"You're not allowed to be gone. Not yet."
Phil looked up, hope blossoming. "No," He hurried to Melinda's side. "I haven't gone anywhere."
She shook her head, taking a shallow breath. "You're not dead." And Phil realised what this was. She couldn't hear him. She was just in denial. Correct denial, but still.
Odd though it was, he'd never considered what Melinda would be like if she lost him. He knew he was important to her. She was important to him too. But deep down, he'd always thought that she would get over losing him easily enough.
Now he just wanted to comfort her. Tell her that everything would be okay, anything just to get rid of that broken look on her face.
She crouched to adjust the straps of the crate. "After the Glasgow assignment, we promised we'd open that bottle of Haig if we ever had a worse job." May pulled the strap tight. "We've had ten by now."
"I think Fury would rather have had us die than give up that bottle." Honestly, he was surprised she even remembered. It had been so long ago now. The Haig had always felt like a promise. Some day. When they were older, when they had a worse job, later. Because there would always be a later.
"What the hell are we waiting for?" The crack in her voice broke his heart, and Phil moved closer.
"Hey," He said softly. "I'm here. It'll be okay." Phil sighed, crouching so that they were at the same level. He swallowed. She looked so beautiful and scared and she couldn't see him, he couldn't fix this. "I love you." He murmured, like a prayer. "I'm sorry I never told you, it just- it never felt like the right time, and I didn't want to put that on you." God, he just wanted to touch her. Put his hand on her shoulder. Hold her close and never let go. "I do though." He looked down. Even now he couldn't say it and meet her eyes. "Sometimes I try not to cos I don't want to ruin what we have, I just- I can't." He smiled, trying not to cry. "Every day, being able to see you, talk to you... I'm so happy you're here with me." He let his hand hover above hers, maintaining the illusion that he could touch her. "And when I see you with Jemma or Fitz or Daisy... just being happy," He swallowed. "Melinda, you have no idea how much I've always wanted that for you."
After a moment, Phil groaned. "I don't know why I'm doing this." He muttered standing. "Maybe when you get me back I'll tell you. Is that okay? You bring me back, I'll tell you, and then you can make fun of me forever for being kind of in love with my best friend."
May looked up and he stared. "Please tell me I didn't come back right then." She stood and Phil took a half step back. "Or do, I guess being alive is kind of a fair trade off." The next second she had walked right through him to grasp the Darkhold. Phil turned. "No." He said, seeing the book. "May don't, that's not how we solve this." Her eyes continued to scan the cover. "I know that look, Melinda, don't."
Coulson didn't think he'd ever been so happy to see Mack. "I know you're not okay." He said softly. "But... you okay?"
Phil watched her think about it. "Don't." He implored quietly. "Not like this."
May turned towards Mack. "What if Daisy's right, and they're not dead?"
"Where's this coming from?"
May pursed her lips, seizing the bag. "I have a feeling, can't shake it." She revealed the Darkhold.
Mack recoiled. He hesitated. "I know you're in pain, but Coulson was clear; don't open it."
"He didn't know what was inside it, this could save him, all of them!"
"Don't you dare."
Phil turned his head at the sound of screams in the distance. "Okay, to be continued." He said, pointing to them both. "No one is reading that book."
Despite almost being sucked into hell, Phil felt lighter. Part of him felt ridiculous having admitted his feelings to May's face the second he knew she couldn't hear him, but... it was nice to have said it, finally. Especially since there didn't seem to be any repercussions. He had said it, and he still had his best friend. Sure, he could wonder if she felt the same way. Maybe dream a little into the look in her eyes seeing him fighting to get back. But he still didn't want to push her. Melinda May was far too important for him to tell her that he loved her.
Besides, he'd been nursing this crush for a while. Phil knew how to hide feelings. He knew when she could tell he was watching her, when he could pass off hanging around her as just needing someone to talk to or annoying her. He thanked his lucky stars that she hadn't noticed though. When she smiled he couldn't help but smile too, and he knew that the lovesick look in his eyes was obvious on the rare occasion that she laughed, because Daisy had noticed and liked to tease him about it. She was just... amazing.
He loved her, and seeing Melinda most days was more than enough for him.
"Sir!" Fitz's voice interrupted his thoughts. "Good news."
Coulson looked up. "What is it Fitz?"
Fitz gestured for him to follow to the lab. He continued to talk as they went. "Well, Jemma and I were talking about our becoming incorporeal, separated on another plane to this, and, well..." They reached the lab and the computer at Fitz's desk. "We've managed to alter the security footage to capture our movements!"
There was that sensation of falling. Coulson swallowed. "Meaning?"
Fitz rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, we'll appear on the tapes as we normally would, not... vanished."
Coulson tried not to look nervous. "What about things we said?" He asked, crossing his hands. "Does it capture audio?"
Fitz typed a few lines. "Uuh, should do, yeah."
"Great." Phil's stomach sank. "Good work Fitz."
Time to swallow his pride.
Daisy was staring at him from the moment he entered the common room. "What?" They both asked at the same time.
Daisy raised an eyebrow, pausing her typing. "I asked first."
Phil groaned internally. If he was asking her for help he had to be nice. "I need a favour."
Daisy's eyes narrowed. "Shoot."
He sat down with a sigh. "I-... I need you to erase five minutes of footage from the quinjet this afternoon, around two. May was there alone, then Mack joined her." Daisy crossed her arms. "And... don't watch it?"
A smirk coloured her face and under his nerves, Phil was glad to see her smile. "What did you do?"
He struggled not to blush. "Nothing!"
Daisy nodded slowly. "Oh okay, then if I opened the security feeds with Fitz's rad new filter and rewind to... two pm, I wouldn't see anything weird?" Her finger hung above the return key and Coulson caved, closing the lid.
"Okay, fine." He muttered. "Just... Daisy I mean it, don't- don't say anything."
Daisy's eyes widened. "Oh my God, you said something to her didn't you?!" She beamed. "You- you said something and now you wanna take it back!"
"You don't wanna take it back?"
"No! I just-" He leaned back with a sigh. "She wasn't meant to ever find out." Coulson covered his face with his hands. "Daisy, please. She's my best friend. I can't lose her over this."
Daisy stared at him for a moment. "You're an idiot." She muttered.
"I said you're an idiot." She sound, more loudly. "She feels the same, what are you so scared of?"
Phil hesitated. "Daisy, I- it's better this way."
"No, it's not." She said softly. "It's just easier. I know, trust me. It's easier to pretend it doesn't matter than to try to make it work."
Phil bit his tongue. "That doesn't sound like you're just talking about me."
Daisy shrugged. "We are talking about you though."
He held up his hands. "Okay. But... well, if you were thinking of sticking around, you know we'd all love that."
Daisy sighed softly. "Yeah." She murmured, then brightened. "So, what's it gonna take to get you to tell May how you feel?"
Coulson groaned. "Daisy, no."
"Come on, why not?!" She said. "You're in love with her." When he was silent, she pointed. "See, you don't even deny it!"
"Okay, the first step in anything happening is deleting that footage. Please?"
Daisy rolled her eyes. "Fine." She muttered, opening her laptop back up. "Gimme ten minutes."
"Thank you." He said, standing up.
Daisy sighed. "You know I just want you guys to be happy, right?"
"We are, Daisy." He murmured. "And for the record, we want you to be happy too."
Daisy looked down. "I just don't know if I'm ready right now."
"Either way, we want you around." He said. "Always, okay?"
"Okay." Daisy mumbled. "Thanks." It did feel nice.
Maybe she owed him one.
He'd thank her later.
It didn't take Daisy long to find the footage. She slammed the mute button the second she started looking. No need to hear Coulson getting all sentimental and sappy. Still, something in their faces made her ache. The grief written on every inch of May's stance. The tenderness in Coulson's eyes. How he hovered his hand over hers as if to comfort her.
Lincoln had used to do that. He didn't push her. He'd just loved her. Daisy wiped her eyes with a sniff. They needed this. They needed to be happy. One day they could find that their chance was gone, and she wasn't going to let that happen.
Melinda had been feeling nervous all afternoon. As if her nerves weren't fried enough from having Phil and Fitz die and then come back. No, this was different. The way he looked at her when he first came back. What he had said. 'I know.'
What did he know? God, had he heard her? Did it matter if he had? She hadn't said anything wrong, nothing had changed. Phil knew that she cared about him, right? He had to. Even if she wasn't good at showing it, he knew.
She was so distracted that she didn't notice the flash drive hanging from her door until her hand closed on it.
May frowned. Who had left it there? Maybe it was a mistake. In which case some poor agent could get very embarrassed. Oh well. She plugged it into her laptop and sat down.
Huh. One video file. This could be very bad. But at least it wasn't a virus. Daisy would never forgive her if it was.
Her heart sank when she saw what the footage was. Her, in the quinjet. And Phil. Following her. Talking to her. Begging for her to hear him. So he had heard her. She'd have to say something to him. But what? She hadn't said anything wrong. The Haig had always been a promise between them. It wasn't like the second he was gone she had said, 'I love you.'
Phil's voice continued. 'I'm sorry I never told you, it just- it never felt like the right time, and I didn't want to put that on you. I do though.' Melinda stared. Was this someone's idea of a prank? It sounded so sincere though. She wanted to believe it. Phil continued. 'Sometimes I try not to cos I don't want to ruin what we have, I just- I can't. Every day, being able to see you, talk to you... I'm so happy you're here with me.' Her breath caught in her throat. That had to be Phil. No one else was that sappy and sentimental. 'And when I see you with Jemma or Fitz or Daisy... just being happy- Melinda, you have no idea how much I've always wanted that for you.' Oh, she was pretty sure she did know how long. Phil had always had a knack for making her smile. Often whether she wanted to or not. She'd never told him how much she loved him for that. Maybe she should.
'I don't know why I'm doing this.' Phil muttered standing up. 'Maybe when you get me back I'll tell you. Is that okay?' Melinda smiled. He was such a dork. He was Phil. 'You bring me back, I'll tell you, and then you can make fun of me forever for being kind of in love with my best friend.'
She laughed softly. Well. He wasn't the only one.
It wasn't hard to find Phil. He was sitting in the common room, alone, looking at files. It was so easy to just stand there and watch him. The way his eyes scanned over the papers, how he licked his lips every time he signed his name. His posture, never good, but... almost. The second she pointed it out, May knew he would be sitting rigid as a plank.
There had always been something about Phil. He just got under her skin so easily. Maybe it was because he never treated her differently just for being a small female specialist. Except on those undercover missions where he very much did. Thinking back still made her want to laugh. He'd been so awkward and scared. Melinda had been annoyed at the time, but looking back she wasn't sure anything had changed. Phil was still just as cautious of making her uncomfortable. It was kind of sweet.
Okay. It was really sweet. Melinda knew she acted like she was made of steel, but it was nice that Phil was careful anyway. She'd be fine if he wasn't. It was just nice to know he cared. That she didn't always have to be steel with him.
A moment later he looked up and for whatever reason, May didn't bother trying to hide her smile. The warmth in her eyes.
Phil cocked his head. "What's that look for?" Not that he had a problem with it. He loved seeing Melinda happy. Relaxed. At peace.
She shrugged, approaching. "Does there have to be a reason?" May sat beside him on the couch. "Maybe I'm just happy you're here with me."
Phil smiled, putting his paperwork down. "Days like today do put things into perspective." He said softly. "I'm glad I have you too." When he looked at her though, something gave him pause. There was a glimmer in Melinda's eyes, a questioning, curious glimmer. She was waiting for something.
A moment later the familiarity of her words hit him, and his eyes widened. "I- uuh." He swallowed. "Did you- I mean..." Crap. She looked at him like she knew. Slight smile, that glint in her eye.
Phil sighed, hanging his head. "I'm sorry Melinda." He muttered. "I didn't mean- I know you'll act like it's a joke, and I'm fine with that, really, I just-" He swallowed. "I don't want this to change anything. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable. I told Daisy to delete it, but you know how she is sometimes, she probably just thought it was funny, and-"
Melinda rolled her eyes fondly and interrupted him by grabbing the front of his shirt and kissing him soundly. She felt Phil tense and smiled even wider. It took him a couple of seconds to respond, wrapping one arm around her waist and the other around her neck, his hand burying itself in her hair. She leaned into the touch, letting Phil pull her closer until she was practically on his lap.
She wasn't sure how long it had been when they broke apart, breathless and smiling, foreheads gently touching. Phil laughed softly. "So... things are going to change. That's what you're saying."
Melinda grinned. "They don't have to." She said. "If you don't want them to."
"Oh no, I do." Phil said it so quickly that they both laughed. "I just- I want you to be happy. More than anything."
Melinda sighed, shifting her head to rest in the crook of his neck. "Why do you have to be so sweet?" She complained.
Phil smiled and kissed her again. "I knew you thought I was sweet."
"You just said it."
"No I didn't."
Phil shook his head fondly, tightening his arm around her.
May bit her lip. "Is it... okay that I'm not?"
Phil frowned, but it melted into a smile in a moment. "I think you're very sweet." He murmured, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "I just don't say so cos I know you like to act tough."
"I am tough."
"Of course you are."
"Phil." God damnit, she couldn't even say it without smiling.
He smiled sappily back. "You're tough and you're sweet and you're amazing, and I love you." He murmured. "Melinda, I know you. I don't want you to be someone else. I want you."
May bit the inside on her lip. She wanted to say it back. She did. "Phil-" Nope. The words wouldn't come. Instead she wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and drew him in for a deeper kiss.
His eyes were warm when they broke apart. Like he could see right through her. "It's okay." Phil murmured, breath tickling her face. "You don't have to say it."
She rested her head against his chest. "Thank you."
Phil pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I love you." He said again, and May smiled. It was nice to hear when she had no pressure to respond. "By the way, we need to get back at Daisy." He said. "I told her to delete that footage."
May raised an eyebrow. "This is a bad thing?"
"Hey, she disobeyed a direct order." He said, laughter in his voice. "Besides, I thought you'd like the idea of messing with her."
Melinda smirked. "What did you have in mind?"
Phil shrugged. "I don't know. You're the prank master."
May's eyes narrowed. That was true. After a moment, she smirked. "I've got it." She said. "We don't do anything. She left that flash drive for me to find, you know she'll be waiting for something."
"Pretend... this, didn't happen?" He gestured to their position, curled up to each other on the couch.
Melinda smiled. "Exactly."
He chuckled. "I love it." Phil kissed her again, gently, tenderly. "I love you." He murmured, stars in his eyes.
May looked away. "You too." She muttered awkwardly.
Phil wove their fingers together. "Thanks for saying it." He said softly. "I know it's hard."
Melinda snorted. "Yeah, maybe I should just do it your way and say it when you can't hear me." She teased.
Phil grinned. "Don't argue with results."
"It took you thirty years to get results."
"What can I say, I play the long game."