It’s an unspoken thing, the way they seek each other out during the night. It’s been happening for years.
Phil knows it is not an uncommon thing, especially when it comes to SHIELD partners who have been together for years, who have suffered through a hundred different types of pain together. He presided over enough Barton and Romanoff missions to know that what mattered was the mission, not what happened during, or after.
In the early years, May would simply settle onto the empty half of the bed. She would sleep facing the door every time; eventually, he started leaving that side empty for her.
After a while, one of them would leave a hand outstretched on the mattress, waiting for the other to take it softly in the night. He’s held her hand in more than a dozen countries, protected by the safety and anonymity of the darkness. After she and Andrew grew serious—a wedding on the horizon, he could feel it in his gut—he tried to stop, tucking his hand close to his chest as they settled in for the night. He remembers winter in the Balkans, Serbia, maybe Romania; a pervasive chill had snuck in through the weakly sealed window next to the bed. She reached for him, turning toward him under their shared blanket. She took his hand, held it close to her body, and slept facing him all night long.
Please don’t take a transfer, he had wanted to say. Please don’t leave me yet.
But he didn’t say those things, and she didn’t transfer, not yet, but she did get married. He picked her up in the mornings from her domestic bliss, making small talk with Andrew in their kitchen, wondering how long the world would keep allowing them to share her.
Not long, it turns out.
It all fell apart after Bahrain, her transfer swift and final. He was the one to lose her first. He was told to give her time, leave her be, Phil, she’ll come out of this. She didn’t. Andrew didn’t end up lasting much longer than he did.
Then he found himself in Malibu, and then New Mexico. Then, New York.
Then. It’s a magical place.
When he was told to put to put a team together, he ignored Hill’s warnings. She still needs time, Phil. He handed his selections over and shook his head, No, she needs a team again.
They both did.
He was not the one she sought during the night, but she was close. She had his back again, and that was enough.
When SHIELD fell, things began to change. After Hydra revealed themselves and the agency was in ruins, after their team was bruised and broken, inside and out, it was easy to fall back into old routines.
Jemma left for her assignment, and Fitz was hardly on the mend; he was director, of all things. Their team was splintered, invisible fractures growing beneath the surface as they struggled to rebuild, to root out the enemy, to heal.
“I can’t stand that he’s here,” she said as she walked into his room one night, pacing back and forth in front of him.
“Neither can I, but we need him,” he said. He hated every second Ward was there, locked away beneath them; he hated having to send Skye in there to get whatever information she could.
It was then that she finally seemed to notice that he was sitting up on his bed, covers pooled in his lap and his tablet next to him.
“It’s late,” she said, sounding almost embarrassed, like sometimes it dawns on her that it’s not five, ten years ago.
“You can stay,” and he still isn’t quite sure what made him say it that night, but he did. And she did.
She hesitated, but only for a moment. She slipped out of her boots and tossed her jacket over his desk chair as he shifted over until her side of the bed was free. She turned off the light and joined him, for the first time in years.
He always found sleep easily when she was next to him. By morning, she was gone. He didn’t mention it, and neither did she. When she knocked four nights later, he let her in without a word.
When they lost Trip, she came to him, laying her arm gently across his bruised chest as the base mourned and quarantined. He dreamt of Skye calling his name, crying in her glass cage, and only woke when May pulled him toward her until they shared the same pillow. He turned his face into the soft cushion, hiding his eyes even in the darkness, as he struggled to catch his breath. He fell back asleep with her hand on the back of his neck, thumb sweeping over the skin behind his ear.
He went to her when Simmons had finished patching up what was left of his arm. She held his hand as tightly as she could as he let himself cry into her pillow, her cheek pressed to his shoulder, saying comforting words that he couldn’t make sense of through the pain and loss and confusion. They hardly slept that night, in and out as the pain crashed like the tide, creeping back gently before shaking his entire body.
Simmons must have come by at some point, because halfway through the night May forced him to sit up, Phil, please, you’ve got to drink this, pressing pills against his lips as sweat dripped down his face.
He slept in her bed for four days, with her braced against his back so he wouldn’t roll over. She only allowed Simmons in, who changed his bandage as he stared at the ceiling and grinded his teeth.
During those nights, he didn’t have to reach for her hand. She took it as soon as she settled down next to him, hardly letting go all night long. It never felt like a goodbye.
Two weeks later, she was gone. Andrew, too.
She deserves the time off, he tells himself for weeks, pushing down his old fears, his insecurities. Don’t leave for good, May. I need you here.
She comes back. Then Lash happens, and a dusty world with no exit, Ward’s chest beneath his hand.
Lash; redemption, and death.
They lose Daisy, to withdrawal, to the suffocation of guilt and regret and fear.
They search for her until they’re told not to, but even then, the Zephyr tracks any mention of her as they circle the Earth. He doesn’t miss being the director, but he does miss May. Despite everything they’ve lived through over the past year, he calls her as they fly over a dozen different countries.
When they touch down to resupply, he finds himself knocking on her door.
They try to catch up, but he doesn’t deal with time zones as easily as he once did; no matter how hard he tries, he falls asleep before the sun has even started to set. When she joins him again hours later, she takes his hand; their ingrained reflex. He feels her foot slip under his ankle, cool against his skin. They are close enough that he can feel her breath on his neck. He moves their clasped hands until they’re tucked under his chin, held tight against his chest.