a.n. So ages ago Silverstream requested... something like this, and it kind of mutated into this monstrosity the interim.

Skye was honestly really surprised when she noticed it. May was sneaky as hell, which was known to all of them. The mischievous streak was something that she hadn't seen coming. Different than what she had come to expect from Agent May.

The thing about May's pranks was that ninety percent of the time, they were very subtle. Like when Skye had opened the fridge and found the box marked 'Definitely not snakes'. She was almost completely convinced that May snuck into her room at night and moved her belongings around to mess with her. Once there was a foam cup left on the table in the rec room with a rock on top of it and a note claiming that the person who moved the cup would have to kill it's contents. Hunter had eventually, with much trepidation and a handgun, moved the cup, only to completely panic when he found that it was empty.

Then there was the time when Skye had thought there was no one around, so hadn't felt so inclined to stop herself dramatically singing Tenacious D's 'Tribute' as it played on her ipod. Skye had turned halfway through the song and found May standing in the doorway, grinning and filming her on her phone.

Training.

Holy crap. Training.

Skye really hated training.

Actually no, she didn't. She liked training. She hated getting up for training, and she especially hated when her alarm failed to go off.

Skye had to admit, the first time was nothing special. It had been less than a month since the debacle with Ward and Cybertek, and she had ended up sleeping past her alarm. May had simply knocked on her door that time, lulling Skye into a false sense of security.

Every time since then had made Skye curse her in every way she could think of.

First it was a foghorn, making Skye scream and fall out of bed onto the cold floor in her PJ's. She didn't know how May had managed that without Skye seeing either her or the foghorn, but she wasn't pleased.

Next was a bucket of ice water, which conclusively destroyed the warm cocoon she had made from her blankets. May did stick around for that one, but had to run when Skye had tried to hug her in revenge, still sopping wet.

Skye had to admit, in retrospect it was nice to see that kind of light to May, the smirk on her lips when watching Skye suffer.

Only in retrospect though. At the time it was just mean.

Skye slammed her hand down on her alarm to stop the beeping, but set off some kind of trap, and the PA in her room started blasting Rick Astley at ear-bleeding volume. "I WAS GETTING UP!" Skye screeched, even though she knew that May wasn't there. "It's not even past five!" She grumbled, blocking her ears and pulling on her workout clothes.

May had that self-satisfied grin on her face when Skye reached the gym. "Good morning." She greeted.

"Screw you."

Okay, when she came that close to making May laugh, it was almost worth it. Almost.

Skye snapped. "It wasn't even five yet!"

May shrugged, still smiling. "Well clearly your alarm doesn't work properly, so..."

"I hate you."

"Mmm-hm."

"Why train this early anyway?" They had had this discussion before.

"You're fresh and ready to work. You learn better in the morning."

"Could just train at eight." Skye grumbled. "Wake up after the sun for once."

"Could. Won't." May said, and Skye knew that was her putting an end to it, at least for now. "Now can we start tai chi?"

Skye rolled her eyes, but she really liked tai chi. It was this, not strength training, that got her out of bed. And her psychotic SO.

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

It was almost a month later that Skye got her chance at revenge. She had woken up early, to avoid the inevitable wake-up calls, and entered the gym to find it empty and dark.

She frowned. Weird, May had never been late before.

She grinned. May had never been late before.

Finally.

Skye seized the foghorn that she kept for these kind of occasions, hidden under her bunk, stealthily hurrying to May's room.

Laughter bubbling up inside of her, Skye slowly pushed the door open.

Huh.

The bed was empty and made. It didn't look like anyone had been here in a while.

Had May been called out on a mission in the night, while they were asleep? The idea made Skye feel a little hurt. She had gotten pretty attached to her new SO. What if something happened to her out there and Skye hadn't even gotten a chance to say goodbye?

She shook herself. There was a time and place for paranoia, and Skye knew that jumping to the conclusion that May could be dead just because she wasn't in her bunk was kind of ridiculous.

It was a bit disappointing that May wasn't here though, Skye thought, eyeing the horn in her hand. It'd be nice to get her off guard, for once.

She shrugged to herself. May still was late for training, maybe she was just engrossed in some work somewhere. Skye wasn't sure if she could sneak up on her, but it was worth a shot.

It turned out to be mostly true.

Skye stopped in the doorway of the basement room that May used to do her paperwork in solitude.

May was fast asleep on an open document. She was facing away from the door, but Skye could see her shoulders twitching sporadically. She must be dreaming, Skye dimly registered.

A tiny whimper escaped from May's sleeping form, and Skye approached softly, quietly proud that she could do so without waking her.

Skye rounded the table, seeing May's face. She looked different in sleep, unguarded. Afraid. Scratch dream, this was definitely a nightmare.

It was weird for Skye to realise that she had never considered May having nightmares before. All the clues were there – the lack of sleep, the shadows under her eyes sometimes, the way she glared away any prying eyes.

Skye winced when she put down one foot too hard, and May jolted awake, a word on her lips that was barely a whisper. Her eyes quickly fixed on Skye, then darted to the object in her hand. May smiled wryly. "Want me to go back to sleep so you can use that?"

Skye glanced at the foghorn and let it clunk the small distance to the floor, any thoughts of revenge lost in the wind. "Are you... okay?" She asked softly, hoping not to get her head bitten off.

For whatever reason, fatigue, whatever nightmare she had been having, instead of snapping, May sighed and rolled her shoulders to alleviate the stiffness. "I'm fine, Skye." She sounded so weary. Bone-tired.

Skye just watched her with wide compassionate eyes.

Melinda rubbed her eyes, partially to wake up a little more, though mostly just to avoid looking at Skye. "Can't you leave it alone?"

Skye hesitated. "What do you think?"

"I'm okay Skye."

"I don't believe you."

"Well that's not my fault!" Melinda snapped, frustrated.

Skye withdrew a little, surprised at the outburst. "I'm just worried about you."

Melinda scoffed, running her fingers through her hair. "No you're not, you've got a hero complex, exactly like Phil." Now she glanced up at Skye. "Even down to the damn googly eyes."

"You can't scare me away." Skye said firmly, wondering where the courage came from to say that. When she had gotten to know May well enough to see what she was doing.

The glare she found herself on the receiving end of proved that she was right to think so. Then May stood and started to walk away.

She sighed and followed, "May- come on, please. You can talk to me."

"There's nothing to talk about."

Skye followed her out. "You don't have to keep burying the crap you deal with."

"It's none of your business how I deal with anything."

"Yeah, why involve your friends in your life, right?" Skye retorted sarcastically, trying to keep her temper. "It's not like we care about you."

"Leave me alone."

"No."

"Damnit Skye-" May came to an abrupt stop in the dark corridor, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. "I don't need to talk about it."

"You need to do something." Skye refuted. "This isn't healthy, you can't keep it up." May looked away. She wished that Skye at least looked angry, something other than raw concern. "When did you last sleep?"

"Just now." Acid laced her tone, but it was transparent.

"You know what I mean."

"Why do you care?!" Melinda knew that it wouldn't make Skye back off, but the whole situation was so frustrating that she couldn't help it.

"Because you're my friend and I care about you, and..." Skye hesitated. She was pretty sure that May didn't know this. "You said my name."

For the first time, May looked shocked. When Skye took a step closer she could see her withdraw. "I just- please, you do so much for me, at least talk to me. Let me help."

"I don't train you so that you'll pay me back."

"And I don't wanna help just to pay you back. We're better than that now."

Skye watched the her think about it, emotions that she wouldn't have been able to spot until now, warping and shifting until settling on defeat. Melinda sighed, "Tea?" She offered weakly, and Skye smiled.

"Sounds good."

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

"This happens a lot, right? That's why you train so early." Skye curled her knees close to her on the couch, trying not to scare her off.

A quiet nod. Melinda's hands were wrapped around her mug of tea, and her eyes were fixed on the steaming liquid.

Skye bit her lip. "Is it Bahrain?" She asked hesitantly. She didn't want to overstep, but she did want to help.

Melinda wasn't surprised that Skye knew about Bahrain. It was only ever a matter of time until one of the others told her. Phil probably, since she knew it was a sore spot, not a great story. "Sometimes."

"Does anyone else know?"

May shifted slightly. "Sometimes Coulson notices." She mumbled. "But..."

"You haven't talked to him about it." God, she looked so worn out. "How much do you sleep?"

Melinda shrugged. "Three hours, sometimes. On a good night."

Skye had honestly expected the worst, but still. "You can't do that, it's not good for you."

"Made it fine so far." Melinda took a swig of her tea. She knew that it was a weak response, but she couldn't help it.

"That doesn't make it okay." Skye refuted. "It just all piles up, and then you'll miss something when you're out on mission and..." She tried to keep herself from getting upset.

May's shoulders hunched as she curled in on herself. "I can't make it stop." She whispered, never having felt so helpless as admitting that. "I'm so tired, but I can't-"

She seemed on the verge of breaking, and after a moment of contemplation Skye shuffled closer so that their shoulders were touching. "You're the bravest person I know." The unspoken question echoed between them, what are you afraid of?

"I'm not brave." May said softly. "I'm just not scared to die."

"I'm scared of you dying." Skye admitted. "When you weren't in your bunk... I thought you could have gone out on a mission without telling me. Then, I thought- if anything happened to you-"

That was a feeling Melinda was familiar with. When she was a child, watching her mother go off on missions, never with any real guarantee that she would return. "I wouldn't leave without saying goodbye." She murmured, somehow finding the strength to take Skye's hand. That was the promise her mother had made her after a seven year old Melinda had burst into tears when she left in the night.

"Okay." Skye acknowledged, feeling a little childish. She hadn't meant to make this about her, she just wanted May to open up a little. Though, she supposed that she had, making that promise. It did bother her that May claimed not to fear death. "I-if you're not scared to die..." What did you dream about? "What are you scared of?" It was a loaded question, Skye knew, and she was fully prepared for May not to answer.

She didn't answer, not verbally at least. May sighed softly, and her thumb gently rubbed circles on the back of Skye's hand. Her eyes moved to meet hers, holding her gaze steadily for a moment before trailing back down.

Skye didn't know how, but something about the way May looked at her answered the question perfectly. What was Melinda May afraid of? Skye. Coulson. Fitz. Simmons. All of them. People that she cared about. People who got close.

Skye thought that she was probably the only person in their team who could completely understand why. Not only the obvious reason of always losing those you care about. But the other reasons too. Skye had used so many different personalities growing up, hoping that she could pretend to be the person a foster family would want. She never tried to be herself though, because there was nothing more terrifying the idea that they would see who she really was and judge whether that person was worth it.

May did that too, Skye had been slowly realising. She had wrapped herself in this robotic, ice queen persona, keeping herself safe. Skye knew that it wasn't a total act, the best disguises were rooted in truth after all. May wasn't just 'Agent May' though. There was a light inside her that had been shining more and more lately. Skye had seen her fleeting yet warm smiles. She had seen the mischief dancing in her eyes, the concern for them all. She could see the person that May was, underneath it all. They all could.

Frankly, Skye could understand the fear that stemmed from that. It wasn't like she hadn't hid too. "What happened?" She asked softly. "In your dream."

Skye could see May's jaw working, battling to tell her, to let her in. "I killed you." She finally said, in a flat, dead voice. She remained perfectly still, waiting for Skye to react, say something, do something. Edge away awkwardly. Joke about how that must have been a great dream. Brush it off.

Instead, after staring at her for a long moment, Skye put down her tea and shuffled closer to engulf Melinda in a warm hug. Feeling how she tensed at the contact didn't throw her, and Skye simply buried her head in the crook of her neck. "I'm sorry." She murmured. "That sucks."

It was such a dramatic understatement that May laughed, short and clipped, sure, but it melted a chunk of the apprehension.

Skye bit her lip nervously. She wanted to say it, but she was still scared. "I had a nightmare a few months ago." She said. "That you and Coulson didn't want me here anymore, so you sent me back to the foster home." Even voicing it aloud made her feel a mixture of shame and unimaginable fear. Her heart pounded.

May stilled, turning her head in an attempt to look at her. "Skye..."

Skye kept her face hidden in May's shoulder. She knew it was childish and stupid, but she couldn't help it. Then strong arms came up to wrap around her in return and the fear was gone.

"That sucks." May said, and Skye burst out laughing, squeezing her even tighter.

"Oh my God, shut up." She giggled, and she knew without looking that May was smiling too.

"You started it."

"Yeah, well you're too old to say that."

"What did you just call me?"

"Nothing!" Skye exclaimed. "Your hearing must be starting to go."

"You're asking for it." Melinda warned, using one hand to poke and tickle her ribs.

Skye squeaked and burst into a fit of giggles, half-heartedly trying to squirm away and defend herself without letting go. "Okay, okay you win!" She laughed after a moment. "You're not old!"

"Damn right." Melinda smirked, relenting in her playful assault.

Skye caught her breath, still grinning, and snuggled closer, letting her eyes flicker shut with a sigh. She felt... warm, safe. Even loved.

It struck her like a bolt of lightening that this was what she had always wanted her mother to be like. Someone strong, who taught her how to be strong too. Someone to look up to, but not to fear. Someone to confide in. Someone who made her feel like she was worth it, who thought that she, Skye, was something special. Someone who loved her.

That wasn't all May was though. She needed someone too, and Skye could see that clearly now. She needed someone to draw her out, to show her that she could be happy, that she didn't need to punish herself.

Skye suddenly felt very tired, and she let a yawn escape.

"Skye."

"Hmmm?" She mumbled sleepily.

Melinda smiled and brushed a strand of hair from her face. "I know what you're doing."

Skye didn't quite keep from leaning into the touch. "Yeah?" She yawned again. "And what are you going to do about it?"

May hesitated, but only for a moment. Deep down she knew that she'd do anything for this kid, and it looked like all she wanted at the moment was for her to take care of herself.

Skye felt Melinda gently rest her head on hers, and smiled. I love you mom. She thought, knowing that she might never have the strength to say it.

I love you Skye.

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

Waking gradually wasn't something Melinda had done lately. She was used to waking very suddenly, full of adrenaline. What usually woke her was something to put her on alert. Images of her team in danger. Occasionally an alarm. Pain. Fear.

The sound that pulled her out of it now was far less threatening. A stifled laugh, followed by a soft 'click'.

She blinked her eyes open, and Skye's face revealed itself, still beside her, holding her phone with a grin.

Melinda looked at her for a long second, taking in the look on her face, how she had clearly just been snapping pictures of her on her phone, then sat up. "What did you do?"

Skye's smile widened, and she was clearly holding in laughter. "Nothing! God, May, you're so paranoid!"

May glared. "Skye."

The way she dissolved into bright laughter convinced Melinda that she had done something to her face. She stood and headed to the nearest bathroom to see, leaving Skye still laughing on the couch.

Looking in the mirror, Melinda couldn't help but laugh too. Skye had coloured in the tip of her nose with black marker, and drawn whiskers on her cheeks, giving her the appearance of some kind of cartoon cat.

Strange as it was, she was almost hesitant to clean it off.

Almost. "I'll get you back for this you know!" May called with a grin.

"Worth it!" Skye retorted from the other room. Besides, this was her revenge, not May's. May had been pranking them all for weeks.

So Skye kept it up. She moved May's favourite tea to the third shelf up, just high enough that she couldn't reach, but not so high that most of the others couldn't. More than once Skye walked in on her clambering onto the counter to get it rather than asking for assistance.

Whenever May returned from a mission she found AC/DC blasting over the speakers as she walked into a room, and it took everything she had not to grin.

Skye even went so far as to leave a walker in the cockpit with a note simply reading 'just in case'.

Something about it all made Melinda look back and smile. Maybe it was because it was Skye, maybe it was because the pranks were designed for her specifically. Maybe it was just that someone other than Phil felt safe making fun of her, she wasn't sure.

But hey.

It helped her sleep at night.