It was July second. Not a very special day to anyone at the base really. There was work to be done. Field agents needed to pick up the slack since May had left months ago. Jemma still wasn't talking about what had happened to her through that portal. Coulson was trying to lead, still, while missing his left hand. It was a mess.
It was July second, and Daisy thought that this felt nothing like her birthday.
In the entire debacle that was the Iliad battle, and the aftermath which was somehow almost as bad, she had forgotten to mention to anyone that she now knew when her birthday was. Everyone still thought her birthday was in September, which was what she used to think it was. That should be fine, she had her birthday in September every year of her life so far.
She still felt bad though. Today, years ago, she had been born into the world. On this day she had taken her first breath. That meant something. Right?
"Okay Tremors." Mack sighed, flat on his back in the gym. "What's up?" He stood. "Kicking my ass always cheers you up."
Daisy looked away. "It's nothing." She said quietly. "I guess I've just been kind of flat today. Didn't sleep too well last night."
Mack looked concerned, and she wanted to hug him. "You okay?"
"I'm fine." Daisy managed an entirely smile. "Just... you know."
"Yeah." He rumbled softly, gently patting her shoulder. "Keep your head up Daisy."
The smile turned more genuine. "Thanks Mack. I'll try."
They left, and Daisy excused herself for paperwork, which she usually did in the common area. It was partially true. She had paperwork, just all bets it wouldn't be done.
She really wanted a hug. But it wasn't like there were many takers around right now. She felt bad that no one knew it was her birthday, but there were so many bigger things to worry about right now. She just wished she didn't care that it was her birthday today.
Daisy felt her chest constrict with emotion, and forced herself to calm down before she did something really embarrassing, like crying. She had missed her birthday before. She had been all alone on her birthday before. She had once gotten the news that a family was kicking her out on her birthday. This shouldn't hit her so hard.
Maybe if they knew they'd do something. Maybe they'd have cake after dinner. Maybe May would call. Maybe a lot of things. It felt so whiny to say anything though. Demanding that the others notice her birthday, mere months after almost betraying them all... no. There was no way she was doing that.
Just when Daisy was thinking of getting up to make herself a coffee, she realised she wasn't entirely alone. "Coulson, hey." She greeted with a tired smile. "What's up?"
He was giving her that look the made Daisy sure he could read her mind. All caring eyes and understanding smile. The whole dad package. "Mack's worried about you." He said, approaching and sitting beside her. "What's wrong?"
"It's nothing." Daisy said quietly, weaving her fingers together.
"It doesn't seem like nothing to me."
"You don't have to worry about me."
"Can't help it. Sorry."
Coulson was proud that that got a grin out of Daisy, though she tried to hide it. "I'm fine."
"It's okay if you're not, you know." He reminded gently.
Daisy was silent. After a few moments she said. "It's just, I-... No, it's stupid, never mind."
"Hey, you can tell me." He said softly. "I don't care if it's stupid."
She shrugged non-committally.
Coulson narrowed his eyes. "Skye." He said firmly.
"Daisy." She corrected with a half grin.
He rolled his eyes. "Daisy. Tell me what's wrong."
Daisy bit her lip. "I..." She looked down. "It's my birthday." She said as softly as she could, hoping Coulson hadn't heard.
Coulson frowned, noting Daisy's unusually meek countenance. "What do you mean?" He asked, "Your birthday's in September."
She laughed awkwardly, "Yeah, actually... When I was at Afterlife with Jiaying, she- she told me that it was on the second of July."
There was silence for a moment, then Coulson pulled her into a gentle hug. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Daisy shrugged, but softened into the hug. "I dunno." She mumbled. "I... I kind of forgot for a while. Then it didn't seem important. I didn't want to be... bratty, I guess."
"Telling people when your birthday is isn't bratty." Coulson said, drawing away.
"Asking for anything feels bratty to me." Daisy said dismissively, which broke Coulson's heart a little.
"I wish you would." He murmured. "It's nice to do things for friends and family." He sat up, "Speaking of which, I'll send Bobbi to get a cake."
"No, don't, come on." Daisy protested. "It's stupid."
Coulson's eyes widened in horror. "It's not stupid," He said, "It's cake."
Daisy finally understood why May found him so aggravating. Something about the way he could force a smile out of her was just plain unfair, especially since his jokes weren't even funny.
Coulson grinned at the way Daisy tried to hide her smile while rolling her eyes. "You look just like May." He teased.
"Oh shut up." She grumbled. "You- uh... you haven't heard from her recently?"
"No." Phil replied. "But I could try to track down her number, if you want."
Daisy bit the inside of her lip. She knew what he was doing. Trying to get her to ask. And she had been missing May, a lot. But... "No, don't worry about it." May hadn't called once. Hadn't written. And Daisy got it, she did. May was on vacation. She was spending time with Andrew, visiting her mom, and her dad. Because May had those. She had a family, a real family. She didn't need Daisy. Not as much as Daisy needed her.
That was a good thing though, May had people who loved her, people she could always turn to. Why did that thought make Daisy feel like there was a chasm in her chest?
Coulson put a hand on her shoulder and Daisy felt like she was going to cry. "Daisy..."
"I'm fine." She mumbled. It was true, she was. Daisy had been alone before, she'd had no one for so long. She wasn't alone now. She had Coulson, Fitz, Bobbi, Mack, even Jemma, by some miracle. Daisy was fine.
Daisy was fine.
She was in her room, updating the security protocols, alone. On her birthday. And that was fine.
The buzzing didn't register for a few seconds, but when it did, she sat up, looking for her phone.
When Daisy saw that the number was not a familiar one, she swallowed. It could be anyone. Could even be Hunter pranking her with a burner.
Daisy stared for a moment longer before picking up. "Hello?" She said.
"Daisy?" The voice was instantly recognisable.
"May." She perked up for a moment, then the guilt and the sadness gripped her again. "Did Coulson tell you to call?"
There was a pause. "No." May said, "Why? Is something wrong?"
Just hearing her ask made the tears build back up, and Daisy blinked to keep them away. "No." She murmured. "I'm fine."
"You don't sound fine."
Daisy clenched her teeth. "I am." She said, as firmly as she could.
"Okay." Melinda said. She didn't want to start a fight.
Daisy swallowed. "Are you okay? Where are you?"
May sat in the living room, her father asleep in his room. She stared at the picture of herself, so young and happy. "I'm fine too." She shot back, the best she could offer. "And I'm staying with my father. He was in an accident. Hit and run."
"What? Is he okay?"
Daisy's concern made her feel a little better. "Stubborn as ever."
Daisy smiled tentatively. "Well you had to get it from somewhere."
Melinda smiled. Daisy was making fun of her. It felt nice. She'd missed this. "If you think I can't make your life miserable from here, you're wrong."
Daisy almost laughed. "I'd never think that."
May sat back into the couch. "How's Jemma?"
"... Alive. I think she's gonna be okay." Daisy murmured. "But she's... scared, all the time. I can see it."
"She'll be fine. She's got you, and Fitz, and the others."
"Does she have you too?"
The question pulled Melinda up short, and she froze.
"Sorry," Daisy covered, "I didn't mean... I just- I..." She couldn't say it. How pathetic was it that she couldn't say 'I miss you'? "Are you coming back?"
"Yes." Quiet, almost sad. "I am. Just... not yet."
Daisy swallowed. "Why not?" Trying not to sound too miserable, and failing pitifully.
May was silent for a few seconds, trying to figure out what to say. "You tell me what's bothering you." She murmured, "And I'll tell you."
Daisy gnawed on her lip. "It's not important."
"I don't care."
"May come on." She all but whined. "I'm fine."
"You're less convincing than I am."
Daisy swallowed, leaning back a little in her chair. "So you admit that something's wrong."
"Don't change the subject."
"I'm not." Daisy retorted. "I care about you."
The words shouldn't have felt like a surprise. They shouldn't make Melinda want to cry. She knew that Daisy cared about her. It was just... so strange to hear it out loud. Here she had convinced herself that she was somehow damaged, incapable of it, but Daisy cared about her nonetheless.
"May?" Daisy's voice interrupted her thoughts. "You still there?"
"Yes." Her voice sounded strained, so Melinda swallowed the lump in her throat and tried again. "Yes, I'm here."
Daisy hesitated. "Please tell me what's wrong." She said in a small voice. "I-I'll tell you too, but... you're scaring me. May, you left for a reason, you won't come back for a reason, and... you called for a reason, so will you just talk to me?" She hesitated. "I miss you." There. She said it.
Melinda wiped her eyes gently. "I miss you too." She murmured.
Daisy smiled a little, wrapping her free arm around herself, wishing May was there so that she could hug her.
May took a breath. She wasn't sure that she could do this. She only called Daisy to hear her voice. To remind her that she hadn't screwed up everything in her life. She fought through the fear. "I'm worried that I'm... broken somehow."
Daisy's voice was soft and compassionate. "Why would you think that?"
Melinda clenched her fists. She hated talking about herself. "Things with Andrew didn't..." She trailed off. "And I don't know if I could ever have a life without SHIELD." Tears were in her eyes again. Saying it out loud cut more than she thought it would.
Daisy tried not to sound hurt. "Do you want to?"
"I don't know." May shuddered. "But I've tried before and... I don't know."
"Hey," Daisy murmured. "I know that feeling. Every family that sent me away, I felt like it was cos there was something wrong with me. It messed me up pretty bad."
May sighed. "How do you cope?"
Daisy smiled warmly. "Actually, you helped a lot with that. Being my S.O. Being there, showing me stuff. Just... being you."
May paused, biting her lip, trying to keep her voice steady. "I've never had anyone outside of SHIELD. Only my parents."
Daisy wished with all her heart that she could hug May right now. Instead she said, "Then... maybe SHIELD's just a name, for the place where all the people you love are."
Melinda rolled the words over in her mind, letting the gradual smile creep onto her face, thinking of Fitz and Jemma and Phil and Daisy. "Maybe you're right." She said softly.
Daisy grinned. "Sorry, did you just say I'm right?" She teased gently.
"Shut up." May smiled, and she felt better. Daisy was a lot wiser than she knew. Not for the first time, she wanted to give that girl a hug. Later, she decided. When she went home. Daisy giggled, and Melinda remembered the other side of their deal. "What about you?"
"I dunno," Daisy said, still smiling a little. "Not everyone I love are at SHIELD right now. Maybe soon though."
She sounded so hopeful, and Melinda smiled. "Maybe." She agreed, "But that's not what I meant."
"Wha- oh." Daisy laughed breathlessly. "Ugh, it feels stupid now."
"I'm not trying to... just promise you won't laugh at me."
"Have we met?" May asked sarcastically.
Daisy snorted out a laugh. "You know what I mean."
May hummed in acknowledgement.
Daisy sighed. "Thanks for calling." She mumbled. "I- kind of needed it today."
"I..." She swallowed. "It's my birthday." Daisy said, as quickly as she could, just to get it out of the way.
May was quiet for a moment. "You never said." She murmured.
"Yeah." Daisy mumbled. "I- I kind of forgot, and... I don't know. It feels a bit weird. I was- I guess I was just feeling kind of lonely. It's stupid."
"It's not stupid." Melinda said softly, curling her knees up to her chest. "It's your birthday."
"Yeah." She said again, "But I've had a lot of non-birthdays before. It shouldn't get to me."
May shrugged. "You have people who care about you now. They'd do something if they knew."
Daisy fought the lump forming in her throat. "I told Coulson," She said, "but I made him promise not to do anything."
May sounded amused. "And you seriously think he won't?"
"I dunno. I hope he doesn't."
May frowned. "Why?"
Daisy laughed quietly, wiping her nose. "Cos if I walk into the kitchen and everyone's gotten some huge cake and everything, I might cry."
Melinda smiled wanly. "I guarantee he's gotten a cake. So prepare for that."
Daisy sniffed. "Okay." She smiled as she remembered. "Hey, remember my first birthday with you guys?"
May's eyes were warm. "You'd forgotten it was that day."
"Hey, you guys weren't even supposed to know." Daisy said. "So uncool of Coulson to go into the agencies files to find it."
Melinda bit her lip. Maybe it was time to come clean. "It wasn't Coulson."
"He got the cake and planned it, but... he's not the one who found out when your birthday was."
Daisy balked. "Wha- you? You didn't even like me back then!"
"That's not true." May murmured.
"Well you were pretty good at acting like it for a while." Daisy muttered, remembering how May had used to snap at her, make her feel like she didn't belong on the Bus.
Melinda sighed softly. "I'm sorry for that." She said. "I was- different then. I was just trying to keep Coulson alive."
"I know." Daisy assured. "It's okay. Sorry I was such a wild card." She smiled. "I'm glad we got there in the end. I'm- I'm glad I had you."
"You too." May murmured. She ached to be back with them all right now. To hug Daisy close, and see Phil again, and listen to Fitz and Jemma babble about something she didn't understand. "Happy birthday Daisy."
Even just hearing the words made Daisy tear up, and she sniffled. "Thanks." She mumbled, wiping her eyes. She could feel their call winding to a close, and hoped that May would call again. Or come home.
Almost as if she read her mind, May said, "I'll call again next week. I need to organise some things before I come back."
Daisy heard the message under it. May was coming home. "Okay." She mumbled. "Say hi to your dad for me."
"I will. Talk again soon."
"Thanks for calling." Daisy said, "I- really needed it."
Daisy smiled, absurdly wanting to cry. "I'll see you soon."
"Count on it." A moment later the line went dead.
Daisy wiped her eyes. She felt better. A lot better.
Better enough that when she entered the kitchen for dinner and found that not only had Coulson gotten his hands on a massive cheesecake, but had also gotten a dozen pizzas, she didn't immediately burst into tears. Nor did she when the others sang 'happy birthday', even Jemma.
She did come very close when she and Fitz were cleaning up though. He clearly wanted to say something, but hadn't yet. Daisy waited. She knew he would speak up eventually.
When she caught him looking at her with his big puppy eyes though, Daisy had to ask. "What?"
Instead of answering, Fitz just wrapped his arms around her. Not that Daisy was complaining. Fitz gave the best hugs. She smiled and returned it. "What?" She asked again, snuggling her head into his shoulder.
Fitz smiled. "May messaged me." He said. "Said to give you a hug for her."
Daisy laughed, trying not to let on how touched she was. "Push over."
Daisy grinned, squeezing him tightly. "Love you."
"Love you too." Fitz mumbled.
Daisy smiled. As birthdays went, this wasn't bad at all.
a.n. Soooo, I paraphrased a Welcome to Night Vale line in here, it just fit too perfectly. All credit for the "Maybe SHIELD's just a name for the place where all the people you love are." goes to the folks at WTNV :D