, sounding the alarm, and took off to the right at a run. Her speed was incredible.
“I’ll take the left and we’ll flank you,” Maria told Daisy. “Shield up, and only engage if you absolutely have to or have the opportunity to do so.”
Something loosened inside her. Maria wasn’t going to hold her back, not when she knew how important it was for Daisy to fight. “Got it.” The air rippled around her as the shield settled into place.
A Psy winked into existence in front of them. “Traitor,” the man tossed at Maria. “Councilor Pierce has a bounty on your head.”
“It is a shame you will be unable to collect it,” was the cold response even as the man crumpled to the ground. The former Arrow took off at a run, easily intercepting another Psy that ran at them and snapping their neck before moving on. From the trees to the right, Daisy could hear the sounds of snarling and tearing and knew Carol had her own fight.
A telekinetic strike rebounded off her shield and her attention snapped forward. Nathaniel Malick strode across the clearing, his face Psy-still but even in Silence his eyes were cold and mad. “The traitor taught you,” he stated. “It will not help.”
“Yeah? Well, let’s see about that.” That old, familiar fury was bubbling in her veins. They’d come here, to the heart of Howling Commando territory, to try and retrieve her. To put her back in that room, torture her and take from her. Never again.
Maria was right. Before Daisy started her training, the way she fought was haphazard and instinctual. The Daisy before this couldn’t do things like control the direction of her attacks or adjust the magnitude of the vibrations. Now when she raised a hand, she could feel the pulse coming off it and knew that it could shatter bone.
The Psy dodged before it could hit him squarely in the chest, but it caught his arm and it flopped at an unnatural angle. A barrage of telekinetic blows came down but her shield held, even when things like rocks began raining down as well.
But Daisy could not hold it forever. She’d been tired and drained because of training, and from the sounds in the forest it seemed like Maria and Carol were still occupied.
He wouldn’t take her, not again. She’d made that promise to herself and if that meant going on the offensive then so be it.
The power inside her was a strange thing. It radiated from her core, pulsed through her veins, coalesced at her fingertips. Now that she understood it and was on the path to mastering it, it no longer scared her. This power was strength. It was the promise that no other Forgotten children could be hurt as she was, so long as she was able to hunt and fight.
One attack landed, then another. Nathaniel Malick dropped to one knee. Silence stayed any grimace of pain on his face or the shine of hatred in his eyes but the air felt saturated with them nonetheless. It prickled against her skin and distracted her long enough for a blast to throw her back, her breath wooshing out her as she struck a tree with an ominous crack.
Daisy fell to her knees, gasping. Pain shot through her chest with every breath. She brought one hand up to her side and her vision went white with the agony of it all. “Son of a bitch,” she swore, bracing her other arm on the tree and swaying upright before sagging against it.
“You’ve progressed further than expected.” Somehow, his Tk was holding him up and had propelled him to where she knelt. “No doubt this will have interesting results once you are back in the lab.”
She spat at him. “Go to hell.”
“Quaint.” He flicked his fingers and she felt another bone snap, this time in her right arm. “It is amusing that you rebels think your power can approximate anything like what the Psy have.”
“And yet you want them, you and your whole family.”
“There can be no power but the Psy. Once we understand how you have achieved such things, it will be easier to wipe all of the Forgotten out, as it should have been at the dawn of Silence.”
She saw that world and hated it. In a world where the Psy and Silence were in power everything was gray. There was no love, no laughter, no joy or even sadness and anger. That world had no light, no life.
It could never be allowed to come to pass. “Good luck with that.” With one quick, excruciating move, she poured every last bit of strength she had into a pulse that threw him back, back, back, across the clearing and through the trees - if there was even anything left of him at that point.
Daisy slumped against the tree. “Ow,” she muttered. “Fuck.”
She must have passed out because by the time she came back to herself, Maria was in front of her, her form hazy. “You’re injured and you’ve flamed out, Daisy. I’m teleporting you back to the den.”
The teleport itself wasn’t bad, it was the landing. Daisy stumbled, jolting her arm and nearly fainting again. When her knees gave out, strong arms closed around her and carefully, oh so carefully, lifted her up.
“Damn it, Daisy, what did I say about running into brick walls?” Daniel asked as he carried her inside. Despite his worry, she could feel him siphoning off some of her pain, taking it into himself.
“It wasn’t a brick wall, it was a tree!” she slurred, dropping her head to his shoulder as Betty ran up to them, scanner in hand.
“Oh, that makes it so much better.”
Daisy caught his wrist as he laid her down in the infirmary. “Don’t go.”
Comfort, butter-yellow and silken, spilled into her. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m where I need to be.”
Daisy was starting to get really tired of waking up in hospital beds. “Ugh,” she muttered. “What was the license plate of the truck that hit me?”
Betty was at her side in a flash, her eyes on the scanner as she checked her vitals. “Well, one of them was a tree so there’s not much we can do about that, but the other was Nathaniel Malick and from what Steve told me, you already took care of that.”
Betty smiled. Everything about the Howling Commandos’ healer was calm and serene but her satisfaction had a vicious edge. “Yeah. There wasn’t much left of him.”
Something loosened inside of her. Here was closure and a little bit of breathing room. “One down, two to go.”
“That is a good idea, but I would suggest rest and a bit more training before you decide to tackle that,” came a voice from the other side of her bed.
Daisy brightened. “Coulson!” Out of all of her trainers, he was her favorite. He had the same steady strength that Daniel had, but in a different way. More of a paternal way, if she was being honest. “Where’s Daniel?”
“I kicked him out a few hours ago so he would sleep,” Betty answered. “He was fretting too much. You, my dear, have some broken ribs and a broken arm. You also flamed out. This means bed rest for a few more days and absolutely no physical training for a month at minimum. As for your other training, well. That’s up to Phil and Maria.”
“Huh.” She rubbed her forehead. “That’s why my head feels like it’s stuffed full of cotton.”
“That’s normal for when you flame out.” Phil exchanged smiles with Betty as she went back, though his smile was more a crinkling at the corners of his eyes than a lift of his lips. “You can probably start training again by the end of the week. Nothing too strenuous, though.”
She huffed and sank deeper into the pillows. “This is going to suck,” she complained. “What am I supposed to do with all of this free time?”
He didn’t answer immediately, but just looked at her with a contemplative expression. “You remind me of someone.”
Daisy perked up. “I do?” This was one of the first times Phil had ever offered information about the specifics of his life before he defected.
“She’s the strongest person I know. The strength of her conviction alone could topple mountains.” Though he was sitting beside her, it was clear that his mind and heart were somewhere far away. Whoever this woman was, he loved her. And he’d left her behind. “She also goes stir-crazy when she has to take the time to heal.”
“Who is she?”
“She leads the Arrows now that they no longer acknowledge Councilor Pierce as one of them. They follow her because she treats them like family. She would do anything for them and they know that.”
Daisy smiled crookedly. “I’m honored that you see a resemblance, then.”
Phil focused back on her and smiled back, small and genuine. He smiled more than Maria, for all that he was older and had lived longer in Silence. “Melinda would like you, Daisy. I’m certain of it.”
“I hope I can meet her someday.”
“You will. I’m certain of that, too.” He patted her hand as he stood, and she wondered where he’d picked up that little gesture.
Daniel filed in afterwards, as though he was just waiting outside. Her eyes traced the dark circles beneath his eyes and the fine lines around his mouth. He’d worried so much. “Hey.”
“Hey,” she breathed.
Simmons’ words from a few days ago floated into her mind. Be careful with our Daniel. He has a soft heart and no sense of preservation. He feels everything so fiercely and never thinks to protect himself from hurt.
Out of curiosity, she slipped briefly into the ShadowNet. The bond between them had grown exponentially ever since she truly became a part of it, from a filament of thread to a tightly braided platinum strand that sparkled with the colors of the rainbow. Even now, she could sense his warmth trickling down that connection and-
Daisy knew the taste of it, the feel of it. It had been a constant companion to her ever since her shields dropped in the ShadowNet. At first she’d dismissed it as a byproduct of the ShadowNet itself thanks to the millions of emotional bonds that sustained it, but now she had a sneaking suspicion that that was just Daniel and his feelings for her. He’d been picking her up from running into those brick walls this entire time.
No sense of self-preservation, indeed.
Could a heart burst from feeling so much? she wondered. Once she was old enough to have relationships - and that was a loose term - she’d experienced passion in bright, fleeting flashes of red that ultimately left her cold and lonely. Compared to this, those moments were like a lightbulb against the sun, like she’d been sleeping and was finally awake.
She was no longer alone. She had a home, with Shine and with the wolves, and most importantly with him. Here was someone who would walk side-by-side with her, someone to be her port in a storm. Someone whose love lit her up inside and out, dazzling and golden like sunlight.
Daniel’s eyes widened as she sent those very same feelings back through the bond. “Wow.” He came to sit with her on the bed, taking her hand in his.
“Right back at you,” she managed. The smile on her face had to be huge and obnoxious but she didn’t care one bit. “So. You and me, huh?”
His fingers tightened around hers, even more of that warmth wrapping around her, soft and secure. “You and me.” There was a hint of wonder and disbelief in his voice, like he couldn’t believe this was really happening.
Well, that wouldn’t do. With her free hand, she grasped the collar of his shirt and tugged him down. The first touch of their lips had her melting at the taste and smell and feel of him. His arms slid around her, strong and constant and home.
This love was only beginning. It could only grow over time, deepening, shining brighter and brighter until it eclipsed the sun.
She couldn’t wait.