Phil still felt a little out of his element on pub crawls like this. Hanging out with the others from ops. He kept worrying that they were going to realise that he didn't belong here, that he was different, and he'd be kicked out of the academy, back where to somewhere he belonged, like a diner.
For now though, this was good. This was nice. He had a new best friend in Melinda, and the others were surprisingly nice, most of the time. This was only their second pub of the night, but Phil could feel himself getting a little light-headed. He slipped off to the bathroom quietly, not wanting to disturb anyone.
Melinda was five minutes down the road when she realised, "Where's Phil?"
Hartley looked around and shrugged. "I dunno." She said shortly, "He must have gone back to the dorms, you know how he is with assignments."
Melinda grimaced. Yes, Phil was a stickler for getting work done, but she knew he'd been looking forward to this. He'd spent all week getting ahead so that he could come. "I'll catch up with you guys."
"I'm gonna win so much money when you finally hit that!" Hartley called after her as she headed back to the pub.
Phil looked around aimlessly. They'd all gone. They'd left him behind. He couldn't help the heartbreak that came with that realisation. He really was just a fluke. He had somehow gotten in to operations, and everyone knew that he didn't belong there. The others had either left on purpose ditching him at the first opportunity, or they didn't notice he was gone, which felt even worse.
He sank into a stool with a sigh, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. Pathetic. He was almost in tears. But he was a little bit drunk, and he'd just started to think that he might have friends here. Even Melinda had left him, and he really really liked her.
He looked up and swallowed the lump in his throat. "Melinda." He coughed, trying to hide how deeply he had been wallowing in self pity. "What are you doing here?"
She looked confused. "I- I noticed you weren't with everyone, and I wanted to check and make sure we hadn't missed you."
Now he really felt like he might cry. "You didn't have to."
Melinda shrugged with a slight grin. "It's more fun when you're around." She hesitated. "Do you want to go back to the dorms?"
"No!" Phil said, way too fast. "No, I just need a second, you know?"
"No problem." She said softly, sitting beside him. "I told Hartley we'd catch up with them. They've got karaoke in the next pub."
Phil snorted. "Well I can't miss that." He said, "Definitely not if you're going to go up."
Melinda laughed. "Trust me, you don't wanna hear that."
"I really do." He teased.
She rolled her eyes, but the grin remained.
Phil sighed. "You didn't have to come back for me." He mumbled awkwardly.
Melinda smiled. "What kind of a SHIELD agent would I be if I didn't?" She asked. "Leave no man behind." She stood, gesturing for him to follow.
Phil pushed himself into a standing position, then, feeling daring, briefly kissed her cheek. "Thank you."
Fighting down his own blush, he noticed that Melinda had gone slightly red. "You're welcome." She mumbled, turning to the door.
He really liked Melinda.
Fitz was still unconscious, and it was difficult to tell what damage had been done until he woke. If he woke. He was hooked up to half a dozen machines in the Playground's medical bay. After greeting the others, Simmons had returned to Fitz's side, and did not leave.
He did not look good. Pale, sunken eyes, almost swallowed by the hospital bed.
The others came and went, fading in and out as time allowed. They all visited as soon as they arrived, staring, heartbroken, at their engineer. May left immediately upon seeing him. Coulson, Skye and Trip stayed for over an hour, speaking in hushed voices about ways to wake him, as if worried to disturb him.
Eventually, one by one, they left as well. Jemma didn't hold it against them. They did have a lot to do. She should be helping, but she couldn't do anything without thinking of Fitz. She couldn't leave without feeling like he was waking up at that very second, all alone, wondering where she was.
She talked to him, hoping it would help. It felt strange to say things to Fitz without him finishing the sentence for her.
It was past midnight before Simmons saw anyone else. She heard the door open and sighed. "I'm not leaving." She said, expecting Skye.
Jemma looked up. "May." She had never really spent much time with May. She wasn't even sure if they were technically friends, since they hadn't ever really had a conversation unless it was about a mission. "I thought you were Skye." May was in her usual black shirt, pants and boots, and carried a tote bag in one hand. She looked unusually casual without her leather jacket.
"Easy mistake to make." She said sarcastically.
Jemma smiled, but it didn't even come close to reaching her eyes.
"Here." May put a plate with a sandwich on it, and a cup of tea on the small coffee table. She took the seat next to Jemma. "You need to eat."
Simmons stared at the offering, uncomprehending. Food. She needed to eat food. But she wasn't hungry.
Then she noticed something. It was really not very important. The sandwich was ham, salad and mustard, on wholemeal bread. Her favourite. The tea was made her way too, her favourite mug, bag left in, a splash of milk, and if the pattern continued, one sugar.
Jemma was left thinking that maybe May had been her friend all along. For some reason that was the straw that broke the camel's back, and she sobbed, one hand going to her mouth to cover it, and tears flowing from her eyes.
May turned in the seat so she could embrace the biochemist, and pulled Jemma close. She hated seeing her friends like this. Hated being unable to fix it.
Jemma clung to May, shaking with tears and gasping for breath. May simply tightened the embrace. Any words of comfort felt hollow, even in her mind. "We'll fix this." She murmured, but the question echoed unspoken, how?
Jemma didn't really care for words of comfort. The only solace she could find was that the others were all okay. Safe. Unharmed. Selfishly, she wanted to know why it had to be Fitz who ended up in this bed, while everyone else was fine, while Hydra agents out there still walked and talked and breathed.
"Deep breaths." May said softly, noting that Simmons was on the verge of hyperventilation. "Slow down."
Jemma took the advice, forcing her breathing to slow, tears abetting, but still shaking like a leaf in a storm.
May reached for her bag, unzipping it. "Here." She said, drawing out a blanket and draping it over her, keeping one arm on her back, rubbing gentle circles. Next she removed a pillow, then a stuffed monkey. Fitz's stuffed monkey. Jemma had gotten it for him as a birthday present the year they had met. She immediately buried her face in it, breathing stale air in through the worn fabric.
"He'll be fine." May said, "And if he's not, we'll fix whatever's wrong."
That did give Jemma a glimmer of hope. Skye was practically dead, and they brought her back. Coulson was dead, and Fury brought him back. They could so the same for Fitz, surely. "He saved me." She said so softly that May almost didn't hear.
"You saved him too." May didn't know what had happened, but that much was clear.
"He did a better job of it."
May paused. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Jemma sniffled and shook her head. "I- I just... I can't leave him."
"I know." May murmured, "It's okay. Leave no man behind."
Something in May's eyes said that she wasn't entirely talking about Fitz, and Jemma allowed herself to fall back into the hug. She needed this.
Fitz didn't know how long he had been in the lab. Time was hard to think about these days. Everything was hard to think about. He couldn't talk to the others, Jemma had left him, and they'd bulldozed their old lab to make a garage. He hated it. He hated it all. Every time he started to get used to a place, it was taken away, forced away. First Jemma had dragged him into the field, and then once he had started to like their team, it had broken apart. Then SHIELD fell. Now Jemma was gone, and Fitz didn't know why he was here. He didn't know what he was good for.
Maybe he should just leave.
Skye's head appeared in the door. "Hey Fitz." She said, voice that little bit too soft, too gentle, not the Skye he knew. "Dinner's ready upstairs, whenever you wanna come up."
Fitz nodded shortly, staring at the project he was working on. He wasn't hungry, but he knew that if he nodded Skye would leave him alone.
He didn't know how long it had been when someone else entered. Fitz groaned internally when he saw that it was May. He could push Skye away easily enough. May was something of an immovable object. "I brought dinner."
"I-I'm not- not... uuh- Hungry! Not hungry."
"Fitz." She doesn't even sound frustrated or upset. Nor that frustrating false patience everyone used when talking to him now. "You need to eat."
May sat down on the stool next to him, putting the sandwich on the bench. She said nothing, just watched him work.
Fitz was surprised at how little of a intrusion it felt like. Usually anyone other than Jemma being around felt like too much pressure, especially now. For whatever reason though, it didn't feel like May was waiting for him to finish his project, or eat his food, or do anything, really. It just felt like she was sitting there. She did like quiet, that much Fitz knew.
When Fitz started to feel awkward, he tried to speak up. It took a minute, but May was patient. "Y-y-you don't have to..." He bit his lip, trying to find the word. "Stay! You don't have to stay... with me." Fitz mumbled.
May shrugged. "I don't have anywhere else to be." She said, "and I like to watch. See if I can help."
Fitz swallowed. Of course. May had to pick up as much as she could. He clearly wasn't working up to scratch anymore.
"Fitz." The voice interrupted his thoughts. "What does that do?"
Fitz closed his eyes. He knew that May was trying to help, but there was no point. She had to know that. May didn't operate on false hope. "J-just regulates the- the..." He trailed off into frustration, hating himself.
"It's okay." May said quietly. "Breathe. Don't focus on the word."
Give up. That was the first realistic suggestion Fitz had heard in weeks. He did just that, putting down his screwdriver and trying not to cry.
Fitz knew he was useless now. He didn't know why the others even bothered with him. They didn't need him. He was... broken.
"Huh?" He looked up, blinking the tears away.
May didn't look at him like he was broken. She just held up the tool he'd been using. "This?"
And she actually smiled. "Good job."
Fitz stared, surprised at both of them. "I-I th-thought I c-c-couldn't..."
"You can." May said softly. "It'll take a lot of work, and it'll take time, but you can do this."
Fitz felt tears burning his eyes and looked away, not wanting May to see him cry. He took a steadying breath. "Why- why are you doing this?" He asked, not realising he had barely stuttered.
May paused before answering. "Leave no man behind."
Daisy had never expected to actually like May. When they had first met, she had admired her to be sure, but she had seemed so far opposed to everything Daisy was that she just knew they would butt heads. And they had, repeatedly. Somewhere along the line though, Daisy had started to see the person under all of May's glares and protocols. Started to realise that that person had always been there. Daisy liked that person. She liked May.
Despite that, she was convinced training with her would be a drag. Sometimes it was. Five a.m. wasn't anyone's idea of a good time, but tai chi was nice. May was tough, but she got results. Daisy felt like she'd improved more in a weeks few weeks training with May than she had in all of the time she had trained with Ward put together. And she liked spending time with May. She liked pulling her out of her shell.
It had been too long since they'd done anything together. Daisy had missed training with May,but it wasn't really the training she had missed. It was just May.
So it was nice to be doing something with her, even if it was just an early morning jog. The sun had just crept over the horizon when they began, and it had been a little over an hour now. Jogging wasn't really the activity for conversation, but Daisy was okay with that. May liked quiet, and it was really nice to have her back.
Though, in Daisy's opinion, it was high time to play her favourite game. It was pretty simple really. Daisy would do something stupid; launch a sneak attack, pickpocket her access card, something like that, in an attempt to pull one over on her. Daisy still wasn't sure if May knew that she played this game. Then again, May had that tendency to know everything.
Daisy's rules had changed a little since she started playing the game though. After a couple of weeks learning from May, she had added the condition that if she got May to smile as well, she got bonus points. Which happened more frequently than May would probably admit.
Daisy let herself fall ever so slightly out of pace with May as they rounded their turn back towards the base. Gradually, with the odd reassuring smile, Daisy let herself fall behind, eventually with enough of a space between them that she managed to duck behind a few trees.
Daisy grinned giddily. The adrenaline rushed through her and she struggled not to laugh, waiting to see if May would notice, would come back, would sneak up on her in revenge. Which she did do for revenge, no matter what she said.
She giggled when, after a solid minute, May hadn't returned, and Daisy ducked off to her favourite coffee shop for a morning fix. May would notice quickly. She might as well get some coffee before she did.
Daisy crept through the streets, dodging any security cameras, and keeping an eye out behind her. It would be exactly May's style to pull a sneak attack.
No one was around as Daisy got closer to the coffee place, and she was so distracted looking behind her that she didn't notice what was in front of her until she heard a familiar voice say, "Coffee?"
Daisy's eyes snapped back to the front, and when she found herself less than three feet from Melinda May's smirking face, she screamed and jumped a solid foot into the air.
She stood stock still, eyes wide, heart pumping, and hating May and everything she stood for. She even had the nerve to laugh at her, the jerk. Wait, May was laughing?
Daisy smiled begrudgingly and shook her head. Damnit, she couldn't even be mad. It was so rare to see May actually happy, let alone this... undone. She held a cardboard tray with two paper cups in one hand, the other had been brought up to her mouth in an attempt to hide her laughter.
Daisy crossed her arms, trying and failing to scowl. "Jerk." She grumbled.
Melinda swallowed her laughter, looking somewhat abashed. "You deserved it." She smirked amusedly. "Thinking you could sneak off."
Daisy scowled. "Stealth practice." She muttered.
"Well you clearly need it."
Daisy gasped in offence. "You know what, I take it back, I didn't miss you one bit."
That shook off the playful mood, though Melinda still smiled down at the ground, shrugging. "You didn't say you missed me."
Daisy crossed her arms. "I didn't, weren't you listening?" She went to enter the cafe only for May to hold out one of the cups to her. She sighed. "I missed you a little." Daisy conceded, taking it and giving it a sniff to make sure it was definitely coffee.
They turned back to walk to the base. "I missed you too." May said softly.
Daisy took a sip of the coffee. "You could have called." She said shyly. "I was starting to think you might not come back."
"I was always going to come back." May said. "Leave no man behind."
Melinda knew that she was dying. She could feel it on every breath, every glimpse of those ghostly figures.
She knew that she was on the way out. It was okay. Her team was safe. She had done all she could for them. She knew that. She was floating in some strange unconscious state, but she knew that her team was safe. That was all that mattered.
Melinda had been ready to die for a long time. It was okay.
'Damnit, I'm not losing you!'
That voice sounded familiar. Jemma?
'Come on Melinda,' Phil. 'Come back to me.'
May didn't know how she knew, but the hand holding hers was Fitz's. Gentle, yet steady as a rock.
'Hey, come on May. You can't do this to me- not without saying goodbye.' She would recognise that tearful voice anywhere.
She wanted to wake up, to see them. To hug them all close.
But she was so tired.
The dark was so inviting.
They didn't really need her.
… They'd be fine.
Melinda woke gradually, groggily, as if she'd been asleep for years. The first thing she became aware of was beeping, then the telltale ache of an IV in her arm. A hand holding hers, shakier than Fitz. Breathing. Four different patterns.
One of them jolted as the beeping picked up. "I think she's waking up!" Jemma. She was prying her eyes open and shining a torch in her face, making Melinda groan and try to close her eyes. She knew Jemma was mad at her, but this was kind of mean.
"May, can you hear me?" Jemma again, now trying to poke something in her ear.
May turned her head to avoid the stick, squinting. "Quiet." She said, her voice cracked and quiet.
"Oh my God." Not Jemma. A pair of arms hugged her tightly, followed by three more. May blinked her eyes open. They were here. All of them. Even Daisy. Daisy who she hadn't seen in months, and maybe she should be mad at her, but for now she was just so relieved.
And sore. Really really sore. She ached all over.
Jemma seemed to realise that at the same moment she did, and immediately pulled away. "Oh God, what are we doing, you're sick, get off!" She pushed at the others, and in her weakened state, Melinda couldn't hold onto them.
She snagged Phil's hand weakly as he pulled away, and he squeezed it comfortingly. "It's okay." He said softly. "We're not going anywhere."
Jemma gently wrapped a blood pressure cuff around her other arm. "How do you feel?" She asked.
Melinda coughed. "Sore." She rasped, clinging to Phil's hand. She looked around. "W-what are you-," She coughed, "doing here?"
The others looked at each other. "How much do you remember?" Coulson asked gently.
May swallowed, turning her head to look at him. What she saw confirmed her fears. "Your eye." She mumbled. "I did that."
"It's not a big deal." He wove their fingers together. "I'm just glad you're okay." He nodded to the others. "We all are."
Melinda glanced at them in turn. The kids. They looked so tired. Desperately scared, but desperately relieved too. Daisy didn't look good. May's eyes stayed on her, taking in the dark circles under her eyes, the splints on her arms. "What are you doing here?" She asked again, this time to Daisy directly.
Daisy looked away. She couldn't take the look in May's eyes. She bit back tears. "I had to." She mumbled. "I- I couldn't stay away when I heard-... We weren't sure if you were gonna make it. If it wasn't for Jemma..."
May caught sight of her, checking her blood pressure on the computer. Jemma paused. "I told them where we were." She muttered. "The Director didn't want anyone here but Radcliffe and I. Mack covered for Fitz and Coulson."
Melinda swallowed, realising the implications of this. Daisy could be captured. Fitz and Coulson were AWOL. Jemma had leaked classified information. "You shouldn't have come." She mumbled, feeling weaker by the second.
"Well we had to." Fitz said, as if there was no other option.
"Yeah," Coulson agreed. "It's like you always say."
"Don't you dare." Melinda protested weakly.
They all grinned, knowing exactly what to say.
"Leave no man behind."
"I hate you." May muttered, feeling unconsciousness start to take her again. She gripped Phil's hand more tightly. "Don't leave."
"Never." He whispered.