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let me hear it echo off the walls

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It’s funny, Jemma thinks, how your instinct can change in such a short time.

Not so very long ago, she likely would have welcomed a knock at her door. She’s never needed to be around people constantly, but she doesn’t often resent company. Now, her first instinct is that something’s wrong if she’s being disturbed. That she’s got to be on her guard. That she wouldn’t be bothered unless someone was in danger (and that someone might be her).

“Hello?” she calls out, working to keep her voice even.

“Jem?” Skye says through the door. “Can I come in?”

Immediately Jemma’s heart stops racing (or at least in that same way). “Of – of course,” she returns, pushing herself to sitting and anxiously tucking hair behind her ear though she knows it’ll fall back in her eyes in a few moments.

“Hey,” Skye murmurs as she steps in, shutting the door carefully behind her and standing in front of it like she needs more permission to get closer. “Are you okay to talk right now?”

Jemma glances around her mostly-empty room, then down at her already-pajama-clad self. “Yes,” she says. “What’s going on?”

“Can I…?” Skye hesitates, gesturing to the bed.

“Yes,” Jemma repeats. She notices that Skye’s got a sweater in her hand, a color-blocked blue one that she recognizes as one of her own.

“So it’s really a few different things,” Skye says as soon as she’s settled cross-legged at the foot of Jemma’s bed. She offers Jemma the sweater, looking almost sheepish. “One, I wanted to give this back. I, uh. Kind of borrowed it when you left.”

“Oh,” Jemma whispers. “I’m…”

“I know,” Skye interrupts. “It was a pretty sketchy thing to do, but I was kinda acting on impulse.”

“No, it’s okay,” Jemma exclaims. “I’m glad. I mean, I’m glad that you… got some comfort out of it, maybe. I was going to say I’m sorry. For having necessitated that in the first place.”

“Whoa,” Skye exclaims. She leans forward to grab Jemma’s hand, but before she makes contact she asks, “Is this okay?”

Jemma nods shyly.

“Cool,” Skye says. “Point is, you don’t need to be sorry. You had something you needed to do, and yeah, I’ll admit I was pretty hurt about it for a while, but I understand. You were doing something important. More important than…”

“That’s not true,” Jemma whispers. “You’re important.”

“Not as important as the mission,” Skye insists. “I get that. Don’t worry.”

She sounds so resolute that Jemma doesn’t bother arguing it, but she wants to. Skye’s different now, she’s a little more serious, a little scarier. It makes sense. They’re all different. She doesn’t know how to explain it in most cases, she doesn’t want to because everyone’s changed alongside each other and adapted and she’s still stuck on what was and it hurts and –

“That brings me to another thing, though,” Skye says as if to call Jemma’s focus back (she can recognize that slightly distant look in Jemma’s eyes, knows what it means). “It really means a lot, what you said earlier.”

Jemma furrows her brow. “Which?” she asks softly, though she thinks she knows.

“To Ward,” Skye clarifies. “I… I know that wasn’t just about me. I know you’ve got so many reasons that have nothing to do with me for saying that. But…” She trails off, frowning at their joined hands. “For whatever part of it was about me, thank you.”

“I didn’t do much,” Jemma murmurs. “I’m sure he saw it as an empty threat, anyway.”

“Whatever,” Skye exclaims. “That you said that, and that I know you mean it – that’s powerful, Jemma.”

Jemma nods, nibbling on her bottom lip. “Thank you,” she says. “You’re welcome. Something.”

“Hey,” Skye whispers, lifting Jemma’s chin. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Jemma says immediately, too quickly for it to be true.

“I hope you managed more convincing lies for Hydra,” Skye teases, but she sees that it doesn’t change Jemma’s expression and backtracks. “Are you okay, honey?”

The syllables shoot through Jemma like an electric shock. It’s not really a question she’s been asked much lately, beyond its most basic form. Are you okay meaning have you been injured, are you okay meaning there isn’t anybody on to you. Not are you okay meaning what’s going on in your mind and your heart.

And not are you okay, honey. That’s a different question altogether.

“I’m the bad guy,” Jemma whispers before she can think any better of it.

“What?” Skye asks, holding back a laugh. “What are you talking about? Nobody thinks that.”

“Mack does,” Jemma says. “He said I want Fitz to be someone he’s not. He said I’m the only thing that makes Fitz worse.” Tears well in her eyes. “And I, I’m just trying to help the only way I know how, but it does, it hurts Fitz, and I can see it.”

“That doesn’t make you bad,” Skye maintains. “You’re not bad, Jemma. You’re the opposite of bad.”

“It’s my fault that he’s… and it’s my fault that I can’t…”

“No,” Skye says firmly. “It’s Ward’s fault that Fitz got hurt. Period. And it’s nobody’s fault that you left, and nobody’s fault that your feelings didn’t match up with Fitz’s. And it’s Mack’s fault that he’s laying that blame on you without knowing the full story.” Skye doesn’t even know the full story herself, because Jemma hasn’t told her yet, but she knows more than most, so she feels all right saying that. “I’m sorry that you’re getting all this thrown at you. It’s not exactly a great welcome home.”

“I don’t know what I expected,” Jemma mutters, sounding suddenly bitter. “I ran. I ran from my problems into another problem and I didn’t even get myself out of that by myself. If Bobbi hadn’t been there, I’d be dead.”

“Hey,” Skye says gently. “Hey, no, that’s not on you. That was Raina’s fault. Not yours.”

“Still,” Jemma says. “I’m no hero. I’m not – I fuck things up.” Her gaze lifts to the ceiling, like she’s searching for answers. “I… I’m tired, Skye.”

“Of course you are,” Skye soothes. “You’ve been through so much and you haven’t had a chance to breathe or really process it. I’m sorry about that, too. It’s shitty.”

“It’s how our life goes,” Jemma mumbles. “I shouldn’t need that time. I should just be able to – bounce back. That’s what you do, and May, and Bobbi, and…”

“Not really,” Skye says. “There’s a hell of a lot of processing that goes on behind the scenes that everyone does a little differently. I can’t speak for May or for Bobbi or for anyone but myself, but – hell, it’s not like I’ve gotten all the closure I need, but I at least… I’ve got the beginnings of some of my answers. I just want you to get that same thing, honey, okay?”

“Could we just have, have quiet time instead?” Jemma asks in a whisper, suddenly looking up at Skye. “I can’t… I mean, there’s not any way to fix anything, you’re perfect, you’re the only thing that doesn’t need fixed. I… could I just be yours again? And we could be quiet?”

She sounds so small and almost desperate that Skye’s scooting forward to smooth a hand over her hair and cheek before she can register it. “Quiet time,” she repeats.

And Jemma nods. She’s started to shake just a little, but Skye just keeps on petting her, long strokes like she’s gentling her, and slowly she calms and her breathing slows. “Quiet and yours,” she echoes. “Properly all the way yours. I miss being yours. Tell me what you want.” What she doesn’t say but Skye hears is that she needs something outside herself to focus on and to be good at. Something uncomplicated.

“You sure?” Skye asks, just in case. “All the way?”

“You’re safe,” Jemma insists. “I’ll call the safeword if I have to.” She lowers her voice. “I just miss you.”

“I miss you, too,” Skye says softly. “I miss taking care of my girl.”

“You have,” Jemma murmurs. “You… on the boat, you…”

“I know, honey,” Skye whispers. “I did what I had to do to keep my girl safe. And she, you, you’ve done what you had to do to do the same. I wanna show you what a good job you’ve done.”

Jemma colors. “I don’t wanna be selfish,” she says. “Could I perhaps take care of you while you take care of me?”

Skye frowns. “I think my newbness is showing,” she admits, because she’s pretty sure Jemma doesn’t just mean sex. That doesn’t sound like a sex voice.

“I wanna be with you how you see fit, ma’am,” Jemma explains, almost timidly. “But it would make me the happiest to be able to pamper you. Show you how lovely you are to me.”

Skye skims back through all of the information she’d taken in when they started playing this way. “Service, you mean?”

“Please, ma’am?”

“Oh, honey,” Skye says, pressing the lightest of kisses to Jemma’s lips. “You’re such a good girl.”

“Thank you,” Jemma smiles, and she almost looks like herself again.

“I want you to undress to your undies while I get the toys out, okay?” Skye begins. Jemma opens her mouth to reply, but Skye presses a finger to her lips. “Quiet time starts now, I think.”

Jemma lets out the faintest whimper, fights the urge to take that finger in her mouth and suck and instead pushes off the bed. She strips out of her pants, tugs her shirt off, watches Skye rummage under the bed. And before she sits down, she fetches a bottle of pale pink fingernail polish and a washcloth from her dresser. Eyes wide, she holds them out to Skye, her expression a question.

“Oh,” Skye coos. “Yeah, I can work with that. C’mere.” She pats the bed, watches Jemma come settle down in front of her with her head bowed. “Pretty girl,” she murmurs happily. “My pretty girl.”

Jemma nods, gives a little sound of affirmation. All Skye’s, Skye who shifts behind her and pets her shoulders before taking a breath and fastening the just-retrieved collar around her neck. It seems to do the trick: once it’s on, Jemma’s shoulders drop, her posture relaxes, and Skye coos over her accordingly.

“Mine,” she says, petting Jemma’s hair and fixing it into loose pigtails. “My good, good girl.”

Jemma whimpers as she lifts her head just enough to ask with her eyes, More?

Skye nods. “Yeah, honey,” she whispers. She only has half an idea of what she’s doing, but she’s trying. Jemma deserves that. Very carefully she lifts the harness gag that had been tucked in Jemma’s designated toybox (it’s one of the few toys that Jemma had before them, it’s presumably a favorite left over from some undiscussed previous domme-girlfriend, but it looks so cute on her that Skye has never gotten jealous about it) and she waits a moment before easing Jemma’s jaw open and working the ball between her lips and teeth, arranging the straps under her chin and over her cheeks and forehead. She loves the little sigh it makes Jemma give, the way her shoulders roll instinctively.

“Good girl,” Skye repeats. “Legs first, or hands?”

Jemma considers this a moment, wrinkling her nose, then she nods down at her legs. It seems marginally more practical.

“Makes sense,” Skye observes, smiling. She leans down to kiss one of Jemma’s ankles, then the other; she fastens a pair of cuffs around them. Jemma lets out a whine as she glances down, but Skye is figuring this out, she’s working up a plan. She picks up their spreader bar and giggles as Jemma’s eyes light up. “Yeah?” she asks, urging Jemma up and onto her knees with her legs apart enough to facilitate the bar. “I’m gonna take care of you, honey, I promise.”

Jemma nods eagerly, whimpers out a vowely affirmation, and Skye nudges her back to sitting, with her legs folded under her to the side, about as ladylike as she can be right now. she could get up and move around if she wanted to, but she doesn’t. This is comfortable, and she holds her wrists out expectantly.

“Greedy,” Skye teases. Jemma whines again and Skye just laughs. “I’m gonna take care of you,” she repeats. “I am. Trust me, okay?”

Presumably Jemma’s next noise means I do.

As Skye closes another set of cuffs around her wrists, these joined by a thin chain, Jemma reflects on how odd it is, having hands bound in front of her and not behind or above like usual. Of course it suits what she asked of Skye, and in that way she’s pleased by it, the way that she can function but only just. Already she feels a little calmer.

Which apparently shows, because Skye gives another of those smiles and draws a finger down a line of the harness, the one over Jemma’s nose and cheek. “Good?” she asks in a whisper.

Jemma nods once-twice-three times, leans into Skye’s hand rather demandingly.

“Of course, honey,” Skye says. She steps off the bed, starts stripping down to her own underthings. Neither of them exactly planned for this wardrobe-wise – Jemma’s just in a plain white bra and panties, Skye’s is this lacy reddish-orange set – but it works in a way. The only color on Jemma is the red of the ball between her lips, the red that almost but not quite matches Skye’s lingerie, and that makes sense: she’s wan right now, Skye is gonna put the color back in her.

“Okay, honey,” Skye asks after a moment of consideration. “You wanna do my nails?” She sits cross-legged on the bed and gathers up the supplies, lays the washcloth out over her knee.

Jemma nods eagerly. She takes the bottle of polish, tries to maneuver to twist the lid off, and it takes a second, probably longer than it ought, but Skye takes pity and reaches for the bottle once it’s free, holding it where it will be easy for Jemma to reach.

“That okay?” she asks, knowing the answer.

Jemma hums her agreement, after a moment resting her left hand over her right somewhat; that way, she knows, the one won’t be just dangling off the other while she works. Part of her wanting something like this is just calming her down, making her think less about anything that’s not this exact moment. Right now her only worry is Skye’s hands, paying attention to Skye to make her feel spoiled and good.

So, she carefully brushes polish over Skye’s pinky nail, and she’s focused so singularly that she barely hears Skye speak. It takes Skye lifting Jemma’s head so she can watch her lips move and repeating, “Hey, honey, are you okay?” for it to register.

Jemma nods again, grunts softly in the affirmative, starts to move on to the next nail.

“Do you want me to keep talking?” Skye asks.

Jemma’s hand stills, and she ponders, watching Skye’s face to see if there’s an answer she has in mind. There isn’t, probably, at least that Jemma can guess, so she shrugs again, dares to mumble out something that’s meant to be if you wanna, but I might miss parts of it but comes out mostly noises linked by what expressions can be seen behind the harness.

And it takes a second, but Skye thinks she gets it. “Okay,” she says. “I’ll do my best for you. That’s what you need right now, huh?”

It’s the same very certain tone she learned early on to use with her sweetest subbiest Jemma, the one that assures her and gentles her and doesn’t patronize (because that’s the opposite of sexy), and Jemma reacts like she always does, a wide-eyed and polite “thank you,” only now it comes out a messy nonsense sound.

“You’re the cutest,” Skye can’t help herself but declare.

Jemma tilts her head, not realizing that one of the things that motivate what Skye’s talking about is that she does things all innocent like that even when she’s all trussed up.

Another is, “I didn’t realize how much I was gonna love the little noises you make when you can’t talk properly.” Skye says the last word in a pretend version of Jemma’s own accent, but as sweetly as she can manage to do. It’s still a horrible imitation, which makes Jemma squeak indignantly, but it’s meant with love. “They’re really adorable, which seems like a weird thing to say, maybe, but they are. You are.”

Jemma hums out a thank you of sorts before she moves to work on Skye’s next nail.

And they’re quiet like that for a while, like Jemma needs and like Skye can give. She offers praises here and there, but they’re soft enough that Jemma mostly only hears the pleasant tone they’re said in and doesn’t really hear the words themselves. Just like she wanted it to, her world is slowly shrinking down to just her and Skye, and that’s – it’s welcome. She’s needed it.

And then Skye’s nails are all painted, and Jemma wrinkles her nose at a loss of what to do next. Skye’s at a loss too for a moment; there’s not much she can do herself while her nails dry, and there’s not much Jemma can do for her while she’s all done up. Finally, what she does is put a hand on Jemma’s knee gently and whisper, “Hey, honey. I’m gonna move behind you and I want you to lie down with your head on my lap, okay?”

Jemma nods and waits for Skye to move before she inches forward, then eases back. It’s an odd feeling, staring up at Skye’s face in wonderment from this position, settling down on her back because she can’t very well lie on her side with her ankles spread as they are, resting her chained-together wrists on her hips for lack of other options, biting on the rubber ball between her teeth.

“Oh, Jemma,” Skye says softly, leaning against the headboard and petting the other girl’s hair. “You’re so good for me.”

Jemma wiggles happily, tilting her head into Skye’s hand.

“You’re such a good girl,” she muses. “You’re so good at everything you do. You’re brilliant, and you’re sweet, and you’re so brave.” She reaches down to stroke Jemma’s jaw, massaging out some of the tension there. “I wouldn’t have been able to do what you did, honey. Going in there every day and staying calm.” Knowing that everyone she’d left behind didn’t understand what was going on. Skye wouldn’t have been able to do that either, but she knows better than to bring it up. “And then coming back and jumping back in with that same smile you’ve always had.”

A sigh escapes Jemma, followed by a soft whimper.

“I want you to know, honey,” Skye continues, “I don’t expect that just with me. I don’t need you to be formal or chipper with me, okay? I wanna be a place you don’t feel any pressure, no matter what else is going on. I know that’s not always possible, but when it’s just the two of us, I want you to know that you don’t have to try to put on being strong because I always think you are.”

The sound that Jemma makes in response to that seems almost like a sob, though she’s not crying, her tears never fell.

“I promise,” Skye says. “You’re the strongest, best girl, and I wanna take care of you like you deserve. You’re always trying to make sure everyone else is okay, and I want to make sure you are too.”

Jemma gives another whimper, though this one is more clearly grateful.

“Will you let me do that, Jem?” Skye asks, waiting for Jemma to nod before she presses on. “Okay. I don’t want you to feel like you have to shoulder anything by yourself that you don’t wanna. I forgive you for everything you think you need forgiving for and I didn’t think you needed forgiving in the first place, honestly, you never did anything wrong and you’re the perfect one, honestly. And it has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s all you, Jemma.”

Jemma’s eyes flutter shut, she nuzzles into Skye’s lap more closely.

“You’re my family,” Skye says. “All of you guys, I mean, but I need to tell you specifically. You’re my girl, you’re my family, you’re my home. I’m not pissed you left, but I feel better now that you’re back.”

It’s done almost sleepily, but Jemma taps three times on her abdomen – if Jemma’s gagged, that’s her “I have something important to say” signal, the taps, so Skye hastens to unfasten the harness and untangle it from Jemma’s hair (the pigtails have come a bit loose, given how short they were to begin).

“I love you,” Jemma says, her voice a bit hoarse.

“I know that, silly,” Skye returns with a fond roll of her eyes.

“I know you know,” Jemma murmurs. “I just missed saying it.”

Skye smiles softly. “Well, same,” she says. “I love you too. Is quiet time over?”

Jemma shakes her head, though her face reads as ambiguity. “Just wanted to say. Could you undo my ankles and spoon me?”

“I could,” replies Skye, all playful and teasing.

“Would you?” Jemma amends, pouting. “I’ll be good, promise.”

“Of course you will,” Skye smiles. She holds the harness up before making to stow it in the bedside table. “I think I’m gonna leave this off, too. I know you’ll be quiet if I want, and this way I can kiss you better before we’re spooning.”

“I’d like that,” Jemma says softly.

Skye lifts her up enough that she can move down the bed to work on unfastening the spreader bar. “I figured you might,” she teases.

“Stay tonight?” Jemma asks, since Skye hasn’t told her yet to stop.

“Of course,” Skye exclaims. She sets the bar under the bed before she scoots back up to, as promised, turn Jemma on one side to kiss her tenderly before turning her over the other direction and draping an arm over her waist.

“Good,” Jemma whispers. “Thank you. I’m glad to be home.”