Melinda's whole body ached and stung, but worst of all she was weak. She slept for twelve hours at a time, she was malnourished, she could hardly move on her own. She definitely couldn't stand, let alone walk. Aida hadn't hurt her. But she had almost died regardless.
The others had found her though. Somehow, despite the ridiculously lifelike android that Aida had sent in her place. She was a little hazy on the details. It was hard to fight when your ribs stuck out and your legs shook from holding you up.
Melinda was on bedrest now. Normally she would argue, but normally she could find the energy to do so. As it was one glare from Jemma had her caving.
A gentle knock at the door alerted her to Daisy's approach. "Hey." Daisy said, entering her room with a tray with soup and some tea. "Lunch."
It hurt to groan, but Melinda did it anyway. She hated this.
Daisy sat down next to her bed, placing the tray on the table. "How are you feeling?"
"Great." May said sarcastically, and Daisy smiled weakly.
"I brought your tea. I tried not to steep it too long." Daisy carefully took the cup. "Do you want some?"
May stared at it for a long moment. The smell was nice. Soothing. And yet... "I'm fine."
Daisy sighed. "It's okay to need help you know." She said gently.
Melinda grunted, trying to push herself upright. "There's help, then there's this." She surrendered when Daisy put a hand on her back, helping her sit up.
Daisy tried for a joke. "It's just me." She reminded. "If it makes you feel better, I'll tell everyone you suplexed the bed."
Normally she wouldn't smile, but May couldn't find the energy to hold it back. "Tea would be nice." She conceded.
Daisy smiled. "You got it." She said, bringing the cup up to her mouth. "And you're still a badass. Just so you know."
Melinda said nothing, taking a slow sip of the tea. Daisy did know how to make it, but she still hated being this weak. Not even able to feed herself. Still. It was Daisy. Her kid. One of only a few people she could stand seeing her like this. "Thanks." She murmured, indicating for Daisy to take the cup away.
Daisy carefully picked up the soup bowl, and May glared. "If you start making airplane jokes, I swear..."
Daisy grinned, "Hey, come on. You're hurt." She held a spoonful up to May's mouth. "I don't make fun of people who are hurt."
May rolled her eyes but ate the soup. She knew that the only way to get better was to eat. Still. She'd never liked soup. Except Phil's chicken noodle. He'd first made it for her when she had the flu in their first year at the academy and she hadn't wanted to turn it down. Surprisingly for her, she had liked it a lot. Kind of like Phil, actually.
Daisy could see the emotion barely hidden under the surface. "What's up?"
May swallowed, shifting. Even that made her ache. "Have you seen Ph- Coulson?"
Daisy frowned. "Yeah, I saw him earlier- oh." She stopped. "He hasn't visited, huh?"
May shook her head. She looked so small. Hair hanging past her sallow cheeks. Even with the blankets wrapped around her Daisy could see how thin she was. "I- he's fine, I promise, he's just-"
Daisy didn't reply. It was true. After a moment of silence, she sighed. "I'll shout at him for you later." She promised. "I know you miss him."
"I do." May wasn't sure how she had the moisture to feel the burn of tears in her eyes. It must be the tea. One traitorous tear slipped free and Melinda cursed it. She just hadn't seen Phil in months, she missed him. He was her best friend, and it hurt that he wasn't there.
Unsurprisingly, Daisy wiped the tear away. "It's okay." She murmured, gently pulling her into a hug. "It's not your fault."
Melinda was so weak and tired that her only response to the hug was to lean against Daisy. It was nice. She hadn't had any human contact in so long, and it was Daisy. Just Daisy. She felt her heartbeat and breathing slow, the fatigue washing over her in waves. May knew she should pull away, should speak, but she was so tired.
Daisy froze when she felt May go still. "May?" There was no response, so she listened for her breathing and calmed down when she felt it. Shallow, but steady as always.
Daisy gently pulled away and saw that May had just fallen asleep. She sighed, smiled, carefully lay her down and brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "Everything's going to be alright." She whispered.
Daisy looked up when the door creaked open, nodding in greeting to Coulson. "Hey."
"Hi." He said, softly so as not to wake May. "How is she?"
Daisy hesitated. "Stable, I guess. She's eating like Jemma said, and resting, but she's so... weak."
Phil felt another wave of self-hatred, looking down at his best friend. She looked so small and fragile.
"She's not mad at you or anything you know." Daisy's voice shook him from his thoughts.
He shrugged. "She doesn't know."
Daisy sighed. "You should just tell her. She'll find out eventually, and hey, it's not bad. You didn't do anything wrong."
Phil rolled his eyes. "The robot."
"I know." Daisy muttered, "So what?"
"We've known each other for decades." Phil murmured. "I-I should have known. I would have, if I wasn't so-"
Daisy softened. "You're in love with her." She said quietly.
Coulson groaned. "I- yes, okay? And if I hadn't been- we would have found her sooner." He felt sick. "Look at what my feelings did to her."
Daisy sighed. "I didn't notice either. None of us did. Fitzsimmons said the android had all of her memories, thoughts, all of it. How could you have known?"
He glared at the ground. "I should have."
"Look, I get that you're upset and wanna be mad. Hell, I do too, but maybe May's more important than that." Daisy bit her lip. "You're not the only one who loves her."
Coulson smiled. "I know." He said softly. "So I know you'll look after her."
Daisy rolled her eyes. "You can't avoid her forever." She said, then softly. "She misses you."
Coulson's eyes were fixed on May's sleeping form, but all he said as he left was, "Let me know if you need anything."
Daisy sighed. Idiot.
May wasn't sure how long it had been when she woke from her fitful sleep, but Daisy was still seated beside her bed, now languidly tapping at her phone. Melinda knew she had been getting stronger over the last few days, but she appreciated that Daisy sat with her regardless. She swallowed the odd taste in her mouth, and a thought occurred to her. "You're still here."
Daisy looked up sharply. "I- well yeah. Jemma said someone needed to keep an eye on you." She hesitated. "Is that okay?"
May grunted as she attempted to push herself into a sitting position, and Daisy hurried to help her. May caught her eye. Even after everything that had happened, everything she had been through, Daisy's eyes were the same. She was still trying to help everyone. Melinda looked down. "You said you were leaving."
Daisy stared when she realised what May was talking about. "I- Mace... it's complicated."
May nodded quietly. "Do you want to leave?"
Daisy shook her head. "No. Sometimes I wish that I did, but... I can't leave you guys." She clenched her fists. "I could have, and- I could have left thinking you guys were all safe and happy and-" She broke off.
May put a hand over hers. "I'm fine."
Daisy bit her lip. "What if we'd never found out though?" She asked. "Y- May you could have died. And we just wouldn't have known." She bit back the bottled tears. A week later they could have found May's body in that cupboard.
"It's okay." May said softly, wishing she could fix this. She hated that she had been so helpless. She hated that the others didn't know she was gone. She swallowed. "I'm glad you're back."
Daisy sniffled. "You too." She said, once again pulling May into a hug. So what if she was taking advantage of May's compliance? There was nothing wrong with hugs. Daisy squirmed a little. "You're all pokey."
May huffed a laugh. "Sorry about that." She muttered, hugging back. "I'll tell my ribs to pull in closer."
Daisy swallowed. "I'm sorry I left." She said quietly. "I- I know I hurt you."
May pulled away. "Tell me why Coulson's avoiding me," She said, "And we'll call it even."
Daisy withdrew. "I- it's not my place."
May glared. "Stop babying me." She said firmly. "I'm recovering, not a child."
"Are you in love with him?"
The question threw her, stunning May into a temporary silence. She didn't know what to say. Daisy had been needling her about her so-called crush on her partner for years, but she had never been so... direct.
Melinda wet her lips, looking down. "Do you really need to ask?" She said quietly.
Daisy paused, then set her jaw. "I'll kick his ass for you." She promised. "And, for what it's worth... I think he's pretty smitten with you too."
Coulson heard Daisy coming a mile away. He wasn't sure if her gait gave away her anger, or just his assumptions. Either way, she was fuming when she found him.
Daisy stomped into the corner that Coulson had claimed for his paperwork, glaring at him.
Phil couldn't help but smile politely. "Good morning Daisy." He said sarcastically.
Daisy scowled and pointed at him. "I swear to God, if you don't go and talk to May now, I'm gonna make you. And you know I can."
He sighed. "Daisy, please, just leave it alone."
"I won't!" She snapped. "You're hurting her by doing this! She's been through enough without you being so selfish! Just talk to her, sit with her, do something other than avoiding her and feeling sorry for yourself!"
Coulson buried his face in his hands. "I just- Daisy, I'm scared that if I see her, I'll tell her everything." He hesitated. "I can't put that on her, not now."
Daisy sighed. "She just wants to see you." She said. "Think about it, she hasn't seen you since before Aida took her. Imagine if it was the other way around."
Phil looked down, suddenly feeling childish. He knew that Daisy was right. He just didn't want to lose his best friend.
Daisy waited a moment longer, then turned. "By the way," She said in parting. "Fitzsimmons say that the android had May's mind. So anything the robot wanted... May wants too."
"Maybe." Coulson said softly. "Or maybe it was just trying to keep me distracted."
Daisy stopped at the door. "Just visit her." She said in farewell. "Or I will make you."
Despite the worry weighing on him, Coulson couldn't help but smile at Daisy's protectiveness. May had always been the one looking after Daisy, but it was surprisingly natural to see it the other way around.
Coulson let his mind wander as he walked. Just the fact that May had been sleeping so much spoke volumes about her state. Not to mention how easy it was for him to sneak in and out to check on her without waking her up. How she hadn't been fighting at all against Jemma's orders for three weeks bedrest.
She was sick, and Phil didn't know if his presence would help with that.
Still, he imagined it the other way around. Actually, he didn't have to. Every time he had been hurt in the field when they were partners Melinda had visited him. More often than not he would wake up in a hospital bed with her dozing off in the chair beside him. She would bring him brownies and extra blankets, watch TV with him. Was this really how he was going to repay it?
Phil stopped when he realised he was at May's door. He hesitated. His nerves were shot.
A voice that sounded suspiciously like Daisy piped up. What, you're nervous, so she has to be alone? Nut up and get in there.
Phil sighed. Fine.
Before he had the chance to change his mind, he pushed the door open. "Hey," He said quietly. "It's me." Phil fell silent when he saw that she was asleep.
He sank into the chair, eyes fixed on his partner. She seemed worse every time he visited. Small, pale, sickly. Phil knew that she was getting better, but he hated seeing her like this. Melinda was always so strong. It was easy to forget that she was only human.
Now Melinda's ribs were sticking out, her cheeks sunken, and her hair thin. Phil swallowed, resisting the urge to take her hand, knowing it would wake her. "I'm so sorry." He whispered.
She shifted and Phil held his breath, but May stayed asleep. That was good, he reminded himself. It gave him more opportunity to work out what to say. How he could explain himself.
Phil wasn't sure how long it had been when Melinda started to stir. Not long enough for him to come up with any excuses. Though in his heart he knew there were no excuses.
Melinda made a soft noise in her throat, blinking her eyes open. She stared at him for a moment before speaking, as if to make sure he was really there. "Phil?"
"Hey." He said quietly, trying and failing to smile. "How are you feeling?"
May shifted, trying to sit up. "Not good." She muttered.
Phil watched her arms fail to lift her. "Do you need help?"
Melinda glared, but it melted away after a moment into resignation. "Yeah."
"It'll be okay." He said, gently helping her up. "You'll be back in shape in no time."
She scoffed. "Idealist."
"You say that like it's a bad thing." Phil grinned. It almost felt normal. Like... but that May hadn't been real. It was just an android.
Melinda coughed. "What's that look for?"
"Nothing!" He covered, poorly. "I-I just- I..." Phil sighed and hung his head. "I'm so sorry Melinda."
She said nothing, so he continued. "I should have known, I should have figured it out." Phil shook his head. "This is all my fault."
"No." Melinda's hoarse voice said. "Don't do that Phil." She coughed again. "Or I'll have to kick your ass."
He smiled weakly. "Well I wouldn't want that."
She managed a smile back, but Phil still couldn't meet her eyes. Melinda hesitated. "What is it?" She asked. "There's more to this. Why are you blaming yourself for something that we both know isn't your fault?" He was silent, and she felt terrible. "Phil, please."
Coulson sighed, his head in his hands. "Because everyone says that there's no way we could have known, because they had your brain scan. There was no way we could have noticed any difference, because it had your mind inside it. Everything." He swallowed. "But I did notice that y-she was acting differently. I just thought things were different because we were together and maybe I was moving too fast, so I ignored it and kept my distance and that whole time you were..." Phil stopped. He felt sick.
Melinda said nothing for a moment. She bit the inside of her lip. "Together?" Just saying it made her heart race. Probably not a good thing in her current state.
Phil groaned internally. Of course she would latch onto the one part of this that he didn't want to talk about. "I... yeah." He murmured, staring forcibly at the floor. "I'm so sorry. I promised myself that I'd never let my own stupid feelings get between us, that I'd never- let you get hurt because of my stupid crush." Tears burned his eyes. "And look at what happened."
He shook his head. "Don't tell me it's okay, I know it isn't."
"You're my best friend, I-I understand if you're angry or don't want to see me, I just don't want to lose you."
"Phil." Melinda finally managed to snag his hand, weaving their fingers together.
Phil looked down at their linked hands as if trying to figure out a puzzle. After a moment, he smiled weakly. "Oh."
When he looked up, it was to see Melinda smiling back at him, her eyes warm. "Yeah. Oh."
He laughed softly, squeezing her hand. "You never said anything."
She rolled her eyes. "How many hints would I have to drop before you made a damn move?" May asked, smiling wider than she could remember doing in a long time. "That party at the end of our second year at the academy?"
Phil stiffened, affronted. "You said you didn't remember that!" He said.
May looked down sheepishly. "I was embarrassed." She admitted. "I thought you would..."
"You were drunk!" Phil cried, thinking back to the night. "I wouldn't- I was being a gentleman!"
Melinda laughed. "Of course you were." She could remember Phil helping her back to her room after she had used the alcohol as an excuse to dance with him. Remember him helping her take her shoes off an tucking her into bed, leaving with a soft 'goodnight'. He could have stayed, as she had suggested repeatedly. Melinda had always taken his leaving as a statement. That they were friends and nothing more. But she had never thought of being Phil's friend as second best.
He was smiling at her in that way that still made her stomach flutter. Melinda almost pulled her hand away, suddenly feeling self-conscious. Instead she just squeezed his fingers more tightly. "Sorry it's taken so long." She muttered, the hint of a blush tinting her face.
Phil's smile only grew. "Me too." He murmured, pressing gentle kisses to her hand and up her arm.
May groaned, halfheartedly trying to pull away. "Quit it."
Phil laughed. "Quit what?" He asked teasingly, moving closer so he could kiss her cheeks too.
She shoved at him lightly with her free hand, failing to stop smiling. "Being sappy."
"You should know by now that I can't help it." He grinned, lightly kissing the tip of her nose.
He chuckled, finally reaching her lips.
May let her eyes flutter shut. They had kissed before, for the odd mission, but this was different. Still gentle, but drawn out and loving. She wrapped one arm around his neck, the other still grasping his hand. It felt... right.
Phil drew away, seeing the slight irritation in Melinda's eyes from ending it so quickly. "I love you." He whispered, breath tickling her face.
The irritation faded into a surprisingly shy smile. May bit her lip. "Then get back here and prove it."
Phil grinned. "Sorry." He said, now kissing the top of her head. "Don't wanna tire you out."
"I love you."
Melinda tried to scowl, but still couldn't purge the smile from her face. "You can't say that every time you're an ass."
"I can say it every time I remember something about you I love."
"Phil quit it." She groaned.
"I love how cute you look when you're embarrassed."
May buried her face in her hands. "Stop."
Phil laughed quietly. "Okay okay." He said, kissing the top of her head again. "I was only teasing."
May smirked and pulled him in for another kiss before Phil could pull away. He yelped slightly, and withdrew after several seconds. "Come on, you need to rest."
Melinda sighed, sinking back into the bed. He was right. She took his hand again. "Stay?" She asked softly.
Phil smiled tenderly, kissing a line across her knuckles. "Of course."
He shook his head. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be." Phil paused. "This... might be a little awkward to explain to the others."
Melinda huffed a laugh. "We don't have to tell them." She said. "At least not yet."
He looked down at her fondly. "You always did like sneaking around."
May rolled her eyes. "Give it a couple of weeks, let things cool down. Then we'll tell the others. Deal?"
A shuffling sound came from the doorway. "I guess I should say 'deal' too, huh?"
Coulson beamed and Melinda tried to sound stern. "Daisy."
Daisy appeared from around the door, trying to look contrite around her giant smile. "I wasn't sure if anyone was with you is all, so I... kind of overheard." Her cheeks were pink.
May glared. Phil tried very hard not to laugh.
Daisy shuffled her feet. "I'm... sorry?" She tried, but a moment later was grinning again. "Also I'm super happy for you guys, and it's not just cos of the money Fitz owes me."
May's glare intensified, making Daisy stop for a moment. "Uuuhh... I love you very much too, please don't be mad." Daisy said. She was going for jokingly scared, but hit sincere instead.
May rolled her eyes but said nothing.
Phil grinned and said in a stage whisper. "That's code for 'I love you too'."
Melinda groaned and buried her face in her pillow as Daisy and Phil laughed. This way they couldn't see how widely she was smiling.
She loved those two so much.