a.n. A very happy birthday to Crownedtiger! You are the bomb, I hope you enjoy your fic and I am singing happy birthday to you the Australian way!

Missions went south sometimes. Melinda knew that. There would always be times that everything went wrong, and a simple mission became something incredibly difficult to complete. She knew how these things happened, and she knew how to deal with them.

She just wished it hadn't happened with Skye.

Really. It was their first mission together since she had taken over as Skye's SO. Hell, their first ever mission together depending on whether Cybertech counted. The two had been sent in for a routine information retrieval op at an abandoned Hydra base near Offenburg.

Abandoned seemed to be the wrong word to use in this case.

Technically May supposed the mission could be called a success. The Hydra agents at the base were dead, the information had been retrieved, and both she and Skye were alive.

Melinda was loath to call the situation a success though, when Skye had lost any blood.

"Come on!" She urged as Skye slumped. May had thrown one of her student's arms over her shoulder so that she could support the weight of the leg that had been shot. The other ankle seemed to be twisted, which was far from ideal. "Skye, move."

"I'm trying." She sounded close to unconsciousness, but the tone was one Melinda had heard before, when beginning training so early in the morning, and she knew how to respond to it.

"If you don't move it I'll leave you here." She growled. It was an utterly empty threat, but it got Skye moving. It always did, unless she was completely spent. They needed to get to the safehouse before Hydra reinforcements showed up and found what had happened, found them.

It took well over an hour of dragging, pushing and carrying Skye through the dark to get them both to the cabin deep within the trees of the Schwarzwald, but eventually they got there.

The second she could, Skye collapsed onto a chair, tears of pain streaming from her eyes, as they had been for a reasonable while now. "It's okay." May said, firmly grasping Skye's hand. "We'll be fine, got it?"

Skye nodded. "Got it." She said croakily, watching as May gently removed her boot and ripped off her pants leg to take a look at the wound on her lower thigh.

May grimaced. "No exit wound." She mumbled, standing to grab the first aid kit from behind the door. She pulled a bottle of liquor. "This is gonna hurt." She said, almost apologetically.

Skye could see the concern. She coughed. "Already hurts." She muttered, then failed to stifle a cry of pain as May poured the alcohol over the wound.

May didn't apologise for the pain she was causing, but the corners of her mouth tightened. She didn't like seeing Skye hurt. "I need to get the bullet out." She said, pausing to let Skye catch her breath and find her courage. "You can grab my shoulder if you have to, but try to keep your leg still."

Skye look a few deep breaths to calm herself down, like in their tai chi, and nodded swiftly. "Do it." But she did grasp May's shoulder, more for reassurance than for the need to crush something.

Skye expected the removal of the bullet to be a lot worse than it was, but she was so wired and May was actually pretty good with a pair of tweezers, so it was out in next to no time. "You need to have some juice and eat something." May said gently, winding white bandages around Skye's leg.

Skye nodded, leg still stinging beneath the bandages. "There spare clothes here?" Her pants were pretty totalled. She would complain about that another time.

May nodded and opened the wardrobe on the other side of the room. The cabin was small but nice, Skye noticed. There was a separate bathroom, but other than that it was all one room. There was a king sized bed in the corner, a small window by the front door, and a tiny kitchen, but no fridge or electrical appliances aside from the lights. The wardrobe that May had opened seemed to contain enough supplies to hold them over for at least a couple of weeks if necessary.

May pulled out a set of sweat pants and a T-shirt, tossing them over to her student. "Not really the right size," She said, "But I'm sure you'll manage."

Skye pushed herself up with a weak grin, limping to the bathroom to change. "Spent most of my childhood in clothes that didn't fit." She noticed the sadness that flickered in May's eyes but didn't comment. Instead she joked again. "If you hear a bang then maybe come and help me up."

Melinda rolled her eyes but said nothing.

Skye closed the door behind her and carefully changed into the comfy clothes. They were slightly too big, but against her sore limbs and injured leg that was something of a benefit.

When she limped back into the main cabin area May was tapping at a touchscreen on the wall, next to the first aid box. "Everything okay?"

May glanced at her, taking stock of the younger agent. "More or less." She assented. "Secure line, Coulson needs to get us an extraction since our ride blew up." Stupid helicopter. Stupid Hydra.

Skye moved slowly to the kitchen, leaning against the counter with a grunt. "You say something about food?" Trying not to sound too raw and pathetic.

May looked faintly amused. "You'd better not expect much." She said as the touchscreen withdrew back into the wall. "Safehouses have food that will last, not pop tarts."

Skye grinned a little, ignoring the pain in her leg. "Hey, those things hold for months."

May rolled her eyes. "Sit down." She instructed, walking by Skye and starting to dig through the cupboards. "I'll find something suitable."

'Something suitable' ended up being some pasta with tinned sauce. It didn't look particularly appealing, but it was hot. May also passed Skye a couple of pills, which were passed off with a mumbled, "Pain medicine."

Skye grinned again. "Never knew you cared." She teased, but immediately caught the twitch on May's face. "That was a joke." She clarified, but May said nothing. Skye swallowed the pills, trying to ignore the pain in her leg, and scooped up a forkful of pasta, chewing it slowly. "You've gone to hell and back for us," Skye said softly, eyes fixed on the floor. "Of course I know that you care." She paused. "I care about you too." Hard for her to say, but she wanted to.

May nodded in acceptance of the apology. "Thank you." It wouldn't even get to her normally, she just felt so raw with Skye getting shot. It made her think of the last time.

"I'm sorry about today." Skye mumbled.

May swallowed some of her juice. "What about it?"

The hacker groaned. "You really want me to go into it? Fine. I got shot – again, I got in the way, it took me way too long to get the files off the computer, you practically had to carry me here, the mission went south, and I screwed it all up." Her voice hitched and her frustration faded. "I'll try to do better next time." Skye had really felt ready for this mission to go well. She felt prepared, she felt confident. Then it sucked, and now she was here, apologising to her supervising officer with a bullet wound to her leg.

"Skye." May's voice brought her eyes up. "You took down four Hydra agents. You got the intel. You kept walking for over an hour when you'd been shot, and you never slowed down. You're right, the mission did go south. That wasn't your fault though. We got out, and we fulfilled the objective. That's a successful mission."

Skye shook her head. "I should have done better."

"I should have too." May said. "It's my job to protect you, and you got shot on my watch."

Skye looked up, shocked. "That wasn't your fault."

May raised an eyebrow. "And it wasn't your fault that our intel on the base was wrong. We were dealt a bad hand this time, sometimes that happens."

Skye grimaced, biting off another chunk of protein bar. "How come you're being so nice?" She asked. "Usually the tough love's your thing, shouldn't you be ripping into me?"

May smirked. "You're in pain." She said. "Don't worry, I'll yell at you for losing your gun later."

"That's more like it." Skye grinned. "Oh wait, that's what the painkillers were for, huh?"

May suppressed her own smile. If Skye felt well enough to be joking around then she was going to be just fine. "They'll shut you up too, when the Benzo kicks in."

"You always make me feel so loved."

Now Melinda couldn't keep the smile from her face, and Skye grinned triumphantly. The moment ended when the wall beeped, and both heads turned to the hidden screen.

May stood and approached it, pressing a panel on the wall and bringing it forwards again. When she saw the message displayed there she cursed under her breath.

"What?" Skye said, slightly worried.

May sighed and shook her head, typing a quick response and retracting the screen once more. "Tripp's already gone dark on his mission, he won't be back for at least fifteen hours."

Skye frowned. "So?"

May rolled her eyes. "So Coulson has a plane and no pilot, and you have a pilot and no plane."

"Oh." Skye mumbled sheepishly. "Right. So what, we're stuck here?"

"For a day or so."

Skye sighed, but then glanced out the window. "I guess it could be worse." She mused. "The woods are pretty nice, even at night."

"We shouldn't go outside." May warned. "The cabin's cloaked, but Hydra will still be looking for us."

Skye scowled. "Okay, so it couldn't be worse."

Melinda shook her head, faintly amused. "Trust me, it could still be worse." She glanced around. "As safehouses go, this is pretty good, even if it'll be hours before we have running hot water." She drew a deck of cards from a drawer. "See?"

Skye rolled her eyes, unimpressed. "Great, so you can kick my ass at poker all night."

"Do you know how to play poker?"

The hacker blushed a little, embarrassed. "Uhh, no."

May sat down with a grin, dealing the cards. "Then I'll spend the night teaching you how to kick ass at poker."

Skye smiled shyly. "Okay."

-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-

The true humiliation came, not in how quickly Skye picked up poker, but in how easily she could spot whether or not May was bluffing.

It was hours later, and she glared, even while warming her hands around a mug of tea. Another thing which the cabin was stocked with. "How are you doing that?"

Skye grinned bemusedly, just as surprised. "I don't know!" She cried, "I just- I can tell."

"I'm one of the best in the business." May grumbled, throwing down her cards again. "You can't 'just tell'."

Skye giggled. Watching Melinda May sulk was a delight. "I think I can. Seen you lie to the others enough."

May sighed and shook her head. It wasn't the same. She wasn't really trying to deceive the others when she lied to them, she didn't use the methods she had used in the attempts to deceive Skye. She had started trying her alternate methods, her undercover training, nothing seemed to stick. Skye knew her too well for that, and Melinda couldn't really find it in her to be upset about it. "I quit." She said, throwing her arms up. "It's late, and we've had a long day, time for bed."

Skye eyed the king sized bed awkwardly. "I-uh- I can sleep on the couch."

May rolled her eyes. "I'd expect that from Coulson, not you." She muttered. "For Gods' sakes Skye, it's close to the biggest bed I've ever seen in a safe house. Unless you've got problems with personal space I think we'll be fine."

The awkwardness broke and Skye grinned. "Really? Out of the two of us you think I'm the one with personal space issues?"

May shrugged, the hint of a smile breaking through at the teasing. "The proximity alarms will go off if anyone's coming." She said, stowing her gun on the small bedside table. "You good if I take the side nearest the door?"

Skye yawned, suddenly sleepy. "Whatever you like, as long as you don't snore."

Melinda smirked. "You should never share a hotel room with Coulson." She said, pulling another pair of sweats from the cupboard. "The man sounds like a broken engine."

Skye snickered, and May quickly changed into the oversized T-shirt and pants in the bathroom.

When she returned, Skye grinned. There was something about May's actual stature on display with the baggy clothes, that was equal parts endearing and hilarious. The woman was the smallest member of their team, but she countered that fact with absolutely killer boots. Skye had drawn blood biting down on her lip when she had first seen May standing beside Mack, their new mechanic, who was an impressive six foot five, and built like a bear. By comparison May looked absolutely tiny.

The knowledge that she could take Mack down in less than a minute just made it better.

May seemed to have spotted her amusement. "What?"

Oh crap. "Nothing." Skye said, jumping into the bed and facing away from her SO. "Mini agent." She muttered, unsure as to whether or not May would hear.

There was no sound or movement for a few long seconds, only the lights going out. The moment Skye shifted, the anticipation too much for her, strong arms shoved her out of the bed and onto the floor, with a thump and a shriek, landing on her uninjured leg.

Rather than get up immediately, Skye crossed her arms and scowled. "Screw you."

May smirked, climbing into the bed and dragging the entirety of the blankets over to her side while Skye was on the ground. "Good night."

The younger agent squawked in protest and clambered on, tugging the blankets back, which May allowed. "Good night." She mumbled, curling up and snuggling her head into the pillow.

-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-

Melinda woke suddenly, forcing her eyes open and looking around for whatever had roused her from her slumber. When she found what it was, she froze.

Skye. Fast asleep, definitely invading her side of the bed, but unconsciously wrapping her arms around May and burying her face in her shoulder.

May stared for a moment, torn between shock and almost unbearable affection. Skye tried so hard every day to be self-sufficient, to be an agent. Sometimes she was a kid though. Like now. Melinda didn't move to push her away, nor to encourage the embrace. Skye loved to mess with her, to tease and joke, which Melinda secretly didn't mind one bit. Was this Skye screwing with her though? Or was she actually asleep?

"Skye?" She spoke softly, just as gently nudging her shoulder, but the younger agent's only reaction was to mumble something incomprehensible and snuggle closer.

May softened. No way Skye would do this when she was awake. Even she had her boundaries. And she had to admit, the girl looked pretty damn adorable at that moment.

May knew that Skye was, in general, very cuddly. At any number of team movie nights and game nights she would end up jamming herself beside Fitz, Simmons or Tripp, curled up as close to one or both of them as she could get. No one really minded, and Melinda wasn't sure that Coulson even noticed. Skye was yet to break that veil yet with May though. Maybe it was because May was her superior officer, maybe because she had such high walls up, Melinda wasn't sure.

But once upon a time she'd been pretty cuddly too.

May shifted slightly, pulling her hand out from under Skye and wrapping it around her shoulder. What? She needed to stretch her wrist after the hacker had crushed it. Besides, it was kind of cold.

Melinda gently brushed a strand of hair from her student's face, letting the slow smile creep onto her lips. She had been both prepared and unprepared for how much she would end up caring for the ragtag hacker they had picked up. So she let the girl snuggle her head into her shoulder and slowly went back to sleep, the smile still on her face.

-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-

Skye woke up just as sunlight was beginning to peek in through the small window, feeling incredibly warm and comfortable.

When she opened her eyes she had to add 'awkward' to that list. Skye blushed a little but couldn't bring herself to pull away just yet. She knew that latching on to anyone and anything near her while asleep was an old habit, but she had been hoping not to end up like this. It was such a kiddy thing to do, and she wanted May to respect her, she wanted to impress her.

Plus May wasn't really about all the touchy-feely stuff. Skye knew that she cared about them, but saying or showing it unnecessarily wasn't really something she did, nor did she really reciprocate all that well when the others tried.

This felt nice though, it felt safe. Skye had been idolising this woman for longer than she would like to admit, but it was only recently that she had really started to like May, to get to know her as a person.

Skye cocked her head slightly, gazing at her SO's face. It was weird seeing May sleep, it was like catching her off her guard. She looked more innocent and open, younger. This was the person she used to be, before whatever happened in Bahrain had made her hide.

Something on May's face twitched and Skye carefully started to unwind her arms from around her. It seemed like she hadn't noticed Skye clinging onto her like a koala bear, and it was probably best to keep it that way. She noticed one of May's arms around her shoulders and smiled. It was nice to know she cared, even in her sleep.

Skye gently moved away from her SO, standing up quietly and going to check the comm screen. When she first put weight on her injured leg she winced, but it wasn't too bad now. Her bare feet were virtually silent on the floor, and Skye felt a surge of pride that creeping around like this hadn't woken May.

The touchscreen slid out of the wall at her command, and Skye could see the latest message from Coulson. 'Stay safe. Extraction at 1100 hours your time.'

Not too long then, but they still had some of the day. Deciding to wait until May had woken to eat, Skye ducked into the bathroom to have a quick shower and change, since the hot water seemed to be working now.

When she returned, Skye decided to dig around in the cupboards to see what there was to do. Standing on her toes, she spotted something hard and leather looking on the top shelf. She reached out, fingers brushing a handle, and dragged it closer.

Skye brightened when she was able to identify exactly what it was she had snagged; a guitar case. She grinned, but hauling it down caused a bit too much noise, and sure enough, when she looked over to her SO, she was watching her, pushing herself into a sitting position. "Sorry," Skye winced. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay." Honestly she had been awake for a little while watching Skye dig around, she just hadn't spoken up. "What's that?"

The smile returned. "Guitar." Skye supplied. "Don't know what it's doing here, but..."

May stretched and stood. "Clint must have been here." She knew that the archer loved to play in his down time.

Skye frowned, popping the flaps on the case. "Who?"

"Old friend." May said softly, ducking into the bathroom for a shower.

When she returned, hair damp on her neck, Skye was gently picking at some familiar chords.

May cocked her head. "Edelweiss?" She questioned.

Skye grinned. "Edelweiss." She confirmed, in time with the strumming chords. "I loved that movie as a kid."

Melinda hummed in agreement, filling the battered kettle. "Apparently I did see it in cinemas." She said, "But I was too young to remember."

Skye grimaced. "God, you're so old."

May rolled her eyes and shook her head, choosing not to reply, instead leaning against the counter to watch the younger agent play simple campfire tunes. It was nice.

Skye caught her eye and smiled. "You ever play?"

A shake of the head. "Some violin when I was a kid." It was some kind of rule, wasn't it? Violin or piano.

Skye glanced at the guitar. "Well you could try, right? It's basically the same."

Melinda's eyes narrowed as she poured them each some tea, trying to work out whether or not her student was serious. "Except that a guitar has frets, and a violin doesn't. And the violin is about a fifth of the size. And the violin has four strings, but the guitar has six."

"Okay-"

"And the violin has a bow."

"May-"

"And the violin rests on your shoulder."

"Okay!" Skye exclaimed. "It's not the same. Jeez, not my fault that music's not big in the foster system." She grumbled and let the guitar clunk back into the case. Melinda felt a pang of guilt for teasing her like that. It looked like she had unwittingly hit a nerve.

"Coulson's likes classical music." She said apologetically. "He could show you some things."

Skye shrugged, but took a breath to calm down. She knew that May didn't mean to upset her, she was just a bit sensitive about dropping out of high school. She was surrounded by geniuses and prodigies, of course quitting school was a sore spot. "Not really my thing." She muttered.

"Why guitar then?"

Skye shrugged a little. "It was the nineties." She said. "Everyone played guitar." Melinda handed her a cup of tea and she snorted a little. "I guess it was kind of out of spite too." She admitted. "A family I'd been with really wanted me to play the flute, but I kind of sucked."

The thought amused May. "You taught yourself guitar out of spite."

Skye rolled her eyes and had a sip of tea. "Like you've never done something like that." She caught the way May's eyes darted away for a moment and grinned. "Oooohhh, what'd you do?"

"None of your business." Not an ounce of venom behind it, but Skye didn't think she was going to crack her right now either way. That was okay though. She had time.

"Fiiiine. Breakfast?"

"Sure." May assented and headed for the kitchen area, digging around. "We have oatmeal." She offered.

"Wow, really pushing the whole orphan thing, huh?" Skye joked, face hanging upside down from the couch. "Please sir, could I have some more?" She joked with her best wide eyes and English accent.

May rolled her eyes again and threw a protein bar to her student, seeing as it seemed to be what she wanted. Or probably just what she objected to the least. "Whatever keeps you happy."

Skye shrugged, sitting up. "It fills me up. As long as it's not poison I'm usually good."

Melinda nodded, taking a seat opposite her student. "Useful." She acknowledged. "Fussy eaters don't have much place in the field."

"We can order pizza when we get back h- to the Playground though, right?" Skye said.

May's eyes narrowed at the slip up and she gnawed a piece off her own breakfast, swallowing slowly. "We could order some pizza when we get home." She said, testing the waters.

Skye suddenly wasn't looking at her, and seemed to have lost her appetite. She could feel May's eyes on her, burning a hole in her head. She said nothing.

"Skye."

She sighed. "Do I really have to talk about it? You know I'm messed up."

Melinda continued to stare, knowing that Skye would cave.

Skye picked up her tea, hands grasping the hot ceramic. "Home's not home for me, okay?" Still on the defensive. "Do you know how many 'homes' I've had?"

"A few."

"Too many." Skye said. "Home for me, it's not the same as home for you or the others. Home's a place I get kicked out of."

God, she wished Phil was here. May was in way over her head. She had never been any good at this. "We wouldn't kick you out." Even that felt hollow in her mouth. Not insincere, just inadequate.

"I know." Skye finally looked at her, smiling a little. "You don't have to get all touchy-feely about it, I just- that's why I don't wanna use the word." She laughed softly with a hint of humour. "I'd say I've never been kicked out of the playground but I'd be lying."

The thought of Skye being kicked out of a playground as a child made Melinda hide a smile behind her own cup of tea. She watched her student working her way through her own standard issue tasteless tough as hell field issued food without so much as a grimace and felt a twinge of pride. Skye was really pretty good. "Tai chi?"

Despite having been shot the day before, and being as bone tired and jet-lagged as someone could be after flying into a firefight in Germany, unprepared, Skye bounced up. "Sure." She said, trying not to sound too eager.

"If your leg starts hurting, stop." May said firmly, standing up. She knew that Skye's willpower was almost always stronger than any discomfort. "You'll only do more damage."

"Okay." Skye mumbled non-committedly, standing up.

May didn't seem convinced. "Okay?"

Skye rolled her eyes, "Sure thing mom." She said sarcastically, but found that it felt wrong in her mouth, even as a joke.

As they began their routine, Skye realised that that wasn't exactly true. The only thing that felt weird or awkward about it was in how comfortable it felt. Puzzle pieces clicking together. But 'mom' wasn't like 'home'. She hadn't had a mom before.

Melinda May was the closest thing she had to a real mother. How weird was that? A woman who barely spoke more than a few words at a time. A woman whose usual idea of praise was 'do that again'. A woman who would only let Skye hug her while unconscious. A woman who had permanently messed up the face of one of the richest men in the world for daring to lay a hand on her. A woman who pushed her every day, because she knew that Skye could do it.

A woman who believed in her and cared about her. Those had been few and far between in Skye's life.

Something must have shown on her face, because May faltered ever so slightly in her movements, gazing at her student. "You okay?"

Skye nodded with a hesitant smile. "Fine, just twinged a bit." She didn't need to share those thoughts. She was a bit old for them anyway, and May was her friend. No need to make this awkward.

Melinda let her gaze linger on her young student as the moves became slightly more complex. She could vividly remember the last time someone had referred to her as 'mother', and it had been under entirely different circumstances.

Before Bahrain she had really been ready for a family. Ready for the late nights and the stress. Ready for little ones with Andrew, because she had really loved him. Ready for Phil to be the dorky uncle who spoiled them rotten. Ready for balancing her job and kids, the lies she would have to tell, the pressure.

Then Bahrain happened, and the one thing Melinda knew was that she could never have children, not after that. She had isolated herself from everyone close to her, and every piece of pain she had suffered in the aftermath had been entirely self-inflicted. She knew that, but Melinda needed it. She needed to mourn the girl, and she needed to be punished.

Then she had formed this team to protect her best friend and found herself as the unofficial den mother of three young agents.

Skye was the one who reminded Melinda the most of herself at that age, and some part of her was both drawn to that and detested it. It had taken some time for her to warm to the girl, but at that moment in time, doing tai chi together in a safehouse in the German forest, Skye was the closest thing she had ever had, and likely ever would have, to a daughter.

There were so many things she would like to say. She wanted Skye to know that she did care about her, no matter how bad she was at expressing it. She wanted to tell Skye exactly what had happened in Bahrain, because she felt that the girl had a right to know. Even if Skye knowing meant that Melinda could lose her forever.

The words never came though, so she continued their routine until the telltale rumbling of a stolen Hydra jet, tied with Tripp's voice coming from the comm panel on the wall, called the session to an end.

Skye took tremendous joy in seeing her SO kick Tripp out of the pilots seat and spent the journey to the Playground enjoying the view and mock-consoling Tripp for the loss of his seat.

"I know Tripp, it's not your fault she's a control freak- better pilot." Skye amended, shooting May a teasing grin. "I said better pilot."

"I know what you said."

Tripp laughed. "Aw, beginner mistake! Never make fun of the SO."

May turned back to the controls to hide her smile and Skye giggled. "Nah, my SO's a softy."

"You're not strapped in and I can do a barrel roll."

"Massive wuss."

The plane gave a warning judder and Skye fell silent, smirking at Tripp like her point had been proven.

For some reason he could see a certain resemblance to May's sly grin, and he shook his head.

Those two were crazy.