Jemma jerks up, feels her muscles tense unexpectedly, feels her lungs inhale a panicked, short breath.
That sudden feeling when you’re being ripped from the state between waking and sleeping. Like you’re falling for a split second, off a seesaw, off a chair, off a cliff, off a plane, until you open your eyes and your brain catches up with reality.
Jemma’s eyes open abruptly and her heart races for a moment as her mind tries to determine where she is and what’s going on and if she’s awake or asleep or in between or nowhere at all.
She sees the waitress behind the counter staring at her (or maybe past her), wide-eyed and in shock, the coffeepot still in hand, and it tells Jemma where she is, or where she appears to be at least: the diner where they’d all been for a last meal before they’d be on the run once more, or—as it turned out—a last meal before whoever was after them would get to them.
Her hands begin to tremble slightly and Jemma suddenly realizes that her arms are still raised above her shoulders. Slowly she lowers them, as her mind puts together a few more puzzle pieces of memories. She remembers the men entering the establishment. How the diner had gone dark. How they’d marched in. Silently. Imposing. Their guns cocked. How one of them had addressed Coulson by his name. Just his name. Nothing else. She remembers Coulson being Coulson and trying to address the situation with his usual dry humor and perceived indifference. She remembers a sudden high-pitched noise, a strange feeling rushing through her. Then she remembers…
Then she remembers the hypnic jerk that brought her back to the exact same spot mere moments ago.
Or had it been moments?
How long had it been?
Jemma turns her head to the right, seeing Daisy, Coulson, May, Elena, and Mack. They all look bewildered, slightly confused, slightly surprised, as if they’d woken up from a strange dream much like Jemma herself, except there are absolutely no memories of why they’d fallen asleep or what that dream may have been. A nightmare, an idyllic peaceful vision, who knows?
Why are we still here? What did those men want if not to take us? What did they do?
Slowly, Jemma turns her head to the left.
The word escapes her lips like a silent exhale, like all the air has been punched out of her lungs.
Her eyes widen, unwilling to believe what she’s seeing, what she’s not seeing, whom she’s not seeing.
She slides off the barstool and scrambles a few feet away from the empty seat where Fitz had been sitting, sitting right next to her, sitting right next to her contemplating which pie to eat for dessert.
Chocolate banana cream. He’d definitely have chosen chocolate banana cream.
Jemma’s breath becomes short and ragged, and the world around her seems to be filled only with the sounds of her anxious heartbeat and a high-pitched ringing in her ears. Tears shoot to her eyes, distorting her vision.
Somewhere in the background she thinks maybe she hears someone calling her name, but it’s like everything but that empty barstool has disappeared, there are no other people in the room, no other objects. There’s nothing but herself, her heartbeat, that goddamn high-pitched ringing and an empty chair.
“Why would you do this?” she hears herself scream at the empty chair, at the empty space, at the bloody cosmos.
Somehow it resonates in her head like an empty echo chamber.
Empty. It’s all empty.
“Are you happy now? Huh? Are you happy that you did it again?”
She yells at the bloody universe, waiting for it to reply.
“Why? Why would you do this? What did we ever do to you?”
She throws her arms in the air, and yet there’s still nothing but silence surrounding her.
“Why do you rip us apart? Why do you always rip us apart? Why do you hate us so much?”
Every muscle in her body hurts with tension and yet the cosmos keeps taunting her.
“Haven’t you put us through enough already? Couldn’t you give us one bloody break? Just one bloody break? Why do you do this? Why do you hate us? Why? Tell me why!”
She reaches behind herself and somehow her hand finds something, a cylinder of some sort. Warm, hot almost. Smooth ceramic. She curls her fingers around the object, tightens her grip and flings whatever she’s holding forward.
When the coffee cup shatters against the front of the counter, splashing hot coffee across the floor, when some of the shocked guests and employees of the diner shriek in fear, Jemma’s world suddenly pulls back into focus.
She spins around slowly and yet the simple motion makes her feel dizzy. Her eyes wander around the room, the broken pieces of ceramic, the brown puddle of coffee, the shocked faces of the people staring at her, the empty barstool.
Suddenly, the tears that her anger had allowed her to hold back begin streaming down her face.
Somebody’s arms wrap around her. Jemma can’t tell who it is, but she can tell it’s somebody she knows, somebody who knows her, somebody who knows that her world has just been shattered like that damn coffee cup, except her world had been shattered when she hadn’t had a chance to put the pieces from the last time back together yet.
Jemma lets herself sink back into those arms, those reassuring, friendly, strong arms, and lets them guide her to the ground, lets them hold her tighter.
“It’s alright,” May’s calm voice whispers into Jemma’s hair. “It will be alright.”
Jemma buries her head into May’s chest, clenching her fist into the fabric of May’s jacket and lets her tears run freely while her body shakes with sobs.
She notices somebody else crouching down next to them, feels another reassuring hand on her back, but she can’t bring herself to look at who it is.
Darkness surrounds her. Her eyes shut tight. Pressed against May’s jacket. Her heart, mind, and soul covered in black.
“He was right,” she whispers. “We’re cursed.”