Jemma Simmons was bleeding again. For science, per usual. She opened her mouth to make a joke about it, then realized that that was the kind of sentence that sounded better inside her head than out of it, like most of her sentences lately. One of the various junior scientists that flitted around the lab and was supposed to obey her every whim came over and made some kind of alarmed noise about her hand. “It cuts through body armor too,” Jemma said curiously. “Make sure to note that in the results.”
“Do you need something for your hand?” the junior scientist squeaked, glancing down nervously at her.
“Just a bandage and some of that healing gel we’ve been working on--I’ll want you to note down the results for that too.” She kept her voice perfectly calm and her hands perfectly still and remembered to breathe in and out and pretended that she barely felt any pain. (She was getting quite good at it.) The healing gel was working quite well, Jemma noted dully, when she felt something cool being sprayed across her palm. She didn’t really feel much after that, but then that seemed to be a bit of a theme now. After Trip’s death, after Skye’s strange new powers, after Fitz leaving her (just like she’d left him), the best way to survive seemed to be to put a glass wall up between her and the rest of the world, to slide her feelings under a microscope and analyze them until they didn’t seem like hers anymore. Guilt, anger, sadness, whatever she wanted to call this strange cocktail swirling through all her veins-- she could extract it, Jemma told herself, capture it under glass, and break each and every last tear down into its chemical components and stop herself from shedding any more. And if it maybe wasn’t the best way...well, that was a hypothesis she simply wasn’t going to consider.
“Any progress, Simmons?” Coulson’s voice cut into her thoughts and distantly, she realized that the junior scientists had fluttered away and that her cut had already healed. The Director was standing in the doorway, watching her with worried eyes and holding a large cup of coffee. (They all hadn’t been sleeping much lately.)
“It cuts through every substance we’ve tested so far, sir,” Jemma replied, pointing to the small black shard sitting in the center of the lab table. “Bobbi volunteered her old wedding ring if we wanted to test diamond next, but I thought that we’d better avoid any option that involves a Hunter tantrum. However, it’s provided a wonderful opportunity to test out the efficiency of the new healing gel. Results with that are quite so positive so far.” She brandished her now healed hand at Coulson and smiled brightly. Optimism was quite easy when it only involved outside appearances. Really, she’d exhausted her last option: the metal, whatever it was, probably involved some kind of nasty engineering and her engineer had been perfectly useless, just staring at it and pronouncing it very sharp. Fitz would have been able to fix it, she thought stubbornly.
“Does this remind you of anything?” Coulson asked casually. Too casually, May would say.
“Actually, it does. Its function is quite different from the neurotoxin dispenser we picked up last week, or the stun staff from last month, but there’s something similar about their design. It’s all very sleek and camouflaged and almost...gleefully nasty.” Jemma frowned down at the shard, remembering the ring that had nearly knocked out one of her junior scientists by releasing a neurotoxin that was absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream and the miniaturized staff, concealed inside an umbrella, that had actually knocked out one of her junior scientists. “It’s all designed for maximum discretion and for maximum damage,” she added. “Have we found some kind of link between them?”
“Actually, Fitz did,” Coulson nodded towards the doorway and Jemma tried very hard to look professional and to avoid looking at Fitz. He was wearing a tie, she noticed, in the middle of trying not to look at him. She’d thought that he’d thrown them all out after, when he woke up with shaking hands and a stuttering voice (his hands had stayed still long enough to shove them in a cardboard box and shove her away when she tried to stop him), but this one was new. His fine motor control must have gotten much better, she thought, and she opened her mouth to congratulate him only to realize that that, too, sounded much better in theory than in practice.
“Whoever’s making these couldn’t resist the urge to brag,” Fitz said. “Their mistake. When I was taking apart the staff, I found a, uh...a symbol etched into the circuitry. The same one was on the inside of the ring. Two x’s, crossed over each other like this.” He held up his fingers.
“Roxxon,” Jemma breathed. “You know, after the war, Peggy Carter briefly infiltrated the company at the beginning of her search for Howard Stark’s missing prototypes. It’s an incident that demonstrates her remarkable undercover skills and ability to improvise when necessary, as well as her frequent collaboration with Edwin Jarvis and--”
“I know, Jemma. I took SHIELD history with you--you made Peggy Carter flashcards.” After a minute, Fitz laughed, awkwardly, and Jemma realized that had been meant to be a joke. “Anyway, we’re pretty sure that Roxxon has, um...started to...that is, they’ve…” He shut his eyes, took a deep breath. “They’re become the supplier for supervillains. We’re not sure if it’s the whole company, or a secret division, or a…”
“So I’ve decided to send you and Fitz undercover,” Coulson interrupted. “Indefinitely.”
(because destiny says so)
“What do you do on a Friday night?”
“Thai takeout, Gilmore Girls, and cocktails with my college roommate Bobbi if she’s in town.”
“Favorite ice cream flavor?”
“Chocolate chip cookie dough.”
“Are you dating anyone?”
“One ex-boyfriend--and one ex-girlfriend--back home in England. But they’re um...it didn’t end well.”
“So how do you know Fitz?”
“Sorry, who?” Jemma smiled politely and tried to tell herself that it wasn’t a lie.
“Better,” May pronounced. They’d been going over Jemma’s cover story for the past three hours. Jemma Watson, recent Cambridge graduate with a PhD in biochemistry, bright-eyed, optimistic, coming to the States for a new job and a new start, everything that Jemma Simmons had once been. “You're still fidgeting and you have a tendency to worry too much about the small details, but you'll do fine. You'll do well, Simmons.”
“Hydra didn't exactly go well,” Jemma mumbled. “The jumping onto an invisible plane, and all that running...Bobbi practically had to come and get me like a mom picking up her kids after school.”
“You got valuable information. Don't dismiss that,” May said firmly. “We have full confidence in you—that's why we're sending you in first. You'll assess the situation, begin to gather information, and then Fitz'll go in and work the angle from his end. And if you ever need to work together, Skye will hack into their system and get you two paired up. Engineering and biochem, easy as that.”
“I just...me and Fitz...we're not the same. I don't think we'll ever be. I've tried and I've tried but...” Jemma gazed desperately up at May and silently willed her to understand.
“And maybe that's not a bad thing. We've all changed, Simmons. It might be time to think about what you could be rather than that what you were.”
Fitz came to wish her good luck the night before she left, hovering around the edge of her door like he wasn't sure if she'd allow him to stay, and Jemma wondered if this was how it would always be with them—caught in corridors, on thresholds, between one thing and another. He coughed, and then waved awkwardly from the doorway when she looked up from her pile of suitcases. Then he was staring at her, unsure of what to say, and she was staring at him and she'd never noticed that his eyes were quite that blue and he was wearing a tie again and it looked really nice on him and it was definitely time to say something before things got any more awkward. “You can come in, Fitz,” she blurted out. “I need your advice anyway: which of these shirts says cute and nonthreatening?”
“The flowered one? I think?” He frowned at the shirts she'd thrown at him. “I don't really know much about this—remember when you used to dress me at the Academy?”
“Only because you wore the same four shirts every week. They may have all been the same shirt, actually. I couldn't tell the difference,” Jemma shuddered. “And that blue jacket. I still have nightmares sometimes about that jacket.”
“I liked the blue jacket!” he protested.
“It deserved to be burned. And to have its ashes scattered over a desolate wasteland,” she said and shut her suitcase with a decisive snap. “Or possibly sent into outer space.”
“The Gallifreyans would have appreciated it properly,” he muttered and grinned hugely when she laughed. He'd made her laugh all the time back at the Academy, tripping over things, making a huge deal out of eating his salad, flailing around like an idiot (her idiot). It was only later that she realized he'd only done it whenever she was stressed out and about to collapse, whether she was drowning underneath a stack of flashcards in the library or taking shots of espresso during midterms. Fitz would coax her outside by claiming that he needed a study break, stuff his pockets with her favorite kind of muffins from the dining hall and show up at her door covered in crumbs, march into her room at three in the morning and insist that she needed to sleep, holding her textbooks hostage and curling up next to her when she insisted on using him as a pillow. “When are you leaving tomorrow?” he asked.
“I have a flight tomorrow to New York. Commercial airline and everything, to help with the cover story. Skye might have even hacked me a first-class ticket.” Jemma knotted her hands behind her back so he wouldn't see them shake and focused on breathing in and out. After the pod, she...hadn't liked small spaces for a long time. Planes, closets, the subway, even her bedroom sometimes when she'd been at Hydra. Sometimes she'd gone up to the roof of her building, just so she could stare out at the city and breathe in the sheer size of it, the expanse of open rooftops before her, until she stopped feeling like she was drowning.
“Good luck,” Fitz said quietly. “You'll do great. I'll see you soon, yeah?”
“See you soon,” she promised and smiled up at him. It felt surprisingly real and when he turned to leave, she threw her arms around him before he could go any further, knocking them both off balance and sending them wobbling before he steadied them. He felt warm and familiar, his arms tight around her, her face buried in the crook of his neck, and Jemma inhaled his scent, metal and tea and spice, and felt strangely at home. “I'll miss you,” she whispered. “I always missed you.” His voice was nothing more than a murmur against her hair, but she thought she heard him tell her that he'd missed her too.
She held on to him for longer than she needed to, but he let her.
( the comic relief)
“They got a new guy in engineering and Kelly says that he's super cute,” Kate hissed to Jemma from the other end of their lab bench. “Great hands and incredibly long fingers.”
“And?” Jemma sipped her tea and shuffled some papers around on her desk in an attempt to look busy. Roxxon had theoretically hired her as a biochemist but no one seemed to be doing much around the company—according to Kate, half the science division had been stuck analyzing the same batch of cells for two months and as soon as Jemma had arrived, they'd simply given her a lab bench and something to titrate. Absolutely no sign of dangerous weapons anywhere. (Jemma was slightly disappointed.)
“Scientifically speaking, that only suggests good things.” Kate made some incredibly rude gesture that Jemma wished she didn't know the meaning of under her desk. “I actually read a great study on this the other day—there's some variables that weren't sufficiently controlled for but the idea shows promise. Here,” Kate shoved a scientific journal and a scone across the table at Jemma. “Want to track him down later? It's not like we're making any great scientific breakthroughs here.” She heaved a huge sigh and Jemma nodded in sympathy. The other girl had befriended her almost instantly during Jemma's first day at Roxxon, sliding over the lab bench they shared and asking her what she thought of the latest studies on RNA replication, if she'd tried the sandwich place around the corner yet, and what kind of blog she thought their immediate supervisor ran in his spare time. (They had an office poll going, and Kate's money was on a Tumblr dedicated to the love of two fictional characters who had never met in canon. Jemma was currently leaning towards a X Files fan site. Hosted on LiveJournal.)
“Where is engineering anyway?” Jemma asked casually. Half the rooms in Roxxon seemed to be off limits, plastered over with yellow tape, blocked off, or just hidden behind locked doors. She'd been meaning to explore the building after hours, and see if any of those locked doors were hiding a clue, even compiled a list of the top ten most likely locations to be hiding supervillains, but she'd had no luck trying to decipher the alarm system.
“Somewhere in the basement. They're pretty pissed off about it,” Kate shrugged. “Something about spiders.”
“That's odd. Isn't the entire third floor empty?” Jemma had to stifle a giggle, imagining what Fitz's reaction would be to the spiders.
“Off limits. Victor has a theory that they've got some experiment gone wrong running around in there. But then Victor's big on the conspiracy theories—with a last name like Von Doom, who wouldn't be?” Kate pointed over at one of their coworkers, who was currently alternating between sulking in a corner and making something explode, lank hair hanging over the scar that cut his face in half and black and green hoodie zipped up all the way to his neck to cover the scars running down his neck. Half of the people who worked at Roxxon seemed to have Pasts that they didn't talk about and rather alarming destructive tendencies, Jemma thought, while the other half seemed faintly confused by it all. Finally, she just raised a curious eyebrow in response and bent back over her work, wondering how soon she could get Skye to hack into the system and get her the building blueprints. She'd leave the request in the next dead drop, embedded in the straw of her smoothie cup, and ask them when Fitz's arrival date was if she could fit it into the straw. He should have been here by now, especially after she'd--”
“Kate?” Jemma asked, trying to keep her voice perfectly even. “Did Kelly happen to mention what the new guy looked like?”
“Not really, just that he had blue eyes and wore a lot of plaid. We're going to rate him on the engineer hotness scale later, if you're interested. We're really bored,” Kate added defensively when Jemma (affectionately) rolled her eyes at her. “Anyway, want to look at this molecule...cell...thing for me?”
“Who can resist a molecule cell thing?” Jemma said dryly. “And afterward, you might be able to talk me into going looking for this mystery engineer.”
(the meet cute)
Later, Jemma would maintain, loudly and publicly, that it wasn't her fault. Maybe she'd been a little overenthusiastic in her march towards the centrifuge but Fitz had practically been running. In the lab, which rule number eighty-three of the Roxxon employee handbook clearly stated was forbidden. Either way, he looked left when she looked right and they promptly collided into each other. Her tea went all over his (plaid) shirt, his files went flying all over the floor, and she somehow landed on top of him.
He yelped, she squeaked in surprise, and even though she'd been the one to engineer their first meeting, Jemma couldn't help thinking that she'd failed to adequately calculate the consequences of this particular...tactic. Like how warm Fitz was, which she'd nearly forgotten since that day in the cave, when he'd held her close without thinking twice about it. Or that his chest had gotten nicely solid, probably from finally doing his physical therapy properly, and she could feel his heart beating double time against hers. Or just the fact that he felt so familiar and that, breathing in his scent in the second before she slipped back into her cover, somehow feeling his warmth all around her, she felt calmer than she had in months. Then he yelped again and she remembered that the tea she'd spilled on him was really quite hot.
“Oh my god, are you all right?” she gasped, struggling to a kneeling position and off him. “Did any of my tea get on you?” She dabbed ineffectively at his chest with one of the more poorly written lab reports she'd found and kept on babbling. “I honestly didn't see you coming—I was just heading to the centrifuge and then there you were, right before I collided into you. It's like you just appeared out of nowhere, not that you could have appeared out of nowhere, unless the rumors about Engineering working on that teleportation device really are true--”
“No, it was my fault. I wasn't looking where I was going—I mean I was—but I, ah, I got distracted—I've been reading this—this study. A very important study. And then I—you're really pretty,” he blurted out. Jemma's eyes widened—that was definitely not in the script. She'd thought out the script very carefully, despite only having her lunch hour to write it before she sent it to Fitz over the secure connection Skye had hacked into her phone, and calculated it for the maximum amount of coincidental awkwardness. Clearly, someone hadn't studied his lines well enough.
“Thank you,” she whispered and felt a flush begin to creep up her neck. She was pretty sure that this was addressed by sub-section d of the script. If she could only remember what exactly sub-section d was. “It's all over your tie too,” she said desperately, going back to the last line she remembered. “Are you sure you're all right?”
“I'm fine,” he interrupted and put his hand over hers to stop her attacking his shirt. “The shirt may not make it, but it was a red shirt anyway.” Jemma giggled. Involuntarily. That was when she realized they were still kneeling on the floor and scrambled to her feet, one hand still wrapped around Fitz's bicep. He came up along with her, still trying to shake the tea off his shirt and took a step back almost immediately when he realized how close they were, accidentally hitting his head against the file cabinet. You're doing great, he mouthed at her in between winces and Jemma nodded almost imperceptibly back. “I'm Fitz,” he said and stuck out a hand.
“Jemma,” she took it and couldn't help staring up at him as she shook it. For the first time in months, he wasn't looking at her with history in his eyes and frustration in his voice. Even at the Playground, during the few moments when they'd found a fragile truce, months and months of saying everything except the things they needed to say had still seemed to hang in the air between them, a not-so-friendly ghost. But now he was just looking at her, like he'd never seen her before and thought it was a marvelous thing to just get the chance, like another Fitz was meeting another Jemma and promising that things would turn out differently this time. And that's all their cover identities were, Jemma told herself sternly. Another Fitz and another Jemma created out of thin air to accomplish a mission, nothing more. Nothing real.
He smiled sheepishly down at her and she realized that they were still holding hands. “It was, um, nice to meet you, Jemma,” he said. “Even if my shirt disagrees. We could—I might—maybe I'll see you around the building?”
“I'd like that,” she replied and squeezed his hand quickly before she let go. Nearby, she heard someone whispering and realized that she and Fitz had just become the latest piece of office gossip.
Well then. Jemma smiled to herself. Everyone had been too busy calling them adorable to notice the flash drive that she'd slipped into his hand.
(the meet not so cute)
“Are you insane?” Jemma hissed. “You can't be here.” A dripping-wet Fitz, carrying a briefcase and looking supremely disgruntled, was currently standing on her doorstep and this was not part of the plan. In fact, she was starting to suspect that, metaphorically speaking, the plan had gone boom.
“It's your apartment, Jemma. It'll be fine,” he said flatly. “I promise, Big Brother is not watching us.”
“What if Roxxon has access to the video footage? I wouldn't put it past them to keep tabs on their workers after hours,” Jemma pointed out.
“Then Skye'll fix it. Can I come in before I die of pneumonia?” He shivered for dramatic effect. Left with no other choice, she sighed and swung her door open: he'd probably forgotten his umbrella (again). You could always rely on Fitz to remember the snacks and forget everything else important. Once, in Sci-Ops, she'd dragged him along on one of her sample collecting missions and he'd brought five pounds of M&Ms and completely forgotten a raincoat, umbrella, or to check the weather report. They'd ended up getting caught in the rain, soaked through to the skin and valiantly trying not to look at each other, and when they'd finally made their way back to Sci-Ops, there'd been gossip about them for weeks.
“Wait here,” she ordered, tossed him a towel, and went to search through her drawers for anything that might fit him. She knew that she'd kept a few of her ex-boyfriends' shirts around, though they'd probably be at least two sizes too big for Fitz. Or maybe not—he'd been training with Hunter lately (how on earth that had happened, she had no idea) and his shoulders had gotten just a bit broader, the lean muscles in his chest just the tiniest, most important bit more defined, and...no. Bad Jemma. Admittedly, it hadn't been her fault that the rain had soaked his shirt through and it had been her scientific duty to check that he wasn't really going to get pneumonia, but she was still fairly sure that scientific duty didn't involve staring at his chest. And that he wouldn't want her to. He'd made that awfully clear, in the weeks that stretched into months after she came back.
“Do you have snacks?” he called from her hallway, shifting from foot to foot and trying his hardest not to drip all over her rug.
“I have healthy food,” she replied and emerged from her room with an enormous pair of sweatpants and a flannel shirt. “If you want kale chips, carrot sticks, or dried blueberries, they're all yours.” Fitz made some kind of indistinct grumbling noise as he accepted the clothes from her and headed towards the bathroom to change. Then he glanced down at the shirt.
“Yes?” she asked absently.
“This is my shirt,” he attempted to look indignant about it. “It's been more than ten years and you haven't given up your shirt-thieving ways.” Jemma reasoned that silence was the best policy and tried to look very busy with the kale chips. “It's been more than ten years and you still have my shirt,” Fitz said quietly. When she looked up from the kale chips, he was staring at her, eyes unexpectedly soft.
“It's the most comfortable one I have. And you're only getting it back on a temporary basis,” she said crisply. He just kept on staring at her. They were not having a moment. They couldn't be having a moment. Because if they were, then all of a sudden she had hope, even if she wasn't sure of what, and if she had hope, that was just asking for it to get snatched away. He'd get angry, she'd get defensive, and they'd end up running in circles again, having the same argument but never quite getting to the end of it. “Anyway, you should probably get out of those wet clothes. Before you really do catch pneumonia,” she teased.
When he came back, sweatpants pooling around his ankles and shirt just a little too snug across his shoulders, they faced each other on either side of the coffee table. She had a stack of folders filled with her research on Roxxon, he had two different tablets analyzing the flash drive she'd slipped him, there was a bowl of kale chips on the table, and neither of them had any idea where to start once they'd exhausted their stash of long-buried Academy memories. Jemma tried to remember the last time that she and Fitz had just been together, not working frantically in the lab, not running from HYDRA, not trapped in the pod, and found that she couldn't remember. It must have been sometime back on the bus, maybe even before Skye had been shot, but no matter how hard she concentrated, all of the Before seemed to blur into one long, rose-tinted haze. But what was the Before, really? Before HYDRA, before Centipede, before the Chitauri, before whenever she had slipped over the line from best friend to something more in Fitz's head. And Jemma wondered, with a sharp flash of fear in the pit of her stomach, if the Before was all they had. “Um, sorry about the whole tea thing,” Jemma said eventually, rubbing anxiously at the back of her neck. “It was the best I could come up on short notice.”
“No, it was good!” Fitz protested. “Kind of fun, actually.” He hesitated, tapping his fingers nervously against the arm of the couch. “But you could have—could have asked me for help if you needed it though. You don't have to do everything, Jemma.” He edged forward, nearly sliding off the couch, and carefully knotted his hands together to stop them from shaking.
“I'm not trying to do everything,” she bristled, then took a deep breath and tried to keep her voice even. They'd had arguments just like this before, she told herself, back when they both tried to boss each other around and failed miserably. “I'm just...I'm nervous. Being undercover at Hyd—being undercover before...it wasn't great. To say the least. And now—I can't help thinking of everything that could go wrong.”
“You're worried about me,” he said flatly. “Before, you would have trusted me but now you think I'm going to fall apart. That I'm useless.”
“I never said anything like that. I don't--I'm not--,” she sighed in frustration. (Because she was scared for him now but then, she was scared for everyone now.) “I'm glad that you're here, Fitz, and I...I trust you, I do. Why would you ever think that I would see you that way?”
“Because you did.” He was squeezing his hands together so tightly now that his knuckles were turning white. “I changed and you left. You don't like dealing with things you don't know, or with things you can't understand, and so you just ran.”
“That's not why I left,” she hissed. “That could never have been why I left. I wanted to stay with you, I really did. I wanted to help you. But all I was doing was making you worse. And when I came back, you were better, weren't you?” she asked desperately. “It was what I had to do.”
“I saw you, Jemma, while you were gone. I don't think that counts as getting better.” His fingers were tapping again, his knee jolting violently upward with each tap as he tried not to move.
“You saw me?” she whispered.
“Of course I saw you. It's always you, even when I don't want it to be,” Fitz muttered. “Even when I knew it wasn't real, I wanted you around.”
“Then why are you pushing me away now?” Jemma demanded. “Why won't you let me try to get us back to where we used to be? Or, if that's not possible, God, just to somewhere where we do something other than fight.” Somewhere that doesn't hurt quite so much. She swallowed hard, feeling the lump in her throat grow another two sizes, hot tears prickling at the corners of her eyes.
“Because you don't want to move forward and because we can't until you accept that I'm not going to get better, that I'm not going to magically change back into your best friend who wasn't inconveniently in love with you,” he snapped, rising from the couch and heading towards the door. “Look, I'll just leave before we—before we get any worse.”
“Leopold Fitz, don't you dare. You don't get to do this again.” Jemma stood up, arms folded across her chest. She was getting louder and louder with each word and frankly, she didn't give a fuck if the neighbors heard anything. “You don't get to be mad at me and just walk out before I get a chance to defend myself.”
“What, like you did?”
“Like I what?” That was when the shouting really started. You left. You lied. You lied first.You hurt me. I hurt you. It started with the more recent wounds, the ones still bleeding—her walking out on him, him walking out on her, seeing the exact same thing from different ends,until it became almost unrecognizable, endless layers of lies and not-quite lies and talking around and in between and at each other but never with each other, words twisted and bent out of shape until neither of them were sure what any of them meant, always cut off by the latest crisis and not realizing that their own crisis had been growing all along until it was already upon them.
But surface wounds heal more quickly in the end, covered up by apologies and promises, and it was when they dug down to the next layer, to the fights that had already scarred over and been forgotten, that Jemma started wondering if they'd ever really talked at all. It was the little things first: her stealing his shirts and never giving them back, him hiding food in odd corners around the lab, everything that had grated on their nerves for ages until it eventually faded into the background, every something that used to seem like nothing. Every little crack that was the key to much bigger fault lines. Because she always stole all his shirts instead of her boyfriends’, because she left him alone in the lab on Friday nights but always came back on Saturday mornings, sitting at their kitchen table warming a mug of tea between her hands and complaining how none of them could tell adenine from thymine, because the lines between them were blurred past the point of recognition, and because he'd been jealous even back then, when he hadn't known just how badly he wanted her. Because she let him keep those food stashes around the lab, because she broke all her usual rules for him, because she'd do anything to make him stay, because she'd never been very good at holding on to people, had she? Trip had died and Skye had been gifted with something she never asked for and he had left and somehow it had all been her fault.
“I could have stopped it,” she whispered, hot tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. “I could have stopped it and I didn't—I wasn't good enough.”
“Stopped what?” He turned from where he'd been pacing her living room and crossed to the couch to perch on the other end from her. Earlier, she'd been standing too, unwilling to let him use a single inch of extra height over her, but now she'd collapsed back onto the couch. Jemma felt tired, like she'd worn herself out until she was nothing more than a shadow and judging by the way Fitz was leaning against her kitchen counters, wincing when he put too much weight on his bad hand, he was tired too. They'd shouted themselves hoarse about half a hour ago, nearly broken one of her vases, run through every grudge until they couldn't keep them straight anyway, and now...now all she wanted was to curl up against him and fall asleep, hoping that he'd still be there in the morning.
“Everything,” she said simply and pulled her knees up to the chest, hugging a pillow to her. “If I hadn't let you give me the oxygen, if I'd swum a little faster, if I'd made sure that we didn't get caught in the first place...what happened to you was my fault. And afterward, that was my fault too—I could have done better, I could have helped you, I could have fixed it.” She was really crying now, gasping for breath in between the words, and Fitz inched closer until he was right next to her. “And then what happened in Puerto Rico, with Skye and Trip...I should have found a way to stop it, to save him, to help her after. I did it before, with the Chitauri—I gave up every bit of me and it worked. It did,” she said imploringly and stifled another sob. “It was like I'd made a bargain with the universe: I would hurt myself and the people I loved would be okay. My pain for theirs. But then...it didn't, and I tried and I tried and I gave and I gave and I...I couldn't, Fitz. And I'm so, so sorry.”
“It's not your fault,” he said fiercely. “What happened to me, to Trip, to Skye...none of it was your fault. None of it could ever be your fault.” She didn't say anything back, just sobbed again, back shaking with it. “Jemma, you need to believe me. It's not your fault, I promise.”
“I messed up,” she told him and edged closer until her shoulder brushed his. “I got the answer wrong.”
“I did too. We all messed up. And I'm sorry,” he blurted out. “Fuck, I'm so, so sorry for what I said and did to you, for being so mad that I took it all out on you. But we're going to be okay, Jemma. We're going to apologize and talk and talk some more, hopefully not scream, and it's going to be hard but--”
“It's going to be okay. Maybe not right now, but eventually. Eventually it has to be.” Jemma let her head drop onto his shoulder and felt his hand stroke her hair hesitantly.
“It will be. Just let me...let me carry some of it for you. Let me carry it with you.” When he opened his arms, she fell into them without thinking about it, like it was a million years ago and her rough edges still fit perfectly around his. They fell asleep curled around each other, holding on to each other as tightly as they had since the very beginning (as tightly as when she dragged him up from the bottom of the ocean) and when she woke up in the morning, blinking at the sunshine, he was still there.
(caught in the rain)
On Monday, when she walked to the bus stop, Fitz was there. With a briefcase, a thermos of coffee, and a giant umbrella. They'd agreed earlier that they'd take the same bus in the mornings, as a cover to pass information to each other. The umbrella, which she was fairly sure was covered with tiny TARDISes, hadn't exactly been a part of the plan. Neither had other people being at the bus stop. Well then—time to perfect their covers.
“Good morning, Dr. Fitz,” she called and gave him a shy smile as she sipped her coffee. “I see that you came prepared?” Jemma arched an eyebrow and glanced up at the cloudless, perfectly blue sky.
“The weather has it in for me,” he said grimly. “I actually got caught in the rain the other night and was soaked through, would've caught pneumonia if it hadn't been for a very nice stranger. It's a family curse.”
“I think I'll take my chances with you. Donut?” She extended a white paper bag towards him and when Fitz threw her a look, just smiled and shrugged. She'd decided that offering people donuts the day after having met them was a Jemma Watson kind of thing to do and if Fitz didn't like it, he wouldn't get any donuts. And if food was on the line, she was fairly sure that Fitz would make the sacrifice. Sure enough, after a minute, he grinned widely at her and took two.
“Dr. Simmons,” he said after a while, trying to sound casual. Jemma decided not to point out that he'd gotten powdered sugar on his tie. “Do you, um, do you know any good coffee places? Not having much luck making my own.” He held up his thermos, which appeared to be dripping something mud-colored, and looked at her intently. Oh. She'd nearly forgotten the code that they'd come up with, somewhere around four in the morning. Coffee place meant any rooms that looked suspicious, cafe was blocked-off corridors, deli was any co-workers who were particularly gossipy...She comforted herself with the thought that it'd be practically impossible for anyone who wasn't them to figure out, considering it was already half impossible for her to understand.
“Not around me. But Joe on the third floor is willing to share his Colombian roast if you ask nicely. He can be a little prickly, but mention that you hate the Yankees and he'll warm up almost instantly.” The third floor was technically off limits, possibly alarmed. Fitz probably knew ten different ways around it.
“Believe me, I can ask very nicely.” Was he flirting with her? It was a distinct possibility. And a good strategy, she admitted, guaranteed to make the other people at the bus stop either ignore them awkwardly or be too busy watching the flirting to notice anything else. “It's good that I have you around, Dr. Simmons.”
“Please,” she glanced up from under her lashes at him and tried to ignore the slight swooping feeling in her stomach. “Call me Jemma.”
“Jemma,” Kate whispered. Jemma tried to stay focused on her titration, until Kate scooted down the length of the bench and poked her in the side. “Jemma?” Another poke, harder this time.
“I've noticed that you've been seeing a lot of a certain engineer. Well, we've all been seeing a lot of him, since he keeps on hanging around your lab bench like a lovesick puppy. Like, actually, until you spilled tea all over him, I hadn't seen an engineer in at least four months. They tend to lurk around their basement blowing things up,” Kate grimaced. “Normally we have to send requests down if we want mechanical stuff—it takes forever. Half the biochem's department been eying your engineer for weeks and wondering if they could get him to design something for them. Including me, so you know if it happens to--”
“He's not my engineer,” Jemma pointed out. “He's a friend. A good friend.”
“Who brings you that weird peach iced tea stuff every day. And those salted caramel donuts that are kind of the best thing ever.” Kate leaned back against one of the lab tables, crossing one leg over the other, and looked around hopefully, possibly for the donuts. Jemma had to admit that those donuts were sinfully good, possibly illegal in some Midwestern state.
“A very good friend.” Jemma abandoned the titration and turned to Kate with a sigh. “We're not...I don't even see him that way.” Honestly, she and Fitz were barely even flirting—a few compliments here (him staring at her for longer than he needed to, shy smiles and eyes flitting over her new sundress), a few unnecessary touches there (her hand on his knee, his arm brushing against hers as he reached for something, his palm splayed across the curve of her waist), the occasional bit of banter (talking and talking and talking, whenever they found the time). Just enough to keep the office gossip mill running, she thought, and to keep the attention off everything else they were doing in their spare time. The seventh floor had been a bit of a bust, all dust and spare cleaning products, but Jemma had found some files on past projects that she and Fitz were scanning and sending to Coulson. On the surface, the files all seemed perfectly innocuous, but there were a few mentions of trials gone wrong, or of “potential defensive applications” that had made Jemma narrow her eyes and try to read between the lines. Then, Fitz had found an encrypted file on one of his workmates' computers that he'd promptly sent off to Skye, who'd apparently gotten so excited about it that her bunk had shook a little. Progress, Jemma told herself. All progress. (More than she'd ever made by herself. Or he would have.)
“Right. Of course. You're not waiting for anyone, just checking your watch every two minutes and watching the door for no reason at all,” Another of Jemma's coworkers, a pretty Latina girl wearing a red, white, and blue dress, leaned over from her own lab bench to join the conversation. “I am pretty in awe of your ability to pull off the sundress and lab coat look.”
“America is right,” Kate added. America—odd. Jemma could have sworn that she'd heard that name before—maybe Captain America had had a little sister? “How do you do it? I can't find everything that matches this weird shade of off-white.”
“I got lucky?” Jemma shrugged. Really, she'd spent an entire evening on Skype with Skye, holding up various dresses to her lab coat and asking Skye what she thought her cover would wear. Skye had just stuck her tongue out at her and said, mock-solemnly, to pick whichever dress went with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
Then the clock struck noon and Fitz walked in. He was always precisely on time, which was definitely his cover and not him, appearing at her lab bench with lunch, information, and one of his Fitz smiles that used to belong only to her and that maybe still did. She practically leaped up to meet him, racing across the floor and stopping about three inches from him just before they collided into each other again. Ever since that night when they'd fallen asleep on her couch, the personal space between them had slowly started to disappear, like they'd been before. Jemma knew that it was probably only giving people even more ideas about what she and Fitz were doing after hours, but he'd somehow become magnetic. She found herself leaning her head on his shoulder when they walked through the park and plotted espionage as quietly as possible, sitting close enough to him on the staff room couches to feel his warmth all along her side, tilting into his orbit.
And, strangely enough, he seemed to be reaching out to her too. Knee brushing against hers and arm draped across her shoulder (“I know you're going to use me as a pillow anyway, Jemma”) as they looked through files on her couch, hand lingering under hers when she tried to teach him to use chopsticks at her favorite Japanese place, the warmth of his chest behind her when he reached up to pluck something that was two inches out of her reach. There was something comfortingly constant about them, about them both, despite how they'd much they'd changed. They'd fought their way up from ninety feet underwater, through HYDRA and SHIELD and endless rounds of lies but the space between his neck and shoulder still felt like it had been made just for her. He'd become her anchor, Jemma realized, and maybe he always had been.
An anchor who'd currently managed to get engine grease all over his collar. Jemma unconsciously clucked in disapproval and went up on the tips of her toes to get a better look at the stain. “What have you been doing?” she asked him, pinching the collar between her fingers and bringing Fitz's face closer to hers. Much closer to hers. Fitz's eyes were the size of saucers and Jemma could have sworn that she heard him suddenly gasp for breath. (Which could also be explained by her death grip on his collar.)
“Just working on a prototype,” he said lightly, and reached up to wind his fingers through hers and get her to loosen his grip on his shirt. “I had to mess around with the gears.”
“I can get the stain out, you know. The phD in biochemistry wasn't for nothing. Well, neither was the other one,” she told him smugly.
“I know, Jemma,” he mock-grumbled. “Go ahead and rub in the fact that you have one more phD than me. However, I happen to have superior lunch finding skills.”
“Does this place have salad?”
“Galaxies of salad. Even the kinds without potatoes.” He scooped up her bag, weighed down by the half a dozen library books she'd been meaning to return any day now, and then sprinted ahead so he could hold the door open for her. When Jemma glanced back at Kate, the other woman was mouthing “Just friends, huh?” at her with a smirk wide enough to rival the Cheshire Cat's.
(will they or won't they?)
“Mission status?” May asked from the other end of the line. Fitz and Jemma had the tablet propped between them on the couch, but the video kept on cutting in and out (cell reception had always been lousy in the Playground anyway), so they were back to crackly audio.
“We're making progress. Slow progress, but still...” Fitz shrugged.
“Most of the people here seem to be under the impression they're working for a legitimate company and not a supervillain supply center,” Jemma put in. “The manufacture of devices like the ones we found seems to be reserved for some kind of elite unit. I've met a few people who can't talk about what they're working on. Quite literally.” She shuddered at the memory of people whose throats had closed up involuntarily when their conversation strayed too far. “Maybe with enough time, Fitz and I could be promoted but for now I think that we'll have to stick to investigating--”
“And sabotage,” Fitz added happily.
“From the outside. We've found some classified blueprints and think we might be able to get into their archives.”
“How are you doing with your cover identities? In an earlier report, you mentioned that your covers had started a friendship by waiting at the same bus stop every morning. That's a good way of passing information,” May said and Jemma found herself grinning at the praise, remembering the first time she'd thrown a punch accurately under May's watchful eye and the way that the older woman had nodded in approval, the tight lines around her mouth easing just a little.
“Yes, we are friends. Again. But we also, um...we,” Jemma cast a despairing glance over at Fitz. We started flirting and couldn't stop?
“We've flirted occasionally to, ah, distract—to divert people's attention,” Fitz supplied awkwardly and when Jemma motioned for him to go on, poked her in the side for making him answer May's questions. She poked back. “And it sort of backfired. I mean, it worked. But maybe a little too well. Everyone in the office, they, um, they—Hank in robotics told me that he shipped it.”
“He shipped it?” May repeated, sounding slightly puzzled. “Skye, why would Fitzsimmons' coworkers ship them?”
“Because they want to smash their faces together and make them kiss,” Skye said cheerfully. “And hi guys, by the way. I'm totally jealous of your ability to order takeout and see natural light on a regular basis. I'm trying to convince Coulson that sun lamps could totally help me produce bigger, better earthquakes.”
“If you can incorporate takeout into our next op, it's all yours,” May replied and—had that been the hint of a chuckle? That had very nearly been a laugh. Jemma raised her eyebrows at Fitz in alarm and he solemnly nodded back. “Anyway, that's not necessarily a bad development. A couple that's publicly affectionate can get away with quite a lot.”
“Publicly affectionate?” Fitz squeaked.
“If it's necessary to take it to that level. Assuming, of course, that your colleagues don't lock you in a broom closet and refuse to let you out until you kiss.” May actually sounded amused and both Jemma and Fitz were now blushing furiously. And somehow, Jemma found herself wondering how, theoretically, would Fitz react if they were locked into a broom closet. They'd kiss if that was what it took to get out, of course, but how would he do it? Would it be fast and perfunctory, a quick press of his lips against hers, a kiss in only the most technical sense? Or would it be something longer, hands and tongue and lips all blending together into a haze of sensations guaranteed to leave her dizzy with want, something that was real as it was fake? If there was still some part of him left that wanted to kiss her? Jemma was a scientist, after all, and ever since he had fractured the way that she thought they were, flipped it upside down with five words in a sunken medpod, she'd found herself wondering what it would be like. What more than that really meant. Then May's voice came over the line again, signing off and crackling with yet more static, and Jemma forced herself to focus. Fitz was staring at her with wide eyes, fingers skittering nervously over the surface of the tablet, and every so often (so quickly that she thought she must be imagining it) gaze flicking down to her lips.
“I guess we'd better stay out of broom closets,” Jemma said eventually and reached across to squeeze his hand tight, scooting closer to lean into his side. “We don't have to do anything we don't want to do.”
“It's not that I don't—you're beautiful, you know that and I'm sure it wouldn't be—really, if I had to kiss a teammate to save the world, I'd choose you. I'd always choose you,” he blurted out. “You're my best friend, Jemma.”
“You're my best friend too.”she stared down at their joined hands and tried to avoid having any kind of stupidly romantic thoughts. “I trust you, no matter what.” She'd trusted him for so long, after all, through endless hours in the lab, through experiment after experiment that had nearly (but not quite) blown up in their faces. And he'd trusted her even more, following behind in her wake as she dragged them both out into the field, letting her throw both of them into danger because he knew that she'd always be able to fix it. Until she'd found something she couldn't fix and they'd just...broken apart. But somehow, they'd grown back together and she trusted him and she knew, from the way that his eyes followed her wherever she went, from the way that his arm curved around her waist, that he trusted her again too and it felt like the most marvelous thing in the world.
“I guess we'll figure it out as we go along, yeah?” Fitz said, absently twisting a piece of her hair around his finger. “The, um, the kissing thing can be a kind of last resort...the, ah, nuclear option? Project Kiss-hattan?”
“Man-a kiss kiss? Bang bang?”
(convenient slow dance)
“You've got everything you need? Phone, keys, wallet, lipstick?” Skye asked, emphasizing the last word. They were talking on Jemma's regular cell phone and Fitz still hadn't been able to figure out if the line was tapped, so she and Skye had come up with a code of their own. The bright red lipstick she'd slipped into her clutch for the company gala actually contained a hidden camera to plant in the Roxxon CEO's office and her blush palette had the matching microphone.
“Checked and double checked. I can't wait to see you,” Jemma added. Skye was scheduled to drop by in a week and a half, under the guise of being a friend from Bobbi's time at an elite Swiss boarding school who'd bonded with Jemma during a night of drunken debauchery about five years ago (not that anyone would ask about the drunken debauchery, but Jemma liked to be prepared). Hopefully by then, they'd have gotten enough info from the camera to pass on to Coulson. Skye had managed to decrypt the file Fitz had sent her, packed with contracts from a few shady-sounding individuals and some nasty-looking blueprints for a bright orange bomb destined for one Norman Osborn, but none of the contracts were actually signed. Probably drafts, they'd reasoned. The signed copies must have been locked away in a Swiss bank vault and despite Hunter's offer to work his way through them bank by bank (according to Skye, he and Bobbi were decidedly off again), they'd decided to adopt a different tactic. After all, a supervillain had to show up eventually—she imagined that even Amazon wasn't quite capable of shipping lethal weapons. Hence the camera.
“Can we get takeout? Please tell me we can get lots and lots of takeout. Koenig's being a tyrant about the pizza place again,” Skye complained. “When I tried to put it on my expense reports, he was all 'did you share this pizza with anyone else, Skye'?”
“All the takeout your heart desires,” Jemma promised and rolled her eyes affectionately at the phone. “Fitz is picking me up in a few minutes, but I'll talk to you soon?”
“Oh, really? Fitz is picking you up? Did he bring a corsage too? Oh, please tell me you guys are going to take cheesy prom pictures together.” Jemma didn't bother to dignify that with a response. “Jemmaaaa, come on. You've been talking about this guy for weeks, you have to give me something to work with here.” Sometimes Jemma thought that Skye enjoyed doing undercover phone calls just a little too much.
“Bye, Skye,” Jemma said firmly. “I'll send you the perfectly professional pictures, from the professional company gala we're going to later.” But, five minutes later, looking down at Fitz from the top of her staircase, she suddenly wasn't quite sure if the long red dress she'd chosen for the gala was strictly professional. It dipped a little in the front and a lot in the back, clinging desperately to her hips before swirling around her knees, and Fitz was looking at her in a way that was probably outlawed in at least three different states.
“You, ah, you look good. Really, really good,” he whispered eventually.
“It's not too much? I thought that maybe, for a company thing...” She reached up to rub anxiously at her neck, only to remember that she'd done her hair up in a complicated messy bun, curls framing her face, and had to settle for twisting her hands in front of her and praying she didn't mess up any of the lines of the dress. (She'd gone shopping with Kate, who'd given her strict instructions on how to wear it and told her that she would indeed be watching, probably from the highest perch in the room. Kate had an odd...affinity for high spaces.) This was why Jemma had never liked fancy dress occasions, down to their graduation party from the Academy. Doing science—or, well, anything—was virtually impossible. But one thing was certain: if they had to make a run for it, the heels would be the first thing to go.
“You're nearly as tall as me now,” Fitz realized and pouted up at her.
“What do you think was the point of the heels?” she teased.
“But, Jemma, what if I need to do something heroic with my extra three inches of height? It was a strategic advantage!” he protested, pouting even more and then promptly held out his bow tie to her as she reached the bottom of the stairs. “But, since you are taller, do you want to fix my tie? It kept on going all sideways before I got here.”
“It's like the Academy graduation gala all over again,” she said fondly. “Only without that awful sparkly dress I wore. Fitz, why did you let me wear that awful sparkly dress?” It had been blue and glittery and involved copious amounts of tulle, and she'd almost definitely pirouetted down the bar in the Boiler Room after one too many drinks. In her defense, she'd been nineteen.
“Helping you pick out clothing was never in the best friend agreement. Besides, you looked good in it,” he mumbled and flushed pink. “Not as good as this, but, um...I mean you always...oh God, please just tie the tie before I say anything else.”
“Already done,” Jemma said and dropped a kiss on his cheek before she let her hands fall away from his bowtie. He turned even pinker.
They'd finally managed to stop blushing by the time they arrived at the gala, only to have Fitz introduce her to Hank, one of his coworkers, and have Hank promptly turn to the other Hank and explain, far too loudly, that “she's the one that Fitz never shuts up about. They're so cute it's nauseating.”
“So are you guys together yet?” The other Hank asked hopefully. “We've got a pool going in the robotics lab and I bet on tonight.”
“Just friends,” Jemma said brightly. Despite the fact that he'd actually matched his bow tie to her dress.
“Best friends,” Fitz added and Jemma felt something warm swell in her chest. Then, thankfully, the music started up and she practically dragged him out onto the dance floor before the Hanks could say anything else. That was when she remembered that both of them had always been terrible dancers, completely lacking any sense of rhythm, prone to stepping on their partners' feet, and capable of inventing (or creating) lab accidents just to get out of it. “Jemma,” Fitz said, voice going up at least half an octave. “Dancing wasn't in the plan. The buffet was the plan.”
“It's a slow dance. Just hold on to me and sway until it's over,” she whispered back and rested her head on his shoulder. Only so they could plot more discreetly. Fitz happened to have a very comfortable shoulder, just the right height for plotting as she whispered directions to the CEO's office and tried to look flirtatious. “Blush,” she hissed. “Like I'm saying something scandalous and not 'turn left at the reception desk'.”
“I can't blush on cue,” he protested. “Why can't you blush on cue?”
“Because I'm the one talking,” Jemma explained patiently. “And I can't blush on cue either, and you're more likely to learn. I could pinch you, if you think that would help.”
“Definitely would not,” he muttered, the tips of his ears already turning red. Jemma grinned to herself and squeezed his hand a little more tightly. “You should come with me. To plant the device,” he added after a while. “I'll probably get lost without you—all those weird sculptures look the same. And besides, if we get caught, you can come up with an excuse.”
“What kind of excuse?”
(now or never kiss)
Just another dab of glue, a judicious application of pressure, and...there! Jemma beamed in triumph at the camera. Fitz had appointed himself in charge of the microphones, even bringing up the dreaded public speaking incident of 2004 (and microphone breaking thereof) and so she'd been left carefully sticking cameras along the wall, making sure that they blended in with the wallpaper. She'd never seen a paisley-patterned camera before, but she suspected that the Koenigs had gone a little overboard in their analysis of the wallpaper swatches that Bobbi had swiped while masquerading as a potential Roxxon client. (Or maybe the brothers had just been taking out their frustration at the fact that Coulson wouldn't let them redecorate the bus.)
Jemma smoothed down the (paisley) edges and took a step away from the wall to survey her handiwork. Even from a few inches away, the wallpaper appeared to be perfectly smooth—no trace of top-secret espionage anywhere. She felt strangely excited about it all, like she was a small child who'd successfully managed to raid the cookie jar. Bad girl shenanigans, like she'd said to Skye a million years ago. At HYDRA, she hadn't felt much of anything except a fleeting surge of terror whenever she happened to be running for her life, and even that had faded after a few minutes. She'd put up walls to keep herself safe and numb, to take the bullets for her. But now, she wasn't sure if the walls had come down or if Fitz was just inside them with her.
Her earpiece crackled with Fitz's voice, asking her if she was done yet. “Just finished,” Jemma replied. “Meet me outside in the corridor?” She slipped out the door to find Fitz waiting for her, shirt slightly rumpled and a proud grin on his face. It was good to see him looking insufferably smug again, a little piece of the old Fitz resurfacing in the new one.
“We're brilliant,” he announced, leaning against the wall and massaging the muscles in his bad hand. Jemma took a step forward, about to offer to do it for him—she had taken a physical therapy course, back after Fitz had just woken up—when she noticed the way that his eyes kept on dropping down to her mouth, then skimming further down along the lines of her body, gaze clinging to her as tightly as the silk of her dress before he turned red and firmly fixed his eyes on the ground.
“Of course we're brilliant,” she chirped, taking a step back and telling herself to ignore whatever kind of moment had just happened.
“You know,” Fitz said thoughtfully. “If we head back downstairs now, they might still have some of those little sand--”
That was when they heard the voices around the corner. Big, booming security guard voices and the clunk of the equally big, heavy boots worn by the elite Roxxon security squad. The ones Jemma was fairly sure were mercenaries. (And not the Lance kind.) Right. Jemma gulped for breath. Don't panic—panic led to things like shooting senior agents (who, in her defense, later turned out to be HYDRA) with the night-night gun and jumping onto invisible planes. There had to be a perfectly good reason for her and Fitz to be found alone in a secluded hallway, looking significantly disheveled, instead of at a gala involving free food and alcohol, three floors away from everyone else.
“Fitz,” she said urgently. “You need to kiss me.” Fitz stared at her and made a noise that sounded like his best impression of a chipmunk on helium. “Now,” she added. “Or I'll just--”
Fitz leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers, softly, sweetly, almost worshipfully, one hand cupping her face and the other resting at his side. It was pure and perfect and gentle and everything a seventeen (and sometimes twenty-seven) year-old Jemma would have wanted out of a first kiss. And it was not in the least convincing.
“Honestly,” Jemma huffed. “Kiss me like you couldn't stop if you wanted to.” And with that, she curled her fingers around his tie and used it to pull him towards her. She kissed him like she could keep him safe with the force of it, wrapping her arms tightly around him and crumpling his shirt even more under her hands as she slid her hands down to his waist to pull it loose. For a moment, he went still against her but then she nipped at his lower lip and Fitz actually moaned.
His hands were at her waist now, steady and warm through her dress as he pressed her back against the wall and kissed her deeply, tongue sweeping into her mouth and heart thumping where it was pressed almost directly against hers. Fitz kissed her with the same kind of concentration Jemma had previously only seen him give to particularly complicated machines, deliberate in a way that made her knees weak and Jemma herself grateful for the wall at her back holding her up. He matched her move for move, lips and tongues and teeth and quick gasping breaths, and Jemma wondered if they'd always been this perfectly matched in this too.
Fitz moved down to kiss her neck, sucking and biting a mark into existence as one of his hands moved open to splay against the warm skin of her back and slip underneath the fabric of her dress. He was giving her the chance to see if the security guards were gone, she realized, and forced her eyes open to peer down to the end of the hallway. One of the guards came into view and just chuckled when he spotted Jemma and Fitz, muttering something to his partner that sounded like “owe me fifty bucks” as his voice floated down the hall. Jemma sighed and tilted her head back to give Fitz more to work with, letting her eyes fall shut again. Just for another moment, until they had the all clear, she thought hazily. Just to sell the cover for a little bit longer.
She let him kiss her for two minutes longer than she needed to.
(girl loses boy)
People were still talking about them two weeks later, stealing glances in the hallways when Fitz came to pick her up for lunch and not-so-silently cooing when Jemma kissed him hello. It had started with raised eyebrows and knowing smirks the Monday after the gala, as the gossip spread through the company with alarming speed, and rapidly devolved into a running commentary on how cute she and Fitz were, endless speculation about when exactly they had gotten together, and arguments about who therefore had won the various betting pools that each department had had going.
It wasn't exactly the most subtle way of being undercover, Jemma admitted, but at least no one would suspect someone that they referred to on a regular basis as a baby bunny of sabotage. After weeks of testing samples, Roxxon had assigned her to work on a new flammable compound. To test flame retardants, they claimed. She had her doubts. So for the past three days, she'd been tampering with her results, ruining cell cultures, spilling coffee all over her colleagues (and whatever they happened to be working on), and merrily wreaking havoc.
She'd also started investigating her labmates' projects, slipping in a question or two in between cups of coffee and rounds of gossip, wide-eyed and innocent, and what she'd found made her more alarmed than ever. When it wasn't distracting its science division with useless busywork, Roxxon had them working on dangerous compounds, each person assigned a different piece of the puzzle so no one knew exactly what they were creating. Each object seemed to be tailored to a client's exact specifications: a set of scaly extra limbs, eight rings imbued with poison, a whip that conducted electricity. Skye hadn't been able to uncover all the names of Roxxon's clients, as the analysis she'd been running on the camera footage was taking longer than expected, but the few that she had found was enough to start building a proper investigation. Men and women whose identities came from nowhere, industrialists with bad track records, scientists who'd tipped straight over the edge into madness. Coulson was hoping to pass the investigation off to the CIA (and his inside contact there) once they had enough evidence—after Ian Quinn, they'd had enough of millionaires. Every time Fitz and Jemma talked to May, she reassured them that the mission was winding down and finally, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the remnants of brunch scattered across her coffee table, May gave them an end date.
“We're thinking of doing the extraction next week,” May said. “We just need you to grab a flash drive from the CEO's office—it'll be in his safe, Skye's seen him take it out on the camera footage. We think it has his full client list. Grab it, get out, and we'll be there with a quinjet.”
“Nice and simple,” Skye chimed in. “There's nothing to worry about, guys.”
Right, Jemma told herself a week later. Nice and simple—just follow the right set of instructions, step by step, outline the plan, and everything would be fine. Lingering in the office after hours, making excuses about simulations that were still running, and shyly looking over at each other: simple. Taking the back route up to the office, through storage rooms and cargo elevators and corridors coated with spiderwebs where Skye had managed to hack the cameras: simple. Even opening the safe, once Fitz had figured out exactly which tool was the one meant to open it: simple. Getting caught: not so simple.
There had been an extra patrol added in, one not on the schedule Jemma had stolen a few weeks ago, a patrol of the kind of men who were inclined to shoot first and think second. It had been a random decision on the part of the chief of security, a random corridor that the patrol had turned down (it hadn't even been the office, ironically enough, but a perfectly bland, beige-carpeted hallway) and a random blue security light that had slid over their faces and stopped them in their tracks. And that was what scared Jemma most of all, more than the men who were looking for an excuse to aim a gun at them, more than the way Fitz's hands were curled into fists at his sides. The sheer, infuriating, heartbreaking randomness of it all, the fact that she could plot and plan and double-check and never quite be able to account for the messiness of life. Most of the time, she'd learned to bite back the fear and move on but here, now, on the verge of finally being done, of being able to breathe, of getting the chance to figure out what she and Fitz were now...Jemma wanted to scream. Or cry. Or both.
“Put your hands up and empty out your pockets,” one of the guards ordered.
“I already told you that I don't have pockets in this skirt. My purse is at my desk if you'd like to see it.” Jemma could practically feel the flash drive burning a hole in her shirt from where it was tucked into a hidden pocket. “Fitz and I were working late and we just got a little...distracted.”
“This is a restricted corridor,” the other guard growled.
“Really?” Jemma widened her eyes and tried to look extra innocent. Beside her, she could feel Fitz shifting around and trying to reach for the night-night gun from where it was holstered inside his jacket. One of the guards was starting to stare suspiciously at Fitz and Jemma elbowed him in the side to make him stop. “Look, I'm really sorry—we were just looking for somewhere a little more private and there weren't any signs or alarms or anything. If you just--”
“Put your hands up and empty out your pockets,” the guard repeated, hand going to his holster.
“Okay,” Fitz turned the pockets of his dark jeans inside out. “She doesn't have any pockets and all I have in mine is chapstick and my keys.”
“You're in a restricted corridor late at night. Sorry,” The guard didn't look sorry at all as he took another step towards them. “But we're going to have to search you both and bring you in to the main office. Standard protocol.” That was when the guard brought out the handcuffs and Jemma punched him in the nose. She hit the guard hard enough that he went reeling back, hitting his head against a wall and slumping to the floor. The other guard went for Fitz, all fists and grappling as Fitz still struggled to reach the night-night gun, fingers shaking, as Jemma scanned the corridor for the best possible exit and tried to ignore the way her heart was beating a million miles in her chest and calculated the odds of her being able to take out the other guard from behind and—there was a shot. There was a shot and it was the only thing she could hear.
Blood looked different when it was Fitz's. Redder somehow as it spread across his side, thick and bright and the worst thing she'd ever seen. Fitz had both hands pressed tightly to his side and the color was already draining from his face, slumped against the wall as the guard he'd been fighting slowly rose from his crouch and trained his gun on Jemma. “Hand it over, whatever it is,” the guard said.
“You see, I don't think you want me to do that,” Jemma replied slowly and dug out a test tube from the inside of her sweater, carefully holding it up to the light. “In biochem, we work with all kinds of nasty substances. Very highly controlled ones. And normally, I'm quite the responsible scientist—I'd never even dream of experimenting on another person—but you've just hurt the person I care most about in the world. Want to find out what this does?”
The guard's gun wavered in his hand, Jemma raised the test tube higher, and all she could think was don't blink don't blink don't blink. Don't move, don't say anything, don't give the game away, keep her hand steady and her eyes steadier, just keep on breathing and wait for the gun to drop.
And then an arrow went through the guard's back and it did. Jemma spun, searching every exit, until she finally looked up. There was a tile missing from the ceiling and a familiar face peeking out from the air vent.
“Kate?” she finally managed. “You're...not a biochemist, are you?”
“Kate Bishop, agent of SHIELD.” Kate dropped down from the air vent effortlessly and Jemma spotted the bow and arrow slung across her back. “But you can call me Hawkeye.”
“I thought there already was a Hawkeye?”
“Long story,” Kate said as she leaned down to help Fitz up, letting him lean against her. “America's waiting downstairs—she's got a medical kit if you need it.” Kate glanced down nervously at Fitz, who appeared to be on the verge of passing out. “We'll make sure that he's okay. I promise.”
“Thank you,” Jemma said quietly. “For saving us.”
“Nah,” Kate shrugged. “I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't shown up, you would have saved yourself.”
And she might have been right, Jemma realized later. After all, there wasn't much she wouldn't do—swim ninety feet up from the bottom of the ocean, bluff her way out with a test tube full of water and a gun pointed at her heart—to save him. To save them.
(girl gets boy back)
Jemma didn't let him out of her sight for the next two days. She had gotten him back and now she would hold on to him as hard as she could. Simple as that. She would stay in a hard plastic chair by his bed, clutching a mug of tea in one hand and holding the tablet that monitored his vital signs in the other, and she would stay there until he was better. Fitz woke up once or twice, long enough for him to see that she was there before he fell back asleep again, murmuring her name happily as his head lolled back against the pillow.
Skye came by four or five times every day, bearing trays of food and more news from the base. The government had gone after Roxxon and shut them down, in an effort spearheaded by the CIA and Sharon Carter herself, and General Talbot had been very pleased, even if it hadn't been his division. (“You have any idea the kind of messes that supervillains leave behind them? I happen to like New York un-pumpkin bombed.”) She made Jemma extra-strong tea and watched five straight seasons of The Bachelorette with her on the crappy hospital room TV and ordered extra Chinese broccoli for her when the team got take-out and curled up in a hard plastic chair beside Jemma. “I missed you guys a lot,” she said eventually, in the middle of shrimp dumplings and chow mein. “It wasn't the same, without you around.”
“We missed you too. We'll have to have a movie night again when Fitz—when he's better.” Jemma leaned over to tug helplessly at Fitz's sheets to hide the tears welling up in her eyes. It wasn't like the pod—it really wasn't—but her sitting by Fitz's bedside felt much too familiar.
“He's going to be okay, Jemma. And it wasn't your fault,” Skye added, scooting her chair over to rest a hand on Jemma's back. “I know what you're thinking, and I know that it wasn't your fault, and that you need to stop beating yourself up about it.” Skye gave her the kind of all-knowing stare that she'd probably learned from May, but tried to combine it with a thumbs-up, and Jemma let out a watery chuckle. “See? Laughter right there. I'm glad you're so amused at my failure to learn the right May stare,” Skye said lightly and, in that moment, Jemma thought she'd never felt so glad to have someone else with her.
She was by herself when Fitz woke up though, jerking awake in the early hours of the morning at the beeping of the monitors. At first, she rushed over to the device with his readouts, convinced that something terrible had happened, but then she heard his voice. “Good morning,” he croaked. “Please tell me that we beat the bad guys.”
“Good morning,” Jemma replied, instantly moving to perch on the edge of the bed and beam down at him, already fluffing up the pillows at his back. “And yeah, we did. We did very well, in fact—Coulson's even talking about approving the aquarium. How are you feeling?”
“Alright. Hungry.” He looked at her hopefully.
“Absolutely not. You're on a Jemma-approved diet until you're better,” she said firmly and, on an impulse, leaned over to kiss his cheek and soften the blow. Fitz went very still for a moment, then moved his hand to rest on top of hers and leaned into the touch. She dropped her head down to his shoulder and for a few moments they sat there together, hands wound together and holding each other up.
“Jemma?” he said quietly, holding her hand a little tighter. “When you...when we...did you mean it in the hallway?”
“I think some part of me did. I'm...I'm not sure about a lot of things right now but one thing that I do know is that I want to try. This. Us. Being something different from what we've always been, but good different. Because I look at you and I see you looking at me and I—I'm rambling, right? I'm definitely rambling,” Jemma groaned.
“You always ramble when you get nervous. I, ah, I know you. And you know me, and we'll be all right.” Fitz was grinning hugely at her now, the effect only slightly spoiled by the fact that the massive yawn he let out halfway through his sentence. “We'll be better than all right.”
“Go back to sleep,” Jemma ordered when he yawned again. “I'll be here when you wake up again.”
“I always will be.” Four hours later, Skye found her curled up on the edge of Fitz's bed, fast asleep, her hand still in his, and didn't even tease her about it.
(happily ever after)
She kissed him for real three days later, up against another wall, laughing and free and easy like she'd get to kiss him another hundred thousand times. And she knew she would. Because nothing was ever perfect, not quite, but they came pretty close. Because they fit together when for so long they'd fallen apart. Because he was hers, and she was his, and they'd always been each other's. Because they were messy and imperfect and unfinished, because they still had a million things to talk about and a million loose ends to untangle, because they were real.
Real, Jemma thought happily as she kissed him again, hearing him sigh her name like it meant “I love you”. Real and right and, in the end, so simple.
She loved him.
He loved her.