Skye liked learning. She always had. She picked up hacking faster than anyone she had ever met, and always liked to keep an open mind. She listened to Fitz and Simmons in the lab, and figured out how some things worked in there, even if the words left her lost.
Combat training wasn't something she had thought she would like. It was hard, and it was, to her mind anyway, unrewarding.
After training with Ward for a while she changed her mind there. Skye did like training, but it was a different kind of learning. She liked feeling her muscles pull her up, she liked achieving new personal best's at anything she cared to name. She liked pushing herself to her limits to extend them, and reviewing her progress to see how far she had come.
Training with May as her SO was the best of both worlds.
May focused on the academic as much as the physical in her training. When Skye asked why, May had explained that new trainees always had to get through basic combat training before moving on to espionage and everything else. Everyone, she explained, found this more interesting than the repetition of combat, and it was important at the Academy to weed out any cadets who couldn't take the pressure before teaching them any skills which could prove dangerous.
This, along with the tai chi, had a wider spectrum than any of her previous training. Sure, she could open any jar, but May had her mentally assessing any and every person in the room, checking how much of a threat they posed.
Her breathing was always steady, her movements graceful, and Skye found herself getting very very observant. It almost felt like her senses were getting sharper, which she supposed was possible if she was using them more.
May was the only one who could sneak up on her any more. Skye found herself identifying her teammates by their gait, as well as possible moods. Her hearing was sharper, and her eyes darted to any unexpected movement. She wasn't jumpy, she wasn't scared. She was just aware.
And right now she couldn't sleep.
Skye didn't know what it was. There was something unusual, something wrong, but damned if she could consciously recognise it. She didn't even know if it was something she was hearing or smelling or seeing or thinking. She just knew that something was wrong.
Sighing exasperatedly, she rose from her bed, wrapping herself in a robe and going out for a walk through the corridors. Who knows? Maybe they were being invaded.
Skye's bare feet were cold on the linoleum floor, and she looked around as she walked, trying to work out what it was that was so off.
There was a sound, she registered. Like a gasping, quivering sound.
It was a little pathetic that she hadn't recognised it instantly; Skye had had a lot of experience in the foster system with crying kids.
Kids cried loudly though. Whether because they wanted attention or simply because they couldn't control it, they sobbed and wailed.
This was muffled. Silenced. This was someone who just couldn't stop crying, but didn't want attention. Someone who could control themselves enough to muffle the sounds, but not enough to stop.
And it was coming from May's room.
Skye's lips parted slightly, the realisation filling her with concern. May, crying? She almost never showed emotion, much less ones that she considered a weakness.
Skye had been working hard at breaking down her SO's walls. Cherishing in the tiny smiles she got out of her, the approval in her eyes when Skye did something right. This though? This was more. Maybe too much. Every bet that May already knew that she was there, probably hoping she hadn't noticed and would leave.
Skye had noticed though. And she wasn't leaving now.
She knocked quietly on the door. "May?"
It was a minute before she received a reply. Eventually May mumbled, "You're getting good."
"You okay?" Let me in.
There was a shuddering gasp. She was probably still crying. "I'm fine, go back to bed."
Skye said nothing, but she was pretty sure the 'not gonna happen' was heard loud and clear.
May's voice sounded unsteady. "I'm okay Skye." She said softly, "I just need..." She trailed off, not able to complete the sentence.
That was okay though. Skye knew. Because the pressure got too much sometimes, and you had to break. But damned if you would do it in front of other people, because that made it real. "Can I come in?"
There was no reply. Not that Skye expected there to be. God forbid that Melinda May admit to needing help.
Skye bit her lip. Okay. "If you don't want me to come in then say so, cos I'm about to hack your door lock."
She waited a moment, but when May still made no reply she started tapping lightly at the touchscreen controlling the door. They really needed better security, Skye mused as she easily bypassed the lock.
Skye's heart just about broke at the sight of her SO. May was lying on her bed on her back, feet flat, blankets tangled around the end of the bed. She grasped a pillow to her chest tightly, and though she was almost completely still, tears leaked from her eyes and down the sides of her face.
The younger woman stopped short of asking what was wrong. She understood. Instead she approached, sat down beside May's bed, and took her hand, weaving their fingers together.
May's hand trembled in hers, but Skye only tightened her grip. "Is there anything I can do?"
She shook her head, trying to stop crying.
This was hard. "You know we all love you, right?" Skye said softly. "Fitz, Simmons, me... you're like team mom, looking after us all the time."
Far from helping, this just made May pull away, close in on herself more. She turned her back to her student, curling up. Looking after them, what a joke. Protecting them. Where was she when Skye was shot? When Fitz and Simmons were at the bottom of the ocean? Where was she when Skye had been left in the middle of Canada with Ward? Or when Coulson was killed? What kind of useless protector was she?
All of her skills and training hid the truth, that Melinda May was weak. So weak that even with every weapon, every fighting technique, she couldn't keep those she cared about safe.
"Nu uh." Skye's voice cut through her thoughts. "Stop it right now."
Melinda felt her mattress sink a little and realised that Skye was coming closer still. At the same time, she noticed that she was shaking violently, and closed up more, trying to avoid Skye, to keep her from seeing her like this.
It seemed that Skye didn't particularly care, and she hooked her arms under her SO's and pulled her up into a tight hug. May neither reciprocated nor ended it. "It's okay." Skye mumbled, arms tight. "Everything's okay."
May squeezed her eyes shut. Everything wasn't okay. Fitz was barely functional, Simmons was too hurt to even know how to ask for help, Phil could be going insane, and even Skye was deteriorating, having to interrogate Ward every other day. As always, all she could do was watch. Because she was weak and pathetic.
"We all love you, you're amazing." Skye said firmly, still holding her tightly. "And whatever you're thinking right now, it's probably bullshit."
Melinda gave what could have been either a laugh or a sob, and Skye squeezed her tighter when one of May's arms came up to return the embrace.
"Do you wanna talk about it?"
"Nothing to talk about." It wouldn't help anyway. There was no point in talking about any of it. Even thinking about everything... Melinda squeezed her eyes shut, trying to regain some semblance of control.
Skye was silent for a little while. She knew that that wasn't true. There was always something that brought the rest of it crashing down. Did it matter though? May didn't talk much, if Skye could just help her now, help her through this night, she might be okay.
But then she remembered how quietly May cried. How very skilled she was at hiding herself. Skye knew that this wasn't the first time that this had happened, and it wouldn't be the last. She needed to give her something to hold on to, because Skye didn't know if she would be here next time.
"It's okay if you don't wanna tell me." She mumbled, "But... when it's me, there's always something extra." She pulled away enough to be sitting beside her and rested her head on her SO's shoulder. "Last straw, that kind of thing."
May shuddered violently. It was true. She'd managed to avoid thinking about it, but now she was very still as the memory of it returned. "I-" She broke off, "T-today..."
"It's okay." Skye repeated. "You don't have to tell me."
She was right, May knew. Skye would not be offended if she never told her. Phil would be up in a few hours, and he would come to her, remembering.
Phil wasn't all she had anymore though. There was Skye, who had kicked down the doors and taken up residence in her heart. "I know." She said hollowly, having run out of tears. "I want to though."
"Okay." Skye said quietly, very touched. "Just... take your time. I'm not going anywhere."
Not going anywhere. That was more comfort than anything May had heard in a long time. She forced all thoughts of it from her mind and focused on levelling out her breathing instead, thinking not of everything that had happened, but of Skye's arm around her. Here and now, solid and present. Not going anywhere.
"Today." She said slowly, refusing to break down again. "I-it's the anniversary."
"Of what?" Skye asked, though deep down she thought she knew.
Another deep breath. She wouldn't let this rule her. "Bahrain."
Oh God. It was what Skye had expected, but still. She had no idea what had happened in Bahrain. To the best of her knowledge May was the only one who did. But whatever it was, it had been enough to send the strongest woman she had ever known hiding behind stacks of paperwork for at least a decade.
And that terrified Skye. Rather than respond immediately, she moved closer still, because she was pretty sure that whatever had happened in Bahrain was something that May felt responsible for. "I'm sorry." She mumbled.
"It's okay. I- shouldn't let it get to me."
Skye huffed a laugh. "You're allowed to have some things get to you May. You're not a machine." Both could remember Skye saying otherwise not too long ago. "I'm here, if you wanna talk about it. I promise, I'm not gonna judge you, or tell anyone anything. You're always there for me, just... I want you to know that you can let me in."
Let her in. That was hard. Letting anyone in was hard, even Phil. All the poisonous thoughts that floated in the background every day, Melinda knew that they weren't healthy, and on some fragile surface level she knew they weren't true. But it was all too powerful, the evidence too damning for her to be anything other than some violent monster. "I don't know how." How pathetic was that?
The ghost of a smile touched Skye's lips. "S'okay. I'm not too good at it either." She paused. "What's going through your head right now?"
What? "Why do you want to know?"
"Helps with this 'opening up' thing. If you want to. It's okay if you don't."
May was silent for a little while, leaning into her student's presence. "The usual."
Skye rolled her eyes. "I don't know what 'the usual' is."
"What's going through your head?" Melinda countered, though honestly it was mostly just a diversion. And a challenge. If Skye didn't want to answer then she didn't have to either. It wasn't that she didn't want Skye to know. It was just that she didn't want to tell her.
Skye let out a sigh. "That I'm really worried about you. That whatever happened in Bahrain was crappy enough that it's screwing with you more than ten years on, but for some reason you think it's not a big deal. That I should go get Coulson, cos he knows you better than I do, and he could actually help instead of sitting here and being useless."
Well that backfired spectacularly. "You're not being useless."
Skye hummed in response, but said nothing. Waiting to see if May was going to say something, to see if she trusted her enough to open up.
May opened her mouth to speak, but something stopped her. Some part of her shrank away.
"I'm still here." Skye reminded. "And unless you're about to say 'hail hydra', I'm not going anywhere." That got a tiny grin. "Go on," Skye shoved her lightly. "Even if all you're thinking is how annoying I am. Call it a team building exercise."
Start easy. She thought, and took a breath. "That I don't find you half as annoying as I should." Melinda said clearly, "That- sometimes I look at you and get so scared, because part of me is waiting for you to break." Like I did.
Skye waited, knowing how hard this was.
"That I wasn't much older then you when I went in." May looked smaller than Skye had ever seen her. Her breathing was getting rapid, so she took a moment to level it out. "That I was so sure of who I was back then, that I was doing the right thing for the right reasons. That I was good." Tears leaked from her eyes again, but May did nothing to stop them aside from wiping them away. "That when I went in, halfway through... I realised that maybe I wasn't. That a good person wouldn't be able to do what I was doing and not care. That maybe I-I'm not even a person at all, maybe I'm..." Her voice petered out.
Skye's eyes were wide with sympathy, but May's head was bowed, knees drawn up to her chest. Skye wrapped both arms around her SO, holding her close. "You can't seriously tell me you don't care." She mumbled, one hand rubbing slow circles on her back. "You're up at three in the morning crying about it, what, fifteen years later, and you think you don't care?" It was a weird role reversal, her taking care of May, but Skye knew that they both needed this.
"Twenty-one." May corrected softly.
"Twenty-one years. You tell me to let things go, and I couldn't spell my own name when that went down."
"You can call me a hypocrite another time."
"I'm not calling you a hypocrite." Skye mumbled into her shoulder. "I'm saying that you're too hard on yourself. You're one of the best people I know, and I really wish you could see that."
"You don't know many people."
"Wow." The tone tempted a smile from May. "You know what? Maybe that's true, but I've met some pretty impressive people anyway." Skye said, only half bluster. "Millionaires, crazy hypnotists, child prodigies, leaders of world agencies, Asgardians." She stressed. "And I still say you're better than them."
Pulling Skye closer seemed to be the only way she can express how much that meant.
This kid, this agent, her student, this girl made up of passions and strength and love, who burned so brightly as to blind people, she thought that Melinda was good. That she was better than leaders, than superhumans, than gods. Part of it scared her to death, but she trusted Skye on most counts. She could at least try to take on this too. Hard as it was, she could try to believe her.
She could learn.