Phil Coulson is a simple man.
He needs very little to be content, but is fortunate enough to lead a life where the finer things are within his reach. His car, arguably his most prized possession, was passed down to him by his father, and he knows that the market value of it is high.
The sentimental value however, is incomparable.
He takes pleasure in carrying out everyday tasks, shopping for groceries, cooking meals, doing the laundry and taking out the trash to name a few. They all provide him with a sense of normalcy, direly needed to help maintain his sanity.
Phil might be a simple man, but he doesn't lead a simple life.
When he was younger, he thought that he would become a teacher like his father, sharing the man’s love of knowledge; history in particular. Those goals did not change till college, where he made a choice that he still questions to this very day.
A choice to leave his life behind, and dedicate himself to one purpose.
To become a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
It's not that he thinks he chose the wrong path for himself, because his job does bring him a sense of satisfaction. To know that the world is safer because of his actions, it's what keeps him going each and every day. He’s fairly good at it too; he has to be, because people’s lives are on the line.
Phil thinks he does the things that should be done, devotes everything he has to his agency because it's what's right. Their former director, Nick Fury, saw this dedication in him from the beginning, and eventually handed the reigns over.
He’s not just Phil Coulson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
He's the director.
Being the man in charge comes with its perks; a generous pay raise, more freedom, fewer security hassles, and the ability to delegate tasks to others. Of course, the weight of the world sits heavily upon his shoulders, more so than before. Every decision made is vital, and should something go wrong, all eyes will turn to him for answers.
Sometimes he misses the days where he was constantly out in the field, flying around and hunting down criminals instead of meeting with diplomats. He's traded in the crappy safe houses for luxury hotel rooms, the fear of being shot at for the fear of accidentally starting a war with world leaders.
All in all, he should be content with the way his life is. He works with a team of great people, protecting the world from dangers, and is regarded as a hero by many. His personal life isn't dull either. Though his neighbours have no idea that he's the head of an international peacekeeping organisation, believing his lies about working as a high ranking suit at some multi-billion dollar company, he gets along with them well.
He doesn't have many friends outside of his line of work, but that suits him just fine.
Even his significant other, because calling her his girlfriend at their age sounds a little strange, is an operative. Rosalind heads up a different organisation, still government run, and they cross paths often while on the job. It's actually how they first met, which isn't surprising, given that neither of them exactly have time to mingle with civilians. Though in his experience, mixing business with pleasure often leads to disaster, he feels happier than he has in a very long time.
But he does not feel complete.
It's as though a part of him is missing, like the final piece of a puzzle has been lost and without it, he’ll never quite be whole. The thoughts are rarely at the forefront of his mind, but rather lie in the shadowy depths, always present and always making him doubt his choices. Sometimes, late at night, when he's unable to sleep, lying awake and staring up into the darkness, he thinks about the life he could have had, if he chose differently.
If he hadn't chosen this life over the other one, the one with holiday dinners and PTA meetings, recitals.
Would he have a family to come home to at the end of every day? Would there be people, who shared his genetics, who thought of him as their hero? Would there be a woman by his side, who he cherished more than anything in the world?
Part of him still wants that. A family. People to wholeheartedly, unselfishly love. The same people who would love him back. When his mother had passed away, he was left alone in the world, no one else he could call his family. He knows that it is too late for him now.
Rosalind is… she’s amazing, but he can't picture a future like that for the two of them. It isn't possible. They're both driven by their careers, and whilst their beliefs don't always line up, they're dedicated to what they do. He really likes her, and part of him might even love her, but she isn't the person by his side when he imagines a different life. But there’s nothing to it, because those are unattainable fantasies.
He’s the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the choices he has to make are easier done when he has no loved ones to consider. It helps eliminate any chance of selfish thoughts, and ensures that all the decisions made are for the benefit of others, and not himself.
That's the life that he signed up for, and it’s the one he has to live. He’s learned to accept it, to appreciate it, and he always heads into his job with confidence and the utmost dedication. If he has to go home to an empty house at the end of the night and have dinner for one more often than not, then that's the price that has to be paid.
It's a regular day at work, which for Phil, means no major international disasters have occurred. He spends the morning in a teleconference meeting with members of foreign intelligence agencies, and no one is frowning at the end of it, so he counts it as a success.
After lunch, he heads off to oversee a mission briefing, but is stopped in the middle of the hallway, by a rather frazzled looking agent from the tech department.
“Director Coulson! There's an emergency!”
Immediately, everyone in their vicinity turns in their direction, and he can't help but feel proud of his agents, even as he maintains a frown that has them scurrying back off to their respective tasks.
“What is it, Sadler?”
“It's you, sir. Your files, they've been hacked.”
Even after six hours of some of the world’s greatest technological minds working together, no one can provide him with an answer as to who had broken into their secure server, what they were looking for in his personal files, and how on earth they had managed to bypass S.H.I.E.L.D.’s firewalls.
It's a little disconcerting.
He understands why someone might have tried to target him, being the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but there was little in his files that might assist someone in bringing down their organisation, if that was the purpose of the cyber attack. The agents sifting through their database assure him that no other files were accessed, but he fears they could be incorrect.
If someone were so easily able to hack into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s systems, they would have no trouble concealing their path to their real target. He wonders what malevolent mastermind is behind this, and knows of one person that could probably help him out, but is reluctant to give them a call.
Phil does not need Tony Stark to turn up at their base and distract everyone from working again with his generous offers to take selfies and sign autographs.
He ends up leaving work an hour later than usual that night, with more questions than answers about the occurrence. It leaves him frustrated, and even a little distracted.
So much so in fact, that he doesn't notice the figure on his doorstep until he's pulled into the driveway. It's too dark to discern their gender or age, but they're small in stature. He pulls out his gun, holding it to one side as he approaches, freezing when his the motion sensor lights flicker on.
It's a woman.
No, a girl.
There's a small backpack by her side, and her hair is a little messy, but she looks like every other teenager he's ever seen. Her eyes are brown, and they widen as she takes him in, her gaze drifting from his face to his gun.
He watches as her expression changes, but it is not a look fear as he expects.
“Who are you, and what are you doing sitting outside my house?”
Phil keeps his voice level, afraid to spook her, despite how calm she seems to be. He’s been around long enough to know that appearances are deceiving, that even the gentlest of smiles can conceal unspoken horrors. She's young, looks even younger now that she's standing, pulling her bag up with her and he sees just how small she is.
It doesn't eliminate her as a threat.
He briefly recalls the first time he met Natasha, when she was only fifteen and a target on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar due to the lengthy hit list she already had under her belt. She had taken down dozens of agents before Barton finally brought her in, and since then he’s been even more cautious when approached by strangers, no matter how young they may appear.
“You're Phil Coulson,” she says instead of answering, and he nods, because there's no use denying it when she’s clearly here for him.
She sniffles, rubbing her face with one long sleeve, and looks downwards, suddenly appearing very interested in her shoes. He's still wary, but he's also always been good at reading people, seeing past any facades, and he doesn't think she's here with bad intentions. Or at least with the aim to kill or maim him.
He tucks his gun back into its holster, and holds up both hands to show that he's no longer armed.
“I won't hurt you. I just want to know who you are, and why you're here.”
There's a long pause, but she eventually tilts her head back up to look at him, tears swimming in her eyes. Her voice cracks a little as she speaks, and though his training holds him back, part of him wants to rush forward and pull her into a comforting hug.
“My name’s Daisy… and I need your help.”
Phil has always believed in showing kindness to even the worst of people, second chances for those who screwed up the first time, so he's even more inclined to help those that are innocent.
Daisy seems innocent.
He's hesitant to bring her back to headquarters for an investigation, because she's only a kid, and ends up inviting her inside his house. She declines his offer for a beverage and sits quietly on one end of his couch, fingers idly picking at the seam of her jeans.
“I know you said that you needed my help, but you're going to have to answer some questions for me before I can do that. You mustn't lie.”
She nods, and he takes it as a sign to begin a subtle interrogation.
“How old are you?”
She can't be any more than sixteen, and judging from her size and stature, he thinks she's likely even younger than his estimation. A minor. There are a slew of follow up enquiries at the tip of his tongue, like where her parents were and if they knew she was here, but he holds back, waiting for her answer.
He sees no signs that she’s deceiving him, and decides to continue with his questions.
“Where are your parents? Do they know that you're here?”
She shakes her head, nods, and then shakes her head again, and it’s clear to him already that she's either uncomfortable with answering, or conflicted after having promised not to lie. He decides to follow a different line of enquiry, hoping it might encourage a response.
“How did you find me?”
She looks away, shrugging one shoulder and lifting a hand to tuck a curl behind her ear, before making eye contact with him once more.
“Your address was listed in your file.”
It's difficult to stop his jaw from dropping, because despite his confidence that this girl was innocent, he's now convinced she's some of criminal mastermind. Hacking into S.H.I.E.L.D. is not unheard of, but rare enough to send them all into alert mode when it occurs. It's also a serious offence, but the last thing he wants to do is arrest a young girl who seems normal enough in other factors. Still, he has to treat this with the severity that such an act entails.
“What was so important that you hacked into a secure server to find my address?”
His tone is firmer now, and she reacts to it, sitting up a little straighter and composing her expression before responding.
“I need you to help me find my mother.”
As if a switch is flicked with him, his tough demeanour fades away at her words, hearing both the fear and conviction in her voice as she spoke. He sees a scenario in his mind. She could be an orphan, searching for her family, desperate to meet those that abandoned her. It wouldn't do much to explain why she had come to him for help, though he cannot come up with a reason why someone would seek his aid to search for a missing parent. He tries not to make assumptions about that though, and instead responds with a more sensible question.
“If your mother is gone, why don't you call missing persons? People generally don't hack into S.H.I.E.L.D. and turn up at their Director’s doorstep for things like this.”
He wants to be gentle, to let her down easily, because if this is simply the case of a girl whose mother decided to leave her, he can do little but take her to the police anyway. They don't have jurisdiction over such matters.
“The police can't help me. Only you can.”
Phil is intrigued.
“Why is that?”
He watches as Daisy takes a deep breath, and prepares himself for an interesting explanation. It's for more than he could have anticipated.
“She went to work two months ago, Europe, I think. I'm not sure. Classified, or something. She said she'd be back in three weeks, but then she didn't come back, and no one will tell me where she's gone, or try and help me find her.”
It sounds like a clear-cut child abandonment case, but something she said has his interest piqued.
Like everything in S.H.I.E.L.D. is classified.
“You're going to have to tell me more if you want my help. What does your mother do? A name would be helpful too.”
He adds the last phrase in an attempt to lighten the mood. The outcome is far from what he expects.
“She works for the CIA.”
Daisy pauses after that, brows furrowed, and Phil gestures for her to continue. If her mother was an operative, he could probably pull a few strings to gather some intel. Sometimes missions took longer than expected to complete, days, weeks, months, and even years.
“Her name… her name is Melinda May.”
It's as if the temperature in the room drops to below freezing, and all the air is drawn from it, when he hears that name.
Agent Melinda May.
His mind is filled with flashes of memories of the past. A coffee shop in Sausalito, driving through the streets of Madrid, a freezing night in Russia. Stolen kisses in alleyways, elevators, stairwells, always with the promise of something more. Safehouses, rendezvous in hotel rooms and a restaurant in New York City, the last time he ever heard from her.
Fifteen years ago.
As far as he knew, she transferred to administration shortly afterwards, and they never worked together again. She vanished from his life as quickly as she had come into it, and for so long he felt only anger.
He… he would be lying if he said that he didn't still think of Melinda often.
They had met on an operation, when he was a Level Two S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, only a year out of the Academy. It had taken him the duration of that mission to develop a crush on the incredible CIA operative. It had taken another three years and two dozen missions before he worked up the courage to buy her a drink, and things had only escalated from there.
Phil has fallen in love more times that he can keep count of, but only once did he ever have that feeling, the one where the woman in his arms meant more to him than anything else in the world. There was a time where he would have given anything to be with her, but things had gone south, as they always did. One day they were happy, and the next, she had left him without a second glance, removing herself entirely from his life.
Leaving him with only his broken heart and broken spirit.
And now her daughter is in his living room, asking for his help to go find her. Because she's missing. Even after so long he finds that the thought of her hurt or in danger brings him pain. Sometimes he thinks it would be easier if he just hated her, because he could have let go of his anger.
He can't let go of this, whatever it is.
“Are you okay?”
The sound of Daisy’s voice snaps him out of his thoughts, and he shakes his head, rubbing at his temples with two fingers.
“Your mother, Melinda May, is missing,” he repeats, trying not to react to the sound of his own voice saying her name for the first time in so long. Daisy hurriedly nods, and he tries to regain his composure, processing his thoughts carefully before he speaks. He feels as though his duty should be to ensure Daisy’s safety before anything else.
She's just a kid.
“Has someone been looking after you while your mother was away?”
“Her mother, my grandmother.”
Phil remembers Lian May. She was a high ranking CIA operative back in the day, though he heard she retired a few years back. It's understandable why Daisy couldn't ask her grandmother for help, likely because the woman wanted to shelter her from the truth. That doesn't answer one burning question at the back of his mind, one inconsistency that he can't determine through his observation of her.
“What about your father?”
She sniffs again, and he senses he has hit a sore spot for her. He wants to tell her that she doesn't have to answer if she doesn't want to, but she's already begun speaking.
“I… I didn't meet him until today.”
That could explain why Daisy fled her home to come and seek help from him. If her father had come into her life, it probably felt to her like her mother was never coming back.
“Is he the reason why you ran away?”
“Why did you run from him?
Daisy shakes her head at this, and he frowns, once again in a state of confusion, unable to comprehend where the conversation is headed. Somehow, this girl has managed to bewilder him more times than even most common criminals.
“I didn’t run from him. I ran to him.”
He pauses, wondering if it’s possible that he’s heard from, or misinterpreted her, but starts crying, tears slowly running down her cheeks.
“You’re my father,” she sobs, and there’s no doubt about the clarity of her implication. Daisy was convinced he was her father, which would mean he and Melinda had a child together without his knowledge. Incredibly unlikely, but not impossible. He opens his arms towards her, and she almost throws herself at him, crying into the fabric of his shirt. Her arms are curled up between their bodies, and at first, it feels weird, with him awkwardly trying to pat her on the back. But as he rests his chin on top of her head, feeling her sobs subside, it’s as though his heart is a little more whole than it has been in years.
There’s no way for him to know for sure, but he doesn’t think Daisy is lying about this. She genuinely believes that he is her father, and her age fits. Which would have meant that Melinda was already pregnant the last time they saw one another.
Did she know? Why didn’t she tell him? Why did she choose to go through it alone, when he could have been at her side the entire time? Could the three of them have been one happy family?
There are so many questions that he wants answered, and the only person who can do so… she’s missing.
And just like that, another piece of his heart chips off.
It was easier before, to accept that they couldn't be together when he imagined that she was happy, likely with someone else, living a life that she wanted. If what Daisy is saying is really true, he can only imagine how difficult her life has been since they parted ways.
Raising a child, alone.
If he had known… it's too late to think about such things now, because no matter how strong his desire is to turn back the clock to that moment and learn the truth, the past is in the past.
All he can do now is focus on the present, the girl trembling in his arms, the one who is convinced that he's her father.
That she's his daughter.
And her mother, the woman who captured his heart so long ago, and left it shattered when she walked away from him. Whatever happened between the two of them in the past, the confusing feelings and circumstances in which their separation occurred, they don't matter in this moment.
It's been fifteen long years, and he knows that others will think him crazy, that members of his own agency, his subordinates, will doubt his sanity. For what kind of man dives into the unknown for a woman they barely even know anymore?
Deep down, he knows the answer to that question.
He tells Rosalind about the Daisy situation the very next morning, while the girl is asleep on the sofa bed in his spare room. The first response he receives is one that has him taking a few steps back and trying not to react in anger.
She tells him to have a paternity test done.
He knows that she’s only saying it in his best interest, but he wishes she would trust his instincts about this situation. Now that he’s had a little bit of time to process things, and get to know Daisy a little better, he sees so much of him in her actions and expressions. He thinks he’s a fool now, for not recognising Melinda in their daughter, the hair and eyes and little nuances and accents that showed that they were mother and daughter.
Her personality proves to him that he's her father.
Phil doesn't need some test to confirm what he already knows, what he feels deep down. His life has always been incomplete, not because a part of him was missing from existence. It's because something he's always wanted, is something he could have had. The warm feeling in the pit of his stomach when she gave him a smile before bed last night was real. He felt it. It wasn't something his mind conjured up.
What he wants to know more than anything, is why he never knew about her.
About his daughter.
He has a daughter.
They end up running the tests anyway, and Daisy makes no complaints when he takes her to the base with him and has his most trusted scientist, Jemma, draw some blood.
The results come back positive.
He hugs her, his daughter , when they find out for sure, because it would have been all the more painful to lose something now than before. It was hard to accept not having a family before, but he had accepted it all the same. Things have changed now that he knows the truth, has had a taste of what it might be like to have someone in his life that he values over his career. It brings back memories of the past and has him questioning choices he made as a young adult, when he was far less wise than he is now.
Even if Daisy had turned out not to be his daughter, the situation would have pushed him to reconsider his life choices. Having her in his life for only a day has already changed his priorities so much; he’s no longer able to sit back and pretend that he's happy with the way his life was.
He thinks he could make it work, balancing both S.H.I.E.L.D. and a family. Actually, he thinks he could have made it work all along, albeit requiring sacrifices from both parts of his life.
The reward would have been worth it.
There's even more regret within him now, that he never thought to try before. He had toyed with the idea back then, with Melinda, but the only discussion they had ever had about it was… it was on the day his world ended.
He wonders if it's appropriate to ask one of his agents to shoot him in the head, for his sheer stupidity.
She had called him up out of the blue, after going off the grid for two weeks in South America, and they had met up for dinner at a restaurant near his apartment at the time. They talked and joked and he could tell something was off. All these years he thought she had just been gearing up to break things off with him, but now he realises what a fool he had been.
Melinda had wanted to tell him, that night, about their child.
They had spoken of a different life, what he thought was a light-hearted conversation that she had brought up for entertainment's sake.
He told her he didn't think it could be done, that he couldn't see himself doing it.
She never contacted him again.
This, all of this… it's his fault. The reason he never knew his daughter, the reason Melinda had walked away. He should have noticed it. He should have known. She had barely touched her food, refused wine altogether.
There were signs, and he was a fool so blindly in love that he could not see them.
And now it might be too late.
Rosalind breaks things off with him once he begins assembling a team to aid in his mission to find Melinda. There are no hard feelings, because they both knew things wouldn't last, but were happy to enjoy the company whilst they were able. He tells her that he's sorry, and she tells him to give her a call if they ever need backup.
Her offer is genuine, and he thanks her for it, but knows he won't need it. He's called in a few favours from old friends, and if they can't help him, then nobody can.
The gravity of the situation doesn’t descend upon them until they’re assembled in his office, and see Daisy with him. This is more than just a rescue mission; if they succeed, they’re putting a family back together, and it’s enough to have even Stark clapping him on the shoulder in a gesture of comfort.
There are no contingency plans, only the faith he has in this team of superheroes, the ones he had brought together over the years. He trusts they will do everything they can to rescue her, to save Melinda, and if anyone doesn’t make it out alive, he only has himself to blame.
Her body is bruised and broken, fractured bones, bleeding gashes and cuts all over, and she wonders why she was stupid enough to come back to a life like this. The pain is easy to ignore when the adrenaline is rushing through her veins, but the weeks of captivity have taken a toll on her.
Mentally and physically.
It's exhaustion she feels.
Melinda knows that she cannot give up, no matter what she's put through here. If she doesn't return home, Daisy will have no one there to protect her, and will forever be left wondering what happened to her. It was her greatest fear when she chose to come back out into the field after so many years, but she did it for them, for Daisy, and for herself.
For as much as she regrets it in this moment, she's missed the action, the physical side of missions, going out into the field. The desk job in administration was a choice she made for her daughter, but now that Daisy was older, she found a way to balance field work while still looking after her family. Her own mother, however disapproving she had been about Daisy prior to her birth, had softened up and embraced her role as a grandmother the moment she held her as a newborn.
Daisy has always known the truth about her father… about Phil, and Melinda knows it was only her promise that she would try to find him and reconnect with him that held her daughter back from rushing headfirst out into the world to find him. The truth is, she had gone back out into the field not only because she missed the action, but because it was the only way she knew she could find him again, short of trading favours to obtain his private details and ambushing him outside of work.
She was confident she could be more subtle than that.
Now she's not so sure she's going to make it out of here alive.
Perhaps it's better this way, for things to end before they can even begin. Maybe it's the universe sending her a sign that the truth is better kept secret, that revealing it will only lead to more heartbreak. She's imagined it, a thousand different outcomes, if Phil were to find out about their Daisy. If he would be happy, or shocked, or angry, or betrayed. It's difficult to picture a positive reaction, because it's always been clear to her that he doesn't want this.
Not a life with her, with their daughter.
He's the best man she’s ever known, but his dedication has always been to the greater good, and her happiness counts for very little.
She's tried so hard to give their daughter a good life, and each and every day she still questions if she made the right choice, doing it alone. Daisy’s insistence at the possibility of meeting her father always makes her heart ache, but it hurts more to deny her daughter anything. But for her, she’s willing to deal with the agonising pain of seeing the only man she’s ever loved once more, to tell him the truth about their past.
To give him a chance to meet their daughter.
To give him a choice, to be a part of their lives.
And if he says no, it will be because of her, and not her little girl, who has done no wrong in the world.
But perhaps she no longer has to fear for his reaction, for there's little chance of her making an escape now. She knows her limitations, and it doesn't look good. Back in the day she would have been able to evade capture, or broken out without a second thought.
She's a little bit rusty it seems.
If her agency chooses not to come and extract her, she knows she’ll be disavowed and likely eventually killed by these people, the identities of whom she has not been able to ascertain.
Fifteen years ago she would have been afraid to die, but willing to accept whatever fate should become of her.
Now she fears death more than ever.
The only comfort she has is the memory of her Daisy, the morning before she had left on this godforsaken mission. They'd gone out to a diner for breakfast before she had dropped Daisy off at school. They shared hugs and exchanged I love you’s, because there was always going to be the chance a mission went south.
Always the possibility that she wouldn't make it home.
She allows a single tear to run down her cheek, closing her eyes and picturing the image of her daughter in her mind, the one thing she is still fighting for, fighting to return to. If her worst fears are realised, if she should die here, never to be found, she knows that Daisy will be in good hands, that her own parents would care for her.
Fourteen years, five months and thirteen days, spent with the little girl she loved more than anything in the world.
It’s more than she could have ever hoped for.
More than she deserves.
Yet still not enough.
She's on the brink, between living and dying, when the wall in front of her is blasted open and colourful figures come into her cell. They're just blurs of colour, because her vision has been fading, but she makes out one dark figure coming towards her.
It isn't until they rest their hand on her cheek that she realises who she’s looking at.
It's been fifteen years and they're both older now, but he looks the same as she's always remembered. His eyes, still the same shade of blue she loves.
She tries to call out his name but finds that she cannot speak, and there's a faint taste of copper in her mouth. Everything around her is moving too quickly and his lips are moving but she cannot hear what he's saying, even as he pulls her into his arms and she feels warmth she has not in a decade and a half.
He presses a kiss to her forehead, brushes a hand over her matted hair and she thinks she hears him say something.
Melinda, you mean everything to me.
That's the moment she realises that she's probably dying, and this is all a hallucination. What a cruel trick to play on the mind of someone about to pass on, she thinks. To give her a taste of what she knows she could never have before, that she is certain she will never have in the future, because what future is there for someone who is no longer living.
At least it provides her with a little closure, letting her reunite with someone who means so much to her, before she can experience things no longer. It's the last thought on her mind before everything fades to black.
When Melinda regains consciousness, her first reaction is that of surprise, because she really didn’t think she was going to make it out of that alive. A few moments pass, and she lies there, just breathing in and out, when she finds she has lost sensation in both her arms. She can still feel the rest of her body; the feeling is mostly pain, but she feels it nonetheless. Slowly, she opens her eyes, the lids so heavy it takes her a few tries.
The first thing she sees is a familiar head of brown hair, Daisy, asleep against her left side. She takes care to move as slowly as possible when extracting her arm, flexing it in the air for a few moments to restore blood flow, before brushing Daisy’s hair with her fingertips.
Melinda doesn't expect that much will rouse Daisy; her daughter has always been a heavy sleeper.
Just like her father.
Phil… he's here. So he wasn't a hallucination, a product of her imagination. He's currently cutting off her circulation, but he's actually here, beside her, holding on to her. She feels it now, that their fingers are intertwined, and his head is resting against her forearm. There's no way for her to pull away without waking him, and she wants to speak with him, so she squeezes his hand as hard as she is able.
He almost leaps up in shock.
She watches through half closed eyes as his gaze darts around the room, before landing on her, seeing the weak smile on her face and feeling the way she’s holding onto him.
“You're awake,” he breathes, and she knows she isn't imagining the relief in his voice. He… he looks more haggard than she feels, and she worries he hasn't been taking care of himself.
“Are you okay?” she asks him, her voice raspy from disuse, and she manages another small smile at the way his eyes widen at her words.
“Daisy asked me the exact same thing the day she came to me for help,” he tells her as he shifts closer, so they can speak without waking her daughter.
No, their daughter.
Phil had met their little girl, after so many years, and she hadn't even been there to witness it. But she's here now, thanks to both of them.
“You're the one who has been to hell and back, and you ask me if I'm okay,” he whispers, shaking his head. It doesn't escape her notice that they're still holding hands, when he reaches towards her with his free hand, and gently cups her face. “I haven't been okay since we last saw each other. When you left, it broke me, and it wasn't until Daisy came along that I began to heal. And now, having you here, safe, I'm okay. I'm okay, Melinda.”
She would let out a small chuckle at that if it did not hurt to laugh, though she wonders how much morphine they're pumping her with because the pain is not as bad as it should be. Phil is watching her closely, but staring off into space at the same time, and she tugs his hand gently to get his attention.
“You're an idiot,” she tells him, smirking to indicate that she's only teasing and the heart rate monitor that she's hooked up to shows a spike the moment he nods and reaffirms her statement by saying, “I know.”
They sit in silence for a while, well, Phil sits, and she lies there, unable to really move. She just stares at him, and he stares back, until his gaze drifts over to Daisy, who is still fast asleep, oblivious to her surroundings.
“She's beautiful,” he whispers, and Melinda can see the tears in his eyes as he speaks.
Melinda, Phil learns, is a terrible patient.
She scares the doctors into getting her way and refuses to follow any of their instructions about staying in bed and resting. In the end, he decides that she needs to be monitored during all waking hours and all non-waking hours, so he temporarily moves back into his room on the base.
Daisy isn't happy about being sent back to stay with her grandmother, but has very little choice in the matter, seeing as her parents both agree and now all their decisions are basically two against one.
Melinda is left to recover under the care of S.H.I.E.L.D. physicians, and their director, who pretty much refuses to let her out of his sight. He beams when she tells him it's kind of cute, and pouts when she retracts the statement after he gets on her nerves with how much he fusses over her.
He doesn't agree, and the only reason she gives up arguing is because she enjoys all the time they're spending together, even if she does miss home and Daisy. She tells him only the latter part, about how much she wants to be with their daughter, and he knows that she’ll be out of here the moment he allows her to leave.
Phil doesn't want her to go.
He doesn't want to lose her again.
But he knows that he cannot keep her here forever. So after the doctors give her one final checkup, and confirm to him that she's fully healed, he arranges for her to be taken home.
He doesn't say goodbye, because he doesn't know how to. It's not as if he won't see her again, now that he's aware they share a child together, but he has no idea of the relationship between them. He's not even sure she was lucid during most of their early conversations, given how much pain medication she was on to keep her sedated.
Phil knows that he still loves her. The truth is, he’s never stopped loving her, part of him always holding onto the hope that she would come back into his life, and they’d get some sort of fairytale ending. He’s enough of a realist to know that’s likely never to happen, and yet, they’re closer to it now than ever.
Still, he cannot predict the events to come, and resigns to just try his best, to be the man his parents raised him to be. To be a good father to Daisy, and a good… to be good to Melinda, for she’s given him the greatest gift a person could ever have.