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brighter than any i've known

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Somehow, through all of the excitement, fear, and bluster, Jemma manages to make it to the end of the day before it all breaks.

She sits on the bed in her new quarters and feels everything slipping away – the cold and clinical façade she’s built up is cracking, fissures spreading in her resolve – leaving her feeling vulnerable. She thinks of Fitz, of Ward and Garrett, and the taste of salt water in her mouth. She thought she would die today. She thought Fitz would die today.

Jemma glances across the small room and looks at her backpack. There’s a cell phone in side. She hasn’t spoken to her parents in weeks, they might not even know she’s alive. She could call them, let them know she’s fine, but she can’t. Coulson told them they couldn’t have outside contact now, not yet. Not until they’ve set up enough of a system to keep their vulnerable team safe.

Jemma doesn’t want to wait. She’s tired of waiting. She just wants to call her mum and dad and tell them she loves them – she just wants  to hear their voices again.

What’s left of her resolve breaks.

Jemma falls back onto her bed, burying her face into her pillow to muffle the noise as she cries. She doesn’t hold back; she cries until her eyes are red and then she can’t stop, thinking about treading water – holding Fitz upright – Ward’s cool collectiveness – the darkness of ninety feet of water – the sting of saltwater in her eyes. Fisting her hands in the duvet, Jemma lets herself cry.

The door to her room opens with a soft click. Jemma swallows a sob, quieting instantly. She stills, hoping that they’ll leave, thinking she’s asleep.

“Please, I just need a moment,” Jemma says when they don’t leave, her voice sounding broken to her own ears. She hopes it isn’t May or Tripp or Agent Koenig standing there awkwardly. It can’t be Fitz. (She wishes it was.)

Jemma doesn’t move, but she hears the door click closed again and the sound of mugs clinking as someone sets them on the table. The bed dips beside her. A hand rests on Jemma’s shoulder, warm and soft. Skye.

 “Hey, it’s okay,” Skye says softly. Jemma looks up at her. She’s shut the door to give them privacy, and Jemma feels a surge of relief. She sits up and sniffs, wiping at her face.

“But it’s not,” Jemma sobs quietly, voice shaking like a leaf. “I know what you’re saying – but it’s not okay.” She bursts into tears again.

Skye reaches forward and pulls Jemma into a hug. Jemma lets herself be held, pressing her face into Skye’s shoulder to muffle her sobs. Skye rubs circles into Jemma’s back and lets her cry for awhile, even as Jemma’s tears soak through her soft purple shirt.

“Well,” Skye says into Jemma’s hair, “I did come here to be your shoulder to cry on.”

Despite herself, Jemma laughs, the sound harsh and strange after her sobs.

“That’s more like it,” Skye says, the hint of a smile in her voice. “I got some great science jokes you’d love, too. Two scientists walk into a bar –“

“No responsible bartender would stock hydrogen peroxide, much less serve it to his customers,” Jemma hiccupped, pulling away from Skye to look at her. She smiled at Jemma brightly.

“That’s more like it,” Skye grinned.

“I thought I’d never see you again,” Jemma sobbed suddenly, falling back into Skye’s arms. Skye rocked her back and forth this time, holding Jemma tightly.

“I thought that once, too,” Skye said. “But the guys on this team…we’re a lot tougher than we look. What with the coming back from the dead and all. I just wish we could have a musical number and sing about it, like in Buffy.

“Give me something to sing about,” Jemma quotes, half-sobbing, half-laughing into Skye’s shoulder.

“So, you got Buffy over there?” Skye laughs. “I thought the BBC showed nothing but reruns of Doctor Who and EastEnders.”

“They saw that Anthony Stewart Head was in it and accidentally let it past the censors,” Jemma smiles, slowly pulling away. “I’m sorry,” she says, wiping her face.

“Never apologize for crying,” Skye says seriously, tilting her head as she looks at Jemma. “Sometimes you’ve gotta let it out. Especially after what you’ve been through.”

“Which is nothing compared to what you’ve been through,” Jemma says. She sniffles a little and looks away self-consciously. She must look like a mess.

“Hey, we’re not playing this game,” Skye sighs. “It’s not about who’s got it worse than you. It’s about you, and how you feel, and what we’ve got to do to make you feel better. I brought you hot chocolate, if you want any.”

Jemma looks over to the table and sees the two mugs Skye has brought her.

“Thanks,” she says weakly, leaning forward and taking one. “What about you – are you okay?”

“I’m getting better,” Skye answers with a shrug. Jemma watches as she takes in a deep breath and lets it out. “Come on,” she says, reaching forward and grabbing their mugs. “We better drink this before it gets cold.”

Skye’s fingers brush against hers as she hands Jemma the hot chocolate. The mug is still warm. She cups it in her hands for the comforting warmth.

Jemma takes a sip. It’s made from milk and a powder mix, nothing like the cocoa her grandmother made from scratch, not like how her dad always makes her a hot cup of tea when she’s feeling sad. But Skye has sprinkled some mini marshmallows and spooned in an extra Hershey’s chocolate kiss to make it sweeter. It’s more than enough.

“Thank you,” Jemma says, meaning it. Skye clinks their mugs together and nods.

“We’ll make it through this,” she says confidently.

They sip at their hot chocolate and fall into a comfortable silence. Jemma is suddenly happy to have the company – she’s glad that it’s Skye here, sitting beside her. She never imagined she’d have this chance again.

“Skye,” she says, finding her voice after a long moment of intense internal debate. “Now, I know this is very cliché, and that I’ve just had a near death experience, which puts things into a bit of a different light. And, I know we haven’t had much time to talk lately, what with HYDRA and Deathlok and all of that. But I was just wondering, and I know this is coming out of nowhere, and that you—“

 “Please tell me you’re asking me out on a date,” Skye interrupts suddenly. “Seriously, I’ve been flirting with you for months.”

“I was – what?” Jemma says, eyebrows shooting up. “You’ve been flirting with me? For months?”

“Well, yeah,” Skye sighs, shaking her head. “Why’d you think I was hanging out around the lab all the time?”

“I thought you were just bored,” Jemma frowns to herself. “You kept showing me memes! Is that flirting?”

“Oh my god,” Skye sighs. “No,” she says, tilting her head to the side and looking at Jemma through lidded eyes. “That is not flirting. Did you even notice my pick-up lines?”

“In Soviet Russia, lines pick-up you,” Jemma says seriously. Skye sets a hand on Jemma’s knee and leans into her space, smiling seductively. “Very flirty. Much cute.”

“Despite your terrible jokes, I am still flirting with you,” Skye says, winking. “Right now. Flirting with you.”

“I almost prefer it to the memes,” Jemma says seriously as Skye leans in. Her eyes are red and her hair’s a mess, but she doesn’t think she could care less at the moment.

“Almost?” Skye says indignantly, prompting a laugh from Jemma.

“Almost,” Jemma repeats, then kisses her.