Melinda May hated days like this. She hated when this happened. Skye had betrayed the team. She had the best intentions, but she still did it. That she felt the need to protect her 'innocent' boyfriend from them was proof enough that she didn't trust SHIELD, didn't trust them. And honestly that kind of hurt, which surprised even May.
She hadn't thought she trusted Skye as much as she did, hadn't thought she'd liked her, but she did. The girl was a bright presence in her life like May hadn't had in a long time.
So yeah, it hurt that she would go behind their backs. It was for the right reasons though, and she legitimately had thought that Miles was innocent. It was forgiveable.
But she really needed some sanity, so, parked as they were, May went down to the gym to practice.
She balked at the sight that greeted her.
Skye, standing in the middle of the open cargo ramp, large SHIELD duffel bag in one hand. It was a very big duffel bag really. "What are you doing?" Melinda asked, breathing in the muggy Hong Kong air.
Skye's back muscles tensed up at the voice and she cursed herself for taking so long. "I didn't take anything that wasn't mine in the first place." She said semi-defensively, trying with everything she had to disguise the heartbreak. "This was the only bag I could find."
May raised an eyebrow, reaching the bottom of the stairs and approaching her. "Not what I asked." She paused. "Where are you going?"
Skye scoffed bitterly. "I dunno, Hong Kong I guess."
She was running away? "Why?"
"That's the point of this, isn't it?" Skye held up her wrist, tech blocking bangle attached. "Gotta go make my own way!" Like always.
Something inside Melinda froze. Skye thought that they were kicking her out? She was leaving without even waiting to see if that was what they were doing? "No." She said softly. "How would you even get by?"
"Wǒ kěyǐ chǔlǐ zìjǐ." Skye muttered angrily. I can handle myself.
"Wǒ zhīdào." May replied. "I didn't know you spoke Mandarin."
Skye shrugged, tears stinging her eyes. "Stayed with a Chinese family for a while. I thought if I picked some up then they wouldn't send me back." I was wrong. "I'll see you around." She muttered, making her way down the ramp.
May's iron grip was around her wrist faster than Skye could believe. "No." She said firmly. "You're not going anywhere."
"Let me go." Skye's voice sounded hollow. "I know how this goes, I don't need your pity."
"No one on this plane wants you gone."
Skye scowled. "We both know that's not true." She said bitterly, then used May's shock to wrench her arm free. "So stop pretending you care."
Before she could try to leave again Melinda snatched Skye's bag from her hand, face hard. She wasn't going to let Skye see how much that had hurt.
Skye was not happy. "You think I need that?!" She exclaimed, and it was clear that something in her had snapped. "You think I care about all this crap?!" Her eyes were wild and angry. "I had nothing. I started with NOTHING, I was nothing! I made it this far by myself, and I can sure as hell do it again!"
Angry as they were, the words sounded rehearsed. Like Skye repeated them to herself every day.
Melinda let her vent. She could see the tears behind her eyes.
"I don't need you or Coulson or Ward or ANYONE ELSE! I never have! So if you thought that kicking me out was gonna hurt-" Skye stopped suddenly and pressed her lips together, unable to say that it didn't.
"This isn't a foster home Skye." May said after a pause, putting the bag down behind her so that Skye couldn't grab it and run. "We're not going to kick you out because you made a mistake."
Skye wasn't looking at her, her eyes were downcast as she tried not to cry. She suddenly felt childish.
Melinda knew that this was when Phil would put a hand on her shoulder and say nice things, but she just wasn't good at that. "You screwed up. That's what that's for. You did something wrong, and it'll take time to rebuild that trust." Had Skye ever had that? Or had every home she had been in had a 'one strike and you're out' rule?
Skye's shoulders were shaking and May suspected that she was crying.
She tried to be gentle. "You were going to leave without saying goodbye?" Skye nodded shamefacedly. "None of us want that. Fitz and Simmons would be heartbroken. Coulson would spend our whole budget trying to find you again."
The hacker still said nothing.
"How many times have you done this?" Left without saying why.
Skye shrugged. "I don't know." Her voice sounded raw. "Five- maybe. First time it was just-" She tilted her head upwards to stop the tears falling, "I heard them on the phone to the agency, a-and I couldn't put up with the car ride back." Her fists clenched, suddenly angry. "You know they act like they can help? The whole drive it's 'oh, well next time you should do this'. As if they understand. As if that makes up for it."
Melinda's jaw clenched. "That's disgusting."
Skye seemed surprised at the anger on her behalf. "After that I just made my own way back. I'd hear them talking, see a letter from the agency, something. It took longer, but who cares, right?"
May sighed softly. She wished she could hug this girl when she clearly needed it, but she just couldn't.
"Last place I didn't even bother going back to Saint Agnes'." Skye swallowed. "I was sixteen. Freaking miracle anyone wanted me at that age in the first place, so I just... left. It was better on the streets anyway. I didn't have anyone to please."
Christ, wasn't that the most heartbreaking thing Melinda had heard in years. "You're not going anywhere." Firmly. "If I have to hogtie you until we're up in the air I will." Which was a lie. If Skye really wanted to leave then May would let her, but that clearly wasn't the case.
Skye laughed breathlessly, then pursed her lips, wiping tears from her eyes. "Okay." She said softly.
"Come on." May said softly, nodding towards the stairs. "It's almost time to take off anyway."
Skye eyes the stairs fearfully, eyes darting to her bag. "The others are up there?" They hadn't been earlier.
May nodded. "In the common area."
The hacker swallowed. "I-is it too much to ask you not to tell them?"
Melinda crossed her arms. "Coulson." She bartered.
Skye let out a breath, "Okay." She mumbled. Her eyes fixed on her getaway bag. "I guess I should leave this here or something. I'll come get it later." Because nothing said 'running away' like a bag holding all of her stuff.
It took May a second to realise that Skye's laptop was probably in the bag. Not a big deal to her, but like May worked out to let off steam, Skye would probably spend time on her computer to escape. "I don't know what you mean." She said, picking up the bag. "This is my gym bag." Skye nodded, wordless thanks in her eyes. "You can sit in the cockpit for a while if you want." Every bet she didn't want to face the others.
Skye nodded again and they made their way to the other end of the plane. The hacker refused to look at anything but the floor around the others, and May shot Coulson a glare when they passed through his office.
Skye curled up in the co-pilots seat as they took off, still marvelling at the sky. She had never flown before joining this team, so she had some admiring to do.
The two sat in silence for a long time, Skye on her laptop and May taking solace in the familiarity of flying the BUS. Just before midnight Skye nodded off to sleep and Melinda carefully took her laptop from her, closing the lid and draping a standard issue blanket over her.
After stowing it safely in Skye's escape bag, May took it and went out to her partner's office. "You need to talk to Skye tomorrow."
"Is this about you trying to make my head explode?"
So he had caught that. Good. "Yes."
"She screwed up." Phil clearly wasn't happy. "She doesn't get a free pass."
"Do you really think I'd give her a free pass?"
"When you two walked past you had the same face as when our instructor said you shouldn't lift weights, so I'm not sure."
Melinda sighed and ran one hand over her face. They had started this on the wrong foot. It was her fault. She had let the stress get to her. She sat down, dropping the aggressive stance she hadn't noticed she had taken. "She did screw up." She acknowledged. "I'm not denying that. But so did you." When he frowned in confusion she pulled the bag up onto his desk. "I found Skye half way down the cargo ramp, with this."
Coulson eyed the bag wearily. "What is this?" He unzipped it. "Laptop." Skye rarely went anywhere without it. "Clothes?" He dug through. Her dancing hula girl toy, her laptop, and her clothes. "What is this?"
May swallowed. "She thought we were kicking her out." She said softly, bracing herself for the explosion.
"What?!" Yep, that did it. "I didn't- how could she even- I said I'd help!"
"She might have taken that the wrong way."
"The wrong way?!" He exclaimed, immediately softening his voice when he remembered that the rest of the team was asleep. "She was just gonna leave?"
"Without saying goodbye?"
"She's done it before Phil." She said. "She told me. When she found out a family was sending her back she'd make her own way."
"But we wouldn't do that. For Gods sakes, there's nowhere to send her!"
Melinda shrugged. "She's a foster kid Phil. She never stopped being that. How many families do you think cared about where she was going?"
He sighed. "It's not right."
"It's not." She agreed. When he started to stand May put one hand on his arm. "She's asleep."
Coulson sat down with a deep sigh, running one hand over his face. "Tomorrow then."
May nodded. "Tomorrow."
"Thank you, for stopping her."
Melinda sighed softly, looking at the bag of things Skye had decided she needed. "She deserves better." Skye wasn't perfect, but she was just a kid. A kid who had never had a home.
"She needs us." Phil noticed the way his partner stiffened at his words. "I know you don't do... kids anymore." He said, "But you know it's true."
Melinda shook her head. "I'm not any good for her Phil." She muttered. "I'm not... nice." If there was one thing she had noticed about Skye it was her desire for affirmation. It was true that she didn't need it, but she liked to have reminders that she was worth it. Melinda wasn't good at saying nice things. She had proven that enough times.
"You've already helped her." He pointed out. "Besides, you're honest, not mean. There's a difference."
"Tell that to those trainees I made cry." Not a memory she was particularly upset by – those cocky kids had it coming. But still. Melinda thought it would have been a bit more difficult to knock them down a peg.
Coulson crossed his arms frankly. "Do you think she should be kicked out? What do you think of Skye, as a trainee? Tell me."
Melinda had to think, had to separate her sympathies for the girl from her judgement. "She's impulsive, doesn't follow orders. Jokes in inappropriate situations, plus she's cocky." A pause. "She's picking up her training faster than half the trainees at Operations." She mumbled, and Phil nodded in agreement. "She's one of the best hackers I've ever seen. She's dedicated, hard-working. Confident."
Phil sensed that there was more. "And?"
"With some work she could be one of our best."
He nodded. "I think so too." A smirk touched his lips. "And you know, I remember someone else who was criticised by their superiors for being impulsive, joking at the wrong times, not following orders, and being full of herself."
Melinda swallowed a grin. "I don't know what you mean."
"Uh huh." The warmth in his eyes made her glance away, but the smile won out in the end. She could tell from Phil's chuckle that he noticed. "Skye idolises you, you know." He said. "Really looks up to you. Don't you think she'd like to hear that you think she could be one of our best?"
Melinda shook her head. "No one should look up to me."
"You're dodging." Coulson noted. "You care about her."
A pause. "I do." She admitted. "She's a good kid."
"Tell her that."
Another shake of the head. "I can't. That's your job."
He grinned. "I don't remember signing up for it."
May managed a smirk. "It was about the same time you dragged the Rising Tide hacker onto my Bus."
"Oh, it's your Bus now? I don't remember Director Fury handing you the keys."
"There are no keys Phil."
"As far as you know."
Melinda rolled her eyes, but damnit, she had missed this. She had missed her best friend. Yet another thing that she couldn't say.
A calloused hand gently encased one of her own, and she looked up to see Phil smiling that lopsided grin of his. "I missed you too."
"Sentimentalist." She teased, but didn't pull her hand away.
"Charming May, I'm charming."
"You like to think so."
Phil smiled. "It's late." He said, pulling away and standing up. "We should both get some rest."
"You sleep." May said, eyeing the cockpit door. "I'll keep us in the air."
"Keeping an eye on her?" Coulson probed. "If you're not careful she'll figure out that you care, then where would you be?"
"Goodnight Phil." She said firmly, carrying Skye's bag with her into her abode.
There was a special kind of warmth in his eyes. "Goodnight Melinda."
Knowing that he couldn't see her face, May paused at the door and let a fond smile break through. She loved the way he said her name.
When she returned to the pilot's seat, Skye was right where she had left her, fast asleep. The girl wasn't good enough yet to effectively fake it if she were awake. May put the bag down and sighed softly. A weak part of her wished that Skye had been awake, had heard the things she couldn't say to her face.
In the dark cockpit with the bright lights of the console flashing gently, Melinda's eyes suddenly felt heavy. She let her gaze drift across to the young hacker in her co-pilot's seat, and the next thing she knew she was nodding off too.
When May woke up several hours later to sunlight starting to creep through the cockpit window, Skye and her bag were gone, but the blanket she had left the girl with was gently tucked around her.