This was going to work out. She could come to love him, surely she could, when the thought of a date with him was making her feel giddy like this. It would be strange being in love after thinking it was about to happen so many times, but she was more than ready for it. Jemma grinned as she took the unit over to plug in, so delighted with everything that it took her a moment to notice the container was slightly open. Someone had been far too careless. “What the-” she sighed, moving to seal it.
Suddenly the contents of the great monolith collapsed, turning liquid, and then burst forth, becoming a terrifying heavy mass that within a second had engulfed her even as it knocked her to the floor. She cried out and tried to scramble, in vain; she couldn’t get away. It was thick and foul, all around her, pulling her back into it, sealing her up, she was never going to get out-
And then she was spit back out and onto the floor, naked and gasping for breath, as above her Fitz’s voice yelled, “That’s it! She’s out!”
How could he have gotten back there so fast? She looked at the floor below her eyes; it didn’t look like she’d been teleported or anything like that. She rolled over and in his direction, and yes, he was there, looking way too overjoyed, and holding a blanket which he tossed to her.
And Coulson was with him, and when had he gotten a new robotic forearm? He too looked intensely relieved, but still tense, as he barked above her, “Get that thing sealed up now!”
Looking up over her shoulders as she wrapped the blanket around herself, Jemma could see Mack working frantically to get the container re-secured, Skye standing off to the other side and holding her hands up, clearly using her power to control the monolith, and…was that Tony Stark working with them?!
“Don’t touch her, Fitz!” Jemma turned back in time to see Fitz being restrained by Coulson. “We don’t know if that’s safe yet.”
“Oh, oh yeah,” said Fitz, and when he let him go, he spread his arms out, then brought them together with a loud clap of his hands in Jemma’s direction, and she did the same as well as she could while holding the blanket in place to preserve her modesty, their longtime traditional replacement for a hug whenever one of them was quarantined.
She was about to ask how Tony Stark had somehow ended up there when she heard another voice, one she’d once daydreamed about hearing in real life, say, “Now that we’ve gotten her extracted from that thing…”
“You better really convince me you can move it without anyone else getting trapped in it,” said Mack to…yes, when Jemma looked over, it was none other than Dr. Jane Foster, standing there, considering the alien object.
“Oh believe me,” said woman was saying. “I know just how much trouble invasive alien objects of uncertain nature can cause a person.”
Obviously more time had passed than the split second it had felt like between when she’d lost sight of the room and when she’d landed back in it again. Must have at least been a few hours, she supposed. Jemma looked up at Coulson and asked, “Sir, when did Tony Stark and Jane Foster get here?”
“You have no idea, do you?” said Skye softly, and for the first time Jemma noticed her ponytail was gone. “Jemma, you’ve been trapped in that thing for over a year.”
“Nearly sixteen months,” said Coulson. “And a lot has happened during them.”
Over a year…Jemma shook her head. Her brain still couldn’t quite believe it hadn’t been only two minutes ago Fitz had walked out of this room having gotten her agreement to go to dinner with him.
But now Fitz, although he was looking down at her with the same love and happiness she’d seen on him when they’d been reunited after she’d jumped out of the plane a year and a half ago-or nearly three years ago, this was crazy-was also leaning back into Mack’s embrace as the bigger man came to his side and wrapped his hand around his, and when he looked at Jemma, although he too seemed glad for her being rescued, there was still a tenseness there, as if she was a threat.
She looked the two of them up and down, and asked, “You two….you’re…”
Fitz nodded. “I’m sorry, Jemma. As Coulson said, a lot has happened in the past sixteen months.”
Jemma ended up spending ten hours in Quarantine, during which, excepting a brief period in which she managed to sleep, she was constantly either getting visited by someone or reading about just what had happened while she’d been sealed up inside the alien monolith.
Fitz stayed just on the other side of the glass almost constantly, the two of them even getting their sleep in at the same time. Her other visitors included those of her colleagues that were on base, her family(from whom she learned she’d missed her grandfather’s entire illness, death, and funeral), and all the scientists who had gotten involved in her rescue, which included not only Jane Foster but also Erik Selvig and Helen Cho. She would’ve been starstruck had she not been so hopelessly overwhelmed. Also multiple Avengers, all of whom lamented that the one who could’ve related the most to her current situation was dead, with Tony Stark actually apologizing to her, which was almost too ridiculous to be believed.
Instead, she got a visit from a not-so-dead-after-all James Buchanan Barnes, although he was of less help than Steve Rogers would’ve been to her, because instead of spending seventy years sleeping peacefully in the Artic, he’d spent seventy years being tortured into acting as an instrument of evil and having his mind continually wiped. What had happened after he’d publically reappeared hadn’t helped matters, and Rogers’ death had apparently retraumatized him all over again. Jemma was still trying to sort out all the details of what Tony had tried to do and what that had triggered and the political firestorm that had resulted, which had been contributed to by the terrigen crystals that had gotten loose in the ocean and ended up killing a lot of a people, and causing a few more to develop superpowers.
From what she had understood, the whole course of events, which most of the people involved had taken to calling “the Civil War,” had ended with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s reestablishment being exposed to the public, and along with the Avengers they had been brought under the command of a U.N.-run committee, whose membership at least included Agent Weaver. “They actually don’t interfere with us that much,” Skye told her. “It’s also kind of useful since it keeps any national governments from knowing which of us have powers, or even of all our missions. We still officially keep the Index, although for reasons of individual privacy even the committee doesn’t get that information unless they request it about specific people and show a good reason why they want it. The existence of the Inhumans as a specific group of powered people isn’t public either; there’s certainly no good reason for getting people afraid of them like that.”
At which point Jemma couldn’t help asking, “What about Matt, then? Have they ever requested information about him?”
“No reason to so far,” said Skye. “We pulled all the advisories when we realized they'd get to see them, so they don’t realize the Daredevil is either blind or enhanced, and none of us are going to tell them. As a vigilante he’s really been too local for them to bother with. In fact, he’s not the only one in Hell’s Kitchen anymore; there’ve been a couple of new guys, including this really scary one called the Punisher whom they’ve been a little more concerned about. So for the moment, he’s safe.”
Other things had happened too, most notably the final end of Hydra(“Or at least all the factions post-Strucker we could find,” Coulson told her) and with it the death of Grant Ward. “It was May who finally took him down,” Skye said. Jemma wished she looked as relieved as she herself felt when she heard it.
“It was actually because of the Civil War that we got you out,” Fitz said to her, towards the end of the ten hours, when the line of visitors finally started really drying up. “For the first few months Mack and I tried, and I’m afraid we got nowhere, until….” He drifted off, the guilt too heavy on his voice.
“You gave up,” said Jemma, grimly. And when she hadn’t on him, she couldn’t help but think, no matter what anyone thought she’d done.
“Yes,” he sighed. “I just ran out ideas to try. And yeah, that’s when…it just happened between me and Mack, you know? We definitely didn’t intend for it, it just did.”
“You don’t have to explain,” said Jemma. The one thing she was sure about was she didn’t have the right to complain about that bit, not when she’d treated him the way she had during most of the year beforehand.
He still looked guilty, even as he resumed, “But once we were in contact with the Avengers, and Stark was desperate to do some good thing like this to alleviate his guilt over everything, he had some good ideas-it was him who hit on why Skye was having trouble using her powers on it, and solved that issue. Also he contacted the famous scientists. So he and they and Mack and I all put our heads together…I don’t think anyone would’ve ever cracked that thing if we hadn’t.”
The Avengers now had headquarters in upstate New York, and S.H.I.E.L.D. had set up a new Hub in their main building. Fitz explained it all to Jemma as they, Mack, Coulson, the Avengers, and the scientists flew into New York City. She wished Skye had come with them too, as she’d been originally planning to, but then something else had come up. “Something else is going to a lot,” she’d said apologetically to Jemma. “Try to get used to it?”
“I suppose I already am, in a way,” Jemma had shrugged, although the various things the Secret Warriors had been up to were something she hadn’t caught up on yet.
“We also have a lab in the city,” said Fitz. “The Sandhole, we call it; Stark Industries lends it out to us. Mack and I have sometimes talked about asking to be stationed there as our base, and just coming up to the new Hub for specific assignments. You could join us there.”
“Live in New York City, you mean,” she said, cautiously. Did he know all the implications of that? “You know my dad’s not living there anymore,” she reminded him. He had retired from Roxxon four months ago and moved to Hamburg to take a teaching job. “Though he did tell me he plans to take a hotel room here for a few days.”
She could even join him; Coulson had already assured her she could come back to duty at her own pace. “You need time to adjust,” he’d said. “Remember I missed a number of months myself during the whole being brought back to life thing; I know it can be disorienting, even if you didn’t miss decades. And if you want to meet with Dr. Garner, we’ll arrange for it.”
“Yeah,” Fitz said, “but I think there’s someone else you’d like to be with, and he hasn’t gone anywhere.”
He tapped some commands into a StarkPad, and then presented to her a courtroom sketch, and she recognized the man with the red shades and the cane standing there, addressing the judge. “Matt Murdock’s actually been in the news a bit lately, as himself in his day job, I mean,” he said. “I’ve been following the whole Fisk case-the man himself is scheduled to go on trial in November, if there isn’t another delay, and he and his partner are representing the guy who first turned state’s evidence and got him arrested.” He gestured to the black man in the sketch, seated next to Foggy Nelson. “Carl Hoffman’s particularly important because he came forward without being arrested first, and he agreed to testify without making any deals, though he did make one to plead guilty to his own crimes, to avoid the death penalty. But after he got the life sentence, another associate of Fisk accused him of killing the kingpin’s right-hand man, James Wesley. He’s scheduled to go on trial for that next week.”
“It’s obviously an attempt to discredit him,” said Mack. “Those people are nasty. I’m kind of surprised his firm’s representing one of them.”
“I’m sure he has his reasons,” said Fitz hastily. “Look, Jemma, I met him, not long after…at the time he was actually representing the family of one of the fish oil pill victims. He’s a good man.”
“Maybe a little bit on the violent side,” Mack commented.
“Maybe,” said Fitz. “But only towards criminals. He’s still a very good man.”
It was obvious what he was getting at. And Jemma would have thought the same way herself, anyway. The deciding factor that had caused her to leave Matt in the first place had been Fitz, and now that he was in love with someone else, and the opportunity stood there for her to live in his area even while still working for S.H.I.E.L.D., there was no reason to not at least go see him.
Still, she found herself saying, “You two are not thinking of moving to New York because of this. Because of me.”
“We were talking about it for longer than that,” said Mack, but his words didn’t fool her.
And then, right in front of him, Fitz looked her hand, his face more serious than she might have ever seen it. “Jemma, I want to be your best friend again, and I want you to be happy. Especially now that I know the real reason you left the Playground; Mack told me long ago. And even Matt Murdock aside, I think you’d be happier in New York City than in the isolated world of the Avengers Headquarters. That alone is enough reason for change locations for me.
In any case,” he said, “I think it’s more likely than not our ride back to headquarters won’t be available until this evening. You should go to his office this afternoon, just to let them know you’re alive…I mean, I don’t think he ever believed you were retrievable. I think it’s the kind of thing most civilians just won’t believe.”
Coulson confirmed after they landed that they wouldn’t be leaving the city until the evening, and was happy to hear of Jemma’s plan to visit the offices of Nelson & Murdock in Hell’s Kitchen. He also offered to come with her, but from Stark’s frown Jemma suspected they had some important business he really wanted done then. She did wonder how long it had taken the Avengers to forgive Coulson for letting them think he was dead, though they seemed on good enough terms with him now. Fitz also gave a half-hearted offer, but she knew he and Mack had been planning to show all the scientists the Sandhole, and in the end, she turned all offers down, because she kind of wanted to do this one alone, though she wasn’t sure why then.
It hit her why after she’d found a bus and was on the way there, a Google Map of her destination in her hand, since she hadn’t gone to his office during her last visit. All she could think was that she wasn’t supposed to be making this trip, because Matt Murdock shouldn’t have been an option anymore, because she was supposed to have settled it within herself that she was going to fall in love with Fitz.
Which made her feel guilty, because just the thought of seeing Matt again, hearing his voice, was enough to render her breathless, and really, she just could not cope with any of her friends watching her do this.
Hell’s Kitchen was a bit more built up than it had been a year and a half ago, and there was a good crowd out on the streets; it was just when people started breaking for lunch. Fortunately the building had a sign for the firm on the outside, and she easily spotted it and went in. She thought the interior could’ve been cleaner, and obviously it wasn’t too expensive a place, but she liked it, in its way.
Up the stairs to the right floor, and as she stepped quietly into the hallway outside, her heart started racing at that voice. “…the other evidence could conceivably get him acquitted on its own,” she heard Matt Murdock say. “Especially because I think McDonnell would have to be really good at what he does if he wants to get the jury to believe him. Once I raise the jury’s expectations in the opening argument we’re committed and there’s no turning back, but until then…”
“But McDonnell might be that good,” she heard Karen Page reply. “And do we really want to stand by and let that risk be taken? And you both made your professional judgement on this one, and deemed it the best approach, even when some would think it a bad idea because of the…the…and at the end of the day, we all know this is the right thing to do.”
“I don’t know that last one,” Foggy Nelson was protesting.
Karen’s voice sounded angry as she started, “Well, Foggy…” But then she came to an abrupt halt.
A moment later, Foggy’s voice again, sounding very uncertain, “…Matt? You all right?”
When she heard Matt, his voice dazed, start, “I think…” Jemma all but ran the rest of the way to their door and hammered on it.
“Yes!” she called through it. “It’s me, Matt! It’s Jemma Simmons!”
The door was opened, and she was face to face with a stunned Foggy. “It is her, Matt,” he said, and now he sounded equally dazed.
He stepped aside to let her in. They were all three of them more or less as she remembered them, Matt especially, although he had no visible bruises at the moment. “Fitz got me out,” she said, and then, to further establish the current situation, added, “Him and his new boyfriend, and a few famous scientists.” For a fleeting moment she worried that mentioning the boyfriend would provoke a bad reaction in him; one never knew with Catholics, after all. She really hoped not, what with being bisexual herself, of course.
But when he stepped towards her, she knew just from the shaky way he walked that at the moment he was beyond caring about any of that. “Jemma…” he breathed. “You’re alive.”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m right here.”
“You’re alive,” he was nearly choking the words out, and a moment later Jemma was being bear-hugged, and she thought Matt was actually sobbing, and all she could do was hold him in return.
She told the basic story to the three of them with Matt still holding her hand, as they sat together in the firm’s small conference room. When she summed up with the possibility that she might now be working in New York City, Karen looked happy to hear it, but Foggy frowned.
Presumably he also gave off signals Matt could detect, because he said, “Foggy, if you want to say something…”
Foggy looked over at Karen, but she shook her head. “You can say it in front of me. I can’t say, Jemma, that I don’t have my own concerns about this.”
“Fine, then,” he sighed. “Look, Ms. Simmons,” he started, and Jemma couldn’t help but feel hurt right there. “I’ve got nothing against you in particular. Matt’s always spoken very well of you, and so have the couple of your colleagues that have mentioned you around me. But Matt, I must ask, do you really want to be dating someone from S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
“Does my organization offend you?” Jemma demanded. Of course she’d had her own reservations about who she was working for this past year-or rather not this past year, but for her it had been the past year-but she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear it from a man who still couldn’t know very much about it.
“It’s not even that,” he insisted. “Though I do think you were all pretty lucky not to get your asses arrested. But really, it’s…I know Matt, that you’ve made your compromise in life with the law and working within it by day and outside of it by night. But you’ve even said Coulson’s been trying to recruit you…”
“Not anymore, not really,” Matt interrupted. “He said he might want me for one-off missions, but he’s never even asked me to be more to him than a lawyer since. And I’m going to stay one, Foggy, and having contact with this world of superheroes hasn’t changed that, and having more contact with them won’t either, I promise.”
“Still,” said Foggy. “Make sure this is the kind of woman you really want. And not just the kind of woman that you think you can get, because she doesn’t mind the whole Daredevil thing. I mean, I gotta be completely honest here, buddy, I still wonder at how quickly you got entangled with Elektra again half a year back, and I saw the number she did on you.”
“Foggy,” Matt almost laughed. “Jemma here is nothing like Elektra.”
“Wait,” said Jemma. “There was another woman?”
“She’s out of the picture now,” said Matt.
“And that’s another thing,” said Foggy, a little more loudly. “Because Ms. Simmons, we all met your Leo Fitz, and, well, I heard you emphasize that mention of the boyfriend just now. It sounds to me like you came racing here just after another prospect failed-you can’t accuse Matt of that one, either; his other woman’s long gone. You can’t blame me if *that* gets me wary.”
“No,” Jemma conceded that one. “I can’t there. Although honestly, right now, I just came here to see you all again, tell you I was alive, and go from there. Perhaps we could all go out to lunch?”
In response, Karen pulled Foggy over to her and whispered something. They gestured Matt over, and he let go of Jemma for the first time since that hug to go over to them. She waited through their conversation, until Matt said, “Actually, we would have to be careful of how much time we take, what with the case we’ve got going on right now, but I think I’d like to take you out alone.”
“Try not to be too upset with him,” Matt said to her as they headed out, his grip on her arm a comfortable presence. “He and Karen have their own reasons to be under a lot of stress right now.”
“And what about you?” she asked. “Did this Elektra…well, she sounded like she was bad news.”
“It’s more complicated than that,” he sighed. “And yeah, that’s also part of why Foggy’s being a little overprotective of me right now, especially towards someone he views as coming from ‘the superhero world,’ so to speak.”
“Sounds like a bit has happened to you, too, while I’ve been away,” said Jemma.
“A bit,” he replied. “I’ll tell you about it over lunch.”
Tell her he did. Although he had to be cautious in the way he talked about the biggest thing, the addition of other superheroes to Hell’s Kitchen. Outside that, his world had not been drastically and permanently changed by any crazy events, although there’d been some days during the Civil War when they’d feared it would be. Change had instead come at a more normal, evolving pace.
Generally, Jemma thought, he carried himself with a little more confidence than he had. Which made sense. After all, when she’d first met him, he’d been the Daredevil for only a few months, and had been actively practicing law for even less time. Now he had over a year and a half in both his careers under his belt. Business was going reasonably well for Nelson & Murdock, enough so, he said, that they had gotten their debts under control, and could even now pay Karen a decent salary. She was taking classes and looking to get paralegal certification. She and Foggy, as Jemma had already suspected, had also been a couple for most of the time since she’d left.
Elektra Natchios was another subject on which he had to be elusive while they were in public. She had apparently been an old flame of his from school who had come back, and it had turned out she had been working for some really shady figures. “Karen managed to find a couple records S.H.I.E.L.D. had on her which were leaked,” he said. ”Though there was a lot even they didn’t know, and I still don’t.” It had sounded like she was some sort of assassin or mercenary for hire, and that Matt had hoped to take her away from all that, or at least turn her towards doing good instead of evil in the world, as it was said Clint Barton had done to Natasha Romanov. But she hadn’t turned, and now she was gone. “If Coulson ever wants to interrogate me about her,” he said, “I’m afraid I have no idea where she is now.”
He had some questions to ask her, too, especially about what she’d done between leaving him and getting trapped. Here it was her turn to be elusive, though being involved in the fish oil pill business as a lawyer had resulted in him at least knowing about the Inhumans. “I even thought I might be one briefly,” he said, “since still nobody has any idea what in those chemicals triggered the more unusual side=-effects, though apparently you can’t change without spending some time as a statue, and I didn’t, so…”
Finally she talked about being grabbed by the monolith, and found herself putting the disorientation she felt into words, to an extent she hadn’t with anyone, not Fitz, or Skye, or Coulson, or even Bucky Barnes. “To me,” she said, “it still feels like we only met a few weeks ago. It’s like someone flipped a switch; one minute, I…well, I had my life finally figured out, and when it hadn’t been since the original S.H.I.E.L.D. collapsed, really, and then the next…I’m being told everything’s changed, and just about all my plans are invalid, and the new world formed without me. And now Fitz is trying to get me a place in it, and it was his suggestion I actually come see you, but…”
He could tell what she wasn’t saying, of course, or at least that there were things she wasn’t saying. He took her hand across the table then, and his voice was grave as he said, “Jemma, I don’t mind being your second choice. I can’t really; had Elektra made different choices, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. I think we can be other happier with each other than we’d be without each other, and that would be enough. But I can’t do this if all the while you’re regretting that I’m not Fitz.”
“I don’t!” she protested, wondering for a moment how he could even think that, though she felt the closeness of it to the truth. “Never that. I…” she had to tell him all of it, she reminded herself; or he would start hearing deception. “I admit, I am regretting, right now, that things didn’t work out with Fitz. How can I not; remember, in my head, it was only a couple of days ago he asked me to dinner! But I promise you, Matt, I won’t regret that forever.”
“When you don’t,” he said, firmly.
He let go of her hand, and for a few minutes then they ate in silence. Then he said, very hesitantly, “Also, there’s something you should know. It’s not impossible I might have played a part in him…well, maybe not waiting.”
“Really?” she asked. Decide how she felt after she heard the details, she told herself.
He nodded. “It’s just something I said to him. I don’t think it’s that likely it had that much effect, because it was so early on. I mean, he was even…well, he was even calling your name when we had sex, but after that-”
“WHEN YOU WHAT?!” Jemma interrupted, so loudly everyone in the diner turned their heads towards them, but really, what on Earth?
He looked equally shocked. “He didn’t tell you?!”
Later that afternoon found Jemma marching towards the Stark Industries building in which the Sandhole was, knowing she should probably submit to a tour of it, but in no mood for that. She and Matt had parted on uncertain terms, especially now that she really wasn’t sure how she felt about the whole thing where he and Fitz had had sex less than a month after she’d gotten trapped. Although the words to him afterwards that Matt been worrying about were really only what any good man might have said to someone in Fitz’s position, and she had at least been able to assure him of that.
And Fitz must have seen her coming, because when she was at the side entrance, trying to figure out where she should slide or swipe her badge on the reader next to the door, or even if it had the programming in it needed to work, he opened the door for her, and his face still lit up whenever he saw her. His eyes didn’t even stop shining when he saw her expression, but the rest of his face fell as he asked, “Jemma, what’s wrong?”
She stepped in, slammed the door behind her, and demanded, “Why didn’t you tell me you fucked him?”
He shook his head. “That didn’t mean anything, Jemma. It was just after…a-and as I said, I think he really just went into the mindset that you might as well be dead. For the record, I-I came on to him, so y-you can blame me for it.”
“But don’t you think you should’ve told me about it, while you were all ‘you should go back to him, you should be together’? What, were you afraid I wouldn’t if I knew?”
When Fitz didn’t respond, she knew she’d guessed right, which just made her angrier. “Really, Fitz, why would you send me off like that without fully informing me first? Were you that desperate to hook me up with him so you could stop feeling guilty over being with Mack instead of with me?” Part of her mind was yelling at her to stop, to please not go there, but no, it had to be asked.
And then Mack emerged from the next room, loud and angry himself as he demanded, “What the hell are you demanding of him, Simmons?”
Jemma’s mind groped desperately for a way to explain to him(did he even know about Fitz and Matt having sex anyway?), but Fitz turned around and said, “No, Mack, she’s got good reason to be angry with me. Could you please wait in the next room?”
“Are you kidding me? Do you really expect me to just go off and mind my own business while she says God knows what to you? And when I just heard you stutter, and by the way, Simmons, he hadn’t done that for over half a year!”
“She is still my best friend,” Fitz insisted, drawing himself up in defiance. “And just because you ended up being my lover instead doesn’t mean she isn’t just as important to me as she’s always been, or we won’t have things between ourselves that belong only to us. And I can’t be with someone who doesn’t trust me to be alone with her.”
Jemma held her breath as the two of them looked at each other. This, she thought, was another moment that could change everything, because it was clear to her, and she hoped to Mack, that Fitz absolutely meant it. The next words from Mack could make him single again. He would no longer be so bound to someone she wasn’t sure would ever truly like her much, and just maybe they could go for that dinner after all, and everything that came after it, later if not immediately.
Except that as she looked at him, all tense as if preparing to break, and at Mack’s stricken expression, she suddenly realized she didn’t want that. She’d known Mack was good for Fitz, of course, better than she’d been, and even if she didn’t know if she’d ever truly like him much either, she didn’t want Fitz to lose him, not really.
To her immense relief, Mack closed his eyes, and nodded, and said, “All right. Do your thing, then.” And he turned and left.
His interruption had cooled Jemma’s anger a bit, and Fitz was calmer, too, as he said, “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. But I really do just want you to be happy. Honestly, I was kind of glad for the opportunity to make him happy too; I do like him, and when I really thought I wouldn’t when we met. And yeah, m-maybe I was hoping we’d both feel a lot less regret if you had someone else too. I figured, maybe if you found out later, y-you wouldn’t care then…also, did he tell you what he said to me afterwards?”
“Yes,” said Jemma. “But I’m not going to hold that against him. Did it really affect you any?”
He looked down, saying, “I don’t know if me and Mack wouldn’t have happened anyway, but…it was what he said and what he did combined. He was…he was very tender, and good to me, and it made me think…well, that just maybe things could be enough, even with someone besides you, not even him in particular, just…someone, you know?”
“I see,” she said. “Well, that’s a good thing really, and I still can’t blame him. But I don’t know at this point what I’m going to do. Not even just because of this, just…because of everything.”
“Well,” he said, “for the record, the more I’ve thought about it since, the more I think…i-if either of us took advantage of the other that night, it was me. I mean, I don’t think many people would’ve put up with how I...how I….and he seemed to me to be a desperately lonely man, Jemma. You shouldn’t hold this against him.”
They and Mack ended up doing a walk-through together of the Sandhole, which reminded Jemma so much of their space on the old Bus that it made her heart ache for that simpler time. “The joint Avengers-S.H.I.E.L.D. lab at the new Hub is much bigger, of course,” said Fitz. “Though sometimes I feel it’s a little too big, when our permanent scientist contingent still is pretty small; we rely a lot on guest scientists. Stark keeps promising he’ll get Bruce Banner to come in and join us permanently, but, well, you’ve read about that situation already. I’m pretty sure if we moved here it would just be the three of us.”
Jemma thought about that, the three of them in such close quarters. The best case scenario would be it giving her and Fitz a new normal and perhaps getting her and Mack onto better terms, which she did want to be on with him, if at all possible. It could also all go horribly wrong, but it felt worth the try.
Even if Mack was still very much on his guard. Maria Hill, who had now become the liaison between multiple organizations, including the U.N.’s oversight committee, showed up to drive them all up to the new headquarters in a truck full of various supplies, and with Fitz nodding off, they had barely sat down when Mack took him in his arms and made clear he was going to hold onto him for the entire hour’s drive. Jemma left them alone then, sitting instead with Coulson and Dr. Foster, who was the only one of the scientists to make the trip up with them.
“Do you want to see what we know about the alien artifact?” Dr. Foster asked her, and when Jemma said yes, she took out her StarkPad and showed her a datasheet, albeit a very incomplete one. “I’ve been given to understand the Kree have various names for the substance it’s made of,” she said to Jemma. “The word that’s managed to stick here among us and is probably going to be what we officially call it is s’zina, which is kind of their word for ‘goop.’ We’re pretty sure they made it, although we don’t have that absolutely proven yet; it was probably a creation of one of their crazier scientists, likely during the same war that led to their genetic engineering experiments and the creation of the Inhumans. We think it’s about that age, especially since they seem to think it’s linked to them somehow, but we honestly still have no idea how; none of the ones who lived to be friendly with us heard more than that it endangered them. Thor said if he could learn more about its history he would, but it’s kind of low on his priority list.”
“Do you think it was created to capture people, then?” asked Jemma.
But to her confusion, Dr. Foster looked away. “We can't really know,” she said uncomfortably.
“We should tell her, Dr. Foster,” said Coulson, and when she didn’t speak, he said, “When we found your genetic signature in it, which was one of the final steps for extraction, we found…other signatures. Fuzzy and decayed, although we think most of them *might* have been Kree; what little DNA structure we could construe for them resembles that race’s DNA structure. All of the scientists on the project are convinced we could never get the people they belonged to out, probably because they’d been in there too long-we’re talking almost certainly decades at least, and millennia might be more likely. Who knows, the object’s creator might have also been its first victim.”
Somehow it was that which caused the horror of the whole thing to finally hit home for Jemma, of just what had happened to her during that blink of an eye that had lasted for sixteen months, that moment that might have never had an end, that hadn’t for others. She felt her stomach lurch, and she hunched over, far too dizzy and a gorge bulging in her throat.
A hand landed on her back, and she heard Dr. Foster say softly, “Breathe through your mouth. In, and out, and in, and out…”
Jemma obeyed, some part of her still marveling at the fact that this woman whom she’d admired so much was now doing this for her, even stroking her hand up and down. The nausea passed, and yet she still felt ill.
She still wasn’t really feeling that much better when the truck came to a stop, and Coulson said, “Here we are. Home sweet home.” He kept a steadying hand on Jemma’s shoulder as she stumbled to her feet.
Fresh air helped, as did the smell of fresh grass. Jemma stood at the edge of a lawn to take the great building in, the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. logos both prominent on its top. She wished she couldn’t still remember the time when such a sight would’ve made her beyond excited.
It was one in the morning, about an hour since she had woken up with the thought that had left her unable to go back to sleep. She was now standing in the lab. She didn’t even recognize everything in it; technology was continuing to evolve at its furious modern pace. Which she’d known, and she’d even brought her phone with her to try and identify things, but now she didn’t have the will to.
She jumped and nearly shrieked when the door opened behind her, and then turned to see Bucky Barnes. “Sorry,” he said. “Sometimes I forget how quietly I walk. I thought I heard you. I can’t always sleep either.”
“What if I’m not Jemma Simmons?” she asked, voicing what was keeping her awake. “What if I’m just a clone, created by the object and somehow given her memories? What if Jemma Simmons has actually been dead for sixteen months? We can’t know, not really.”
He shook his head. “Do not think that way. You are who you are, and you have to identify yourself as that person. Otherwise you’ll go completely mad. Believe me, Agent Simmons, I know. Besides, we have never heard of any technology that can transfer memories quite like that. Only ones that erase them.”
“It still could exist,” she sobbed.
And then her eyes fell on one of those containers, and without thinking she ran up to it, because she needed to seal it, but she didn’t dare touch it, because what if it was secured and she accidentally unsecured it, but God, it was going to burst. She should back up, run, but she felt caught, too scared to move; suddenly it was hard to breathe. She looked at the black stone inside, and it had to be dangerous-
“Agent Simmons, Agent Simmons,” the voice of her companion, calm and firm, cut in. “You are in the lab at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and that container is not going to burst, you are just having an episode.”
It managed to cut through, his words repeated themselves in Jemma’s head before her own mind grasped them and held on. She could breathe again, though it was a minute or so before she was breathing normally.
Then she just wanted to punch that stupid container. Was she going to be unable to function in the lab now?
Bucky nervously stepped forward, held his arms up towards her, asking for permission to touch. That kindness, from a man who had suffered a thousand times more than her, wasn’t something Jemma could handle at that moment. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Just…let me be alone?”
She regretted it after he was gone, and she had spent several minutes just sitting in a chair, staring at her phone. But it felt wrong to call him back, and almost everyone else she knew was currently asleep.
But there was one man, of course, who probably wasn’t, although if he was out on the streets he probably didn’t have his phone with him. When she dialed it, feeling at that moment too desperate to stop and think whether it was considerate to him at all, she found herself picturing his phone on a table, quietly chirping “Jemma. Jemma. Jemma.” with nobody to hear it.
But instead she got an answer, his concerned voice asking, “Jemma? Are you all right?”
“I…” Jemma started, and then she was just crying, because she didn’t even know what to say to him, or to anyone. She tried to keep it down, not wanting it to bring Bucky back over, but of course Matt could still hear it. Vaguely she heard him murmur something to someone, and a firm feminine voice insist something back. Was that his normal nurse?
“I don’t need to be rescued or anything,” she managed to tell him through her tears. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t even be bothering you, you’ve got a case coming up, you need to sleep.”
“I’ll sleep in an hour,” he replied. “It is an hour, right?” He asked this second question of his companion. Jemma heard the woman say something about going faster than that, or if he wanted her to. “Well,” he said, back into the phone, “I can stay up an hour, if you need someone to talk to.”
Jemma didn’t really want to talk, though. Instead she said, “Talk to me, please. Just…tell me about anything. How badly injured are you?”
“Might work from home tomorrow. I wouldn’t even be doing that if we didn’t have a trial imminent. Hopefully I’ll look presentable by the time it actually begins. Though Foggy’s gonna be pissed, even so. He might forbid me from going out again.” She heard the woman say something approving about this last part. “Last time he forbade me, of course, he and Karen actually took turns sleeping on my couch just to stop me. The first night, they brought too much beer and ignored all the hints I kept dropping about how now would be a good time for them to go home to the nice new apartment they’d just moved into together…”
And as he started to tell her stories, Jemma focused her attention on them, until her tears had stopped, and she was kind of smiling. But an hour later, when she and his nurse more or less insisted together they hang up, she was thrown back into the lab, and all she could think then was, I can’t stay here. Not on this base. Not when there’s nothing around for miles but us. I can’t stand it.
When Fitz found her asleep in that chair the next day, he got a lot of words out of her at once, which led him to repeat Bucky’s words about there being no known technology that would’ve given her as a clone the memories of a dead Jemma Simmons, and then go to Coulson to formally request all three of them be stationed in New York. “And we’ll try not to have that kind of container there,” he added right before he did so. “Unless we do exposure therapy or something.”
He came back an hour later with both Coulson and Mack, and the four of them started the discussion of how they were going to do the move. “I’ll be glad, though,” Coulson said. “Ever since Rogers’ death, I’ve really felt we can’t have too many eyes on Stark. Also, it’ll be much easier for Dr. Garner to get there any time you want him.”
The following days were spent preparing. She helped Fitz and Mack pack up their quarters on the base, while her own things were retrieved from storage, sat and listened while the discussion raged with Pepper Potts on when the building was going to be accessible to them(“we might be forced to take weekends off,” Mack grinned at her and Fitz), and got her father to agree to let her sleep in his hotel room for as long as he had it. That was awkward, of course, when she didn’t know if she was going to get her own apartment or just move into Matt’s(with S.H.I.E.L.D. now paying people close to what their salaries had originally been two years ago, they two of them together could probably afford someplace better, but she had the feeling he wouldn't want to move). But at least it gave her a couple of weeks, which she might come out of with a better idea of things.
She read her way through Matt’s Index profile, or at least all the parts of it that didn’t require special access, and called him twice more, this time in the early evening hours, although Foggy had indeed forbidden him to go out again until Hoffman’s trial was done. “At least I feel like I can actually do that now, though, take nights off,” he said. “Now that I’m not the only one anymore.” Still, she wondered just how restless it was going to make him.
After the opening day of the trial, evening found her and Fitz searching out all the quotes they could find on Matt’s opening speech, especially after reading about the bombshell he had dropped. “It’s not that it’s that surprising someone could’ve shot him in self-defense, I suppose,” said Fitz, as they found the umpteenth iteration of, “trying to frame Hoffman for an act that in fact was not even murder.” “But seriously, how on Earth did they find the guy and get him to agree to come and testify, like he’s claiming he’s going to, just like that? What if the police disagree on the self-defense claim and charge him? And really, are these two lawyers actually claiming that the guy doing the shooting saved their lives?”
“You do believe him, don’t you?” asked Jemma anxiously.
“Of course. All else aside, who would make such a crazy claim if it *wasn’t* true? Still, I don’t get who this could be.”
“We’ll see,” said Jemma, uncomfortably aware of her own strong suspicion of who this mysterious killer acting in defense of self and others was, and that she had it because of what she had overheard, and then because of what Matt had said to her as they’d headed out to lunch together, things that she knew well she ought not to repeat(although Matt’s not using any gendered pronouns in his opening had also been telling). That was another thing; there would be new kinds of secrets she would have to keep, if she stayed in Matt’s life; even if he was supposed to keep his professional secrets even from her, this wouldn’t be the last one she semi-accidentally ended up knowing anyway. And when she had gotten so tired of keeping things from Fitz, and from all of her friends.
They were still reading when Coulson came to them, listened with considerable interest to the accounts of the trial they’d read, and then told Jemma her things had arrived in New York City. “Stark's agreed to rent us a storeroom,” he said, “though your father thinks maybe you should speed down to the city tomorrow morning, while the people who brought it can still be gotten to easily, and just make sure everything’s there. It would be pretty inconvenient, though; we’d want to get you there as early as possible, and there’s no run back to this place until early in the afternoon.”
“You could go watch the trial, then,” said Fitz. “See your friends do their job. Especially when they’re expected to put McDonnell on the stand tomorrow first thing.”
“Yes,” smiled Jemma. “I think I will go watch that.”
By mid-morning, everything Jemma had had in her quarters at the Playground had been accounted for, some boxes had been stashed in the same building the Sandhole was in, and she and her father were sitting in the stands in the courthouse, watching Jason McDonnell make his accusations in the witness box. He started with the story Hoffman had told himself, including how Fisk had ordered him to kill his longtime friend. From there, Jemma supposed, it was believable, if one didn’t know anything else about the case, that, about a week before his hiding place had been discovered and Daredevil had saved him from Fisk’s men and sent him to the authorities, he had snapped and snuck out, bent on revenge.
McDonnell’s story was that he’d been with James Wesley when Hoffman had called him, luring him to the empty warehouse where the police believed he genuinely had been killed, claiming to know who had tried to poison Fisk the previous night. He told a riveting tale of hiding in the shadows on Wesley’s request, while Wesley sat down at the table Hoffman had set up for him, and of watching as Hoffman had stood over Wesley, leaning down to whisper the name of the poisoner in his ear, and then seized his gun, wrestled it from him, and with a yell of, “This is for Mark Blake, you motherfucking bastard,” emptied its contents into him.
“I tried to shoot him,” said McDonnell, “but my gun jammed. I was lucky he hadn’t left any bullets in the gun; he just ran.” Jemma could see the shock and awe on the faces of the jury, one of them even looked downright sympathetic. Karen had been right to worry. Jemma herself wasn’t sure in that moment that he wasn’t lying.
But then Matt rose from the defense table for the cross examination. He would know beyond a doubt that McDonnell was lying, of course. And though he walked with his cane, making a pretty good show of needing it, there was still something about the way that he approached the witness box that reminded Jemma of him as the Daredevil, that man in the mask she’d seen in action twice, and whose violence she’d even been briefly on the receiving end of herself, when she’d freaked him out by knowing his name.
“That’s quite a story you’ve just told, Mr. McDonnell,” he said to him. “But what happened after it? Why didn’t you call 911? You could’ve done so anonymously. Or you could’ve chased after him.”
“I wasn’t thinking straight,” McDonnell said. “I was too scared.”
“Even after Hoffman had run? Other associates of Fisk have said that he and his men were the first to find the body, many hours later. None of them spoke of hearing from you. You say you don’t remember who you finally told or when you told them, which is unfortunate, because neither does anybody else. In fact, one of them said he knew you were spending that week removing certain cash assets from various banks upstate, and that you weren’t even in the city when you say the murder took place, which you yourself told the police after you were arrested, and various bank records support. Why did it take you so long to tell anyone this story?” His voice was steady, soft, but very heavy, the kind of weight that sent shivers down the spine.
“I told you, I’d just come back to the city to give a quick report to Wesley when Hoffman called,” McDonnell sounded a little too unnerved now. “I was afraid someone had connected one of the bank accounts to Fisk, and I didn’t want anyone else knowing about that, because then Fisk might have gotten mad, so I didn’t tell anyone.” He didn’t make this sound as believable.
“When exactly was this? We have here the records of various financial transactions…”
McDonnell did have a timeframe, and one that was just possible if there'd been no traffic on the roads he would’ve traveled and he hadn’t heeded any speed limits, but Matt turned out to have evidence of there being plenty of traffic on those roads that night, and also the information that Fisk’s minions had been discouraged from speeding and risking getting attention from a non-friendly cop. That when was when McDonnell started changing his story. When Matt started hammering him with questions about his actions between Wesley’s death and his arrest, McDonnell’s answers stopped making sense, something Matt was quick to capitalize on. The court watched as he started to stammer, then got angry and yelled.
Then Matt was in the middle of asking, “You say you contacted Mr. Owlsley at that point, and he said he would go to that bank instead, but isn’t that when you told the police you were pretty sure Mr. Owlsley was on his way to meet with-” when McDonnell finally flipped completely, and stood up and cried, “How was I supposed to keep track of everything? I’d just seen a man be murdered!”
Matt barely gave the judge time to admonish him before asking, as deathly calm as ever, “Was this the first time you had witnessed a murder? Do you deny being present at the murder of Sergei Karmonovsky on the 14th of March of last year?”
When Matt finally finished his questions and sat down, Jemma thought McDonnell might have looked less battered had he run into him on the streets at night. There was no time to meet with him, unfortunately, when the court finally broke for lunch; she absolutely had to run to get her ride out, but she made sure to email him that observation.
“Wow,” Fitz said as she gave him, and Coulson, her account of what she’d watched over dinner that evening. “Sounds like he completely destroyed him.”
“He did,” said Jemma. “If he can provide an alternate and convincing account of how Wesley ended up dead…I think it may be over.”
“Well,” said Coulson, “you might get a chance to watch him do just that. We scheduled your move for Monday, but then I got a call informing me your new lab will be updated and semi-revamped, and apparently neither I nor any of the three you get a say in this. You might be completely at odds for as long as a week. Though I think you both and Mack could all use that break. They were pretty much working round the clock for the final two days before you were extracted, Jemma.”
That night, in the room they’d given her to sleep in these few days, Jemma sat on top of the blankets naked, and just stared at her body, the one that she still wasn’t sure wasn’t a creation of the monolith. “I am Jemma Simmons,” she said to herself out loud. “I must be Jemma Simmons, I cannot be anyone else. Even if, maybe, someone who is now dead was Jemma Simmons first.” She feared that might have to do, and she wasn’t sure if it could.
She looked at her hands; which definitely weren’t what they’d been, because they were the hands of a murderess; she still couldn’t forget that. She started to run them over herself; it felt just like it always had, like she remembered it feeling. Pleasant sensations ran through her as she stroked her sides, her thighs, even the soles of her feet. She stroked the back of her knee, felt her breath catch and her stomach and loins contract at the intensity of how that skin reacted to being touched.
The memories came to her vividly, of Matt’s tongue there, of his hands on her torso, her breasts, her limbs, as he had learned with them what his eyes had been unable to see. She closed her eyes and moved her hands again, feeling her own contours and the softness of her skin, familiar, and yet in their way as strange to her as they had been to him that night. She even ran her fingers over her face, as he had after their first kiss. My face, she thought. The face of Jemma Simmons. Everyone I know would know it.
Remembering it had left her hot, although she wasn’t sure she hadn’t been, just a little, ever since watching him in court that day, fierce and relentless and right. She wasn’t even sure why that got to her; it wasn’t like his violence on the street had, not when she could still remember the wet pavement hitting her back and his hands on her throat. But him in the court, when he was undisputedly the righteous man, that was another thing.
Matt, who passed his judgement on the criminals of the world, and knew she was a murderess, who knew what she had done couldn’t be forgiven, and yet still thought her worthy of being cared for, of being treated kindly and with respect, of being held and made love to. It didn’t make sense, but she was too grateful to care.
It felt like laying a claim on this body of hers, when she reached down, tweaked her nipples and rubbed them, teased her way down the way she knew she liked, and then finally lay back on the bed as her fingers reached between her legs and touched. Memories of Matt on her, in her, his breaths in her ear, mixed with her memories of him rising from that table and going to meet his foe, and she moaned almost as much as with want as with pleasure. She worked herself relentlessly, days and days of tension pooling into her loins and winding her up.
I am giving myself this, she thought as she grew close. This is me.
She tried to keep quiet, but she couldn’t when she came, it was too good, too intense, her body throbbing with it as it always had, and she brought herself down slowly, until she was completely relaxed on top of the sheets, her skin cold with the sweat that covered her.
Cold, and alone, and her regret spiked then, that Fitz wasn’t there with her, that that was no longer to be. She didn’t even know if he could’ve accepted the person she now was, as opposed to who she’d been, but she didn’t care; she didn’t want to be alone, and she’d given up Matt for Fitz, and now it had led her here, to neither of them, and her own stupid regret-and Matt was right; she couldn’t ask him to take on that. She knew it ought to fade, but she was terrified it wouldn’t.
When she, her father, Fitz, and Mack were in the stands together the day after arriving in the city, the defense’s case was underway, and it was expected the supposed killer-in-self-defense would be testifying. Sure enough, Jemma was probably the only person in the courtroom who didn’t gasp when the words came out of Matt’s mouth: “I call Ms. Karen Page to the stand.”
“Isn’t she their secretary?” Her father murmured. “Surely they’re not about to confess to some sort of crazy hitjob.”
“That explains how they found her, though,” said Fitz. “Jemma, just how far were they involved in the bringing down of Fisk? Do you even know?”
“I think we’re all about to find out,” Jemma shrugged, and reminded herself that her father was not someone who could know Matt was Daredevil, and even if he had been she couldn’t talk about it here where anyone could overhear them.
As Matt, the epitome of calm as always, now also with that gentle manner of speaking he’d used when getting her own confession of murder out of her during her last visit to New York, started asking Karen his questions, Jemma found herself wondering just how many times they’d rehearsed both them and her answers beforehand, because she had no doubt they had. Although it didn’t keep Karen from showing plenty of emotion, from the moment she described Wesley’s kidnapping of her onward. The two of them had the courtroom in the palms of their hands. One wouldn’t have needed Matt’s ears to hear a pin drop for much of it, though the silence was punctuated by reactions, at his, “Did you believe, then, that you had any chance of walking out of that room alive?” and at her, “I told him that I’d rather die first,” and “everyone you’ve ever cared about, those were his exact words.”
When at last she described shooting the gun, with tears streaming down her face, Jemma heard Fitz mutter, “he got off easy, that monster.” Jemma doubted he was the only one. At least Karen wasn’t likely to ever face prison time for this; even if they tried to charge her, Jemma couldn’t see how any jury in the world would convict her.
The cross examination was hard to watch. Perhaps the prosecution had just realized the case was truly hopeless; it had already looked bad after McDonnell’s fall, and one look at the jury and everyone knew Karen had convinced them completely. But by the time the prosecutor started barraging her with questions as to why she hadn’t called the police, or 911, or why she’d felt the need to dispose of the gun in the way she had, it no longer felt like it was Carl Hoffman on trial.
Her answer that she hadn’t trusted the police didn’t satisfy him much; he was quick to point out this had all been before Fisk’s hold on the local cops had been exposed. Which was how the world ended up finding out that Karen Page had been arrested on suspicion of murder, and at the jail nearly been murdered herself rather than charged. Perhaps the most memorable moment of all that afternoon was when she, breathless with rage, informed the prosecutor, “A guard told me he was sorry and then tried to strangle me in my cell!”
She hadn’t been sure, when they’d gone, if she was going to try to see Matt, but by the time the judge adjourned the trial, declaring the cross could be finished the next day, she felt a powerful need to just generally be there and offer emotional support to all three of them. Her three companions followed in her wake, and they all stood in off to the side of the building, where thankfully after dealing with the press mob Matt was able to find them. “Are you all right, m’am?” Fitz asked Karen eagerly, and when she groped for an answer, Jemma reached out and took her hand, and said, “I think that’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen anyone do, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot.”
“It was what I had to do,” she said, as if it was an answer she’d learned by rote. “I…I have to…” She looked over at the two men.
“I still think I should go with you,” said Foggy. “I mean, I can wait outside, and we can be on the phone the whole time, Matt.”
“That’s not going to work, Foggy,” sighed Matt. “I’m not happy about it either, but we both need to be there, which means Karen’s going to have to go alone.”
“Go where?” asked Jemma; this sounded like the middle of a conversation.
“To meet with her official lawyer,” Matt explained. “We figured she’d need one after what she said in court today, but we can’t represent her in the matter of Wesley right now because we’re already representing Hoffman and there’s the conflict of interest, so we’ve got someone else doing the job, and they need to meet tonight.”
“And she’s insisting she go to her,” sighed Foggy. “Never mind that Matt and me’ve got a commitment with another client, and she’s far away enough those kinds of cab fares are still kind of a big deal for us.”
“I can drive you, m’am,” offered Jemma’s father. “At least there, maybe back. I haven’t been making nearly enough use of my rented car anyway.”
After Karen finally accepted the offer of a ride to the office of one Marci Stahl, Fitz and Mack ultimately chose to go back to the hotel they were staying in, but Jemma, thinking Karen could do with the company of someone she had at least met before that night, sat with her in the backseat and listened to her explain further. “Matt, Foggy, and Marci all seem confident we can get the state to agree not to press charges in order to guarantee my testimony against Fisk,” she said. “She’s been in contact with them, and they want me to come in for a statement. Her job basically is to stall them until after the Hoffman verdict. We’re hoping he gets acquitted; then Matt and Foggy can take over.
I’m being represented by my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend,” she laughed mirthlessly, “and that is the least crazy part of everything.”
“But surely this part should be fine,” said Jemma. “Are you really worried anyone would convict you of murder?”
“Not of murder,” she sighed. “But manslaughter’s a possibility if we don’t get a deal, and failing to report it and throwing out the gun…they warned me, when we discussed doing this, that there’s a possibility, albeit not a likely one, I could go to prison over it, at least for a few years. Although…” She looked at Jemma’s father, in front.
“It’s fine,” said Jemma, dropping her voice to a whisper. “He’s always had to really concentrate when driving on the right side of the road.”
Karen spoke in so soft a whisper Jemma had to strain to hear it. “I’m really worried about the rest of that cross-examination tomorrow, and what else I might have to admit to. For one thing, there are a few things I’ve done in my life that the prosecutor’s going to want to bring up; I’m amazed he didn’t today. Matt and Foggy have objections prepared for it, but even they admit they don’t know if the judge will go for them-that’s pretty much the gamble they decided to make by putting me on the stand. And…there’s a specific reason Wesley kidnapped me then. And if that ever gets public, well, I have to hope Fisk goes to prison for life, because...well, I’m lucky he doesn’t know, because if he did, he wouldn’t kidnap me first, if it got into his power to act against me.”
“He’d kill you, you mean?” Jemma demanded, barely remembering to keep her voice down.
She nodded grimly. “Although he might anyway; he was pretty attached to Wesley. But we’re not dead certain about that, while if he found out the rest of it, we would be, because…I’m pretty sure he killed the reporter Ben Urich for the same reason.” Her voice caught on a sob then. “And that was all my fault, too…” And suddenly she was spilling yet another crazy story, about a lie she’d told with the best of intentions, and the death that had resulted that she still blamed herself for, of a man who she was pretty sure had lied to Fisk’s face in his last moments to protect her, protection she clearly felt she didn’t deserve, even before she whimpered, almost too soft to hear, “It should’ve been me, not Ben.” That was the most heartbreaking thing Jemma had heard out of her yet.
Of course her father couldn’t help but notice the crying, and at a traffic light he even asked what was wrong, but since by then Karen had finished the story and was just letting her tears spill against Jemma’s breast, she just said, “Strain of the day getting to her. It’s all right, I’ve got her.” Thankfully he made clear by his response he hadn’t heard a word they’d said after they’d dropped their voices.
Still, Jemma wished she and Karen were completely alone, because then, perhaps, she might have risked telling her her own secret. Especially because she was pretty sure Karen would understand why Jemma had done what she had done, although she was worried she might try to excuse it, which Jemma didn’t want. But she was never going to take any chance whatsoever of her father hearing about that.
Instead she said, in a normal tone of voice, since it wasn’t words her father would think much of, “You know, Karen, I meant what I said earlier. I may spend my life surrounded by people who do brave things, but they’re trained and taught and prepared for them. You’re just plain brave. I think you would’ve made a good S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.”
“Don’t let Foggy hear you say that,” she giggled through her tears.
Jemma giggled with her a little, but she said, “And what’s more, what happened and what went wrong isn’t your fault. It’s the fault of the people who went out and did murders and other terrible things, and whatever you did beforehand, their actions happening in reaction to it doesn’t shift the blame onto anyone but them. Maybe you made mistakes, fair enough, but you have one of the most righteous hearts I’ve ever seen, and as far as I’m concerned, Karen? You should be *proud* of what you’ve done. I don’t even care what I hear about you or what that prosecutor does to the jury’s heads tomorrow; I’ve seen smooth talkers and people with power manipulate the world, saw them do it after S.H.I.E.D. fell, and they’re still wrong. And those are the sort of people you took on too, and that truly amazes me. I could never do that, and I bet a lot of my colleagues in S.H.I.E.L.D. never could either. Remember that, too.”
“Thank you,” she croaked, and maybe, just a little, she believed Jemma’s words.
It was getting dark as they pulled up to the building in which Marci Stahl had her office, and it was so close to the appointment time they just let Karen out before they tried to look for parking. Ten minutes later they’d failed to find it, instead driving past a place where her father voiced a belief he could return the car immediately. “If I wasn’t worried about getting us and Ms. Page back I’d do it,” he said. “I should’ve known better than to try to rent a car for New York City; it’s worse than useless.”
Five minutes after that he was struggling to parallel park in the space really too small for it when Jemma’s phone rang, and to her delight when she pulled it out it was from none other than Skye. “Hey,” she said. “Finished up your mission?”
“Yeah,” said Skye. “Bit of a crazy end. Me and the caterpillars are currently in a helicopter we *probably* should return to Stark Industries before Pepper Potts decides to have Words with Coulson over it, but we heard you, Fitz, and Mack were in New York, so maybe we could pay you a visit?”
“Well,” smiled Jemma. “Fitz and Mack I believe have turned in for the night already, but my dad and I actually could use a ride, except we’ve got Matt Murdock’s secretary Karen Page with us and we ought to probably take her too, once she gets out of a meeting she’s currently in. She’s had a rather eventful day; you can google her and read the news articles if you like.”
Skye agreed, and her father happily got rid of the car. They returned to Marci’s building before a helicopter came down, and after a bit of a search for a landing place settled on the roof of an adjoining building of fewer floors. Jemma’s father remained on the ground to wait for Karen as Skye rappelled down, then helped Jemma rappel back up with her. “I’m afraid my dad probably can’t do this, nor Karen,” Jemma told her, when they reached the roof breathless. “You’ll have to descend to get them. She shouldn’t be long now, I think.”
In the meantime, there were a handful of first-time introductions to be done, and also some re-introductions to be done; three of the Secret Warriors aside from Skye and Lincoln had been recruited before Jemma had gotten trapped in the monolith, and her memories of them were fresh, but they had barely remembered her amid the chaos that had been their recruitment by S.H.I.E.L.D. When all the hands were shaken, the group mostly scattered about the roof, Skye and Jemma going together to one edge.
“How do you really feel,” Jemma asked her then, “about the three of us being here instead of at the headquarters? I am sorry it’ll probably cause us to see each other less.”
“Oh, not necessarily,” said Skye. “We really don’t spend much time at HQ anyway, especially since not all of us live there, and when Yo-Yo still lives down in Puerto Rico and Sebastian never seems to stay in one place for long, often when we get together for missions it’s just as easy for everyone to meet up here. I actually like the idea having Fitz and Mack here. It’ll be nice to be able to sit down and get introduced to whatever they’re coming up with next, without having the Avengers barge in.” She chuckled, and Jemma watched her fold her arms and consider the city. “You know, I was in the same orphanage your friend was in, though I don’t think we ever talked to each other at the time. Back then, though, I didn’t like the city. I think I associated it with too much pain, and since I was searching for my past, I kept telling myself I needed to go find my real home. Now…I kind of want a better relationship with it.”
The helicopter lights illuminated her well as she stood there, the wind blowing her bobbed hair back, and made Jemma aware for the first time that while at first glance, aside from the haircut, Skye looked much as she had before, the way she stood and the way she spoke and the way she held herself had undergone a transformation, subtle in its manifestation but thorough in its reach. She’d known there’d been changes, that she’d even taken on the name Daisy Johnson legally, and that a lot of the people at the new Hub had never even called her anything else, though to Jemma she would always be Skye. But she hadn’t really appreciated the significance of that until now, when she watched her in command of those who had only known her as she had become.
Sixteen months ago she had been a follower except when she was being a rebel, or just a confused girl no longer sure where she belonged-and Jemma was only just realizing now how much of that last part had been her own fault, though Skye seemed insistent on forgiving her everything. Now, she was a leader who looked upon the world and assessed it with comfortable wisdom and easy self-assurance, and who seemed to always know what she was doing. Jemma didn’t think she could ever be that.
Down below, they saw Karen emerge. “All right, everyone, landing break’s over,” Skye called to her team. “Let’s get that thing down and try to create as little disturbance as possible; we don’t want our heads bitten off when we return to HQ.”
Much as one wouldn’t have thought so with her father, their two civilian passengers had never been in a helicopter before, and both of them kept their noses pressed to the glass for a good deal of time, though Karen eventually drew back. It had been some time since Jemma had been in one either, even disregarding the past sixteen months. As they flew over Manhattan, high enough to keep anyone on the ground from seeing or hearing too much of them, especially now that night had fully fallen, she too stared down at the tapestry of lights below them. Had this been more or less what the city had looked like sixteen months ago? Jemma wasn’t sure how long it had really taken them to rebuild after the Chitauri invasion, though she did know the drama that had resulted still wasn’t over in Hell’s Kitchen.
Joining her father, she asked him, “Dad, what was people’s opinions on this whole Civil War? You were still here for just about all of that, weren’t you? What did people say to you?”
He shook his head. “I got tired of hearing about it. Not even just the people who thought you and your colleagues were all wrong and evil, or the ones who believed absolutely ridiculous things, like that the Avengers were preparing for a military coup to overthrow the government, but even the people who said they were on your side…they seemed to want you to go out and attack more people and spy on more people and things like that. Not the allies you want at all. Though your sister still teamed up with some better people and was part of a group of activists that made speeches in the Avengers’ defense. You should ask her to tell you about that.”
That did sound like Lily, her doing that. She looked down at those lights again, thought of all the people who lit them, who used them, and the more than a few of them who ran from them. Though for much of her recent life, she’d been one of those last, so maybe she ought not to judge them now.
Could she really be one of the people down there? She’d posed as one of them in another city not too long ago, just another working girl who swiped her badge and disappeared into a big building in the morning, then came out in the evening and trotted back to her apartment. And even less time ago, she’d briefly thought she might completely become one of them. That wouldn’t happen now, but if she did become Matt’s girlfriend, she’d genuinely be partly, because through him she would be linked to the world outside S.H.I.E.L.D., which she had never been. And if they did get the weekends off-and it was looking very likely the lab would at least be closed on Sunday, well, that meant whole days where she’d have nothing to do with the thing she’d lived her entire adult life around.
Remembering something Matt had mentioned during one of their phone conversations, she moved over to Karen, and asked her, “How long have you lived here now?”
“About three years,” she said. “Though that’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I left home.”
“What do you think about it?”
She shrugged. “Depends on the day. I suppose you’re awed by it right now.”
“Karen,” she said, trying to find the words to express the feeling that filled her, looking down at a potential new home completely unlike any she’d known. “I just spent sixteen months experiencing absolutely nothing. Not even any sense whatsoever of time passing. Out of the world-maybe out of the universe would be a better descriptor, given I’ve dealt with things literally out of this particular world. To me? This sight is beautiful.”
“It is,” Karen agreed, though she still sounded too subdued. “And...I know what that feeling’s like. To keep on living after you nearly die. But for all you called me brave, back in the car, I was so frightened afterwards…New York City isn’t exactly a good place to live if you’re scared.”
“It’s not bravery unless you’re frightened,” Jemma told her. “There are things that scare me too; they’re just different things,” she added, remembering her reaction in the lab at the new Hub, her lingering fear she’d have the same reaction next time she stepped into the Sandhole. “This? This makes me want to live.”
“I’m glad,” Karen told her. “It is definitely better if you can want to live, and even feel like you are indeed living. At least I’ve had that. Not as much of it as some, but I’ve had it. Maybe when this is over with I’ll have more…”
When Matt made objections to the prosecution’s inquiries into things Karen might have done during her teenage years, the judge did ultimately sustain them, much to the prosecutor’s fury. But Jemma felt a little sorry she’d pushed the conversation with Karen about New York City when he managed to get more out of her about her conversation with Wesley, including that they’d shared opinions about the city they’d both ended up in. “That seems to be a strange conversation to have between two people having the adversarial relationship you claim with him, Ms. Page,” said the prosecutor, and on one side of her, Fitz even murmured, “He does have a point,” although on Jemma’s other side, Skye, who wouldn’t be leaving the city until the afternoon, just commented, “That man was truly dangerous, if he was philosophical.”
“You say, Ms. Page,” said the prosecutor, “that you believe Mr. Wesley’s main motive for kidnapping you was simply because you were posing a danger to Fisk, and he feared your employers might get involved in your quest against him.” So far Karen had avoided admitting that they’d been involved already; the world definitely didn’t need to know they’d been looking for Hoffman just before Daredevil was known to have found him. “But can you name any reason in particular that he might have decided to take such a drastic step that day?”
“Objection, Your Honor!” Foggy yelled from the defense table, probably before he could even think of grounds for it. But he managed to find them in another instant: “We’ve already had Ms. Page describe her actions against Union Allied and Fisk’s other fronts. Talking more about Wesley’s motives, beyond listing actions he might have responded to, which’s she’s done already, veers off into mere speculation about him from her, which isn’t really relevant to this case.” At least he did have a poker face, since he was definitely wearing it while trying to act as if all the actions Karen listed so far really were all the actions she had taken.
“We are trying to establish the plausibility of Ms. Page’s story,” said the prosecutor. “The more we hear about Mr. Wesley’s possible motives, the easier that is to determine.”
There was far too long a pause; the judge was likely thinking about the objections he’d sustained already. But ultimately, once more he said, “Objection sustained.” Jemma made sure to breathe out slowly, so no one would hear her relief.
The prosecutor finally finished shortly afterwards, and after a brief conversation between Matt and Foggy, the latter rose for the redirect. He approached his shaken and exhausted girlfriend in the witness box, and said, “The prosecution is, perhaps, right; they brought a few things out on cross that maybe should be organized. Let us go over the sequence of events that led to your arrest. You talked about the mysterious financial document you saw at Union Allied. Can you give us the specific people you talked to, and what they said?”
Had they rehearsed this the previous night, after they’d dropped Karen off on the roof of her building? Jemma thought they must have. It was a cleverly constructed sequence of events she narrated in accordance with his prompting; Jemma wouldn’t have thought they were leaving anything out if she hadn’t already known they were. He too had a gentle voice, not in the same way Matt had the previous day, but warmer, and they could all see Karen recover, grow more firm and assured with her answers.
Finally, after they had taken the story up to the kidnapping, after which it had all already been told, more or less, Foggy said, “You’ve given us a few reasons already for why you initially didn’t tell anyone. But given the nature of the threats Wesley made to you, and the repercussions taken against others who disobeyed or otherwise defied Wilson Fisk, were you also afraid, especially then, when he was still at large, that he would find out, since you say Wesley claimed Fisk didn’t know what his henchman was doing that night, and respond in this way, and are you still afraid now, of the acts of any henchmen the FBI may have not yet apprehended?”
Karen’s voice was hoarse as she said, “Yes. Yes to both.”
It seemed to Jemma he hesitated for a moment, but then he said, “Ms. Page, you know you didn’t have to come forward now. I know your lawyer, Ms. Stahl, officially advised you that you would’ve been perfectly justified in invoking your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refusing to testify. Why did you choose to?” He looked nervous now, like he didn’t know what she was going to say, Jemma thought. She was pretty sure that broke a basic rule of lawyering.
But she also thought Foggy had known that now was the time to break that rule, when Karen’s response was, “Aside from that I didn’t want a man possibly facing a death sentence for something he didn’t do? I saw what they were doing here. I saw Carl Hoffman was a man who was going to tell the truth, and they wanted his words suppressed and discredited any way they could do it. I’ve already talked about how they tried to shut me up, and remember, until Fisk was arrested, I thought I would never be able to talk about this publicly, and even then I initially didn’t even know if I’d be allowed to testify against him. I’d signed a piece of paper agreeing to keep my mouth shut because a man whose judgement I trusted advised me to, but now, when I saw them doing this? I couldn’t do it again, I just couldn’t. I wanted everyone to know, before they hurt one more man, even if that man was a former henchman of Fisk like Carl Hoffman, exactly who they were, and exactly what they do. What they did to me, and what they’ll to others, if we sit by and let them tell their lies and be believed.”
Jemma didn’t think the love and pride that Foggy showed on his face then quite obeyed the court’s rules of decorum, but his voice was steady enough, if all too happy, as he said, “No more questions.”
When the court broke for lunch, Jemma again led the S.H.I.E.L.D. delegation over to her friends, and they all ended up getting a table for eight at a slightly more upper-scale Italian restaurant; her father insisted on treating them, since he’d gotten a call from Hamburg and would have to leave the next day. “But her brother,” he told everyone, “he might come back and drop in at some point…in the next month, I think; his schedule can be unpredictable sometimes.” It seemed some things about the way the Simmons family worked in general hadn’t changed during the past sixteenth months.
Karen, her main ordeal now over, and seemingly invigorated by her final words to the court, ate voraciously, as did Foggy, but Jemma would’ve liked to have seen Matt eat more. That was why, when Karen got a call from Marci and then announced to the table that she would be meeting with the police at five the day after next, (“So Marci tells you two to wrap your case up tomorrow,”) she said, “You know, if things work out and it’s the three of you going together, I could maybe make you dinner when you’re done? Perhaps at Matt’s place?” Where she also kind of wanted to be because Matt would probably go out and be Daredevil again, and she liked the idea of being there with her first aid skills when he returned.
“I doubt Matt’s got enough in his fridge for that,” laughed Foggy. “I mean, I know no one else has gotten anything for him in the last few weeks, and he never stocks that thing by himself.”
“Really?” asked Jemma. “It wasn’t that bad last time I stayed with him. In fact, my first full day there, I came home to find a lot more than had been there when I’d left that morning.”
“If I remember correctly,” said Karen, “I actually had bought him a few things the week before you visited him.”
“I did go grocery shopping that first morning, after you left,” explained Matt. “I didn’t know how long you’d be there or how much I’d have to feed you.”
“Oh man,” sighed Foggy. “You’ll get food for your guests without getting it for yourself, won’t you?”
“Well, it was good of him to get it for Jemma,” said Skye. “Do you know, when we first went underground, she went and infiltrated Hydra for half a year, and Coulson claims that whenever he went to the apartment she was living in to debrief, he always brought food, because she never had it on hand? The tales he told horrified me, and keep in mind, I’m someone who once lived in a van for an extended period of time.”
“Really?” Matt asked, surprised. “From what I saw, she likes to cook.”
“For other people,” said Fitz. “She loves to make food for others, and she’s always been horrible at taking care of herself. I should tell you about it sometime.”
“I think I’d like that,” said Matt, and there was a very real warmth in his voice. They both very much wanted to be friends, Jemma could tell. She couldn’t help but appreciate that very much.
“So just like Matt here, then,” said Foggy. “Hey, maybe you two *should* move in together. Just in the general interest of each of you having someone in your home who actually cares for your well-being.” Everyone laughed at that, but Jemma had to hide her surprise, given how hostile been to her just a short time ago.
But later, as they were getting ready to part ways, Matt and Foggy to go back to the courthouse, Karen to return to the office, and everyone else to go see Skye and her team off, Foggy took Jemma aside. “Look,” he said to her. “Karen’s just told me that you were very kind to her last night, and said some things to her that really helped her get through today, and I want to thank you for that. And…well, I’ll never be happy about the fact you work for S.H.I.E.L.D. But that email you sent Matt, about McDonnell? I ended up reading that aloud to him, to keep anyone else in the courthouse from hearing the phone talk, and his face just lit up when I said it was from you…I think Karen told you about how Matt hasn’t had very many good things in his life, and that hasn’t changed as much as any of his friends would like since she did. So if you can make him happy, then I guess we can be friends.” And he offered his hand.
“Thank you,” said Jemma, and she shook it.
He held on, though, long enough to say, “Although if you ever hurt him, I don’t care what freaky S.H.I.E.L.D. fighting skills you’ve got; I’ve still got a baseball and a bat I hurt someone with once, and well, you know what Karen’s capable of, and she might just be even more protective of Matt than me.”
“Consider me duly warned,” she told him. If this really happened, she supposed, he’d learn soon enough she wasn’t one of the agents with that kind of fighting ability, but for now she just added, “Although be warned yourself, and I’m sure Matt will hear this warning too: you do not want to cross some of the people who would get upset if anyone hurt me.”
“Consider me duly warned too, then,” he said, smiling.
When Skye had hugged them all goodbye and departed with her Secret Warriors, Fitz and Mack went to look at apartments together, while Jemma helped her father pack his things, so none of them went back to the courthouse, where it generally felt like the main event of the day was over anyway. It didn’t look like she’d be there the next day either, after Dr. Garner called and told her he’d be in town, and they set a time to meet. But late in the afternoon, when the two of them were seated among his bags and showing each other all the photos on their phones, Jemma’s rang, and when she picked up, Matt asked to speak to her father, whom he then apparently very politely asked if he could join them for dinner wherever was convenient for them, although he apologetically advised him it would have to be late in the evening.
Which was how the three of them ended up in the hotel restaurant at a little after nine. The first half-hour was fine, mostly because Matt gave them an account of what they’d missed that afternoon. “We’ve got some more witnesses tomorrow,” he said, “and I imagine the closing arguments will be done the morning after that.”
“So,” said her father, “I understand you interned at Landman and Zack?” Matt actually sounded a little nervous as he confirmed this. “Good,” he said. “Of course it was unfortunate what happened there with Mr. Fisk, and I understand you and Mr. Nelson litigated against them in the affair, but I admit, I still think well of anyone who did work there without committing any crimes.” It seemed he didn’t know that Matt and Foggy had both turned down the opportunity to stay with the firm, but Jemma did not dare speak then. “During my time in Roxxon I met often with the dedicated lawyers there.”
“You worked for Roxxon, then?” Matt asked. His voice was still polite, but the nervousness was gone, and, in its place, there was a new coolness.
“I did, Mr. Murdock,” said her father, apparently not noticing. “Retired only a short while ago, in fact. A pity; I could’ve gotten your firm a contract with them; I had the ability to do that. Would’ve been a good pickup for you and Mr. Nelson as well. I understand you’ve been a small operation; you could have gotten a lot bigger. Maybe gotten in some new recruits; we would've given you sufficient money to expand.”
“Mr. Nelson and I already have very specific plans for our firm,” said Matt, now downright cold. “Since we opened, we have kept a more selective client list; our resources are such that our ability to be of service to bigger companies is limited; your colleagues no doubt would not have approved of your favoring us. We have, I admit, not excluded them completely, especially in our early days when we were just starting up, but I don’t think we and Roxxon would have been a good fit for each other.”
There was no way her father hadn’t gotten the message, and his voice turned cold too, as he said, “That does not sound very ambitious, Mr. Murdock. Have you and Mr. Nelson thought much about the future of your firm?”
“I admit,” said Matt, “we are unlikely to ever be very large. But we have already done work we are very proud of, for people larger and more prestigious law firms might not be as good as giving service to.” Below the table, Jemma could see he had a fist clenched tightly around his cane.
“Being of aid to the little guys, then,” said her father, and she recognized that diplomatic, conciliatory tone, and when he didn’t intend to use it for very long. “You ought not to think I have no respect for that, Mr. Murdock. And I appreciate why you might feel that obligation as well; I understand that it could not have been easy for a blind orphan to graduate summa cum laude from Columbia, and I have great respect for your achievement there. But, well, I’ve also heard too much about how much debt students like you have to take on nowadays, and quite frankly, if you’re inviting me and my daughter to dinner like this with a clear intent to date her, I want to ask about what she would be taking on. What if you two married? Or even had children? Did you know she wants them?”
“Not exactly,” Jemma hastily cut in. “I mean, yes, I’ve always thought, if my life allowed for it, I would like to have children. But honestly, given how my life has gone lately, I wonder if it would be a good idea for me anyway.”
But she saw Matt’s reaction to hearing about this, and remembered what he’d said to her when they’d first made love, which led her to think he thought it would be a bad idea to even pass his genes on, though that didn’t seem to be a very rational belief on his part. And she couldn’t help but think that she and Fitz could have had kids. It would’ve been no problem, living on a base or outpost together, with others around to look after them when they went out on missions.
Still, he kept a cool lawyer’s voice as he said, “Mr. Simmons, I am aware that, provided S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own situation stays as it is, your daughter’s income may exceed my own much of the time-although rest assured I have no interest in her money. But I must insist I do have my financial situation and actions for it planned out, especially now that Nelson and Murdock has been in the black for nearly five months and looks likely to stay that way, and I will not be a burden for her. And I hardly think she would need me to take care of her. It seems to me she can take care of herself.”
He could have her money, though, if he ever needed it. Jemma would have no problem with that at all. She would try to tell him that at a time when she wasn’t worried about either him or her father getting any more touchy.
“You are lucky she can,” said her father. “That she can fair enough an argument I suppose. Still, I would urge you to think on these things further.”
“Perhaps,” said Matt, not meaning it, but if it got the conversation away from this topic, Jemma didn’t care.
She only learned how well Matt had in fact behaved at dinner afterwards, when she walked him out of the hotel, and he told her about the incident involving Roxxon and Landman and Zack that had prompted him, and with him Foggy, to turn their offer down, an incident which he had kindly not brought up. The kind of horrible thing Jemma had always known in the back of her head her father had been accessory to sometimes, but had always tried not to think about, because he was her father, and also, his money had paid for her PhDs and everything else until S.H.I.E.L.D. had picked her up.
She said that to Matt as they waited for his bus together, and he said, “Well, if I told your father where the money that paid for a lot of my education came from, he’d probably be equally horrified,” but it sure sounded like Matt would disdain him for that opinion too. “I’ll tell you that story someday.” His voice dropped; a painful story as well? “Unless you’ve read it already. I ended up spilling it to the shrink when S.H.I.E.L.D. visited me.”
“I haven’t,” she told him. “Whatever you told the psychologist during your Index evaluation is specially protected, which I’m sure you’ll be happy to know.” She wondered how much he’d worried about that, or even if he’d refused to complain because of his own ability to know more about people than he ought to. “But if you’re willing to talk about it to me, I’d like to hear about it,” then working her nerve up, said, “if I went back with you…?”
But he shook his head and said, “Your father’s leaving tomorrow, Jemma, and no matter what I may think of him, I can tell he’s dear enough to you you’d regret it if you two didn’t keep each other company tonight when it sounds like you’re not likely to see each other again for a while.”
“But I might not see you tomorrow,” she said. “After he leaves I have an appointment with the psychologist, and you just said you and Foggy have to meet with your other client again in the evening.”
“I’ll be sorry for that,” he said softly. “Do you have a place to stay tomorrow night yet?”
“I’ll find one,” said Jemma. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Jemma,” he said, and he took her hand in his, faced her as if he’d make eye contact if he could. “You know my door’s always open, if only as a friend.”
She felt herself again on the precipice of falling in love, the way she’d been before with so many times, and with people of both sexes. It wasn’t the first time she’d been there with Matt, though between then and that moment she’d been there again with Fitz. But when his left hand settled on her shoulder, and she remembered the emotion in his voice when he’d talked about that poor old man Landman and Zack had destroyed on Roxxon’s behalf, felt the grip of his right hand on hers, and looked at the lines of his face and how his mouth was slightly parted, she didn’t think she’d ever been so close to the edge.
Which was why she asked, anxiously, “But…only as a friend?”
In response he kissed her. Very chastely, just a light press of his lips to hers, but they lingered there as she wrapped an arm around his back, and the heat of it ran through her, settled in her chest, where she felt something within her begin to crack.
Then when they parted she heard the sharpness of his inhale, felt the tremble of his body, and she felt herself go over.
He could hear the sudden crazy acceleration of her heart, no doubt, and probably could detect the flush of her blood racing wild. But did he have any idea of this feeling that was flooding her chest, quivering her stomach, threatening her knees, spinning her thoughts until her whole head felt light? She was feeling her body vibrate, but she wasn’t sure that wasn’t just in her own mind.
She still hadn’t recovered herself enough to speak when he said, “If Hoffman gets acquitted in time, I actually have no idea how long our meeting with the police is going to be. We might be there all night.”
“I’ll wait,” Jemma insisted, her voice shaky, but working. “I’ll make you all breakfast instead when you get back.”
The bus was pulling up. “Night after tomorrow, then,” he said.
Still feeling dazed, she watched him settled into a seat on the bus, and stood there until it had gone out of sight.
For the most part, she and her father didn’t discuss Matt after that. Instead, when the two of them stood together in Kennedy, he said, “I hope you can come visit me in Hamburg. A couple of my more scientific colleagues at the university are even interested in meeting you; apparently a few of them had heard your name. And after these last sixteen months, I…” he drifted off, as he always had, when he had strong enough feelings about something.
“I know,” she said, and hugged him. “See you soon.”
The good thing about Dr. Garner was he already knew her dirty secrets; she’d dumped practically all of them on him during his second visit to the Playground after their fight with the Inhumans. So she could talk about how she’d felt when she’d heard May had killed Ward, without having to explain to him the extra significance of that for her, and how displaced she’d felt recently, when he knew that wasn’t a new feeling. Also how her feelings for Matt and Fitz both were currently playing out, and it wasn’t the first time she commented to him about Matt, “I think he’s really the one who should be here.”
“You can’t force him,” Dr. Garner reminded her. “You’re not looking to fix him, are you?”
“No,” she laughed. “I’m not that foolish. Especially when I suspect I’ve still only scratched the surface when it comes to his issues…aren’t you supposed to know those things about a person before you go and fall in love with them? I mean it’s just not logical…”
“Love isn’t,” he said with a smile.
“I suppose,” she sighed. “But I want to help him if I can.”
“You’d do a much better job of that if you helped yourself first. So far, you meet the profile for Acute Stress Disorder more than PTSD, but I’d want to monitor that situation, especially after what happened to you in the lab.”
“And if it doesn’t fade after a few weeks?” asked Jemma. “I cannot go into a panic every time I see one of those containers. I just can’t.”
“We’ll deal with that if it happens. I would advise you, in the meantime, to try to take things easier on yourself.”
“That’s what you’ve said already,” she reminded him. He seemed to think she had developed a major guilt complex-which she had, but with pretty good reason, really, and also that she’d been pushing herself too hard from the moment she’d come back from her experience with Hydra-something he probably still didn’t think she’d dealt with the trauma from properly.
“And I still think it’s true. Jemma, if Stark Industries hadn’t decided on its own to renovate your new lab, would you have listened at all to Coulson’s advice to take some time off?”
“Well I did anyway,” she pointed out. “The days I was up at HQ before we came down here, I made no attempt to go into the lab after that first night. Of course, I was busy with other things then. I do admit, I have felt better these last few days. I’ve been sleeping better, not felt as anxious. But surely the longer it goes on, the more scared I’ll be when I do return to work.”
“Are you building this up in your head?” he asked. “How do you feel when you think about walking into your new lab? I know you’ve been there already, but that was before things sunk in, wasn’t it?”
She thought about it. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know how I’ll react even to that. *That* of course frightens me….maybe I shouldn’t have gone into that lab at HQ alone.”
“Are you likely to here? I’m sure if you asked them, Fitz and Mack would make sure you never had to be in there alone.”
“That’s true. And I think we’re probably going to get another tour, courtesy Stark Industries; I’ve already heard the stories about when they opened the lab in the Avengers’ old tower. Which just gets me more anxious; what if I have another attack right in front of them? I’m representing S.H.I.E.L.D. when I deal with them, and I don’t think all of them like us, not after what’s happened during the last two and a half years, and I can’t reflect badly on-”
“Jemma, calm down,” said Dr. Garner, which was when she realized how fast she’d been babbling. “If that frightens you, see if you can turn down a tour, face it in the company of those you feel safe around. You can go there with only Fitz if that would help.”
“Yes,” said Jemma, “I think it would. Although I can’t even be entirely certain of that anymore.” Still, a plan was starting to form itself in her head.
Court actually ended up going on long enough that after emerging from her session to the news that it was still going on, and also the news of Mack running back upstate to grab a few more odds and ends, even after booking her motel room Jemma was able to attend after all, joining Fitz during the final hour as they listened to a bank teller answer questions about when McDonnell had been at her bank. But when she was finished, the defense finally rested. “You want to go over to them again?” Fitz asked her.
“Can’t,” said Jemma sadly, looking at the court clock, and explained about the meeting. “They’ll really have to rush to it, I think. But could you do me a favor? I’ll understand if you don’t want to do this one-”
“Jemma,” said Fitz, looking at her very seriously, “you should know better than to think I wouldn’t want to do something for you.”
There was a time recently(well, recently for her) that she wouldn’t have dared ask him. But she got the point.
Besides, she should’ve also known better than to think helping her break into the Sandhole after the building was closed was something he’d be reluctant to do. In fact, he told her, he and Mack had already been looking into how to do it(“In case of emergency, of course.”) When they got to the side entrance, he inspected it for a minute, listened to the door, and then said, “I think this should take about half an hour.”
He got absorbed enough after a few minutes that Jemma stepped away and pulled out her phone. Matt and Foggy would be en route to their meeting; there was time for a call.
When he answered and she told him where she was, he said, “You want me to just talk again? I could ask Foggy here for a funny story to tell you.” Sure enough, she then heard Foggy say something about “the case with the superevil detergent.”
They both seemed disappointed when Jemma ended up guessing the punchline to that story halfway through it, but if they’d wanted surprise, they ought not to have told that story to a biochemist. Matt finally wrapped it up, “At least we got the guy acquitted on those charges; he got convicted on two of the others, though.” There was a pause, during which Fitz shouted, “Got it!” “You know what you’re doing, Jemma?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I do.”
“Then good luck.”
All down the corridor that led from the side entrance to the main door of their new lab she gripped Fitz’s hand, and he whispered soothing words, “It’s going to be all right, you’re going to be just fine, eventually we’ll feel so at home here the thought of ‘home’ will bring it up instead of where we actually live, you’ve already been here, and it didn’t kill you then, so it won’t now…” They were at the door. “I can do the honours,” he said, “but I know they’ve got your badge programmed in too now, or should anyway.”
She had to let go of Fitz’s hand to fish her new badge and lanyard out of her purse, but when she had that in her hand, with her other hand she took it again, and recalled Matt’s “good luck,” then, she took a deep breath, mentally clutched onto what center within her she could find, and swiped.
“Nice paintjob,” Fitz said, for lack of a better comment. They had fiddled around with it a lot, with new tables and chairs and shelves, not all installed, those installed all bare and clean, which felt safe.
She stepped inside. The place was cold; maybe they needed to talk to someone about how high they kept the air conditioning. It added to the feeling of emptiness, though it still wasn’t a bad emptiness. More like the feeling of starting over, putting new things in, thinking hard about and keeping control of what went in.
Or so she thought until Fitz said, “Jemma, if you don’t mind, I left something in here and forgot about it when we went up to the base,” he was now looking through cupboards and drawers, unlike he called out, “Ah!” He looked up at her, and she nodded.
Out of one of the drawers he pulled out what was obviously a new version of the old sleeves she’d made for Skye. “These are based off your original design,” he explained, “though their purpose is different now; Skye’d like help channeling in her power and focusing it, so we’ve been working on that with Lincoln and a couple of other Inhuman scientists we’ve met with, on and off. You want to see what’s in them?”
There was a holotable in the lab; one which was able to scan the gauntlets and project their contents. Jemma looked them over. “Well,” she said, “you probably shouldn’t have so much iron in them. Remember what we found in Skye’s blood chemistry after she started breaking her own bones.”
Fitz considered that. “I think we could probably reduce it, then,” he said. “We’d probably need to substitute it with something more expensive, but hopefully something more durable, maybe titanium…”
And just like that began the happiest hour Jemma had spent probably since S.H.I.E.L.D. had first fell. When it ended with she and Fitz starting together at another projection of their new design, on impulse she hugged him, both of them even laughing. “You know,” he said, “this was the worst part of…of…of everything, not having this anymore. I sometimes thought, if we could just be together and working in the lab again.”
“We will be,” she said to him. “I promise.” Because she could promise that now, at last.
In their closing argument, the prosecution mostly attacked Karen’s credibility, harping on the unlikelihood of some of the crazier elements of her story, hinting at the deeds of her younger years as much as could be gotten away with, and more or less suggesting her bosses had put her up to it to try to help their client escape justice. Foggy dealt with that accusation pretty well when he stood up to deliver the close for the defense, talking about the upcoming meeting she had with the police, and also about the fact that even with Fisk and all his known minions put away, she was still risking her life coming forward. He allowed his voice to shake with his fear when he talked about that second part, or maybe he simply couldn’t help it; Jemma wasn’t sure. It worked well, she thought, starting with Matt’s cool statement that had shocked the jurors, and now moving them at the end with this impassioned plea.
Things dipped a little when he had to go into the details of what they’d all seen and heard the past few days, all the evidence presented by the defense and all the things wrong with the prosecution’s case; Foggy’s hammering in of McDonnell’s lies really couldn’t equal the colder way Matt had taken them apart. But he came on stronger when he summed it up: “The truth is, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, James Wesley brought about his own death right along with all the other deaths he brought about on Wilson Fisk’s orders. And now he is trying to bring about another one from beyond the grave, carry out one last job of shutting someone up, that being Carl Hoffman, and for the crime of doing the right thing. Jason McDonnell is no more than just another henchman of his.
That McDonnell would come up with this is hardly surprising. These are men who lived in a world of lies and corruption and brutality. James Wesley was a man who drove that world, and even if, unlike his boss, he didn’t necessarily take any lives with his own hands, the blood of each and every one of them still sat on him. Ironically, he did practically the same thing to Mr. Hoffman and to Karen Page: had them sat down and threatened with bloody consequences if they did not do his bidding-even if Wilson Fisk was the one primarily responsible for the threat to Mr. Hoffman, you can bet his right-hand man was the one who set up the meeting; it might well have even been his idea first. Had my client been a position to stop him, perhaps I would be up here telling you that he acted in self-defense, or in defense of his longtime friend, although we cannot know for sure.
What we do know is that sometimes you don’t have to lay hands on someone or even point a gun at them to perform on him or her an act more brutal than any beating. That is what he did, to both he who is accused of killing him, and she who did so. Had he had a crony point a gun to Ms. Page’s head, and ordered her to shoot, he would not have forced her hand any more than he did. Her life was one he failed to take, as was mine, my associate’s, and yet more lives, perhaps dozens of them, that Ms. Page saved when she took his. There was. no. murder. here.” He all but hit the jury box with each one of those words. “Only the prevention of multiple murders. You don’t even have any deeds to convict anyone of, let alone a man who had nothing to do with James Wesley’s death. Instead, you can see to it that another murder does not happen, that James Wesley’s body count ends with he himself.”
“He’s right,” Fitz whispered to Jemma as Foggy returned to the defense table, and the judge started giving final instructions. “I just hope the police are willing to believe that tonight. I suppose those who haven’t gone through things like what we’ve gone through can’t entirely be expected to understand, though. They’ve never looked a man, and just absolutely known that even if he doesn’t have the gun pointed at you and he’s insisting he doesn’t have to murder anyone, or even that he doesn’t want to, he’s still going to, sooner or later, and that there’s only one thing, in the end, that you can do which will actually stop him.”
“I know that now,” he said, taking her hand and trying to get her to look at him, just in case she might have thought he was still talking about Karen’s killing of Wesley.
Jemma wished he was. Then she could have easily agreed with him, or at least felt able to say something.
The jury returned with a full acquittal a little bit before three. By then Marci had contacted Karen to tell her that she wanted to accompany her to the precinct that night regardless of whether or not Matt and Foggy too could represent her without conflict. So when Jemma, having sent Fitz and the newly returned Mack on their way to look at more apartments, found the local supermarket, she now was no longer even sure how many people she’d be cooking for.
She settled on buying ingredients to cook either a *lot* of her mother’s old beef stew, or a large load of pancakes, if the meeting did indeed take all night. But even after that, she ended up spending nearly two hours at it. Before her time at Hydra, she had never done much grocery shopping, having never lived in a place where it had been her job to get the food anyway, and she would be the first to admit she hadn’t been very good or consistent at it then either. It had just been overwhelming, and she’d always wondered, whenever she was in a place that large and crowded, about just how easy it would be for someone to be watching her. On at least one occasion she’d blown up at some poor supermarket hand, mostly out of sheer paranoia.
But now, she thought, even if she moved in with Matt immediately, she still ought to be the one to do it for the two of them, since it had to be a lot easier with eyesight, and she wasn’t even sure all the sounds and smells of the supermarket didn’t overload him; it would explain a lot if they did. So she made her way slowly, reminding herself that there was absolutely no hurry, and that no one had any particular reason to spy on her now. She stared at different brands of the same thing, thought about what she’d read about the food industry, about factory farming and Monsanto and other terrible things, and then bought whatever declared itself to not have preservatives or additives, or claimed to be organic. She hoped the latter actually were organic. She was sure Matt would be able to tell.
Once in his apartment, Jemma felt herself relax, much more than she would’ve expected to, though a StarkPad loaded up with the season of Doctor Who she’d missed while in the monolith helped there. Idly she wondered how much Matt would mind if she brought a television into his living room.
It was around half past eight when Matt called to her tell her all four of them were coming over. “With any luck we’ve all done our part,” he said, “signatures and all, though if we have, we should know within another hour or so.” Jemma set to work on her stew. It was a good thing she’d thought to buy large cookware while she’d been in the supermarket; Matt still had nothing big enough to cook with for more than two, three at most. His kitchenette was so unchanged from the last time she’d been working in it that even when in her head that had only been a few weeks ago, it still creeped her out. She had to force herself to focus, like she had when making Fitz his sandwich, except even more so, because the little differences he wouldn’t taste Matt would.
“You still got that hideous billboard out the window?” was the first thing Jemma heard Marci Stahl say when the four of them came in. Looking her over, Jemma couldn’t help but think she looked like everything that was wrong with the modern-day legal profession. When Matt brought her into the kitchenette to introduce her and Jemma, she felt herself being appraised. “An agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., you say?” Marci asked, and Jemma worried her opinion on that might be similar to that of her ex-boyfriend’s, though if it was, she didn’t actually express it.
So Jemma was very satisfied, when, somewhat to her surprise, when Marci took the first bite of her dinner, she made a stunned, pleased noise, and said, “Wow, this is really good. And I thought you British couldn’t cook to save your lives.”
“Sometimes we can,” said Jemma, more primly than she had intended, but she couldn’t feel much offense at that moment. Not when Matt had taken his first bite too, and the expression on his face made all that anxiety she’d had over whether she’d put the right amount of salt in, or whether she’d bought the right kind of potato, not to mention the extra time she’d taken washing everything twice before cooking, absolutely worth it.
They’d all five of them finished their bowls when Foggy’s phone rang, and when he said, “Brett,” Jemma saw them all go tense, and Matt took her hand under the table. But when his, “Hey, Brett, so what’s the word?” was followed by a happy smile, that caught on, and after a brief conversation he could hang up to tell them the news: “It’s all settled. Karen doesn’t have to worry about being charged over the whole killing evil henchman thing-ever, they don’t have to worry about being sued over the nearly-being killed thing even when she could get away with it now-ever, and the prosecution team for Fisk has her iron-clad guaranteed to testify at whatever time they desire. Everybody’s happy.”
“Well, then,” grinned Marci as she rose. “I believe my work here is done. Nice doing business with you, Ms. Page. You’ll receive the final bill in the mail.”
“Nice seeing you again too, Marci,” retorted Foggy, but he was still smiling.
After she was gone, he continued, “The two of us should probably be going soon. Especially since, unlike Marci, we should maybe walk home, so we can be sure of paying her in full for the arduous task of stalling with the police for us and then saying all the things she had to officially say.”
“That actually wasn’t all she did,” said Karen, “but yeah, it was close to it.”
Foggy laughed, a little too much, and even Jemma could tell then something was off about him, while one look at Matt and she could see he was sensing a hell of a lot more about his friend. He stayed that way, too much at attention, during the few minutes more they lingered, and then when Foggy and Karen did leave, they heard her ask him, as they headed out the door, if he was all right. “Just a long day,” they heard him respond as the door closed, and though then Jemma couldn’t hear them anymore, Matt just stood there, perked up, until she asked him, “Do you know what’s going on?”
“I have never known him to be so anxious ever,” he said. “Except maybe when we began our first day at Landman and Zack. Yesterday, after you called, he also said a couple of things to me, about him and Karen, and about how he’d been thinking lately, and they’d been talking already, and he might have said some things about never wanting any other woman after seeing her do what she’s just done, and then, when the jury went out today, he ran off and said to he needed to do something. And after telling Karen it was a long day, just now, he suggested they take the long way back. She agreed.”
It took a few seconds more for Jemma to put the pieces together: “Are you telling me you think he’s about to propose?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it burst out of him before he even got out of this building,” he said, and she could tell he was still listening. “Or he might wait until he can be sure I’m out of earshot. Or he might lose his nerve. He’ll want to tell us immediately, of course, assuming she says yes, which I think she will, though he might call or they might come running back here. Meanwhile, let’s do the dishes.”
The dishes, and both of them occupying themselves with them, was really just a delaying tactic. Because as they wiped the last of them dry and put them away, Jemma was aware that now they would have to talk about what they were going to do that night. Even if Matt put the suit on and went out immediately, they had to first discuss whether she was going to wait for him to come back. That he’d been so quick to say they should do them indicated…Jemma wasn’t sure. He could just be afraid of what she was going to say, like she was still.
She wondered how loud the sound of the final cupboard door closing was in his ears when he said, “Have you had time to think over what I did to Fitz?”
She needed a moment to realize what he was talking about; she didn’t even think of it that way. “Yes,” she said, “and I think what you really did was you gave him what he needed. Maybe what you needed too that night. And the way he talked to me about it, it seems it helped him a lot, emotionally, what you gave him. He’s not actually sure how much you ultimately impacted his actions, but really, all you did there was too well meant for me to hold it against you.
I admit,” she had to add, though, “I am *not* happy about you talking to someone else about having sex with me like that. But, well, you really were thinking of me as dead, weren’t you?” It was still a little strange to comprehend, even though intellectually she understood it perfectly, how someone who still didn’t deal much with weird people and objects and such would react to hearing someone had been swallowed up an alien object that, to them, was impossible to do anything with or about.
“I was,” he said. “And I thought…well, it was him, and he kept insisting you were going to go on a date with him…” He must have gauged her reaction, because he hastily said, “I am sorry, though. Maybe I…I should’ve thought better of the whole thing.” She didn’t need enhanced senses to tell how much he meant it.
“I think…” Jemma started. But Matt suddenly stiffened, clearly listening to something outside the apartment again.
“Is that Foggy?” Jemma asked. Better that than the alternative.
Which is was, because Matt shook his head, and then said, “I’m sorry, but I need to get out there now,” and hurried to his closet.
He dressed quickly, indifferent to modesty, and even thanking Jemma when she stood there and let him hand her his work clothes. Well, she’d seen it already anyway. She even folded them up. It made her feel so wifely that by the time he was pulling his hood on, it felt only natural to murmur to him, “Good luck,” and to lean in for a kiss.
She’d meant for it only to be a peck, what with his being in a hurry, but to her surprise he took hold of her and crushed their mouths together hard. She’d known about his ability to kiss already, but she’d forgotten what it felt like, being within his passionate embrace, the tenderness with which he stroked the side of her face contrasting so sharply with the hunger and forcefulness of his mouth. Or maybe it was just how she now felt about this brave, passionate, steadfast, intelligent, righteous, brutal, tender, tortured, beautiful man.
It still wasn’t very long, maybe about five seconds, before he withdrew, but by then Jemma’s knees were close to giving way and her whole body was crackling with heat and want.
“I’ll stay here,” she told him, finding the breath to somehow. “Foggy calls, or he and Karen show up…or you come home hurt…”
“Good,” he said. Thanks. See you soon." Then he grabbed his escrima sticks and hurried to the window and out.
It took Jemma a little bit of time to do anything besides stand there, or pace restlessly. This might be about to become a normal part of her evenings, she reminded herself, and eventually she got herself to put away the folded clothes, and take and lay out the softer kind of clothing she’d noticed Matt favored when he was at home. She then checked out the first aid kid, but of course that was perfectly stocked. With nothing else to do, she took her StarkPad back up and sat down, though even then she just stared at it for a few minutes.
She finally managed to load her Doctor Who marathon back up, and she’d watched about twenty minutes more of it when she heard hammering on the door, followed by Foggy yelling, “Matt! Matt! You better still be in there when you had to know what I was up to, and SHE SAID YES!”
“Foggy!” she heard Karen admonish him. “You’ll wake Fran!”
“I’m gonna wake everyone!” was his loud reply. “Everyone in Hell’s Kitchen! They all gotta hear the news!”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to be the first to congratulate you then!” Jemma called to them, hurrying to answer the door. “Matt ran out to handle what I think is some quick business,” she explained as she let them in. “I’m sure he’ll be back as soon as possible. Loud as you were yelling maybe he’s heard already!”
“Not as much as he’s gonna hear it from me!” sighed Foggy. “Can’t even be here when I need to break down his door in the middle of the night to tell him I’m engaged? Maybe I’ll find another best man, that’ll show him.” But his huge smile didn’t decrease one millimeter as he said any of this, and Karen too looked too overjoyed to be that bothered by Matt’s absence, even before she pulled Jemma into an unexpected hug.
“I suppose I should call my parents,” said Foggy. “My mother will kill me if I’m engaged for more than a few hours without telling her.” He was laughing on the word engaged, as if he couldn’t stop being crazily giddy at the thought of it. He headed to the corner of the room.
“What about your family?” Jemma asked Karen. “Do you need to call them?”
But Karen stepped away and shook her head. “I’ll email my parents tomorrow,” she said. “Maybe my brother, but I *really* don’t think he’ll respond.” It sounded like there, too, she had sources of grief in her life. Jemma wanted to hug her again. At least, she thought, this probably counted as Karen living some more, the way she’d talked about in the helicopter.
But when she opened her mouth to respond, there was a loud thud, and they all turned to see Matt on the floor by the open window, a large portion of his back covered in some horrible purplish substance that Jemma had never seen before. All three ran to him, and the smell was too much like acid. It was hard to tell how conscious he was.
“I’m calling Claire!” declared Foggy, and ran to where Jemma assumed Matt kept the burner phone.
“Those are probably some sort of chemicals,” said Jemma, as she felt herself go into the medical detachment she’d developed over the last year. “We need to get whatever’s left of the suit off his skin and wash the affected area.” To her relief, when she leaned over to inspect his other side, it was clear whatever had hit him hadn’t gotten anywhere above his shoulders. “Karen, get us as much water as you can easily carry and a towel. I suppose going to the hospital is out?”
“Yes,” said both the other two simultaneously, and a protesting noise came from Matt too. A moment later Foggy was saying, “Claire? Matt’s got the same burns he got hit with last time, only worse…we’ve got someone here with medical experience, but we really want you here, if you can manage it…good. Goodbye. It’ll take her about half an hour.”
Jemma had already gotten the kit out and donned its thick rubber gloves. “He got hit with this before?” she asked. “Do you have any idea what it is? If you don’t I can take a sample to the lab with me.”
“None,” hissed Matt; he was looking basically awake now, though clearly in terrible pain. “Whatever it is, we need to keep it out of Hell’s Kitchen. I should…” He tried feebly to pull himself up.
“You should think about that tomorrow,” Jemma told him, pushing him back down. “Or maybe after S.H.I.E.L.D.’s gotten a look at it; if they don’t recognize it, they’ll certainly be interested in analyzing it; either way I’ll have lots of information for you. For now I’m going to get this off you. This is going to hurt…”
It did; the sounds that came out of Matt brought Foggy back over, letting his friend squeeze his hand, whispering, “Come on, Matt, you’ve gotta get through this…if you heard me say the thing about the best man, I didn’t mean it, it can’t be anyone but you…just hold on, Matt, please hold on…”
By the time Claire Temple, also apparently known as the Night Nurse(“Ask you friends about me,” she said to Jemma. “They’ll tell you. Especially Daisy Johnson; I saved the life of one of her crew once.”), arrived, Matt had passed out from the pain, but Jemma was already confident he was going to survive, and Claire was able to confirm it. “It’s probably a good thing he stayed home between last time and tonight,” she commented. “If he’d gotten a second dose of this earlier, I’m not even sure what would’ve happened.”
“I know,” said Foggy, when he saw the look on Jemma’s face. “We should’ve told the biochemist about the mystery chemicals.”
“No, that’s all right,” said Jemma. “At that point in time, I wasn’t…I wouldn’t have confided that far in me either.”
She saw the way Claire was looking at her, then, curious, and, she thought, strangely sad. But then she pushed it aside, and said to Jemma, “Get me more water.”
She took over from there, Jemma standing on call to fetch and hand her things. Foggy and Karen watched silently, huddled together behind them. This was not the way they ought to be celebrating their engagement, Jemma thought at one point, but they seemed like they’d long passed beyond that, like lovers in a time of war.
Finally, when they had him bandaged up, she said, “Let’s get him to bed.” The four of them working together carried him to his bedroom and laid him between the sheets. Most of his costume had come off while first Jemma and then Claire had been working on him, but the hood was harder to take off, so they left it in place. “If he refuses to go to the doctor, which I’m assuming he’d going to do, I’ll come back tomorrow evening,” Claire told them. “Until then, just do basic care; I know you two know how to do that already,” she said to Karen and Foggy, “and, well, Agent Simmons, I’d think you would too. Try not to leave him alone.”
“Don’t worry,” Foggy told her. “We’ve got it covered.”
He and Karen stayed with Matt in the bedroom while Jemma walked with Claire to the door. “When you called him that night,” said Claire, “he said you’d been through trauma beyond our understanding. For it to be beyond his understanding, I imagine it must have been pretty bad.”
“It was,” said Jemma. “But I think now I’m going to be all right.”
“Good,” said Claire. “And, well, if you two…”
“We are, I think, now,” said Jemma. “Though we haven’t spelled it out to each other in so many words yet. But I know I’m ready to.”
“In that case,” said Claire, with a wan smile. “I wish you both luck. But…I hope you won’t mind if we see a lot of each other. I do want to keep being there when he needs my help.”
“Wait a minute,” said Jemma, now remembering. “Last time I was here, Matt told me there was a woman who hadn’t been able to handle his being Daredevil. Was that you?”
When Claire nodded, she also said, “I suppose you must think me weak for that.”
“Not at all,” Jemma was quick to assure her. “Believe me, I have enough of an idea of what I’m getting into that I wouldn’t judge anyone for not being willing to deal with that, especially someone in your position, I mean, you’re still pretty much a civilian, aren’t you? And don’t think I ever won’t want you here. I am not going to be petty about Matt’s life and health."
Claire’s smile broadened into a much more genuine one. “You truly do love him,” she said. “I can tell.” They reached the door then, and she took Jemma’s hand and shook it hard. “I’ll be back tomorrow night.”
“I’ll see if I can get a sample analyzed at my lab by then,” Jemma told her. “Since it’s probably a threat to everyone in Hell’s Kitchen you offer treatment to, I’ll make sure you’ll know everything about it we do.”
“That’s good of you,” said Claire, and Jemma suspected she feared S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t exactly allow for that. Well, Jemma was really going to do all she could, especially because this was her city too now.
After Foggy and Karen passed out on the couch together, Jemma felt a determination seize her to get that hood off Matt’s head; it might have even absorbed specks of the chemicals, for all they knew. Thankfully he remained dead to the world as she wrestled with it over the next half hour. By the time she finally got it free, though, she was feeling truly exhausted. She ended up putting her head down on Matt’s mattress, soothingly close to where his own head lay, and closing her eyes, intending just to rest for a few minutes.
When she woke up that way, it was morning, and Matt was softly groaning himself awake in her ear. She opened her eyes to see his head tilt towards her as he whispered, “Jemma?”
“How are you doing?” she asked, pulling herself up to sit on the bed. “Can you rate your pain on a scale of one to ten where is ten the worst pain-”
“Five,” he interrupted. Jemma supposed she should mentally increase that number, but at least he appeared to be lucid now. He took her hand, and his grasp of it was tight when he whispered, “Thank you. For being here.”
In response Jemma kissed him. Lightly and carefully at first, on his lips, then his cheeks, then on the sides of his eyes, which got a sigh out of him. Encouraged, she kissed his ears, his hair, moved down to his neck, and then gasped as she felt his lips find her own skin.
His hands nudged her sides, encouraged her to lie on top of him until they were pressed against each other through her clothes and the sheets. His lips were running their way under her chin, on the border of the anterior triangle of her neck, teasing under her ear lobe where he knew she was sensitive, and he made a pleased noise when her breathing quickened. Her hands caressed his head, which got another sound out of him, and then she leaned down and licked his collarbone, loving the shudder she felt run through his body, how responsive he was.
They weren’t going to do much more than neck, not in his current condition, and also with Foggy and Karen asleep in the next room. But when his hands fumbled with her shirt she took it off, allowing him to bend down and kiss the tops of her breasts above her bra, before moving back up until he was licking over the top of her sternum and she was struggling not to moan. He raised his head slightly and she peppered kisses onto his forehead, down towards his nose when she could reach it, over his glabella, then his nasal bone. The last felt different than it had last time she’d touched it. He’d no doubt taken countless punches to it since. That thought caused her to cradle his head to her, draping herself even more closely over him, as if telling the world it couldn’t have him, at least not right now.
“I prayed for your soul every day for months,” he whispered. “I felt there wasn’t….like I couldn’t…and now I still can’t believe you’re really here.”
“Let me stay,” she pleaded, the words coming out without her even planning them. “We can wake up like this all the time, only better. And I’ll be here in the evenings too, and again at night, which is so much better and safer for you it’s not even funny...”
“Jemma…” He should not sound so stunned she was asking for this, she thought. “I…you…that…you really should…”
“I really should have something in my life that’s not the sole occupation and mission it’s consisted of for me since…well, depending on how you look at it, possibly since I was seventeen and left home.” If he was the sort of man who could only be persuaded to do something for the sake of others rather than himself, she could work with that. “I’ve never even had a home in the normal sense since then. And if you let me do this, Matt, I know I’ll be grateful every day that what’s happened to me in my life has allowed me to have you.” And she took his hand and pressed it to her chest, hoping he could feel as well as hear how much she meant it.
He must have, because with a hiss of, “Yes,” he pulled her down and kissed her deeply, and Jemma felt the regret over Fitz that had caked her heart dissolve and melt away, because this was too much happiness to leave room for any regrets at all.
“Yes, Jemma,” he croaked, “stay with me.” There was need in there, the kind she suspected he’d kept beaten down within him, which broke her heart to think about. A desperately lonely man, she thought; Fitz had been right. Well, that was something she could definitely help with.
“Yes,” she whispered into his mouth as they kissed again, and again. “Yes, Matt. Yes.”
Eventually she went to shower, and emerged from the bathroom to the news that Foggy and Karen were now awake. She was dressed and sponging Matt down when they knocked on the door, and Foggy calling, “Matt? Jemma? Are you in there, Jemma? Are you dressed? How much do you remember from last night, Matt?”
“Enough that I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to congratulate you two,” Matt called as Jemma let them in. “Although we’ve got news, too, though not news I’m sure you’ll be happy about, Foggy, since it’s that Jemma’s moving in with me.”
“After last night, you really expect me to be upset about you having someone here at night, and someone who’s even got some medical abilities?” laughed Foggy, and Jemma did believe he’d genuinely made his peace with it, at the very least, especially after he hugged her.
So did Karen, but when they both sat down on the edge of the bed this felt like a moment that should be just between the three of them. So Jemma left Karen holding out her hand so Matt could feel the ring and Foggy asking if he could tell what metal it was made of, and stepped back into the main room of her new home.
She took her phone with her, checking the time on it; it was nearly nine, and most of her friends ought to be awake by now. So she sent out a general announcement to everyone about where she was now going to reside, and got an immediate response from Skye: So u bagged hot superpowered lawyer? Ur getting some luck at last! Jemma grinned at that one.
No other instant replies, but she did have a number of texts sent to her already, especially from Fitz, who had presumably woken up to the email she’d sent him about the mysterious chemical attack. He already had ideas and information about containers they had available for transporting the corroded pieces of body armor to the Sandhole, and having looked at the photos she’d sent him he also had some theories of what the substance was.
They would have to work out a schedule for the day. Foggy and Karen would no doubt want to go see his family, and she wasn’t sure if they were going to try to have the office open that day or not, or if there was anyone they had to meet with. She could wait until the next day to go to the lab, she supposed, except she really wanted those pieces of armor out of the apartment as soon as possible. Perhaps Fitz or Mack or both could come by to pick them up, once they figured out how they were carrying them, although she had to be there for the testing part. Once she’d found some time to read up about all the new chemical substances S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, any famous scientists, or anyone at all had discovered over the past sixteen months. Something to do while Matt was meditating, perhaps. Going to the Sandhole would also be an opportunity to get her things and bring them back to the apartment with her.
She was still going through all her various messages when the phone rang; Fitz was calling her. When she picked up, he said, “So how do you like your new place?”
“Bit bigger than the last apartment I lived in, I think,” said Jemma, “but also a little bit more rundown; it’s like the Playground that way.” And Fitz laughed, and in the way he had used to, before everything bad had happened to them. “Of course, compared to the cramped space I lived in there…what about you and Mack?”
“We really liked two of the places we saw yesterday,” he said. “There are still a couple more to look at, but I think it might come down to those two. They’re both a bit snug, though. We wouldn’t be able to bring our work home, Mack especially. Although honestly I’m not sure that’s not a good thing.” And now they’re both laughing, together, and Jemma’s heart felt so full she was nearly dizzy with it. And perhaps it should’ve been awkward, but it just felt even better when he said, “I’d actually like you to take a look at them before we decide, get your opinion on them. You don’t have to hurry out if you can’t manage it before tomorrow night.”
“Yes, I’d like that,” she said. “I’ll call you again about it and about testing the chemicals once Foggy, Karen, and I have worked out our schedule, though I really would like to get the latter looked at either today or tomorrow, before Claire Temple comes back…”
Fortunately when she explained why, Fitz declared himself all for providing the Night Nurse with all their findings. “And you know, Jemma, if at any time we want to sneak around to do it, I know that after she saved Lincoln that one time Skye and her caterpillars would definitely help out.”
“Good,” said Jemma, and she had a moment, there, to think about how much she’d changed, that she now said that, and now how that she’d changed so much didn’t even bother her anymore. But she didn’t linger on it long, just said, “Talk to you in an hour or so then?” and when he agreed they hung up.
In the other room, she could hear Matt, Foggy, and Karen still talking, and she smiled as she headed for the kitchenette. She was going to make a lot of pancakes.