If Melinda May had to describe the events of the past few weeks, how she had felt about everything, the people who had been hurt, the war that had been waged, if she were to summarise it all in one word, she knew exactly the one to choose – raw.
Everything felt so very raw and open, like a wound bathed in salt water, like a cold chill in the air so crisp that it burned your throat before even breathing it in. Nothing was soft or kind right now, even the things that had stopped hurting.
Melinda sat in that med-bay, two of the people she loved the most in the world motionless in beds on either side of her. Their faces clear, but sallow and weak, somehow asking why she wasn't in a hospital bed too, why she got to escape unscathed.
Skye's father sat there too, on the other side of Skye's bed to Melinda. Some agents had eyed him cautiously, but Melinda softly told them that it was fine. He wasn't going to try anything, not here or now.
Both patients were in a drugged sleep, dead to the world, and any of the pain it might bring. In some ways May envied them.
After several hours of simply sitting in silence, watching his daughter's face, Cal spoke to Melinda. "You were never going to shoot her, were you? At that school."
May could vividly remember the bluff she and her student had pulled, before she had any grasp of her powers. "No."
"You care about her."
And she paused. "Very much." Her voice sounded strained.
Cal grimaced. "If I'd been looking I might have seen that."
A hint of a smile. "You care about him too." He nodded to the unconscious Coulson.
A quiet nod.
"We're alike in that at least. Lot of love to give."
"You've got a funny way of expressing it."
"Oh, it drove me mad." Cal smiled humourlessly. "As it might you one day, you never know."
There wasn't a hint of doubt when Melinda shook her head. She didn't break. She endured, whether she wanted to or not.
"You're the one... she, mentioned, aren't you? In Bahrain."
Melinda swallowed. It seemed like everyone knew now. "Yes."
"She was very upset with you, you know." Cal said conversationally. "Didn't want SHIELD messing in her affairs."
"Maybe it would have been best if we hadn't."
He shrugged. "Wouldn't matter, would it?"
"I wouldn't know."
Cal observed her frankly. "She wouldn't have done any different. Once gifts have been bestowed... that's it. Katya was a mistake, the story they tell all the new kids on the block to remind them why they followed her rules."
Katya. She had never known the little girl's name. "So there was nothing that could have been done."
"Oh, that girl was doomed long before she met you." Cal gestured with his hand. "Things get put into motion, you know how it is."
Melinda's eyes had found Skye. It was impossible for her to disassociate the young agent with Bahrain now. That was okay though. Skye had made it clear that she didn't need her anymore.
But she stayed with her anyway, because just because Skye didn't need her, didn't mean that she didn't need Skye. Melinda needed her safe, needed her alive, needed her happy, even if she knew that she couldn't give Skye those things any more. She was strong, she could protect herself. And after finding out about Bahrain, Skye wouldn't feel anything but disgust towards her. Melinda had already seen it behind her eyes, held back while they were on mission, while Melinda was needed.
She wasn't needed now though. And May knew that the second Skye looked at her, that disgust and hatred and disappointment would be there, and she couldn't face it. Not from Skye.
Melinda swallowed the lump in her throat. Phil had gotten out of the infirmary a coupe of hours prior. "How is she?"
Cal had been taken for interrogation. It was just her and Jemma now.
Jemma noted her concern, and smiled softly. "Fine." She said, "She should wake up any minute now."
As if her words held some kind of key, Skye started to twitch ever so slightly, slowly waking.
May stood, making for the door. "May, you're leaving?" Jemma asked, surprised.
Melinda swallowed. The lump wouldn't go away. "Paperwork." She offered, not waiting to see if Jemma bought it.
She stood just around the corner from the door, listening. Because she needed to know that Skye was okay. A minute later, her voice sounded.
"Wha- Jemma?" She sounded dozy, probably from the drugs. "What happened?"
"You should rest." Jemma soothed her. "Your body's been through a lot of strain. You'll be fine."
"My mom..." Skye had started to remember. "Sh-she... she's dead."
Jemma was silent, but that was enough of an answer. Melinda could hear that she was crying from her breathing.
"I'm so sorry Skye." Jemma hesitated, then wrapped her arms around her.
"I-I just wanted a family." Skye stuttered, clinging to her. "A-and she... and him... where are the others?"
"Fitz and Mack are reprogramming the Iliad." Jemma said carefully, "Agents Morse and Hunter are helping process the remaining Inhumans. Your father was taken for questioning, but he's safe."
Skye gasped breaths, getting herself under control before she asked, "Coulson? May?"
Jemma sighed softly. "Agent Coulson was injured in the altercation. He is recovering upstairs."
Melinda bit her lip, her head falling back against the wall. She wanted to go back in there and talk to Skye. Help her. Try to comfort her after everything she had been through. But she knew that disgust would be there, that knowledge about Bahrain. She knew that. She couldn't do it.
"She had other matters to attend to."
Skye sniffled. "Yeah. More important things. I get it."
Melinda walked away quietly, before her resolve vanished. As she crept down the hallway, she heard Jemma whisper, "She sat with you all night."
May figured out a system. Since Jemma was keeping Skye in bed for a few days, she came to check on Skye while she was sleeping, or drugged, or got reports from whoever was on duty. She watched her. She left her favourite snacks on the table by her bed. She never visited when her eyes were open.
When Skye was awake, Melinda would stand by the door and listen, making sure she was coping. Wishing she wasn't such a coward.
Jemma caught her eavesdropping outside the door once, and sighed sadly, gesturing for May to join her in going in. She had shook her head, and Jemma looked annoyed, but didn't say anything to Skye. May was grateful. She knew that she was being a coward.
She needed to make sure Skye was okay, but at the same time, she couldn't face her. She was trapped. Most times she was standing outside Skye would ask about her, almost like she knew that she was out there, and Melinda would feel the urge to go and talk to her. She would fight it like hell every time.
Phil caught her alone when she had just left Skye, sleeping in the med bay. "Skye wants to see you." He said, cornering her in the kitchen.
Melinda hesitated, hand on the cupboard door. "I visited."
"Yeah." She heard him walk closer, and her shoulders tensed. "When she's unconscious."
He stopped directly behind her, and May clenched her teeth. "Don't." She muttered. Every time she remembered Skye telling her she was dangerous, her distrust and anger, May felt like she was going to cry. She couldn't face it again.
"Why won't you talk to her?" Phil's voice was soft. Understanding. Caring. That made her want to cry too.
"I can't." Melinda hardened her facade and turned to face him. "So just leave it alone."
She made for the door, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her. "Melinda."
Damnit. She hated him. She really did. How could Phil just saying her name almost make her crack? "Don't." She repeated, but now it felt more like she was begging.
His eyes were warm, and his left arm was still in a sling. "Why won't you talk to her? You talk to me, even though you were mad."
Melinda chewed on her lip. "I'm not-" She tremored, "I can't- take how she looks at me now." She mumbled, biting back tears. "Skye knows what I am- what I did," She corrected before he jumped on the statement. "I can't..." She trailed off.
Phil smiled in that crooked way of his. "I know what happened too." He said softly. "All I see when I look at you is my best friend."
She looked down. "It's not the same."
Something in her body language must have given away how much she needed a hug right now, because Phil quickly wrapped his un-slung arm around her, pulling her in. "It's exactly the same." He murmured into her hair. "If you talked to her you'd see that."
Melinda shook her head. "No. I'll be gone before she has the time to find me."
"What would you do if I forbade you to leave until you talked to her?"
Silence. They both knew what she would do. She would leave anyway. Coulson sighed softly as she extracted herself from his arms. "Please, talk to Skye. She thinks you're angry at her."
"Tell her that."
"No." It was childish and stubborn, but May knew she couldn't do this, not now, maybe not ever. She had lost Skye in every conceivable way. She couldn't look at all of the hatred she felt for herself reflected in the eyes of someone she cared about. Coulson had always been too forgiving. By rights he should be disgusted with her too.
Skye didn't need her. There was nothing Melinda could offer her that someone else couldn't provide. Especially now that she had had her mother, even for such a short time. It was sad. It was pathetic. May hadn't even realised how much she had come to care for Skye. But she did, and it was harder than anything to let her go.
May slipped up. She didn't pause outside the door when she visited that evening. Didn't listen to hear that Skye was asleep. She was barely in the room for a moment before she realised her mistake, but it was a moment too long.
May hugged the wall outside, cursing herself.
"No, come back!" Skye was calling for her, and she squeezed her eyes shut. "Please, I'm sorry!" Her voice shook, and Melinda felt the familiar pang in her heart that came with leaving Skye behind. "Come back!" Now she was crying. Melinda bit her lip, feeling her own tears well up. "I can't, I can't lose you too, please!"
May hated this. She hated that she was so weak that she couldn't be there for Skye in this moment of desperation, and let her go once it was over. But she knew that once she was there again, once she let herself comfort Skye and help her again, she would never let go.
She hated herself for wanting to go in there. She hated herself for staying outside.
May couldn't do this.
She left to pack.
Skye had just gotten her tears under control when Coulson entered the infirmary. If he noticed her red eyes, he didn't comment. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine." Skye sniffed.
"You sure about that?"
Skye pursed her lips, willing herself not to cry again. "May hates me." She mumbled. "I-I get it, I know why, I just... I lost my mom." Nope, the tears were starting again. "I can't lose her too, not now."
Coulson put his hand on her shoulder and hesitated. He took a breath. "Jemma's on lunch." He murmured. "If you want to sneak out, now's the time."
Skye shook her head. "No. She doesn't wanna see me. She hates me."
"She doesn't." Coulson said. "She just... feels guilty."
"What's she feel guilty about?" Skye asked, her voice stuffy. "I'm that one that knocked her out."
Skye's heart clenched. "Oh." Now she felt guilty. She had lashed out. She was frustrated and she had lashed out at May, throwing the biggest trauma that had ever happened to her back in her face. "I didn't mean to-"
"I know." He said, "But you should talk to her."
Skye wiped her eyes. "Okay."
Melinda was nonsensically throwing clothes into a bag when she heard the voice behind her. It was breathless and scared and desperate. "You're leaving?"
Phil. Why couldn't he leave well enough alone? May continued packing, hoping against hope that Skye would just leave it. Not that she expected that to really happen.
"Please don't." Skye pleaded, entering shakily. "Don't leave me." Just saying those words cracked her open. They echoed every family to ever abandon her. Every foster home to send her back.
May kept her head down. "I'm coming back." She mumbled.
"When?" Skye tried to be strong. She was really trying. But her mom was dead, only weeks after meeting her, and now May was leaving. Because of her.
A pause. "I don't know yet."
Skye hesitated for a heartbeat, then couldn't hold herself back anymore and flung her arms around May, almost knocking her over. Her breathing was wild and unchecked, and she was failing to hold the tears in. "I'm so so sorry." Skye mumbled, clinging to her on the floor of her room. "P-please don't- I-I can't..." The words turned into sobs, and that was the straw that broke the camels back for Melinda. She could do a lot of things, but letting Skye cry wasn't one of them.
May returned the hug, rubbing gentle circles on her back in an attempt to calm her. She didn't say anything. She didn't know what she could say. "You'll be okay." She murmured. "You don't need me."
"Don't be stupid." Skye sniffed, "Of course I need you. You're my S.O."
"You don't need to be trained any more Skye."
"It doesn't matter, I need you anyway."
Melinda was silent. Skye was wrong. She knew that. She might think that she needed her, but that was just the abandonment issues talking. Skye was strong, she was competent, and she had so many people here who loved her. Losing her wouldn't mean anything.
"Hey." Skye seemed to have picked up on what her silence meant. "Look at me."
Damnit no. May couldn't do that. She wouldn't, she knew what she would see.
"Hey." Skye said again, pulling away, ducking her head to catch her eyes.
Melinda turned her head, avoiding eye contact, yet somehow content with holding Skye in her arms mere seconds ago.
"Goddamnit, May, would you just-" Skye finally closed one hand around her jaw, forcing May's eyes to meet hers. "I need you." She said earnestly. "More than ever, more than anyone, I-I need you."
May blinked back tears. She hardly heard what Skye said. All she could see were her eyes, free from blame or disgust or hatred. She said that she needed her. And somewhere in her eyes, Melinda could see that it was true. She glanced away again. "I can't stay. I-I need to know who I am, without SHIELD."
"Okay." Skye whispered, trying not to feel to disappointed. At least now May knew how much she needed her. Maybe she would call.
A warm hand was placed over hers. "I can stay for a few more days." May offered. "If you want."
Skye smiled, eyes shining. "I'd like that."