These may have been the longest three minutes of Melinda's life.
When Melinda asked questions about reproduction as a child, her mother, being her mother, said, "You're not going to distract me. You will get two more seconds off your assembly time, and we will stay here until you do," and Melinda hadn't asked again. Still, there were things you knew. If you were in your late forties and stopped menstruating, you were almost certainly going through menopause. When it happened, Melinda had no problem with it; she didn't exactly have a lot of motivation for being upset. It was going to be an annoyance, but she could deal. She'd be done with it soon enough.
Only it was three months later, and her symptoms didn't fit; her clothes were steadily getting to that point too. Everything was heading in entirely the wrong direction, and fighting the suspicion wasn't making it any better.
The possibility had always seemed so remote. She'd been on birth control essentially her entire adult life, aside from when she'd been with Andrew, who'd had a vasectomy before she ever even met him. The only reason she stopped taking it was because they went on the run from Hydra; getting it wasn't exactly their top priority, and when things stabilized, she decided she could do without it. Even then, she used condoms religiously, but here she was anyway.
If she actually was pregnant, then this child's real father was Murphy's Law.
The alarm went off on Melinda's phone, and she stared at the pregnancy test. She'd heard they were hard to read, but this one was abundantly clear.
In retrospect, rushing out of the bathroom stall and throwing up in the sink was the opposite of what she should have done. In the moment, though, when blind panic set in suddenly and her stomach flipped over, it made perfect sense.
She didn't register that someone else was at the sinks until it was too late, which was a testament to how thrown she was.
"Hey, are you okay?" Skye said, putting a hand on Melinda's back. "Do you-" She stopped short, and Melinda realized that she was still clutching the test. "Oh."
Melinda straightened, dislodging Skye's hand. She made herself release her death grip on the test, wrapping in a paper towel, putting it in the bag she'd brought. She washed her hands, trying to focus on the rote nature of the actions to calm herself down. When her hands were clean, she washed out her mouth, then wet a clean paper towel to lay across the back of her neck. If she looked at the faucet and not Skye or the mirror, she could keep it together.
"It's Coulson, isn't it," Skye said, not a question, and Melinda froze. "You should get Simmons to give you a blood test. It could be a false positive."
"You will not tell anyone about this," Melinda said, still focusing on the faucet. "That includes the Director."
"I won't," Skye promised. "But please. We can go right now. Nobody's in medical at this time of day."
Melinda struggled with herself for a moment. She didn't need Skye's interference; it was in no way Skye's business. She could handle this herself, and it certainly didn't require Skye holding her hand. However, she was scared out of her mind, in a way she'd never experienced before. That wasn't something Skye needed to know, but it was a reason not to shove away what little comfort she had.
"Radio her and tell her we're coming," Melinda said. "Don't tell her why."
"Got it," Skye said, raising her hand to her ear as Melinda opened the bathroom door.
Simmons met them at the entrance to the area that had evolved into the infirmary; without being told, Skye rousted everyone from the adjacent lab and pulled the curtains. "What's wrong?" Simmons asked, looking deeply concerned.
"I need a pregnancy test," Melinda said.
Simmons's eyes went wide. "Are you-"
"Why do you think I need a test?" Melinda said tightly.
"We're out of testing supplies," Simmons said, wincing. "We have a hard time getting restocked these days, and it's not a thing we often need."
"How soon can you get them?" Melinda asked.
"It could be a few days," Simmons said. She made a face that said she wasn't sure what reaction she was going to get to her next statement. "How far along do you think you might be?"
"I don't know," Melinda said, not letting her face show how little she wanted to admit it. "Probably two and a half, three months." Skye and Simmons both looked like they wanted to say something about that, but Melinda silenced them both with a glare. This was not the time for that conversation. There would never be a time for that conversation.
"If you want to know right away, we do have an ultrasound machine," Simmons said.
"Why do we have an ultrasound machine?" Skye asked, frowning.
"It has many other uses," Simmons said, brightening slightly. "For example-"
"Do it," Melinda said, because Simmons was clearly about to give a lecture on medical diagnostics. Melinda had absolutely no time for that.
"Lie on the table, please," Simmons said, retrieving the machine and setting it up. "You don't need to remove your clothing, just push it out of the way."
"How do you know how to do this?" Skye asked, as Melinda arranged herself on the table.
"I've done it before," Simmons said. Melinda raised an eyebrow, and Simmons cringed. "Well, I've done it twice. I've operated the machine loads of times-"
"Quit while you're behind," Melinda said, cutting her off.
"It's very safe," Simmons assured her, applying the lubricant. "I'm not just saying that to make you feel better." She hesitated for a long moment, just looking at Melinda, and Melinda wanted to smack her.
Melinda wanted to smack a lot of people. She had a list.
"I need you to know right now that if you are pregnant, I can't help you," Simmons said finally. "I'm not the right kind of doctor. I'm not a proper medical practitioner at all. You have to see someone else."
"Simmons, just chill," Skye said. "Nobody's asking you to deliver it. We're just asking you to run a test."
"Babies make me nervous," Simmons said apologetically.
Melinda didn't know when this had become a 'we' situation, and she almost told Skye to fuck off. Instead, she willed herself to relax, trying to be as calm as possible. "Just hurry up," she said.
"Right," Simmons said. "Here we go."
It felt strange, staying still while Simmons ran this thing over her abdomen, but Melinda let her do it; she closed her eyes, centering herself, picturing the tension draining out of her. A few minutes passed, and she was coming close to having it together.
"Do you want to see it?" Simmons asked quietly, and Melinda tensed up again.
"No," Melinda said. She expected Skye or Simmons to argue with her, but neither of them did. If she kept it, she'd spend the rest of her life looking at it; if she didn't, there was no reason to see it at all.
"You need to see a obstetrician," Simmons said. "It looks alright, and I can tell you it's around eleven weeks, maybe a little more, but I am literally judging by pictures Skye looked up on the internet just now. Because of your age, it's a high-risk pregnancy, and-"
"Give me something to get this crap off my stomach," Melinda said; she opened her eyes in time to see Skye moving to block her view of the ultrasound machine, for which Melinda was embarrassingly grateful. Simmons didn't start talking again, looking a little too afraid of the prospect, just handed Melinda some wipes instead. She cleaned herself up the best she could, throwing the wipes away as she stood up and walked out.
She was gone too fast to hear the conversation behind her, but she knew what it would sound like anyway. Simmons would be panicked, convinced that Melinda's reaction was her fault, terrified at the prospect of being a disappointment; Skye would be attempting to comfort her, stop her from convincing herself that Melinda hated her and would take this out on her. Melinda knew that no reassurances from her would actually have an impact- which was good, because she wasn't going to give any.
Melinda had bigger fish to fry.
And she was going to gut and debone him first.
She'd been in a daze, largely stuck in her own head, unable to process any of this. It felt incredibly good to let anger lance through the fog, burn it off, leave her with a focus. She might regret it later, but it wasn't later yet. She'd deal with it when it got here.
Phil was just leaving his office when Melinda found him, already halfway out the door. He looked like he was in a hurry, but Melinda couldn't have given less of a fuck if she tried. She had her target, and she wasn't giving it up.
"I need to speak with you," Melinda said.
"Sorry, this is a really bad time," Phil said, making an attempt to go around her. "I can't-"
He made a noise of surprise when Melinda put a hand on his chest and shoved him back into his office. "Oh, you most certainly can," she growled, slamming the door shut behind them. "You absolutely fucking can, and you're about to."
"Uh oh," he said, walking over and sitting down in his desk chair. Melinda was very aware that he was doing it so that he'd have the desk between the two of them, which wasn't a bad idea on his part. "What's wrong?"
"I'm pregnant," she said flatly. She realized then that she hadn't said it out loud yet; something about just saying the words made it crushingly real, in a way it hadn't been before.
Phil looked at her strangely. "What are you talking about?"
"You heard me," Melinda said.
"I realize I'm saying this at the risk of my personal safety," Phil said, "but aren't you a little too old?"
"Obviously not," she told him.
"This is a weird joke," Phil said. "What happened to filling my desk with packing peanuts?"
"It's not a fucking joke, Coulson," Melinda said, trying not to scream. "I'm pregnant. You knocked me up."
"You're sure?" Phil asked uneasily.
"Simmons did an ultrasound," she told him.
He sat back, and she saw it sink in, watched his face as he realized this was all really happening. He looked thrown, deflated; he looked about like how Melinda felt, which was strangely comforting. "How pregnant?" he asked.
Melinda raised an eyebrow at him. "Entirely."
"I meant how far along," he said.
"Eleven or twelve weeks," she told him.
"So, very pregnant," Phil said.
"You can't be a just little bit," Melinda said.
"What are you going to do?" he asked, and it stung more than she expected.
This time, it wasn't 'we'.
She didn't know if all of this would have been easier or harder if she and Phil were actually together, instead of having decided it was a bad idea. They started sleeping together about three and a half months ago, but nothing else changed. He was her responsibility. They were friends. She was in love with him and hated herself for it, but that had started a long, long time before. It wasn't going away, so what was the point in not fucking him if it was on offer? It couldn't possibly make things worse.
But apparently it had.
"I don't know yet," Melinda said. "I just found out."
"I guess that-" Phil started, but he stopped. "Just tell me what you decide to do."
Melinda's anger dissipated; it was hard to yell at him when he looked like that, so completely lost. If he'd been happy, if he'd been angry, if he'd been crying, then she could find something to attack him for. Instead, there was just nothing. It didn't really seem fair.
"You'll be the first to know," Melinda said. There didn't seem to be anything else to say, not anything she knew how to say, nothing but recriminations and demands; demanding anything was impossible when she didn't have any idea what she wanted.
So she left, and Phil didn't stop her.
They didn't say another word to each other for four full days.
Melinda was aware that it wasn't the adult thing to do, but it happened anyway. It might well have been more, but that was the limit of Skye's willingness to play messenger; Simmons refused to entirely, still too afraid that she was the one who'd caused all the trouble. They were the only ones on the outside who knew- she wasn't sure when she'd started thinking of it that way, her and Phil as a closed circuit, fused together- and Melinda had no interest in letting anyone else know anything, not until things were settled, maybe not at all.
Melinda spent most of that time working one-on-one with Skye; drawing her aside for delayed training sessions made the perfect excuse for not seeing anyone, especially because it actually was useful work. Skye was by nature the type to pry, but she somehow managed to stop herself from doing it.
Skye only talked about it once. "When I was seventeen-" she said, and stopped. "I think they made Plan B easy to shoplift on purpose."
Melinda hadn't replied, and Skye seemed to have no desire to continue the conversation.
In her downtime, Melinda mostly stayed by herself. She didn't want to be left alone with her own thoughts, but that was where she needed to stay. This wasn't the biggest fuck up of her entire life, but it was a pretty damn big one. She'd had almost three months to catch it, to do something about it; she'd let herself be blinded instead, assuming she knew herself better than anyone else could.
Wallowing got old after about a day and a half. It was definitely a sign of maturity that she shook it off that fast, but in this case, at least no one had died. Unless she murdered Phil, the body count was going to be zero. Of course, hating herself wasn't the hard part; that was very, very easy. Pulling herself out of the hole long enough to think rationally was. Historically, she hadn't always been very good at it.
When she'd been younger, before SHIELD and Hydra were completely separate things, the choice had been simple. You didn't have kids if you were a specialist. You didn't have a normal life. She'd watched her mother raise a child that way, and while her mother had more or less handled it, it wasn't what Melinda wanted. Having a child in her life seemed out of the question.
And after Bahrain, in the dark, cold days that she had taken so long to come out of, she hadn't wanted anyone in her life.
But that was before the world fell down, and at long last, things were stabilizing. They were chipping away at Hydra, though the process seemed neverending; Skye finally had her powers under control, and as it turned out, most people with gifts were not homicidal. She knew that things could turn bad in an instant, but that had always been true, and it always would be. Things got better. They got worse. Even as a child she'd been at the mercy of politics, of who was stealing secrets from who, of how much firepower Stark Industries was putting out this week and who was trying to get their hands on it. She didn't know if she could subject a child to that, but it certainly seemed like less of a horrible idea than it had before.
Except that she and the kid were only two-thirds of the equation.
Phil may or may not have been avoiding her; it was hard to say, because she was avoiding him. Just because she needed his input didn't mean she wanted to hear it. If Phil was going to make her do this alone, then she wasn't going to do it. That was just how it had to be. She could subject a child to a life of continuous change. She would not subject it to seeing its father every day and knowing he wanted nothing to do with it.
But no matter what happened, she wouldn't leave Phil. A child was optional. SHIELD was not.
It was easier on the whole to catch Phil while he was in his office; it seemed less charged, more neutral than trying to seek him out somewhere else. When she walked in, he stopped what he was doing immediately, laying down his pen. It was clear he already knew what she was there for.
"Lock the door," he said, and she did, walking over and standing in front of his desk. "Have you decided?"
"That depends," she said.
"On what?" he asked. He was good at masking his emotions, but not as good as Melinda; she could tell he was afraid of her, and it didn't bother her one bit.
"On what you want to happen," she said.
"I'm not the one who's pregnant," Phil said, his face blank. "It's not my decision what happens."
"Nobody said you got to decide," Melinda told him. She hadn't been angry when she came in, but she was about to give Phil a good reason to be afraid. "I asked you what you want."
"It doesn't have anything to do with what I want," he said. "It's your choice."
She put her hands on the desk, leaning down and staring him in the eye. "If you do not answer my goddamn question right now, it is not going to end well for you."
"Now, Coulson," she snapped. "Use your fucking words. This is your responsibility. Deal with it."
"It's a very bad idea," he said reluctantly. "We're in a dicey situation. At your age, there's considerable risk to you and the-" He stalled out for a moment. "To you and the fetus. We can't afford to have you out of commission. This is no environment to raise a child in."
"You didn't answer my question," Melinda said, because he wasn't getting off that fucking easily.
Phil rubbed his forehead. "I know."
"I don't have time for games," Melinda said. She walked over and yanked him up out of his chair, and before he could fight back, she slammed him hard onto his desk, face down, his arms twisted behind him. "Talk."
"This isn't a very mature reaction," Phil wheezed.
Melinda tightened her grip, just enough to make Phil gasp in pain. "Don't fucking push me or I'll break your goddamn arm."
"I want to keep it," Phil said, quietly enough that Melinda almost missed it.
Melinda froze for a moment, unsure of what she'd heard. "What?"
"Jesus, Melinda, will you let me go?" Phil said. "I answered you."
She released him, and he staggered back, collapsing in his chair. "You want to keep it?" she asked, sitting on the edge of his desk. It didn't seem likely; she'd assumed he was being so cagey because he didn't want to tell her to have an abortion.
"Yes," Phil said; he looked absolutely miserable, enough so that Melinda almost put her arms around him. "I wasn't going to tell you, because I know that you think I have my shit together enough for my opinion to be worth listening to. You could shake off anybody else, but I'm in a position to influence you unfairly. If you did what I wanted just because I wanted it, I would never forgive myself." He put his head in his hand, rubbing his temples. "We can't give this child a good life, and I know that. I feel like such a selfish prick for wanting it. But I do."
For a moment, there was nothing but silence.
"You're such a fucking martyr," Melinda said.
Phil looked up. "Excuse me?"
"You always do this," Melinda insisted. "You genuinely believe that you have no possibility of being happy or having anything that you want. This?" She said, snatching a pen out of its spot on Phil's desk. "This is your favorite pen. You've been using fucking blue ink in it since we got here because you found blue cartridges in the desk. You hate blue ink, and your goddamn pen is always clogged because they're not the right fucking size. You think you don't even deserve your own fucking ink, as if we're so far in the fucking hole that we can't buy you four dollars worth of fucking pen refills. The only reason you have anything nice at all is because you always find some way to convince yourself it's for SHIELD. You'd probably tell me blue ink was Peggy Carter's favorite and you're just honoring her legacy." She slammed the pen down on a stack of papers, regretting it when Phil winced. "Stop fucking being so goddamn self-sacrificing," she said. "You've given enough."
Phil picked up his pen, examining it. "That is the most I've heard you say at one time in probably fifteen years," he said, still looking at the pen.
"Don't get smart with me," Melinda said. "You may be the father of my child, but I'll shoot you in the fucking kneecap."
Phil's head snapped up. "Does that mean-"
"Yes," Melinda said. "Yes, dammit. We're having this baby."
"Are you really sure?" Phil said, though it was very obvious that he was trying not to look ecstatic. "It's not going to be easy. I don't know if it's fair to raise a kid the way we live."
"When I was eight, my mother went into deep cover, and I went with her," Melinda said. "I had to pretend a complete stranger was my father for a year and a half."
Phil looked at her in alarm. "Really?"
"It wasn't that bad," Melinda said, shrugging. "He was a nice guy once you got to know him." Phil still looked deeply concerned. "Kids are adaptable," she told him. "We'll deal with it."
"We need to talk about how to deal with us," he said, after a pause.
"Probably," Melinda said, steeling herself. She'd been dreading this part. She refused to force him into a relationship just because they were having a child; she'd rather be alone than act like she didn't know Phil wasn't in love with her. "We don't have to be together to co-parent. If it's not what you want, then it's not necessary."
Phil shut his eyes, letting his head fall back. "Goddammit, Melinda."
"What?" she asked, confused.
"The reason I said it was a bad idea for us to tell anyone is because I thought it would undermine your authority if people knew," he said. He opened his eyes, looking more hurt and angry than she knew what to do with. "Do you really think I don't care about you? Do I seem like the kind of asshole who would sleep with someone I knew good and well was in love with me if I didn't feel the same way? Do you honestly believe I'm that horrible of a person?" Phil made a noise of frustration, apparently taking her lack of response as a yes- which it kind of was. "You can't blow up at me about office supplies when you think you don't deserve to be loved."
Very suddenly, everything crashed onto her. It was too much at once; it seemed like everything she knew kept changing every five minutes, and this was the limit. She swayed, gripping the desk for support, all the emotional exhaustion physical for a moment. If anyone asked, she'd say it was hormones. She could probably get away with that excuse for a long time.
"Are you okay?" Phil said, jumping up and steadying her. "I'm calling Simmons."
She laid a hand on his arm. "I'm fine. Just a little dizzy."
"Shit," Phil said, running his hand over her hair. "I'm sorry for upsetting you."
"It's just been a rough week," Melinda said, looking away.
"C'mere," he said, sitting down in his chair and pulling her into his lap. It felt a little odd, but it wasn't going to be a tenable position for very much longer; maybe just once was okay. "Under the circumstances, it's best if everyone knows, because certain things are going to become very obvious soon. I don't want anyone to think I'm ashamed." He cupped his hand around the back of her neck, pulling her in and kissing her. "I'm not."
"I didn't think this was something you wanted," Melinda said.
"I gave up everything for SHIELD," he said simply. "If I had my life to do over again, I still would, though I'd probably try to avoid making friends with Hydra sleeper agents. I did what was right for the greater good. That doesn't mean I'd have turned a family down if I thought I could have it."
"And you think you can have it now?" Melinda asked.
"Well, at this point I already do, so I guess I better make sure it works," Phil replied. "What I wanted just kinda-"
"Fell into your lap?" Melinda finished.
"I hate it when you beat me to my corny jokes," Phil said.
"I guess it's your right to make as many dad jokes as you want now," she said.
"You're going to regret saying that," he said. "I've got a million of 'em." Tentatively, Phil put his hand on her stomach, like he was touching something priceless, fragile, delicate, and Melinda honestly didn't know if she'd ever loved him more than she did in that moment.
"That's my rib cage," she said, taking his hand and moving it lower. "That's the baby."
"Cut me some slack," he said. "I'm new at this."
"We'll deal," Melinda said, resting against him. There were a million things to do, plans to make, but that could wait for a minute. They were in the calm before the storm. It was best if they enjoyed it while they could.