“Anybody else hungry? I’m not saying we’re definitely gonna get locked up, but if we are, I wouldn’t mind grabbing a bite to eat first.”
Melinda could feel her smile grow as Phil’s eyes landed on her. The rest of the team nodded and glanced at each other, little smiles on their faces as they slowly started making their way toward the Zephyr. Mack grasped Fitz’s shoulder, unable to speak but communicating just the same, then he and Elena stayed by him as they walked through the remains of their base. Jemma drifted to the other side of the young engineer, her hand slipped into his for a brief moment to give a comforting squeeze. Daisy led them all, with Phil and Melinda bringing up the rear.
Melinda’s whole body ached with exhaustion, but watching the team surround Fitz as they left the base left a warm feeling in her heart. She meant what she said to him–they were going to shoulder this burden together.
As a team.
As a family.
Melinda glanced at Phil, who walked a mere arm’s length away from her as they boarded the plane. It was as if he sensed she was still feeling weak and wanted to be close enough to support her if she needed it. Melinda remembered how many times he’d hovered over her since they’d escaped the Framework. She remembered the feeling of his arms wrapped tight around her, setting her down as gently as his own unused muscles were able, the feeling of his hand cupping her head gently after she’d collapsed from her fight with the android. She knew they’d made a deal to take a couple steps back, but she would be lying to herself if she didn’t acknowledge how comforting his touch was to her, how safe it made her feel, and how she wished he would hold her again.
Melinda slid into her pilot’s chair and entered coordinates for a town close enough that the Zephyr could make it, but secluded enough that the townspeople hopefully wouldn’t recognize her or her teammates immediately.
She didn’t turn her head, but instantly recognized the sound of Phil’s footsteps as he entered the cockpit. Melinda busied herself with the controls while he seemed to have an internal debate on whether to stay with her or not. His words echoed in her head:
“Then, when it feels right, maybe we open another bottle.”
“Deal. See you on the other side.”
Finally, Phil seemed to come to a decision as he slipped into the seat beside her. But he remained still and silent, elbows resting on his knees with his hands clasped together.
Surprisingly, Melinda was the one to break the quiet. “Daisy spoke well earlier, don’t you think?”
Phil nodded, his face softening. “She did.”
Melinda switched the plane to auto pilot and sat back in her chair. “Reminded me of someone–can’t think of who, though.”
Phil looked over at her and the two of them shared a lingering smile before Melinda stood, crossing her arms automatically.
“We’ll touchdown in 20 minutes. Is the team all together downstairs?”
Phil nodded and got up quickly beside her. The confined space left little room between the two, and Melinda could practically feel the air crackling with tension.
“May, about our deal earlier,” Phil spoke quickly, as if he had to get it out before he lost his courage. “What if–I mean, suppose we do end up getting caught at this diner, and then let’s say a whole new mess ensues after that-”
Melinda shifted closer to him, feeling the edge of his jacket brush against her arm as she looked into his eyes. “I think we can safely assume that there will always be another ‘thing’ that we’ll be pulled into.”
“Right, so what I’m saying is,” Phil paused again and then sighed, his shoulders deflating. “I don’t know what I’m saying. I probably shouldn’t have said anything.”
Melinda’s lips quirked up into a smile, even as her stomach knotted with nervousness. She reached out and grasped Phil’s hand, observing as he looked down in surprise, then looked back at her. His eyes pleaded for him to understand his meaning.
“I know we agreed to take a few steps back, and that’s fine. I think we should. But I just need you to know,” Phil brought up his other hand to gently touch her cheek. “I need you to know, Melinda. Before something else happens.”
“I know.” Melinda whispered. And she did. She knew how much he cared about her. She knew he wanted to say it, but didn’t know how. She knew that he wanted to move forward with her, but something was always going to come up.
Melinda recalled Robbie’s last words to Phil, “I don’t envy you.” She would have to ask him about that later, but for now, Melinda wanted Phil to know how she felt too.
She searched Phil’s eyes for a moment longer, then released his hand and slipped it around his neck instead, drawing him down to press her lips to his. Melinda felt him sigh as his arm found its way around her waist, bringing her closer to his body. She felt tingles spread all over her body as he deepened their kiss, and she had to remind herself that this was real, this was actually happening. Phil loved her and she loved him back, and there was always going to be another crisis, but at least they knew.
Phil gradually pulled away from her, leaving softer, lighter kisses on the corner of her mouth, her cheek, her ear. He felt Melinda grip the front of his jacket as he pulled her into a hug.
“But I didn’t even get a chance to buy you a new bottle of haig.” Phil said, his breath a little uneven. Melinda could hear his grin.
“Don’t worry, I don’t plan on letting you forget about it.” Melinda smiled into his chest.
“You know, I think this is the first time we’ve all been together in a really long time.”
She turned to him and smiled, then nodded as she looked around at her family. Her heart was full.
Melinda laughed quietly at Phil’s eager response to the question of pie, and he turned his head toward her, eyes warm and lips upturned. His finger brushed her knee lightly…then the room went dark.
It was apparently too much to ask for the moment to last.
“Here we go.”