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Can You Love Me Again ?

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‘A drink’ that is exactly what she needed, May thought as she walked to the mini-bar on the playground. Considering the day that they had, she really needed it.
Dealing with Ward, or whatever Ward was now, was taking a toll on everyone. They were working day and night to find a method to tackle that thing.

Fitzsimmons spent more time than ever in the lab, finding a way to contain Ward when they’d get hold of him.
Daisy and Lincoln along with Mack worked with the rest of the Inhumans in their hunt for Andr.. Lash! To stop him before he killed other innocent Inhumans.
Hunter and Bobbi finally decided to get remarried, with everything that was happening around them, they thought now was better than ever. When May thought of it, she felt happy for their team. Hers and Phil’s. Even if they were all fighting their own demons, they had found happiness with each other. Daisy and Lincoln were dating, FitzSimmons .. were working on their relationship.There was some healing that needed to happen there, it was only a matter of time.
Their team was always there for each other, they stuck together. The thought brought a smile on her face.
She however needed a drink. Their search for Ward had lead them to a Hydra base that Malick had kept hidden. They didn’t succeed in finding Ward or Malick but they had taken down quite a few HYDRA agents. That was something good, however in the shootout that had happened there, Melinda had managed to get herself shot, the bullet grazed her arm and though she had insisted she would be fine, Jemma and Coulson had made sure she’d get herself checked out once. Coulson had patched her up but he’d been silent throughout. He didn’t look up to meet her eyes and she didn’t ask why.
She had known what had happened on that planet, Phil had found it tough dealing with his actions and then finding out that the thing from that planet had taken Ward as a host to enter this world, the situation had taken its toll on him. He had become silent these days and she was giving him his space. It had been 5 months since what happened on that planet and she’d realised that Coulson was shutting himself more and more. Maybe she’ll talk to him tomorrow, right now however she needed that drink she had promised herself hours back.

 

She entered the bar only to be surprised that someone was already there. Even standing this far from him she could feel him brooding. She could feel that air around him which yelled ‘I’m on the verge of giving up’. She was his friend and even though she would rather prefer to nurse her drink alone tonight, she wouldn’t mind his company.

She took the stool next to him and looked ahead as Phil glanced at her a moment and then passed her a beer bottle. They sat together quietly nursing their drinks. Nothing needed to be said as such. They wouldn’t mind waiting for the conversation to start or even if it didn’t, they enjoyed each other’s company.

“Anything on your mind ?” Melinda finally asked a few minutes later. Usually it was Phil who would get tired of the silence and speak first but apparently Phil today here was so deep in thought that May had to be the one to start a conversation.

He shook his head. After a few minutes when he sighed dramatically, May looked at him back again.
“I just .. I was thinking”
May didn’t saying anything, knowing that he would continue when he felt like it.
“It’s just not working is it May ?” The look of defeat in his eyes was something that hurt. She would accept anything but not seeing him give up.
“What isn’t Phil ?” she asked anyway. It was better to make him keep talking, that had always been his favourite method of letting out everything he was keeping bottled up inside. He would babble when he was nervous or hurt. He needed to talk and she’d let him. That was how they worked. She could realise that he was now more than a little drunk which meant it wouldn’t be hard to make him talk.
“Everything May” He sighed exasperatedly and continued “We think we defeat Hydra but it doesn’t happen, every single time, they come back. Stronger than ever. Ward … I thought we were done with Ward. Once and for all. It took me time to come to terms with my actions but I thought Ward was gone, after everything he put our team through, I finally thought he was gone and things could get better but he’s back.” His shoulders slumped and she held his shoulder and squeezed it gently.
“That isn’t Ward, Phil.. whatever It is, it isn’t Ward and we’ll deal with this thing as well. Together.”
He looked up at her and smiled. One which was far from the usual smile she had known him to carry but a smile nevertheless. “Always having my back huh May ?”
“Never doubt it” she replied. A smirk gracing her features too.

After a few minutes of silence he spoke again.
“I owe you an apology too” before she could ask him he continued “I am sorry I doubted your loyalty May, for keeping things from you, for dragging you back into this mess. I …. I was happy when you had found Andrew again but I’m sorry for what happened, if I hadn’t asked Andrew to work with SHIELD again maybe this wouldn’t have happened and you both could’ve ..” he trailed off.

He usually avoided talking with her about Andrew. She knew he felt a bit guilty but didn’t think this was one thing pulling him down too. He was drunk, so he couldn’t stop himself from saying what he felt.

“Phil .. look at me.” He did as asked.
“I don’t blame you Phil and neither should you because it isn’t your fault. Whatever happened with Andrew, it’s not your fault. You were doing what you needed to for SHIELD. Neither Andrew turning into Lash is your fault, nor is me and Andrew not working out. Anyways he’s not Andrew anymore…” she shrugged.
“I’m sorry anyway” he said and smiled at her. This was a better smile than the previous one. She could see Phil in this smile. The Phil she had known since academy.

After sitting for what seemed half an hour in companionable silence, nursing their drinks, May was preparing to get up and leave when Phil spoke up.
“You remember that mission in Siachen ?”
“The one on Christmas Day ? How can I forget ? Everyone else was with their family back here celebrating Christmas while we were on a mission” she snorted.
“Yeah but we did celebrate it by ourselves after the mission was done.” He smiled back.
“Well if getting drunk together on Christmas Night instead of being with friends and families makes your idea of celebration, then I guess yeah”
He chuckled. He was getting back to being the Phil she knew. Drunk but still the Phil she knew, much much different from the Phil she had found when she first entered this place tonight.
“Well you were the one who got drunk, I had to take you back to the hotel room” He smiled at the memory and she couldn’t help but return it back. He suddenly turned serious after a moment. The smile on his face vanishing.
“You .. uh .. you said something to me when I took you into your room, I don’t know if you remember” he murmured. Whispering almost that if there had been anyone else talking in the room she might not’ve even heard him say it.
Her face paled for a moment. She knew exactly what he was talking about. She had thought he wouldn’t mention it ever again… until now.

==========================
10 years back Siachen Mission

They had been celebrating their success in a low key bar. The last place she had expected to be on Christmas. Well Phil called it their version of Christmas celebration but she knew it was just his way of making sure she wasn’t missing home. She had plans to visit her dad for Christmas. He had been asking her to come meet him, said it seems like his ‘Mellie’ didn’t have time for dear old dad, so she had assured him that she’d be there for Christmas. She didn’t have any other plans. When her dad had invited Phil over as well, she definitely was happy. Her dad liked Phil, so did her mother but her dad didn’t mind showing it as well.
Phil was family according to her dad and family spends Christmas time together.

However when does anything work out as planned in SHIELD ? When she had visited Fury to hand in an application for leave, she was instead given a mission to Siachen, one which apparently only Phil and her could handle. He wasn’t wrong though, the mission had been a tough one and would require experienced people like Phil and her but she could still hear the disappointment in her dad’s voice when she had called to tell she might not make it there for Christmas. He would understand, having been married to a CSI agent for years but she knew it did hurt him. Phil saw that it hurt her too, he always did, so after the mission he decided they could spend Christmas together and since this bar was the only one in the vicinity of their SHIELD hideout, they had to work out with this.

“Think I’ll still be ok for me to visit your dad with you after we’re done here ?” he asked.
“Of course, he’d love to have you there” she replied without a moment of thought and realised how true that was. Phil was family, he had been her friend since their first sparring session at the academy, and now after years of being friends and partners, she didn’t consider him anything less than family. She did consider him to be more than a friend but she wouldn’t say it to him. Couldn’t afford that. Couldn’t risk their friendship.
“Good, I’ll have to ask him to teach me to bake that cookies you love, the one he baked for last Christmas”
“Almond Cookies ?”
“Yeah! That’s it” He told me he’d teach me how to bake them the next time we met.
She realised it had been a year since she’d visited her father. An year. Guilt set in but Phil Coulson wouldn’t allow her to wallow herself in guilt.
“Hey! It’s not your fault. Once this mission in done, we’re gonna take a month long break, Fury isn’t allowed to refuse. We’ll go and meet your dad”
She smiled at his concern. She hadn’t realised when she had fallen for him but it had happened. She was in love with her best friend and partner, in SHIELD. how unfortunate that was ? She couldn’t tell him and risk everything.
“You’re the best Phil” she said instead. He chuckled realising she was drunk.
“Let’s get you to bed Melinda” he helped her out and took her back to the hotel. She could feel sleep setting in. Exhaustion from the mission and having been drunk working together. Thankfully she had Phil. He was always there. Always had her back.
He opened the door to her room, helped her sit on the bed and removed her shoes. Helped her into bed and tucked her under the blanket. He left a glass of water and aspirin for the headache she’ll face the next day on lamp table and bent down to kiss on her forehead.

She hummed in satisfaction and hummed “I Love You Phil’ He moved back and looked at her surprised. She had murmured in her sleep. How much truth was to it, in what way did she mean when she said those words he didn’t know but next day when they’d be sober, if she’ll mention this conversation again, maybe he’d say it back .. maybe ..
He shook his head and left her room, closing the door behind himself.

May looked sleepily as he closed the door. She hadn’t meant to say it but when she did, she was awake, she had seen his reaction, maybe he didn’t feel the same way as her. That was ok, she hadn’t expected him to say it back. She did hope but that was ok, she’d handle it.
Before she could think much sleep took over.

The next day she had woken up with a headache. She met Phil and acted as if she hadn’t said anything and neither did he remind her. They got to working on their mission and forgot about it completely. They worked good as a team and that’s how they should be. She couldn’t let emotions mess up this. They had met her dad after the mission, spent New Year with him. Phil finally learnt to bake Almond Cookies and made them for her regularly. They went on missions, she met Andrew a few months later and then things happened. That day was forgotten.

==================

“You didn’t mention it again” Phil said bringing her back to the present.
“I .. “ she didn’t know what to say. It had been years since that had happened. So many things had happened since then. Where was Phil going with this conversation ?

He got up to leave and stumbled. She came to help immediately. Throwing his arm over her shoulders, she wrapped one arm around his waist and helped him walk to his bunk.
She was happy he decided not to talk about it. Why was he thinking about it now ?

“The team’s happy huh ?” he said as they walked.
“They are”
“They’re with people they love, it’s nice. They deserve it” he continued.
She didn’t say anything. Just kept walking.
“I would’ve said it back you know ?”
She glanced at him and he looked at her and shrugged “If you had brought it up the next day, I would’ve said I loved you too. I thought you just said it because you’re drunk, I hoped you’d say it again when you’re sober but you didn’t and I ..”
May felt like someone punched the air out of her lungs. He had loved her too ? She had thought he didn’t and so never mentioned it all the while he was waiting for that one moment when she would ? How messy were their lives. Always pulled apart even before they could be together.
They reached his bunk and she let them in. It seemed like a repeat of the events of that night. The only difference being that he was the drunk one here. Apart from the obvious fact that he was the one telling he had loved her then. Helping him into the bed, she brought him a glass a water and some aspirin for when he woke up and forget that all this had happened.

As she moved towards the door Phil wrapped his hand around her wrist. She looked back at his hand gripping her tightly and then at him. His eyes were open but she could feel him dozing off any moment.

“Can you .. can you love me again Melinda ?” His voice was so vulnerable that it hurt. She could see the emotion in his eyes. Pleading with her to say yes. She found herself unable to move or say a word. She could feel her eyes burning but nothing came out. Finding his grip loosening she realised he was now on the verge of sleep. She walked up to him and whispered, her voice protesting “Sleep Phil, we’ll talk tomorrow”

She left the room not turning back. Once on her own bed she thought of what he had said.
He had loved her then. He had waited for her to be sober and mention that conversation. She had let him go then and he didn’t force her. He never would, she knew that. Without speaking to each other they had decided that they were better as friends and partners.
What if she had mentioned it next day, sober. They’d have dated. Would they have worked out. Would they have allowed the other to go on dangerous missions knowing that one of them wouldn’t return ? Knowing them they would have but could they have dealt with it as maturely as they could now after both have been through so much, including one of them literally dying.
What if they hadn’t worked out ? What if they had been together when they went to Bahrain, she knew that as her friend Phil had been affected so much, it would have been so much harsher if they had been something more.
Andrew. If they had worked out, then she would’ve never met Andrew. No matter how things had turned out now, she didn’t regret one moment with Andrew. She had loved him, she still did on some level but Andrew was gone now, only Lash existed. Now when she thought of it, maybe it was good they hadn’t talked about it then. A lot of things wouldn’t have been the way they were now.

“Can you .. can you love me again Melinda ?” That was still there. Did he still love her ? Could she love him ? She knew she already did. She never stopped but after everything that happened, everything that was still happening, could she let those feelings take over again ? She had tried so hard to piece herself back together. After Bahrain, after Andrew… could she love again ? Was she prepared for it ? Phil deserved more. He had a really bad luck when it came to love. When Phil Coulson loved, he loved with all his heart and soul and deserved someone who did the same, could she do that yet ? be that person ?
She let herself fall asleep with all these thoughts clouding her mind.

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The next day she woke up with a headache, she wondered if this was how bad she was feeling, Phil would’ve been feeling worse. Phil. Her thoughts came to a halt when the memories came rushing back, what would she say when she’d meet him ? If he brought up the conversation again.

She went to get started with her usual workout. Tai Chi followed by a few minutes punching the bag, she would’ve preferred sparring with Daisy or Mack maybe even Hunter but he’d give up easily. Daisy however had been out with Lincoln last night, Mack was out for a jog with Bobbi. So she spent a few extra minutes on the punching back.

When she finished, she decided that she needed a cup of tea, to deal with the hangover and just because it was a part of her routine. However she was surprised when she turned around to see Phil standing at the door with a cup of tea in his hand. the other had another cup, maybe coffee, he’d definitely need that to deal with the headache she was sure he was facing.

She walked up and took the cup of tea and settled at one of the benches in the gym thankful they were alone in case the conversation went in a way she was expecting but not hoping.
He came and sat beside her. It seemed like a repeat telecast of yesterday night. Just coffee replacing beers.
“How bad is the headache ?” she asked.
“Pretty bad” he replied chuckling. She smiled at that before the nervousness of where the conversation would lead set back in.
“That definitely must be pretty strong coffee”
“Yes. Yes it is” They were talking in small phrases. She knew that he definitely remembers what he had said yesterday night.

“Melinda..” “Phil” they both started in unison and then chuckled at that.
“I’ll let you speak Phil”
“Thanks” he kept the cup of coffee on the bench and turned to her. She swallowed before looking at him again.
“Melinda I ... I was drunk and I think I said somethings, I’m not sure if I did but incase I did I ..”
“You did Phil” she decided to stop his ramblings by confirming what he thought.

He nodded and pressed his lips into a thin line.
“I .. I am sorry if I went out of line” he rubbed the back of his neck.
“You didn’t. It’s ok. I ..” she said before he spoke “All those years back in Siachen, I thought you didn’t feel about me the same way when you left. That’s why I didn’t bring it up again”
His eyes widened momentarily in shock and then he schooled his features again. “Oh…”
She nodded. They went silent again.
“I would’ve told you I loved you too in case you brought it up” he mentioned a moment later.
“I know” she replied.
“What happened to us May ?” he asked a few moments later.
“Life … Life happened Phil” she replied.
“Like always huh ?”
“Yeah.. like always and we dealt with reality”
He nodded to that. Agreeing with what she said. Life happened. Always in their case.

She could feel him fidgeting with his hands and was about to ask when he said
“I meant it when I asked it”

Looking at her confusion he decided to elaborate.
“I meant it when I asked if ..” she could see him being nervous “Can you love me again Melinda ?”
She didn’t know what to say. She had thought about it so much the last night but she hadn’t come to any conclusion. Could she ? She could see the genuine feelings in his eyes. The eagerness, the request, the love … Could she deal with this again ?

“Phil I ….”
“I understand Melinda, I understand that life has happened between us, it always does. I know you’re still recovering from Andrew. I know you had let your heart open once again to Andrew and let yourself love him again and I know you’re still dealing with how things worked out. With us, with the team, the danger of Hydra and Ward still being out there. I know and I respect it. I am ready to wait Melinda, as long as you want me to.”

She smiled at that. All the doubts she had been facing, he understood, he always did. He did then, he did now. No one understood her better than him. Years of friendship. Years of some sort of love. Years of familiarity. They got each other. He wanted to give her the time she needed and she really did. She wasn’t ready to deal with something as huge as love again. Right now the team needed them, they had to deal with Ward and Hydra. There was also the whole issue with Lash being out there, killing Inhumans. She was still recovering from the fact that Andrew was now Lash. There were a lot of things that needed them but here was Phil, ready to wait for her. She knew it was only a matter of time before she’d accept his love and reciprocate it and she knew that day wasn’t really far away.

“I know we can’t jump into anything, not yet anyway but I’m ready to work on it. I’m ready to work towards it with you if you want to as well. What I need to know is Can you love me again ? I’m not asking Do you ? I’m asking Can you ?” He asked.

She knew what she was going to say and that’s what she did “I could Phil”. She smiled at him. He smiled back. “I need time Phil, we need time but I’m ready to work on it. Work on us”

His grin was the widest he had seen in a long time. She was happy to see him like this and even happier to know she was the reason behind it. After everything their friendship had been through in the recent times, they deserved this. They’ll rebuild from scratch. Rebuild friendship and mould it into something more. Together. She liked that word already.

“We’ll take it slow. Until we’re both ready” he said smiling and got up. “Currently however, I need to meet Keonig about a few new recruits and I need you to go meet Fitzsimmons. See how things are working out”

This was normal. Their relationship was taking a momentous turn but it felt normal, like it was supposed to have happened some day. Maybe it did. They were the leaders of this organisation first and foremost and that’s how it’ll always be.

She nodded and got up to leave but Phil held her hand before she could. She turned to look at him and he leaned in to lightly kiss her lips. Just a light peck. Touched his lips to hers. It wasn’t a kiss, more like an assurance. Assurance that they’d be fine. This could work. He moved back and looked at her, a huge grin on his face and she smiled back.

“Next time you’re meeting your dad though, I’m coming as well. I need to learn other recipes you like”

“I like the Almond Cookies you make as well” she replied with a smirk on her face remembering the smile on her dad's face whe found out that Phil was alive and she was back on field, working with him.

“I know” He grinned and held her hand. Entwined their fingers and squeezed it as they left the gym. Once outside they’d return to Agent May and Director Phil but this was nice, reassuring.

“You’ll have dinner with me tonight May ?” He asked.
“Well I think the team is going out tonight so it is gonna be just us” she shrugged.
“Oh good! I’ll cook. You choose a movie to watch” He said excitedly.
“Star Wars ?” She asked knowing he’d say yes.
“I don’t know … I mean I don’t know if I’m ok with seeing my future girlfriend swoon over Han Solo”
She chuckled and swatted his arm. “Star Wars it is” she said before leaving.
He stood back looking at her leave. Smiling. They’d make this happen. He just knew they would. Him and May. Together.