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He could hear her footsteps echoing down the cavernous hallway but no external stimuli registered in his mind. No light, no sound, no temperature. All that occupied his thoughts were her words, spit out in anger and left lingering in the air.


She loved him.


She loved him.


She loved him.


He didn’t know how long he stood, ossified, in the middle of the hallway, but eventually he began to move. There was no particular thought guiding his actions--his emotions had taken control despite his weak protests. No, Phil Coulson couldn’t keep up the walls around his feelings for another second. The effort through the years had almost broken him.


His steps were unsteady, his legs sore and his muscles still shaking from his earlier escape, but he was determined. When he reached the room she had claimed for herself--right next to his--he went in without knocking. Melinda had been expecting him. He found her sitting cross legged on her bed, facing the door. Her palms over her knees, her back straight, her eyes impassive. To him, she looked strong, ready for a fight. Exactly the opposite of how he felt.


He walked into her room and closed the door. Holding her gaze he stepped back until his shoulders touched the door and he let his legs give out, sliding all the way down to the floor. Phil’s forearms came to rest over his knees. Melinda continued to watch him in silence, not moving a single muscle. They sat like that for a what seemed like an eternity, while he gathered the strength to speak.


“Melinda... “ he trailed off before stopping, shaking his head, and starting again. “If you want the truth, I’m scared. Of dying, of living, of the world ending, of this ,” he gestured between the two of them. “And I’m tired. I don’t remember the last time I slept for more than two hours in a row or the last time I felt safe enough to stop looking over my shoulder.”


Melinda’s eyes softened, but she didn’t move or speak.


“Dying is hard but living has been so much harder lately.” He rested his forehead over his arms, shielding himself from the world, looking small and lost. “Part of me wanted it all to end. To finally rest, stop moving, stop saving the world, stop hurting. I am sorry if I made that decision without you. I should have talked to you, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength.” He took a deep breath and when he exhaled he felt the last of his energy leave him as his words failed him. There was so much to say, but it was impossible to communicate everything he felt.


He stayed like that for a few minutes, his breaths shallow and ragged, his muscles cramping. Just when he thought he couldn’t stand the silence any longer he heard the mattress shift and her boots hit the ground softly. Her steps were slow but deliberate and soon she was kneeling next to him, a warm hand running through the back of his head. He relaxed at the contact and thought that maybe not everything was lost.


“Phil,” her voice was soft and sweet. When he didn’t look up, she squeezed the back of his neck in a soothing gesture, coaxing him to meet her eyes. He did.


“Come. You need to sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.” Her words were uttered with so much love that his heart swelled. She stood up and held a hand to him. It took immense effort to stand up--his muscles were stiff and sore and even his head seemed heavy to him. She wrapped an arm around his waist to steer him toward the bed and gently push him to sit. Soon, she was peeling off his jacket before kneeling in front of him to help him out of his boots. When her hands went to the waistband of his pants, he raised an eyebrow in question. She stopped herself and moved to sit next to him on the bed, beginning to remove her own boots.


“If you want to sleep in your stiff pants, be my guest, but I’ll be taking off mine.” Her jacket came off next and landed over Phil’s on the floor next to the foot of the bed. She stood up and began to slide her pants down her legs while she faced away from him.


Realizing what she was doing, Phil looked down and began to work on his belt, careful to avoid gazing at her shapely panty-clad legs. The Lighthouse had enough clean clothes for everyone but there were no comfortable sleeping garments, so Phil had been sleeping in his underwear. It only made sense that Melinda had been doing the same. When he had thrown his pants into the growing pile by the bed, he noticed that Melinda was now removing her bra through her shirt and he felt his face become a few degrees warmer. He was at once impressed by her dexterity--removing the bra without disturbing the shirt over it--and flustered by the thoughts of what lay beneath the thin fabric.


Before he could dwell too much on those thoughts, Melinda turned around and crawled across the bed to the side closest to the wall. Phil had to close his eyes to avoid staring at her half-naked body moving gracefully over the mattress. When she had slid under the covers, she patted his back. “Phil, come here.” There was a soft order in her voice and he dared not disobey her.


He crawled under the covers and into her inviting arms, outstretched toward him. Her hands guided his head low, coaxing him to rest his face over her chest. His arms circled her waist and pulled her closer while she wrapped her arms around his head, holding him over her breastbone. He took a deep breath and as his nostrils filled with her scent, he felt all the tension of the last few years begin to evaporate. Melinda’s hands were running soothing caresses over his hair and her bare legs slowly became entangled with his own.


As exhaustion began to pull him under, Phil murmured, “I love you so much.”


Her arms tightened around him and she sighed contentedly. That was the last sound he heard before sleep claimed him that night.