Phil Coulson walked home in the warm spring air, stopping by the grocery store and smiling at the cashier as he left. It was a nice day. He wished he could feel it.
When he reached home, he looked at the bag with a sigh. Part of him wondered why he kept trying. Nothing worked, nothing got through to her. He hated that he wasn't enough. That nothing he did was enough to help her.
He wouldn't leave though. Wouldn't let her leave, even when it seemed like all she wanted was to be alone. Phil didn't care. It wasn't what she needed. Coulson knew that this one little thing wouldn't make a difference really. None of the little things would, on their own. But maybe all the little things stacked up together would.
Phil had just turned the sauce on to simmer when he heard the door open. "Hey!" He greeted. "How was work?"
May shrugged, shucking off her bag by the door and kicking off her shoes. "Fine."
"I'm making your favourite pasta for dinner." He said, "The one with the mushrooms."
May sighed softly and made a non-committal noise in the back of her throat.
"Melinda-" Phil took a few steps forwards, not quite touching her though. "I love you. You know that, right?"
Though she made no response, her eyes met his briefly and as always there was a glimmer of something behind them. Sadness, guilt, love, he could never tell. But he thought he knew what it meant.
Phil took a step forwards and gently wrapped his arms around her. "I love you."
Melinda didn't move. She never did. But the fact that she didn't push him away had to mean something, right? Phil pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes." He murmured, drawing away "Don't forget your medication."
The barest twitch of annoyance in her face made him feel lighter. No matter how much she wanted to pretend, Melinda was still in there. The woman he had met at the academy, who he had trained with, worked with, laughed and lived with. He'd always known he could get under her skin. It had only become an achievement over the last few months.
After a moment, Melinda sighed. "Okay." She murmured, walking away to shower and take her medication. She had to try. For Phil.
Phil sat on the couch with a cup of tea, finishing his paperwork on his laptop. Even now, Melinda got the hint of a smug grin when she saw him drinking tea instead of coffee. He'd used to get revenge by drinking an espresso right before he got home, then kissing her just to see the look of disgust on her face. Once he did it at work and had almost gotten reported by a well meaning aide for sexual assault. He'd never forget the look on the guys face when May had told him that they were married.
Part of him was still convinced the kid had been eyeing Melinda up.
He had just hit save and closed his last document when something strange started to happen. The document didn't close. The mouse scrolled down it rapidly, despite his inaction, then closed the document, moving to other files.
The implications hit Phil too late.
He was being hacked.
He watched helplessly as the hacker scanned all of his files, his clearance, his pictures. The hacker went for his SHIELD login and he dove for the internet router, disconnecting it just in time.
Phil grinned smugly when the connection went dead and the mouse jolted, almost as if someone had hit their computer in frustration. After a minute of waiting in a tense silence, he moved his mouse to open the previous document. Most of it had saved, and he typed, 'Couldn't find what you were looking for?' at the base, even knowing that the hacker was long gone.
To his surprise, the text box jumped a couple of lines and then typed, 'Shut up old man.'
Phil narrowed his eyes. A smartass. 'Maybe you're the one who should shut up,' He typed, 'Young lady.' Bound to at least piss off this person. Especially if they were a twenty-something year old man.
There was an even longer pause before they replied. 'How the hell do you know who I am? Come and get me if you know so much, throw me in jail, I don't care'
Coulson raised an eyebrow. 'That was actually a total stab in the dark, but thanks for confirming your gender and age bracket.' When there was no reply, he smiled. 'You're new to this, huh?'
Phil sighed. 'Look, if you're just some kid in her parents basement there are better things to do than hack government agencies. You could get in real trouble.'
'Bring it on.'
'I'm serious.' Phil typed. 'How old are you anyway? Seventeen?'
'Maybe, maybe not.' Huh, the kid learned fast. 'Why do you care anyway?'
Phil shrugged, 'I know what can happen to kids with your skills who get in over their heads. I know that it feels like no one can touch you, that you can't get hurt, but believe me, you can.'
'You don't know anything about me.'
'I know you're too smart for your own good. That you think hacking agencies like mine is a ton of fun.'
'That's not why I'm doing this.'
'Okay, then because you think we're the bad guys and you're trying to protect people. You get why we're called SHIELD, right?' More silence, and Phil sighed. 'Isn't it too late for you to be awake? I'm sure you've got school in the morning.'
Phil balked. 'You have to go to school. Everyone needs an education.'
'Hacking a secret government agency here.'
'I'm sure you're top of your CS class.' He typed, 'What about history? Can you name three of America's founding fathers?'
'Oh my God.'
Phil couldn't help but think that this kid was laughing at him. 'I'm just saying, if you don't get your education you could end up on the streets.'
It took two minutes before the response formed. 'Sometimes it works the other way around.'
Phil gaped. 'Please tell me you're not on the street.'
'No.' He sighed, 'Not right now.' Just as Phil was about to reply, the girl typed again, 'Look, I don't want your sympathy, it's just kind of a rough time, okay?'
Phil bit his lip. Another person he couldn't help. 'Okay.' He typed sadly. 'My name's Phil by the way.'
The longest pause yet before a single word appeared on his screen. 'Daisy.'
Phil smiled. 'Nice to meet you, Daisy.' He typed. 'I hope your situation improves.'
'I'd say the same but it looks like you've got it made.'
'I guess some would say that.'
'What, you wouldn't?
Phil sighed again. 'I'm worried about my wife.' He confided. 'She's suffering from severe PTSD, and I don't know how to help her.' He wasn't sure why he was telling this to some kid. Maybe it was just easier. Screaming at the darkness, crying in the night. No one ever had to know he was feeling like this.
'What, you shield guys don't have shrinks?'
'Oh, we do. She just refused to talk to any of them.'
'She's stubborn, and quiet. Doesn't like sharing.'
'Sounds like you guys have a great relationship.'
'We do.' Phil typed on reflex, 'We did. Now I'm just not sure if I'm enough to help her. I try, all the time, but I'm just really scared that I'm losing her.' He swallowed the lump in his throat. 'I love her so much.'
'Thank you.' Phil wiped his eyes and laughed softly. 'I'll be honest, it's nice to talk about it. Thank you for listening, Daisy. If that is your real name.'
'It is.' She typed, then paused. Phil could only imagine her hesitating, looking at her own screen. 'To be honest it's one of the only things I know about myself. I don't have a family.'
Phil stared at the screen. 'That's terrible, I'm so sorry.'
'I said no pity.'
'Right, sorry.' Phil bit his lip. 'Are you in foster care?'
'I don't wanna talk about it.'
'Okay. What do you want to talk about?' Phil grinned. 'Do you watch The Walking Dead?'
Phil crawled into bed half an hour later and Melinda looked at him curiously. "Up late."
"Yeah." He murmured. "Paperwork was a killer." No need to tell her about Daisy. She was just a kid, and she hadn't gotten any real intel. Melinda had enough on her plate. "Go to sleep."
"Hey," Phil caught her eye. "Promise you'll wake me if you have a nightmare."
She looked away. "I'll try."
"Thank you." He murmured, resisting the urge to take her hand. "I'm here, no matter what."
He could tell that she wanted to say 'I love you'. Phil kissed her gently, offering a small smile. "I'll see you in the morning."
Daisy crawled into bed and immediately curled up into a ball to warm up. She was tired of foster families. She was tired of feeling relieved when they didn't hit her, or being used to there being no food on the table, the responsibility being placed firmly on her to feed herself. She was tired of feeling like thinking that made her a brat. She wasn't a brat, she was fifteen.
She bit back the frustrated tears and tried to slow her mind down enough to sleep. This family was really into rules, and she wasn't going to give them any reason to believe that she was up late. Much less hacking the computer of a government agent.
That thought made her smile. She'd done it. Useless, unwanted orphan, but she'd done it. And that agent guy was... funny. Maybe she'd message him again some time.