a.n. HOOOOO BOY, Guys, if you don't want to be SOBBING HYSTERICALLY then maybe don't read this one. I seriously don't know what possessed me to write it, but it is the WORST. Seriously. I'm not sorry. Just... be prepared to cry.
Daisy had always had some kind of sense for danger. May supposed that when someone was as prone to it as Daisy, it made sense that she'd develop some kind of radar for it.
Daisy'd never seemed aware of it- whatever let her know danger was coming was simply some sort intuition that was buried deep in her subconscious. The sense of impending danger made Daisy more relaxed about her affections, like it had before the mission which had given her the ability to destroy buildings. She was more tactile, more emotional. Her words became kinder. She'd smile more, but her smiles were marred by a shadow of worry. Like she just knew something was coming, and she needed to make the most of the time they had left.
May knew that she wasn't the only one who had noted those little quirks, and since most agents were at least a little superstitious, she knew that they heeded those warning, even when they were small. So when Daisy started acting like something was coming, they all steeled themselves for whatever came.
It wasn't even going to be a big mission, but May resolved to keep both eyes open when Daisy hugged Coulson in farewell, lingering a few moments before pressing a kiss to his cheek.
She got even more nervous when Daisy finished her briefing with Fitzsimmons about the new comms she'd be using with a 'Love you guys'.
May didn't usually believe in superstitions, but she did believe in Daisy.
Daisy sat beside her in the co-pilot's seat, staring out of the cockpit window. Something about her seemed off. May flicked the plane to autopilot. "You good?"
Daisy jumped and plastered on a fake smile. "Yeah." She said. "I'm fine." May raised and eyebrow and she gave up. "I'm just... kind of nervous."
"It's only a data retrieval." May said softly. "We'll be in and out."
Daisy shrugged. "Things can go wrong on any mission." She muttered. "I just... I feel like it could go wrong."
May nodded. "Good." She said. "Then you'll be ready if it does."
Daisy smiled a little. "You're actually really optimistic, you know?"
"Take that back." That got a small laugh out of her, and May was glad of it. She deserved more happiness in her life. She bit the inside of her lip and put her hand on Daisy's shoulder. "Everything's going to be alright."
Daisy stared at her for a moment, surprised, but it quickly gave way to a warm smile. "Thanks." She said softly. "I- I'm glad I have you."
"You too." May murmured, pulling away before any of the others noticed. Neither she nor Daisy were that comfortable with displays of affection, certainly not in front of people they weren't close to, like May's strike team.
No, they worked best in the quiet moments, where no one could see. They could talk later, May decided. After the mission was over and they were back home.
As much as May had hoped it wouldn't be, Daisy's intuition was right. They had gone in for data retrieval and ended up being ambushed by a few dozen AIM soldiers.
Even as she shot, punched, and kicked the enemy down, May knew that this was bad. They were split up into different sections of the massive open floor building, with no extraction in sight. All there was to do now was to keep fighting until there was no one left to fight.
She was dimly aware of Fitzsimmons chattering in her ear, but blocked them out. This was hard enough without trying to pay attention to them.
The only thing that was keeping her focused was the feeling of Daisy's quakes shaking the building intermittently. The knowledge that that was on their side, that Daisy was strong, that she was there with them, even if May couldn't see her. She'd gone haring up the stairs after a handful of other agents, bent on completing their mission. May was too busy to be worried.
Daisy knew what she was doing.
It was funny, but May could almost sense what Daisy was doing by the rhythm of those quakes. She'd spent so long training her, working with her and watching her use her powers that they had almost become their own language. The strength of each quake was calculated, the direction precise. Even the smallest of shakes was controlled.
Until one suddenly wasn't.
May was knocked off her feet by the powerful quake and watched in horror as the windows shattered. The enemy soldiers were all shouting to retreat, the building was tilting wildly beneath her, but that wasn't what really made her feel like she was falling.
No. It was the total lack of any further quakes.
It was how Daisy made no attempt to stop the building from beginning to crumble.
"Daisy?!" May called, pressing her comms. "Daisy!"
Daisy didn't reply. The only voice she could hear over the comms was Fitz. "It's okay, it'll be okay, just hang on, Daisy, talk to me, okay? You have to talk to me, we'll get you out, I promise!"
"Fitz!" May shouted, "What happened?!"
Fitz knew that his face was white as a sheet, his hands shaking ceaselessly. "I- h-her vitals..."
Jemma's hand on his shoulder sent a chill through his bones. He knew what she was going to say. He knew what had just happened. "Fitz," She said softly, tears already streaming down her face. "She's gone."
Fitz bowed his head, the shaking intensifying. "No- no, she can't- she can't be gone, she was right there!"
Fitz's voice in her ear was drowned out by an increasing ringing sound. Daisy. No, she couldn't be dead. She was right upstairs, and Melinda knew that the quakes hadn't stopped.
How could they have, when she could feel them shaking her every limb?
AIM soldiers scurried for the exit even as the ground beneath them tilted, but Melinda's eyes were only on the stairs leading to where Daisy had run.
She had taken two steps when a hand closed around her arm.
Mack. "May, we have to go!" He shouted, trying and failing to drag her to the door. "You can't help her, she's gone!"
She could see the pain reflected in his eyes, but knew that she didn't have time. "It doesn't matter!" She shot back, wrenching her arm free only for Mack to seize the other one.
"Don't do this!" He cried, struggling to keep his feet. "We have to get out of here!"
"I'm not leaving without her body!" Melinda pulled away from him and had run to the stairs before Mack could say anything else.
She had to bring Daisy home.
Conferences with senators were officially the worst thing ever. Phil knew he was being overdramatic, but he didn't care. It wasn't even that the meetings of the people were boring, it was that they were so concerned with their own positions that they were terrified to do anything. He was getting that headache again, just behind the eyes.
He'd need a scotch when he got out of here.
He had to get out of here. Anything to get him out of this meeting.
Hardly a minute after Phil had thought that, the conference room door slammed open.
He jumped in his seat, glaring at Piper, who had entered, shaken. "I'm sorry for the interruption gentlemen." Phil said to the boring men who he hated. "I'm sure my Agent has an excellent reason for interrupting."
When he looked to Piper for an explanation, Phil regretted his terse tone. She was scared. No, she was… Stricken. Something was very wrong. "Piper?"
Her throat worked, trying to say it. "Sir- I... Agent Johnson is down."
Phil's insides turned to ice. "I- is she- I'm sorry, I have to go." He said, standing to approach Piper and leave the room, closing the door behind him. "Is she okay?! What happened, what can we do?"
Tears shone in her eyes. "Agent Rodriguez wanted to tell you sir, she- she felt it was best for me to get you."
Phil didn't need Elena to say anything. The moment he saw her, saw the redness to her eyes, the way she was practically vibrating in place trying to hold herself together, the curve of her mouth and the tremor in her shoulders, he knew. "No." He breathed. "No- she can't be- No!" He knew that the senators could see him through the glass. He didn't care.
He barely felt Elena wrapping her arms around him, hardly heard her whispering that it was an ambush beyond that stunned feeling of disbelief. His arms came up automatically, and yet he still felt nothing.
How could he? Daisy was gone.
Jemma didn't know what to do but sit and wait. She was half expecting this to be some horrible prank. Daisy couldn't be gone.
They'd agreed to order pizza on Friday and watch a movie together. Just them, because it had been too long since they'd had a girls night with just the two of them.
Maybe the others were wrong. Maybe they could still save her. Maybe this was all a huge joke and she wouldn't even be angry if it was, Jemma would just hug Daisy as tightly as she could because she couldn't remember the last time they had hugged.
Daisy just had to be okay. She couldn't be dead. That wasn't fair.
Jemma wasn't sure what broke her heart the most when the quinjet docked and the others came out. She didn't know whose face was worse, May's blank mask, Mack's uncontrolled tears, the other agents' almost guilty looks, like they blamed themselves.
No, actually, she knew which face hurt the most.
Daisy's. Grey and still and flecked with blood, hair dusty with rubble as her body hung limp in Mack's arms.
Jemma knew from the moment she saw her that the scanners had been right. And yet there was still that part of her, deep down, that expected Daisy to sit up in Mack's arms and laugh at them. To immediately apologise for scaring them like this.
She didn't though.
She heard Fitz mumbling 'no' from behind her and turned to hug him as tightly as she could. She couldn't look at Daisy for a moment longer, seeing her so broken. Fitz clung back, and Jemma could feel him staring over her shoulder, his head turning as Mack's footsteps moved.
She couldn't fix this. She couldn't save Daisy.
They were halfway back to the base before Jemma could bring herself to examine the body.
Daisy lay on a gurney, her eyes still slightly cracked open. There was still dust all over her, and her hair was caked with mud and loose pieces of concrete.
Jemma swore to herself in that moment that this wouldn't be how she remembered her. Daisy wouldn't want that.
She sat down slowly on the stool, tears running freely. "I'm so sorry." Jemma whispered, gently closing Daisy's eyes with one hand. She might have been asleep but for how Jemma knew that Daisy always curled up in her sleep, almost as if hiding.
As her tears continued to flow, Jemma softly ran her fingers through Daisy's hair, letting the dirt fall to the floor. It didn't take long for it all to be gone, and Jemma's breath shook. She just wanted Daisy to come back. Was that really so much to ask? After every impossible situation the universe had thrown her way, would it really be too much to ask for her best friend back?
Couldn't she just once, ask for a miracle?
Phil wasn't sure if his flight back to the base had gone by in a moment or a year. He didn't even notice that they had landed until Piper nudged his arm. "We're here." She said softly.
Phil looked up at her and after a moment of internal resistance, stood. He felt like if he just stayed here, Daisy wouldn't be dead. She wasn't dead until he saw her. Until he saw some proof that this wasn't all a huge mistake.
"Are they back yet?" He asked as they disembarked.
Piper shook her head. "No." She murmured. "Guess we beat them here."
"Lucky us." He said flatly.
Elena followed behind him, uncharacteristically quiet. Not that there was much any of them could say. Now they just had to wait for the Zephyr to arrive.
Almost in response to his thoughts, Phil heard the larger overhead hangar doors start to open barely moments after they had started down the hall.
Elena's eyes met his, and they both turned around and ran back to the landing bay. He didn't know why he was running. Didn't know what he expected to come of it.
He just needed to see her. To know the truth.
Elena pulled ahead of him, quick even without using her powers. When the ramp lowered to reveal the others crowded around a gurney, Phil's heart leapt into his throat.
His footsteps faltered when he saw Elena throw herself into Mack's arms, when he saw Jemma failing to bottle her own tears, Fitz's hand on her back, that pent up anger that he always held when something went wrong. The way that Melinda was holding herself utterly still, her head bowed.
There was only one person he couldn't see.
Phil hurried up the ramp and Jemma stepped forwards to stop him. "No- sir- there's no point, she's..." She trailed off again and Fitz wrapped his arms around her.
There she was. Daisy. His Daisy. Laid out on a gurney, blood caking one side, her eyes gently closed and her entire body covered with dust. She looked so small.
Phil reached for Melinda's shoulder for something to ground himself, but was immediately shrugged off. He watched as she stepped away, still barely moving.
He pressed his lips together, not even sure what to do now. What could he do? Daisy was gone. He'd never hear her voice again, never see her smile. She'd never get that birthday present he'd gotten her, stashed away in his closet.
She would never get any of it.
Phil swallowed, looking down at her. She didn't deserve this. She deserved better than a senseless death at the hands of AIM in some building, better than being taken back to her home on a gurney like she was a piece of discarded trash.
The lump in his throat ached, but Phil ignored it. "I'll take her." He said in a rough voice, leaning to pick her up. One arm slipped under her knees, the other just below her shoulders.
Jemma rushed forwards again. "No- sir, you'll hurt yourself- you can't-"
Phil shook his head, lifting her up. "I have to do something." He whispered.
They walked through the base in a strange procession. Coulson was in front, cradling Daisy in his arms, trying to keep from breaking down right then and there. He couldn't. If he cried now he'd never be able to hold her up, and he could never let Daisy fall onto the ground. Not now. Not ever.
The others followed loosely behind him. Phil wasn't sure who was where, nor did he care. None of them knew what to do now, but none of them could just leave Daisy to what happened next.
A few of the lab techs looked up as they entered the med bay. They looked to be expecting them. Good. At least none of them had to say anything.
Another gurney awaited, sitting neatly against a wall, all crisp white sheets and a stiff pillow. Daisy had always hated those pillows. Phil remained convinced that they were half the reason she tried to stay out of trouble.
Some part of him realised, as he reached the bed, that this would be the last time he would carry her. That once he put her down, that was it. She'd be gone forever.
Phil forced his eyes shut and the first tears broke free. "I'm so sorry." He murmured, pressing a kiss to her forehead before he put Daisy down.
Jemma put a hand on his shoulder and Phil bowed his head, the sobs finally coming full force. He wasn't sure how long they all stood there, waiting for something to happen that meant they should leave. Waiting for Daisy to sit up and not be dead anymore.
It could have been hours later when Jemma cleared her throat. "I-if everyone c-could clear the room," She said softly, clearly struggling to bottle her tears, "I-I can examine her- the..." She trailed off, shoulders shaking.
Phil put a hand on her back. "No." He said firmly, his voice the loudest it had been all day. "You don't have to do this. You shouldn't remember her like this."
Jemma looked like she wanted to argue, but it was clear that if she said anything at all she would break down again. Instead she simply nodded, quickly burying her face in Fitz's chest, blocking out the world.
Living in the lie that everything could be okay, when they all knew it couldn't be.
Daisy was gone.
Melinda May paced back and forth in her room, trying to figure out to do with this pain, what to do with all the energy she suddenly had but apparently didn't have when it mattered. When she could have saved Daisy.
She could almost see her. In her mind's eye Daisy was there, right in front of her, smiling sadly in that way that she did when she didn't want May to know she was feeling sorry for her.
'Don't look at me like that.' She said to the ghost. 'if you cared then you'd never have done something like that.'
The ghost smiled. 'What, finished the mission? Saved the team?'
'Run in like an idiot and gotten yourself killed!' May imagined herself shouting. 'Left us!'
'You know I didn't mean for this to happen.'
'Go to hell.'
'I might. I guess I'll find out soon.'
Melinda trembled. She's tried so hard to protect Daisy, taught her to defend herself, to keep her emotions in check, to be an agent. 'Why would you do this?!' She asked, 'After everything I taught you, why do this?'
The ghost stood tall, fire in her eyes. 'Don't you get it?!' She asked. 'I did this cos it's exactly what you taught me! Finish the mission, protect the team, no matter what. This was all you.'
The words struck Melinda like a blow to the chest. It was true after all.
This was her fault.
Phil spent hours at his desk, staring at the nameplate in his hands. He'd spent so long trying to figure it out. Choosing the best font, the right kind of metal, the nicest piece of wood. All for nothing now.
'Director Daisy Johnson'
How was he supposed to keep going after this? How could he lead this organisation now that Daisy was gone? She was never meant to go out like this. She was meant to defy the odds as he had done and live to be old enough to retire.
Phil didn't care if that was unrealistic to expect. Daisy had superpowers. She should be able to do anything.
This shouldn't have happened. Not like this. Not now.
He couldn't do this. He couldn't take another moment of remembering all the things Daisy would never do, all the things he would miss about her every single day. It hurt far more than any lance through the heart ever could.
Phil stood, still clutching the nameplate tightly in one hand. He needed to see Melinda. Just to be with her. He needed her calm, he needed her support.
He needed his best friend.
He felt like he could collapse with every step, but every time Phil would remind himself that he only had to make it to Melinda. He just had to get to her and then he could fall apart, they could fall apart together, and somehow that would make things okay again.
He just had to get to Melinda.
That thought was all he could hang onto as he shuffled through the corridors, eventually finding himself at her door.
He was here, and now everything would be better.
Phil gently pushed the door open, ready to apologise for not knocking. Ready to see May, to take the tiniest amount of solace in the fact that she was safe and alive and here.
What he found instead was an empty room.
Possessions gone, some clothes still hanging out of a drawer, phone gone, duffel bag gone, Melinda gone.
Phil's shoulders began to shake and a moment later he collapsed onto her still messy bed, sobbing.
Melinda was gone.
Daisy was gone.
He was alone.
That was how long it had taken to get everything in order, working enough that Phil knew he could go. It wasn't easy. Everyone was despondent at Daisy's death, the world had barraged them with questions about whether it was true that Quake was gone.
Phil had faced too many press conferences with people asking for details of what happened to Daisy. Asking who was to blame, if he was to blame. He knew deep down that it was an accident, but that almost felt worse. Knowing that it was just a freak accident that had stolen her from him, from the world.
He trained Jemma to take his place as Director, despite her initial protestations. She was the best suited for the job, and she didn't try to convince him to stay. Still, it was clear to both of them that she wasn't the first person he had in mind for the job. Neither said anything, neither had to. It was strange how quickly they'd stopped talking about Daisy, and yet she was still there. Every time one of them stopped right before telling a story about her, the silence was deafening. Every time the Zephyr came in to land or one of their larger vehicles would cause the floor to shake ever so slightly, they would all look down.
It was easy for Phil to see that they were all thinking about Daisy. It was just that none of them wanted to talk about her. That would hurt too much.
May hadn't come back or even gotten in contact with any of them since that night. Phil had been tempted to try to track her down, but he knew there was no point. He wanted to be angry with her for leaving like that, when he needed her so much, but he wasn't.
There were so many people that Phil wanted to be angry with, to hate. AIM, Melinda, himself. Daisy. He wanted to be furious, but he wasn't.
He was just tired.
After retiring, Phil had taken a long trip around America, looking at all the places Daisy had lived. Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, even the alley where they had first met. It hurt, he had to admit. But it made her feel that much closer. That much more alive.
Part of him felt like he should be over it by now. Someone dies, you mourn, and you move on. Phil had lost more than enough friends and agents over the years in exactly the same way as this. It wasn't the same though. He'd always felt like Daisy was special, and he'd always seen her as the daughter he'd never had.
She was never meant to die before he did.
There was only one more stop on his list, and it had only made sense to save it until last.
Phil had only been to China on missions before, and he'd never had the chance to really see it.
The Hunan province was beautiful.
It took him a long time to find the village where Daisy was born. If he was honest, Phil was surprised that it was still there. He would have never known about the horrible tragedy which had occurred less than thirty years earlier.
It felt like such a short amount of time. When Phil thought about what he had been doing thirty years ago, it was very similar to what he had been doing one year ago. Completing missions for SHIELD. Working with other agents.
But that time, that was all Daisy had. To grow, to learn, to love and to live. As cliché as it was, as pointless as it was, Phil wished that it could have been him instead. That would have been easier. He had prepared for his own death.
The urn wrapped in canvas and sitting in his satchel weighed him down. "I know you always wanted to visit." Phil murmured, brushing it with one hand. "I had some ideas about sending you on a fake mission to get you to take a vacation. Maybe get May to go with you so you'd have a translator. That would have been nice, huh?"
He could almost hear Daisy reply. Almost.
Phil sighed. "I miss you." He said softly. "I miss May. I hope I'll see her again."
He could imagine Daisy putting a hand on his shoulder and telling him that of course he'd see her again. Maybe it was a good thing May wasn't here. If she was she'd tell him to stop clinging onto this memory of Daisy, stop pretending like she was still there. She'd tell him that he had to let go, and she'd be right.
He would let go, eventually. He'd promised Daisy that he would.
This was their final stop.
Phil managed to order some food that he couldn't quite identify, and sat down on the edge of a bridge overlooking the river. "Afterlife was nice." He said quietly, looking at the water with one hand on the urn. "But a little run down. I guess there's not much point in trying to repopulate, it's too hard to get to." He sighed. "Still, it was nice. This place is pretty. I think you'd have liked growing up here." The hint of a grin coloured his face. "Not much wifi reception though. Maybe you wouldn't like it much after all."
Phil's hand tightened around the urn. "I'm not ready to let you go." He mumbled.
It was almost an hour before Phil managed to stand. The village looked beautiful in the spring sunshine, even though that the entire place had been destroyed less than thirty years earlier.
Coulson didn't notice where his legs had been taking him until he came to a stop in a small square. He cocked his head as he looked at the monument in the centre of it. It was as new as everything else, and despite not speaking a word of Chinese, he recognised the date carved into it.
The night Daisy had been taken by SHIELD. The night the village had been destroyed.
He took a few steps closer and dimly realised that someone else was there as well. Phil didn't pay much attention to them for a long minute as he tried to imagine that night. What had happened, how it had shaped the lives of so many people, for better and for worse. Daisy, Cal, Jiaying and all those villagers. Jemma, Fitz, Elena, Mack, himself, Melinda, and so many others.
Phil bit the inside of his lip, trying not to cry again, and looked away from the monument.
His breath caught in his throat when he looked at the other person standing with their back to him. He wasn't sure what it was. Their stance, hair, clothing, or something else he couldn't quite identify. He swallowed, desperately trying not to get his hopes up. "Melinda?"
Melinda cursed herself for even coming here. There was no point, she knew that deep down. She didn't want to think about Daisy, she didn't want to think about Phil or any of the others. She just wanted it all to end. She was so tired of living like this.
She didn't want to face Phil. She didn't want him to remind her of why she should keep going, she couldn't take him trying to make her feel better.
Daisy was gone. Nothing Phil could say or do would make that better.
Phil's heart almost stopped when she turned around. It was her. Melinda. His best friend. He wished he could say she looked the same as ever, but she didn't. She looked thinner, defeated, and her eyes were painted with a fear he hadn't seen in years.
Not since Bahrain. At the time he hadn't understood why any time he went to visit her she'd seemed so afraid of him. Now he did. He felt the same any time he saw Jemma or Fitz calling his phone. They just wanted him to be okay, and he couldn't be. He was scared that they'd make him let go.
Phil felt like he should say something, but no words came. Melinda just looked so lost and scared that all he could do was walk closer until he could engulf her in a crushing hug.
May managed to keep up her resistance until he was close enough to touch. Close enough to really see him, see everything the last six months had done to him. Once she could see that, all she could do was cling to him just as tightly, cursing herself for not being able to do anything more.
Phil had a bag, she realised dimly. A heavy bag. When the weight of it bumped her leg, Melinda realised what it was. A lump formed in her throat, and she tried desperately to swallow it, to force back the burn in her eyes.
It was almost like she was here.
May bit her lip, starting to pull away. She had to apologise. She knew that she'd abandoned them, abandoned him. They'd all needed her. "Phil, I-"
"It's okay." He murmured, pulling her back into the hug. "I understand." Phil took a shaky breath. "I'm glad you're okay."
She laughed humourlessly, burying her head in his shoulder.
"I know." Phil said softly. "Me neither."
The two finally drew apart, wiping their eyes. "I can't go back." May said. "I can't go back to SHIELD, not after this."
Phil smiled, tears shining in his eyes. "I retired. Simmons is the director now." He sighed. "I couldn't- everywhere I looked it was like she'd just been there, like she was- was just around every corner."
May clenched her fists. "And now she's right beside you." She said, nodding to the bag.
Phil looked down with a start. "I- yeah. For now at least." He turned his gaze back to the monument, and felt her do the same.
"I wonder what she'd have thought if she got to see this." May said softly. "All those people who died protecting her, and she spent so much of her life thinking no one cared."
Phil sighed. "I don't know how she'd have felt." He said softly. "Guilty that they died for her, grateful that they cared so much. Angry at Hydra, or at her parents."
"I don't know either." May murmured. A moment later she turned, the sound of approaching footsteps alerting her.
It was an old woman, unfamiliar to her.
Phil looked between May and the old woman. He couldn't deny his relief when the two began conversing. Travelling through China was difficult without knowing the language. The old woman seemed to ask a question, and Melinda hesitated for a long moment before nodding and replying in a choked voice.
Phil put a hand on her shoulder and felt her tense. She didn't push him off though, so that was something.
Melinda cleared her throat and turned to look at him. "She noticed us looking at the monument." She said softly. "Wants to invite us for tea. She was here that night."
Phil's lips parted in surprise. He hadn't thought that they'd find someone who was there. Someone who might have known the life that Daisy could have had. "That sounds good." He said thickly, one hand wrapping around his satchel.
The two followed the woman up the hill. May asked her a question that Phil couldn't understand and fell back into pace with him. "Her name is Li." She murmured.
"You sure we can trust her?"
May rolled her eyes. "She's not hydra. Even if she were, we could take her."
Phil sighed. "I'm tired of fighting."
Melinda was grateful to find that it was just a house, with no other occupants. She followed Li to the living area to help with the tea. It was nice to do something so normal again. It reminded her of doing this with her mother. Of making tea with Daisy after morning training. She swallowed thickly.
She never should have taken Daisy on as her student.
Li gave her a sad smile and Melinda looked away. She hated that even this total stranger could read her so easily.
When she went back to the living area, where Phil was, it was to find him staring intently at a picture on the wall.
"What?" She asked, moving so that she could see too.
It took a moment to even recognise them. The happy family in the picture looked nothing like May could remember of them. The insane doctor, the woman who had been cut into a thousand pieces. The scarred and frightened girl that they'd found in L.A.
"It's them." Phil murmured. "Jiaying, Cal, and..." He couldn't say her name.
"Daisy." Li's voice continued, pointing at the baby in the picture. "Daisy."
Melinda's eyes stung and she bit down hard on her lip. "Yes." She said quietly.
The three sat down and Phil took a sip of his tea. "Did you know them?" He asked.
May relayed the question in Chinese, looking at the ground as Li responded. "Yes." Melinda translated quietly. "She lived in the village when they were here. They were neighbours." Li spoke some more and she continued. "The night that Jiaying went into labour Cal had to run over to get help, but he didn't speak any Chinese so he couldn't tell them what was happening."
Phil laughed softly. "That sounds like a mess."
"You'd have been the same."
"Never said I wouldn't have." Phil hesitated. "Did- did she know Daisy?"
It took real effort for Melinda to ask that question. Phil noticed that she didn't use Daisy's name. When Li answered, May nodded. "Yes." She murmured. "She did. She'd look after her sometimes, when her parents were out."
Phil swallowed. "What- what was she like?"
May bit her lip, wishing she could refuse to ask. Wishing that she didn't want to know too. To have one more piece of Daisy that she could hold on to. She barely managed to get the question out, and forced herself to take several long breaths before she translated. "She... she was a happy kid." She repeated in a cracked, flat voice. "Always getting into trouble. She-" She broke off, the hint of a smile coming through. "As soon as she could crawl she was trying to go out on her own." She blinked heavily, failing to stop the tears. "She always bit off more than she could chew."
Phil reached out to her. "Melinda..." He murmured, but she shrugged him off, bowing her head. She didn't want him to comfort her, she didn't want this pain to go away.
The pain was all she had left of Daisy.
When she looked back it, it was to see understanding in Li's eyes. "Nǐ rènshi tā." She said softly.
May nodded. "Shì."
"Jié'āi shùnbiàn." Li said with a nod.
Melinda swallowed and nodded back. "She offers her condolences." She said to Phil.
"Oh." He said, once again letting one hand fall to his bag. "Thank you." He hesitated. "I should get going." Phil said, glancing out the window. "Thank you very much for your hospitality." He said as he stood up, bowing.
May repeated his thanks and stood too, bidding Li farewell.
She followed Phil up the street. "Where are you going now?"
He stopped. "I wanted to watch the sunset from the top of that hill." He murmured. "I-I'd like it if you'd join me."
Phil had thought that doing this with Melinda there too might make it a little more bearable. Knowing what was to come, what he had to do. He didn't want to be alone.
He didn't want to walk back down this hill by himself.
His shoulder started to ache from the weight of the satchel, and Phil stopped dead.
May stopped too. "What?"
He let out a breathless laugh, rubbing his eyes with one hand. "I thought... that day- I thought that was the last time I'd ever carry her. But now..." He sighed. "I guess... one last time."
May said nothing and continued to walk up the hill.
Phil hurried after her. "Hey, Melinda- I... please, can we just talk?"
"We've been talking all day."
"You know what I mean."
She rounded on him. "What if I don't want to talk?" She snarled. "What if I'm sick of you trying to fix me?!"
She hated him for not getting angry back. "I miss her too."
"I miss how she'd write her mission reports and always forget to write 'Agent' before people's names." He said, the tears burning his eyes. "I miss her pranking everyone, I miss how she'd always fall asleep on that one couch in the rec room." He pressed his lips together. "I miss her smile."
"Shut up Phil!" He wasn't surprised that she surged forwards, seizing the front of his shirt. "Stop talking about her like she's still here! She's not! You know that, she's gone!"
Phil tugged gently on the strap of the satchel. "She's right here."
"No she isn't." May said in a disgusted voice, releasing him. "And you know that."
When she turned to continue up the hill, he grabbed her hand. "Talk to me."
Melinda trembled. "I- I can't." She whispered, failing to pull her hand back.
Phil took a step further up the hill so that they were standing side by side. "You can. I'm right here."
She looked at him, hating herself for not being able to keep it in. "I- it was all my fault." Melinda said clearly, her shoulders shaking. "I taught her to finish the mission no matter what, I'm the one who made her think that she had to run headlong into an ambush to do her job, I-..." She broke off, biting her lip hard enough to draw blood. "It's my fault she's gone."
Phil sighed. "Oh Melinda." This time when he wrapped his arms around her she struggled weakly against him, almost like she couldn't decide whether she wanted to or not. "You know that's not true."
"It is." She mumbled, finally going limp against him.
He smiled crookedly, his artificial hand pulling her closer as his other cradled her head. "Come on. She was a hero long before she met us."
A broken sob broke from her throat. "Phil."
For the first time since Daisy had died, May made no effort to stop the tears. "I don't want to let her go." She mumbled. "I don't want to move on."
"I know." Phil said softly. "We don't have to. But you know she wouldn't want this."
"Who cares?" May said stubbornly. "I didn't want her to get herself killed like that. If she didn't want this then that's her problem."
Phil laughed. "She'd be so mad at you for saying that." He said. "What do you think she'd say?"
May swallowed and drew away. "Let's keep going." She said, continuing up the hill.
Phil smiled. "Okay." He wasn't put off by her pulling away. This was hard for him too.
The sun was just crawling towards the horizon when they reached the top of the hill. The village below was bathed in the yellow light of the sunset and the river twinkled like magic. "It really is beautiful." Phil said, settling down on the ground. When Melinda looked at him cautiously, he patted the ground next to him.
Slowly, she sat down beside him, and Phil pulled the satchel onto his lap. "You were right when you said she isn't here." He murmured. "This is only- only a fraction of what I had a month ago, when I started this." He bit his lip. "I don't want to let her go either, and I knew I couldn't do it all at once. I started not far from the base. From there I just made my way back, until I came here."
May was silent, so he kept talking. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do now, after this. I don't know where to go or how I'm supposed to keep going. I've made it this far for Daisy, because the least she deserved was this, but... I don't know what else to do."
With a sigh, Phil opened his bag, but what he withdrew wasn't the urn that Melinda expected.
It was a nameplate. And what was written on it made her chest tighten.
Director Daisy Johnson
"I never really thought that this could happen." Coulson murmured, placing it carefully on the ground. "I don't know why. We had so many close calls, so many agents die, but I never really thought about how it could have been her." He sighed. "Maybe if I'd been more careful she'd still be here."
May glared at the nameplate for a long minute. "I hate her." She muttered. "She knew it was dangerous, she-she knew that she could get hurt, and she didn't care." She clenched her fists. "She knew how much it would hurt us if anything happened to her and she did it anyway."
Phil wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "You don't hate her. There's no way she could have known what would happen."
Melinda shifted closer. "You know it wasn't your fault."
"Yeah." He said softly. "But I miss her. Every day."
May took a shaky breath. "I-" Her words caught in her throat. "Sometimes- I forget what her voice sounded like." She confessed, trembling gently. "Or how she liked her tea." She bowed her head trying to keep from crying again but knew it was futile. "I don't want to forget her- but every day she's a little more dead. I-I let her be gone."
Phil laced their fingers together. "She's gone." He murmured. "Nothing we can do will change that."
Melinda swallowed the lump in her throat. "She's not gone yet." She said. "Not really."
Phil followed her eyes to the bag, where the urn still rested. He resisted the urge to hide it. He knew what had to be done. "D-do you..." He cleared his throat and withdrew the urn. "Do you want to do it?"
May looked at it, taking it in. The metal, now slightly worn. The small daisy engraved on the top. It was too much. Far too much. "I don't know if I can." She confessed in a low voice. How could Phil have done this so many times, all alone, and she couldn't even do it once?
"It's okay." He said softly. "Together? I think she'd have liked that." Impossible though this seemed, it was a little more bearable with Melinda there. And it felt right.
The two pushed themselves to their feet. The urn grew warm in May's hands from the sun.
Phil cleared his throat. "Should we- should we say something?"
Melinda bit her lip and looked away. "Daisy I-... I'm sorry I couldn't protect you." She said, refusing to break down now. "And... I hope you're happy, wherever you are." She let her hand rest on the lid, thumb brushing the engraved flower.
Phil put his hand over hers. "I'm so proud of you." He said in a rough voice. "You're all I ever wanted in a daughter."
"Yes." He agreed. "And- I hope we'll see you again someday."
They nodded to each other and gently removed the lid. May's stomach clenched at the sight of it. Was this ash really all that was left of Daisy? All her kindness and strength and love, all reduced to this?
Phil caught her eye, concerned, and Melinda nodded. She could break later. For now the sun was starting to set, and Daisy deserved to go with it.
The two took it in turns, watching the ash get picked up by the evening air and soar over the treetops, the houses and the river. The ash flew further and further until the encroaching darkness made them lose sight of it.
The moment the sun set, Phil's knees started to buckle. Melinda caught him before he collapsed totally, his body wracked with sobs. "She's gone." He whispered, clinging to her like he might never let go. "She's gone she's gone she's gone."
Melinda didn't know what to say. She didn't know what she could say. He was right, Daisy was gone. She held him tightly and let him sob into her shoulder as silent tears crept down her own face. "I-I don't want to leave." She whispered. Leaving meant moving on. It meant living with the fact that she was really gone.
Phil's trembling lessened. "We can stay here." He said, "Let's- let's stay here tonight."
That sounded nice. Stay for one more night, hold onto Daisy for just a few more hours.
It was a nice thought.
"We can't." May said. "We have to go back down to the village."
Phil looked down at the plaque. This seemed as good a place as any to leave it. "But she's not there."
Melinda took his hand, looking out over the still partly lit hills. "She's everywhere now." She whispered. "And we'll see her again."