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only twenty minutes to sleep

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Sousa leans back with a sigh, trying to settle into the chill of the metal chair.

The equipment room is eerily silent after the clamor of the day—there is never a quiet day on this plane, is there? The ceaseless beeping. The sirens. The rumbles of the jumps that catapult them through time.

The sparks that killed Plan B, sentencing Daisy to…honestly, he cannot bear thinking about what would have happened if any part of their hastily thrown together plan had gone wrong.

‘The mission’s a go.’

He remembers that moment with crystal clarity. The flashlight almost fell out of his hand when the Director strode in and sealed Daisy’s fate with those four simple words. So that was it? A five-minute consultation with an android—an android of a former Director, he was told, but an android no less—and they were ready to risk wiping her from existence on a thin plan?

He did not even have the energy to be properly annoyed by Agent Shaw’s patronizing warning.

He sits up, moving around a bit before giving up. He reaches over for an unopened box of vinyl gloves, and leans back with it by his head. This is about as comfortable as he can get. That’s alright; he can live with that.

He is no stranger to the concept of laying one’s life on the line in service of a greater good. He had been accused of that plenty. He ended up on this time machine in the sky because of just that. But with Daisy…

His first impression of her was…not the best, to say the least. Sure, she is capable. She strode into Area 51 and schooled him in his own office like she owned the place. Hell, she saved his life on the train.

But she was reckless. Flippant in the face of danger, even. She always had a witty remark and a snarky retort ready. And when she did not, well, she could shoot vibration waves out of her hand. But one day, he could not help but worry, one day all these would catch up with her. One day she will not be able to blast her way out of trouble.

When the lowlife dumped her by his side, it was his worst fears come manifest.

For a moment there, suffocated by silence, Daisy’s head heavy on his stump, her breathing ragged and uneven, he was sure they were done for. He dredged up words from his past, just for her, pulled from memories long suppressed. As their reality sinks in, every word that tumbles out of him comes with more. The damp cold of the dirt under him. The smell of sulfur-

Neither of them was armed. They took his cane. The drug had yet to fade from his system. They’d be lucky if they could get out the door. Scratch that, he’d be lucky if he could get up without falling over. And even so—what then? Where even were they? Where were Daisy’s team and their flying time machine? Did they even know they were missing?

Muffled footsteps pass by the room, accompanied by the hushed voices of Shaw and Simmons. He looks up at the glass chamber. Daisy seems to be in peaceful sleep, and the soft, regular beeps of the machine reassures that things are finally alright for the first time in days. That is good to know. He stifles a yawn, his eyelids growing heavy.

It is a miracle he is even in the barn with her, and it is not just the time travel. How many people had had to step in just so he could even see the other side of ’55? Stephens. Daisy. Her SHIELD team from the future. In fact, she would not even be here had he talked less, had he actually paid attention and watched her six-

If it took a village to get him where he was, then the least he could do to make their sacrifices worthwhile is to get Daisy home. He may not have taken down Hydra, but he could save her. He was getting them out of this godforsaken place. He needed her to hang on, to push through this. Because he was getting them out of there, whatever it took.

‘We’re going home,’ he promised her, trying to steel his voice; it was as much for himself as it was for her, if not more so. ‘But you’ve got to fight.’

When she showed him the piece of glass tucked away in her palm, a breath he didn’t know he was holding rushed out. He had underestimated her; of course he had. She didn’t need his reminder to be a fighter.

She already was.

‘Plenty of fight left in you, after all.’

Too much, frankly.

A soft shuffling sound prompts him to look up. He is in Command again. The team has gathered in the small space, deep in thoughts as plan after plan gets shot down.

‘I wish I did,’ Agent Simmons says with a resigned sigh, ‘but I just don't know enough about Inhuman biology to-’

‘My mom does.’

He whips around. There Daisy is in the hallway, still pale as a sheet; the darkness of the room gives her an almost ghostly appearance. Every spot where that Malick kid has cut into her are still wrapped in—now stark white, thankfully—bandages. Something tugs at his heart.

‘Daisy, you should be resting.’

‘I’m okay.’ She replies far too quickly with a hasty nod. ‘1983, right? Jiaying is at Afterlife. If anyone knows how to cure Inhuman powers, it’s her.’

He is too caught up with how hoarse and breathless she sounds, that it takes a moment before the gravity of her suggestion sinks in.

But there is nothing he can do. As a chill runs down his spine, he can only watch the team leap into action, grasping at this one possibility. In the midst of the buzz of activity, he seeks Daisy out again. She has found a seat on the fringe of it all, absentmindedly rubbing at her forearm, taking deliberate, slow breaths to conceal how much that short trip up from the equipment room has taxed her.

He is approaching her before he knows it, as if she has some kind of gravity over him. She looks up.

‘How are you doing?’

‘I’m ok.’ Her voice is hoarse as she replies. Without thinking, he reaches for her hands, and she—surprisingly—acquiesces.

‘Should you be out of the healing chamber yet?’

‘I will do that when we aren’t at risk of disappearing from history,’ Daisy replies with a resolute nod, as if she is trying to convince herself.

It takes all he has not to scoff at her comment, turning away to hide his expression. Can she not see the irony in it? The reality of what she is offering? Looking down at her, he takes a deep breath. He wants to tell her to change her mind. The team may be saved, sure, but does it have to be at her expense? He catches her eyes again, and opens his mouth-

‘Tremors.’

Is that reluctance he sees in Daisy’s eyes when she looks up over his shoulder to talk to the Director? He tries to tune out their words. It is selfish; he should let go of her hands—he should hurry to his tasks, too—but all of a sudden it is the most insurmountable hurdle. There are so many words he is trying to swallow. She has just been put through the worst torture imaginable. She has barely healed. She should be resting. Can’t she get a break? Must they rush to risk erasing her entire existence?

Ironic, isn’t it? That this team figured out a way to travel back 70 years, to alter his life’s trajectory, but not a way to find time for a nap.

It leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.

Daisy is looking up at him, trying to catch his eyes, and it is then that he realizes the Director has stepped away.

‘I’ll catch you later.’ He says.

‘I guess you will.’ For the first time in days, her face blossoms into a soft smile—one that he cannot help but match. He looks down at her bandaged hands, and traces soft circles into the gauze.

‘Take it easy on yourself, okay?’

No reply.

His head snaps up. They are in the equipment room again, standing by the glass chamber. Her hands are still in his hold.

‘Sousa? What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing.’ He blinks. Gathering his thoughts, he gives her a reassuring smile. ‘Nothing at all.’

Daisy makes to withdraw her hands, but he stills her with a soft squeeze.

‘Let me.’ Before she can utter a word, he begins to slowly unwind the strips of white, revealing freshly healed scars. His motions are slow, careful, deliberate. If he could, he would draw her close, maybe bring her hands up to his heart, and tell her to please, please never scare him like that again-

‘I can do this,’ she protests weakly, but makes no move to step away.

‘But you don’t have to,’ comes his soft reply; in lieu of giving in to the overwhelming urge to bring her fingertips up to his lips, he simply gives them another gentle squeeze. ‘Someone ought to look out for you sometimes.’

‘…and you…you like to be that someone?’

He could tell her all about those thoughts, the way she waltzes into his heart and mind without him noticing, taking up residence there, making him ache every time she runs into a wall.

Bur right now…

In place of an answer, he smiles.

‘You should be resting.’ He says for the umpteenth time that day.

Daisy nods, but remains rooted in her spot.

Silence falls between them, the equipment room eerily silent after the clamor of the day. He should let her go; she needs her rest. Who knows what tomorrow might bring? Given their track record, new crises will pop up. She will want to be there. She will want to throw herself into the thick of it. He might—God forbid—lose her.

Who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Before he can second-guess himself again, he leans down and kisses her on the corner of her mouth. He could feel her freezing up, but almost as soon as it happens, she relaxes into his touch.

All too soon, it is over. He leans back, barely breathing as he waits for her reaction.

Her eyes are shining when she opens them again, accompanied by a hint of a smile. The circumstances they are in are far from ideal, but right here, right now, with her safe where he can see her-

It’s perfect.

‘I’ll be right here when you wake up.’

Daisy nods again.

‘Thanks.’

Thump.

Sousa’s eyes shoot open, only to frown and squint when they are assaulted by the blinding fluorescent light. Lifting his head from the awkward angle it is at, he is slowly taking stock of all the spots that are aching from spending hours in the metal chair. Against the bright light, he can make out a figure by the empty healing chamber—empty?

He blinks again. There Daisy is, up by the chamber, staring at an empty spot before her.

‘Hey,’ he says, drawing her attention. He inwardly winces at how groggy he sounds. ‘What are you doing up?’

She turns around, fixing him with a quizzical look.

‘How long have you been here?’

‘Well, I guess, uh…’ He takes a breath; the dream is melding into reality, making it hard to determine what happened. ‘When did you go to sleep? Since then.’

‘Did we jump again?’

‘I’m not sure-’ Before he can finish his sentence, she has run out of the room, leaving him in his spot to call out after her, ‘Hey, where’re you going?’

Pushing himself out of the chair, he trails behind her as fast as he can, down the winding hallways of the Zephyr into Command, where—all hell has broken loose. It is like yesterday all over again. All the warning sirens are blaring. He can only watch, annoyingly helpless, as May and the Director dash across Command, announcing indicators of what must be their impending doom.

‘I’ve got damage to nearly all systems.'

‘Trying to get a read on our location.’

Next to him, Daisy seems just as overwhelmed; she scans the room, taking in all the blinking screens, before turning to May.

‘What’s happening?’

‘Time Drive overloaded.’ May deadpans.

Sousa almost scoffs. Didn’t they just fix that? How much does the Universe want this team dead?

‘Any chance that’s 21st-century slang for ‘worked normally’?’

‘Where are we?’ The Director asks.

There is no answer. This is becoming a theme; he notes dryly in his head as Daisy trudges over to the cockpit. No one really knows what’s going on; they are all just making it up as they go.

It is Daisy who breaks the silence (if one can call it silence, with the sirens going off), and when she speaks, she draws attention to the worst.

‘Guys? Anyone want to fill me in on…that?’

He follows her over. A kaleidoscope of…something, is swirling outside the window. It would have been a mesmerizing sight at any other time, but right now, his brain unhelpfully supplies Simmons’ tired explanation: ‘spacetime singularity’, ‘a jump within a jump’.

‘We sink.’

For a second, everyone is quiet, stunned by the sight. A beat passes, and then-

CRACKLE.

He flinches. That huge spark barely missed him.

A string of curses pops up in his head. Just for one day, one damned day, can they have some peace? Can things be normal without the world trying to get rid of them? He heaves a heavy sigh.

‘I was so much happier asleep.’

***

Daisy leans forward in her chair.

‘Every time I ask you for help, you say yes. Even if I don’t ask, you're waiting here to make sure I rest or... whatever. W-Why? Be honest.’

‘Honest?’

She is nervous; Sousa recognizes when someone is baring their heart. Her eyes are scanning his face, looking for signs of—deception? Confirmation?

She doesn’t know, of course, that even without her prompting, he never plans to lie to her about this. Somehow, sometime between finding a stranger in his office, being taken onto a flying time machine, the barn, the Time Storm…his mind has been made up.

Looking straight into her eyes, he sits up, and exhales sharply.

He knows the answer already.