Something was wrong, that much was obvious. May had arrived for their morning tai chi without saying a word. Her face was blanker than it had been in months, which was always a clue that there was something wrong. "You okay?" Skye asked, trying to sound casual.
May nodded, continuing the motion. She hadn't said a word to Skye yet. Had barely looked her way.
"Just couldn't sleep?"
Skye grimaced. It could possibly be that May hadn't gotten a good nights sleep, but she couldn't shake the feeling that it was something else. That something had gone wrong. She sighed and softly asked. "Want me to get Coulson?" Because those two were closer than Fitzsimmons nowadays.
Another nod, and Christ, now May looked like she was about to crumble. Like she was seconds from bursting into tears, and wasn't that the most terrible thing Skye had ever seen. "I'll be right back."
Skye walked from the gym, so as not to let on how concerned she was for her SO, but as soon as she was out of earshot, she ran as fast as she could to Coulson's office, banging the door open.
The man winced at the noise, nursing his morning cup of coffee, not quite awake yet. "Inside voice Skye, no slamming." He pleaded.
"Something's happened." Skye blurted out, suddenly feeling foolish when it could easily have been nothing important. "May's... upset about something."
Coulson sat up straight, fatigue disappearing. "What is it?"
"I don't know!" Skye exclaimed, "She wasn't saying anything and I asked if something was wrong and she shook her head and I asked if I should come get you and she nodded."
Coulson's face tightened in concern, "Okay."
When they arrived back at the gym Skye knew that she was right. She stood at the door and let Coulson go to her.
Melinda was following her tai chi, not acknowledging her two companions. Her calm looked tainted though, her normally thick walls lessened to little more than a veil.
"Melinda?" Skye had never heard anyone speak to her SO on first name terms before.
Coulson caught her arms, stopping the movement and forcing her to look at him. Melinda's eyes met his, the heartbreak in them clear, and he drew her into his arms.
May buried her head in her partners shoulder, for once not caring about keeping up appearances, clinging to the soft material of his suit. "What happened?" Phil asked softly, and her voice caught in her throat.
"Car accident." She trembled and his arms around her tightened.
"Is she okay?" Phil knew that there was only one person not currently at their base who could bring his best friend to this.
She squeezed her eyes shut trying not to cry and shook her head. "I don't know. The hospital called me, but they won't know until she wakes up." If she wakes up.
"She'll be fine. She's tough as nails."
Melinda said nothing. Being tough didn't matter, they both knew it. Strong people died all the time. Just the thought had tears creeping from her eyes. "She broke her leg, they said."
"She's had worse."
"They don't know how well it'll heal. At her age..."
"So she won't be able to get into any more trouble." It was said jokingly, but Phil knew how much Melinda must be hurting.
"She still hate me?"
"She picked me up in Canada."
"Oh. So she really hates me."
May smiled tremulously, extracting herself from her partner's arms, if only to look at him. "She doesn't hate you."
"How do you know?"
"You're still walking around."
The familiar sound of shuffling feet came from the doorway and May smiled gently, not turning around just yet. "Skye."
"Hey." She sounded worried. Of course she was. "I brought tea, a-and your muesli and stuff."
Skye was good. Melinda felt like her mother and Skye existed in different worlds. The woman who trained her and the woman she was training. Skye was new, she was bright and she drew her towards that light. And right now she was healthy and safe, which was something that May desperately needed.
Phil must have understood. Read her mind or something. "Are you two gonna be okay if I finish my paperwork?"
Melinda nodded quietly, hearing Skye respond with an affirmative behind her.
Phil gently put one hand on her shoulder. "Let me know when you hear anything."
She nodded, sitting down on the training mats with Skye, watching her partner leave, shooting concerned glances over his shoulder.
Skye nibbled on an apple, not sure whether she should speak. May clearly wasn't going to though. "It's your mom, right?"
May nodded quietly, forcefully swallowing some muesli, even though it felt like swallowing glue.
Skye could see that her SO was losing herself in her thoughts, worrying. "What's she like?" A direct question, forcing her to think about something other than what could be happening.
Melinda had to think about it for a moment, finding the right words. "Strict. Fierce. Protective."
Skye grinned. "Funny, those'd be three of the top words I'd use to describe you."
A tiny grin fought it's way across May's face. "If you'd said that when I was your age I'd have given you a black eye." When Skye looked questioning she elaborated. "She raised me by herself." This was possibly more personal information than she'd ever given Skye. "I didn't want to be like her. So I joined SHIELD."
Skye cocked her head. "She not with the whole 'protect humanity' thing?"
"She is. Different agency though."
Skye sat for a moment, sipping her own tea and processing the information. "I- why wouldn't you want to join her agency?"
Melinda's eyes got a nostalgic look to them. "My mother trained me. When it came time for me to decide... I realised that if I joined her agency I would always be her daughter." Most people wouldn't even question her need to deviate from her mother's image of her. This was Skye though. All she ever wanted was a family, so the idea of purposefully leaving them was foreign to her.
"I guess that makes sense." Skye paused. "What'd you say about Canada?"
May knew that Skye was trying to keep her talking so that she didn't think about what might happen to her mother, but honestly she was okay with that. "She gave me a ride after I left Providence. Drove up from Pennsylvania."
"Pennsylvania?! Jeez, how far is that anyway?"
"Five hundred miles." She sounded like a mixture of tired and amused. "Trust me. I had to listen to her complain about it the whole way back."
Skye laughed, because Melinda May being lectured by her mother was almost too weird to picture. "She sounds great."
May cocked her head, regarding her student. "I can't work out if you'd like her or not." She said, trying to figure it out. "I think she'd like you. Not that you'd know it."
Skye grinned. "Well so far she sounds like you if you worked for someone else, so I think I'd like her."
May smiled slightly, but Skye caught the flicker of her eyes towards her phone, betraying her worry.
"I'm sorry." The hacker mumbled after a silence. "I can't even imagine what this is like. I-I never had a mom." She blushed a little. "You're, honestly, the closest I ever got." It was awkward and embarrassing, but Skye knew she had to say it.
May said nothing, but smiled a little and wrapped one arm around her student, pulling her into a sideways hug. "I never wanted kids." She mumbled after a moment. "It wasn't something that was ever on the cards for me." She sighed, releasing some of the tension. "But if I ever did have a daughter... I'd want her to be like you."
Skye grinned, her head falling sideways onto May's shoulder. "Thanks." She said, "That means a lot." No one had wanted a kid like her before.
May opened her mouth to say something else, but when her phone buzzed from it's place on the training mats her breath caught in her throat, the fear resurfacing.
Teacher and student sat up in unison. Melinda picked up the phone, but stared at it for a moment blankly.
"It's okay." Skye said softly, taking her other hand.
May nodded, squeezing Skye's fingers, then answered. "Hello?" There was no visible distress in her voice. A moment later she let out a shaky breath, smiling tearfully. "Xǐ de māmā."
Skye could hear another voice on the phone, speaking in Mandarin. The relief on May's face was clear, but she wanted to check. "She okay?" She whispered.
May nodded, then laughed breathlessly at something her mother asked. "Skye, māmā."
Skye looked up at the sound of her name. Of course if hearing someone talking on the other line it made sense to ask who that person was. What stuck with her was the shortness of May's reply, just her name. Like she'd talked to her mother about Skye before, like she knew who she was. She probably shouldn't feel so surprised about that.
She definitely shouldn't get choked up over it.
Oh God Skye, be cool.
Now May was looking at her, listening to something her mother was saying that Skye couldn't understand. "Shì de." She mumbled, then addressed Skye softly. "She wants to talk to you."
"What? Why?" She was not scared, that would be stupid. But seriously, the woman who had raised Melinda May? That was pretty scary.
May shrugged and handed her the phone. Skye swallowed and held it to her ear. "Hello?"
"So you're the one my daughter is training." The voice had a fairly strong Chinese accent, and shared May's perpetually unimpressed nature.
"Uh, yeah." Skye said, trying to channel her calm. "Nice to... meet you, I guess." Did this count as meeting? She wasn't sure.
"Hmm." God, at least when May was judging her Skye could try to read her expressions. "You had better be learning."
"I'm trying to ma'am." Skye had never called anyone 'ma'am' in her life, but she felt it was necessary here.
"Hm." There was a pause and Skye was about to say something else when the woman quietly said. "Look after her for me."
Skye was surprised. "I'll try." She said, aware of May sitting right next to her. "She's usually the one looking after me though."
The voice humphed, May smiled, and Skye felt like she'd missed a joke. Her SO motioned for the phone, snd Skye handed it over.
She wasn't offended that May was speaking in a language she couldn't understand. It didn't feel like she was trying to exclude her. It seemed more like a security blanket, something that she could use to ground herself.
Skye did catch 'Phil' in the middle of her SO's talking and sat up. "I'll go tell him?" She asked quietly, and May nodded.
Skye paused at the door, looking back. May looked relieved, happier, but still a bit of a mess. A good mess though, if that made any sense. The accident with her mother had brought her walls down, and she was yet to bring them back up.
"Hey." She knocked gently on Coulson's door.
He looked up from his work, eyes wide. Skye could see the fear in his eyes. "Got an update?"
Skye nodded, entering. "She's fine." She said, seeing Coulson slump in relief. "May's talking to her now."
"Thank God." He sighed, glancing at the documents on his desk. "Couldn't concentrate on these."
Skye smiled and sat down. "She seemed pretty intense."
"You talked to her?"
"Yeah." She shrugged. "May said she wanted to."
Coulson looked faintly impressed. "And?"
"I dunno, she sounded kind of like May, but more serious." Skye rolled her eyes. "Didn't think that was possible." Now she softened. "She did make me promise to look after her though." A sigh.
There was a barely contained smile on Coulson's face. "What'd you say?"
Skye grinned. "Said she looks after me most of the time." Coulson laughed and she snapped a little. "Okay, what's the joke here?!"
He smiled. "That's exactly what I said, every time she said that to me."
"Oh." The hacker snorted. "Well it's true."
"It is." Coulson acknowledged, smiling warmly.