dedication: to Rachel I hope you cry
notes: AHAHAHAHAHA don't look at me
title: the mother we share
summary: Melinda May comes back from The Incident with empty eyes and awed whispers trailing after her heels. This is right about then that she hears about the new 084, and makes a decision. — Melinda, Skye.
Melinda May came back from The Incident different.
She came back quiet, empty-eyed, with the intangible stink of spilled blood hanging around her like a mantle. There was no trace of the smirking snarky girl who'd lived in her body to be found: this woman had aged a hundred years, and killed a thousand men in the meantime. The whispers clung to her heels; a little awed, a little strangled. She'd heard them all, and had nothing to say.
Melinda May was a shell, and SHIELD Headquarters were the last place she wanted to be.
She didn't look anyone in the eye as she made her report. Agent Coulson stood a few steps behind her.
(She'd thought she'd loved him once.)
"Well, Agent May, you've earned a well-deserved break—"
"No," said Melinda.
It was the first word she'd spoken.
"No?" Directing Officer Agent Victoria Hand raised a single, sculpted eyebrow. No one said no to breaks. No one.
"No," Melinda repeated, obstinately. It was the only thing she could think of. No, she couldn't take a break. No, she couldn't stop and rest. No, she couldn't. She had to keep moving, had to keep doing things or she would—she would—
Agent Hand's other eyebrow raised to sit high on her forehead with its twin, and stayed there. "You don't want vacation time?"
"No," Melinda said for the third time.
"Then what do you want?"
"Another mission," she said, pressed her lips tight together in a thin line across her face. If I'm not useful, I might as well have died back there, she thought but didn't say. Agent Hand still watched her skeptically. It looked like she was about to ask for ask Melinda if she was sure she didn't want the time off, but then decided against it.
"Fine," the woman said, red-painted lips parting over even white teeth. "The 084 needs to be moved. We were going to send some of the older Agents, but—" she stopped, looked Melinda over, shrugged. "You'll do. Here's the file."
Melinda took it from her extended hand without comment.
"Dismissed," said Agent Hand.
Melinda was out of there fast as a bullet. The sleek glass-and-chrome door swung shut behind her, but not before she heard:
"Phil, what happened out there?"
And a sigh from her SO: "You don't even want to know, Torie."
Melinda clenched her jaw, and opened the file.
And that was how she learned of the 084.
A little girl with no last name, barely three years old, wide brown eyes and waves in her long dark hair. Melinda was tasked with moving the kid from one foster home to another—the woman who was her current foster mother bit her lips.
"Can't I keep her? She's so little, and she just called me Mommy for the first time—!"
"No," Melinda said, and nothing else.
The woman looked away. "She's upstairs. Her bag is packed."
Melinda nodded, but that was all. She didn't have time to waste her breath; they'd said this was supposed to be dangerous, Level Nine clearance, one below Director Fury himself. Moving a kid hardly constituted this level of caution. Whatever. May wasn't in this for the pay, anyway.
The little girl was sitting on a pink bed trimmed with white lace.
"You're here to take me away, aren't you," she said, flatly, little-girl voice pitched low in the sun-drenched room. "Is it because I called Ms. Luke Mommy? I didn't mean to."
"No," Melinda said. She'd forgotten how to shape other words. Her mouth wasn't right, couldn't form the vowels or the consonants. Just no. She'd probably never say another word again, but she couldn't bring herself to care. Apathy was easier, anyway.
The girl looked up at her. "Let's go."
Something in those wide brown eyes slammed into Melinda's stomach. She struggled for a minute. "Get your things, we're leaving," she managed.
"Don't want 'em," the kid said.
Melinda didn't question that.
The girl left the room first, the waves of her hair like the ocean before it disappeared down the stairs.
She picked up the bag. She didn't know why. It was just as pink as the rest of the room. There were probably stuffed toys inside, little bits of love from a woman who'd only had the girl for a year. It seemed important.
Melinda should have left it where it lay.
But she didn't.
And that was her fatal mistake.
"You weren't supposed t' bring it," the girl said when Melinda deposited the bag in her lap. She had no doubt that the kid hadn't said goodbye to her foster mother—Melinda knew that fiercely independent look on that tiny face: the upturned nose and the unfiltered rage were all a childhood thing, but real and vulnerable and scared. The girl looked down at her bag before she shoved it off of her to the floor. "You weren't."
"We don't always get what we want, kid," Melinda said.
The words were coming easier. She didn't question that, either.
"My name's Skye," the girl said, still fiercely forcing away any emotion. "An' she di'n' love me, so I don' care."
The urge to reach over and ruffle the kid's hair was a surprise.
"Sometime," Melinda's voice cracked a little. "Sometimes people don't know how to love right."
Skye was quiet for a moment, before she shuffled a little closer and tucked herself under Melinda's arm. Her voice was very soft when she asked "Do you love anyone?"
"Not anymore," Melinda said, quietly, truthfully. She didn't push the kid away; in fact, she tucked her more securely under her arm, kept her close and safe the way no one had ever before, probably. Skye curled there in the hollows of Melinda's body like she'd been doing it all her life, pressed her head to Melinda's chest to listen to her heartbeat.
"Why di'n' she love me?" Skye asked, tiny body quivering.
"I don't know, Skye," Melinda said. "I don't know."
As far as her training had gone, crying three-year-olds were not 084-classification. She didn't have the training necessary to deal with crying three-year-olds on top of her own issues, but it was nothing Melinda couldn't handle. She'd had cousins. She could deal with this shit. Better than thinking about—
"Want to get some ice cream?" Melinda asked.
Skye lit up like a tree on Christmas. "With sprinkles?"
"With sprinkles," Melinda affirmed.
"Cool," Skye said. She'd managed to undo her seatbelt and climb into Melinda's lap without actually alerting Melinda that she'd done it. The kid was good. "Wake me up when we get there, 'kay?"
"'Kay," Melinda echoed.
She really had no idea what she'd just agreed to.
It was only ice cream, after all.
"I want her," Melinda said.
"Skye. I want to keep her."
"You owe me, Agent Hand."
"Keeping an 084 and vacation days are two very different things, Agent May!"
"I don't care," Melinda said fiercely, sparking up like she hadn't since The Incident. There was an echo of the person she'd been, there, in the spark; if only she could grab a hold of it and drag her back to herself. "Skye needs someone, we can't keep bouncing her around from foster home to foster home."
"Fine," May breathed heavily through her nose. "I'll take it up with Fury."
And she did.
Which was how, six hours later, Melinda rolled into her apartment with Skye sleeping soundly on her shoulder.
"We're home, baby girl," Melinda said softly when Skye yawned and curled closer. "It's okay. We're home. I got you. I'm not going anywhere."
This was about as good as it was going to get.
For now, anyway.
notes2: here have another one-shot colletion
notes3: literally I have no control goodbye