It had happened a few hours ago, and Skye was still in shock. Which wasn't that surprising.
Some agents had dug up an artefact from the back end of wherever, and it had finally made it back to the Playground for testing.
Skye wasn't sure what it was, whether it was just an accident, if Fitz and Jemma weren't jelling like they used to and had caused it to go off, or if it was some kind of bait sent to cause havoc in their base. She had no idea. One second the lights on the supposedly dead device had started flashing, the next she had pulled Jemma out of the way, seeing May shoving Fitz, and the moment after that her head was spinning.
Also on the other side of the room to where she had been.
Slightly smaller than she thought she was.
Skye suddenly felt uncomfortable – these weren't her clothes, were they? She glanced down and realised, with something regarding shock, that those hands, though familiar, weren't hers.
When she looked back up and saw herself staring at her from across the room, then she really started to freak out.
May didn't want to think about how it must have looked to Jemma and Fitz. First the flash of light, then she had started to melt down. At least that was how it appeared. What had really happened was that Skye had started to melt down. Not that it mattered, since she seemed to be driving Melinda's body at the time.
Once she had managed to communicate what had happened, the two were whisked off to medical for scans. She tried to tell Skye, tell herself, to calm down, but it was mere moments before they were separated.
It wasn't that bad really, Melinda reflected. Her arms were longer, and Skye's fringe kept getting in her eyes, but they weren't very different physically. Jemma and the medical team said they could have them back to normal in a couple of days. For now they would have to make do.
Jemma had given her a mild sedative, just to take the edge off, she said with a smile. She treated her differently now that Melinda looked like Skye. She was friendlier, less... formal. But that made sense. As did the sedative. May knew that she had an entirely new series of reactions to deal with, no matter how similar she and Skye were on the surface.
"I'd be interested to document your thoughts, if that's okay." Jemma said, "Obviously this kind of thing doesn't happen very often."
"You don't say." It sounded strange. It was Skye's voice, but delivered with May's deadpan.
Jemma snorted a laugh, and May took some joy in that at least. "Yes, well," She continued, "If you and M-Skye could pay attention for anything strange, I'd appreciate it."
"This hair is strange." May grumbled, blowing the fringe out of her face, and getting another giggle out of Jemma.
"Preferably slightly more pertinent. Muscle memory, language skills, that sort of thing."
May sighed, feeling Skye's shoulders rise even though she'd been telling her repeatedly not to breathe to the top of her lungs. "I'll let you know." She said, leaving.
Despite the drugs, she felt anxious. A ball of energy in her stomach that she needed to vent. Now. May's frustration only grew with every doorframe she accidentally hit Skye's arms into, every tiny step that made her trip. Twice she underestimated how far one step would take her and almost fell over. May hoped that she could manage to make it until they fixed this without breaking one of Skye's bones.
A laugh from the gym gave Melinda pause as she approached, and when she reached the door, something in her stopped.
It was Skye, she knew it was. But it didn't look like her. It looked like May, yet at the same time, nothing like Melinda could remember looking like in the longest time. She had an energy to her, leaping around and pummelling punching bags with kicks and punches.
The elated laughter that kept escaping didn't sound like Skye. But it didn't sound like May either. It sounded like the academy cadet who was excited just to be there. It sounded like the agent who didn't quite know how badly missions could go. It sounded like her on her honeymoon. It sounded like that part of her that had died in Bahrain.
May shook herself before Skye saw her first. "Having fun?" She asked, wishing Skye's voice sounded more authoritative.
Melinda saw the slight tensing of her own shoulders, unnoticeable to anyone who wasn't looking for it. Skye turned with a sheepish grin that looked a little odd on her own face. "Kind of." She admitted, "Uuh... how are you doing?"
This was possibly the weirdest thing that had ever happened to her. "I'm coping." May said, pointedly blowing the fringe out of her face.
Skye giggled, and the sound went right through her. It must have shown on her face, because Skye quickly sobered. "Should we- uh, set some ground rules or anything?" She asked, winding the wrappings off her hands.
"Like what?" May asked, moving closer and almost tripping again.
Skye shrugged. "How about 'don't cut off my fringe'?" She suggested. "I'm trying to grow it out."
"Along with your arms then." May grumbled, struggling to cross them comfortably.
Skye smothered a grin. "Hey, I don't even know how you can see anything from down here." She fell back on the flats of her feet. "I mean, I know you're short, but damn." Seeing May's glare on her own face didn't quite have the impact it usually did. "So no stilts then?" Skye suggested innocently, holding back laughter when the glare on her own face intensified.
She was trying to restrain herself, but there was something elating about hearing May's laughter, even if it wasn't really hers. It was clear that it bothered May though.
"You don't shut up and I'll kiss Trip." May threatened with a sly grin that somehow fit perfectly on Skye's face.
Despite the fact that she rarely blushed, Melinda could spot the embarrassment on her own face from a mile away. "Yeah- well, I'll- I'll kiss Coulson!" Skye retorted.
May raised an eyebrow reproachingly, and after a moment Skye pulled a face. "Ugh, gross, I didn't think that through."
Seeing herself smile didn't have the same sense of victory as when she broke through May's wall of blank stares, but Skye would take it. She thought for a moment, then grinned. "Well, I'll drink four cups of coffee a day!" She cried triumphantly, "Good luck getting that taste out of your mouth!"
Melinda shook her head, but couldn't get rid of the smile. "Let's just not do those things, okay?"
Skye almost laughed again, but managed to hold herself back. "Spoilsport."
May rolled her eyes. "Jemma wants us to let her know about anything unusual."
Skye scoffed. "What, like me trying three times to touch a doorknob?" She reached one of May's arms in front of her. "How do you reach anything?"
"Not by complaining." She retorted, "And she said she wanted to know how muscle memory works."
Skye stretched May's arms. "Pretty sure I got your ninja skills." She said. "You haven't taught me how to do a roundhouse kick yet."
Melinda hummed in agreement. "I'll see if my hacking's improved later." She said, "I need to train first."
"I know that feeling." Skye agreed. After a moment an inquisitive look came across her face. "Do you wanna..." She gestured to the mats. "I'm kind of curious."
May cocked her head. It would be interesting to see. "In a little while. I need to figure out how to drive this thing first."
Skye smirked, and it actually looked like May. "Yeah, me too." She flexed her hands. "This is really weird."
"You're telling me." May muttered, moving to get her own punching bag.
Skye knew that from every possible angle this was cheating, but she couldn't help but enjoy actually winning a match against May for once. It was just that she was wiping the floor with her own face, which happened to be under May's control. Their muscle memory had seemed to stay with their bodies, but May was as good at predicting her as ever, just with slower reactions.
It felt a lot more even than usual.
Skye had been the first to fall over without May pushing her. She threw a kick on impulse, but panicked in the middle of it and crashed to the floor.
"Ugh." She groaned, taking the offered hand to get back up. "Ow. Sorry for all the bruises you're gonna have when we get this fixed."
"Don't worry about it." Melinda said. "I'm not doing much better."
Skye smiled tentatively, but couldn't quite meet her eyes. May had been avoiding looking at her too, she had noticed. It was strange to see her own face filled with all of May's micro-expressions. Both turned when they heard the phone buzz, though Skye got to it first. "It's Coulson." She said, looking at the message. "He wants to see... you? I guess." She grimaced. "Good think Simmons briefed him or that'd be awkward."
May rolled her eyes. "Because now it feels totally natural."
Skye shrugged. "I dunno." She said, "It's getting easier."
"Knock on wood." May said, walking to the door.
Skye rolled her eyes. "You're not superstitious." She muttered, heading for the showers, then freezing. It wasn't that she was shy, but that didn't mean that seeing May naked was something that was on her bucket list. She sighed. It would be best to just try not to look. And never mention this again.
Melinda knocked on the door before entering, feeling unusually self-conscious. It figured the only time she would feel like that was when she was someone else.
Phil looked up from his paperwork and frowned. "Skye- what are you- oh. Right." He smiled a little, "Hey."
"Hey." Melinda responded, entering. "Simmons said she would brief you."
"She did. It's just... weird when I actually see it."
"How do you think I feel?" She asked, blowing Skye's hair out of her face for the millionth time.
Coulson swallowed an amused grin. It was still Melinda deep down. "Weirder." He acknowledged. "But you're both okay? No injuries or anything?"
May rubbed her arm. "Bruises from all the doors I've walked into. Skye's just as bad."
He couldn't hold the smile back any longer. "I'm sure you'll live. Simmons said she'd have you back to normal soon." Coulson grimaced. "Kind of wish you two hadn't pulled Fitzsimmons out of the way. If this had happened to them they'd at least have to talk to each other."
Melinda eyed him reprimandingly. "You promised not to meddle unless they start jeopardising missions."
He put his hands up. "Not meddling. Just... hoping." He sighed. "I don't like seeing them like this."
"Neither do I." May said softly, "But we have to let them figure this out themselves."
Coulson sighed, looking down. "I-I know this isn't a good time." He admitted, "But... I have to go."
The words sent an entirely unexpected rush of panic through her. "Why?" May asked, trying to keep her voice neutral.
Coulson frowned internally. She sounded scared. But not scared like May, scared like Skye. Shaky and uncertain and trying not to be. "I got a hit on the symbols." He said, "In Spain. I need to follow the trail while it's hot."
May nodded. "Go. We'll be fine."
"Are you?" He put a hand on her shoulder. "You seem... off."
Melinda shook her head, "The drugs Simmons gave me are probably wearing off. It's fine."
"Are you sure?"
That had the feeling changing to irritation, and she shrugged him off. "I'm fine Phil." She snapped. "Just because I look like Skye doesn't mean you get to patronise me."
"Hey," He seemed affronted. "I'm not patronising you, I'm concerned."
Melinda groaned and rubbed her eyes. "I- you're right, I'm sorry. I just feel... wrong."
"It's okay." Coulson said softly. "But hey, you can do this. I know you can."
"I can." May said softly, trying to believe it. "Don't worry about us, just go." The words felt wrong in her mouth, forced. Some feeling inside made her want to beg him to stay, made her scared that he might never come back.
The concern in his eyes made it clear that he had noticed May's unease. "You- I worry." Coulson looked down. "Promise you'll look after yourself."
Melinda clenched her fist, fighting the angry, desperate, lost feeling. "Just go." She said shortly, and walked out before she did something really stupid.
Melinda sat in her room, trying desperately to get ahold of herself. Her head was in her hands, knees up to her chest. She tried to regulate her breathing, her heartbeat, but nothing would work. Her bed felt wrong, and every time she looked up she was confronted with the fringe that wasn't hers, the hands that weren't hers, it was all wrong. And she felt like she might be sick. Don't go. She begged internally, wishing Phil could hear. Don't leave me.
She was shaken from her thoughts by a knock at the door. "May?" Uncertain, shy. Not qualities usually associated with her voice, but then again, she wasn't the one using it. "Coulson said he was going out on a mission, I- he was worried about you. About both of us, actually, but mostly you."
"I'm fine." She said shortly.
Skye hesitated. "Can I come in?" She asked softly.
"I'm busy Skye." May said curtly.
"I- okay." She mumbled. "If you need me... I'll be in my room."
"Great." May muttered, listening to her footsteps retreat. The feeling intensified again. She wanted Skye to come back. She wanted her to just be there.
Melinda hated this.
She blocked out the telltale sounds of the quinjet taking off, ignored Simmons knocking on her door, all the while wishing that someone would come in. She tried meditating. She tried tai chi. Nothing made it go away.
She wanted- she wanted... she didn't know.
She wanted this feeling to stop.
Melinda sighed, but even that felt wrong. Maybe doing some more strenuous exercise could make it go away.
She opened the door to her closet, where her spare punching bag was kept. Hitting things didn't usually help. May knew that it wasn't a good solution, but there wasn't anything else she could think of.
Except she was distracted, and she wasn't used to having such long arms, so in pulling the bag out, Melinda overbalanced and fell over backwards, taking the bag with her, which knocked the wind out of her.
She lay on the ground for a moment, trying to process everything. Melinda felt her breath shaking on her inhale and scolded herself. No, she thought, stop it. Against thought or control, hot tears started to burn her eyes. You're fine. She tried to convince herself, just calm down.
She couldn't though. Even though May's mind almost managed to slow, the tears, her breathing, the shaking of Skye's body, none of it would cease. It was terrifying. She hated it.
May had just started to feel the bag pushing down against Skye's ribs, realised that she was going to collect some bad bruises for her, started crying again because this was just another way she was hurting Skye, when she heard her phone start to buzz on her desk.
She wasn't thinking straight. If that wasn't clear to her before, it suddenly became so, because given her current situation, taking the call from her mother wasn't a good idea.
Melinda sniffed. "Hello?" She said, realising a moment too late that her voice was immediately and obviously not hers.
There was a long pause. "Who is speaking?" Her mother asked, her voice formal and guarded. May knew that she was masking fear. Of course she was.
"I-" She swallowed. Mom. "I'm- Skye, I- May left her phone in the gym, so I just-" She knew that her mother wasn't going to finish the sentence for her. "I think she's asleep."
"Why are you preventing me from speaking to my daughter?" She asked, and Melinda bit her lip. She just wanted to let it all out, but she couldn't. "If something has happened to her, I would like to know."
"No, it's okay, I-..." She surrendered. There was no way out of this with her pride intact. "I'll get her."
Lian huffed, and May wiped her eyes, opening the door and hurrying to Skye's bunk. She wasn't sure how long she could hold herself together. She only kept from sobbing through sheer determination.
She was stuck in Skye's body, everything hurt, Phil had left her and might never come back, and now she couldn't even tell her own mother who she was or what was wrong. Melinda was grateful that her mother was silent for the minute it took her to get to Skye's bunk. If she said anything at all, she was certain she would crumble.
Skye answered her door quickly. "Hey, what's-" She trailed off, seeing the state May was in. Before she could open her mouth to ask what had happened, May thrust the phone into her hands, eyes begging her to just go with it.
Melinda retreated, letting the tears fall again. Seeing Skye's wide-eyed concern on her own face was almost too much to bear.
Skye swallowed, holding the phone to her ear and fearing the worst. "Hello?"
The voice wasn't one she recognised, but somehow Skye knew. "Mom." She breathed, then stopped, surprised at herself. "I- hi." She tried not to stutter. "How are you?"
Lian hummed. "Well. You lost your phone."
Something in Skye makes her smile. "Leaving it in the gym doesn't count."
"It does if your girl must return it to you." Skye recognised the tone from May. Reprimanding, but not mad. Teasing more than anything. Then she stopped. Had May told her mother about her? There was a certain familiarity in the way Lian spoke of her.
She swallowed the surprise, and the unexpected swell of emotions. Skye had noticed that she was a lot better at doing that since they had switched.
"Has your agency been succeeding?" Lian asked, and Skye's breath caught in her throat. She didn't know how to do this. Lie, convince this woman that she was her daughter.
It's okay. A voice inside her soothed. Just pretend you're talking to May. "More or less." She said, feeling surprisingly calm. "There was an accident in the lab today, but we got Fitz and Simmons out in time."
"You should be more careful with them." Lian said. "They seem to have always been in danger."
Skye felt the need to defend her friends. "They've gotten out of it too."
Lian sighed. "It only takes one time Qiaolian."
"I know." Skye said softly. She bit her lip. "I should go to bed, did you call for a reason?"
"I need no reason to talk to my daughter."
Against her will, Skye smiled. "Okay." She said. "Talk again soon."
"Yes." Lian agreed, but then paused. "You should talk to that girl. She needs you, Qiaolian."
"I know." Skye said, fighting the emotion strangling her throat. Did May know too? She hoped so, but at the same time she was scared of the possibility. "I'll talk to her."
"Good." Lian said. "She was upset."
"Yeah." Skye stared after May. "I should find her."
"Yes." Lian agreed, then softly. "Zhùyì ānquán Melinda."
"Nǐ yěshì Māmā." Skye murmured reflexively, before hanging up.
Since when could she speak Chinese?
Skye found May in one of the less used common areas. It was more like a waiting room than anything else. Just a couch, a tiny TV, and a small table. She was sitting on the couch, head in her hands. Skye's hair hung around her face, a trick they shared.
"Hey." Skye said softly, sitting down. "What happened?" This was weird. She was happy to admit that. But she'd never seen May this upset. She'd never seen her cry, and even though she still technically hadn't, Skye needed to help.
Melinda swallowed, cursing Skye's fringe for getting in her eyes again. "Nothing." She murmured, trying to get herself under control.
Skye bit her tongue to keep from immediately arguing. "Do you wanna talk about it?"
"Nothing to talk about." May said flatly. "I just- I can't stop." She sounded so frustrated.
Skye put a hand on her shoulder. "That sucks." It did. She hated it when she'd start crying and be unable to stop. For no good reason. Just feeling like shit because, "Oh."
Melinda glanced up. Skye could see her eyes were red. "Oh?"
Skye looked away. "So... I tried to go to sleep a bit earlier. I felt tired, so I though a nap might help... anyway, the second I lay down, I just... couldn't." She grimaced. "I just couldn't drift off, no matter what I tried." Skye hesitated. "A-and then, when I did..."
May wiped her eyes, realising. "You had nightmares."
Skye nodded shamefacedly. "Vivid. I don't even know what they were about, I just woke up scared to death." She swallowed. "And you feel... sick, like you're gonna throw up. Scared- alone."
"Since Phil left." Oh God. Melinda stared. "You feel like this every time someone leaves?" She asked in a small voice.
Skye stared at the floor. She shrugged. "I guess."
There was a moment of silence, then Skye was surprised at the ease with which May pulled her into a hug. She was even more surprised at how stiff and unnatural she felt, but she relaxed nonetheless. "You could have mentioned it." May said softly.
Skye shrugged again. "I didn't think it was important."
"It's important." May said. "It feels terrible."
"I thought it was normal."
"No," Melinda pulled her closer. "God no, this isn't normal, it's awful." She swallowed. "I don't know how you cope."
Skye rested her head on her own shoulder, but she still felt stiff. "I'm used to it."
She didn't need to see the look May was giving her to know she was glaring. "Hey, you can't talk." She tried not to snap. "You never said you do tai chi because your nerves are constantly fried, not to mention the not sleeping and the nightmares, if you can even call them that."
"I can deal with it."
"And I can deal with feeling like shit every time someone leaves." Skye shot back. "It just... it sucks that we have to do it alone."
"You don't have to do it alone." May murmured.
"Neither do you." She pulled away a little so that they were seated side by side, still with an arm around each other. Skye wove their fingers together. "How about a deal? We don't go through this kind of crap alone anymore."
May hesitated, squeezing her hand. "I can manage."
"I know you can, that's not the point." Skye sighed. "The point is that I care about you, and I wanna help. So... deal?"
Melinda managed a small smile. "Okay." She murmured. "Deal."
Skye smiled, and for the first time since they had switched, May felt okay seeing that smile on her own face. "Your body sucks." She muttered, and Skye's grin widened.
"Whatever you say short stuff."
"I'm an inch shorter than you Skye."
"Yeah, and you've got freaky thumbs."
"It's called being double jointed, and you're less flexible than my eighty year old father."
"At least I don't walk around with my joints so loose I feel like I'm gonna collapse. You're basically a walking jenga tower."
"Your legs are so long that you run like a giraffe."
"Your hair is a disaster."
"I'm not the one who sheds like a goddamn cat."
"No, you're the one who couldn't walk quietly if your life depended on it."
"At least my default reaction to a hug isn't to freeze up like a deer in headlights."
May hummed, pulling her closer. "Yes, I can see, you're very tense." She teased gently.
Skye scoffed and batted at her. "You know what I mean." She grinned. "And I'm gonna fix it. Get ready for five hugs a day for the next ever."
"Shut up, you love it."
"I do not."
"Please. I know you hugged Coulson earlier."
May rolled her eyes. "It's not my fault your body can't go five minutes without a hug. It's like an obsessive compulsion. Every time I walk past someone on the team I want to squeeze the life out of them."
Skye grinned. "I dunno, I think that's you."
Skye snickered, poking May in that one spot between her ribs that was ungodly ticklish, smiling wider at her yelp. "Whatever you say."
Melinda swallowed a smirk, realising the weak spot Skye had just revealed. She would milk this for all it was worth once they switched back, but for now, "Are you gonna get off me?"
"No." Skye smiled. "And you can't make me, cos I'm stronger than you now."
May rolled her eyes, kicking off her shoes and curling her legs up. "Whatever." She muttered, but then followed it with a quiet. "Try to sleep. I won't leave."
"Okay." Skye mumbled, already half nodding off. She slipped her hand into May's, rested her head against her shoulder, and let sleep take her.
Skye woke first, by some miracle. She squirmed slightly, blinking the sleep from her eyes and blowing her fringe out of her face.
Wait. Her fringe?
Suddenly she felt wide awake, looking down at her hands, running her fingers through her hair, and finally looking beside her. Relief flooded her.
"May!" She said softly, nudging her awake. "Wake up, look!"
May woke immediately, alert in a moment. She rolled her shoulders and sighed with relief. "Thank God." She said, then smirked and poked Skye in the ribs, right in the weak spot she had revealed to her the night before.
Skye squealed loudly and fell off the couch. She stared at May in horror. "No, that's not fair!" She protested, scrambling back and trying not to smile. "You can't do that!"
May grinned and mock pounced, causing Skye to squeak again. She laughed softly, standing up. "Much better." She hummed, offering Skye a hand.
Skye took her hand up with a shy grin, then abruptly pulled May into a rib-breaking hug. "It's good to be back."
Melinda hummed, returning the embrace. She didn't feel as uncomfortable as usual, even if she wouldn't admit it. "Careful you don't hug for too long or we might get mixed up again."
"I don't think that's how it works." Skye giggled, then froze. "Oh my God," She pulled away, "Can we pretend we're still stuck and see if the others figure it out?"
Skye grinned. "See, you say that, but your face says you want to do it."
"It does not." May lied.
"And it'd just confuse the hell out of everyone if we were both acting like you."
"I'm a more convincing me than you are Skye."