Fandom: Agents of SHIELD (or S.H.I.E.L.D. Your choice)
Characters: Melinda May, Phil Coulson
Edited by: the illustrious buckaroobob , aka dr_whuh.
Summary: Being a monster can shake you to your soul, unless someone helps you see yourself differently. Phil and Melinda have a late night conversation.
Author's note: This was written for medie as part of the 2014 fandom_stocking fun, in part to thank her for all the work she puts into that lovely annual event. We share an enjoyment in Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, and I hope she, and everyone else who reads this, enjoys a bit of introspective communication between two old friends. The conversation takes place after the events of S2E08, "The Things We Bury," and immediately before S2E09, "...Ye Who Enter Here."
Disclaimer: No characters are mine. They are the sole property of Marvel, Marvel Studios, Paramount Studios, ABC, and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement and take no coin.
Read: here or over at AO3
May found him in his office, staring blindly down at Skye’s file. She was relieved, both at finding him and because she knew he was chewing over the same thing that had kept her awake tonight.
“Obsessing about it won’t solve anything, you know,” she said.
Coulson looked up. “Of course it won’t. Doesn’t mean I can stop doing it.”
His eyes were shadowed with weariness, and May knew he hadn’t slept for days — not since his last encounter with Skye’s father — but at least she no longer had to worry about psychosis. Finding Derik and the origins of their shared compulsion had exorcised it.
Similarly exorcising countless other things would have to wait until they got into the city and somehow figured out how to destroy the Obelisk. That didn’t mean they couldn’t get a head start on trying, she supposed.
“She’s had another restless night,” May said, settling in the seat opposite Coulson. “She won’t admit it, but she’s having nightmares.”
“She has every right to have nightmares,” he snapped, then shook his head. “Sorry, sorry. That was uncalled for.”
May raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. It was still his turn to talk.
“I mean, think about it,” he said. “Forget missions, forget the crazy stuff like the Obelisk or blue alien DNA. Even forget HYDRA for a minute.”
“Not so easy to do, these days,” May said. “But for you, Phil, I’ll try.”
Now his eyebrows climbed. “Was that an attempt at levity?”
“I make it a policy never to attempt something I can’t get right the first time. Go on with what you’re saying; I’ll forget HYDRA.”
Coulson snorted, which was what passed for laughter with him these days, then continued. “What’s hitting her hardest is that the men who were most important to her, her father and Ward, are both —”
He nodded. “She’s wanted to find her father forever. She’s got a rich imagination, she built a perfect dad with it. I know; I listened to her talk for hours on end. And then she learns that he tears people apart with his bare hands when he gets in a snit.” He fell silent.
“What about Ward,” May prompted, not wanting him to go back into his shell.
Coulson shrugged. “She was in love with him. And she learned she was in love with a psychopathic snake.”
“Do you think she’s still in love with him?” May voiced perhaps the least of her own fears. Skye had become, very much against May’s own better judgement, more than her responsibility. Not only was she proud of Skye for becoming a better agent than anyone could have predicted of a once-homeless hacker, she had become a fine young woman. May cared for her, and dreaded seeing her hurt any more than she already had been. But at least that fear was the kind regular people would understand ….
“Not very much; it’s more than a cliché, love turning to hate,” he replied, breaking her uncomfortable chain of thought. “But I think the remnants are still there, in her heart and mind, and she’s disgusted with herself because of that. Like she’s disgusted with herself for still being drawn to find her father — she insists it’s just a mission now, but she’s too emotionally smart not to know what she’s really putting her energy into.”
As he spoke, Coulson tapped the fingers of one hand repeatedly against the manila folder of Skye’s file. May very much wanted to grab the hand to stop the compulsive percussion, and to let him know he wasn’t alone in his worries. She resisted the impulse, but when he looked up, his eyes filled with misery, she knew there was more to it.
This time the prompting didn’t work. He said nothing and sat, motionless, in his chair. The silence wore on.
“Why are you here, May?”
Coulson’s question didn’t quite catch her off guard, but there wasn’t a simple answer.
For so many reasons, she wanted to say. Because you’re my director and you need direction. Because you’re my colleague, who I respect more than you’ll ever know. Because you’re my friend. Because I care for you.
“Because I can’t stop thinking about Skye, either.”
May wasn’t sure what to say beyond that. She’d come here thinking she wanted to talk to him about Skye, and now she realized that if she did, she might not do anything to calm her own fears, and could add to his own.
What if Skye was really everything S.H.I.E.L.D. had feared when they rescued her as an infant? What if she was kin as much to that blue alien corpse as she was to the maniac who fathered her and the victim who bore her? What if that kinship activated once she and the Obelisk got into the city? What if she forgot herself, if who she was became subsumed in something new? What if she became a weapon against them?
What if Coulson and she had to take her out?
“I’m glad she has you, May,” he said softly. “She needs someone in command who isn’t a—”
May abruptly understood. It made her furious.
“—monster? Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare.” It came out as a growl. His eyes widened.
“Is that what’s got you sitting up here running yourself in circles? You think she's drawn to another monster? Jesus, Phil!” She surged to her feet and leaned over the desk at him. He flinched.
What to say to him, to make him understand? May thought furiously.
“Yes, you are a monster,” she said. Before he had quite registered that, she went on. “You’ve been dead, and you were brought back to life. They shot you full of alien DNA and it made you mad. You belong to an organization — you head an organization — whose ruthlessness makes the CIA and KGB look like frat boys.
“You’ve killed people. You’ve done it because you were ordered to.” She leaned in a little further. “So have I. In fact, I’ve done it more than you have.”
She sat back down, her anger tamped to a low boil. “By the standards of the society we protect, every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, from the field to your chair, could be considered a monster. And yes, you’re a little weirder than most—”
“I’m not weird!”
She raised her eyebrow again.
“OK, weird, yes.”
The haunted look was fading; May knew she’d said the right thing, responded the right way, so she continued. “So; weird, and monstrous.
“But don’t for one minute compare yourself to Zabo or Ward. They’re a different thing entirely. You don’t want to be what life and circumstance have forced you to be. They do. They glory in what they are. They think they love Skye, but they don’t. Or if they do, it’s a sick, twisted, possessive thing that’s more toxic than hate. You?” She hesitated for a moment, and plunged on.
“You love her. You just do. It’s the most inappropriate thing I’ve ever seen you do, become a … not a father, not a brother, but — you’re the person who became her family.”
“What, like an uncle?”
Oh, that was vintage Phil, she thought; comments from left field. Which apparently was where he spent most of his time. And he hadn’t protested what she said. “Maybe. An uncle who’s a mentor.”
“Has it interfered —”
Come on Phil, she thought. You know the answer to that. “Yeah, a little. A lot. But overall, I’d say you did the right thing.”
She swallowed hard against an unexpected lump in her throat. “You saved her.”
He considered that, and even in the dim light of his office, she could see his eyes were suspiciously bright. “So, what, I’m a monster with a soul.”
“That’s not a bad thing to be,” she said. “Most humans are.”
He laughed a little, real laughter this time, and the set of his shoulders relaxed. May felt something inside of her unclench as well.
“Go to bed, Phil. We’ve got a long day tomorrow.”
He nodded, and she turned for the door. Just before she left, he said, “Melinda? Thank you.”
They both slept a little better than night.