The blast shook the building, threatening to drop the fixtures and décor over their heads. Daisy ducked behind one of the ornate pillars, absent-mindedly massaging her forearm as she listened for the enemy advancing. She glanced over at Daniel, likewise hiding behind a pillar on the other side of the room, quickly reloading his ICER.
‘I thought this was just diplomatic outreach?’ He shouted over the gunfire.
‘I don’t think they are too keen on that,’ Daisy shot back, turning to shoot a shockwave at the oncoming hostilities.
They were trapped in the reception hall. The Zephyr was just outside the grounds, some ways away from the grand front gates. But between them and the spacecraft, more reinforcements were coming; she could hear them.
‘Kora, where are you?’ Daisy said urgently into her wrist mic. ‘Kora, come in!’
Daisy turned around, arm raised and ready to take down whoever comes through those doors—when she noticed it. He had left his hiding spot, and was creeping quietly towards the doors. She opened her mouth, ready to call out to him, and—
A pack of purple figures appeared in the doorway. Daisy watched, in horror, as Daniel seemed completely oblivious to the new arrival. Before she could do anything, the alien guard in the front raised their blaster, and fired.
Instinctively, she turned.
Her world froze.
She noticed it before he did, a patch of dark red blooming, blooming over his torso, eating up the blue fabric underneath. She looked up.
Their eyes met, and he crumpled.
Daisy sent a stream of shockwave at their assailants. Her bones screamed in pain, unprotected from the violent vibrations, but she ignored it; it was, after all, nothing she had not experienced before. The guards were sent flying, backwards into the polished quartz walls with a sickening crunch, collapsing into an unconscious pile on the floor.
With their attackers sufficiently distracted, Daisy raced over to where Sousa had fallen, pulling him behind a pillar by the supple leather straps on his holster, pain shooting up her arms under the strain. However, it did not hurt as much as when she pressed hard over where beam had torn through the shirt, causing Daniel to choke out a pained groan. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes, crimson flowing over her fingers.
‘Daniel, are you- oh god-I’m sorry, I’m so sorry-’
‘I’ve got you. You need to stay with me, ok?’
‘Of course.’ She tried not to wince when his words came out in a strained whisper.
She could hear more guards approaching, the rhythmic footfalls of a dozen or so of them approaching her location. She pulled herself into a kneeling position, facing the door, making sure she keeps pressure on the seemingly unstoppable flow of blood. She took a deep breath, steadying herself, when she felt it—a hand on hers, soft, clammy.
‘It’s okay,’ he breathed, blinking rapidly against the onslaught of sensations. ‘We’ll be okay.’
‘I’ve got you,’ she fought back her tears again. ‘Just stay awake for me, okay? I’ll take you home.’ At that, the purple guards strode into the room, raised their weapons—
Daisy struggled to keep her eyes open. Between the tears and the rumbling, rattling her bones and tearing them apart, it was too much; but she must. She gritted her teeth, and one by one, the guards flew back, collapsing, their weapons cracking under the vibrations.
She fell forward, barely holding herself up. Her arms were already dotted with spots of red. She stole a glance sideways; Daniels’ eyes had fallen shut, a thin sheen of sweat covering his pale face. Daisy shakily brushed back his hair, the soft, black tresses—she shook her head. There would be time for that later when she got them out—if they got them out. She let her hand slide down and felt for a pulse.
Shallow. Weak. But it was there. It was still there.
‘I’ll get you home. You hear me? We are going home. But you have to stay with me.’ She muttered in his ear urgently. In the distance she could hear more gunfire, and she almost laughed at herself. Could she? Could she take them home?
A loud blast sounded behind one of the walls, rattling the fixtures around her once more; Daisy looked up. Seconds later, a hole tore through the rocky material, and revealed a blinding, sweltering ball of energy.
‘Let’s get out of here.’
‘We are going home.’
‘How are you now?’
‘I still want to kill Thompson, but no more than usual.’
‘In here—now.’ ‘Ma’am, you need that looked at—’
‘I’m right where I need to be.'
His eyes flew open.
The memories of their last minutes on the planet of Actiniaria ricocheted around in his mind. The penetrating rumble of Daisy’s quaking. The deafening ring of the alien guards’ laser blaster. The scorching pain when that alien blaster hit him—
Absent-mindedly, his hand went to where the beam landed. All he felt was the soft fabric of a standard issue sweatshirt—someone had put him in that, he noted dully—and the layer of bandages underneath.
He let out a breath he did not know he was holding back. He was still sore, but it did not seem to hurt much. The words from the reception hall echoed in his head again. You hear me? We are going home, Daisy had said to him so urgently. You need to stay with me—
He looked around and saw a button; it was only then that he registered he was in the healing pod. With a hiss, the glass lid opened, and he immediately pushed himself upright, shoving the dull ache of his wound to the back of his mind. His eyes flitted around, and—there she was.
Daisy had curled herself up into a small office chair in the corner of the room. Her arms were crossed, and her head lolled to one side, resting haphazardly against the back of the chair, her wavy locks obscuring most of her face—that can’t be comfortable, he thought. At least someone had thought to drape a blanket over her. Daniel couldn’t help but smile. Was this what Daisy saw every time she woke up in the time loops?
He carefully shifted, turning to sit on the edge of the bed, when the heel of his boot hit the metal frame with a loud thud.
Daisy’s head snapped up, spotting the source of the sound at once. ‘Daniel,’ she breathed, jumping out of her chair. ‘What are you doing up? You should be resting.’
She crossed the room in three quick strides, stopping just inches from him, and immediately her hands were on him. As her fingers danced across his cheek, travelled down his neck, he kept his gaze trained on her. Her face was expressionless, but her eyes were darting all over him, as if checking for injuries, and they were rimmed red.
Eventually, her hand landed on where he was hit.
‘Does it still hurt?’ She asked in a whisper.
‘I’m fine,’ he answered unthinkingly and looked down; it was only then that he noticed it. There were white bandages wound tight around her forearms, and her touch on him was featherlight. He placed his own hand over hers, and felt her jerk back in shock.
‘It’s nothing,’ she said sheepishly. ‘I just didn’t have my gauntlets with me.’
His mind flew back to their confrontation in the reception hall. His memories were hazy, but he remembered the sensation well. The warmth of Daisy’s body flush against his, her hand pressing hard into his stomach, and on top of it all—the blinding vibration that rattled him, the quake that he could feel in his core.
‘Does it hurt?’
‘I-’ She looked up, and their gaze met. There were so many words, so much just threatening to spill over. Instead, she just blinked, and breathed deeply. ‘A bit.’
‘Let me see?’
After a pause, she placed her hands in his, and let out a shaky breath.
Daniel looked her over, while rubbing soothing circles into the back of her hands. Most of her arms were covered, but he could still see the damage. Patches of purple and green were scatted over her fingers and near the creases of her elbow. His heart clenched, and he brought her hands up to his lips.
‘That doesn’t look good.’ He muttered against her fingertips.
‘It’s happened before; I’ve been through worse,’ said she, as if she was describing the weather. ‘What about you? How are you doing?’
Daniel shrugged, barely suppressing a wince as the simple action pulled on his sore muscles.
‘I’m fine,’ he said, ‘but you need to take it easy for a few days.’ He looked up and squeezed her hands lightly for emphasis. Daisy met his gaze; she had seen this expression before: open, kind. As though he was not the one who just woke up in a healing pod. She could not help herself; she scoffed, turning away.
‘Do you ever worry about yourself?’ She asked, incredulous. ‘You’ve just been shot. By aliens. And you’re asking if I’m okay.’ Daisy shook her head. Daniel simply looked back at her, frank, innocent, almost pleasantly curious at what she was doing, and Daisy did not know if she wanted to laugh or cry. ‘Does nothing really faze you?’
Daniel shrugged again.
‘It was a diplomatic mission in deep space with alien species,’ he stated, his voice level and nonplussed. ‘There has to be curveballs sometimes.'
‘Daniel, you almost died.’ Daisy searched his face again, looking for one trace, just one trace, of reaction. Does he not realise- ‘For a second there I thought I was losing you. It was like-’ Daisy swallowed hard against the name in her throat. It had been so long, too long for her to still be thinking about this. She had thought, when she finally let Daniel in, that she was over that time in her life. But—
Her mind unhelpfully supplied the image of them in the reception hall, the pain all over her as his blood flowed over her helpless hands; of the Zephyr during the Time Loops, the light leaving his eyes following that injection; of the horrific beeps as the Quinjet drifted further and further away from her—
She shook her head, powerless as her tears fell. Now was not the time. She looked back up at him warily.
‘I’m sorry,’ Daniel started.
‘Don’t; you were just doing what needed to be done.’ Daisy sniffled. ‘How are you feeling, really? Be honest.’
‘I-’ He frowned; Daisy forced herself to keep her gaze trained on him, and her heart was racing. Her question seemed to have tripped him up. Was the situation finally sinking in for him?
Daniel so wanted to reach out, to hold her close and tell her that everything is okay, but—he held himself back at the last second. Now was not the time. Memories of the reception hall surfaced again; he could remember the pain, the rumbles and the gunshots, but most vividly he remembered the desperation in Daisy’s voice as she asked, no, pleaded for him to stay with her. Stay with me, she had begged, urgently, just stay awake for me, okay?
He took a deep breath.
‘I would prefer our next diplomatic mission to not end in a shootout,’ he finally said.
Low chuckles bubbled through her tears.
‘I can’t guarantee you that,’ said she, a tight smile on her face.
‘I know.’ This time, he listened to his heart, and reached out to bring her closer. ‘And… as much as I would like to promise otherwise, if a situation goes south, I can’t stand by and watch.’
‘I don’t expect you to,’ Daisy muttered. ‘But when you inevitably run into those battles… you deserve to have someone pick you back up, too.’
‘Oh?’ Daniel raised his eyebrows, as recognition dawned on him. He sat up and looked intently into her eyes. ‘And… you like to be that someone?’ He said, smirking.
‘Not for everyone,’ Daisy replied at once; her smile softening. ‘Daniel, I- I’ve lost someone before. I couldn’t save him.’ She cringed inwardly at the way her voice cracked at the end. She reached for his hand, and lightly danced her fingers over the lines on his palm. ‘I think I just want a chance to keep someone I love safe.’
‘I can do that.’ He said solemnly, all the mirth gone from his voice.
‘Yea?’ Their eyes met, once more.
Daniel did not reply at once. With a hand on her neck, he brought her closer still until their lips met, soft, delicate, caressing and soothing like a balm on the wound these last few days had been. It was full of promises, and Daisy had to bring her hands to his waist to steady herself.
At last, Daniel broke away, and rested his forehead against hers.