No one liked it when their partner was injured. At the very least, it meant that they themselves were benched until said partner recovered. Most SHIELD agents had a closer relationship with their partners than that though. To see them injured was a reminder of their joint mortality. A reminder of all the close calls.
A reminder that one day, either one of them could be left alone.
Phil had always hated seeing Melinda hurt. When they were at the academy he didn't let it show. He knew that Melinda had had enough experience with bigheaded male agents worrying about injuring her.
Soon enough, they were the ones in pain.
It wasn't that he thought she was delicate, or that she needed protection. He just cared about her, very much. Maybe too much.
It was no surprise to Phil when he was the one who ended up benched from an injury first, a broken left arm leaving him and Melinda doing paperwork for over a month. She hadn't been happy, complaining the entire time and playfully pinning the blame on him.
Yet the entire time he had been in hospital, almost two days, she hadn't left his side. When Phil had first woken up it was to see his partner snoozing in the chair by his bed, still in her bloody and torn uniform, a bruise forming on her cheek. Maybe it was the painkillers, but he hadn't realised how much he loved her until that moment.
Compared to his respectable four month record without being benched for injury, Melinda had broken some long held records with her thirteen months.
She had also broken her foot. Which was far from a serious injury by anyone's standards, but their little dream team was now off missions for at least three weeks.
Phil didn't like it. A pile of wooden pallets had collapsed behind Melinda, and had just caught her leg as she ran clear. She didn't seem injured at the time, just angrier than usual. He had noticed her limping, but she had written it off as some bruising and Phil being a mother hen.
After a lot of prodding and having his head bitten off a few times, Phil had convinced Melinda to talk to one of the medics at the Hub, who had diagnosed Melinda with a broken foot, bound it accordingly and set her up with enough painkillers to get her through the next few days.
As Phil had been hearing since then, this was entirely his fault.
"I was fine until you blew this out of proportion."
"Melinda, it's broken."
She scoffed. "He said it could be a sprain."
"Either way it needed to be bound up." He said, not letting himself get drawn in again.
The two were in Coulson's apartment, which was covered by SHIELD as part of his placement at the Hub. Though this was technically time off, both were finishing off paperwork. It would save time later. A large pizza box sat empty on the small table, which Melinda had her feet up on, half in an attempt to annoy her partner. She had a crutch, which she hadn't used, only glaring at it as if the thing had personally insulted her.
Right now she was using it to further antagonise Phil Coulson.
"Phil." She poked him with it.
Before she could poke him again his hand caught the crutch, holding it still. "What?" He was really trying to look stern.
A dour glare. "This is all your fault."
"So I've heard." He said, going back to the papers in front of him. Much as he hated seeing Melinda injured, he liked this childish side of her. It had been a while since they had messed around like this.
One more poke from the crutch had Phil's hands wrapped around it, trying to pull it from his partner's grasp.
Melinda gasped in surprise, but grinned and tightened her grip on it, enjoying the game. "Give it back!"
"Stop hitting me with it!"
Both hands were around it now and she was trying not to laugh. "You wanted me to have it!"
"Not for abuse!" Phil cried over-dramatically, trying to twist it around.
A bubbly laugh escaped her lips. "You're the one taking a cripple's walking tool!" Melinda retorted, pushing sporadically to poke Phil in the ribs.
After a few yelps of protest Phil managed to give the crutch a sharp tug just as she tried to nudge him with it again, triumphantly wrenching it from Melinda's hands.
He grinned and Melinda's eyes widened in surprise before she lowered her gaze and scowled, reaching for her paperwork again.
"Oh, hey, Mel-" She didn't look up. "Come on, don't pout."
"I'm not pouting." She grumbled.
"Here," He held out the crutch, "I was just kidding, you can have it back."
"I don't want the stupid crutch Coulson."
That was a red flag. He was only 'Coulson' on the job. When they were just two friends hanging out he was always Phil. "What's wrong?" He asked, blue eyes wide and compassionate. "You've been annoyed ever since you got your foot bound. It's not the end of the world you know."
A pillow was hurled at his face.
"Oh come on-" He tossed it back and Melinda caught it without looking up. "We'll be back in the field in no time."
"It's not that long you know Melinda."
"I hate this."
"I noticed that, funnily enough."
"At least you're good at it!" Melinda snapped. "I suck at paperwork! I'm useless Phil."
"Hey." He caught her gaze and held it. "You're the least useless person I've ever met."
She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. "Can't even keep my own damn crutch."
"Mel, that was just a game! You weren't even trying." It was hard not to smile at how cute she was being right now.
"Neither were you."
He shrugged half-heartedly. "I always have to try if I want to measure up to you." Now Phil did smile, in a wistful, nostalgic way. "Couldn't believe it when we were assigned together." They had been friends all through the academy, but still. "You've always been out of my league." In more ways than one.
Melinda cocked her head, sitting up. "That's not true."
"You just broke a record set by Nick Fury." Phil said proudly. "I'm grateful as hell that you're on my side, but come on. You took me down in every prac exam we had."
"You beat me in every written exam we had. Every liaison." Melinda countered. "I don't think Fury set any records for paperwork, but..."
Phil smiled softly. "We're a good team, huh?" This was getting close, but he didn't really care.
"Yeah." Malinda said, tentatively returning the smile.
"And this doesn't change it," He quickly wiggled his fingers over her bound sole. "Okay?"
Melinda jerked slightly at the brief tickle and a startled grin formed on her lips. "Okay." After a moment of deliberation she limped over to the other couch and wrapped one arm around her partner. "Thanks for being here."
Phil let his head rest atop hers as he returned the hug. "You stayed in hospital with me ."
Melinda's shoulders jabbed him slightly as she shrugged. "We're a team."
"The best team." Phil gently pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I love you." He mumbled. Maybe more than Melinda could understand, more than she wanted. But first and foremost, before anything else, she was his best friend. And he loved her.
Melinda snuggled her head into the crook of his neck. "I love you too." Maybe she understood. Maybe not.
She loved him too though, and really, that was all they needed.