Not many people had ever gotten away with calling Melinda May a softie. The best litmus test for whether or not someone did get away with it was whether or not Melinda May heard them say it or found out. For a long time the only person who knew her well enough to think so, and was stupid enough to say so, was Phil Coulson.
Phil liked to tease Melinda, always had, and she would be lying if she said that he didn't make her smile from time to time. When they were at the academy he would often make comments about how much of a pussycat she was, usually after she had taken down everyone in their class including him. She would glare, but he could always see the smile hiding just under the surface.
Over the years Melinda had come to realise that he was right. She could put on a hard face, but unless there was a genuine threat she was all bark and no bite. She would never admit it, but it was nice that someone could see that.
That said, sometimes Melinda was disgusted with herself.
The things she did for her team. Those kids. Daisy.
Not risking her life to keep them safe. That just came with the territory.
This though... This was pathetic.
This was a low for Melinda May.
It had started with Joey, Daisy's most promising new Inhuman. He had mentioned to Daisy how he had used to go ice skating every new years with his friends, family, basically anyone that he could convince to go with him.
Daisy had then had the bright idea of dragging him, Lincoln, Fitzsimmons, Coulson, May, and anyone she could convince, to take a night off and go skating. May had to admit, she admired her thinking. Joey was still insecure about his powers. What better to help him feel better than to put him on a giant field of ice?
Maybe they should have just played a lot of jenga after Daisy got her powers.
It had been years since Melinda had skated. She remembered how it had felt when she was younger, toeing the line of control, the exhilaration that was not quite the same as martial arts, though no better or worse.
Then Daisy had to start talking.
It seemed that she was looking forward to the impromptu vacation.
One thing that May hadn't expected was her reasons. She had overheard Daisy talking to Jemma in the kitchen the day before.
"You are coming, right?"
Simmons smiled fondly, barely refraining from rolling her eyes at what was the third time being asked. "Yes Daisy, I'm coming ice skating."
"Sorry." She grinned, catching the tone. "I'm just kind of excited. I haven't skated in ages."
Jemma's eyes widened. "I didn't know you skated."
"Yeah." Daisy admitted, "I mean, not a ton, but I went a few times with some foster families, and I stole an old pair of skates from a thrift shop, so I had my own for a while."
Jemma was past disapproving of Daisy's childhood kleptomania. "That must have been nice."
"Yeah." She smiled. "It was something that was mine, you know? Before I got into hacking."
Jemma smiled. "How long has it been?"
"Oh, years." Daisy waved a hand, "But it's like riding a bike, you know?" A wicked grin came across her face, and she leaned in slightly. "And you know what's really great about everyone going skating together?"
Jemma raised an eyebrow. "Joey will feel more comfortable with his powers?"
Daisy rolled her eyes.
"We'll be doing something fun as a team?"
"Hunter will probably fall down?"
Daisy paused. "... Okay, that's pretty great, but it's not what I meant."
Jemma smiled. "Then what did you mean?"
"Jemma." Daisy's voice lowered and Melinda almost couldn't hear her. "I'll finally be able to kick May's ass at something!"
Simmons sounded confused. "What do you mean?"
"Oh come on! She's good at, like, everything!" Daisy exclaimed.
"She's not a very good cook." Jemma corrected, and May smirked sheepishly from her hiding place outside the door.
"Yeah, but I'm worse." Daisy grumbled. "The only thing I'm better than her at is hacking. Literally, the only thing."
"Well, what makes you think that she can't skate?"
"Please," Daisy scoffed, "She's been into martial arts since ever. I did some digging while she was gone, she got her first black belt at ten."
May was really going to have to talk to her about hacking personal information. Again.
"So you don't think May's ever had a hobby."
The sarcasm in Jemma's voice made her smile.
"No, I just think her hobbies are like, useful." Melinda had to acknowledged that she had a point. "And ice skating... isn't that useful. So I'm finally gonna beat her."
"I seem to recall you beating her in a fight." Jemma pointed out, over-politely.
"We don't talk about that!" Daisy snapped guiltily, and Melinda agreed. They had made peace over their fight. There was no point dragging it out.
But damnit, Daisy had done so much lately, she had worked so hard.
She needed a win.
So Melinda May, who once placed second in the under twelves national figure skating competition, found herself clinging to the wall of the ice rink, pretending to fall over every couple of minutes.
Daisy was really quite good. Her balance was excellent, though her feet still moved like they were too heavy, and she threw her weight around a bit. The others varied, though Fitz, Hunter, Mack, and Coulson were all struggling to stand, much to Daisy and Bobbi's delight.
Daisy glided past her a few times, grinning smugly, and Melinda did her best to look like she had never skated before in her life.
Once Coulson had managed to stand upright for more than a minute, he finally noticed his best friend's apparent inability to skate, which he knew she had been doing for most of her life. He frowned, and almost fell over again, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
When Daisy looped past her supervising officer with a grin, getting a glare, he started to suspect, but it was the fleeting smile on Melinda's face watching Daisy and Joey race in circles that really proved it.
Phil grinned and carefully stumbled over to Melinda. "Softie." He teased quietly when he was close enough for her to hear.
A hint of colour touched her cheeks. "Shut up Phil."
He laughed softly, robot hand grasping the wall. He moved like there was a bucket between his knees. "I mean, really?"
"I swear I'll trip you Phil." But she was smiling too.
"How will you do that if you can't skate?" He asked innocently, getting a vehement glare.
"I hate you."
"I missed you too."
"I'm going to stick Hunter's tongue to your arm."
The mental image made him burst out laughing, then overbalance and fall over.
So she was hoping to at least get a little time to herself on the rink, but it was over an hour later, and everyone had gone to the cafe next door. Except for Melinda, and Daisy.
"Hey." Daisy pulled up next to her gracefully. "Uh- do you want a hand?"
May raised an eyebrow. She thought that Daisy was enjoying watching her 'fail'. "Sure." She said hesitantly, letting her take her hands and skate them backwards onto the ice.
Melinda had to admit it was nice getting to spend time with Daisy like this. They hadn't talked much since she had come back.
"So..." Daisy started after a few minutes of pulling May around. "You can totally skate, huh?"
May's eyes snapped to hers, surprised at the question. A moment later she sagged in surrender, her arms falling to her sides. "What gave it away?" She asked sheepishly, relaxing into her natural stance.
Daisy looked a cross between amused and affectionate. "Come on. An hour in and you're struggling for balance? You?"
"Guess I overdid it a little." Melinda admitted, spinning around so that she and Daisy were skating in the same direction.
"Yeah, just a bit." Daisy mocked, gently bumping her shoulder. She liked the embarrassed grin on May's face. It was always nice to see her happy. "Why'd you pretend?" She thought she knew, but Daisy wanted to ask anyway.
The halfhearted shrug and – was she blushing? - either way, that confirmed it, and Daisy smiled so widely her cheeks hurt. "You heard me and Jemma talking."
For a moment the only sound was the scrape of blades on ice, then Melinda shrugged again. She knew when she was caught.
Daisy laughed, a sound that May hadn't heard in a long time. She couldn't help but smile a little wider. She had really missed Daisy.
"You're such a sap." Daisy teased
"Shut up." Melinda shot back without an ounce of conviction. She skated further forwards to hide the smile she couldn't wipe from her face.
Daisy giggled and loped after her. "I mean, you're good at everything, and you spend more than an hour hugging the wall cos I wanted to win."
"Go to hell." Melinda could dimly remember when Skye had been afraid of her, walking on constant eggshells around her. Everything had changed so much since then, but no part of her wanted that part back.
She missed the old SHIELD sometimes. The certainty of backup, the simple missions, the safety. But this... skating side by side with Daisy, the girl she had trained, made it feel like an even trade.
Melinda had never told Daisy, and likely never would, how much she felt like the daughter she had never had. She knew that she had filled the hole left by her own absent mother, so it felt like it was okay. Melinda had imagined a lot about what her daughter would have been like, before Bahrain. She had imagined training her. Teaching her how to fly.
This had been one of her favourite thoughts though. Melinda had loved skating so much as a child, to share that with her own future family was all she wanted. Skating was peaceful, too, in a way that even tai chi wasn't, because it didn't serve a purpose. This wasn't to improve their fighting skills, it was just... nice.
May yelped slightly when something soft collided with her back, but she quickly realised that it was just Daisy, showing her flawless mix of annoying and endearing. This tilted a bit on the latter side, she thought.
Daisy was proud that she was able to hug May without knocking either of them over, and keep moving. "I missed you." She grinned, safe in the knowledge that she could pretend she was just trying to piss her off.
"Get off me."
Even without looking Daisy knew she was still smiling. "Did you miss me?" She asked teasingly.
May wanted to deny it, just to keep this game going, but she couldn't. That didn't mean she was going to admit it either though. As a compromise she broke free from Daisy's arms, darting out of reach.
Daisy laughed again. She knew what May's silence meant. It was nice to know that she had missed her as well. "Come on." She said firmly, taking up her T-stance. "I'll race you. I still say I'm better."
Melinda smirked. "You think?" She said, kicking off with enough speed to perform a decent double axel.
The scowl that settled onto Daisy's face made laughter bubble up in Melinda's stomach. "You suck."
"I thought it was okay." May said innocently.
"It's on." Daisy said with determination, sliding over to where May stood. "Ready... set- go!" She rushed the cry in an attempt to catch her off guard, but May still took off considerably faster than Daisy had hoped, and she quickly found herself falling into second place.
Melinda smiled. This was fun. Really fun, more fun than she'd had in a long time. As she rounded the last turn, fairly close to the wall, the ice beneath her trembled, throwing her off balance. She grasped blindly at the wall, slowing her descent and landing in an undignified heap on the ice.
Daisy zoomed past her with a cheer, arms above her head in victory.
Melinda really tried to hold the laughter in, but she just couldn't help it. Everything about this made her want to laugh. Pretending that she couldn't skate, Phil's teasing, Daisy's unabashed affection, Daisy using her powers to win a childish race. "That's cheating." She grinned, picking herself up.
Daisy laughed too. "Hey, what do you always say about cheaters?"
May crossed her arms with a huff. She knew exactly what Daisy was thinking of.
"-Get their asses kicked." She interrupted before Daisy could use her own words against her.
"Cheaters win!" Daisy cried triumphantly, taking the beginnings of a victory lap, dramatically applauding her own performance.
Melinda smirked. "Yeah, then they get their asses kicked." She said, giving chase.
Daisy yelped and took off, attempting to evade her mentor, even though they both knew that there wasn't a lot May would do to her.
But that wasn't really the point.