The first few days, after everything - after Ward, Garrett, meeting totally-not-dead Director Fury - none of them really know what to do. All of them are tense, still half-expecting another crisis.
Coulson and May spend the whole first day reaching out to people they used to know from SHIELD; soon after that Coulson disappears to fly out and visit No-Longer-Agent-Except-When-She-Is Hill. Simmons spends her time fretting, trying not to hover over the medical team caring for Fitz while absolutely, definitely hovering. Skye does her best to get rid of Ward.
Not that he's around, obviously. As far as she knows - and now that she has permission to access whatever secure computer network she wants, Skye knows - he's locked away in a secure facility guarded by the US military. Everything else, she hasn't had time to hack into, but she can only hope he's being interrogated very, very enthusiastically. Despite all that, he's in her head, under her skin, and she hates it. She does her very best to leave him behind. She gets up early, goes down to the gym first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon and works out until she's exhausted. But every time, his voice is there like an echo. A good agent is ready for anything. That's why we get up early, every day. You need to stay sharp. She starts at the bag, warming up, and then he's there, too. Skye, get it together. You punch like a baby kitten. His sigh, the grumpy one that always reminded her of someone's dad. Again. Like you mean it.
She grits her teeth and hits harder.
After a little while, they all start to settle. They make it to three days out, and nobody's died. Nobody's betrayed them, or staged a frontal assault on the Playground, or hijacked the Bus or turned into a supersoldier or anything else they weren't expecting. They've all just kept existing, fragile, together.
Slowly, they start to find their own rhythms. A new normal, whatever that means these days.
Skye starts setting her alarm in time to catch May. They're working on different things, training different skillsets, but something about having May around keeps Ward's voice quiet. She starts asking questions, getting May to teach her things they both know Skye's done a hundred times before. Skye is pretty sure May understands, though. She barely even rolls her eyes when Skye asks her to review weapons stances, basic combat drills.
If she does it enough, she's pretty sure that eventually she'll start to hear May's voice, instead. Gentle and even, as she moves through punches and kicks that are slowly starting to feel familiar. Now do it again. Lead with your arm, not your shoulder.
Jemma, for her part, settles back into her research. It takes Skye a little while to realize how much she's settled in - as in, the whole team has hardly seen her since they day they arrived and Fury's medical team brought Fitz.
It doesn't take Skye long after that to go looking.
She finds Jemma in her lab - the one on the Bus, the one she shared - shares - with Fitz. She's a familiar sight - hair pulled back, microscope and a rack full of test tubes to her left, holotable projecting an incomprehensible mess of different molecules on her right. She's slowly moving from one to the other, brow furrowed. Occasionally, she'll pause to write something down.
But things aren't right.
For one thing, the lab is quiet. There's no sound of Jemma muttering to herself, no back-and-forth between her and Fitz. There's no chaos - at least, not the good kind. There's broken glass and scorch-marks, and the one remaining lab door is still bullet-scarred. But there's no stash of Fitz's candy sitting out for Skye to snack on, no bench full of half-finished prototypes and the dog-eared copy of Fellowship of the Ring Fitz rereads whenever he has downtime.
It's a lot bigger than Skye remembers it being in here. A lot emptier, too.
For another, Jemma looks exhausted. Her eyes are bloodshot, rimmed red, and she's wearing the same clothes she had on the day they arrived. Her hair is pulled into its usual ponytail but it's messy, stray hairs falling loose in a decidedly uncontrolled, un-Simmons sort of way. She keeps frowning, gesturing across the tablet she uses as a lab book with frustrated movements. Skye's fingers twitch. She knows some of what happened to Jemma, but not the details, and she didn't realize that things were this bad. Now that she's here, she can hardly stand to see Jemma like this. There's a part of her that wants to pull her into a hug and just hold on as tightly as she can.
Skye keeps still, says, "Hey."
Jemma jumps, startled - and it's too much, she's too jumpy for three days of quiet. There's a word for that. Skye tries not to think it. "Oh," Jemma huffs, trying to laugh. "Skye. Hello."
There's so much Skye wants to say - they told me you were dead, I'm so glad you're not, how can I make this better - she's hardly sure how to start. She tries for something easy, casual. "Haven't seen you for a while. What have you been up to?"
Jemma shrugs, brushes a few stray hairs away from her face. "Nothing too exciting. Just trying to figure out these tissue samples we collected from Agent Garrett."
"Oh?" Skye says.
She's waiting for the rush of jargon she knows is coming, a flurry of what Jemma's thinking and how biochemistry this and morbid trivia that. But all she gets back is a drawn look on Jemma's face, a forced smile and a sadness behind Jemma's eyes that Skye can hardly stand. "It's important to keep busy," is what Jemma says, voice tight.
It's quiet for a long while. Jemma turns back to the holotable, flicking one particular molecule this way and that, turning it over. It's so surreal, watching her do this without Fitz. Skye keeps expecting him to speak up, to come back from the supply room around the corner and say something. She can almost hear him.
Wait, Jem, what if we just -
If you'd listened to me the first time, you'd remember that obviously -
And then Jemma would answer back, talking over him with a roll of her eyes like a grown up Hermione, and everything would be alright. Skye catches herself fidgeting, stops. "Do you need any help with anything?"
"No, no I'm alright. Thank you."
There's a long, heavy silence. All Skye wants right now is to know what to say to fix this - to fix Jemma, but she's coming up empty. She reaches out and touches Jemma's hand, brushes her thumb across the back of Jemma's knuckles. Her skin is dry, the way it sometimes gets when she's been in the lab too long. "Okay," Skye says. "Just - let me know if you do."
"Thank you," Jemma says again, tries another smile. This time, it reaches her eyes a little.
Skye has this whole plan, where she's going to give Jemma her space and let her throw herself into her work and ask for help when she feels like she's ready. It sounds fantastic in her head, and she really does think about sticking to it for almost an entire day before she caves, and goes back. Just to make sure she's alright. She knows she can't fix this, not really, but there's no harm in trying to make things a little less terrible.
This time, Jemma is asleep. The holotable is still on, the light on the microscope isn't. Jemma is slumped next to it on the lab bench, head in her hands, snoring gently. Skye wonders if she's slept at all since they arrived here.
She looks over Jemma's shoulder at the lab notes open on her tablet, still lit. She can't have been sleeping for long. Skye doesn't understand most of it, but her eye settles on a few key words. Extremis, Cybertek, and her very favourite, GH-325.
She goes to the supply closet behind the lab and gets a blanket. It takes her a little while. The closet is all messed up, like someone went through and pulled things off shelves at random. For a minute she wonders who left it that way, thinks about getting them to help clean it up, before she remembers. All of those men, taking over their Bus, living on it like they had the right to. She grits her teeth and digs through until she finds a blanket. She leaves the rest messy.
Jemma's still sleeping when she gets back. There are these loose strands of hair falling from her ponytail across her eyes, half-obscuring them in this adorable, gently-tousled way. The sight of her makes something warm bloom in Skye's chest. For a moment, she considers reaching out to brush those stray hairs back behind Jemma's ear.
She shakes her head, clearing it, and settles for arranging the blanket across Jemma's shoulders.
She does a quick pass of the workspace, making sure that everything's in order. The microscope light is already off, and she flicks the power button on the holotable screen as well - the one button she's allowed to touch. She looks around for anything dangerous-looking that might spill or fall down. Skye's science knowledge is still limited enough that she's not sure she could tell the dangerous chemicals from the safe ones, but she figures anything in a test tube should probably stay there.
Jemma sighs, eyes flicking back and forth beneath closed lids, and cuddles into the blanket. Skye wants, suddenly, to stay and make sure that she sleeps alright.
But she's got her own things to work on, back with Billy in the comms room. Jemma will sleep fine without her, she's sure.
After that, Skye starts working out routes that bring her past the hangar.
Her bunk is literally across the hall from the dining room, but suddenly a trip there turns into a tour of the Playground, five right turns and a left out of her way so that she gets to wander past the lab. Jemma's always there. Usually, Skye just looks. Not to stare, or anything creepy like that. Just, to make sure she's okay. Because there's this part of her that can't forget about the haunted look behind Jemma's eyes, the way she jumped when Skye startled her. That part just wants to know that she's at least still there, still working. Just in case.
She knows she's supposed to give Jemma her space. She can almost hear the advice May would give her (if they ever talked about this kind of thing, but the nice thing about May is that they don't), stern and not wrong. Give her time, Skye. Sometimes that's what people need most.
Time and space are great, but she's pretty sure that Jemma hasn't eaten in like, days, and she won't leave the lab, and it's freaking Skye the hell out.
She lets her feet drag on the cargo ramp as she walks over to the lab, and makes a point of knocking. This time, Jemma doesn't startle quite so much when she opens with a quiet, "Hey,"
"Skye," Jemma says. She's wearing gloves and safety goggles, clearly in the middle of something super dangerous. Her hair is a complete mess, mostly falling out of her ponytail, and those dark circles under her eyes are just a little more prominent. She reaches up, as if to fix her hair, before she remembers her gloved hands and catches herself halfway. "Hello."
Skye feels stupid, too earnest. She wants to fidget, but her hands are full. "Um, is this a bad time?" she asks. She's stalling, suddenly nervous that this was a bad idea after all.
Jemma shakes her head. "No, no, it's fine," she says. There's a gentle clink, as she deftly recaps several test tubes and clears her workstation. The table surface is still cluttered, still not-quite-Simmons, but the way she snaps her gloves off and removes her goggles is reassuringly familiar. "What's going on?"
She looks concerned. It takes Skye a minute before she realizes that, of course, they've been stumbling from one crisis to another for what feels like months, now. She shakes her head. "Everything's fine. I just - I don't know. Thought you might be hungry. I haven't seen you around much."
"Oh," Jemma says.
She frowns, and Skye rushes to fill the silence. "I mean, I know you and -" she hesitates, not quite able to say Fitz's name. "You keep a pretty good stash of candy going, but I figure after four days, things have got to be running pretty low."
"I guess it has been a while since I had a proper meal."
"Right? And, I brought tea."
"You did? Oh, Skye," Jemma says, lighting up. In that moment, everything feels exactly like it's supposed to.
"There's also food, in case caffeinated beverages aren't enough."
Jemma makes a happy little yum noise in the back of her throat, and goes for the plate first. It's nothing special - leftover pasta from dinner the night before, but it was Trip's night to cook, and he's surprisingly good at it. Jemma eats like it's tasty, but also like maybe Skye was right about the last time she had real food, and Skye does her best not to seem like she's staring. "Sorry," Jemma says, backing off to her usual pace after the first dozen bites. "I guess I have been a little preoccupied."
Skye shrugs, like Jemma actually means preoccupied and not living in the lab sifting through evil science from a secret organization that put my best friend in a coma. "I get that. I've pulled more than a few marathon coding sessions in my time."
Jemma smiles, a little sheepish. "I even fell asleep in the lab last night, can you believe it?"
She's looking at Skye a little more knowingly than Skye would like. "Wow, no way," she says, but she can feel her ears burning with embarrassment.
Jemma's expression goes suddenly earnest. She reaches out to run her thumb over the back of Skye's hand, and her touch leaves little sparks along Skye's skin. "Thanks for looking in on me."
Skye shrugs, suddenly bashful. "It was no big deal, really."
"I still appreciate it."
Their eyes meet across the lab bench, and Skye feels her heart do a flip. It's ridiculous - she's been living on the same airplane as Simmons for the better part of a year, and suddenly she's getting all flustered. She looks away on purpose. Her hands feel itchy, aimless, and so she takes the mug of tea and passes it over. "Here," she says. "Don't forget."
"Mmm, thank you," Jemma says, smiling again. It's been too long since she smiled this much.
She takes a sip, and makes this awful expression - halfway between a smile and a wince. She tries to cover for it by taking another sip, but she comes up positively grimacing. "Oh, Skye," she starts, trying to sound polite.
"You don't have to drink it, if it's gross." She didn't make it badly on purpose, but she's also never made tea for an English person before. She's heard Jemma and Fitz have whole elaborate debates about how one is supposed to make tea properly, and now that she thinks about it, the microwave didn't really feature as an appropriate method.
Jemma pauses a beat, giving the mug a long look before setting it aside. "It's really awful," she says. Then just as quickly as she speaks, she looks horrified. She claps a hand across her mouth almost audibly. "No, Skye, I didn't mean that. I'm sorry. It's just that I'm so tired, and I -"
It's pretty cute. But more than that, it's so normal. It's something that could have happened three months ago, when Jemma was pulling all-nighters to perfect the new ICER rounds, or back when they first met. Skye can't help herself; she giggles just a bit.
Jemma takes a minute to blink at her, sleepily, before she laughs a little herself. It's a nice moment, and it doesn't last long, or fix the fact that Fitz is hurt and everything around them is still a total mess. But for that moment, things feel a little bit safer. A little bit more like they'll end up okay, eventually.
Skye takes the mug back. "You'll have to give me instructions for next time. Hopefully I can do better."
Jemma smiles. "Absolutely."
The next night, Skye takes one last walk past the hangar bay on her way to the rec room. Jemma is there, sleeping across her lab bench with that same blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She's a little far away for Skye to really tell, but doesn't look quite as sad or as small as she used to. Maybe. Either way, she's fine, so it's alright for Skye to keep on her way.
The rec room is surprisingly nice. Skye still hasn't been able to figure out how many secret bases Fury has, but clearly he did not cheap out on them. The room is huge - Skye still isn't totally sure how many people are in a squadron, but she's pretty sure it could fit at least one. There's a bookshelf and some kind of games table on one side of the room, and the other half is a series of long, leather couches arranged around a flatscreen that works as a SHIELD comms monitor, but also has cable.
She settles in, flicking through the channels using the tablet mounted into the side table, trying to find something that isn't a news channel or something with explosions. It's surprisingly difficult, and she's just about to switch over to Hulu when she hears a knock in the doorway. It's Jemma, leaning against the doorframe, wearing clean clothes and that blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Her hair is still damp from washing, dark and heavy around her face. She looks a little shy, like she's not sure where she belongs. Skye's pretty sure she hasn't been out of the lab since orientation.
She pats the space on the couch beside her, an invitation.
Jemma crosses the distance between them to sit. She perches on the far end of the couch from Skye, draws her knees up to her chest so that she can wrap her blanket around them. "What are you doing?" she asks.
"Checking out the perks. Did you know SHIELD has HBO?"
"Really?" Jemma says, her voice somewhere between bemused and gently disappointed.
Skye shrugs. "I've had a long day. I'm pretty sure I've earned it."
Jemma gives her a look, the way she always used to - the way she does when Skye is being glib. It's comforting. "Besides," Skye adds, "I've already cracked the NSA satellite feeds and rebuilt most of the old SHIELD communications networks. What else am I supposed to do?"
Jemma smiles, and for a half-second that cloud of sadness and fatigue lifts again. For one more moment she's the old Jemma, the one that had fun. Skye can feel her heart fluttering in her chest, practically aching at how much she missed that smile. She doesn't know what to do about it, so she decides to talk until it goes away. "Game of Thrones?" she asks. "We missed like an entire season."
"Oh, I can't," Jemma says. "Fitz will be so upset if he finds out I caught up without him."
She says it like he went out to run a couple of errands, like he'll be back any minute to say Jemma, I can't believe you. This is so unfair, you know I was looking forward to it. It hangs in the air, awkward for a long minute as they both try not to think what they're clearly thinking (what if he doesn't remember Game of Thrones, what if he doesn't remember either of them, what if he doesn't wake up at all).
But then Skye nods, flicks the touch pad and settles on that channel with nature documentaries. They find something about cheetahs, and to Skye's surprise, Jemma makes a little mmm of interest. "Let's watch this one," she says, voice lilting up at the end like a question.
"Seriously? I figured you'd already know everything there was to know about, like, biology."
"Oh, but I love cheetahs. They're an amazing example of evolution's capacity for specialization. Not to mention the fascinating debate around whether or not the species has sufficient genetic diversity remaining to be saved from extinction at all, although I doubt they'd be able to address that fully in a television documentary."
"Oh," Skye says, like she understands. "Cool."
They watch for a while - and not that Skye would ever admit it, but cheetahs are pretty cool, and the footage is awesome. The most important thing, though, is that Jemma's clearly enjoying it. She's got a half-smile on her face, a big change from the expression she seems to always carry these days that's someplace between okay and not. Her head rests against her knees as she watches, and her hair starts to slide down from behind her ear, across her eyes. Skye makes a fist to keep herself from fixing it.
"Skye?" Jemma says, after a while.
"I'm really glad I wasn't around when you were planning that assault on Garrett's base. It was really, really dangerous."
Skye can't help herself; she grins like a maniac. "I know, right?"
"I'm serious," Jemma says. "It's a miracle you all made it out of there alive."
She's not wrong, and she looks worried. Like maybe, if Skye had gotten hurt, that would have made the sadness she's carrying around right now even worse. It takes Skye away from the memory of that rush, the adrenaline and sheer dumb bravery that got her through that day. It was super dangerous, and suddenly that bothers her. "Yeah," Skye says, more gently. "But we did."
"I know. I'm really glad that you did." She turns her head toward Skye and her smile widens, reaching her eyes just a little. Skye's really glad that Jemma is glad that she's alive.
"Me too," Skye says. Her face feels warm, like maybe she's going red. She tries her best not to think about why Jemma is making her blush.
They keep watching, but every so often, Skye's eyes drift away from the screen and over to Jemma. She tells herself that she needs to make sure Jemma's alright, but they're sitting on the couch watching nature documentaries in the back room of a secret underground bunker. It's not like anyone's going to leap up and try to assassinate them. Really, she's just watching for the way Jemma reacts to the program, the way her expression softens with footage of the baby animals, the way she flashes into a half-frown when they make a scientific claim that Skye can only assume is fuzzy and unsubstantiated.
Slowly, Jemma uncurls, and stretches her legs out towards Skye's end of the couch. Her toes come to rest against Skye's thigh, like it's not a big deal. And it isn't, because they're friends, and friends casually touch each other all the time and it's fine. But tonight, it's making Skye twitchy, like she doesn't know what to do with her own limbs. Her leg feels warm where it's touching Jemma, and she's acutely aware of her own position in space, the way that she's leaning against the arm of the couch and the shape of Jemma's legs stretching towards her. She's not sure if she should move her leg closer, or farther away - not sure if the former would be too forward, if the latter would be too standoffish. She stays as still as possible, trying to pretend she doesn't notice the contact.
Eventually, Jemma's eyes start to flutter closed, eyelashes dark against her cheeks. She keeps forcing them open, following the television in fits and starts. Skye flexes her thigh, nudging Jemma's toes. "We can turn it off, if you'd rather go to bed."
Jemma shakes her head, drowsily. "No, it's alright."
"Are you sure? I don't mind."
Jemma sighs, frowning down at her lap. "I can't sleep," she almost whispers.
"You seem to sleep okay when you're working late," Skye says.
"No, I mean - not in the rooms. They're too -" She starts to gesture, then shakes her head, wraps her arms around her middle.
"Oh," Skye says. She doesn't really understand, but she figures there's got to be something, and whatever it is, it's probably Ward's fault. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Jemma turns to look at Skye once, then turns away. When she speaks, her gaze is straight ahead, fixed somewhere in the distance. "Did you know that the rooms here have exactly the same dimensions as one of the medical pods for the Bus? You'd think they'd be different, but - I guess from an engineering perspective, it does make sense. Easier to retrofit things later." Her hands are shaking a little bit.
Things start to come together in Skye's head, and just like that, the dots connect - the missing med pod, the pickup by Fury. She realizes, with sickening clarity, what happened to Jemma and Fitz the day they almost died. She's suddenly furious - at everything Ward did all over again, but especially for doing that. She lets herself dig her nails into her palms, hard enough to leave marks, but she tries to keep calm. Jemma looks like she needs calm, not anger. "Is there anything I can do to help?" she asks.
Jemma turns to her and smiles. She looks like she feels safe, and Skye wants desperately to make it true.
"You are," Jemma says, voice soft and trusting. Then she slides across the couch, closing the space between them to lean against Skye's side. She rests her head on Skye's shoulder, braces her toes against the far arm of the couch. Her hair smells like fresh shampoo, vaguely fruity, and Skye suddenly wants to bury her nose in it and breathe deep. She settles for an arm around Jemma's shoulders, keeping her close.
They stay like that, Jemma's head heavy and warm against Skye's shoulder, while Skye's arm slowly goes numb. The television cycles from cheetahs to penguins to something where adorable dogs rescue their owners. Eventually, Skye hears the slow, even breathing that means Jemma's fallen asleep. It's only then that she lets her eyes close.
She wakes up alone, hours later, with an incredibly sore neck and Trip standing over her, teasing her gently about sleeping through their morning workout.
She doesn't mind a bit.
Skye goes down to the gym in the afternoon, after she's stretched out her neck and changed. May joins her for a little while, mostly calling out suggestions while she watches Skye work out. She still pictures Ward's stupid, smug face on everything she can possibly punch or kick, using that anger to hit harder, get stronger.
May works with her for a little while on the hand pads, and Skye pushes herself, hard. She gets a lucky hit in, a half-second sooner than May was expecting, and knocks the pad right out of her hand.
"Good," May says, with actual appreciation in her voice. "Use that. Keep going."
She does. She hits and hits until her body is on fire, until she's exhausted and her anger is all burnt out.
It's not until later, when she's in the shower, that it hits her. That instead of thinking about Ward the way she always does - I hate you for lying to me, I hate you for kidnapping me, I hate you for being a big creep - she's thinking of a different mantra altogether. Today, with every hit, it was that's for what you did to Simmons.
Skye just doesn't - she doesn't do this. She doesn't know what she's supposed to do when this happens, when people start becoming important to her. Especially not with someone like Jemma, who is clearly way smarter than she is, way better. And oh god, if there was ever a time to not develop an inappropriate crush on someone she works with, it would be now. Jemma's been through so much, is still going through so much with Fitz. She doesn't need to deal with Skye being an idiot on top of it.
She wants to go for a run, get rid of the nervous energy of feeling like this, but she's already exhausted. The best she can do is lean her head against the shower stall and breathe.
The next time she sees Jemma, it's almost a full day later. She's sitting in the rec room again, camped out on the couch while she works on fine-tuning the last communication channels Coulson needs, hopefully Hydra-free. She's getting to the point where she needs to move - her laptop is warm on her knees, and her shoulders are a little sore from the angle - but staying in the same spot is pretty compelling, especially after yesterday's workout. Jemma just appears, wearing clean clothes, wandering in like leaving the lab and showering are things she does all the time, now.
"Hullo, Skye," she says, leaning against the doorframe. She's fidgeting with both hands, looking out of place.
Skye suddenly realizes that the last time they saw each other, Jemma fell asleep in her arms. Which isn't a big deal, because they're friends, but she suddenly wonders if she should have - whatever. Said something, done something. Maybe that's why Jemma feels awkward. But then, she's out of the lab, and Skye doesn't know why or how, but she doesn't want to do anything to jinx it.
"Hey," she says back, feeling herself smile without thinking, too-wide like a big dork.
"What are you up to?"
"Oh, just - you know. Setting up some stuff for Coulson."
Jemma moves closer, around the back of the couch to look over Skye's shoulder at her monitor. "What kind of stuff?" she asks, and it occurs to Skye that of course, she's a super science genius, she can follow what Skye's doing in tech-speak.
"Well, all of the old communications and tech networks are still useful, but we have to assume they're all compromised since so many Hydra agents had security clearance. So I'm trying to create a new, secure system using enough old code that I don't have to rewrite the whole thing from scratch, but without leaving any possible back doors for anyone else. "
Jemma makes a little noise of understanding.
"What about you?" Skye asks, turning to face her. "Out of the lab two days in a row, that's a big deal."
She makes that expression again, slightly awkward, and looks away. Skye kicks herself for even asking. It's none of her business, not really. "Well, I needed a little variety, is all."
Jemma smiles, nudges Skye's shoulder. "The lab does get a bit quiet, from time to time."
Skye feels herself going red, embarrassed. "Yeah, I just meant - it's nice to see you around. That's all."
Jemma's cheeks go pink, and she fidgets with her hands, again. She seems like she wants to look away, but she keeps her eyes right on Skye. "Well, it's a bit lonely, without someone else there."
She trails off expectantly, and Skye stares at her for a long moment before she recognizes it as a hint. "Oh," she says, dumbly. "Yeah. I mean, I could bring my stuff over, if you wanted the company."
Jemma looks surprisingly happy, and Skye can feel herself grinning back. "I mean, if you wanted," Jemma says.
Skye replies too quickly, "Yeah. I was just thinking of moving anyway, the couch isn't the best for this kind of stuff."
She closes her laptop, gathers her stuff. She follows Jemma to the lab, trying to ignore the way that having her close makes her heart beat faster.
They work alongside each other in quiet for a while, Jemma prepping a whole flight of microscope slides while Skye codes. Eventually, though, Skye gets close to finishing. Focused work on her computer turns into trawling Reddit and trying not to spend too much time staring over the top of her screen at Jemma. Jemma, who's gone from preparing her slides to working on them. She's got this kind of cycle going - from the microscope, where she frowns and nods, then to her tablet, where she taps the end of the stylus against her mouth and sighs, then back again.
Eventually, Skye starts to feel a little guilty for not helping out. (Well, that, and she's already checked all her usual subreddits.) "Need a hand with anything?" she asks. Jemma starts, but only a little. She looks up, considering Skye with a focus that she's not used to. It makes her want to look away, having Jemma's eyes on her like that, so she keeps talking. "I mean, obviously I can't do biochemistry or whatever, but I can do - stuff, probably. I could pour things. Or, whatever the science word is for pouring."
Jemma makes a face, halfway between uncomfortable and shy, and looks away. When she speaks, it's to her microscope. "It is a little strange working here without -" she takes a breath, recovers. "On my own."
"I thought that's why I was hanging around," Skye says. She tries to say it as gently as she can, to show that she's joking.
"It's not - I mean, I often work best when I can talk through my work, is all."
"People say I'm a great listener."
Jemma looks back at Skye, almost gratefully. Skye's heart does a flip. "I guess I could use a lab tech."
"Awesome. What do lab techs do?"
Just like that, Jemma's back in science mode, voice measured and calm. "Well, I'm trying to make sense of the solution that Agent Garrett was using to keep himself alive. Limited, obviously, by the fact that somebody managed to vaporise his body, so all I have available are standard postmortem tissue samples, which is hardly sufficient, obviously. But I'm finding that the samples we did retrieve aren't fitting in with what we know about how its component parts behave, which is - "
"Unexpected," Jemma says, gently correcting.
Jemma doesn't say any more. Skye feels like Fitz would know what to do, here. She can practically hear him, starting to say something about how Garrett was in the Deathlok program or whatever, helping Jemma leap to the next scientific conclusion. But all Skye has is a year of high school biology and another year of half-listening to Jemma and Fitz argue about high-tech science, which is pretty much useless. "Well, explain it to me. What are they doing that's so unexpected or whatever?"
Jemma slides over her tablet, which is full of terrifyingly complicated chemical sketches. "Alright," she says. "Well, we know how the Centipede serum behaves on a macroscopic - in a large scale way, because we still have SHIELD data on captured Centipede soldiers and Mike Peterson. And from that research, we know how it behaves on a microscopic - cell-sized level, as well."
Her voice is patient, calm, and to Skye's total surprise, she finds herself kind of getting it.
"And because we've been able to recover my research on GH325 and Coulson's medical files, I know how it interacts with the biology of you and Coulson." She taps across the screen, and the diagram changes, two molecules doing something together. "Now it stands to reason that the same way Centipede amplifies human physiology, it should amplify the effects of GH325, but by all accounts of Garrett he was experiencing wide-scale decay. Which is the first problem. The second is that I'm able to isolate fragments of what might be a GH325-like substance in his system, which should be impossible."
Jemma looks at Skye, a little guiltily. "Well, I've been unable to isolate it from samples of any known recipients, so far."
"Maybe it was a different drug."
"Or maybe - " Jemma stops, frowns.
She moves across the lab to the rack of test tubes, reaching for a vial of something orange. Skye recognizes it immediately. "Isn't that the -"
"- Centipede serum, exactly."
"Isn't that explosive?"
Jemma shrugs, reaching for a second rack of test tubes. "Probably not, at least in vitro. Sorry. I mean, outside of a live mammalian host."
She splits it into four tiny vials, caps them. She's about to pass them to Skye when she stops, looks at her hands. "You should probably wear gloves."
Skye finds a pair from a nearby box. "Can you take these over to the centrifuge and spin them down for me? A minute should do it."
"The centrifuge is the -"
"Over there. The box thing in the corner. I'll come over and show you how it works."
Skye finds it, opens it, realizes that it has little holes that exactly fit the test tubes she's holding. From across the room, Jemma says, absently, "You need to make sure it's balanced or it'll spin off its centre of gravity."
Skye's not 100% on what that would look like, but it doesn't sound great, so - symmetrical. She loads the centrifuge, and Jemma comes over and leans in next to her. The corner is narrow enough that they need to stand shoulder to shoulder, and Jemma is warm against Skye's side in a way that makes her feel shaky. Jemma nods, then leans over and rearranges two vials, so that the arrangement goes from mostly-even to perfectly so. "Sorry," she says, and to Skye's surprise she flushes pink. "I'm being particular. It was fine before, I just like when it's exactly balanced."
Her hair smells amazing. All Skye can think to say is, "Oh."
Jemma turns her head, facing Skye. Her mouth is so close, and Skye has to bite her lip to keep from leaning over and tasting it. Her eyes seem darker from here, bigger and browner, and for a moment it seems like her gaze flicks down to Skye's lips.
"You have to turn it on," Jemma says, and her voice sounds lower, huskier than Skye remembers. "Like this. And then you watch the timer."
There's a click, as Jemma reaches over to push a button. The centrifuge whirs into life, bringing them both back to reality. "Right," Skye says, trying to lean back, breathe. "One minute, right?"
"Right," Jemma says, looking away. Her ears are bright red, as she turns and goes back to the far side of the lab.
Skye brings the samples back, once the centrifuge is done, and Jemma takes them without looking up. She's busy at her tablet, alternating between writing and pouring drops of things into each of the test tubes. Skye just leans back against the lab bench, watching her work.
It's not long before she turns to the microscope, checking one of the samples and crowing, "Of course! The stabilizing agents that kept the Centipede serum from exploding also stabilized the GH325-like substance." She looks up, nodding at Skye like she should be just as excited. It makes Skye feel warm all over, knowing that she helped, that she made Jemma feel better, even if it's only for a few minutes. "That might be sufficient to account for the effects, if only I had some mice I could - what?"
Skye doesn't realize that she's been staring, probably with a big dopey look on her face, until Jemma asks her about it. Now that she's caught, she doesn't know what to say. She can't say the obvious, you're so cute when you're discovering something, because it's not the time, not appropriate. She's not sure what else to say, but before she can come up with something she finds herself saying, "I thought you died."
Jemma frowns, pushes away from the microscope. "What?"
Skye wants to take it back, wants to hide. She wasn't going to talk about this, about how hurt she was and how scared she is of how much it upset her, thinking that Jemma and Fitz weren't alive anymore. But now it's out there, so she takes a breath, pushes on. "When we were still searching for Garrett," she says. "He told me you were dead."
Jemma's face crumples into concern, so honest, so caring, that Skye can hardly stand it. "Oh, Skye," she says, crossing the room to stand across the lab bench from her.
It's almost too much, and Skye doesn't want to cry right now, so she does her best to be calm, to be brave. "I just - I'm really glad you didn't," she half-whispers.
Jemma reaches over, takes both of Skye's hands in hers and slides up, gripping her forearms, gently. She ducks her head down to catch Skye's gaze. "Well, I'm really glad, too."
It gets Skye to laugh, just a little, because of course Jemma's glad she's not dead. She opens her palms to touch the undersides of Jemma's wrists, feeling the way that she's real and warm in front of her, reassuring herself that she's safe. They stay like that for a while, watching each other. Skye can't stop noticing the curve of Jemma's breasts under her button-down, the way the fabric pulls tight across her chest as she leans forward. She wants so badly to move closer, to kiss Jemma until that gentle concern on her face fades away. For a moment, she lets herself think about what it might be like.
But then there's the sound of boots from nearby, and Skye turns just in time to see Trip walking up the cargo ramp, footsteps loud against the metal. Jemma pulls her hands away, too-quickly. "Agent Triplett!" she says, voice slightly too high-pitched.
Skye leans back, hooking her thumbs into her sleeves and playing with the hems.
"Hey," he says, looking between them like there's something to see. "May says dinner's in five. See you there?"
Skye looks at Jemma, questioningly. She smiles, says, "Of course. See you soon."