Melinda May had woken up in many confusing situations before. Wild hangovers, hazing rituals, missions gone awry. It wasn't new for her. Hell, she had grabbed the gun from her holster before she even realised she had done it. Her hand grabbed her weapon while her brain took stock of her surroundings.
An unusual room. A body outside the door, merely stunned by the look of it. A girl in front of her, gaping at her. She had some kind of device in her hand, and that was enough for Melinda to raise her weapon. "Who are you?"
The girl took a step back. "What- what happened to you?" She whispered. "How-"
"Hey!" May interrupted, all business. "I asked you a question."
The girl looked surprised. "I- May, it's me, don't you remember?" Melinda cocked her gun and she held up her hands. "Okay! I'm Agent Simmons, I'm a SHIELD agent, just like you." She swallowed. "I- I'm going to reach for my badge, okay?"
When she drew the familiar looking badge from her pocket, May approached. She didn't seem dangerous at least. She glanced at the card. "You don't look seven years old to me." She said, not lowering her weapon.
Jemma swallowed nervously, taking in May's appearance. The different hair, the lack of lines on her face. The inexperience in her eyes. She had a horrible feeling. "What year do you think it is?"
For the first time, Melinda faltered. "Nineteen ninety-four." She said, dread creeping up her spine. "You?"
"Twenty eighteen." Jemma muttered, then swore. "I knew that they were messing around with time travel, I knew it!"
"Simmons!" A different voice called, then another girl skidded into the room. "I heard a noise and- whoa." She gaped at May. "I- what did you do?!"
"Nothing!" Agent Simmons exclaimed. "She just saw the device first and handed it to me and this happened!"
The new girl groaned. "Coulson's gonna kill us."
Melinda cocked her head. "Coulson? Phil Coulson?"
"Oh yes, of course!" Simmons said. "You know him! He's back at our base, we can take you to him."
Melinda rolled her eyes and noted the new girl doing the same. As if she'd just go with them. The new girl approached her carefully. "Hey." She said with a smile. "I'm Daisy. I just want to show you- I've got some pictures on my phone."
May cocked her head – pictures on a phone? Daisy pulled something out of her pocket that didn't look like any phone she had ever seen, but after tapping at it for a moment, turned the screen towards her. On it, May could see two faces very close to the camera. One was Daisy's, smiling widely. The other was a much older Coulson.
Something in her gut still told her something was off, but she holstered her weapon. Sometimes traps were more interesting anyway. "Fine." She said, changing her tone to a more cheerful one. "Sorry for the confusion." Melinda said with a smile. "I'm Melinda."
Daisy faltered. She wasn't sure she'd ever heard anyone but Coulson use her first name before. "I- yeah. We know." She said awkwardly. "Come on. The others are waiting at the quinjet. I hope you can still fly."
Melinda didn't care what year it was, there was nowhere near enough talk for the number of people currently in the plane. Daisy sat in the co-pilot's seat, helping direct her on some of the technology, but it was mostly the same. Flying gave her that same sense of freedom as skating had when she was a child, and all of the new technology was kind of awesome.
That said, everyone was being far too quiet. After flicking the autopilot on, Melinda stood. "So." She said, looking from person to person. "We're a team."
Jemma looked up from the device, ignoring the dirty look Mack was giving it. "Yes!" She said brightly. "Or part of a team I suppose. This was supposed to be a simple mission."
"It's always meant to be simple." Mack muttered.
"Well yeah." Daisy said. "But this isn't even a four on our emergency scale, relax."
Melinda grinned. "Really?" She asked. "One of your team getting sent through time isn't even a four?"
Jemma tutted. "I don't think you've travelled through time." She said, still fiddling with the device. "Not technically. It seems like the device has reverted you physically and mentally, but Fitz and I can reverse it with some time."
Mack grunted. "You sent word to Coulson?" He asked Daisy, who nodded.
"Yeah." She said. "No response yet though." She was trying not to stare at May, but it was hard. She looked so different. She had bangs for crying out loud. And there was an energy to her, a curiosity. Hell, there was even a certain amount of innocence.
May flopped back into the chair, letting her leg hang over the armrest. "You should tell our superior too." She said. "They get mad if they're out of the loop." She saw the looks in their eyes. "What?"
Daisy shrugged. "Coulson... is our superior."
"Well who's his superior?"
"Uhh..." Daisy fiddled with her hands. "He's kind of the Director now."
"Acting Director." Mack corrected, not that it did anything for May's shock.
She sat up. "Seriously? Coulson, Director of SHIELD."
Daisy tried not to laugh and was gratified to see Jemma doing the same. "Well yeah."
Melinda looked between the three of them. "Nerdy guy. Loves his weird toys. Useless in a fight. Obsessed with his car."
Daisy grinned. "Yeah, Lola."
"Oh my God, he still has it?!"
Jemma coughed lightly to hide a laugh. "We're all surprised too, don't worry."
Melinda rolled her eyes. "I don't know how no one's blown it up by now." She said. "Especially when this," She gestured to herself, "Isn't a big problem."
Daisy shrugged. "Eh, this isn't the first time someone's time travelled." She said nonchalantly. "Don't think you're special."
May shook her head. "Coulson's the boss and you've invented time travel. I mean, I knew he was a nerd, but..."
Jemma grinned. "Oh please, he didn't invent time travel. He's from Communications for goodness sake."
Daisy gaped. "Jemma Simmons, did you just insult a superior officer?"
Jemma scoffed. "Oh hush, I'm not a girl scout you know."
"Not with that accent you're not."
"We're almost there!" Mack interrupted, relieved. Somehow he'd become the only adult on the mission. Still, it was good to see them all happy. Even if May was confusing to look at like this.
Daisy moved to the co-pilot's seat. "Need any help bringing her in?"
Melinda nodded. "Thanks."
Daisy let Mack take the lead into the base, following from behind so that she wouldn't freak May out with her staring. This was just... weird. It was hard to nail down exactly what was different about her exactly. Other than the obvious.
Halfway to Coulson's office, May slowed down to fall into pace with her. "I know you're staring."
"Oh, sorry." Daisy muttered, not looking at her. "This is just..."
Daisy smiled a little. "Yeah, you could say that."
"I get it." May said with a smirk. "My only friend's an old man."
Daisy snorted. "Don't call him that." She said. "He'll get grumpy."
May's smirk only grew, as did the sparkle in her eye. She liked this girl.
Daisy stopped walking. "Okay, here we are."
Mack sighed. "I'm not dealing with this." He said. "You two have got it."
Daisy sniggered. "Coward."
"Hey, I'm not the one hiding in the lab."
"Jemma's a scientist trying to fix this." Daisy exclaimed, but Mack had already gone. She shook her head and turned to May. "Okay, let's do this." Was it just her or was May somehow shorter? God this was weird.
May grinned. "All for one and one for all."
The joke surprised her, but Daisy ignored it for now and pushed the door open. "Hey Coulson. Uhh, so I know you got the message, but I wanna say again that this isn't my fault like, at all."
Coulson looked up at Daisy's voice, but he wasn't really looking at her. No, he was looking at the other figure following closely behind her. Melinda. God, she looked so young and open. Innocent, even. He remembered what she had been like, but seeing her here and now was like seeing a ghost. A good ghost though.
Melinda's eyes widened as she saw him sitting there. "Oh my God." She breathed in shock. "Oh my God, you're bald!"
Daisy bit her lip to keep from smiling as May dissolved into laughter, practically doubling over.
Coulson frowned, affronted. "I am not bald!"
Melinda giggled. "You're a bald old man." She teased, continuing to laugh at him.
Phil shook his head, but caught Daisy's eye when May wasn't looking. He could see the same softness there that he felt. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen May laugh like this.
He crossed his arms. "You're in no position to make fun of me when you've got that haircut." Phil muttered.
May swallowed a laugh. "Hey, I look good."
Coulson rolled his eyes, but couldn't argue. "So." He said, looking to Daisy who was putting on a great show of not being amused. "What are we going to do about this?"
Daisy hesitated, weighing her decision. "Get a toupee?" She suggested innocently, causing Coulson to glare and May to cover her mouth to keep from laughing any more.
"You know what I mean." Coulson muttered.
She grinned. "Fitzsimmons are working on it. They think she's kind of reverted, not like, switched places with herself or anything."
Phil sighed. "Well that's something." He said, his eyes still glued to Melinda. "We don't need to worry about someone digging through our files and taking sensitive information back to the nineties."
Daisy rolled her eyes. "She's not that nosey."
"Not now you mean." Phil said, his eyes narrowing at Melinda. "Tell her what you did before graduation, go on."
May snorted. "You didn't stop me."
"I couldn't stop you May."
Daisy hesitated, concern starting to claw at her stomach. "We'll be able to fix this," She said. "Right?"
Phil immediately turned his attention to her when he heard that note in her voice. He moved to put a hand on Daisy's shoulder. "Of course we will." He said softly. "We've gotten out of worse situations than this and you know it."
Daisy sighed softly, glad for the reassurance. "Yeah, I know."
"But you are on babysitting duty."
Daisy grinned. "This is for the toupee, isn't it?"
Coulson winked and Daisy rolled her eyes.
Melinda looked between them curiously. "You didn't say you had a kid." She said.
Both heads whipped around to look at her, then back to each other. Daisy tried to reply but found herself drawing up a blank. This wasn't the first time this had happened, and yet every time it did she felt that icy feeling grab her heart.
Coulson's hand squeezed her shoulder. "Oh, no." He said. "We're not- we're not related." He smiled. "I can't take any credit for this one."
Daisy scoffed to cover any emotion in her voice. "You don't get off the hook that easy." She grinned. "You still recruited me."
"And I'm grateful every day."
The way Daisy rolled her eyes seemed oddly familiar to Melinda, but she didn't know how. "Sorry." She said. "I just assumed..."
"It's okay." Daisy said. "A lot of people do." There were undertones there, but again, May decided not to ask.
Daisy shook herself. "Uh, Fitzsimmons want her in the lab for some tests. I'll keep you posted."
"Thank you, Daisy."
"No problem." She grinned. "Come on mini-May, Fitzsimmons want your blood."
If there was one thing that never changed, it was that labs were really boring. Melinda took ten seconds to look at the admittedly impressive equipment before being stuck sitting on a stiff bench while Simmons and the other one poked and prodded at her. They were a couple, that much was obvious.
Fitz wasn't looking at her. He seemed awkward, and hey, messing with sci-tech kids was always good for a laugh. "So," May said, letting her voice take on a slightly husky tone. "Come here often?"
He looked up, confused. "I-I mean, I work here."
She smiled. "You sure do." Melinda put a hand on his shoulder. "I've always liked smart guys." She noticed Daisy not at all subtly looking at her phone.
Fitz struggled not to squirm under her gaze. "I- uh, I need to take your blood pressure."
"Buy me a drink first."
Fitz stared, blood pressure cuff loose in one hand. "I- uh- what do you- I can't-"
"Ssssshhhhhhhh." Melinda whispered, putting a finger over his lips, silencing him. "I'm here now." Good God, she hadn't seen a man more terrified since Phil on April fools day. "Let's sort out all that pressure."
Daisy was shaking with silent laughter in the corner, wiping tears from her eyes. This was priceless. It was a good thing she had the security camera recording. She choked on air when May shrugged her jacket from her shoulders, seductively sliding it off her skin and holding eye contact with an increasingly uncomfortable Fitz the entire time.
Finally Jemma returned from the other side of the lab, trying and failing not to giggle. "Oh leave him alone." She said, grinning and giving May a gentle shove.
May finally cracked and laughed. "You can't keep all that man to yourself." She teased, shooting Fitz a wink.
He backed away until his back hit the wall. It was only then that he noticed Daisy doubled over from laughing and glared. "S'not funny." He muttered. "She can't- she's team mum, she can't do that."
Daisy's stomach was starting to hurt from laughing. "P-pretty sure she can Fitz." She giggled.
Fitz huffed. "Well I guess I'll just leave you to it." He said. "Afternoon ladies."
Daisy bit her lip. "See you later Fitz!" She called cheerfully.
Jemma offered him a warm smile only slightly tinged with amusement, but when Fitz looked back and saw the kissy face May was making at him he quickened his pace and kept his eyes glued to the floor.
As soon as he was gone, the three of them dissolved into further fits of laughter. "That- that was mean." Jemma tried to say, putting a hand on May's shoulder to stay upright.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." She giggled, not looking at all contrite. "It was just so easy."
"Genius." Daisy grinned.
May finally stopped laughing. "So." She purred, holding out the cuff to Jemma. "Do you want to feel my blood pumping?"
"Oh yes." Jemma said, "I need you cuffed on my table right now."
Daisy snorted and May grinned, letting Jemma take her blood pressure.
It didn't take long after that for Jemma to be tapping at her computer, examining the results.
The silence was awkward. "So computers got big." Melinda noted.
Daisy grinned. "I mean, technically they got small." She said, getting a glare. "But yeah, I guess that happened kind of fast really. I remember it being really impressive when a school had a computer lab."
Jemma hummed thoughtfully, waiting for the readings to load. "Yes, I remember when my father could get a work computer for his home office. I was very excited." The computer beeped and she frowned. "That's interesting."
Daisy moved closer, noting that May did the same. "What is?"
Jemma looked to May. "You're my age." She said softly.
May cocked her head. "I mean, roughly, I guess."
Jemma shook her head. "No, exactly." She said. "Or at least as close as we can measure." After a moment she closed her eyes, sighed, and breathed. "Bloody hell."
Jemma snatched up the device with her gloved hand, examining it. "I think," She said, "When May picked up the device it read her as the subject, and when she handed it to me it read me as the object, and then it copied my age onto her."
May cocked her head at the device. "So what now?"
Jemma took a breath. "This is good!" She said decisively, putting it down. "It means that the device operated to its intended function, so this wasn't some kind of malfunction. Fitz should be able to reverse it in a few days."
"Assuming you don't eat him alive." Daisy grinned, gently elbowing May in the ribs.
Daisy slid a cup of tea across the bench to May, who immediately added a teaspoon of sugar. "So now what?" Melinda asked.
Daisy shrugged. "We've mostly just gotta wait. Fitzsimmons will figure it out."
May took a sip of her tea. "Do people seriously call them that?"
Daisy smiled. "It started when they were at the Academy and I guess it stuck."
May hummed. "The Academy's fun. Ops is, at least." Her eyes narrowed playfully. "You went to Ops?"
"Oh, no." Daisy said. "I didn't go to the academy. I guess I'm kind of a weird case."
May shrugged. "Shame you missed out."
"Eh, it's okay." Daisy muttered. "I got to hang out with the team."
"You any good in a fight?"
Daisy grinned. "I'd hope so." She said. "You trained me."
A wolfish smirk tugged at May's lips. "We should go a few rounds."
Daisy rolled her eyes. "Can I finish my tea first?"
"Fine." May said, downing what was left of hers in one gulp. "But be quick about it."
Daisy shook her head, taking her time with her tea. "Why don't we start with some tai chi? Since we have to stretch anyway." She hesitated. "You like tai chi, right?"
Melinda nodded. "Sure you're not scared?" She teased.
Daisy glared playfully. "The only thing I'm scared of is you trying to flirt with me too." She said, then faked a gag when May winked.
Melinda tried not to stare at Daisy as they did tai chi. There was a familiarity to her that she just couldn't shake. Her movements reminded her of her mother. Slow and careful but strong and steady.
Daisy caught sight of her during one motion and nodded towards the ground. "Your foot's a bit off."
Melinda shook herself. "Right." She muttered, correcting her stance.
It made sense for Daisy to move in such a familiar way, didn't it? She had already said that May trained her, but there was still something May couldn't shake.
Maybe it was just her memories of Daisy coming back. Maybe.
They reached the end of the session, stretching. "You ready to do this?" May asking, beginning to wrap her hands.
Daisy grinned. "Come at me." She joked. Truthfully she was excited. She hadn't had the chance to spar with May for a while. Even if this would probably be very different.
The two moved to the centre of the mats and Daisy circled slowly, waiting for May to make the first move. When she did, sweeping the ground with her leg, Daisy jumped it and laughed. "How are you faster?" She asked, taking a few swings at her.
"Top of my class." May said, deflecting her hits and landing a punch to Daisy's gut.
Daisy grunted. "I know." She gasped. "You mentioned it a few times."
"I broke three bones getting there."
"Funny," Daisy ducked another punch and landed a hit to her side. "You told me it was five."
Before Melinda could reply Daisy had grabbed her arm and taken her to the ground, quickly scrambling to hold her down. "Gotcha." Daisy grinned.
"Nice." May said, pulling herself to her feet once Daisy let her go. "You must have had a great S.O."
Daisy scoffed but also softened. "I did." She murmured. "I do."
"You started it."
"Bring it on."
Phil didn't mean to spy, he really didn't. He was on his break, just going to make a cup of coffee and see how Fitzsimmons were progressing with the device when he heard a familiar laugh. He followed it and found voices, as well as the sound of a fight, and from the moment he looked into the gym he found himself frozen in place.
He had seen May and Daisy spar before. This was different though. He didn't know how May being younger made it different, but it did. She was talking more, joking and laughing with Daisy more. She wasn't focused on showing Daisy the best way to win, in fact the two were pretty evenly matched. If anything Daisy had a slight edge.
It was the life to her that made Phil want to take it all in. His Melinda was so controlled all the time. She refused to let herself go. He'd forgotten how beautiful she looked when she did.
A towel impacted with his face, and he remembered why spying on May was generally not a good idea. "Hey Homer Simpson, quit staring." She said. "Unless you want to tap in and show me what those old bones can do."
Phil tried to look annoyed but ended up smiling. "We're the same age."
"Not right now we're not." Melinda grinned, towelling off and throwing that one at him too, which he caught.
"Spoken like a bald old man."
Daisy snorted into her own towel and Coulson gave her a dour glare. "How are you two doing?" He asked, ignoring May's comment.
"Good!" Daisy grinned. "She's already traumatised Fitz."
"That didn't take long."
"I'm just that good." Melinda said with a smirk.
Coulson laughed softly. "Uh huh." He said. "Daisy, why don't you take a break? I think Fitz wanted your help programming the device."
Daisy rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Work work work." She muttered, heading to her room to change clothes.
"I'll make you some dinner."
"Thank you." Daisy offered May a smile as she left. "I'll see you later."
She nodded. "Definitely." Daisy was fun.
Moments after Daisy left, Coulson spoke again. "You hungry?" He asked. "I was thinking of making risotto."
Melinda smirked. "I think I should change first. Know where my clothes are?"
He gestured to the door. "I can take you to your room."
They walked mostly in silence, and Phil was glad for that. While seeing May like this was amazing in many ways, it was also pretty awkward. She didn't know him that well. He didn't really know her that well either.
"So," Melinda raised an eyebrow at him. "You cook now?"
Phil sensed the teasing in her question and rolled his eyes. "I've always cooked." He said. "I just didn't tell you at first because I knew you'd laugh at me."
Melinda gasped in mock offence. "I would never!"
He couldn't help but smile a little. "You've been calling me a bald old man all day."
"You denying it?"
"I'm not bald!"
His shout made her laugh, and Phil fought to keep that warm smile inside. That feeling he couldn't quite identify. "Here's your room." He said instead, nodding to the door. "Passcode's my birthday."
For the first time there was doubt in Melinda's eyes. She hesitated, her hand barely raised to the level of the keypad. "Uh." God, he was looking at her like she should just know. Maybe she should, after all she had set Coulson's birthday as the passcode to her room. Had they gotten that close?
Phil cocked his head in confusion. What was stopping her? When May's eyes flickered to him, the barest hint of guilt there, he smiled, reached past her, and keyed in the date. "I can't believe you forgot my birthday." He teased gently.
Her shoulders sagged with relief and Melinda sighed. "It's not like you know mine." She tried.
Phil shrugged. "November twenty-first."
May's eyes flickered away from him. "I didn't tell you that."
Phil smiled gently. "You did. Or you will, depending on how you look at it."
He tried not to feel hurt at how surprised she seemed to be. Surprised that they were still friends. Instead of saying anything else, Phil nodded to the door. "Go change." He said. "I'll answer more questions while I cook."
Melinda shrugged. "Okay." She said, walking into her room.
Phil leaned against the wall, frowning when he heard her footsteps stop abruptly. Before he could ask if she was okay, he heard a scandalised voice.
"Oh my God, I'm clean!"
He stifled a laugh, May's unintelligible muttering continuing as she changed her clothes. When she emerged in her usual jeans and black shirt Phil offered her a smile. "Come on, dinner time."
Melinda rolled her eyes. "What are you, my dad?" She asked, but the moment the words were out of her mouth a horrible feeling seized her heart. "Is he..."
"He's still around." Phil assured. "You spent this last Christmas with him. Daisy went too, she needed the time away."
She nodded. "That's good." But that confusion was back. Daisy, again.
May didn't say much as Phil started getting the ingredients ready, but when she saw him pull on an apron she couldn't keep from grinning.
Phil pointed at her. "Not a word."
She held up her hands, putting her drink down on the counter to do so. "I didn't say anything."
"You were thinking it." He said with a playful glare.
Melinda shook her head, taking another sip of her scotch. Phil had definitely progressed from the dollar store level crap they'd shared on a few stakeouts. She thought back to that agent, the young man with his nerdy collections and gentle soul. "How did you become Director?"
Phil almost made a joke, but instead he stopped chopping for a moment. "I ask myself that a lot actually." He said with a soft laugh. "It's... kind of a long story."
"Make it shorter then."
He resumed chopping with a distant smile. "SHIELD went through a big change." Phil said softly. "Fury felt like he had to step away, to give the agency a new face. He chose me."
"You always were a teacher's pet."
"You say that like it's a bad thing." He said. "You're my second."
That pulled her up short. Melinda stared, drink still in hand. "What?"
Phil seemed almost amused by her confusion. "You're my second in command." He said again, beginning to sauté the garlic.
When he turned back May was still staring at him. Phil had to admit that she looked kind of cute.
She shook herself. "Why?" Melinda asked, not bothering to hide her confusion. "Why me?"
Phil dumped the tomatoes into the pan, giving them a quick stir while he tried to think of an answer. "Because you're my best friend." He murmured, not facing her. "You see things differently to me, you know when we need to make a hard choice." He smiled. "And you don't let me get away with being an ass."
May rolled her eyes. "You're not an ass."
Phil laughed and put the heat on low, turning back to her. "I can be." He said. "Sometimes." He reached for his drink but stopped a moment before he took a sip. "You didn't put chilli oil in this, did you?"
She laughed. "I thought about it. Couldn't figure out where you kept it."
Phil grinned. "What a shame." He said, but that look was back. The one that went right through her.
May swallowed. "Why do you keep looking at me like that?"
Coulson hesitated, eyes darting from her to the glass in his hand. "Like what?" He didn't know why he asked. He knew what she was talking about. He was just scared to tell her. To explain everything she had been through and what it had cost her.
"I don't know." Melinda admitted softly. "Like- like I'm gone." She bit her lip. "For a little while there I thought I might have died. That everyone was keeping that from me."
Phil choked on his scotch. "What?!" He coughed. "No- no, you didn't- I mean one time, but it was just for a minute, I swear."
May cocked her head, choosing to ignore the comment about her temporary death, for now. "Then what?"
Phil sighed. "I-" He stopped before saying anything else. He needed to think before he opened his dumb mouth. "I just haven't seen you laugh like that in a long time. That's all."
She frowned. "Like what?"
"Like you're happy." Phil said softly, then immediately backtracked. "I mean- it's not that you're not happy, just... different."
Melinda's hand tightened on the glass. "Different how?" She asked, trying to soothe her nerves. "Why?"
Phil worked his lip between his teeth. He didn't want to upset her. He didn't want her to worry. But he also knew that he couldn't lie to her. "You always make the hard calls." He eventually said, looking down. "The ones I can't, and some of them... they break your heart."
Something inside her faltered. "I'm- broken?"
"What- no!" Phil cried, but before he could say anything else the sounds of the risotto beginning to boil over caught his ear, and he hurried to save it. The next moment Daisy arrived, and by the time everyone had finished eating he had almost forgotten about what May had said.
But she definitely hadn't.
Her room felt wrong. Melinda knew that it was her room. It had a picture of her parents on the dresser and a couple of her old keepsakes on the shelf. It didn't feel right though. All the space left by her cleanliness just made the room feel empty and cold.
She couldn't stay here any more. Besides, she was pretty sure that the machine had messed with her sleep patterns due to the total lack of any fatigue.
Better to work it off somehow than to try in vain.
Melinda's ears picked up the soft noises long before she entered the common area, but she was relieved at who she saw. "Hey." She greeted.
Daisy smiled. "Hi." She said softly, nursing a cut of tea on the couch. "You okay?"
May shrugged, making her own cup. "Couldn't sleep. You?"
"Same." Daisy said, but some of her tension eased when May sat down beside her. She sighed. "We've just all been through so much lately. I'm too tired to sleep."
"I get that." May murmured. "Do you wanna talk about it?"
Daisy huffed a laugh. "It'd take too long to explain." She said. "We'd be here all night." It was strange how much she missed May in that moment. Her ability to just know what was wrong, her quiet, gentle way. May was right there though. Maybe talking to her, different though she was, could help. Daisy sighed. "I'm- scared." She admitted. "Of what I might turn into."
She looked up at May, not even sure why. Her eyes were the same. "I- I've met people who are scared of me before. Of my powers. I just always thought 'I'd never hurt them'."
Melinda cocked her head. "You have powers?"
"Oh." Daisy laughed. "Yeah- yes."
May brought her knees up to her chest. "What can you do?"
She grinned. "I, uh, I make things shake."
Melinda narrowed her eyes. "That sounds pretty lame."
Daisy burst into surprised laughter and shoved her. "Hey, it's not that bad!" She exclaimed, but sobered a moment later. "I've shaken the whole base before."
"Are you scared you could take it down?"
Daisy shook her head. "No." She murmured. "I know I can." She swallowed. "I don't know how much more I could do. If- if I snapped one day, how much damage could I do? How many- how many people could I kill?"
"I don't know." May said softly. "But you can't go through life scared of what might happen. You'd never do anything."
Daisy smiled. "I didn't realise you'd always sucked at pep talks."
Melinda rolled her eyes and patted Daisy on the back, only half joking. "All you can ever do is your best." She said. "If you always do that, you don't have anything to worry about."
"You're trying way too hard right now." Daisy said, pushing her worries back. May was right, really. It was just hard to quell those fears. "What's up with you?"
A smirk tugged at her lips. "The same, I guess."
"What changed me?" May asked, unable to hide the fear in her eyes. "How?" She swallowed thickly. "What did I turn into?"
Daisy caught herself before she said something she knew she would regret and tried to keep any pity from her gaze. "You talked to Coulson, huh?"
Melinda crossed her arms around her waist. It made her look even younger than she was. "He kept looking at me weird."
Daisy grinned. "He does that." She looked down. "Look, you've been through a lot of crap. Missions that have gone about as wrong as they ever could, and yeah, you're different." She sighed. "But it's been like, decades. Of course you're gonna change. And hey, weren't you just telling me not to worry about what might happen?"
"This isn't about what might happen." Melinda said softly. "It's about what did happen." She swallowed, the question that had been plaguing her mind all evening rising in her throat. "Am I a monster?"
"What?" Daisy sat up. "No, no, May you're not a monster, you're m-" She caught herself before she said any more. "You're- you're our May. You're our friend and you've kept us all safe and- you're part of our team."
Was that really it? The pause in Daisy's response made her think otherwise. "I've never had a team before." Melinda said.
Daisy blinked, surprised. "Really?" Were all specialists massive loners? That was the impression she kept getting.
May shrugged. "Specialists work alone, at least at first. It's a tough job and they need to make sure we can take it." Before they endangered too many people. Before they got attached. What had Daisy stopped herself from saying? What was she to this team? To Daisy?
"Well now you've got us." Daisy said with a smile. "This team... we're family, and we need you."
Family. Something about the way Daisy said it sent a tremor through her. Was that what Daisy had been about to say? Were the two of them like a family, or something more? That was a can of worms that she couldn't open right now. In a day or two she would be back to normal anyway. Back to a person who, while not a monster, smiled and laughed so rarely that her friends openly stared when she did. "I'm- glad we're a team." Melinda said, forcing those thoughts back. It was fine. She was fine.
Daisy surprised herself by yawning. "Oh, jeez." She mumbled. "Excuse me." She grinned sleepily. "Maybe it's time to go to bed?"
Melinda nodded distractedly. "Yeah." She muttered. Daisy wasn't convinced she'd actually heard her.
She put a hand on May's shoulder to get her attention. "Everything's going to be alright." Daisy said softly. "Come on, I'll make sure you don't get lost on your way to your room."
Jemma and Fitz had fixed the device and Melinda really wanted to be relieved about it. She wanted to remember how much she cared for this team. She just wasn't sure if she wanted to go back to being the person they knew. Someone who was so quiet and reserved. Someone who had made so many tough calls that it had shattered her into a thousand pieces.
She looked down on the gym from the rafters. It was always so calm up near the ceiling. No one bothered her.
Almost as if to prove her wrong, a very nervous looking Phil Coulson climbed up to sit beside her. "You okay?" He asked, purposefully not looking down.
Melinda shrugged. She didn't know what to say. Anything Phil said would just be to convince her to change back. She wasn't totally convinced that, if she refused, they wouldn't force her to.
What was so bad about staying like this anyway? She'd gotten back almost thirty years of her life. She could do it again. She could spend time with Daisy and Jemma and Mack and Fitz and Phil. They'd still be a team if she was like this. What difference did it make?
Damnit. She couldn't even pinpoint what it was in his voice that made her want to give up and tell him everything, but it was there. Melinda bit her lip. "I don't want to change back." She said in a rush.
Phil looked at her, taking in her countenance. Her averted eyes, the ashamed hunch of her shoulders. The stiffness in her back that he knew meant she was ready for a fight. He resisted the urge to reach out for her. "Why not?"
Melinda sucked in a shaky breath. "I don't know who I'll be." She said quietly. She wanted Phil to tell her everything would be okay. She wanted to believe that it would be. "Everything I've heard and seen... I don't seem like me."
Now he did reach out, one hand gently encasing hers. Melinda's fearful eyes met his and Phil tried to smile. "Some things have changed." He said softly. "But some haven't." He nodded to their surroundings. "How do you think I knew you'd be here?"
Melinda shrugged. "Lucky guess?" She said, trying to downplay this.
Phil was still smiling at her in that honest, sweet way. His hand was warm over hers. "You're still just as protective as you always were." He said softly. "You still prank people, and you still get away with it." He grinned. "Even if sometimes that means Daisy gets the blame."
May couldn't hide her amusement at that. Phil's fingers wove through hers. "You like the same tea, and you still make fun of Communications." He said. "You remember the dance we learned in that academy elective, you're still mad about our mission in Sausalito, and you hate undercover."
Melinda smiled gently. "Do we still have that Haig that we won off Fury?"
Phil chuckled. "Uuh- no." He said. "We- I drank it last year. I thought it was you with me, but it turned out it wasn't. Long story."
"There are a lot of those."
He shrugged. "That'll happen when you're missing thirty years of memories."
Melinda gave him a dour glare and Coulson grinned. "Yeah, that's the same too." He said, but when she pulled her hand away he softened. "You're strong." He murmured. "And kind and- caring. I- I don't know how to get you to believe me, but you're the same amazing person you've always been."
Something clicked in May's head and she looked away. "You're in love with her." Of course. Of course he was. Phil was nothing if not sentimental.
Phil froze, momentarily speechless. "I- no- that's not the point!"
"It is the point." Melinda pressed. "Don't try to lie."
"I'm not lying!" Phil cried, exasperated. "I- yeah, you're right, I-I am in- in love with her." He flushed just saying the words, then sighed heavily. "Oh who am I kidding- there's no her." He said, gesticulating a little with his hands. "You- you're not a different person, it's not about her, it's about you, and everything you become." He sighed, "You were my friend then, and you're my friend now." He managed a smile. "And you'll still be my friend thirty years from now."
May raised an eyebrow. "Optimistic to think you'll still be around."
Phil shrugged. "I thought the same thing when I was your age." He said. "Now look at me. I'm a bald old man. Never thought I'd make it."
Melinda snorted and he grinned. It was nice to know he could still make her laugh.
May sighed softly, looking down on the equipment below. "I'm going to do it." She murmured. "I'm just- scared." Her voice faltered at the word. It was hard to admit. "It feels like I'm going to disappear."
"You won't." Phil said. "And it's okay to be scared. We're all here to help you."
"Thank you." She said softly, and before she could stop herself, shuffled closer to wrap and arm around him. After a moment of pause, Phil returned the one-armed hug. Her head fit a little too perfectly against him, but Melinda chose not to think about it.
Screw it. "Do I feel the same about you?"
Phil looked down at her but quickly shifted his gaze to the gym below. "I don't know." He murmured. "I like to think so sometimes."
A grin touched her lips. "So you really don't want me to remember this, huh?"
Phil shook his head and rolled his eyes. "We'll be okay." He said. "No matter what."
For whatever reason, that was comforting. That no matter what happened, she and Phil would be okay. Melinda sighed. "How much longer?"
He glanced at his watch. "A bit over an hour."
She nodded. "Okay."
"Do you wanna get down?"
Everyone was nervous, Daisy could see that. They were also all doing their best not to look like it. She watched Jemma carefully placing electrodes on May's chest and head, assuring her that everything would be okay, but her voice was too high pitched, her words too quick. Coulson hung by the door, trying not to seem too concerned. He tried for a joke exactly once. The silence that greeted it said more than any of them could.
"We figured it out perfectly," Fitz babbled to Daisy. "We- we've got it totally under control, nothing's gonna go wrong, cross my heart."
Daisy didn't tell him to shut up. She knew he was just trying to quell his own nerves.
They had this. No way Fitzsimmons would agree to do this now unless they were sure.
May was nervous too. She hadn't so much as winked at Fitz for the whole time she'd been sitting there. In fact she had barely spoken a word.
Daisy approached her. "It'll be okay." She murmured. "We won't let anything happen to you."
May's eyes darted between them and she somehow managed to smile. "I know." She said. "I trust you."
Jemma snapped her gloves off. "Okay!" She said, far too cheerfully. "We should be all ready. The device is powering up and will automatically activate in two minutes. I'm going to have to ask everyone to clear the room until then."
Coulson nodded. "Okay." He said, refusing to let himself get any closer. He knew that he might never leave. Instead he offered Melinda a kind smile. "We'll see you in two minutes." He said warmly.
She nodded, her nerves still evident.
Fitz patted her awkwardly on the back, but the sentiment was a comfort. Jemma smiled a few watts too brightly, but Melinda knew that she was confident. She trusted them.
Daisy didn't know why she lingered until the others were outside, out of earshot. "I- you'll be okay." She said, turning to leave.
Before she could, however, May's hand gripped hers so tightly it hurt. When Daisy looked back to her, she saw all the fear had bubbled to the surface in a way she had never seen on May before.
Melinda gripped her hand desperately. "Please." She said, her voice raw. "Are you mine?" She had to know one way or another if this strong, funny, confident young woman was her daughter. Something, some instinct, was screaming that she was.
Daisy faltered. What was she supposed to say? What had she done to make May think that she was? Was she wrong to think so? "I- it's not that simple." She didn't know if she wanted to say yes or no, but neither felt quite honest.
"Daisy come on, thirty seconds!"
Her answer had clearly done nothing to assuage May's fears, and as Daisy pulled her hand free she found herself nodding. She didn't say anything else, couldn't say anything else, but the relief on May's face was clear.
Daisy blinked away tears as Jemma closed the door, leaning against the wall and closing her eyes, listening for the sound of the device activating.
Moments after the telltale noise Coulson reached for the door, but Jemma stopped him. "Just a few seconds." She whispered, not quite sure why she had lowered her voice.
Daisy almost didn't want to go into the room. Why had she let May believe that? No. She knew why. It was because May was scared, because she needed to hold on to the belief that her future wasn't hopeless, and because Daisy wanted to help her. That would be what she would say if May remembered everything from the last few days. She was just trying to help.
She didn't really think that May was her mom. She wasn't. She was just the closest Daisy had ever had.
Daisy knew that she would have to follow the others in. If she didn't she would have at least five people asking her why, and she didn't want to talk about that. All she had to do was pretend for a few minutes that her heart wasn't in her throat and she would be fine.
As long as May didn't remember.
Coulson knew that they were all worried. He was too, but he was also the leader. He looked to Jemma for approval, then gently pushed the door open.
The first thing he noticed was the steam in the air. The second was May, already unsticking the electrodes from her chest. Completely back to normal. Relief flashed across her face when she saw him. "Good." She said, "You're here. What the hell happened?"
May raised an eyebrow when Fitzsimmons and Daisy came in too, all looking relieved to see her. "What's going on?"
Coulson approached, gently helping to remove the electrodes attached to her head, taking care not to catch any of her hair. "How much do you remember?"
May rubbed her eyes. "I know who you are." She said, the barest hint of humour in her voice. "I know who they are, and I know where we are."
Jemma gently pushed Coulson out of the way. "Give me your arm." She said, strapping the blood pressure cuff around May's bicep, then shining a light in her eyes. "What's the last thing you remember?"
May blinked from the light, still getting her bearings. "I- I don't know." She said, surprised at herself.
Jemma hummed. "You were affected by this device." She said, nodding to it. "It reverted your age, physically and mentally. Say 'aah'." May obliged and Jemma continued. "I think your brain might need a little time to catch up. Another day or so and you should be right as rain."
"How long?" May asked around the tongue depressor.
"Only a couple of days." Daisy said softly. "Nothing much happened."
May nodded. "Good." She said, grateful that Jemma had removed the stick. "What time is it?"
Phil checked his watch. "Almost six. Anyone want dinner?"
The others all made noises of agreement and May was glad that their chatter took the spotlight off of her. She needed some time to think.
After dinner though. For some reason she was craving Coulson's risotto.
Daisy had been surreptitiously watching May for almost two days, and even she knew that she was being weird. She couldn't stop though, she needed to know if May remembered, if she would remember. It was only by some miracle that May hadn't noticed Daisy's eyes on her every time they were in the same room. Daisy didn't know what she would say if confronted, she wasn't even sure if she wanted May to remember or not. A large, anxious, scared part of her said no, but a tiny, hopeful voice inside said yes.
It was hard, and all she could do was wait and see. Though Daisy noted that she wasn't the only one watching May a little more deliberately than usual. She was starting to wonder how many times Coulson would tell her how he felt before it actually stuck.
On the third day after reversing the effects of the device, Daisy noticed a change in May. It was hard to describe. Her words were that bit more gentle when she spoke to Daisy, her slight smiles more frequent. When she asked Daisy to train with her Daisy tried to take it at face value, but by the evening she knew.
She entered the common area and found May curled up on the couch alone, with a cup of tea on the table before her. She offered Daisy a nod in greeting and Daisy stood in the doorway for a moment, narrowing her eyes.
Eventually she sighed and sat down on the arm of the couch. "You remember," Daisy said softly. "Don't you?"
The moment May looked up at her Daisy knew it was true. May opened her mouth to speak but hesitated. "I... I've been trying to think of what to say." She admitted softly.
Daisy swallowed. "You don't have to say anything." She murmured. "I was just-" She tried to lie. Tried to say that it was just to ease her fears about changing back. The words wouldn't come. Just as when May had asked her in the first place, she couldn't bring herself to tell the truth. And she couldn't lie. Not about this.
"I know." May said. She really did. On a surface level she might say that the reason she suspected Daisy was her daughter was her age, or appearance, or even how similar their personalities were, but that wasn't really it. That wasn't what made her grab Daisy's hand and beg to know, it was something deeper than that. Some instinct deep down that said that this girl needed her, and that May needed her too.
That feeling wasn't something she could put into words, and she understood that Daisy couldn't either, so May simply said. "Thanks for helping me."
Daisy looked up, surprised, but the expression quickly faded into a more comfortable smile. "It's okay." She said. "You don't take much looking after. You're like a cat."
May rolled her eyes. "Thanks." She said sarcastically, but at least Daisy looked a little more at ease.
"It was fun to hang out with baby you." Daisy grinned, glad to ignore the uncomfortable conversation. "I can't believe you used to have sugar in your tea though. After all the crap you gave me about it."
May smiled. "Saving you from my mistakes."
"Uh huh." Daisy said, unconvinced. "And what the hell was up with your hair?!"
May crossed her arms. "I looked good."
"Yeah, for a five year old."
May glared playfully and took a swipe at her. Daisy jumped away, laughing. "Ooh, getting slow in your old age!" She teased, but immediately sobered when confronted with the warmth in May's eyes.
Daisy looked down self-consciously and quietly moved back to sit on the arm of the couch. "It was just cos we look kind of similar," She said softly. "Right?"
There it was. Daisy was offering her an out. An easy excuse to not have to have this conversation, but one they both knew was a lie. There were plenty of times that May would have taken that out, but now she wasn't sure she wanted to. After everything that had happened, she was tired of pretending that Daisy wasn't what she'd always wanted in a daughter. "No."
Daisy felt her chest constrict. For whatever reason, the thought that it might be anything else made her feel vulnerable. "Then what?" She asked, trying not to seem like it bothered her. She faked a laugh. "It's- kind of a dumb thing to think, huh?"
May shrugged. "It was a lot of little things." She said softly. "The way the others acted, some of the things you said. It's hard to explain." She looked up at her. "And it's not that dumb."
Daisy bit her lip. She wished May would just stop. At this rate she might cry and she didn't want to do that. Not when she was trying so hard to convince herself and May that this just wasn't a big deal. "I-" Her voice shook so she took a breath. "I'm sorry I made you think that."
May shook her head. "Don't be." She murmured. "It was comforting."
Daisy crossed her arms around her waist. "You- you can shut up now." She muttered. "I feel like I'm gonna cry, mission accomplished."
May gave a crooked grin and, after a moment of consideration, tugged hard on Daisy's arm, causing her to slide onto the couch with a sound of alarm, and into a slightly too tight hug.
Daisy froze for a moment and then laughed softly. "Are you seriously hugging me right now?"
Daisy grinned, returning the embrace. "Oh, okay then. My bad."
May hummed. "I'm proud of you." She whispered. "I don't say that enough." She moved to pull away but Daisy's arms only squeezed her more tightly. "Daisy."
"Uh-uh." Daisy muttered stubbornly. "You started this, I get to finish it."
May rolled her eyes and put her arm back around Daisy's shoulders in surrender. "Fine." She sighed.
Daisy smiled, leaning against her side. "I really love you, you know?"
"I love you too." May murmured, surprising herself by briefly snuggling closer. Sue her, she'd been feeling lonely since she got out of the Framework. At least that's what she told herself. 'Lonely' sounded better than 'cuddly'.
Daisy sighed contentedly. "You know, speaking of," She said, a sly grin forming on her face. "Coulson's been looking... kind of nervous lately."
May's eyes narrowed. "And?"
Daisy giggled. "Oh come on!" She exclaimed, poking her. "Something happened between you two!"
"Did it?" If it were anyone else Daisy would say she seemed mildly curious, but she knew. May was messing with her. "And how do you know?"
Daisy scoffed. "Cos you're avoiding it." She said, poking her again.
This time May caught her hand. "Stop it." She said, but couldn't keep from smiling.
Daisy grinned. "You like him." She sang.
May rolled her eyes. "How old are you?"
"Younger than you. Today at least."
"Oh shut up."
"Tell him how you feeeeel."
May buried her face in her hands. "I'm not talking to you about this."
"If you're not talking to him then you're talking to me." Daisy said with a smirk. It was strange to see May so undone. Embarrassed, even. "Don't make me lock you two in an elevator."
May groaned, still covering her face. "I just- I don't know what to say."
Daisy laughed and nudged her. "Come on, you're acting like you've never done this before."
May sighed, shifting her hands so that they were loosely at her side. "This is different." She murmured, looking at the ground.
"Oh my God, you are smitten." Daisy grinned. "Look at you!"
"Don't care." Daisy giggled. "I wanna see if I can make you blush. Do you think his eyes are super dreamy? Have you drawn your names together in a heart?"
"If you don't shut up you'll regret it."
"Are you guys gonna get his and hers jumpers?" Daisy's question was immediately followed by a shriek as May pounced, mercilessly tickling her within an inch of her life.
May had to admit that her decision to go and talk to Phil was heavily influenced by the desire to get Daisy to stop talking. Not that it wasn't well intentioned, but it was hard to think of what she was going to say to him when Daisy was cooing romantic cliches in her ear.
She loitered outside his office, out of sight. It was hard to think of what to say, what to do. Half of the time the words wouldn't even form in her head.
'Phil, I love you.' God, just thinking those words made her heart race.
May groaned, leaning against the wall. What was she supposed to do? Phil had already said it all. He'd been so sweet and genuine and was only trying to help her. He even assured her that they would be okay. She knew what that meant. That he would back off if she wasn't interested, he wouldn't let their friendship disappear.
This was a disaster. She couldn't do this. Daisy was one thing, Phil was another entirely. May knew that she wasn't like them, she couldn't put her feelings into words just like that.
Maybe, she mused, she should just pretend she didn't remember, and wait until another opportunity showed up. Maybe Daisy locking them in an elevator wasn't a bad idea.
No. She couldn't lie to him, not about this. Any relationship they might have had to be built on something better than herlies and cowardence. 'Toughen up and get in there'. That steely voice inside growled, but a terrified part of her whispered, 'I don't want to.'
"May?" Goddamnit. Phil's head emerged from the office, followed by the rest of him. "What are you doing out here?"
Something in her froze. "I- I don't know." May muttered.
Phil approached her. God, he looked so concerned. "Is everything okay?" He asked. "Are you okay?"
She nodded, looking down. "I'm fine."
Phil cocked his head. "Then what's up?" He said softly, trying to catch her eye.
May cursed herself with everything she had. Phil deserved someone who could actually say the words. Who could tell him that they loved him. She sighed defeatedly. "It's complicated."
Phil narrowed his eyes, studying her. She looked unusually vulnerable, a slight flush climbing her neck. He'd seen that look before. But where?
The answer struck him like a bolt of lightning and Phil felt himself start to blush. "You- uh- you remember. Right?"
May nodded. "Yes." She said, trying and failing to look at him.
Phil laughed softly, trying to ignore the awkwardness. "Look, you don't have to- to say anything." He said, leaning against the wall. "I get it, we've been through a lot lately. Maybe now's just... not the right time."
May's hands clenched. She'd heard that before. They'd agreed to that before, to take a step back, and she was tired of it. They had been through a lot lately, but if being sent into the future had taught her anything it was not to waste any more time.
She swallowed. "Phil-" Damnit even his name caught in her throat. This was hard. This was impossible. How the hell did he do it?
Words weren't her strong suit, but actions were. So she grabbed at the lapels of his jacket, pulling him solidly into her, and kissed him.
May felt him jump in surprise at the contact, but Phil quickly responded, wrapping one arm around her back, the other coming up to tangle in her hair. She shuddered at the feeling, leaning impossibly closer and nipping at his bottom lip.
The surprised, muffled noise he gave in response made her smirk against him and she did it again. Phil squeezed her ribs in retribution and her smile turned into a brief laugh.
Both were panting when they broke apart, but neither would untangle their arms from one another. Phil was beaming and May pursed her lips self-consciously. "That... wasn't how I wanted this to go." She admitted, resting her head against his shoulder.
Phil laughed softly. "If you want we can hunt down that white monolith so you can try again."
She scoffed, gently shoving him and looking up. "I was going to... talk."
After a moment of confusion, Phil smiled. "We can still talk." He murmured, kissing her again. "We've got time."
"I love you." May said, hating how rushed and breathless it sounded.
Phil pressed a kiss to her neck. "I love you too." He murmured.
She groaned. "How do you make it sound so easy?"
He grinned, resting his forehead against hers. "Maybe it's because you're amazing." Phil said. "And I'm a bald old man."
May snorted, despite herself. "There are worse things to be." She said softly.
She hummed. "Better old and bald than young and stupid."