The first thing she notices is how weak he looks. His head is low, shoulders sagging, eyes half closed. The light jacket he is wearing can’t possibly keep him warm, but he isn’t shivering. Talbot, on the other hand, is shivering violently, his teeth clattering and his eyes wild.
Melinda rushes to Phil’s side, half supporting his weight and wrapping her arms around him. He is freezing and his muscles are tightly coiled, but still he doesn’t shiver. That’s a very bad sign. That and the fact that Phil Coulson was mostly silent. Now, on the way to the Zephyr, he’s trying to initiate conversation but his words are slurred, as if he were drunk. Melinda runs through the symptoms in her mind, trying to determine whether he has moderate or severe hypothermia. Only his body temperature will tell, but she’s thinking severe.
She tightens her arms around him, pressing her body into his, hoping to transfer some heat that way. Soon, Phil stops trying to talk and tilts his head so that it is resting above hers, letting out a slow shallow breath that clouds in front of them. Melinda sighs and starts rubbing slow circles over his chest with her palm. A few steps later, they are walking into the dark warmth of the Zephyr.
* * *
Thankfully, Phil and Talbot have only moderate hypothermia, their core body temperatures reading at 83 and 87 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. The first order of business is removing the cold, wet clothes they are wearing, so Melinda starts by taking off Phil’s jacket. He nods in understanding and tries to help but finds himself fumbling due to the cold and a malfunctioning left hand that was not created for such extreme temperatures. She pushes him gently back onto a medical bed, making him sit so she can continue to remove his clothes. Talbot, who is more awake and mobile despite his injuries, prefers to undress himself in the privacy of the Zephyr bathroom.
She systematically rids him of his wet and frozen clothes, first removing the shirt he is wearing--the same one he wore when he was taken. Seeing the inky scar spreading through his chest makes her heart stop, but she pushes on. This is not the time to fall apart; Phil needs her. His boots are difficult to remove because of the snow and dirt that he’s treaded through, but she finally manages to dislodge them and toss them aside. His pants are soaked through and frozen, so she cuts them out. When he is sitting on the bed in his boxers she stops to think about the absurdity of their situation. They’ve done this several times in the decades they’ve worked together; undress each other, tend to each other’s wounds, take care of each other. No hesitation. No reservations. No hang ups.
But now… Well, now, they have admitted their feelings to each other. There’s a chance to be something more. And that brings an intimacy that they have never shared, but it also changes the relationship they have. She can no longer separate the body in front of her from the man she loves. He isn’t just another agent, this isn’t just another mission.
While those thoughts swirl in her mind, she stands in front of him frozen. However, she recovers quickly and covers him with a warm blanket, wrapping it tightly around his shoulders and rubbing her hands down his arms.
Melinda turns to find dry clothes for him in the drawers around the med bay, also collecting heating pads and a couple of IV stands. He looks very dehydrated. She hands him a blue hospital gown and helps him slip it overhead, watching him suppressing a grimace at the pain in his muscles and joints.
There’s still the issue of his underwear but perhaps sensing her hesitation, Phil says, “I’ll take it from ‘ere.” And then, “Thank you.” There’s a little more of the usual spark in his eyes, but he still looks very tired.
Davis helps her tend to both men while Piper and Daisy are handling security. They manage to wrap them in electric blankets and heating pads, working to elevate their core body temperature as quickly as possible. Almost as soon as his head hits the pillow, Phil falls asleep. Talbot does soon after and Melinda goes to the cockpit to prepare for a quick departure and map their route back to the Lighthouse. Eventually Daisy and Piper return to the Zephyr and they are clear for take off.
* * *
Melinda counts on Simmons being at the Lighthouse so she can find out why Phil’s temperature isn’t going up as well as Talbot’s. She wants to know how Phil’s heart is doing. She needs to know he’ll be okay. Instead, she finds Fitzsimmons and Elena gone, Mack imprisoned and Deke… Well, Deke is just being himself.
Phil and Talbot are moved to the medical wing in the Lighthouse, each given a room to recover and warm up. Daisy, euphoric over her tactical and physical victory over Hale’s goons, has taken command definitively. She still has reservations over her role, but right now she is no longer hesitating but fully occupying the position that Phil left for her. Melinda is proud but also thankful; now she can concentrate on Phil.
His body temperature hovers around 86 degrees, not improving despite the warm IV fluids that were injected into him and the multiple heating pads that were applied to his cool skin. His heartbeat is slow, his breaths are shallow, and he drifts in and out of sleep constantly. She really wishes Simmons were around to see what is wrong. Well, there’s plenty that is wrong with Phil Coulson; starting with that last stupid stunt that he played, willingly going with Hale. Melinda’s fists tighten and her jaw sets as she watches him sleep.
But this isn’t the time to be angry. Frustrated? Sure. The impotence also gets to her--here he is, fighting for his life, his body refusing the warmth they are trying to give him. If only she could force him to warm up.
Well, that’s a thought. Before she has the time to consider the decision and its implications, Melinda starts to strip. Just at that moment, Phil wakes up and his unfocused eyes widen slightly. Well, at least she won’t surprise him.
“Phil, you need to warm up. Please. ” Down to her underwear, Melinda approaches his bed and points to the covers in a silent question.
He nods slowly, not taking his eyes off of hers. She’s sure that if he weren’t so cold, he’d be blushing. “Are you sure? I don’t want to do anything that would make you uncomfortable.”
Again, Phil nods, a little firmer this time. The fact that he hasn’t said anything truly worries her.
She lifts the covers and slowly slips under them. The bed is ridiculously hot, but his body still feels slightly cool to the touch. Not as badly as before, but she knows that his skin should have warmed by now, even as his core struggles to regain heat. Phil moves to lay on his side so they are facing each other in the narrow bed, his torso covered by an electric blanket. Melinda presses herself against him, using the warmth of the blanket to warm her skin before trying to touch him directly. Their faces are an inch apart, and she feels his breath hitch when she looks into his eyes.
They have never been this close before. Not physically, they have been a lot closer in a few missions early in their careers. But now there’s this intimacy between them, they know and cherish each other so much more.
Melinda isn’t one to push her luck.
When she feels her skin warm enough for the job ahead, she asks, “Do you want me to warm you up?” There is so much loaded into that short question and she awaits his answer holding her breath.
“Y-yes. I’d like that.” His words are quiet, barely above a whisper and his eyes are fixed on hers, shining more brightly now.
She peels back the electric blanket covering his torso and looks at his gown. Reaching behind him, she easily unties the gown, opening the back and exposing his skin. Then she peels the gown away from his chest, helping disentangle it from his legs before tossing it out from under the covers. Phil is now only wearing the clean pair of boxers she found for him when they arrived at the Lighthouse.
Without any remaining obstacles between them, Melinda starts to slide forward on the bed, her left arm rising to wrap around him. As she starts to press herself against him, Phil whispers, “You don’t have to do it, if you don’t want to.”
At first she thinks she misunderstands his words. He can’t possibly be doubting her intentions, her willingness to hold him tight and share her warmth with him.
She stops her advance, “Phil, I do. I want to do this. I want to be as close to you as possible. Are you okay with this?” A new doubt creeping in.
“Yes.” He looks unsure so she gives him time to continue, “It’s just… You… You don’t like to touch people.”
She shakes her head and gives a little laugh. “Phil, I also hate people. But that doesn’t mean I hate you . And I don’t mind touching you. In fact,” she pauses and smiles a little, “I kinda like it.”
And there it is, the smile she’s loved for over half her life. Her plan is already working.
She continues to slide forward slowly, wrapping her left arm around his waist and bringing her face to his neck. His skin is slightly cool to the touch, and hers feels like it’s on fire. He sighs into her hair and she feels his right arm wrap around her shoulders, bringing her closer. Now they are nestled together, their bodies flush and delightfully bare. Under other circumstances, Melinda would have made very good use of her position and their state of undress. However, right now, her priority is keeping him warm and trying to get him to talk. She wants him to be himself again and this is the only thing she can think of doing.
His firm muscles are knotted and tense, and she can feel his heart rate starting to quicken. He’s nervous, that’s not what she wants. Rubbing soothing circles over his back with her open palm, Melinda stars to pull her head away from his neck to give him some space. Before she can break contact, she feels him scoot closer and pull her tighter to him. Okay, then, so he wants this.
His legs and feet are much colder than his now slightly warmer torso, so Melinda slides her left leg over his thigh and wedges her right one in between his legs, pressing herself even closer to him. She can feel the beating of his heart with her whole body, her skin humming from the searing contact with his. Definitely different than before.
Not that she wasn’t attracted to him before, when they had played couples and had to use public displays of affection to advance their missions. But now she is aware of his feelings toward her and her own feelings toward him. She is also aware of how much they could lose if they give into those feelings--and things go south. In this moment, though, she just wants to keep him safe and warm. She wants him to be okay. And above all, she doesn’t want him to die.
Gradually, as his exhaustion pulls at his senses and her caresses lull him, Phil begins to relax in her embrace. She starts to rub her leg over his thigh in tandem with her hand over his back, her face burrows deeper into the crook of his neck. A low moan reverberates down his throat and makes Melinda’s imagination run wild. She can picture them on a bigger bed, completely naked and just as close, doing very different things. In her mind, she is kissing his neck, wrapping her legs around him for a completely different reason. In that dream reality, he wants her just as much as she wants him.
In this reality? She’s not sure. Of course she knows he has feelings for her. But he has never made any overt moves on her before. He always keeps a safe distance from her, making sure not to get too close. Maybe he isn’t physically attracted to her. That’s okay with her. It’d be a shame because she thinks they’d be good together, but she wouldn’t want to push him if that’s not what he wants. Truthfully, she’d be happy to know he is alive and safe until his old age. But in her dreams, he is hers. All of him.
His left arm sneaking out from under him brings her back from her reveries and she realizes that he has been laying on that hard and cold prosthesis this whole time. She raises herself slightly to allow him to wrap that arm around her waist and she nearly purrs when he pulls her fully within his embrace. This feels so right to her, despite the circumstances and everything they are facing. Her right arm, until now pinned between them, slides up his bare chest and past his shoulders, to begin caressing his neck and upper back. That gets her another moan, slightly louder this time, and again she loses herself in fantasies. Melinda is glad she is wearing black panties that will conceal any direct evidence of her arousal. This is really not the time for those thoughts, the man is in need of medical attention and she’s simply trying to keep him warm.
And yet, she can’t help the way his body makes her feel.
As if trying to make things harder for her, Phil starts to rub both hands up and down her lower back, careful to avoid her underwear. Phil Coulson is a gentleman through and through. Still, his touch does things to her and she wills her hands to remain in his mid and upper back. Her palms slide over his scar repeatedly and she uses that as a sobering reminder of what is happening to him. Of his impending death.
That’s when she notices that his skin has gotten hotter--almost too hot--to the touch. His heart rate seems to have improved as well, now being closer to his normal baseline. Increased circulation was a great sign of recovery.
Maybe this is the time to pull back and give him back those electric blankets. Time does strange things when she’s with Phil, so she has no idea how long they’ve been locked in this embrace. All she knows is that she doesn’t want it to end, even if her limbs are getting stiff and her skin feels unbearably hot. But this isn’t about her, it’s about him.
“Do you… Do you want me to leave? Are you uncomfortable?”
“No, and no. But--”
“No,” she says resolutely before he can finish asking her the same.
“Good,” he rubs his cheek on the top of her head as he moves his right hand to her upper back, continuing his soothing motions there.
Melinda is not sure when it happens, but they fall asleep. Phil goes first, the exhaustion of his sleep deprivation torture catching up to him. At some point after that--minutes? hours?--she wakes up to Phil trying to scoot away from her. This jolts her awake. Thinking that he must be uncomfortable, she tries to pull back but only then notices that her legs have gotten into an overly friendly position during her sleep. Her left leg is wrapped around his hip and her right is hitched quite high between his legs, her thigh coming to rest just below the line of his boxers. She’s essentially wrapped around his right leg, her crotch pressed against his thigh. Oh.
Unhooking her legs from his, she starts to pull back until his face is in view. His eyes are clear and he looks much more like himself now, but his pupils are wide and the look on his face makes her want to wrap herself around him even more. His cheeks are flushed, his mouth is partly open, but what catches her eye the most is the way his eyes dart between her eyes and her mouth.
“Melinda…” He’s breathless, and something in the low tone of his voice sends a shiver down her spine. The air suddenly feels electrified. Their bodies are still very close together, and she decides to test her theory and subtly move her hips in his direction. When her body comes in contact with the evidence of his growing arousal, she nearly loses all her self-control. His eyes close at the touch and he holds his breath for a few heartbeats. His arms are still wrapped around her back.
“Phil…” she hesitates. What else could she say? Well, there is something she could say, and she does. “Can I… Can I kiss you?”
His eyes open wide and his mouth opens and closes a few times before he nods eagerly. If she weren’t teetering at the edge of the abyss, Melinda would laugh. As things stand, this next step is very important. Perhaps the most important of their relationship.
She looks at his lips, a bit dried but still inviting, and she closes the distance between them slowly, closing her eyes half way. When their lips meet, the world, with all its perils and responsibilities, falls away. There’s nothing outside the two of them, now pressing closer again, sharing warmth and so much more. He deepens the kiss almost instantly, his right hand sliding up through her hair. Her legs wrap around him again, this time bringing their hips together directly. His body definitely doesn’t feel cold anymore.
Their kiss is pure fire, fierce and fluid. She’s melting into him, wanting to be closer and closer until there is absolutely nothing that separates them. When her hips begin to gyrate, seeking pressure and friction, she realizes what she’s doing.
She pulls back as if burned. He tries to hold on to her, but she puts a hand on his chest and says, “Phil, no. We shouldn’t…” As soon as the words are out of her mouth, he’s the one to pull back, his eyes wide open.
Oh, no. Melinda’s hands are quick to catch his face and make him stop his retreat before he can fall back out of the bed. His eyelids close under the weight of her gaze. “Phil, look at me.” He takes a deep breath and slowly opens his eyes, taking his time to find hers.
“It’s not what you think. I want this. I want you. ” He lets out the air he was holding in two ragged breaths. “But you are not healthy right now,” his eyes brighten as understanding fills them, “and we really shouldn’t be making out in the med bay.” That gets a chuckle out of him and she draws his face closer until their foreheads rest together.
“I guess things got a little… heated. ” Melinda wants to thank all deities known to man for the fact that not only is he speaking again, but he is well enough to be making bad puns.
“At least your circulation has improved.”
“That was all you.” The grin almost splits his face and she can’t resist kissing him again, just a short peck. He follows that peck with another, and then another one and soon their lips are locked again.
They pull back a minute later, their lips red and swollen, smiles firmly planted on their faces.
“I guess this means we finally crossed that line?” He asks hesitantly.
“I think we burned it down,” she responds before leaning in for another kiss, just because she can.