Chapter 1: Prologue
To celebrate the blu-ray/dvd/digital release of The Force Awakens this week, I decided to post the very first snippet of the fic as a prologue!
Nine Years Ago
A loud round of cheering greeted Jemma as she pulled off her helmet, orange visor glinting in the moonlight in which the Rebel Academy's training facilities were currently bathed. One plane away, Fitz dropped out of his cockpit and slammed the hatch closed, distance and his helmet muffling a vague stream of swears. Shaking out her hair, she strode across the concrete, politely accepting the cheers and congratulations of the few other students who had been brave enough to sneak into the hangar after hours. Although flying without supervision was permitted to some of the more advanced student pilots, it was forbidden to most of the Rebellion cadets – particularly ones such as her and Fitz, both of whom were years younger than the other freshmen.
Normally, Jemma didn’t break rules, enjoying their familiarity and structure, but she also couldn’t let a challenge to her flight skills go unanswered. Or miss the chance to challenge Fitz. She didn’t typically bother seeking out friendships where the other person clearly didn’t reciprocate, but, well... he was different. Mostly, she told herself she liked the competition - when he would give her the time of day, that is.
Hate her though he may, Fitz had begrudgingly acquiesced to compete, thanks to the strong urgings of a few older Rebel Academy cadets. Unfortunately for him, however, she was simply a better flyer, despite his theoretical advantage with his concentration in engineering. It wasn’t his fault that she’d first stepped into the cockpit of a plane at the tender age of ten and had been studying flight theory ever since.
“Not a bad effort,” she drawled, leaning against the X-Wing as he adjusted something on the T-85’s front shell's right-hand panel. “But you’re loose on your steering. You lean a bit too much to the left.”
Slamming the panel closed, he rounded on her, jaw working as his eyes met hers and then darted away again. Now, this might be interesting, she mused. Even though he was the only cadet who could match her in both youth and intelligence, Fitz usually preferred to ignore her at all costs. He hadn’t even accepted her fair-minded wish of good luck before they took off, instead returning a terse nod and striding to his chosen plane. But he was actually meeting her gaze now, his eyes’ deep navy flashing in the moonlight.
“Best two out of three.” His voice was quiet but sharp, natural accent clipped out of either anger or nerves.
A grin spread across her face. “Loser scrubs the winner’s flight locker for a week.”
He wrinkled his nose but nodded. “Deal.”
Before he could reach for his helmet, Jemma pulled the glove off her right hand and stuck her arm out in front of him, halting his movement. When he did nothing, she wiggled her fingers. Fitz stared down at her proffered hand for a few seconds too long, but at last he shook off his own glove and took her hand, giving it a firm shake.
With a pleased nod and grin, she spun around and strode back to her plane, giving their classmates a small wave. Their presence was more or less irrelevant to Jemma, anyway, except as witnesses. All of her focus was set on trouncing Fitz and proving once and for all that not only was she the youngest and smartest cadet at the Rebel Alliance’s training Academy, but also the best pilot in the galaxy.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
An additional thank you in general to eclecticmuses, for making sure I'm as on point with my SW details as I can be!
May the 4th be with you!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Nick Furywalker has vanished.
In his absence, the sinister
FIRST ORDER has risen from
the ashes of the Empire
and will not rest until
Furywalker, the last Jedi,
has been destroyed.
With the support of the
REPUBLIC, General Melinda May
leads a brave RESISTANCE.
She is desperate to find her
brother, Nick, and gain his
help in restoring peace and
justice to the galaxy.
May has sent her two most daring
pilots on a secret mission
to Jakku, where an old ally
has discovered a clue to
Jemma Simmons perched on a boulder a few feet from her X-Wing T-70, hugged her knees to her chest, and wondered why this mission felt different from all the rest. This small town in the middle of Jakku was just like any other, she supposed, but somehow the late night silence left her feeling uneasy, as if she were being watched. Her flight suit crinkled as she shifted, settling herself into a more comfortable stony groove.
A low laugh escaped her throat as she had the thought that Fitz – her best friend and piloting partner for nearly a decade – would have argued vociferously at her classification of the spaceship as “hers.” In truth, it belonged to them both equally, even though his name was on the registration of this particular machine, and her name was on the papers of its twin, which currently sat at the base on D’Qar.
Considering their mutual penchant for experimentation and scientific advancement, it simply made sense for them to each have their own ship – one on which they could work, thus allowing the other to be kept at the ready for missions. Many years ago now, they’d spent months holed up together in the hangars adapting both ships to have no need of a droid’s assistance and to fit two pilots. It was only thanks to General May’s high esteem of them as a team that they were even permitted such leeway – every other pilot flew on their own, after all. But Jemma and Fitz had known for a long time that they were simply better pilots when they worked together. (And having occasional competitions to see who could fly better when alone kept them on their toes. There was always a nearby droid to borrow.)
Glancing down at the clock built into her sleeve, Jemma sighed and wiggled around again on the boulder. The decision for her to remain in the flight suit and for Fitz to go into the town to meet Lor San Tekka did not sit well with her. All of the reasons made sense – to avoid drawing attention to themselves, to save time... and because she’d lost the third round of roshambo. The suit itself was guaranteed to draw attention, as it was unique in the galaxy, and changing clothes would have taken too much time.
In order to negate the necessity of a droid (with whom Fitz was liable to bicker about any manner of the ship’s operations), they’d constructed this suit. (He bickered with her, too, but she won their arguments more often than not. It had droid technology (courtesy of Fitz’s engineering expertise) woven in to its self-healing nano-thread fabric (which Jemma had invented), and was white with orange detailing, to keep it as similar to the generic Resistance flight suits as possible. (White was the dominant color, however, because it had been easier to work with during the nano-development stage.) All in all, it was a brilliant addition to their piloting, and they took turns wearing it on all their flights. The goal was to create two suits, one for each of them and to boost the ship’s navigational powers, but they had yet to afford the time to manufacture another.
So here Jemma sat, waiting for Fitz’s return and feeling somewhat annoyed that she was the one stuck with the suit for this mission.
A distinctive engine hum caught her attention, and she whipped her head around to squint at the approaching lights in the night sky. Their size and pattern against the dark was one the Academy had drilled into the cadets’ heads, and dread sliced through her stomach.
They had company.
Jemma leapt off the boulder, hesitating for a moment at the edge of the dune that led down into the village before taking off as fast as she could run. Remaining inconspicuous was, at this point, irrelevant.
By the time she reached the town’s boundaries, fighters were already taking up defensive positions. As Jemma sprinted through the makeshift wall, a female gunner prepared to aim her weapon at the stormtroopers surely packed like sardines into the First Order ship above.
From the village’s most central hut, voices just barely carried over the ruckus and Jemma’s own heavy breathing as she ran.
“The General’s been after this for a long time,” she could hear Fitz say, voice nearly weary with relief.
“The General? To me, she is royalty,” replied the old man with a tinge of amusement.
Bursting through the reeds and into San Tekka’s clay abode, Jemma doubled over, hands on her knees as she tried to catch her breath. “First Order.”
Not needing anything other than that and the expression on her face, Fitz leapt to his feet and peered through the reeds that acted as the hut’s door. Jemma stepped close to him so that they were nearly chest-to-chest as they stared up at where the stars had just been obliterated by a swath of blinking lights.
“You have to leave,” came the voice of San Tekka from behind them, and they turned in unison to the old man. His voice had hardened from the warmth of seconds before, and he was glaring past them through the doorway.
“You have to hide,” Jemma countered, glancing over to see Fitz nod firmly, his left hand clutching a small leather bag.
Dropping his gaze from the sky, San Tekka gave them a piercing look. “Go.”
Reluctant but recognizing that his tone brokered no argument, Jemma turned to the door and tapped Fitz’s arm. He lingered for another few seconds, staring at San Tekka, but finally heeded her tug on his sleeve and ran after her, the reeds clattering behind them.
Dust from the ships’ landing wove through the village’s chaos, and both Jemma and Fitz sprinted as fast as they could to their X-Wing, reaching for each other to help avoid people or equipment. Narrowly avoiding being spotted by the emerging stormtroopers, they slid down the sand dune that concealed the ship. Fitz shoved the leather bag into a pocket of his jacket as Jemma hauled herself up into the added back seat of the cockpit. The X-Wing’s initiation sequence was still overly complicated without a full droid to help, so she began frantically plugging her suit in as quickly as possible, watching Fitz drop into the front seat out of the corner of her eye. They worked together seamlessly, with Fitz handing Jemma her helmet, and with her flicking a switch that he missed. Everything about starting up the ship was as familiar as breathing – except for the screams and gunfire that sounded from behind.
Just as Jemma reached for the door to seal the cockpit, a loud blast echoed nearby and the ship was rocked by an explosion. Warning lights lit up along the entire right side of the front panel, and Fitz snatched up the one blaster they’d thrown into the ship before they’d left.
(“We won’t need it,” he’d groaned, tossing it beneath his seat. “It’s gonna be another dead-end.” Jemma had just huffed and flipped the orange visor of her helmet down. Now, she wished that he’d been right.)
“They’re coming for us,” Jemma shouted over the growing noise of the fight, needless warning though it may be.
“I see ‘em,” Fitz yelled back, sticking his head out the side of the ship along with his blaster and firing three times. After a pause, he dropped the blaster onto the floor, ripped off his helmet, and clambered out the side of the ship. Jemma knew without needing to ask that he had to assess the damage, although she stretched forward to wave the blaster along the edge of the cockpit until he pulled it out of her grasp.
While Fitz was gone, she tried figuring out the extent of the damage from inside the ship, but the warning lights were all blinking at once and her suit hadn’t been able to calibrate the equipment properly before the stormtroopers had fired. What she needed was more time – time to think, observe, and then react – but she was acutely aware that they had no such luxuries in the middle of a firefight.
Too much time passed without any word from Fitz, the fighting in the village continuing unabated, and she couldn’t sit still anymore. Unbuckling herself from her seat and roughly disconnecting the suit from the ship, Jemma leaned out over the edge of the open cockpit.
“Fitz? Where are you?”
After another few beats of silence, he came skidding around the ship’s left wing, slinging the blaster around his shoulders. “Engine’s blown,” he yelled, waving both hands towards her. “Ship’s no good.”
Normally, she would have rejected his help in disembarking the X-Wing – she was just as capable of it as he – but at the sight of his pale face, fear overwrote her instinctive defensiveness. Swinging her legs over the edge, she let Fitz reach up to grab her by the waist and help her jump to the ground, sand puffing up around her feet. Once she was settled, she turned to see him shaking a small, rectangular piece of machinery out of the leather bag he’d collected from San Tekka.
“You take this,” he said, hand shaking as he shoved the map piece into hers and closed her fingers around it. “It’ll be safer with you. I’ll distract ‘em, they won’t be expecting two pilots, so you’ve just gotta get as far away from here as you can –”
“What?! No!” Jemma could barely breathe as she stared back at him, horrified at what he was suggesting. “I’m not leaving you here, that’s ridiculous –”
“We need a new plan!”
“We’re not discussing it, okay?” His voice was shallow, and she felt like she was drowning as she stared into his eyes. “You’re taking it, end of story.”
“But – but how will you get out with no ship, you’ll be in danger, they’ll find you –”
“I know,” he said, reaching out to press a button on her suit. She flinched at an explosion somewhere to the northeast of the village, and that gave him the opportunity to close the map piece in a concealed pocket along her left side. Before he spoke again, he took a tremulous breath. “I couldn’t live if you didn’t.”
“Well, I feel the same way,” she exclaimed, reaching down uselessly to feel at the seamless edges of the compartment. He was right about that, at least – no one would know the map was in there now unless she told them. “It doesn’t make sense for me to just leave you, you should come with me –”
“They’ll be looking for the pilot of this ship, Jemma, they’d come after us –”
“There has to be another way!”
Blasters rang out on the other side of the dunes, and they both ducked, though no shots came for them. “Please,” Fitz begged, meeting her tear-filled gaze. “Please, Jemma, you’ve got to go –”
“Why would you make me do this?!” She realized she was panicking, but she couldn’t stop it, hands waving uselessly at her side as she tried to think of any other way to lead the First Order off their trail. “You’re my best friend in the world!”
“Yeah, and you’re more than that, Jemma.” He inhaled, squeezing his eyes shut, and she felt like her heart had just splintered inside her chest. The scientist in her wanted definitions, clarifications, explanations, but all she could do was stare mutely back at him. At last, Fitz opened his eyes again. “I couldn’t find the courage to tell you. So please – let me show you.”
“No,” she sobbed, throwing her arms around his neck. “No, no, no, I can’t leave you here, I won’t –”
“General May needs that map,” he reminded her quietly, petting the back of her head as she cried into his shoulder. “The whole galaxy does. You should be the one to take it – you’re a faster runner than I am, anyway.”
Oh God, she thought frantically, tears streaming down her face as she clutched desperately at his shoulders. I’m not ready, I’m not ready for any of this. Not ready for Fitz’s confession, not ready to be in the middle of the battle that raged on behind them – but most of all, not ready to leave him here alone.
Forcing herself to pull back, Jemma heaved in deep breaths until she could meet his gaze evenly. Incapable of finding the right words, she stretched up to press her forehead against his, carding her fingers through the hair at the back of his neck and squeezing her eyes shut.
“Come back for me,” she whispered, voice as fierce as she’d ever felt.
After another beat, Fitz pulled away, fingers trailing up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear. He nodded, jaw clenching as he dropped his hand from her. “It’ll be alright,” he said, giving her a tremulous smile that she abruptly realized he thought might be his last for her. Before she could do anything else, however, he sprinted away, ripping the blaster from around his shoulders and then disappearing behind the edge of a sand dune. Her hand grasped at the space in which he once stood.
Jemma was frozen in place, tears continuing to stream down her cheeks even though she barely felt their warmth. Would she ever see him again?
I have to, came the immediate answer in her head. I can’t imagine my life without him. He’ll come back for me. So she swiped at her cheeks and ran as fast as her legs could carry her into the desert, hoping desperately that Fitz would be careful – and that this map really was worth risking the life of her best friend.
Skidding down the sand dune, Fitz managed to stay upright enough that he could keep running once at the bottom, ducking stray blaster fire as he bee-lined for a wall of sandbags. Once he made sure he hadn’t been seen, he dropped behind the shelter and checked the blaster’s power level. His hands were shaking so badly that he had to stop, close his eyes, and take a slow, deep breath. The adrenaline searing through his veins right now was not because of the battle raging wildly around him or the knowledge that he would almost certainly die fighting tonight, but because of what he’d just said to Jemma under the shelter of their wrecked ship.
You’re more than that.
Let me show you.
The words echoed through his head, taunting him, and he scrubbed at his forehead. He didn’t know what had made him say it, he didn’t, just that he’d realized as he’d stared blankly at the engine of their ship – engulfed in flames and useless – he had to get her out of there. In that moment, nothing had mattered more to Fitz than making sure Jemma was as far away from the First Order as she could be. If that meant that he had to confess the scarily fervent feelings that had been growing for the past few months to get her to leave, then so be it.
Six months ago, a scrapped ship had arrived at the Rebel base from an unfamiliar donor, and when Jemma had preceded Fitz into the hangar by a thirty measly seconds – ever eager for a new challenge to fix – the whole wreckage had exploded. If it weren’t for the rest of the X-Wing squadron grabbing onto Fitz and holding him back, he’d been seconds away from running into the fire after her. As he’d watched the building burn, struggling against his teammates’ grip and screaming her name, he’d felt like he was watching his entire future crumble before his eyes. The stars and suns could all go out tomorrow and it would make no difference; the galaxy was an empty, pointless place without Jemma Simmons.
Then a side door to the building had crashed open and she’d stumbled out covered in soot, having apparently ducked into a storage closet for tools just in the nick of time. Finally escaping their teammates’ hold, he’d sprinted forward and caught her just before she collapsed in a coughing fit, throat having been damaged by breathing even a few seconds of smoke. In the end, she was miraculously unharmed, but the depthless terror he’d felt when he’d thought she was dead had haunted him ever since.
Thoughts previously foreign to him had snuck into his head in the intervening time, about the way her eyes lit up when she laughed or the soft, pink curve of her lips, and he hated every single one of them. That wasn’t the way they worked, she and him, and Fitz couldn’t fathom wanting anything to change. And yet he did. So strongly, sometimes, that he could feel a physical ache in his chest where he knew there truly was none.
Tonight had been the worst possible time to come out with the truth, he’d known that even as he said it, knew that it was manipulative and cruel to use it to convince her to save herself. But as much as having told her the truth terrified him, he wouldn’t regret it. Not unless he survived the night, anyway, which seemed less and less likely by the second.
A shot exploded in red sparks against a dune that loomed over the edge of the village, and he inhaled, gripping his blaster with both hands. Jemma was as safe as she could be; they’d kill Fitz instead, believing him to be the only Rebel pilot, and that suited him just fine. Or it would if he weren’t quite so terrified of dying.
Forcing himself to his feet, he braced the blaster against the sandbags, firing as cleanly as possible so as to not waste the gun’s power. He took down two, three stormtroopers, aiming for the joins between their armor, and then did a double take. Another stormtrooper had dropped to his knees by a dying comrade; but Fitz had never heard of stormtroopers ever taking wounded warriors home.
A new engine sound distracted him then, and he whipped his head around to see a new ship arriving, its metal dark as night and wings folding up alongside it like a bird of prey. He realized that the fighting had stopped in the presence of someone clearly higher in the First Order’s ranks, and shifted lower behind his dusty, olive green wall. Perhaps if he stayed hidden long enough, he could deal the First Order a more damning blow than simply having Jemma spirit the map away.
So Fitz forced himself to be silent and still in the presence of a new faceless terror, a monster swathed in black robes and hidden behind a twisted metal mask. They were too far away for him to be able to hear what was said, but, as he watched the stormtroopers drag San Tekka out beside the village’s water well, dread wormed into his gut. The monster spoke only a few words to the kind, proud old man before whipping out a red lightsaber and slashing it across his chest.
Screams broke out throughout the village alongside Fitz’s own yell of anguish, and he fired his blaster straight at the man in black, knowing that his shot would strike true even if he himself was killed shortly thereafter. But the monster whipped one hand around and, defying the laws of nature itself, froze the blaster beam in mid-air.
Fitz stared in shock for a few seconds too long, only remembering to run for his life as two stormtroopers rounded the wall. They ripped the blaster from his hands and shoved him ahead of them, towards the well beside which San Tekka’s body now lay. As they passed the halted blast of energy, Fitz kept his eyes trained on its wavering, humming blue, unable to wrap his head around how it was being contained. For the second time tonight, a shiver of fear worked down his spine. The dark side of the Force was far more terrifying than he’d imagined.
Once they reached the other side of the fountain, the stormtroopers shoved Fitz to his knees in front of their leader, who then crouched in front of him. Up close, the monster moved like a human underneath the robes and shoddily assembled facemask, but Fitz wouldn’t know for certain unless the showy garb was removed.
Seconds ticked by, and in his peripheral vision he could see villagers trying not to shift in impatience or fright.
“So,” Fitz started, his voice nearly echoing against the stormtroopers’ armor, “who talks first? D’you talk first? I talk first?”
The man in black tilted his head, the metal of his mask glinting dully in the lantern light. “The old man gave it to you.”
Fitz frowned. A voice modulator was altering the monster’s voice – although he did speak in Basic – but Fitz could tell that it had been handmade by someone who knew nothing of electronics.
“It’s just kinda hard to understand you,” Fitz began, “with all the –”
“Search him.” The stormtroopers yanked Fitz to his feet.
“... Apparatus.” He cut himself off as the guards began to rifle through the pockets of his undercover clothes.
“Nothing, sir,” one stormtrooper concluded, just as Fitz was about to attempt to shove away their overly-familiar poking and probing.
“Put him on board.”
With that, the man in black paid Fitz no more attention, and the stormtroopers shoved him unceremoniously towards the winged ship. He did another double take at the sight of a soldier marked by a bloody handprint, his gun not even held at the ready as he seemed to stare back at Fitz. Before he could give this odd stormtrooper further thought (was it the same one as earlier?), he was distracted by the sounds of screams and gunfire as the rest of the squad fired into the crowd.
“No!” Fitz couldn’t help crying out, struggling violently against his guards’ hold. The whole reason he’d joined the Resistance and become a pilot was because he wanted to save lives, and yet here he was, powerless to help anyone. A surge of hatred welled in his chest for the man in black, and he vowed once again to do everything he could to bring down the First Order and people like him. At the least, if he was about to die on this ship, he wished that everything he’d done would help the rebellion in some way.
An explosion sounded dully from outside the ship, the inside all burnished chrome and impenetrable hand cuffs, and Fitz’s thoughts strayed back to the best friend he’d helped escape. Although not normally a praying man, never having been truly comfortable with the Church of the Force, he gave thought to a quiet prayer nonetheless. Standing between his silent guards, Fitz desperately hoped that Jemma was far from here, and that – even if he could not come back as he’d promised – she would be happy, safe, and alive.
The shockwave whipped Jemma’s hair into her eyes, and she spun around to see the fireball roll into the night sky, orange sparks dripping off the main column back into the village below. Her immediate instinct was to take a few frantic steps back in the direction from which she’d just run, instinctively needing to return to Fitz. The size and sound of the blast meant that it had to have been the engine of their X-Wing – the village itself contained no other vehicles that would have made that kind of explosion – and Fitz would not have let anyone touch their ship willingly. As she slipped down a small dune, she stumbled to a stop, remembering why she was running away from the fight to begin with. Perhaps Fitz hadn’t seen them go after the ship; perhaps he was helping the villagers escape and had chosen other peoples’ lives over the machine.
Forcing herself to take a few low breaths, she made herself focus on the possibility that he was safe. Fitz was smart enough to escape the clumsy stormtroopers, and he’d promised to come back for her, even if it had just been via a nod. There was no point in her risking the fate of the entire galaxy to go back for him. Even if she desperately wanted to (and thought that the risk would be worth it).
After taking another few moments to calm herself down, watching the flames fade into grey hovering high above the village’s earthen huts, Jemma turned back around and continued deep into the wastelands that stretched before her.
I'll be posting about once a week, maybe a little more frequently than that after the AoS season ends. I hope you like it - and sorry it took so long to start getting it all out!
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Please do note the added tags for this chapter.
(Also, one particular exchange pays intentional, loving homage to a scene from Friends.)
The deserts of Jakku felt endless, particularly in the depthless black of nighttime. At first, Jemma was able to judge how far she’d gone by the size of the flames in the village she’d left behind. Eventually, she got far enough that she couldn’t use the fires of the First Order’s destruction to light her way, and she began tripping each time she came upon a dune’s downslope unexpectedly. In one case, she rolled head-over heels all the way to the bottom of a sandy hill. Fortunately nothing broke during the fall – either her bones or the suit – and with a few muttered curses she picked herself up and kept walking, accompanied only by the sounds of her footsteps in the sand.
Within one hour, her sight had adjusted to the darkness, and she was able to avoid falling over any more dune peaks. Within two hours, she was extremely grateful to have been saddled with the nano-fiber suit after all, because its adaptable weave meant that it protected her from the bitter winds of the desert’s deepest night. Within three hours, she had gone over Fitz’s words to her as they’d stood in the shadow of the X-Wing so many times that they barely sounded real to her anymore.
You’re more than that, he’d said. Please let me show you. More that what, Jemma wanted to counter, wanted to poke and prod his innermost thoughts until her own became clear. The only assumption that made sense was that Fitz had romantic feelings towards her. Maybe even sexual ones. The idea was so strange that she let out a nervous chuckle into the void of nighttime, echoing out over the sand. How was that even possible? He’d hated her when they’d first met, found her so abhorrent that he’d refused to even talk to her. Was it possible that detestation so strong could have morphed after all these years into something so intimately fond?
A little voice in the back of her head responded: Well, mine have.
Jemma did a small double take, wishing for a few, bizarre moments that she could question her own inner monologue. Had her feelings changed in the same way that his had? Did she see Fitz as something other than the best friend and partner he’d been to her for almost a decade? She shook her head and wrapped her arms more tightly around herself, trying to keep some of the chill at bay. It was so hard to know without him standing right here next to her. The only thing of which she felt certain was that she couldn’t imagine her life without him in it. But she didn’t know if that translated to romantic or sexual affection, either.
Hours passed. Her throat grew sore from breathing in sand particles, her lips chapped from the lack of water, but still she continued to walk. Running had long since become pointless: If the stormtroopers had suspected her escape, they would have caught up with her hours ago.
At last, dawn broke over a distant ridge of mountainous dunes – or perhaps it was the jagged edge of a spaceship long since wrecked in the sand. She squinted at the sunlight, briefly grateful for the warmth as it poured across her face and down her whole body.
Briefly, that is, because within just one hour the desert became nearly unbearable to traverse. The air was thick with heat, sweat beading on the back of her neck and slithering uncomfortably down her spine. Worried about avoiding heatstroke, she unzipped the top half of the suit and removed it, leaving her torso clad only in the thin tank top she wore underneath. Holding the jacket above her head for some modicum of shade, Jemma plodded on, determined not to stop until she found water and food, even if she was so weary with exhaustion by this point that she was beginning to see double.
Resting in the middle of the desert would have been foolish anyway, she reminded herself, knowing that prolonging her journey through the wilds of Jakku was tantamount to a death sentence. Death was not an option: She had a General to see, and a best friend to find.
Best friend. Even as she’d said the words to him back in the village, something had niggled at the back of her head. The words weren’t quite enough to describe her relationship with Fitz. They were best friends, of course, and had been ever since she’d beaten him two times in a row in a X-Wing race (and he’d beaten her in turn the next day, but she preferred to think of her own victories as being the instigating factor of their friendship). But he was also the most interesting person she’d ever met in the Rebel Alliance. Fitz had clearly been the smartest one at the flight academy. In a way, Jemma wasn’t sure how she’d work without him by her side anymore – she’d gotten so used to his constant presence that more than once as she wandered through the desert, she found herself speaking aloud to him, despite his absence.
"Won't be long until I find someone, Fitz," she said, continuing a halting litany of thoughts she wished he was there to witness. "I have to find water. I will."
Her thoughts and feelings had her so muddled and distracted that she didn’t pay attention to the creature clanking closer and closer until it was near enough to throw a net over her head. Jemma screamed as she dropped to the sand under the heavy ropes’ force, the end of the net having been weighed down with stones, and she became tangled in both the net and the arms of her suit. Another voice made its way through her struggling, however, and she quieted, hearing the sounds of distinct arguing between the creature and a female of some sort around the other side of the beast to which her net was attached.
After a few more yelled words, someone grabbed the net and Jemma felt the pressure release against her arms as her bonds were cut loose. She twisted herself up onto her knees to see a human girl not much younger than she glaring daggers up at the creature that had captured her.
“That’s just a Teedo,” the girl said in Basic, brushing a few strands of loose, brown hair out of her face before reaching out to pull Jemma to her feet. “Wants your suit for parts. He has no respect for anyone.”
“Oh,” Jemma said, feeling somewhat out of her depth and annoyed that she’d been taken captive so easily. Shaking sand out of her suit, Jemma glanced at her rescuer, noting the ragged edges of the girl’s outfit. Its cloth had once obviously been white, but had been overused and washed to the point of becoming an eggshell grey.
“Where’d you come from?” The girl stabbed her staff – constructed out of what looked like scavenged engine parts – into the sand at her feet, eyes shrewdly tracking the Teedo as he made a begrudging and painstakingly slow retreat.
Blinking, Jemma swallowed and slung the suit jacket around her shoulders to buy herself time to think up a halfway-decent lie. In the newly setting sun, the temperature had already begun to dip.
The girl let out a derisive snort, turning away from the disappearing Teedo. “Classified, seriously?”
“Yup,” Jemma chirped, trying to sound confident rather than nervous.
Laughing, the girl adjusted the small water flask attached to her waistband, and Jemma found herself unconsciously licking her lips. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d had something to drink – possibly not since they’d taken off from the Rebel base for Jakku yesterday. Although they kept water bottles in the X-Wing for emergency situations, last night had been so frantic that she hadn’t even thought to grab one.
“Oh yeah, me too – big secret.” Squinting back at Jemma, the girl yanked her staff out of the ground. “Niima Outpost is that way,” she said, pointing to the left of where an AT-AT wreckage loomed above nearby dunes. “Stay off Kelvin Ridge. Keep away from the sinking fields in the North, or you’ll drown in the sand.”
With that, she strode off across the dunes, and Jemma lurched after her. “Wait!” When the girl turned around, Jemma tried to swallow again and instead began to cough, her voice rough once she had quieted enough to speak. “Please, I – can I go with you?” A frown of dissent wrinkled the girl’s brow, and Jemma continued quickly, rambling a little but desperate enough that she didn’t stop herself. “I’ve had no food or water in a day, nor sleep, and I don’t know if I can make it to the outpost on my own. I can pay you once Fitz comes back for me. I need help – please.” Her hands opened instinctively in front of her, and she could see the girl’s expression soften almost instantly.
Letting out a long breath, the girl glanced briefly up at the darkening sky. “Alright. But only ‘til the morning. Then you go.”
“Oh yes,” Jemma exclaimed, hopping forward to match the girl’s pace as she continued toward the AT-AT wreckage. “Of course! Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome,” the girl replied with a quick smile, and then untethered her water flask. Jemma greedily drank down the morsel that was left and sighed once it was gone, wiping away the few drops that lingered around her mouth. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Jemma,” she answered, returning the flask with a wide smile. “Jemma Simmons.”
The other girl nodded, and turned forward again. “I’m Skye.” Jemma waited for a last name, but nothing else seemed forthcoming, and the silence stretched under their sand-muffled steps. “Who’s Fitz?”
“Oh, he’s my best friend,” Jemma said automatically, dropping her gaze to her feet as the sentence brought a whole panoply of other, complicated thoughts to her mind. “He promised to come back for me, as soon as he could.”
“People always say that,” Skye returned, voice subdued.
“You don’t know Fitz.” Jemma set her shoulders back and sped up, ignoring the skeptical look that Skye threw her way. Fitz would find her; of that, she had no doubt. Not even a little.
Time had lost all meaning for Fitz. For all he could tell, he had been strapped to this steel chair for days on end, the First Order guards taking inordinate pleasure in twisting the contraption’s gears until pain bloomed red in the corners of his eyes. But for all they tried, no one had been able to get him to say anything. Even if he died here, lord only knew how many miles away from everything he knew and anyone he loved, at least he would take his knowledge of the Rebel base to his grave.
“Ward Ren wants to see the prisoner,” came the voice of a stormtrooper from outside the closed doors. A low swish prefaced the slow bootsteps of one of the First Order’s apparent chief enforcers.
“I had no idea we had the best pilot in the Resistance on board,” came the familiar voice of the man in black, whose cloak and burnished mask were still in place.
“One of the best,” Fitz shot back automatically, and then bit his tongue so hard that he thought it might have bled.
If the monster before him weren’t covered from head to toe, Fitz thought he might have been smiling. “A modest pilot. Fascinating.”
Fitz was so used to having to point out the fact that Jemma was, in fact, the best pilot in the Resistance (thanks to her love of studying) that the words had slipped from him before he could rein them in. Whoever he may be, Ward Ren was almost certainly the last person that Fitz should talk to about Jemma.
When Fitz made no further response, only clenching his jaw and staring back at his captor, Ward tilted his helmeted head to the side. “Comfortable?”
“I’m impressed,” Ward said, leaning forward so that he could meet Fitz’s gaze head-on, “no one’s been able to get out of you what you did with the map.”
“Might want to rethink their technique,” Fitz muttered, pulling yet again at the steel manacles that bound him to the chair and wincing. His skin was raw and on the edge of bleeding from when he’d tried to work himself free a few hours prior. (The only result had been that the stormtroopers had tightened the bindings’ bite.)
“Good advice,” Ward replied, and then reached forward with one leather-clad hand. Something began to burn at the edges of Fitz’s brain, worming its way along the edge of his mind, as if looking for the cracks through which it could slip. “Where is the map?”
The burning heightened, and an urge to reveal everything almost overtook him. Fitz screwed his face up, gasping as he tried to keep his gaze level with the monster. “The Resistance will not be intimidated by you,” Fitz spat out, and Ward only twisted his fingers further into the air between them.
The yearning to give in, if only to make the pain stop, forced Fitz forward in the metal contraption, back bowing in agony. This was impossible, he tried to tell himself, a shout wrenching itself from his throat – mind control and telepathy didn’t exist, even with the pseudo-mystical properties of the Force.
“Where is it?” Ward’s voice was calm, even-keeled through enacting this mental torture, and as Fitz released another cry of agony suddenly the room around them disappeared.
Fitz was still strapped to the torture device and Ward still stood, masked and tall, before him, but they were now in a liminal space – dark, cold, infinite. Ward straightened and strode to a door, unsupported by walls, that faded into existence before him and swung it open. Within the doorway, Fitz could see a five-year-old version of himself being pelted by tossed leaves and grass as he tried to sketch an X-Wing at recess, the sounds of the other children’s jeers echoing chillingly in the emptiness that now surrounded him.
They were inside Fitz’s mind. Ward had won.
“Interesting,” Ward murmured, and unceremoniously slammed the door shut. “But not what I’m looking for.” He yanked open door after door as they appeared beside one another, with Fitz somehow moving along the line with him even though immobilized. The monster saw memory upon memory from Fitz’s past, the embarrassing and the proud and the achingly private, but he didn’t stop until he saw something that made him pause, the door halfway closed before he pushed it open again. “Here we go.”
Abruptly, Fitz found himself on the other side of the door that Ward had chosen, and to his horror he saw his sixteen-year-old self talking to Jemma. They were standing in the hangar the night that they’d first raced each other to the end of the quadrant and back, and she’d sauntered over to gloat about her win. He’d busied himself with adjusting the gears on one of the wings, mostly because he was so furious with himself for not being able to impress her like he’d wanted. Jemma Simmons was the smartest person in the entire Resistance, let alone in the Rebel Flight Academy, and he couldn’t stand for her to see him at anything less than his best.
Ward circled the two teenagers, eyeing their bright orange flight suits and then coming to a standstill behind Jemma, avidly watching Fitz’s face. Or so Fitz would assume, as the mask continued to hide the man’s features. (Despite his monstrous behavior, he was a human, Fitz was nearly certain of that now.)
“She’s different,” Ward mused, the sound scratching through his vocal modifier as he glanced back at where Fitz stood. If one could call that standing, anyway – he was somehow both still immobilized and yet within his own memory, while simultaneously reliving the moment that he now realized was when he’d first fallen in love with the girl who was to become his best friend. She’d been smirking and smug and infuriating, and he’d promised himself that he’d do anything to keep her attention focused his way. By some miracle, whatever he’d done had worked.
Something snapped, and they were on the move again, flashes of Fitz’s best memories of Jemma being paraded in front of a man who had no right to share them. From their experiments in the hangar, to the classroom, to sharing an ice cream cone in the shade of an Academy tree during the summer, the monster flipped through their whole friendship as if it was nothing more to him than a tool to be used at will. Their friendship was so much more than that, he wanted to argue, more than just memories to be passed by – but suppressing the way he felt right now was absolutely crucial. If he didn’t, he’d be risking Jemma’s life.
So Fitz continued to fight against the man toying with his mind, steering his thoughts as far away from where Jemma was now as he could.
A memory solidified around them: An innocuous night when Jemma had fallen asleep on Fitz’s lap while they’d watched a holofilm in his room. He remembered it well upon prompting, unable to help the smile that ghosted across his face as he looked on. Her hair was spread across his jeans, head and one hand a dead weight against his thigh, and she had a small wrinkle in her forehead as she dreamed. Realizing that she’d fallen asleep, the twenty-year-old version of himself bent over and rolled his eyes before reaching for another handful of popcorn. Unaware of his own movement, his free hand drifted to the hair that fell over her shoulder, sweeping it gently away from her face and then twirling it slowly around his finger.
“You love her.” Ward hovered by the end of the bed, masked face tilted in the direction of where Fitz stood now, half-mesmerized by the memory he’d nearly forgotten he had. Staring defiantly back at his tormentor, he said nothing. In a flash, Ward towered over him, one hand held inches away from his face as he pushed harder against the boundaries of Fitz’s consciousness. “You love her.”
“Yeah,” Fitz gasped, the agony of having someone twist apart the inner recesses of his mind too terrible to bear. As soon as the word left Fitz’s mouth, Ward stepped back, releasing the stronger pull, but that didn’t lessen the sharp ache of having the Dark Side of the Force used against him for so long.
“Good.” When Ward stretched one hand out again, it was towards the bed, and an acute stab of horror went through Fitz as he saw blood begin to run down Jemma’s face. The memory version of himself began to panic, turning over her lifeless body as it lay over his lap, crying out her name and catching his fingers in her bloodied hair.
“No,” he found himself saying, voice shaking. “What’re you doing to her?” Fitz realized that he, too, was crying, his hands raised uselessly towards the scene that he knew hadn’t happened and somehow now remembered vividly. Jemma hadn’t actually died that night on his dorm room bed – and yet she had.
“Please,” he begged, tears streaming down his face and self-loathing taking a backseat to the agony of watching even an imaginary Jemma die. “Don’t do this.”
“Tell me what you did with the map.”
Blinking, Fitz screwed up his face, the mention of the Resistance’s treasure reminding him of exactly what he was fighting for. He shook his head, and tried to convince himself that the horror he’d just witnessed wasn’t real.
With one snap of his fingers, the scene changed, and the monster let out a low laugh at the memory that now lay before him. The flames licking up the sides of a Rebel hangar stretched high into the grey clouds, and Fitz of only a few months before was being held back by the other pilots as he screamed Jemma’s name. As it had happened in life, at the same time that Fitz escaped their hold and sprinted towards the hangar, a side door opened. Smoke billowed out, revealing a coughing, choking Jemma, miraculously alive. The weight of her in his arms as he caught her – both in the memory and watching it, unsure now which he was – had been the most wonderful thing he’d ever felt in his life.
But rather than soothe his terror, this time Jemma’s body gave way under his hands, and when he looked down her skin was cracked and black, empty eye sockets staring at the depthless sky, and Fitz screamed.
He screamed and screamed, fingers slipping through ruined skin to her dusted bones beneath, and abruptly Ward crouched over him again. The mask gleamed in the hangar’s crackling flames. “Where is the map?”
A flash blinded him, and they were along the edges of the village in Jakku, watching Fitz beg Jemma to leave him. Finding himself standing again, no remnants of his last forced nightmare lingering on his hands, Fitz reached forward and shouted, “No!”
But it was too late. The man in black stalked closer to the figures of Fitz’s memory as the small, metal device disappeared into the inner workings of Jemma’s suit.
As another yell died on Fitz’s lips, they appeared once again in the torture chamber of the First Order’s flagship. He remained bound to the chair, drenched in sweat and lungs heaving as the pain of Ward’s psychic invasion leeched away. The monster strode around him without another word, and Fitz could just barely hear him speak through the closing door.
“He gave it to a girl in a white and orange suit.”
Alone again, Fitz yanked futilely against his bonds, trying to escape just as much as he was punishing himself for failing so utterly.
“I’m sorry, Jemma,” he breathed into the chrome-plated emptiness, dropping his head back against the headrest of the torture device. “I’m so sorry.”
Although Skye had willingly agreed to share her meager home and food, Jemma felt guilty for even having asked that much of her. The girl was little more than a scavenger with barely enough to feed herself, let alone a guest. But having noticed the way Jemma had swayed slightly as she stood, Skye had refused to take no for an answer, tearing apart her one loaf of rehydrated bread and slicing up her one-half protein portion. A scavenger she may be, Jemma thought as she ate, eyes roaming around the small hovel inside the belly of the wrecked AT-AT, but Skye was easily one of the most selfless people she’d ever met.
Once darkness had truly fallen, Jemma insisted on sleeping outside, although Skye only agreed when she invented some pseudo-babble about the AT-AT’s shell interfering with Fitz being able to track her suit. In truth, Jemma simply hadn’t wanted to force the girl to give up her own bed in addition to her food.
Taking the blanket Skye pushed into her hands, Jemma curled up alongside one of the ship’s rusted legs. The stars in the desert sky were clear and plentiful, and she wistfully thought of what they looked like when she and Fitz sped past them time and time again in the cockpit of their X-Wing. He would have hated sleeping outside on the open sand, she thought to herself, and let out a quiet laugh. At least the wind was quiet tonight, and she let her eyelids drift closed. The sooner she slept, the sooner it would be daylight and she could quietly hunt for any word from Fitz at the outpost.
“Never known you to be a lazybones, Simmons.”
Her eyes flew open, registering the sun’s warmth in the same instance that she saw a familiar figure sitting against the body of the AT-AT. Fitz smirked down at her, arms crossed in the leather jacket she’d last seen him wearing the day before. “Bit late to be having a lie-in, eh?”
“Fitz!” Jemma scrambled up to throw her arms roughly around his neck, clutching desperately at him. Adrenaline sped through her veins; she’d never before felt such an acute wash of relief. “You’re okay!”
“Always am,” he teased, pulling away. But Jemma didn’t let him get more than a few inches back, reaching out to cradle his jaw.
“But how did you get here? I’ve been so....”
She blinked, attention caught by the shifting of the sunlight from an early morning brightness to a soft palette of sunset oranges. When she met Fitz’s gaze once again, he gave her an apologetic tilt of his mouth. Upon reflection, his hair was too long – curls about the length they were before his last reluctant haircut. Her stomach sank.
“Sorry, Simmons. Not quite fast enough to get here yet.”
Jemma dropped away from where she’d been holding him, sinking back onto the sand. “I’m dreaming.”
“Least it’s not a nightmare.” His tone was cheerful, teasing, but as she watched him shift around to press his boots firmly against the sand and lean forward against his knees, something like dread or a premonition settled into her gut. “C’mon, out with it.”
She wrinkled her nose, twisting her hands in her lap. “With what?”
“Whatever’s got you grumpier than a Tauntaun before dinner.”
“Oh, I’m grumpy,” she exclaimed, straightening her back. “You’re one to talk, Mr. Can’t-Function-Before-Eight-In-The-Morning.”
“Mornings are the Dark Side’s witching hour, Simmons, y’know that.” He grinned, and she rolled her eyes. “Now, what is it? Tell Doctor Fitzy the problem.”
When she frowned this time, it held tinge of bitterness. “You don’t talk like that. The real you.”
Fitz shrugged, eyes twinkling in the setting sun. “Well, I’m not the real me – I’m you. So that’s not exactly a surprise.”
“So then don’t you already know what’s bothering me? Why do I have to say anything?”
He shot her a wry look. “You’re not great at this whole dream-revelation thing, are you?” A chuckle escaped his throat, the sound echoing off the AT-AT’s shell. “A scientist to the end.”
Letting out a noise of frustration, Jemma threw one hand out to the side. “Ugh, Fitz! This whole thing is your fault to begin with!” She caught his raised eyebrow and deflated, rubbing the back of her hand against her forehead. “I mean, you... you saved my life, I expect, in sending me away from the village. But I can’t... that’s not what I keep thinking about. I should be worrying about you, or about how I’m going to escape this godforsaken planet, or – bloody anything else, but all I can think about is what you said to me.” As she met his eyes again, she was nearly thrown by the intensity of his gaze.
“What was that?”
“That you... feel more for me than friendship.”
Fitz wrinkled his nose in a way strikingly similar to her own and leaned his chin on his forearm. “Sorta vague, isn’t that?”
“Yes, I certainly think so,” she muttered, pulling absently at the suit’s nanofabric. “Does that mean you have romantic feelings for me? Or, um, sexual... ones? Or something else? And what is ‘more’ than friendship?! Your friendship means more to me than anything else in the galaxy – I can’t possibly imagine something ‘more’ than that!”
“So why can’t you stop thinking about it?”
His impassiveness was starting to grate at her, and she flicked a few grains of sand in his direction. “Because it’s driving me up the wall.”
“Broken record, thy name is Leopold Fitz,” she deadpanned, but his gaze continued to be steady and clear.
She let out a slow breath, turning to watch Jakku’s second sun sink towards the horizon. “Because... I... I’d never dreamed about the two of us... being that way before.”
“Good use of the word.” When she frowned at him, he gave her a grin. “Dreamed.” Jemma groaned into a laugh, and swatted one hand against the leather of his jacket. After a brief silence, Fitz shifted around so he could see her more directly, settling his legs to the side. “So there’s just one more question, then. Are you interested in me – in that way?”
Jemma dropped her eyes to the sand, feeling warmth and nerves tingling up the back of her neck. “I – I don’t know, Fitz. I don’t know what to think.”
“Well,” he said, features thrown into relief by the last rays of sunlight, “start thinking.” Then he curled one hand around the back of her neck and pulled her forward until their lips met.
At first, she was so surprised that she didn’t move, focusing on the way his eyelashes fluttered shut against his cheeks and on the press of his fingers against her neck. As Fitz kissed her, however, she was struck by an odd sense of longing. Her lips began to move of their own accord, her hands curled around the back of his neck, and she instinctively sought to deepen the kiss. He groaned, hugging her tighter against himself, and she felt lightheaded, her entire world having narrowed to the press and slide of his lips and tongue against hers.
When he finally pulled back, Jemma remained motionless in his arms, blinking her eyes slowly open to stare at him. “Oh,” she whispered, unable to wrap her head around just how much she wanted to do that again. And again, and again.
Ignoring the voice at the edge of her consciousness, Jemma leaned forward again, transfixed by the half-smile that flickered across Fitz’s lips.
“Classified, get up!”
With a start, Jemma’s eyes snapped open, breath heaving jaggedly out of her lungs as she stared up at the bright blue sky. Skye leaned over her, tendrils of hair dancing in the wind and staff held at the ready.
“Time for breakfast.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
(A brief note that although the times for the two separate storylines seem to be taking place concurrently, Fitz's happens a few hours prior to Jemma's.)
While Jemma cleaned up using what little wash water there was to be had in the AT-AT, Skye began to prepare her hovercraft. Their breakfast would have to be bartered for at the outpost, and Jemma spent those few minutes fretting about whether or not she should attempt to disguise her suit. She couldn’t safely leave it at Skye’s – there was no telling who would happen upon the AT-AT wreckage in their absence – and she was loathe to admit to anyone, even her new friend, that it contained something as priceless as a map to Nick Furywalker. Without any better ideas, she settled for unzipping it partway and rolling up the sleeves as far as they would go. Hopefully the suit’s unusual appearance wouldn’t draw any unwanted attention.
Although the ride to the outpost was long and painfully windy, Jemma tried to remind herself that at least she didn’t have to walk that distance through the desert. Uncomfortable though the ship may be, especially since she had to hold tightly to Skye’s waist to avoid falling off, at least it was far faster than her own two feet.
As they wove through the stalls towards the junk dealer who would provide Skye with today’s rations, Jemma couldn’t help but scan the crowd, unable to stop herself from looking for a brown leather jacket with red patches. It didn’t help that the impression of Fitz’s lips still ghosted across hers, dream-bound though the memory may be.
“Y’know, he could still show up.”
Jemma turned to Skye, who was studying her as they walked, and gave her a thin smile. “I know.”
Skye shrugged and shifted her small net of scrap metal higher up on her shoulder. “Just saying. I know all about waiting.”
Raising an eyebrow at Jemma’s turn of phrase, Skye squinted up at the sun. “My family. They’ll be back. One day.”
The night before, Skye hadn’t shared much of her past with Jemma, no matter how much she’d tried to make small talk. To be fair, Jemma had been even more cagey about her own life, still not sure where Skye’s loyalties might lie. Even though the girl seemed trustworthy, her living circumstances certainly made it possible that being able to afford her next meal might take precedence over a stranger’s freedom.
“Wait here,” Skye said, coming to a sudden standstill. “Better he doesn’t get too close of a look at you.” Then she strode off, hitching her net higher on her shoulder.
Although Jemma wasn’t sure who “he” was, she made the educated guess that Skye was referring to the Crolute manning the junk stall at the center of the outpost’s market. Jemma wasn’t exactly sorry she wouldn’t be getting a closer look at him, noting the dourness of his expression and the snapped instructions he gave to each customer as they bartered for their food. The line was long, and as she waited for Skye Jemma leaned against a wooden supply box, attempting to shield herself from the sun for at least a few minutes.
When Skye finally reached the front of the line, the Crolute stared distastefully down at her offering of metal scraps and handed over a single packet of food. Then he turned a beady eye almost directly at Jemma, and she attempted to shrink behind the tent’s pillar as much as possible. Perhaps he was gesturing to someone behind her, or to the supplies on which she was leaning.
The Crolute shoved an armful of food portions over the counter towards Skye, and Jemma’s stomach plummeted. A few moments passed with Skye frozen at the junk dealer’s stall, head bowed and hair flitting to and fro in the wind. With a low mutter of something Jemma couldn’t hear, Skye grabbed the one portion the Crolute had initially offered her and then whipped around to stomp in Jemma’s direction.
“What was...” Jemma started, straightening as Skye approached.
“Nothing,” Skye snapped, tossing a dark look in the Crolute’s direction. “Come on.”
Pushing her way past nearby stall owners, she led the way into the crowd. Jemma turned at the sound of a loud snap and caught a glimpse of the junk dealer’s now closed stall. All the hairs on the back of her neck suddenly felt like they were standing on end, and she gave her head a sharp shake. Surely she was just being paranoid.
Trying not to imagine Jemma being tortured was almost worse than the torture that Fitz himself had endured. Sweat dripped down his forehead, running into his eyes and adding the sting of salt to his other internal pains. No one had come into his chamber for some time, instead leaving him immobilized and yet bearing his own weight. His heels had been numb for hours.
He kept imagining her waiting for him in the wastelands of Jakku and being surprised by the First Order in any one of a hundred terrible different ways. When Fitz had left her on the desert planet, he’d believed that he was running towards his death. Terrified though he had been, it had seemed right – he’d die defending the galaxy, and, most importantly, Jemma. But now that he’d failed at keeping the map’s location a secret, he found himself praying to forces he didn’t even believe in that he managed to find a way to escape. Surviving was irrelevant when it was just him; with Jemma’s life at stake, it became imperative.
The distinctive swish of the door sounded behind him, and a stormtrooper’s boots stomped inside.
“Ward Ren wants the prisoner.” The voice was deep through the helmet’s modulator, and when the new guard rounded Fitz’s torture device, he was significantly taller than the one who had been stationed by the door.
With a few sharp clicks and yanks, Fitz was removed from the chrome platen, handcuffed, and led forcibly into the hallway by the new stormtrooper. Fluorescent lights gleamed too brightly against the slickly polished hallway and Fitz winced, stumbling at his guard’s quick step. Few people stalked the halls, and he wondered what time it was. Did the First Order keep to regular meal times? Bed times? Was there actually something normal about a ship crewed by those pledged to evil?
With an abrupt shove, the stormtrooper crowded Fitz into a small inlet between the walls. “What the hell –!”
The guard ripped off his helmet, revealing a man about Fitz’s age with dark skin, impeccable facial hair, and earnest, terrified eyes. “Listen carefully,” he said, voice an urgent whisper, “if you do exactly as I say, I can get you out of here.”
Too much had happened too quickly, and for a few seconds all Fitz could do was blink at the guard. “What?”
“This is a rescue,” the stormtrooper said, enunciating carefully. “I’m helping you escape. Can you fly a TIE fighter?”
Hope flared in Fitz’s chest, and the fog of torture was wiped away. “You’re with the Resistance?”
“What? No, no-no – I’m breaking you out.” He grabbed onto Fitz’s shoulder, squeezing hard. “Can. You fly. A TIE fighter?”
“I can fly anything,” Fitz huffed, almost indignant until he realized that this stormtrooper probably didn’t know who he was within the Resistance’s ranks. “Why’re you helping me?”
The man blinked, and then straightened his shoulders, making him even taller than Fitz. “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Fitz narrowed his eyes. “You need a co-pilot.”
“I need a co-pilot,” the stormtrooper muttered, reaching up to rub the back of his neck with one gloved hand. “I’ve flown TIE fighters before, but they like keeping us dependent on each other, y’know? Never flown it alone.”
“Yeah,” Fitz murmured, thinking about the co-pilot (best friend, love of his life, more than that) he’d left behind on Jakku. “I know the feeling.” Exhaling, he squinted up at his apparent rescuer. “So... we gonna do this?”
“Hell yeah, we’re gonna do this!” The other man gave Fitz’s bicep an affectionate whack that sent him stumbling a few inches to the right.
“What’s your name?”
“TP-2187,” the stormtrooper answered, shifting his helmet to his other hand and shrugging when Fitz raised an eyebrow. “That’s the only name they ever gave me.”
“I can’t call you that,” Fitz said, aghast at the First Order’s dehumanization of its own members. “T-P...” he murmured, and then thought about their brief, unsteady journey away from his torture chamber. “Trip. Howabout Trip?”
“Trip,” the other man repeated, a wide grin breaking across his face like the sun on a cloudy day. “Yeah, I like that!”
Sticking out his right hand, the left hanging awkwardly underneath thanks to the handcuff, Fitz waited for Trip to shake it before smiling up at his new friend. “I’m Fitz. Leo Fitz,” he added, wrinkling his nose, “but no one calls me that ‘cept my mum when she’s angry.”
“Good to meet you, Fitz,” Trip said, chuckling as he secured his helmet.
“You, too, Trip,” he said, peering towards where he heard footsteps approaching down the hallway. “Now, how do we do this?”
A few minutes later, Fitz found himself being marched in front of Trip – covered once again from head-to-toe in his stormtrooper gear – straight through the middle of the First Order’s central hangar. The blaster’s muzzle dug uncomfortably into his shoulder blade, and he tried to keep from staring at every First Order stooge that they passed.
“Okay,” he muttered to himself, “stay calm, stay calm.”
“I am calm,” Trip hissed through his helmet.
“I’m talking to myself,” Fitz tossed irritably over his shoulder. The ease with which the stormtrooper abandoned his whole life was impressive, Fitz had to give him that – but then again, living in a world ordered by worship of the Dark Side itself couldn’t exactly be a picnic. Abandoning everything Trip knew might not be a bad thing.
One of the odd things about the ship was how well organized it seemed. Even the hangar floor had clearly designated walking paths that Trip followed precisely through their journey. Until, eventually, he gave Fitz the signal and they hung a sharp right turn into one of the TIE Fighter’s loading docks.
“I’ve always wanted to fly one of these things,” Fitz said, unable to entirely tamp down his excitement as he clambered into the forward-facing pilot seat. “Simmons and I were working on reverse engineering one of these little beauties, but the wreckage we dug up was missing too many parts, and she thought it –”
“Less talking,” Trip gritted out, shoving his helmet underneath the console and taking hold of the weapons controls, “more going.”
“Right, right,” Fitz muttered, snapping on his harness. “You know what you’re doing?”
“Let’s bloody hope so.” Punching the ignition, he stepped on the accelerator as hard as he could and they soared into the air – only to jerk short thanks to the ship’s hangar tether. “I can fix this,” Fitz said, reaching out to quickly toggle the relevant controls.
With a snap, the tether retracted into the hangar – taking out a couple of stormtroopers on its way – and the TIE Fighter went zipping into open space.
“This thing really moves!” Fitz yelled, the familiar adrenaline of a first flight pulsing through his veins. If Jemma were here she’d roll her eyes at his naked enthusiasm, and remind him not to overcompensate the steering to the left. But in her own seat, she’d be suppressing a grin just as wide as his. If this escape was successful, he’d get to see her soon, and that thought gave him the burst of energy he needed to stay focused on flying an unfamiliar ship.
He banked a hard right to bring them around behind the First Order’s cannons, and Trip moved seamlessly from checking the ship’s systems to minding the guns, using the Fighter’s blasters to take out one cannon after another. They shouted instructions to each other, warnings for moving cannons or dodging fire, and with one final, doubled explosion the last of the cannons on that side of the First Order’s ship were obliterated.
Turning the TIE Fighter around, Fitz cheered and whooped along with Trip, managing to reach inelegantly behind himself to high five his new friend. It turned out that Trip had stretched back for a fist bump and Fitz ended up slapping the other man’s fist, but he didn’t bother to correct it – they had other things to focus on. As Fitz began tweaking their course on the Fighter’s nav system, he caught a glimpse of Trip trying to see the trajectory he was setting.
“Where’re we going?”
“Back to Jakku,” Fitz muttered, distracted by toggling the Fighter’s guidance system to see if he could get it looking more like that of his X-Wing. The curve of Jakku rose before them in the darkest black of space, the planet dusty and uninspiring even from this distance. “My best friend’s waiting for me there, she’s got a map to Nick Furywalker –”
“No,” Trip snapped, getting Fitz to look briefly back at him. “No way, we can’t go back to Jakku, we need to get out of this system.”
“My friend –”
“Will have a better shot of hiding from the First Order if you come back later –”
“I’m not leaving her there alone!” Fitz nearly dropped the controls in anger, his voice having raised much higher than he’d intended. For all he knew, the First Order was already on its way to finding her on their own without needing to follow him. Getting back to Jakku so he could protect her was more important than anything else. “Not longer than I have to.”
“We need to get as far away from the First Order as we can,” Trip insisted, voice low and serious as he twisted further around in his seat, “and ditch this fighter. We go back to Jakku now, we die.”
“That’s a chance I’m willing –”
But before Fitz could finish his sentence, a missile crashed into one of the TIE Fighter’s hexagonal wings, sending them spinning end over end down towards the deserts of Jakku. Unable to come up with a better solution as he was rocketing towards the ground, he waited until they’d dropped within the planet’s atmosphere and then punched his seat’s eject button. Something caught on the hem of his jacket, ripping it backwards off of him and causing his head to crack nastily against the edge of the ship before the parachute spirited him away, knocking him unconscious.
Burlap scratched against Jemma’s hands as she yanked the bag off her head, eyes immediately finding those of Skye as the other girl leaned over her. For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, someone had tried to kidnap Jemma, although this time it had been a bag rather than a net. She was rapidly beginning to see why Jakku was seen as quite so disreputable. Rubbing the back of her head, she pushed herself up on one hand and squinted behind Skye. Two unconscious men in ragged clothes were sprawled nearby – probably thanks to her friend, judging by her white-knuckled grip on her staff.
“Are you okay?”
Other than the fact that the desert’s heat swarmed so thickly in the air here that her every movement felt ungainly and slow? Other than the new fear that those men might have known about the precious map currently hidden away in her suit and had targeted her accordingly? Other than the fact that her best friend had forced her to abandon him for the good of the galaxy and that she didn’t know what had become of him?
“I'm fine,” Jemma muttered, taking Skye’s proffered hand and allowing herself to be hauled to her feet.
“They wanted your suit,” Skye said with unveiled disgust, shifting the staff to her other hand. “Assholes.”
A faint buzzing faded in over Skye’s words, though, as Jemma spotted a young man who stood a few stalls away. He was watching them right back, although he didn't seem to realize that Jemma had spotted him. Sweat shone against his dark skin as he swiped one hand across his brow, what had once likely been immaculate facial hair somewhat less defined after a day or so without care. His forward-leaning stance suggested that he'd been about to jump into the fight that Skye had just won and then drawn back, the expression on his face now mingling between respect and curiosity.
What had frozen Jemma in place, however, was not who he was or how he behaved, but what he wore. Over dusty, black clothes, the young man had on a distinctive, brown leather jacket with red detailing on the shoulders. Fitz's jacket. The one she'd seen him wearing as he skidded down a hill of sand, blaster shaking in his hand as he ran towards the enemy instead of away – as she had done. One hand coming up to clutch at her throat, Jemma struggled to draw in air, knowing that the fear was not physical but unable to rein it in anyway.
“What's wrong?” Skye's face was etched with concern, sweaty tendrils of hair fluttering in the warm desert breeze.
“That's Fitz's jacket,” Jemma managed to breathe at last, the panic subsiding just long enough that she could speak.
Skye squinted into the stalls, shading her eyes with one hand. “That one?” She tilted her head in the right direction and Jemma nodded. “You're sure?”
Keeping her eyes on the boy, who seemed to have noticed them staring and was unsubtly trying to disappear into the crowd, Jemma nodded once again. She had helped to sew up one shoulder with red leather herself; there was no other jacket like it. “Absolutely.”
Without warning, Skye sprinted into the covered stalls, whipping out her staff as she went and causing their target to bolt in terror. At last, Jemma was able to force herself to take in enough air and she took off after them, managing to catch up just as Skye darted around a table and knocked the man to the ground with a swift blow to the head.
A pained groan stuttered out of him and Skye leaned forward on her staff, staring down at her prey with undisguised venom. “What’s the hurry, thief?”
“Wha-” Before he had time to make up an excuse, Jemma crouched down and pressed the switch on her arm cuff to send a blue bolt of electricity into the boy’s side. (At the time, that addition to the suit had been upon Fitz’s insistence, and against her better judgment. Clearly it was more useful than she’d thought.) “OW,” he cried out, arching sharply away from Jemma. “What’d I ever do to you?!”
“You stole my best friend’s jacket,” she answered, tone low and gaze unwavering as she held her fingers over the trigger button. “What have you done with him?”
“Stole....” Comprehension dawned on his face and then, to Jemma’s immediate concern, morphed into sorrow. “Fitz. Leo Fitz – that was his name, right?” Pulse quickening, Jemma nodded. “He was captured by the First Order. I helped him escape – we stole a ship. He said he had to come back here for someone. But we crash-landed.... He didn't make it,” he ended quietly. “I tried to help, I’m sorry....”
“No,” she breathed, all of her muscles frozen as she willed time to reverse or for him to take back what he’d just said. “He – he can’t...” she trailed off, searching the man’s face for any sign of doubt or insincerity. The only thing she saw, however, was a deep and abiding pity. A cry caught in her throat. She flinched as Skye reached for her, and then skidded back on her hands and feet until she crashed into a nearby supply box.
Her hands began to tremble, vision blurring as Jemma realized that she was hovering at the edge of a panic attack. But the news was too horrible for her to take in, too much her literal nightmare made real. Clutching at the stiff material over her chest, she didn’t know what she was doing, only that the ache within felt like it was going to swallow her whole. He’d died coming back to save her, she realized. Fitz had promised he’d come back for her and now he was dead – just because he’d tried to do as she’d asked, just because he’d tried to save her life.
All the thoughts she’d had ever since his confession would never come to fruition. She’d never really know what his lips tasted like, or whether or not their relationship could survive the change to something more intensely intimate than friendship. The days they’d never know together began to suffocate Jemma from the inside out, her tears falling freely now as she curled in on herself, unable to process the mantra that a cruel little voice repeated over and over in her head: You’re alone now. You’re alone, and you’ll always be alone. Fitz is gone, and you’re alone.
Ever since she’d been a child, the stars and galaxies about which she had yet to read had always comforted Jemma. As long as there was something left to learn, she would always have someplace new to turn. Without Fitz, all the planets in all the skies seemed as unknowable as the universe itself, as bleak and as vast. Who needed space when the one person who made it worth inhabiting was gone?
“She never said,” Skye murmured, and Jemma could hear sand shifting as the no-longer-thief got to his feet. Their conversation washed over her as she tried to keep the ground beneath her from feeling like it would swallow her whole, tried not to think about the adoring blue eyes she would never see again. “Just that they both needed to get back to the Resistance.”
“Yeah, apparently she has a map to Nick Furywalker –”
“Nick Furywalker?!” There was a pause, and Jemma sniffled, a potent numbness spreading through her chest as she loosened her grip around her knees. “So you're with the Resistance.”
“Uh, yes I am,” the man said, voice suddenly a shade deeper. “Obviously. Resistance. That's me, part of the Resistance.”
Skye’s voice held a tinge of amusement when she spoke next, as well as a genuine vein of interest. “I’ve never met a Resistance fighter before.”
“Well, this is what we look like. Some of us. Others look different. Like her.”
“What's your name?”
“Trip. What’s yours?”
A loud whirring filled the air, interrupting them, and Jemma finally looked up from where she'd rested her forehead on her knees. Tearpaths streaked through the desert dirt on her cheeks, and the other two turned to watch her carefully. The time for grief was over – the fate of the whole galaxy depended on her getting the map to General May. She just didn't know how she could do it without Fitz.
Before Jemma could think of anything to say, Trip’s eyes widened in horror at something on the other side of the stall against which she leaned. Without warning, he darted forward to pull at her hand and haul her to her feet, then grabbed Skye’s unoccupied hand. “We have to go,” he hissed, shifting into a sprint and dragging them beside him.
“What the hell –” Skye started, cutting herself off as Trip abruptly changed directions and she only barely managed to keep a hold of her staff. Blasts of energy from stormtroopers’ weapons followed them deep into the outpost’s stalls, screams following the trio as they fled.
“Let go of me!” Jemma tried to pull free, but it she was only barely keeping pace with him as it was.
“We’ve got to move!” It was the only answer he gave them, fear etched onto his handsome face as he dodged people and stalls alike.
“I know how to run without you holding my hand,” Skye gritted out, finally breaking free just before Trip stopped short and ducked into a nearby tent. Throwing up her hands in frustration, the scavenger stomped in after him, and Jemma followed behind, trying futilely to catch her breath.
“Why,” Skye began, lowering her voice to a hiss when Trip shushed her, “are they shooting at all of us?”
“They saw you with me,” he said in a low voice, rubbing wearily at the curve of his jaw. “You’re marked.”
“Thanks for that!”
“Hey, I didn’t ask you to knock me out with a stick!”
Letting out a distinct noise of annoyance, Jemma drew the bickering couple’s attention back to her. “Do either of you have a blaster or weapons?” They both stared mutely at her. “Or anything?”
“I don’t have enough scraps to buy breakfast,” Skye replied drily, “where’d you think I was hiding a blaster?”
Ignoring her tone, Jemma tried overturning the few boxes and baskets that were strewn around the sparse tent as she spoke. “This suit is extremely advanced, but I couldn’t exactly fit guns in the sleeves! Not for Fitz’s lack of trying,” she added, a wry smile almost on her lips before the breath was taken straight from her and she abruptly halted her fruitless search.
Fitz, who she would never see again. She pressed one hand hard against her breastbone, willing the physical ache to disappear from her chest.
“What are we –”
Skye stopped short as Trip made a loud shushing sound, crouching in between the two of them as he listened intently to something. The blaster fire had stopped at some point when they were arguing, and not even the normal outpost chatter could be heard now. Rising above the faint sounds of desert wind was a distinctive hum – one that Jemma recognized from her training as belonging to TIE Fighters.
Trip grabbed both their hands and dragged them towards the tent’s entrance, all three of them sprinting as fast as possible, ungainly though it was to run while three in a row.
“Stop taking my hand,” Skye gritted out, but continued running anyway.
Gunfire burst in the sand in front of them, and the tent from which they’d just escaped exploded in a ball of flames, the shockwave throwing all three of them to the ground. Jemma was able to land squarely on her hands and knees, avoiding the worst of it, but Skye and Trip both landed hard on the sand. When Jemma looked up, she caught Skye’s wild, worried gaze. Brushing sand out of her face, Skye crawled over to Trip, who lay motionless on the ground.
“Hey,” she said, reaching forward to shake his shoulder. “Trip?”
With a sharp inhale, Trip struggled up onto one elbow, blinking dazedly up at Skye. “Are you okay?”
Giving him a look of mingled bemusement and something else Jemma didn’t recognize, something softer, Skye nodded. “Yeah.”
“They’re coming back around,” Jemma called out, squinting up at the too-bright midday sky. The ships were mere specks in the distance, barely visible over the dunes, but she knew the TIE Fighter specs as well as she knew the ingredients for Fitz’s favorite sandwich: They’d be back to attack them again in mere moments.
Skye reached for Trip’s hand, hauled him to his feet, and the three of them set off again, running towards the outpost’s collection of parked ships.
“We can’t outrun them,” Trip yelled, the approaching Fighters nearly drowning out his voice.
“We might,” Jemma shouted back, changing course slightly and turning her head to make sure they followed. “In that Quad-Jumper!”
“I need a co-pilot,” Trip replied, ducking his head as a TIE Fighter’s blast just barely missed him.
“You’ve got one,” Skye and Jemma yelled at the same time, and then turned to grin at each other through the gunfire and flying sand.
Trip let out a bark of laughter. “Alright!”
“What about that ship?” Skye yelled, and Jemma glanced where she was pointing. What was clearly an ancient Corellian YT-1300 (perhaps 1400, it was hard to tell from this distance) light freighter was rusting under a weather-beaten tarp, and Jemma let out a loud scoff and continued to run for the Quad-Jumper.
“That one’s garbage!” A TIE Fighter zoomed through the air above them, and the Quad-Jumper erupted into a ball of fire. All three of them skidded to a halt. “The garbage will do,” Jemma conceded, and they all turned to sprint towards the light freighter as fast as they could go.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
Two Years Ago
The sun had just begun to set, a hazy blood-orange sinking behind the Rebel Academy’s low concrete buildings. Jemma had been working in their lab while Fitz took an engineering exam, but as soon as she saw her flight test results she just had to go find him – even if it meant waiting outside his exam room. Speeding through the Alliance base, she had to force herself not to actually skip in excitement. Around her streamed the best and most loyal young rebels from across the galaxy, of all sizes, shapes, and disciplines. A stream of students was pouring out of the engineering building as she approached, and it only took her seconds to find her best friend in the crowd.
“Hi!” she chirped, taking a small amount of satisfaction in the way he jumped at the sound of her voice.
“Christ, Jemma! What’re you doing here?” Fitz fell into step alongside her, shoving his free hand into one pocket and shifting his other to hold his design notebook more securely.
“I finished in the lab early, thought I’d see how your exam went.” Her voice was too cheerful, and he gave her a sideways glance, the fairer curls on his forehead highlighted by the fading sunlight.
“Went fine,” he replied, squinting a bit and dodging an overeager freshman Bothan. “You wanna know my piloting results, don’t you?”
“I just saw the scores,” she breathed, giving up the ghost and squeezing his arm excitedly. This exam would officially determine whether or not they could both move on to Fly-Ops, the post-graduate training facility that only accepted the best and brightest Rebel pilots. “So?”
Fitz shrugged, tilting his head faux-modestly to the side. “Got a hundred.”
The little shriek of joy Jemma let out drew the attention of other students milling about the quad, but none of that mattered. Her best friend matched her grin, watching as she hopped forward. “Oh, Fitz,” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck, “we’re going to Fly-Ops!”
“So I take it you passed, too,” he deadpanned into her hair, one hand patting her back affectionately.
“Oh, yes!” She dropped back onto her heels, bouncing slightly with adrenaline. “A hundred and two.”
His mouth dropped open. “You bothered with the extra credit?”
“Obviously you didn’t,” she said, accompanied by an appropriately droll eyebrow raise. “Pity you didn’t stay up studying long enough to get that answer, since this means I’m officially the best and youngest pilot in the Academy.” Although she trotted away in the direction of their dormitory, she could practically feel indignation rolling off of him in waves as he hurried to catch up to her. She suppressed a smile (mostly unsuccessfully).
“A pilot’s worth isn’t determined in the classroom,” he parroted tersely back at her, and she glanced over to see him frowning down at his trainers.
“Oh, Fitz, I’m just teasing,” she said, bumping his shoulder with her own. “I’m a more diligent student than you, that’s all.”
“Diligent –!” He cut himself off with a huff, and she wondered idly why she got such an immense amount of joy out of winding him up. “Bloody obsessed, more like,” he muttered under his breath.
Choosing to ignore the good-natured slight, Jemma changed the subject “Dinner?”
He wrinkled his nose and nodded. “Yeah, but can we go off campus? Just – can’t stomach the mess hall right now.”
Jemma furrowed her brows, squinting a bit in the harshly angled sunlight. “I don’t think much will be open right now... it’s not market day, you know.” Fitz made a small grumble of disappointment and curled his shoulders forward. “I might have enough....” She glanced sideways, meeting his gaze and confident that she now had his attention. “I’ve got enough things for pancakes, I think, if the dormitory kitchen isn’t being used.”
The way his face lit up in excitement was probably Jemma’s favorite of her best friend’s expressions, the corners of his eyes crinkling and his irises a rather appealing shade of blue in the sunset. “Yeah, I think. We can check.”
“You’re brilliant,” he exclaimed, reaching over to cuff her affectionately on the shoulder.
“Don’t thank me until it’s made,” she chuckled, pleased nonetheless by the slightly stronger bounce in his step. A few moments of silence lingered between them as they continued towards the residence halls, and something she’d been wondering about for the past few nights, since having taken the flight test, popped back into her head. “How did your solo flight go?”
He glanced over at her and she dropped her eyes to her feet, not wanting to reveal how much more she’d wondered about that than anything else. “You mean, what’d they recommend? Co-pilot or solo?”
Jemma nodded, attempting to throw a nonchalant shrug into her response but fairly certain she hadn’t quite managed it. Although they’d been co-pilots and lab partners for years now at the Academy, neither had ever talked about what they wanted to do in Fly-Ops. Knowing his skills as she did, Fitz was more than capable enough of a pilot to fly missions solo, and so was she. But the idea of being separated while they did their own training and then individual missions just made her feel... unsettled. Flying had always been her dream, ever since she was a young girl experimenting with the chemical properties of spaceship fuel, and she had no intention of giving that up. With Fitz, however, it felt like everything had fallen into place – flying solo just wasn’t the same. Never wanting to be without someone at their age was ridiculous, and she knew that, but it didn’t change the fact that she now enjoyed flying with Fitz far more than she did by herself.
“Results said I could do either,” he answered slowly, peering over at her. “But, I dunno, it’s... not exactly the same without a partner, y’know?”
“Oh yes,” Jemma breathed, meeting his gaze with a relieved smile. “I’ve always felt better with you as my second pair of eyes.”
Fitz grinned, ducking his head as they passed by a low-branched tree. “So, partners ‘til the end, then?”
“Yes,” she agreed, allowing herself the indulgence of reaching over and hooking her arm into his. “Partners.”
The Present Day
To Jemma’s shock, the Corellian YT-1300 light freighter was a great deal less garbage than she’d expected. Thanks to a good few miraculous maneuvers on all their parts, with Trip manning the guns while she and Skye commanded the ship itself, they’d destroyed the two TIE Fighters on their tail and escaped into the stars.
As they soared away from Jakku, Jemma and Skye put the ship on autopilot and sped out into the hallway to greet Trip.
“That was some flying,” he exclaimed, bounding down the hallway towards the two girls, everyone beginning to talk at once.
“Did you see Jemma –”
“You set me up for it –”
“I’ve never seen that kind of flying –”
“We worked really well together!”
“Skye’s a natural –”
“That was amazing!”
All three of them stared at each other, no one having any idea what the others had said, and burst into relieved laughter. Trip pulled Skye, who was standing closer to him, into a hug, and Jemma turned to where her partner should have been standing. Like a punch to the stomach, she realized Fitz wasn’t there. It had been instinct, seeing others celebrate and turning to share the moment with the person who was always by her side.
But Fitz wasn’t there. He was dead. And it was her fault.
The air became hard to breathe, too thick and yet not enough of it, and she stumbled away from where Skye and Trip were still excitedly talking over one another. Just around the corner, she found the restroom and bolted herself inside. Her vision began to fade at the edges, and she realized that she was genuinely in the early stages of a panic attack this time, her lungs not working strongly enough to feed her the oxygen she needed. Dimly, she gave thanks to the field medical electives she’d squeezed into her schedule at the Academy, otherwise she wouldn’t have recognized the symptoms at all.
She unzipped the top of her suit with shaky fingers, hoping that allowing in cool air might help abate the panic. But all it did was remind her of what the suit held, the blasted map that had cost Fitz his life, and a jagged sob was wrenched from her throat. Leaning on the filthy, aluminum sink with one hand, Jemma pressed the other over her eyes, willing the tears to stop flowing. No matter what she did, all she could see was Fitz and the future they’d never have together. He’d died not knowing if she returned his feelings, and yet had been on his way back for her anyway.
Of course he had, she thought wildly, face crumbling further. Because he was Fitz, and that’s just what he did – care for others with no thought spared for himself.
Her knees nearly gave way, and she managed to angle herself onto the closed toilet seat rather than collapse on the linoleum floor. Jemma didn’t know how long she stayed curled up in the bathroom of the light freighter, sobbing until the tears ran dry, but there was simply no stopping them once they’d begun.
Eventually, her breathing evened out, and she leaned against the side of the narrow room, eyes opening to stare, unseeing, at the unremarkable taupe wall. She brought one hand up to press the collar of the suit against her cheek, taking comfort from the thin veins of metal she could feel before they branched out into the rest of the suit. This was Fitz’s work, she reminded herself, his ability to combine droid technology with her nano-fabric. Even if she would have to get used to flying by herself now, she’d always have the suit they’d made together. The thought comforted her, even though the ache in her chest remained acute. She suspected that it would never truly leave.
“You’ll always be with me, Fitz,” she whispered into the empty bathroom, a hiccup forcing her eyes closed again. His face was as clear as ever in her head, the memory of a rare smile bringing one to her own face. Even if the First Order had taken him from her, they could never take that.
After allowing herself another few seconds to rub her fingers gently over the suit’s inner wiring, remembering how his fingers had looked as he worked the metal into her fabric, she took a deep breath and stood. Although they were out of danger for the moment, this freighter was too easily identifiable if the stormtroopers had managed to send a message to the First Order before giving chase. Finding her way back to the Ileenium System had to be her first priority.
As she stepped into the hallway, patting her cheeks and hoping that she didn’t look like she’d been crying as hard as she had been, Jemma nearly ran into Trip.
“Hey, I was looking for you,” he said, expression falling as he registered her face. She knew she hadn’t spent enough time washing the grief away. “Look, I – just wanted to say I’m really sorry. About your friend. Seemed like a good guy.”
“The best,” she murmured, giving him a wan smile in return. “If I might... how did... it happen?” The look he gave her then was a mix of incredulity and befuddlement, and she dipped her gaze to the chrome grating beneath them. She didn’t quite have a reason for wanting to know; perhaps it would make the truth feel more real. “I’d like to know.”
Trip took a second to rub the back of his neck, exhaling before he spoke, and even then he was far quieter than he’d been at any point on Jakku. “When we crashed, I tried pulling him out, but all I got was the jacket... the ship sunk into the sand.”
Jemma looked away as she nodded, another few tears making their silent escape. So there wasn’t even a body for her to go back to collect, to bring to his mother. To say goodbye to.
“Right. Well, thank you, again. For trying to help him.” She swiped one hand at her cheek, catching the additional tears.
“Yeah,” he said, and she could feel his eyes on her as she continued towards the center of the ship.
In the light freighter’s main galley, a worrisome cloud of steam was fizzing out of the grates in the floor. At the sound of Jemma and Trip’s footsteps, Skye poked her head out of the floor grates that she’d removed.
“Oh, thank God,” she breathed, pushing loose strands of hair out of her face. “It’s –”
“The motivator,” Jemma finished for her, dropping down to lie on her stomach on the floor and peer over the edge of the grates at the problem area. “Do you know what –”
“Think so,” Skye muttered, “but I wouldn’t mind some advice. Not the same working to fix a new ship as it is to salvage the parts of a junked one.” As the other girl searched for something in the tools scattered around the floor, Jemma reached for the pilex driver and held it up. Giving her a brief but genuine smile, Skye grabbed the tool and dropped back into the ship’s floor. “So, where are we going?”
The words “it’s classified” hovered on the end of Jemma’s tongue, and she stalled, glancing nervously at Trip and then back at Skye.
“To the Rebel base,” Trip said slowly, tugging at the hem of Fitz’s old leather jacket. “Right, Jemma?”
“I know secrecy’s your thing, Classified,” Skye said, tone wry under the loud hissing from the ship’s pipes, “but if we’re getting you home then I need to know where that is.”
Jemma sighed. To be fair to Skye, she had risked her life during the escape from the stormtroopers on Jakku, and Jemma certainly wouldn’t have been able to fly the light freighter as well on her own. “The Ileenium System.”
“Damn.” Skye poked her head out from the grates again, and grabbed the proffered bonding tape from Jemma. “Okay, I’ll drop you two at a Panima Terminal, but I’ve gotta get back to Jakku.”
“Back to Jak–” Trip cut himself off with a sharp noise of annoyance and crossed his arms. “Why,” he muttered, “does everyone wanna go back to Jakku?”
“You’re a pilot –” Jemma started, but Skye cut her off.
“Sometimes. I’m better with the software than the hardware.”
“You could fly anywhere,” Jemma continued, “even with this thing. By yourself, if you had to. Why go back to Jakku?”
The lights in the ship all shut off simultaneously, their grungy, yellow glow replaced with an ominous red hue.
“That can’t be good.” Trip sprinted in the direction of the cockpit, leaving Jemma to haul Skye out of the flooring and run after him.
The two girls found him peering up through the windows, and Skye immediately went to stand next to him, pressing her hands against the metal dashboard. Next to her new friends, Jemma attempted to give the ship controls, to change anything at all about the light freighter’s trajectory, but none of the switches worked as they should. “Someone’s locked onto us –”
“And overrode all the controls,” Skye finished for her, turning around with an expression laced with fear. “What –”
“It’s the First Order,” Trip interrupted, and silence flooded the air between them. Unlike Jakku, they had nowhere else to run, except into the void of space itself.
“Wait,” Skye said, snapping her fingers and staring at Jemma with wide eyes. “What I just patched, the motivator – that’s filled with poisonous gas, right?”
“Yes, but we fixed it!”
Skye shook her head at Jemma’s response, but, before she could clarify, Trip picked up her thought. “Can you unfix it?”
Understanding dawned on Jemma, and she raced back to the center of the ship with the other two in tow. Skye jumped back into the hole between the grates without hesitation, following Jemma’s directions as she and Trip hunted for, found, and collected three gas masks. The ship stopped moving suddenly, just as Skye gestured for Trip and Jemma to follow her beneath the floor. Trip hauled the floor grate over their heads, Jemma snapped the elastic of her gas mask around the back of her head, and they waited.
The masks’ air filtration seemed deafening in the space beneath the freighter’s floor. Unable to stand the fear she could see silhouetted on Skye and Trip’s faces, Jemma squeezed her eyes shut and tried to think of something soothing.
The memory of when Fitz had first tried her signature homemade pesto aioli popped into her head; his expression had been stunned, mouth hanging slightly open with the partially chewed sandwich bite visible between his lips. A smile flitted across her face, and she would swear that her pulse evened out for even those few seconds. Her fingers curled around thin air beside herself, and she pretended that she could feel the warmth of his hand within hers.
A door swished open above them, and the three runaways shrunk into the shadows of the below-floor compartment, staring up as footsteps echoed in the hallway.
“Chewie,” said a man’s voice, “we’re home.”
“You’ve gotta stop calling me that,” groused a different, accented voice.
“Sorry Hunter, force of habit.” A click of metal against metal preceded the first speaker taking a few steps closer to their hiding space.
“I mean, one person gives me shite for liking caramels, and all of a sudden –”
Jemma wasn’t sure what happened, but from somewhere in between Trip and Skye came a distinct noise, as if they’d moved apart too quickly.
“What was that?” The first voice had become much quieter, and there was that distinct clicking sound again.
After another few shuffling steps, the grate above them was yanked slightly up and to the side, revealing two men. One was middle-aged, with dark, receding hair and kind eyes, and he had a gun pointed straight at the hideaways. Ah, Jemma thought to herself, the clicking noise was the gun. The other man was about the same height but younger, with dirty-blond scruff, a belt of ammunition packs slung over his shoulder, and an unusual-looking crossbow held at the ready.
“Where are the others?” The man with the gun spoke, allowing Jemma to identify him as the first speaker, as well as the leader of the two. “Where’s the pilot?”
“I’m the pilot,” said Jemma, Trip, and Skye, nearly all at once.
The two men glanced at each other, and the older one allowed a bemused smile to cross his face. “Must be one hell of a crowded cockpit.”
The younger man – Hunter, as the first had called him – muttered something to his friend, who chuckled and shook his head.
“You understood that?” Everyone turned to Trip, who just shrugged behind his gas mask.
“On my good days,” replied the first man, earning himself a shove from the other one. “C’mon, get outta there. We’re not gonna hurt you.”
Against Jemma’s better judgment, she let Hunter haul her back onto the ship’s main flooring. As the others followed, she slid her right hand around her left wrist, feeling for the trigger for the suit’s shock-emitter. Even if she needed it, though, she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to use it – the suit’s power cell was doubtlessly running low, even with the solar charge it would’ve received on Jakku. She berated herself for spending so much time wallowing over the past she couldn’t change rather than being responsible and charging the suit. Foolish, emotional Jemma, she chided herself, subtly putting her back to a wall rather than to the strangers. You don’t have time for sentiment now.
Getting a better look at the older man gave Jemma pause, however, as she had the distinct impression that she recognized him from somewhere.
“Where’d you get this ship?” He directed the question at Trip, but Skye answered, tugging her gas mask away.
“Jakku?” Hunter let out a guffaw as he dropped the grate back into place. “That junkyard?”
“Thank you,” Trip said, giving Skye a pointed look. “Junkyard.”
“Who had it?” The older man shook his head, stopping his own question, and turned towards the cockpit. “No, y’know what – doesn’t matter. I’ve got the Millennium Falcon back, and I’m not losing her again.”
“You said that last time,” Hunter called after him, sighing as he slung the crossbow-gun around his shoulders.
“This is the Millennium Falcon?!” Skye’s eyes had grown twice their normal size, having clearly reached the same realization that Jemma had, and then spun around to face Hunter. “That’s Phil Coulson?”
Hunter shrugged, and turned to peer at a nearby control panel. “Used to be.”
The name explained why Jemma hadn’t recognized him right away. Although she and Fitz had worked closely with General May for many years, they’d never met her husband. At first it was just that Coulson didn’t spend much or any time with the pilots, preferring to work with ground-based rebellion operatives. Then came the disappearance of their son, Grant, and Nick Furywalker – and then, eventually, Coulson himself.
“Phil Coulson,” Trip mused, brows creased. “The Rebellion General?”
“No, the smuggler!” The infectious enthusiasm in Skye’s voice suggested that she was utterly delighted by the idea of him being a smuggler.
“Wasn’t he a war hero?” Trip directed this at Hunter, who – head buried in the ship’s wiring – just shrugged in response.
The others followed in Coulson’s footsteps, arguing about which rumor was right, and Jemma let out a harsh exhale. Her brain had thrown up another memory of Fitz, of the night after they’d first worked with General May and they’d both been so agog at having met one of their longtime heroes. They had sat hip-to-hip on the floor of Fitz’s bunk, sweaty and exhausted after a full day of training, and he’d wondered if they’d ever meet Coulson.
Of course, Jemma thought as she strode after the others to the Falcon’s cockpit, now Fitz would never meet him. But her wallowing in that knowledge and her grief was of no use to anyone right now: She had a galaxy to save.
Jemma was absolutely certain about very few things in her life, and one of them was that Skye was just as important to the Rebellion as the map still hidden in Jemma’s suit. It felt like a lifetime had passed since Coulson had taken command of the Millennium Falcon, and yet no time at all. A deep ache still lingered in her chest, the nucleus of her unspent grief over Fitz’s loss, but she would press on nonetheless. The last thing she’d heard him wish for was that she save the galaxy by carrying the map to General May, and so Jemma would either complete the mission for him or die trying. At the moment, that involved chasing after the scavenger who had saved Jemma’s life in the deserts of Jakku.
In the bowels of the old building – whether it was a castle or a temple, she wasn’t sure – Jemma had witnessed the beginning of something she instinctively felt was important to perhaps even more than their galaxy alone. When Skye had disappeared from the noisy bar, Jemma had followed, worried by the thought of her going off by herself when the First Order was so close on their trail. Trip had just revealed the truth of his identity and abandoned them, leaving them with one less ally and one more source of heartache.
Even though Jemma had been in the room with her, she still didn’t understand what Skye went through when she reached into the trunk and then, seconds later, went stumbling into the hall so quickly she landed on the floor with a shriek. When Jemma rushed over, trying to see if Skye was injured, Maz Kanata emerged from the end of the dusky, derelict hallway, out of breath in her haste to catch up to them. As the old woman tried to convince Skye to take up her new destiny, Jemma’s breath caught at one particular phrase:
“Whoever you’re waiting for on Jakku... they’re never coming back.”
For the hundredth time that day, Jemma’s mind turned to the best friend she would never see again. A small part of her had been wondering if perhaps she should return to Jakku with Skye after getting the map to May. Maybe Trip had been wrong, she’d attempted to convince herself, maybe if she hunted through the desert dunes hard enough she’d find some trace of Fitz. But Maz’s words struck a cord; there was nothing and no one on Jakku worth returning for. Not anymore.
At the old woman’s insistence that Skye take the lightsaber, she shot to her feet, fear etched onto her face, and refused any part of this journey to which she had become so integral. Too shocked by Skye’s behavior, Jemma didn’t follow her right away, instead torn between seeking Maz’s advice and returning to see what Coulson and Hunter had to say. Before she could decide for herself, Maz turned and gave her a piercing look.
“What are you waiting for?”
So Jemma sprinted after Skye, far enough behind that she couldn’t quite catch her until they were deep into the forest. The other girl leaned on a moss-covered tree stump, catching her breath, and Jemma wondered dimly if she’d ever seen moss before. Probably not, having never left Jakku. Not for the first time, she was reminded starkly of how different their lives were.
“Please don’t leave –”
“What are you doing here?” Skye stared over at her between messy tendrils of hair, sweat beading on her forehead in Takodana’s persistent humidity.
“I came to get you,” Jemma replied, taking a hesitant step forward and pushing loose hair behind her ear.
“You have to go back –”
“So should you –”
“You have the map, you’re too important –”
“So are you!” Skye just shook her head, apprehension and fear marking every movement she made, and Jemma stepped forward again. “I’ve been where you are, Skye. Don’t do this.” When the other girl didn’t respond, Jemma glanced down, inhaling slightly. “Don’t just run away. Especially if there’s someone you’re... you’re leaving behind. Because if you go, you just....” Jemma twisted her mouth, trying to keep her voice from breaking. “If you run away, you can’t take it back. No matter how much you wish you could.”
And Jemma did – she desperately wished she could take back that night in the village on Jakku when she’d done as Fitz had asked, when she’d left him behind. When she’d run in the dark upon the sand and hoped fruitlessly that he would follow. But if she couldn’t take that night back then at least she could work towards creating a better future – one that didn’t involve the tyranny of the First Order, of the people who had taken away the most precious thing in her life.
Almost on cue, the familiar sound of ship engines zoomed overhead. They both twisted up to see TIE Fighters soaring over the forest towards the temple they had just left. With one worried glance at each other, they sprinted back towards the tree line. Skye managed to get there first, steadying one hand against a wide trunk as they both reeled from a large blast striking the temple’s central tower. TIE Fighters wove between the stones, and Jemma pressed her hand just beneath her throat at the sight of Maz’s statue tumbling down.
“You have to go,” Skye said, although it took Jemma a few distracted seconds before she processed her words. Yanking Coulson’s gun from her belt, the other girl centered herself behind a large tree. “They can’t get their hands on that map. I’ll try to fight them off.”
Jemma’s heart gave a small lurch at the realization that the moment trouble had truly found them Skye had decided to stay, perhaps without even knowing it herself. After a moment’s hesitation, Jemma threw her arms around her new friend’s neck. “I hope I see you again soon,” she said, trying to sound braver than she felt. It seemed all she ever did these days was say goodbye.
“I hope so, too,” Skye said, releasing Jemma, giving her a half-smile, and then crouching behind the tree, already watching as stormtroopers clambered over the wreckage.
Taking a deep breath, Jemma turned and did the exact thing she’d just advised Skye against: She ran. Branches whipped against her face and arms, the suit only able to protect against smaller trees. Ripping fabric and rustling foliage slowly became louder than the sounds of destruction, and eventually Jemma stopped to catch her breath in a small clearing. A quick inspection showed that the nano-fabric was repairing itself as quickly as it could from the forest’s damage, but she wasn’t sure how long it could sustain this rapid rate of injury.
A small squadron of ships flew over the clearing, causing her to duck quickly into the tree line – and then freeze. That wasn’t the sound of a TIE Fighter’s engine. Stepping back into the sunlight, Jemma shielded her eyes with one hand as she peered up into the sky. Sure enough, a few seconds later one, two, three X-Wings zipped overhead, and she let out a burst of relieved laughter. The Resistance had found them.
A TIE Fighter followed in the path of the X-Wings, and one ship broke off from the others to loop back around and fire at the enemy ship. Jemma’s breath caught in her throat as she watched the X-Wing swing too widely to the left, fire three shots accurate enough to cause the TIE Fighter to explode, and then dip back up to follow the others.
She’d know that piloting anywhere.
“Fitz,” she breathed, adrenaline running so potently through her veins that her hands shook. Nearly in a trance, Jemma turned on the spot and sprinted back the way she’d come, running faster, harder, so intently that her lungs burned but she didn’t care.
That pilot had to be Fitz – but she had to know for sure.
At long last, she shot through the tree line by Maz’s ruined stronghold, the battle having just been won by the Rebellion forces. A small transport ship stood to the edge of the clearing, and Jemma picked through the rubble as quickly as possible, carefully avoiding the fallen bodies of stormtroopers and rebels alike. General May’s familiar figure – minute but commanding – stood across from Coulson’s, and thankfully they turned from each other as she approached, saving Jemma from needing to interrupt a potentially fraught moment.
She sprinted up to the General, heaving deep breaths and resting her hands on her knees. “General May –”
“Simmons,” May said, lips ticking up in what was, for her, a warm smile. “You made it.”
“Yes, General,” Jemma said quickly, rushing over her own words, “and I have the map, but – was that Fitz? Leading the others?”
May raised an eyebrow. “Yes, in your X-Wing, since his was destroyed on Jakku.”
“Fitz is really alive?” She realized that she’d reached out to grab onto the General’s sleeve and pulled back instantly, overwhelmed tears threatening at the corners of her eyes. “I’m sorry, I –”
“He’s alive,” May replied, eyes softening as she flicked her gaze over Jemma’s shoulder and back again. “And he’ll be relieved to see you.”
Unable to stop the tears now, Jemma just nodded. She was barely able to wait until May had turned away before dropping onto the nearest boulder and pressing her palms against her eyes. Fitz was alive, he was alive and she was going to see him again as soon as they got to D’Qar. Stunned and shoulders shaking, she sat there for a few long minutes, unable to process anything more than those three words: Fitz is alive.
Bootsteps came running in her direction, and at last she felt steady enough to raise her head and scrub any latent tears off her cheeks. To her surprise, the boots belonged to Trip, and they spoke over each other in their excitement.
“You came back –! Heard?” She frowned, noting the ashy pallor to his skin. “Heard what?”
“They took Skye,” he answered, voice taught and hand tightening around what Jemma recognized as the lightsaber her other friend had abandoned in the cavernous hall beneath the temple. Thanks to the First Order, that whole building didn’t even exist anymore.
“No,” she breathed, but he was already speaking over her.
“We have to go after her.”
Jemma nodded, brain spinning at all of the terrible dangers Skye now faced, not to mention what they might find when they attempted to infiltrate the First Order. But Trip was right – they had to go after her. “Yes –”
He looked so worried, one hand fiddling with the edge of Fitz’s jacket, that Jemma almost wanted to give him a hug. “Of course I will – and Fitz, too.” She gave him a tremulous smile. “He’s alive. The General told me.”
“What?! Oh, hell yes!” Trip gave a whoop, punching the air, and Jemma let out a small, involuntary laugh. The kidnapping of Skye was terrifying, but an enormous weight had been lifted off her shoulders at the news of Fitz’s survival. All she had to do now was wait until the Rebellion finished cleaning up this corner of Takodana, and then – at long last – she could go home.
Time couldn’t pass fast enough for Jemma, and she could see the other Rebels sending her sidelong glances as she bounced on her feet in the main room of the Millennium Falcon. Not even waiting for the engines to power down, she shot to the door and wrenched it open the second that the freighter landed alongside the hangars of the D’Qar base. As she’d calculated, the X-Wing squadron had long since arrived, and she darted around other pilots, engineers, and support staff towards her ship’s docking station.
A few X-Wings down, she could see the distinctive black and red paint of her ship, enlarged cockpit wide open, and she slowed to a stop, her pulse racing at the sight before her. Someone in the distinctive orange flight suit of the Rebel pilots jumped onto the concrete, stumbling slightly before reaching up to pull off his helmet. With it gone, she could see the curly, sand-brown hair – sweaty from flying – that belonged to Jemma’s best friend in the world. He tucked the helmet under his arm and yanked off his gloves, turning towards the bustle of the hangars just like it was any other day. Then he did a double take and his eyes landed right on her, a smile breaking across his face.
She realized abruptly that she wasn’t moving and shot into motion, nearly crashing into at least two people and not caring in the least. Fortunately Fitz saw her move, because he had enough time to drop his gear and have his arms wide open in time for Jemma to fly directly into them, nearly knocking them both backward onto the concrete.
“You’re here,” she whispered tearfully, fingers digging into his shoulder and hair as she dotted fierce kisses all over his face. “You’re okay.”
A low laugh reverberated from his chest to hers, one hand rubbing haltingly up and down her back. “Yup, I’m –”
Then Jemma angled his head so she could capture his lips with hers, and she felt all the muscles in his body freeze in surprise. Not letting herself overanalyze either her own instinct or his reaction, she pressed in closer, moving her lips more firmly against his and curling one hand around his jaw. Something seemed to snap into place for him, because all of a sudden his hands were tugging her forward, arms curving around her waist, and she released a small noise of surprise at the ardency with which he kissed her back. His lips were gentle but insistent, working up a heat between them that somehow she hadn’t expected. Lightheaded, Jemma clenched her hand around his shoulder as she darted her tongue against the seam of his lips, and when his tongue met hers she couldn’t hold back an indistinct noise of longing.
Something about her response startled Fitz and he began to pull away, but she wouldn’t have that – not now, when they were together in a way that she’d so recently believed could never happen. So she dug her fingers into his hair and plied his mouth open again with hers, sliding their tongues together and making herself dizzy with the taste of him. By the time she had to part from his lips for air, Jemma was nearly swaying on her feet, feeling weightless from joy that he was alive and from his kisses.
“Jemma,” he breathed, eyes fluttering open as she rested her forehead against his.
“I thought you were dead,” she whispered, unable to help the tremulousness of her voice. Her hands continued to touch him, along his hairline and the edges of his face, almost petting him, as if she was still convincing herself that he was real and not a dream. “I thought I would never... we would never....”
“Well, I’m, uh, not. See? Not dead.” She let out a breathlessly manic laugh, raising her eyes to see his strikingly blue ones staring back at her. There was a warmth in them that she recognized but realized that she’d never truly understood before: It was the same as what was reflected in her own expression now, one of an adoration and affection that ran so much deeper than she’d ever thought to quantify or name.
When she stretched up for his lips again, though, he pulled back, and a brief pout flashed across her face unbidden. An adult though she may be, Jemma felt abruptly like a child whose new favorite toy had just been pulled out of her reach.
“Why... um. We just....” Jemma raised an eyebrow, and he swallowed. “You kissed me.”
Rolling her eyes, she leaned forward again as she murmured, “Yes.”
Their lips just barely brushed but Fitz pulled back again, and she let out a distinct noise of annoyance. “But why?”
Jemma’s mouth dropped open as she realized his expression was a cross between one of nerves and one of genuine confusion. “Oh, Fitz,” she said quietly, cheeks warming as she tried to figure out how to reply. “You know why.”
A disbelieving half-smile flashed across his face. “You... you’re sure?”
How he could be so infuriatingly cocky when they flew or when they worked in the lab and yet so vulnerable here, as he stared back at her with their arms wrapped around each other, was completely beyond her. Truthfully, she hadn’t known whether or not she wanted their relationship to change, hadn’t kissed him while thinking it through more than that he was here and alive and she’d wanted to. But now, standing pressed against her best friend in the middle of the bustling Rebellion tarmac, Jemma was sure that this change was precisely what she wanted.
Instead of replying with words, she just stretched up again to ghost their lips together, eyes open and gazing directly back into his. The intimacy in this kiss made her feel more exposed than she ever had, brushing her lips against Fitz’s and watching as his eyelids fluttered closed, able to see the exact moment that he believed her.
“I’m sure,” she whispered when they eventually broke apart, and then nuzzled up at him. “Just don’t ever make me leave you again, okay? I... I couldn’t bear it.”
“Promise,” he replied, “you and me, here on out. Side by side.”
She grinned, leaning into where he’d curled his fingers into her hair. Fitz, her X-Wing, and the fight to return balance to the Force: It sounded exactly like the life that Jemma had always wanted.
just one teeny-tiny little epilogue left!
Chapter 7: Epilogue
“We’re never doing roshambo to decide who wears the suit again.”
“Oh c’mon, it was your idea!” Fitz knocked his shoulder against hers in the locker room, grinning as she finished zipping herself back into the blasted suit that she’d been wearing for who knew how many days by this point. Thank goodness the nano-fibers were self-cleaning. “And you love roshambo.”
Jemma huffed and slammed her locker door closed a little harder than was strictly necessary, choosing not to tell him that she liked roshambo because normally she won. “We’re going back to just alternating, one after the other.”
Rolling his eyes as she strode past him, Fitz snagged his helmet and fell into step beside her on their way towards the hangar. “As you wish.”
Although he’d been studiously not acting any differently towards her since their kisses on the tarmac, it would take a far stupider person than she not to notice the excitement and confidence that exuded from Fitz now. It was a very attractive look on him, she decided, even if she was miffed that she’d have to wait until their next outing to be the main pilot. Jemma reached out and entwined their fingers, giving him a shy smile when he glanced down at their hands and then back at her. Appreciate his attempts at normalcy though she may, she wasn’t ready to let him stray too far from her just yet.
“So, I was thinking,” he started, eyes trained on his flight boots. “Dinner.”
She raised an eyebrow as they dodged a diminutive orange and white droid, rolling past them at an alarming speed. “Quite a ways away, yet.”
“Yeah, no,” he burst out, “no, I mean – me and you. Together. When we get back. Somewhere nice.” His face scrunched up in a distinctly frustrated way, and she was only barely able to hide the laugh that nearly escaped.
“Oh,” she whispered, giving his hand a squeeze and drawing his discomfited gaze back to her face. “I’d like that.”
“Yeah? Yeah! Right. Good. We can – talk about where later.” They’d reached their X-Wing by that point, and he reluctantly let their hands slip apart so they could properly embark. She had the distinct suspicion, however, that the grin on his face had to be at least as wide as hers.
As they carried out last minute equipment checks, Jemma’s mind drifted to when they’d had a few minutes of free time after General May’s briefing. They’d begun brainstorming what they’d do differently when adapting a replacement X-Wing for Fitz, and her mind was already abuzz with possibilities and improvements.
Once they were both in their seats and Jemma’s suit was plugged into the ship, busily running navigational scenarios and diagnostics, Fitz stretched over the back of his seat. Meeting her gaze, he had one hand curled over the edge of the chair, and she had the bizarre urge to take it – so she did, covering it with her own.
He stared down at their hands for a moment, mouth frozen in a half-open position. “So, Starkiller base,” he said at last, glancing back up at her. “Are you ready?”
His expression, however, suggested a very different question: D’you think we can do this?
A dozen reassurances flitted through her head, but rather than attempt to verbalize her confidence in them as a team, instead she shifted forward and slightly out of her seat. Raising her helmet’s visor to make it possible and using one hand to tilt up his chin, Jemma kissed Fitz with every ounce of self-assurance that she had in her. The plastic of their helmets clanked together a little awkwardly, and she couldn’t hold herself in this position indefinitely, but the kiss itself was slow and heated and exactly what they both needed just then: A reminder of what they were fighting for.
When she pulled away, Fitz’s eyes stayed closed for a few seconds too long, and a smile broke across her face again. “Alright,” he said at last, voice a little gravelly as he blinked up at her. “Then let’s light it up!”
Dropping back into her seat, Jemma fastened her safety harness and snapped her helmet’s visor back into place. Now all she had to do was wait for the engines to engage and that familiar feeling of gravity drop, drop, dropping away behind them. The X-Wing would take them to dangerous lands, adventures unknown, and the purest feeling in the galaxy – freedom. And, as Jemma had learned the hard way, freedom was so much better when you had someone to share it with.