It was nothing really. May had, while in the field, received a rather nasty gash from being pushed into a wall which just happened to have a very long, very rusty nail sticking out, which had sliced through her shirt and scratched her back.
Scratched was just the word May used. Simmons thought 'stabbed' would be more appropriate.
Thankfully there was not much bleeding, and they had gotten back to the plane with no further problems, except that Agent Coulson was exceedingly concerned for May's wellbeing.
The team all had their theories about the two of them. Skye thought that they were together back in the day. Simmons did not agree. She thought that if they had that kind of history they would feel the need to check that kind of behaviour; the concern and intimacy. But it really wasn't any of her business.
May had been reluctant when Simmons suggested a tetanus injection, insisting that she was fine.
Field agents. They were all the same. She always imagined them as the black knight from Monty Python. ' 'Tis but a scratch!'
She had changed her suggestion to a demand and May had surrendered, saying she would come down to the lab after showering and changing clothes.
Fitz was on dinner duty, so Simmons was alone in the lab running some tests on the holotable when May entered.
Simmons smiled, closing down the hologram. "I almost expected you not to come."
May shrugged and pushed herself up onto the small medical table.
A frown tugged at Simmons' face. Did May look worried or was it just her? She shook herself. Probably nothing. The woman was impossible to read. "Do you have a preference as to which arm?"
May nodded and rolled up her left sleeve.
Simmons was right, she was definitely tense. "May, is something wrong?"
She shook her head.
"It's just... You seem on edge about something."
May shook her head again.
"I promise, I'm a good enough doctor that I can administer a tetanus injection." Simmons gently attached the needle to the syringe.
She nodded, but didn't relax.
Factoring in for May's iron grip on her own expressions, Simmons would say she was scared. She gently sterilised May's upper arm, noting the tense muscles. "You should relax your arm." She said, "Or the needle could snap."
Was it her imagination or did May just shudder?
Simmons bit the inside of her lip. As always, it took her a moment to gather her courage before questioning a superior agent. She knew that technically May was her equal on the plane, but she admired the other woman so much that it was difficult to think so. "May, if something is wrong, you should tell me." She said as firmly as she could. "Did something else happen? Are any of the others hurt?"
"No." She finally spoke. Even her voice was tight.
"Then tell me what's wrong!"
May glanced at her out of the corner of her eye. "I'm fine."
"You're clearly not."
May swallowed, but said nothing. She felt foolish. "I-" She stopped. She didn't want to say it.
Simmons frowned. It wasn't like May to be indecisive. "What is it?"
"It's nothing Jemma, I just..." Her hands balled into fists and she sighed. "I don't like needles."
The scientist stared. "Oh." That was unexpected. Trypanophobia wasn't uncommon. She just hadn't expected it from May. She shook herself. "Oh, I-I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-"
"It's fine." May said, and now Simmons realised that she wasn't looking at her at all, but at the syringe in her hand.
She glanced at it herself. "Is there something I should do, or..."
May smiled tightly. "Is there a tetanus tablet?" She asked sarcastically.
Jemma smiled too. "If there is, we don't have it."
"Pity." When Jemma didn't do anything, she said, "Just get it over with. No point in wasting time."
Simmons conceded that that was true, and to forgo the shot would be overly foolish, but still. She hesitantly wove the fingers of her left hand through May's right, carefully sliding the needle under her skin a moment later.
For a half second the hand hold was awkward, until the needle was inserted at which point May's grip became so tight that it hurt. It seemed that she was channelling the tension into her right arm, while keeping her left as relaxed as possible, but her breathing was becoming very rapid, and Jemma would be willing to bet that her heart was racing.
She gently pushed the plunger down, emptying the contents of the syringe into May's bloodstream, and the other woman held her breath, eyes glued to the needle, refusing to look away or even blink.
When Jemma finally removed the needle, May slumped, trembling ever so slightly. Jemma had the tact not to immediately massage her hand.
May closed her eyes and focused on her breathing, trying to calm down. She hated this. She knew that it was illogical to fear needles, that they were necessary, that even though she knew that they were inevitable she couldn't stop her pounding heart or racing breath. She flinched and looked up abruptly when Simmons put one hand on her shoulder.
"Are you all right?"
She nodded, not quite trusting her voice.
"You did very well." May gave her a look and Jemma grinned supportively. "Really." She gently applied a band-aid where she had administered the injection.
"Thank you." May mumbled.
Jemma's smile became a little softer. "I won't tell anyone."
She nodded again.
"You know there's no shame in it." Jemma said uncertainly as she put away the syringe, not really sure of how to talk to May. "I'm of the opinion that everyone has a deep-seated phobia that they can't explain. Fitz can't stand the dark." She added softly.
"Coulson hates snakes." May mumbled, still trying to get the shaking under control. "You?"
Jemma handed her a glass of water. "Heights." She admitted, not meeting May's eyes. After a pause she said, "It never goes away, does it?"
May shook her head. "No. You just get better at hiding it when you need to."
"Not to be rude," Simmons said carefully, "But you don't seem to hide it particularly well."
May shrugged, not looking at the scientist. "I trust you." She said softly.
Jemma was struck dumb, even though it wasn't that surprising. Their team had been through so much together that trust was implicit. This was a different kind of trust though.
She admired the other woman, although a lot of her personality was alien to her. She was what Jemma wanted to be, strong, fearless. Except that May wasn't fearless. And she was letting Jemma see that. "Thank you." She said softly.
May offered a weak smile and they went upstairs for dinner.
Simmons was the sensible one. People often viewed the two of them as one person, exactly the same, but really she and Fitz were sometimes worlds apart, the same person like two hemispheres of the brain were.
Simmons was the one who had a schedule in her head. She was the one who went to bed at a reasonable hour instead of getting stuck into the night-night gun and staying up until ungodly hours of the morning.
So Fitz was alone in the kitchen, making himself a cup of tea in the middle of the night. He had just sat down on the couch with the steaming mug and some biscuits when he heard the distant sound of the cockpit door opening, then closing again. He supposed May was up too.
A moment later the older agent entered the kitchen and Fitz stared at the sight of her. She was pale, shaky, droopy-eyed. She didn't even seem to have noticed him there in the relative darkness, or he was sure she would have stood up straighter, wiped the tear tracks from her face.
He hadn't really spoken much with May. Not because he didn't like her, but Fitz was shy and May was quiet, which didn't make for very good conversation. Still, he should probably announce his presence before he made some noise and she accidentally shot him. "Jammie dodger?"
May's head turned sharply at the sound and she immediately schooled her features, hiding her fatigue. "What are you doing up?" She asked, cursing her voice for sounding so raw.
Fitz shrugged. "Lost track of time. It's too late to sleep now, and tea and biscuits keep me awake." He gestured to the almost empty packet awkwardly. "There's not many left though." It had been lacking when he retrieved them from the cupboard.
May regarded him gently, contemplating. After a moment she reached her decision. She opened one of the cupboards lower to the ground, reaching inside for the disused pot at the back. She could feel Fitz's eyes on her. "If you tell anyone, I'll know." She said, drawing out a packet of biscuits.
Fitz's eyes widened. "Didn't think you'd have a stash."
May shrugged, sitting down across from him and putting them on the table.
She nodded. "There's lots of stuff you can only get in certain countries. I pick things up."
"The untold perks of being in the field."
May's mouth twitched. "No one's going to brag about the cookies."
"Biscuits." Fitz corrected automatically.
Fitz wondered if that counted as a smile. It was gone in a moment, either way. "That too."
The engineer grinned tentatively. He was no good at making friends. Completely useless. But that didn't mean he didn't want to try. "Trade one for one?"
May considered it for a moment and shrugged. "Sure." She nibbled on a jammie dodger lightly, looking much smaller than usual. "You know." She mumbled, "The makers of tim tams are pretty smart."
Fitz took a bite from the biscuit, relishing in the chocolate-y flavour. "How so?"
She smiled secretively and gestured to the pack. "Eleven cookies per packet."
Fitz stopped and gaped at the packet. "Prime number." He choked out, gesticulating wildly, "But you're meant to SHARE biscuits!" He burst out in righteous fury.
Melinda bit down on her tongue. "I have two packets." She pointed out. After all, twenty-two cookies could be easily shared with a group.
Fitz scowled. "Still." He grumbled, muttering about how he had a good mind to call these people up and ask then who they think they are. Prime number of biscuits indeed. Bloody colonies.
May seemed amused by his anger. They finished off the jammie dodgers and the tim tams quickly, taking it in turns to offer different factoids about biscuits and other baked goods. Even May pointing out the 'May contain traces of human flesh' note on the tim tams couldn't deter Fitz from the chocolate-y treats.
When it came down to the last of the chocolate coated biscuits, Fitz pushed the packet towards May. They were hers after all.
She offered a lopsided grin and broke it in half, handing Fitz one half. He took it and smiled. "Thanks." The chocolate melted a bit on his fingers.
"Any time." There was more feeling behind it that Fitz thought possible, and he realised that he might know very little about May. He didn't even know what had kept her up so late. But maybe he didn't need to know to help, and that was what friends were for, wasn't it?
May's voice interrupted his thoughts. "We can open the other packet if you want."
It did sound tempting. "But it's your last one."
She shrugged again. "They're meant to be shared." Fitz grinned. "It's your call." May seemed quite comfortable on the couch, unwilling to move. "They're in the wok at the back of the cupboard."
"We have a wok?"
That was definitely a grin, Fitz thought as he went to retrieve the biscuits. "Exactly."
He smiled to himself, digging through the cupboard. Fitz's hand closed around something in the large pan, which he drew out, though it didn't feel like biscuits.
It was a can of whipped cream, and he stared at it for a long moment, processing. "But- Skye- it was-..." He muttered under his breath.
"I thought it was Skye." Fitz said, turning to face the older agent with the can in one hand. "But it wasn't, was it?"
"What are you talking about?" May's face was overly innocent. More like Simmons when she didn't know what was going on.
Part of Fitz realised that that might be intentional, but most of him was just staring open-mouthed. He knew May was a master of a good number of things, but he didn't think that pranks would be one of them. "You're diabolical."
"I don't know what you mean." Yep, way too over the top for her to be actually trying to hide it.
May was playing with him. Fitz scowled, the hint of a grin behind his eyes. "This means war, you know."
"Whatever you say." Sunk into the couch with a wolfish smirk on her lips, May didn't think she'd been this comfortable in a long time.
May was bad at games. Really bad.
Skye could not beat the other woman at anything. Cooking, training (duh), mechanics, knitting, knitting, for Gods sakes. Board games and card games though, May was just appalling. Even when Skye tried to lose it just meant that she won more narrowly than usual.
It didn't matter which game it was. May could be examining her strategic thinking with Risk, they could be killing time with Snakes and Ladders, or even playing Monopoly at game night with the team.
Skye was beyond shocked when she had been able to beat May at poker. Poker. She could read her new SO's expressions quite easily, which was just a little bit terrifying given how expert May was at having none. It was like she had learned a new language.
The other strange thing was that May didn't seem to mind losing all the time. Skye might have been wrong to think of her as competitive, but she never seemed bothered at all, even when she was genuinely trying to win just one round. Skye wasn't the most gracious winner, and even though she had never lost a game to May, took tremendous joy in wiping the floor with her.
It was weird.
"Okay, that's it." Skye said, decidedly banging the dice onto the table as she won another game. "You're letting me win. There is no way you're this bad at board games."
May grinned in that guilty way of hers. Skye had noticed that on the rare occasion that she did smile she treated it like an indulgence, something she really shouldn't do, but just this once couldn't help it. "Apparently there is some way."
Skye growled. "Nope, not buying it. Just kick my ass like you always do and it'll be back to normal."
"I tried." May said tiredly. "It didn't work."
Skye narrowed her eyes, but said nothing.
The older agent had to hold back laughter at the intense expression on the hacker's face. "Skye, if I was letting you win then I wouldn't be this obvious about it." When Skye still looked sceptical, she said, "Ask Coulson if you want. He's beaten me at checkers enough times."
"I beat you at poker."
"I know, I was there."
Skye practically growled. "You're like, the living embodiment of poker face. I shouldn't be able to beat you."
May shrugged, amusement dancing across her features. She didn't know what to say.
"You know, you could at least pretend not to be bullshitting."
"I'm not!" She was clearly trying not to laugh at the ridiculousness of the argument, which was what cracked Skye's façade.
Skye smiled. She could count on one clenched fist how many times she had heard Melinda May laugh, and on just one hand how many times she had seen her smile, but it was becoming a more common occurrence. It was nice.
She liked May letting her guard down. Skye could see more and more of who she was every day, and she could finally understand Coulson saying how similar they were. They had the same impish sense of humour, the same love for their friends. The same protectiveness.
Skye had laboured under the false belief for a while that May might respond to any indignities with intimidation of some kind, or even violence. Looking back on it now made her laugh. She often teased the older woman about how she would never hurt her beyond knocking the wind out of her in training, and there was no intimidation in someone who Skye had pinned as a big house cat.
She was pretty sure that May liked it anyway, the teasing and messing around. She had no qualms about getting Skye back, but it was in the same playful way, though May would never admit it. More than once she had noticed the ghost of a grin on her SO's face when she did her victory dance.
For whatever reason, May liked losing.
The thought consumed Skye as they started a game of checkers. In the end it was obvious why.
For the same reason that May hated being called 'The Cavalry'.
She was human. A lot of people treated her as something else, something more. Agents of Hydra as well as SHIELD, the Koenigs. They treated her with some kind of fearful reverence.
How many friends had May had before starting this team? Knowing how quiet she was, it couldn't be many.
Skye snapped back to reality in shock, noticing that most of her pieces had been captured. She gaped at the board, numbly kinging May's piece and trying to work out a way to win.
May, she noticed, was trying very hard not to look smug.
Skye's eyes darted across the checkers board, trying to see a way in which she wouldn't lose in the next few turns, but it didn't seem to be possible. There was nothing. Skye's scowl deepened by the second, but she was aware of the not-quite-suppressed grin on her SO's face.
Skye moved one piece forwards. Maybe she couldn't win, but she could make it close.
That had lined up with one of her other pieces, which meant that May captured both of her remaining pieces. Nice one Skye.
Skye glared as May collected her pieces. "You cheated."
May raised an eyebrow, not quite masking the amusement from her face. "How?"
Skye crossed her arms stubbornly. "By cheating."
"This totally doesn't count."
"Cos you cheated!"
May loses the battle to keep from laughing, and even though Skye lost the game, she still calls that a win.
The three new recruits had arrived, Agent Hartley and her mercenary friends, Hunter and Idaho. May and Coulson had worked with Hartley before, but did not know the other two. Coulson was away when the trio arrived, so they were greeted by May, who was naturally second in command, and the others.
"Welcome to the Playground." Koenig greeted as they entered through the bunker door. "Agent Hartley, we will have your lanyard soon, after the three of you undergo orientation."
"Oh come on mate, we just got here, don't you have anything to drink?" Hunter said.
Hartley shot him a look. "Agent May," She said, shaking May's hand, "Long time."
May nodded. "Good to have you here."
Idaho whistled, impressed. "Wow, the Cavalry's on board, nice."
Before May could even open her mouth three voices snapped, "Don't call her that." In unison from behind her. May's head turned at the unexpected outcry, lips parted slightly, but she pressed them closed again, trying to keep her face blank, even if she did feel tears stinging her eyes.
Jemma, who hardly spoke louder than a mumble lately, was glaring vehemently at the mercenary.
Skye, who she could remember calling her an unfeeling robot, looked about ready to go to blows with the new agents.
Fitz could hardly maintain a solid thought lately, let alone a sentence, but he had gotten that one out without so much as a stammer, and the look in his eyes dared any of them to say it again.
Idaho was confused, eyes darting between the three young agents and the veteran before them, but he decided not to make a big deal out of it. "Okay then, no old nicknames."
"Thank you." Melinda said, not really to him though.