Jemma groaned herself awake at the sound of her boyfriend’s phone. He was already leaning over her to answer it. “Why on Earth is he calling you?” she wondered. And why was he calling on one of the Sunday mornings they had taken to catch up on sleep, among other things?
“No idea,” he replied, before answering, “Murdock.” A pause. “I see. Well, since you woke us both up, I think Jemma should be included in that conversation.”
As he tapped the volume of the phone up, they heard Coulson saying, “…could hardly have expected you two to still be asleep, but I really don’t think…” Then presumably he heard the clink of Matt setting the phone down on the table, and sighed, “Good morning, Agent Simmons.”
“Good morning, sir,” said Jemma, suppressing a giggle. Matt settled in where he had been lying behind her, and she pressed back against him and took his hand.
“So, as I was telling Mr. Murdock, we are finally requesting that he join us for a mission, as we’re dealing with the Hand, an organization he’s run into operatives from before-Wilson Fisk had a couple of them working with him, although he forced your boyfriend to kill one of them. We might also be getting aid from his old mentor, the man known only as Stick, though I wouldn’t rely on it, since S.H.I.E.L.D. had locked up in the Fridge for half a decade, even if we released him before Garrett and Ward would have.”
“Oh,” was all Jemma said to that, though she knew both men would hear the intense trepidation in it. Matt especially, since unlike Coulson, he knew her exact opinion on Stick, had learned it the hard way after she’d read through the old man’s full Index profile(with some hacking help from Skye) and learned a lot about what he typically did to the children he trained. Even if he would’ve gotten out a year later anyway, she really wished they’d kept him in the Fridge.
Matt, more thoughtfully, said, “Actually, I suspect he might not hold that against you. Have you contacted him yet?”
“We’re trying to. Once we get his answer we’d likely to move out within a few days. If all goes well we’d need you for about a week, if your schedule allows for that.”
“I have a hearing Thursday,” said Matt. “I could, conceivably, take a week away from the office after that, if things at that hearing go the way we think they probably will.” But there was a reserve there.
Coulson picked up on it: “But are you willing to?”
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “First of all, I know you’ve got a U.N. committee that monitors you. How much would they want to know about me?”
“We can try to keep them from wanting to know too much about you,” said Coulson. “Especially if I can get our woman on it, Agent Weaver, to help us there. Although I can’t promise they won’t learn who you are. They ask for full data and I’m afraid we’ll be obliged to hand over your Index profile. They *probably* won’t, but…”
“Probably isn’t enough for that to be a big point against,” said Jemma. “But you can’t tell us the details of that over this kind of phone line, can you?”
“We’ll get those details and a full mission brief to the Sandhole,” said Coulson. “You can carry it from there, Jemma. Tomorrow, maybe, when we may even have an answer from Stick. Try to give us your answer by Wednesday, if you can, Mr. Murdock.”
“I should be able to,” said Matt. “I’ll call you then?”
“Looking forward to it, Mr. Murdock. You have any more questions before then, we’re all ears. Have a nice day.”
“Bye,” said Matt, and he reached over to end the call. Then he sighed as Jemma shifted to face him and take him into her arms. “Do you want me to take this mission?”
“Right now I’m not sure,” she replied. “But can we at least not talk about it until noon? This is supposed to be a morning off, and no, we’re still not getting out of bed until then.”
“I guess it can wait,” he chuckled, and kissed her, slow and deep and warm. His arms stroked her back and she happily melted into them. After three years of dating, this was comfortable, familiar, especially since most of the sex they had happened in the morning, his nocturnal activities being what they were. This particular morning he wasn’t even that bruised, though when her hands started moving, she was careful not to put any pressure on his right shoulder.
When they broke apart, he began kissing his way down her body, and she happily let her legs fall apart in anticipation of what he was going to do. “Oh yes,” she murmured to him. “That’s a good boy,” he really liked being called that, still got a sound out of him even now, “just like that...”
After a noon brunch, the first thing Matt did was call Foggy, which he’d been planning to do anyway, since Karen had had an appointment with the doctor that morning. The news there he described as good; so far her pregnancy was going very well indeed. Then he explained about the call from Coulson, stood there frowning for several minutes, and said, “Well, I don’t know if I’m going to take it. But would you at least be fine with losing me for a week?” A pause, and he said, “Remember we said to him before, he wants me, he has to pay me; you lose any money because of it, S.H.I.E.L.D. compensates you..I do believe him there, Foggy…I won’t, I promise.”
“He disapproves,” said Jemma when he hung up. Not really that surprising.
“Yeah,” said Matt. “Although the real thing he seemed upset about it is Stick’s involvement.”
“There’s he right to be upset,” said Jemma, to which Matt did not respond; it wasn’t really much use for them to talk about Stick. He had never been happy about the fact she’d taken pains to learn about him the way she had, and she grew frustrated with his insistence that he owed a debt to the man who had abused him, just because that abuse had happened to leave him more able to handle his senses and fight. Also that he had forbidden her to tell Foggy or Karen any more than they already knew. He had to know they’d take her side if they learned more.
Instead, he said, “I think there’s something Foggy’s not telling me.”
“About Karen?” Jemma asked, concerned.
“No,” he said. “In fact, the thing he’s kept emphasizing these last two weeks is that Karen’s fine, and the pregnancy’s fine. Always saying that specifically. She’s fine, and the baby’s fine, and I’m starting to think there’s something besides the two of them that isn’t.”
Logic pointed quickly to the most obvious candidate, but Jemma found it hard to believe Foggy would keep that sort of thing from Matt. “Maybe someone else in his family?” she suggested.
“Could be,” he said. “He’s taken a rain check on me tonight.” The two of them had planned to go to Josie’s together. “Said he’s starting to feel guilty about going out drinking when Karen can’t.”
“Do you want to go out with me instead?” she asked. “Or are you just going to hit the streets early?”
“Might do the latter,” he said thoughtfully. “Especially if I do leave Hell’s Kitchen for a week.”
“So you really might do this?”
“I don’t know. I really do not like the idea of a committee of powerful people knowing who I am. I don’t trust them not to abuse the information, or even to try to blackmail me into doing what they want me to do, not necessarily what’s right.”
“Well, Anne Weaver is all right,” said Jemma. “She knows who you are already anyway, and I’m sure she wouldn’t let them force you to do anything against your will if she could help it.”
“But what if she can’t? She’s only one person. This is a huge risk I’d take, Jemma.”
“I know,” she said. “And as I indicated earlier, my own feelings on this one are mixed.”
“Obviously,” said Matt, but he smiled as he said, “You really do like the idea of me working with your group of people, though. I’ve long known that. Maybe we’d even be doing this thing together.”
“That, I suspect, isn’t likely,” said Jemma. “Coulson might even prefer to avoid it because the two of us are romantically involved. Though I’d probably accompany you to the Hub, if they take you up there.”
“I’ll need you, if I do do this. I’ll need all the people I can trust, and I might trust most of your friends, Jemma, but I won’t know about everyone else working at that place, not even most of the Avengers. I can’t even rely on their heartbeats, after that trick your friend Bobbi pulled on me.”
“Most of them can’t do that,” she told him. “I think.” That had been quite a Christmas, when Bobbi had presented Matt with a deck of braille playing cards and challenged him to a game of poker. It turned out, as Jemma had sometimes speculated, that she had trained herself well enough he couldn’t read deception off her heartbeat, and when, for a secret vigilante, Matt was a terrible liar, she’d proceeded to kick his ass. Jemma had apologized afterwards, but Matt had just said it was a valuable lesson for him to learn.
They’d kept the cards though, and later that day they ended up using them to play Speed, which Matt was proud of getting very good at, despite the extra split second it was supposed to take him to find out what cards he’d just drawn, although they did have a rule about Jemma identifying cards in the center and neither of them putting cards down until she then said “Go.” When he’d beaten her three games in a row, and they had to pause because her voice was hoarse from identifying what cards she was putting down(sometimes she demanded he do the same; it usually didn’t make much difference), she croaked, “Why am I playing a speed game against a superhero?”
“Because you are a brave and bold agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who is unafraid of them?” he suggested. “Do not complain; your organization’s reputation in on the line, Agent Simmons.”
Really, she only worried about that when dealing with Stark Industries, but Jemma was happy to play along with his teasing. “You are right. Deal the cards again, Mr. Murdock; I shall not waver!” She won the next game too.
Bobbi arrived in town early on Monday morning, and she’d dropped in on the Hub first, because she was bearing a braille version of the mission brief(much to Jemma’s relief; trying to get a braille printer out of one of the building’s SI offices would’ve been a pain) and the news that Stick had agreed to work with them. “He’ll be arriving Thursday, possibly with some other people from his Chaste group.”
“Get ready to be creeped out by them, then,” Jemma advised her. She was not looking forward to seeing what Stick might have turned Matt into.
“We do need all the help we can get against the Hand, you know,” said Bobbi, as they took out their ongoing project together, the analysis of certain extra-terrestrial organic and inorganic matter acquired in a series of events happening four months previous that they had apparently been involved in, but neither Jemma nor Fitz remembered, and Mack and Bobbi both did, but, along with everyone else who did, refused to talk about. “With both Hydra and the Five Rings now gone, they’re getting much more powerful. The Inhuman community especially wants them gone. Daisy and her group sent another report back yesterday, saying they’re gaining control of ground dangerously close to the New Afterlife, and when they’re barely recovered from everything that happened during the Civil War.”
“I still don’t know how they stayed so concealed during the Civil War,” commented Mack, from where he and Fitz were kneeling over his latest minibot. “The Hand, I mean. The one good thing about that whole shitshow was it exposed a hell of a lot of bad guys to the world. And we didn’t even have to take care of them all.”
“They should have left them to us, though,” said Fitz, and there was old anger in his voice. “We knew what we were doing, and whatever some people might have said about us, we wouldn’t have caused nearly the damage or racked up nearly the collateral casualties they did when they went after the Five Rings.”
Next to Fitz, his fiancée sighed, while next to Jemma, Bobbi grew thin-lipped. It was at times like these that she became aware of just how much missing the sixteen months she had while trapped in the Kree monolith had set her apart from her colleagues, unable to commiserate about or even entirely understand what they’d been through, or how the effects of the fighting and betrayals among them impacted them even three and a half years after it all had ended. She knew Skye still refused to talk to some of the Avengers, and that whenever Bobbi happened to mention Lance around certain people, everyone understood it as a reminder that she was blaming them for his death.
So she needed to stay far away from this subject, which was why she said, as cheerfully as she could manage, “So, Fitz, I gave you the update on Karen, but you haven’t told me how Sara’s doing.” Sara, Mack’s young niece, pregnant with a baby Fitz and Mack were set to raise.
“She’s doing good,” said Mack. “We’ll be finding out the sex next week.” There was an excitement in his words, and Fitz’s anger gave way to a small smile.
Which made it worth it, even though Jemma couldn’t help but feel a little bit of the sting. The closer both her and Matt’s best friends got to their impending fatherhoods, the more she wondered if she and Matt would ever have the same thing, and felt that she did want it, and very much. But Matt might never be willing, might always remain convinced he was too unfit to be a father.
“Well,” Bobbi said to them, “make sure you get that S.T.A.N. up and running by then. Or tomorrow would be even better.”
“Bobbi,” grinned Mack. “We cannot get it done before you depart our company, and the world will not end because of that.”
“I know,” said Bobbi softly, too softly. At least she didn’t chide Mack for making the joke. Perhaps she felt he had a right to. She might not have been happy had Fitz or Jemma made it.
Jemma focused on her microscope, where she had just placed a tray of trace sediments. According to Bobbi, there were probably from a planet nearly a hundred light-years away from Earth, one which had not evolved any sentient life but did have a very interesting eco-system, and a lot of minerals which certain alien races deemed important enough to go to war over. She had also hinted that Jemma herself had discovered this during the twenty-four-hour period from which she could remember nothing.
It seemed lately all the major events of the world were ones Jemma Simmons had no memory of, and she had the feeling that even if she did live through the two weeks to come, and remember them, she still would not have experienced that much of the important events; it would be Matt’s turn this time(God, she wished one of those three remembered what happened; she was pretty sure it had happened to the whole world). Intellectually, she knew that was for the better, keeping her distance during this upcoming mission, but it was getting harder to remember that.
The weather was pleasant, and Jemma walked home, despite the distance. She supposed she should’ve taken the bus, kept the mission brief out in public for as little time as possible, but then again, perhaps some of the SI employees would’ve wondered at her taking the bus on the sort of fall day she usually didn’t, and carrying a locked briefcase at the same time.
When she reached her floor, she breathed in; she always tried to smell what Matt was cooking from there when she got home after him, and sometimes she even succeeded. But that day she smelled nothing even in front of the door. Sighing to herself, she unlocked the door and stepped in and flicked on the lights.
Matt was on the couch, his knees drawn up and his head on them. When she stepped closer and opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, he said, “Foggy has cancer.”
Jemma’s first act was to dash the rest of the way to the couch and to take him into her arms. There were tremors running up and down his body, and his breathing, though not loud, was unsteady. “Ewing’s Sarcoma,” he said. “In his hip. He found out last night. People his age aren’t even supposed to get that.”
“Any metastasis?” Jemma immediately asked. “If there hasn’t been any, his chances are much better; I’m sure you’ve already heard that.”
“Not that they’ve detected so far, though he’s getting a more full diagnosis Wednesday. But Karen said she barraged the doctors with questions of how much they can really do to make sure one doesn’t show up later, and also about just how much worse it is for patients his age, and they avoided answering her, and that says it, really.” He spoke as a shattered man, or maybe one who simply couldn’t bear it that his best friend might die and he couldn’t do anything about it.
“And to make matters worse,” he continued, “this afternoon he spent two hours on the phone with his insurance, and…they found a crack and they’re throwing him through it. And the treatment for Ewing’s Sarcoma…by the time Karen gives birth, even if he’s still alive, he’s going to be horribly sick and who knows how far in debt. And when they’ve still got his student loans to worry about, and they’d deliberately waited until they were clear of everything else before having kids…”
But that, at least, gave Jemma an idea. “I’ve got a call to make,” she said, and kept one arm still around Matt as with the other she fished her phone out of her purse and dialed Coulson one-handed.
“Hello, Agent Simmons?” he asked. “Please don’t tell me your boyfriend had a bad reaction to the mission briefing.”
“Actually, sir, he hasn’t read it yet,” she told him. “But first I have a more important question. I know there might be some concerns on compensating him and his partner for the time.”
“We’ll find the money somewhere, Jemma.” They might, but Jemma knew their budget remained tight, and the events that had happened that she couldn’t remember might have exhausted their funds with the fiscal year still not quite over yet.
“Well,” she said. “There might be an alternative. Mr. Nelson has just been diagnosed with cancer. Let us say, hypothetically, that Matt would be willing to offer S.H.I.E.L.D. his services as Daredevil if in return S.H.I.E.L.D. provided Mr. Nelson with free medical care, maybe threw in free natal care for his wife. Would that deal be doable?”
“I see,” said Coulson. “Well, I’d have to check with the medical staff before making any promises, but I think we can do that.”
She was holding the phone more than close enough to Matt’s ears for him to hear that. He gave a weak smile, and said, “Foggy might refuse it, you know.”
“I know,” she whispered back. “That’s why it’s hypothetical.” But she had the feeling Foggy would put his general biases against S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers aside for this one, especially since Karen would very strongly encourage him to. Getting the care offered there might even increase his chances of surviving.
Also, after she and Coulson had finished talking, she asked, “Would it be better if I was involved in his treatment? Or…worse?” She didn’t think it would be worse; they were pretty good with each other after three years, but still.
“Better,” he told her. “Definitely better.”
Tuesday was a long day. Even all the well-meant expressions of concern and well-wishing that kept arriving on her phone as the news spread around S.H.I.E.L.D. grew wearying, reminded her too much of the time it had been her own best friend’s life hanging in the balance and there had been too little in that moment she could do about it. Foggy apparently spent most of the day getting more tests done, and by evening was too exhausted to see her, though Karen did briefly drop by their apartment just after Jemma got home, bringing her all the medical information she could carry, along with the news that Foggy had agreed to accept S.H.I.E.L.D.’s help. The two woman hugged, and Karen said to her, “I’m glad you’re going to be involved. Having someone I trust to always be honest makes me so much less scared you wouldn’t believe.”
Jemma had long gotten into the habit of napping when Matt was out on the streets. She kept all three of her phone, his normal phone, and the burner phone next to her on the bed, and always dropped off praying none of them would ring. None of them had Monday night, when she’d more tried to sleep than succeeded, but even so that evening she had to resist the urge to glare at them, especially when her phone was emitting light and took too long to blink it off.
Her sleep was fitful even before her phone rang; for the first moment after waking she was convinced it was that guy from Hydra during her first two weeks there she really hadn’t been able to stand. Then she looked at the phone screen and saw it was instead Karen. Probably something to do with Foggy’s cancer; she hoped it wasn’t news of a metastasis after all, or that he’d changed his mind as she answered, “Hello, Karen.”
But instead Karen answered her through sobs, “Jemma, oh Jemma, it’s all gone wrong…”
“Oh God, is Foggy all right? Is the baby…”
“That’s not...I better begin at the beginning. Someone just tried to kill us.”
“What? Who?” Jemma demanded. “Some minion of Fisk?” He’d actually escaped from prison a year back, though thanks to the combined efforts of the Defenders he hadn’t stayed out of it long. It had become clear during that short time that he would be very happy to see the woman who had killed his right-hand man and friend dead, and it would make sense that any attempt on Karen would have him behind it.
“We don’t know!” cried Karen, and her voice caught on a harsh sob. “And now we won’t, not from him anyway. Matt happened to be tracking him, though I don’t know if he thought the guy was coming after us or just thought he was going to attack someone…he didn’t get further than getting his gun out before Matt tackled him, and there was a fight…and at one point he got free and he managed to knock Foggy out and he, he got a knife on his neck…and Matt just lost it…”
As she struggled more with her sobs, her words coalesced in Jemma’s head, and the horror crept up her spine as she asked, “Karen, are you telling me Matt killed him?”
“He took away the body. The blood’s everywhere. Not the first time we’ve cleaned blood off this floor, of course.” In the past, though, it had always mainly been Matt’s. “Matt did say before he left he thinks Foggy should be fine when he wakes up. Well, aside from the whole having cancer thing, obviously.” She dissolved into hysterical giggles.
“Do you want me to stay on the phone?” asked Jemma. “I can do that. I’d come over there, but…” But she needed to be there when Matt came home. She wasn’t even sure if there would be anything she could do, or if he’d even let her, but she absolutely was not letting him come back to an empty apartment when the guilt over what he’d just done might drive him to do anything.
“Only if you’re sure the other Defenders wouldn’t try to call you on that line. Claire’s at the hospital tonight, but the others are about and…I know Frank Castle’s in town.”
“He’d use the burner,” said Jemma, and suppressed a shudder. The Punisher was not someone she ever wished to talk to. But despite his attempts to kill Matt when they had first run across each other, back when she’d been in the monolith, the two of them now had the kind of complicated relationship where he absolutely would help Matt get rid of the body, and he might even be ready to claim responsibility for the murder if worst came to worst. It was just another kill to him. He would probably even make clear to Matt his approval of killing a would-be assassin.
Jemma just hoped that didn’t make Matt worse.
She and Karen ended up staying on the phone for another hour, until the blood was cleaned up, Foggy had woken up and shown no signs of serious head injury, and they both were as calmed as they were going to be that night. “I don’t know now if we’ll see you before Friday,” Karen said honestly. “You have to understand, Jemma, what I just saw Matt do…”
“I know,” said Jemma. “Just be there on Friday. And send me whatever information the doctors give you in the meantime.” This would be fine, she told herself. She knew Matt had suffered a couple of pretty bad bumps in his friendship with both of them, and obviously they would need time, especially with the cancer to deal with also, but eventually it would all be fine. Provided Foggy lived, anyway.
Castle called her not long after they hung up, but thankfully it wasn’t a long conversation. He told her the body was taken care of and that Matt had gone off saying something about a church. “I reminded him if he turns himself into the police for this, they will almost certainly figure out he’s Daredevil, and that would wreck yours and the Nelsons’ lives also.”
“Thanks,” she told him politely, though she didn’t think Matt had needed the reminder. She was pretty sure that fact had kept him from even thinking of turning himself in. However much he might have wanted to.
Iron Fist called her a little later, to say he’d run into Matt and he was behaving strangely, and he was worried about him. Jemma thanked him too and made that another very short call.
It was starting to sink in by then, that her second-worst nightmare concerning Matt had come true. The worst, of course, had always been he himself being killed. But now she remembered what Foggy had apparently said to him once, that Matt’s religious beliefs being what they were, his being the killer might come to the same thing as his being killed, especially under these circumstances, when he’d done it as such a senseless act of rage.
She had no doubt he’d repented of it the moment the anger had faded. He’d probably do penance of some sort for it for the rest of his life. Surely, Jemma told herself, that had to count for *something.* She thought of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who had done something like what he had done; it happened, even now, when Coulson had done everything he could to minimize it. Although she supposed back in the day some of them had been like Ward and faking their motivations.
It was a little past quarter to four when at last Matt returned. Jemma hadn’t tried to sleep properly, but she’d dozed off in their living room when she heard the footsteps coming down from the roof. She pulled herself up and braced herself.
He didn’t look much different than usual at first glance. There was dried blood on him-she was good at spotting it even on the suit-but that was hardly unusual. But when he pulled off the mask, she saw a man who did indeed look like he’d received his own doom. And that was before he spoke in a voice that sounded utterly broken: “I think I heard Karen call you.”
“She did,” said Jemma. “I know everything already. I won’t pass any judgement on what you just did, ever; I believe Father Lantom would tell you that’s God’s job anyway.” She’d had this speech prepared, somewhere in the back of her mind, where she’d always known it might someday come to this. “Whatever you need, I’m here to give it.”
“You shouldn’t…” Matt started, stunned. He drifted off, there, but when Jemma moved to touch him he suddenly backed away violently. “Don’t!” he cried. “Please, don’t, you can’t…I don’t want to foul you…”
“Foul me?!” Jemma nearly laughed. “Matt, don’t you remember when we first met I’d just committed murder myself?!”
She’d forgotten how hard and painfully it had hit her when Fitz had first thrown the word at her during their confrontation over it, the devastating meeting that had ultimately been the cause of her ending up in Hell’s Kitchen to meet Matt in the first place. Now, at hearing it used for the first time, however indirectly, to refer to what he had done, Matt broke down completely, knees hitting the floor, torso crumpling down until his head nearly hit the floor as well, loud, rough sobs wracking his body. He made no resistance to Jemma’s attempts to embrace him then, but he was shaking so much it was hard for her to hold on, and she wasn’t sure he even felt her presence there, or if he had already condemned himself to his own mental Hell, out of which she might never get him fully.
Between the hearing happening the next day and the unexpected trip out the city both lawyers would be taking for at least a week after it, Matt couldn’t afford to take Wednesday off. He went in at his usual time, a placid day-face on, while Jemma went to the lab, and got far too little work done. She was lucky her companions attributed it solely to her worry over Foggy, and her receiving his full diagnosis and prognosis that afternoon, which she sent on to Lincoln for a more learned medical opinion.
Well, until Fitz took her aside late in the day and asked her if anything else had gone wrong. But when her only response was a desperate sob, he’d held her and told her it was okay, she didn’t have to talk about it until she was ready to, and so he just let Jemma cry herself out.
When they both got home she ordered them takeout, and Matt ate it when it was put in front of him. But otherwise he spent much of the evening in prayer; Jemma tried to focus on all the medical data and all the possible chemicals that could be used to combat it, while the corners of her ears followed his whispers of the Act of Contrition. She heard him crying more than once.
But then later, while they lay next to each other in bed, he started talking. Not about the previous night; he had already put plans in place back on Monday to go to confession Friday morning before they left the city, and Jemma suspected it might take that long for him to talk about that. But with soft, agonized rambling, Matt began to tell her things she suspected had never passed his lips anywhere, not even in the confessional. Things like the feelings that took him on the streets, when he heard the screams, the sirens, the pain. And then the ones that ran through him when he caused them, the pleasure he felt with each punch, the joy of feeling bones break beneath his hands, the frenzy and bloodlust that grew stronger the more the men he took on fought back. He talked about his hands tingling in anticipation when he approached them, especially if they had a terrified victim on hand, and how the ache to hurt was especially strong if they taunted that victim at all. He talked about reveling in their screams, sometimes even twisting delicate bones so that he could hear more of them.
She ought to be horrified, Jemma knew. And maybe she would’ve even, if not for the fact that he kept going back to what his victims had done to deserve it. He told her things like what he had heard the night after Child Protection Services had failed to do anything to thwart the man who had then become his first target, the little girl crying again and her father saying to her, “Hush, sweetheart.” He’d wanted to repeat that phrase to him later, when his fist had been in the man’s face; he was still a little sorry he hadn’t. She didn’t think he was even actively trying to defend himself when he talked about it either. She didn’t think he was thinking in that way at all; in contrast to the cool, calculated words he spoke in court, this was his words flowing without any conscious control, everything spilling out together, and she doubted he could think about either the deeds he’d known men to do or the happiness he found in hurting them without his mind instantly seguing to the other; they were all bound up in his head and couldn’t be separated.
When his words were at last exhausted, he asked her, guilt-ridden and fearful, “Are you afraid of me? Have you ever been, at least discounting what happened when we first met?”
“Once, for a split second,” Jemma answered honestly. “That time after the Bordington case, and you got so angry you threw the bowl to the floor.”
“I was making sure to do that away from you,” he said.
“That’s why it was only for a split second.” She reached out to caress him, but she was careful with her touches now. When she thought about the years of touch starvation Matt had suffered, Jemma always wanted to smother him with physical affection, keep him constantly reminded that he was loved. But it would do no good at moments like these, when despite his desperate craving for it, he wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Plus she had another question that had to be asked. “Matt,” and she could hear on his breath how badly he hated the fear in her voice, “again, discounting that first meeting, have you ever wanted to hurt me?”
“No.” His answer was instant. “I didn’t even want to then, at least not the way I want to hurt most of the people I hurt, especially once the first flash of panic faded. I could tell pretty quickly you weren’t that kind of person.”
She didn’t respond to him with words, but not only did he obviously hear the long breath she let out, but he probably also heard her body let out its tension, though he still said, “But I wouldn’t blame you, if this was more than you can handle, or if this wasn’t who you thought I was.”
“Three years has been time for me to get idea enough,” was her response to that. “And I don’t even know that I wouldn’t have felt the same as you had my grenade hit the right man, had I gotten to see him dissolve in agony in front of me. I think we may be both sick in the head, honestly, but all that matters is I love you, and I’m not leaving.”
She ventured a kiss too, just a brush of her lips on his brow but there, and though she could barely see his outline in the darkness-he probably had a better idea of hers-she thought he shed fresh tears.
At least he eventually slept, if only because he hadn’t at all the previous night. But when Jemma awoke early the next morning, it was to the sound of his contrition mixing with the clicking of his rosary.
The hearing went exactly as had been expected, and then Thursday night was more of the same, except Jemma brought home a follow-up brief and watched as Matt read through it, a single hand on him once again. “What exactly does he want you to do?” she asked. “Noone’s told me.”
“Basically S.H.I.E.L.D. has just discovered the recent growth of the Hand has resulted in factions within it, and a lot of its rank and file members are less loyal to the main leader, whom everyone seems to know only as Naga, and more to his six lieutenants. Turns out Madame Gao? Comes from the same place as that Steel Serpent Rand’s had to deal with-I don’t know why Coulson didn’t ask him for help-and is now using the same moniker even. She’s one of the two most powerful of these rivals. Coulson’s idea is if we can capture them, and let their underlings believe they’re going after each other, the Hand will turn on itself and become much easier to destroy. The UN committee has given their approval, and thankfully only asked for general information about the Chaste, which I’m not sure anyone has much of, but never mind.”
“You believe this will work?” she asked, because he didn’t sound like he did.
He shrugged. “It’ll certainly do the Hand great damage. The Inhumans wouldn’t have to worry about them anymore. But destroy them, if their numbers are anywhere near what the latest S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence here believes? It’s like what happened when Rogers tried to take down Hydra by removing its top; eventually the survivors will regroup.
Coulson emphasizes here also he wants to take as many of the leaders alive as we can. He wants whatever information S.H.I.E.L.D. can get out of them. But he also says he’s giving authorization to kill if necessary. He doesn’t specify much about what would make it necessary either.”
“Do you not want…” Jemma started.
“You know I won’t back out now,” he said sharply. “You knew as soon as Coulson agreed they’d treat Foggy that I wouldn’t. You know exactly what that’s like.” Indeed Jemma did.
“Still,” he sighed. “The one thing I wish is that Madame Gao wasn’t involved. I don’t…I don’t remember everything I said to you last night, Jemma, did I…did I say…”
“What she did to her drug runners? Yes, you did talk about that.” She’d heard how much it still made him sick to think about it. It made sense, that he would be afraid of his anger getting the better of him again facing her, especially in an environment and among companions whose scruples about killing their enemies weren’t nearly as strong as his.
Most of that evening they spent packing, and he also gave his suit an extra wash. He was in the habit of handwashing it every few days, more often since they’d found a soap formula that carried no risk of damaging it. She watched him scrub furiously, all too aware that he would have probably been out on the street at that very moment had it not been for what had just happened. She wondered when he would next go out once they got back, or if he was even seriously considering stopping-but that was not a decision she could ever imagine him sticking to for long.
When they were once again under the covers, her hand on top of his a sole point of contact, he said, “Foggy was making a point of behaving normally today. Of course most of the time we were in the kind of company where he really had to, but even when we weren’t. But…but his heart and everything else were off every single moment…of course I don’t know how much that had to do with me and how much that was just because of the cancer, or maybe with the fact that someone just tried to kill him and Karen both. He’s smelled constantly of fear since the moment I walked into the office on Monday.”
“Do you want it to have to do with you?” asked Jemma, because that was one feeling on Matt’s part that could go either way. She wasn’t even sure which answer she wanted to hear.
Although it definitely wasn’t his, “I don’t know.” And then he continued, “At least he didn’t see…and she-she should never have had to see that, Jemma, especially not when she’s been through more than enough already; on top of everything else, I subjected her to having to see someone she cares about do that…and with all the stress, she’s in danger of a miscarriage already, and when they’re probably not going to be able to have more children now…” He was crying quietly, and Jemma feared tonight he wouldn’t get any sleep at all.
“Remember when I said I would never be happy about the fact you work for S.H.I.E.L.D.?” Foggy greeted them and they climbed into the van late Friday morning. “Eating my words now. Chowing them down. Especially after meeting this guy here.”
He gestured to the van’s fifth passenger, a man Jemma had only seen in photos, but she’d seen plenty of those, especially after reading about his involvement in the Civil War. “Scott Lang, right?”
“That’s me,” the other man grinned. “Apparently on surgeon duty now. And yes, I agree that this idea of Dr. Campbell’s is completely crazy.”
“Well it’s not the craziest thing I’ve known him to come up with,” Jemma told him. She’d had to admit to the logic of it when she’d read Lincoln’s email that morning, using Scott’s shrinking ability to perform more precise surgery on Foggy’s cancer than even modern medical technology could safely do. “Although I’m afraid you’ll still have to do a lot of chemo, Foggy. Radiation too, probably.”
“I know,” he said, and she could tell then just how much more terrified he was than he was letting on.
Still, he kept on talking, holding up the brave front while he teetered and tottered under it, quizzing Scott and Jemma until they both had headaches, and she started to dread having to say, “You’ll have to ask Dr. Campbell about that,” one more time. The three of them were the only ones talking; on Foggy’s left and on Jemma’s right, Karen and Matt respectively sat still and silent as stone, and at one point Jemma realized that Karen had turned to look out the window as soon as Matt had gotten in and hadn’t moved her head since. She wasn’t sure how well he was able to tell with the three of them in the way, but had Karen tried to say a word, Jemma feared it would have resulted in him bursting out in apology for her having to be subjected to his presence.
It wasn’t her most unpleasant trip up there-that honor still went to the first one where she’d suffered the onset of Acute Stress Disorder over her ordeal at the hands of the Kree monolith, but it was a close second. But at least now she knew when it was almost over, and was able to tell the others, with Scott saying, “Hope they haven’t changed the décor again; don’t they know how much dust that leaves behind?”
“I’m sure you’ll tell them,” said Jemma.
Coulson was at the head of the welcoming party they pulled up to, of course, flanked by Skye, and by Colonel Rhodes, who was in his full dress regalia. Karen finally broke her silence when they parked, sliding the door open and calling out, “Daisy,” and a moment later she and Skye were hugging. Over Karen’s shoulder Skye beckoned to Jemma with her head, and Jemma nodded, but waited; it looked like someone else needed her longtime friend more at the moment.
Instead she walked with Matt as he stepped out and accepted the handshake from Coulson. “Good to see you again, Mr. Murdock,” he said. “Just so you know, we know what happened Tuesday night; word reached us yesterday.” He had the questioning face turned towards Jemma, and she shook her head; an explanation would have to wait until the Avenger at least wasn’t there. “Rest assured S.H.I.E.L.D. is as invested in stopping the machinations of Wilson Fisk as the inhabitants of Hell’s Kitchen are; perhaps we superheroes failed to notice him when he was at his most menacing there, but as he and Vanessa Fisk especially have become an international issue, there, too, our interests now match.”
“Do you have any more information on who was responsible?” Matt asked, neutral as one would wish.
“No more than you,” said Colonel Rhodes. “But I know more than one person’s looking into it.”
“Colonel Rhodes.” Matt hadn’t met him before, so his heartbeat and smell probably hadn’t identified him; he must have only recognized him now by his voice. “Are the Avengers involved in this mission?”
“Officially, not yet,” said Colonel Rhodes. “Though that may or may not change, and meanwhile I am, on orders from Uncle Sam.”
“So they’re involved in this?” Matt was letting dismay creep into his voice.
“This is a big matter, Mr. Murdock,” said Coulson. Then, before Matt could interrogate him further, he headed for Foggy and Scott, who had just emerged from the van together and was busy greeting them and telling Foggy about how he had the support of everyone on the base, an exchange Matt wasn’t about to interrupt.
Jemma, meanwhile, went over to where Karen and Skye had disentangled themselves, but were engaged in close, quiet conversation. When she got close enough, Skye hugged her too, and said, “We found out everything when Karen emailed me last night. I understand why there might not have been room in your head to alert us, but now I’ve agreed to help Karen prepare for the next attack while she’s up here. Of course once she starts getting heavy there’ll only be so much she’ll be able to do, but I’ll at least take her onto the shooting range.”
Skye had apparently told Coulson that Matt had killed the assassin, but Jemma didn’t think he fully realized the significance of that until she explained it to him, a couple of hours later in his office. It wasn’t easy, to tell him what she had to so that he’d fully understand, but he made it easier with an aptly timed, “I think I can imagine the rest,” and a, “You’ve had three rough days yourself, haven’t you, Jemma?” and she just nodded, and didn’t try to hold back a few tears.
“And of course he’s going to go through with all of this,” she said to him through them. “I think he might even if we weren’t treating Foggy. But please, sir, I know how these kinds of missions go, and I know what it might come to…”
“He won’t be going out alone,” said Coulson. “I’ve already set it as a rule for this mission that a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent or Avenger has to be with all teams; as you might have guessed from what I said out there, having that decision in place might come in handy if we get delivered more unsolicited aid. How do you think he would handle it if one of his companions killed someone?”
Jemma shrugged. “He’s worked with the Punisher before. He’ll never like it, but in the past he’s been able to bear it. Now…”
“Well,” he sighed. “I’m really hoping we get them all alive anyway. I think we have a genuine chance at it. These are people more self-absorbed than crazy, from what we can tell.”
When the meeting was done, Jemma knew she ought to go to the lab, see what had newly arrived there, especially since there was the chance it might be mission critical. But even when she no longer feared what stepping in there might make her think or feel, she was never going to actually like it in that vast, usually mostly empty space. So she dawdled, letting herself get familiar with the Hub again, because even if they actually hadn’t changed the décor that often, it had been more than a few months since her last visit. Even the field missions she sometimes went out on operated out of New York City more often than not, especially if they were with the Secret Warriors.
She took the long way around too, the route that took her past one of the bigger training rooms, one with both a sparring area and a shooting range. And she looked in.
They were both there. Skye had not only taken Karen there, she had managed to rope May into coming with them. From the door she watched Karen shoot, saw her hit more than one bullseye, her face strained and her eyes too wide, nodding as the other two women spoke to her.
On the other side of the room, Matt was working with Bucky Barnes. It was two years since he’d started to regularly coach and instruct people in physical combat, and he had told Jemma once it made him feel good, worthy of living, in control of himself. He was even smiling gently in between bouts, guiding Matt’s limbs and maneuvering him about, although she could hear him advising Matt of each move beforehand; not just grabbing him and manhandling him.
Matt was in S.H.I.E.L.D. workout clothes. Jemma watched that logo cling to his sweaty skin, drag itself across his muscles. Sunday night when she’d had some time alone and none of the reasons for distress she’d gotten since, she’d had time to daydream about seeing him that way. Even now, watching him launch himself as Bucky again and hearing Bucky gently critique him even as he was initially pinned, then with a clever trick of his hand turned the tables and turned Matt onto his back, for a moment she fantasized that those clothes Matt wore were his regular garb, that this was his place, the same place as hers, as if Coulson had succeeded in recruiting him all those years ago.
She knew it was silly, of course. If he had, Matt would be a very different person indeed, and she couldn’t even be sure he’d be a person she would have fallen in love with. He probably would’ve had far fewer qualms about killing, for one thing; Catholics who were inducted into armies killed people, after all. And he might not have kept his attachment to Hell’s Kitchen, and certainly wouldn’t have met Foggy, or Karen, or become a lawyer, all those things he defined himself by.
She saw Karen steal a glance at her, just for a moment, before turning back to the words of her instructresses. Matt no doubt knew she was there already. Suddenly feeling like an intruder, Jemma slipped away and resumed her trek to the lab.
That evening, she was headed for the quarters they’d assigned her and Matt and contemplating the various options for dinner, when she heard, not too far ahead of her, accompanied by the tapping of a pair of canes, and old, rough voice repeated her name incredulously. “Matt, Matt,” he then sighed. “Dismayed as I was when I heard you actually had someone living with you now, when I then heard she was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., I figured at least she was someone who could fight for herself. But you went for one of their scientists? The one that was stupid enough to get swallowed for sixteen months by alien goop?”
“This is still none of your business,” she heard Matt respond.
“Well, just remember what I said,” growled the old man, whom Jemma was certain was Stick. Two contradictory urges wrestled for control of her, but the one that won out was the one to stay back, close enough she could run up to them within a few seconds if she wished, but far enough Stick, who having never met her ought to have no way of identifying her, wouldn’t think anything of the footsteps, and she could listen without him knowing of it, even if Matt would. “Especially after what happened Tuesday night. I suppose you can argue that one might have happened anyway, since it wasn’t like Mrs. Nelson needed your prompting to be an idiot all those years back, but…”
She heard the sound of a door opening, and she regretted the choice she’d made a moment earlier; she did not want Stick in their room. That sent her dashing forward, even as she heard Stick say, “You brought those stupid sheets up here with you?”
“He might not have,” she called as she turned the corner and found them there, half in, half out of the room. “But I pointed out to him that he’s slept too little since Monday as it is, and he now has an important mission to carry out which will require he sleep as much as possible, and he agreed to be sensible about this.” She was downright sneering those final words, striding forward as if she owned the place-which she certainly did more than the two of them did, after all.
Stick stepped fully back out into the corridor to greet her. He was much as he was in his Index photo; except maybe a little more wrinkly. “Jemma Simmons?” he asked, and Matt quietly confirmed it. “So,” he sneered back, “You’re the foolish girl that’s held Matt down for three years.”
“I’m not going to dignify that one with a response,” Jemma told him. “The only thing I have to say is I’d appreciate it if you stayed out of our quarters, thank you.”
Matt looked dismayed, but made no protest, and Stick stepped further back from the door with a hand up. “If the lady insists. I don’t suppose it’s even any use to tell you a few truths; you S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are always too wrapped up in your own righteousness to listen anyway, even when you’re job’s not just shooting people.”
There was no point in rising to that bait, Jemma reminded herself, but even so she found herself saying, “I suppose it would impress you more if I told you I’ve committed murder, wouldn’t it? Although maybe not, since it was only once, and I was sorry I’d done it and certainly don’t ever intend to do that again.” She wasn’t about to mention she’d killed the wrong person. She didn’t need him mocking her for that.
Stick genuinely seemed to consider this; she supposed he’d built up an image of her in his head for his scorn, and she doubted that detail of her history was one that fit it. But then he said, “Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t make a difference in the amount of harm you’ve caused Matt, and if you really are insistent on not killing again, it’s not going to make a difference when that’s going to end with you dead.”
She wished those were words Matt wouldn’t believe. But it seemed likely he would, within his poor tortured soul, and that made Jemma truly angry. It was for the ears of them both that she bit out, “I may not be one of the spec-ops agents that are clearly the only people here you have any respect for. But rest assured, sir, I am still an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I still go into danger of my own free will when I know it’s the right thing to do, and I don’t need anyone explaining to me condescendingly why I shouldn’t do this or that because it might get me killed, least of all a man I personally think ought to be under arrest for abusing multiple children, including the man I love.”
He hadn’t expected her vehemence either; she could tell. Although the accusation of abuse had no effect; that would’ve been too much to hope for, she supposed. “Then make your choices as you like, Agent Simmons,” he retorted, making her title as much of an insult as he could. “Don’t think you’re impressing me, though. I’ve run into silly girls like you before. Now if I’m not to be invited into your quarters I’ll be on my way.”
What with Stick’s hearing being what it was, Matt and Jemma didn’t talk about him immediately. She knew they wouldn’t even talk about her last words to him at all, for the same reason they hadn’t talked about him on Sunday. But much to her relief he let her hold him as they briefly just rested, and oh, had she missed that these last two days, although she kept herself as still as possible, worried about startling him. She was just drawing in breath to ask him what he wanted to do about dinner when he said, “Stick wants me to come join the Chaste now.”
“And you’re seriously considering it?” she asked, openly horrified.
“I wouldn’t,” he said, “but when I’ve just done what I’ve just done…I’ve always known I don’t deserve the life I have, Jemma. I know you want to argue with me about that, and remind me about what you’ve done, but it’s not an accurate comparison and you know it, especially after all you’ve heard me talk about. You even knew beforehand what I do. And someone has to stop the Hand. Completely. And if I spent the rest of my life doing that, just dedicating myself to it completely…that might be appropriate penance for what I’ve done.”
She briefly considered reminding him that the premeditated act she’d once committed was worse than his crime of passion, but she knew already that would be useless. “Well, then, I don’t deserve to lose you, and Foggy and Karen deserve it even less,” she instead argued back, because she knew this was the one point he would always listen to. “You’d even break that promise I heard you make to Foggy on the day I came back into your life. And he needs you more than he ever has, and he’ll continue to if he survives this. It’s going to take him ages to recover from the treatment, and if his best friend walks out on him now…ask Fitz and he’ll tell you exactly how that feels. And if he dies, then Karen’s going to really need you; you can’t abandon her then.”
“You also know,” he growled, “that no matter how they feel about it, sometimes said best friends are actually better off without you. I often think Foggy really would be. You know when Frank wanted to make sure I didn’t turn myself into the police, he reminded me if I did, it would probably lead to Foggy being disbarred and all three of you arrested? I’ve made him live with that danger for nearly five years, Jemma, especially back during the Civil War…and I know too he’d be doing much better in the world if he hadn’t followed me to a tiny practice which still is only generating a tiny fraction of the money a lawyer of his ability could be making.”
“Would he be happy with what he would’ve done otherwise?” Jemma pointed out.
“I don’t know. But anyway, now he’s got a family to worry about, and he and Karen together-and she’s going to be the one nursing him back to health no matter what, now that they have their experience as lawyer and paralegal, could really make something of themselves, make a much better life for themselves and their child, if they didn’t have to worry about staying with me. One that would make them happy, even if Foggy doing whatever he would’ve done without me way back when wouldn’t have.
And as for if he dies…I heard Daisy and Agent May talking about that today, after Karen left the range. If he dies, S.H.I.E.L.D. might try to recruit her. Not nice for them to be talking about it the way they were, maybe, but she’d definitely make a good agent, and I think it really might be a good idea for her, if it came to that. I’ve heard enough from Fitz to think she could raise the baby pretty well here. It would definitely be a better place for the two of them than Hell’s Kitchen would be. And if I’m still there, I fear she might insist on sticking around to be my paralegal and help take care of me.”
She had the feeling it was going to take a long time, and probably help from the two people in question, to convince Matt he was wrong on any of those particulars, especially since there were a few he might even be a little right on. Time and help Jemma wasn’t sure she would be given. Instead she just asked, “And me? Do you really think I’d be better off without you too?”
He was silent for a minute or so, then said, “In some ways, yes. I know it’s a strain, dating a vigilante, even if you insist you’re willing to take all that on, especially when I still have no real legal legs to stand on. And in any case, you, I know, would be fine without me. Just like you knew I’d be fine without you when you walked out on me after we first met.” He spoke it matter-of-factly, because he had never judged her for doing that, but firmly, a polite demand that she give him the same liberty he’d given her then.
He must have smelled the tears that welled up behind her eyes, for her kissed her face, and said, “I haven’t decided anything, and I’m not going to too quickly. Even if I did, I’m not going anywhere just yet. I’m going to be here for Foggy for at least the next few months, and if it looks like he’s going to die, I won’t leave until he’s gone, and until Karen has things together and would be fine with your support-if I did leave then, I would trust you to keep an eye on her.”
“Don’t go, please don’t go,” Jemma begged; she wasn’t too proud for that, not when she couldn’t even stand hearing him talk about it like this. But her plea was met only with silence.
“Still no sign of metastasis,” was the first thing Lincoln said after they’d put Foggy through another morning’s worth of tests and scanning. “That’s always good.”
“What about the rest of it?” Karen asked, her voice harsh, always bordering on angry. It had been since Lincoln had made clear he wasn’t happy with her continually hanging over the medical staff, as close as they’d let her. That was kind of making Jemma angry with him too, honestly.
“The tumor’s a little less than 100 milliliters,” he said. “Slightly bigger than the doctors told you on Wednesday, Mr. Nelson, although of course it’s possible they were trying to be optimistic.”
“Well,” said Foggy, “I suppose that means you’re more trustworthy than them then.”
“That’s if they were,” said Lincoln. “Another possibility is that this thing’s growing fast. If so, then we really did catch it just in time. Also, we basically have two options. The first is we wheel you in for surgery tomorrow, or possibly even tonight. With a surgery as experimental as the one we’re going to be doing, trying it without trying to shrink the tumor first increases the scope of the risks we’d be taking, especially since remember, Mr. Lang is not a medical professional, and while his work will be closely monitored he could always damage the wrong thing.” Scott, they knew, was at that moment doing a cram session on the anatomy of the male hip region. There was only so much he could learn in such a limited amount of time, of course, especially when he would be on call for the mission against the Hand too if they wanted him, but him having only hours instead of days would obviously increase their risk further.
“The other is, in its way, even riskier. If we choose to do the chemo first, we would do an extremely aggressive regimen, one designed to not only shrink your tumor, but do it fast. If it doesn’t do that, Mr. Nelson, the consequences for you could easily be fatal; keep in mind your life might depend on that tumor at least not getting any bigger.”
“Do you already know what chemicals you would use?” asked Karen.
And then Lincoln had to look at Jemma, because he said, “That would be at Agent Simmons’ discretion. You’ve been reading about the various candidates this week, Jemma?”
“I have,” she confirmed. But it had been a lot to catch up on. In the most recent months, there was a doctor in Japan who had even begun experimenting with certain substances to treat cancer that had come from the Kree. Not the same substance that had been used in the T.A.H.I.T.I. project, and certainly none of the crazier side-effects had shown up; exactly where these substances had come from was not publicly known and Jemma wondered if it had to do with those twenty-four hours, and that doctor was someone who remembered them.
“So,” said Foggy, carefully, “if we gave you-what, twenty more hours? Would you trust yourself to give me the regimen you believe has the best chance of saving my life, Jemma?”
If she said yes they’d go for the chemo first and put Foggy’s life completely in her hands; any doubt Jemma had about that was erased an instant later by Karen’s nod. It was hardly the first time in her life she’d taken on that responsibility, but it was the first time she’d had it put to her as an option. That made her first instinct to quail back, say no, do the surgery first. But, she thought a moment later, they’d be relying on her anyway; Lincoln had dedicated himself to preparing the surgery and the other practical details and left her to handle her own field of expertise for him.
And anyway, she thought a moment after that, this was her job, her duty in life. She ought not to quail from it, especially not from doing everything she could to save a life after she had wrongfully taken one once.
She wished, though, that her “Yes, I would,” was more confident. She even briefly wondered if they’d drag Matt in so he could listen to her heartbeat while she said it. But they didn’t; Foggy just said, “Then we’ll do the chemo first,” and half an hour later, Jemma was walking out of the infirmary and into what might just be the hardest twenty hours of her life.
Matt had apparently spent most of the day being briefed further, especially with their first target selected and the plan in place and the mission ready to go the following day, then had met with Foggy and Karen(he didn’t say how much the latter had talked, but Jemma suspected not much) and had another session with Bucky. He came into their quarters when she had two different StarkPads and quite a few pieces of paper scattered about the bed, and his first words were, “Is there any way I can help you?”
She shrugged. “Maybe reading these out loud to you might help me keep track of them better?” It was starting to alarm her that she’d just read two sentences about what happened when mesna was mixed with marbodroxin-at as much as anyone knew when marbodroxin had only been so recently invented, and after two more sentences about measurements of ifosfamide, she could no longer remember what she had thought about whether they should use marbodroxin on Foggy or not.
“I’m all ears, then” he said, and lay down, accidentally knocking half her papers off the bed, which indicated he was pretty tired.
Jemma pulled herself up and scooted back to the headboard, knocking her knees together twice to make it easier for him to track her movements. “Come up here and put your head in my lap?” she asked. That was a position they both liked on those occasions when she read out loud to him, although sometimes she thought he indulged her a little bit with it. He pulled himself up now, but as he settled, he asked, “Did you eat lunch today, Jemma?”
She sighed, caught. “I meant to,” she said. “It was just I had finally managed to find some good information on…” He cut her off with a snort. “We’ll eat dinner in an hour,” she said. “I promise.”
“In an hour,” he repeated, in his most insistent lawyer voice. At least this guaranteed he’d eat, too.
Meanwhile, her lap was filled with his warmth, and he didn’t mind if she balanced her arms on his strong shoulders as she held up her StarkPad, and she started to read aloud, “In March of 2018, a study based in Vancouver began of patients with Ewing’s Sarcoma, ranging in ages from 6 to 39, although most were between the ages of 8 and 14…”
By the time the hour was up, she was pretty sure he’d long since stopped keeping track of what she was saying, especially since much of it ended up involving the structures of four different kinds of experimental chemicals which one really had to be a biochemist to understand. In fact, he ultimately dozed off, enough so that she waited ten extra minutes before stopping, but she really did want to make sure he ate. Plus Skye had managed to find them a box of penne from somewhere, which they were able to cook in one of the communal kitchenettes, and Matt was able to eat without stress.
He slept that night. Jemma didn’t, not really. At one point around 1 AM or so she napped for about an hour, waking up with the imprint of her StarkPad on her forehead, and then spent another fifteen minutes or so just gazing tiredly at her boyfriend, committing the angles of his face and his slightly disheveled hair to memory, all too aware of the possibility that she would only have that sight in her life for a few months longer. Then the pain rose up so strong it was a relief to focus back on her work.
When at 5 AM, she shifted off the bed, she worried about waking Matt up, but he just grunted and stayed asleep. She sat on the floor, picked up the nearest piece of paper, and on the back wrote out the names of the chemicals and her notes on them, just so she could take them all in at once. Use one of vincristine or epvincristine, but not both. If they included mesna, they could only use so much marbodroxin. She wrote down two numbers next to the ifosfamide. At some point she ended up looking at the Kree-derived chemicals, the yupapine and the t’zos and the valethin, and wrote EMERGENCY ONLY next to them. Except the tos’pan, which they were definitely using, even if it ran the risk of causing hands delirium-that risk was pretty minimal, after all.
She wrote the final e of the regimen they would give to Foggy minutes before their 6 AM wake-up call. The quiet sound of the alarm was followed by Matt’s, “Jemma?”
“I have it,” she said simply, as he slid off the bed to join her on the floor. When the weight of his arm settled against her shoulders, she nearly passed out into it; when he kissed her in between an intense whisper of, “You are…you’re just…” she closed her eyes and wondered if that kiss could be the kiss of an angel and give her any mystical strength, because she was starting to think she was going to need it.
They had just finished getting the chemicals prepared when Matt dropped into the infirmary, already dressed in his Daredevil outfit. Lincoln watched impatiently, Karen with no expression at all, and Jemma with still little feeling besides pure exhaustion, as he and Foggy hugged for nearly two minutes. “You are really not allowed to get killed today,” they heard Foggy murmur to him. “Remember what I said to you on Monday.”
“I remember,” said Matt. “I won’t get killed today.” Then he kissed Jemma goodbye, and was gone.
“What did Foggy say to him?” Jemma whispered to Karen as the nurse, Preeti Whiddon, started hooking Foggy up to the IVs. She was glad Preeti was going to be Foggy’s main nurse; she had first met her when she’d been in Quarantine three years ago and knew her best of all the medical staff besides Lincoln.
“That he needed Matt to be able to face his problems honestly and with courage, which he doesn’t always do, but Foggy knows he can do.” It was the most toneless whisper Jemma had ever heard. But when she added, “He said he needs Matt do that now, so he can show him how to do it,” her words were cracked and her body rocked by a single hard sob.
“Jemma,” called Lincoln, “Could you check the chemical mix before we start administering it?”
She obediently walked over to where Foggy now lay in his infirmary bed, all hooked up. But it was hard to focus on the readings they had on the bag, and she couldn’t touch it without gloves, and she couldn’t remember which drawers they were kept in. When she tried to, she felt herself swaying dangerously forward.
“You know what?” Lincoln took hold of her. “You’re not really needed for this part anyway. We still have the cots in the break room; you should go have at it.”
“Yeah, thanks.” She stumbled to the break room, landed on the nearest cot, and all but passed out.
She woke up a number of hours later to the sight of Lincoln half-dozing on another one of them, but when she pulled herself up it woke him up. “Good afternoon,” he smiled. “Things seemed to be going well so far. When I left Mr. Nelson half an hour ago he was asleep. Mrs. Nelson’s gone back to New York; she’ll probably return sometime tomorrow.” That had already been planned, that Karen would go back and forth to look after the office at least a little.
They went out to Foggy; he was still asleep, and Preeti was off tending to other patients. “While Mrs. Nelson isn’t here,” said Lincoln, “You can go ahead and tell me exactly how likely we really are to need that Kree yupapine. We have to do it now; latest from Coulson is Romanov’s consented to let his family on the premises, so once they start showing up we’ll always have someone here.”
Jemma shook her head. “Not doing that. I will not cooperate in shutting either our patient or his wife out of the loop like that. I’m explaining the whole thing to Karen as soon as she gets back.”
“Jemma, didn’t you tell me there’s a good chance we won’t need them? Why get them panicked needlessly?”
“Karen won’t panic,” said Jemma. “She’s by far the most sensible of the three of them. Besides, she’s his wife, she’s going to be mother to his child, and with her husband diagnosed only a week ago she’s already had enough doctors trying to keep things from her, and she knows they keep things from her. As far as I’m concerned the only moral choice is to let her know exactly as things stand at all times.”
They were glaring at each other with arms folded, and when he sighed, “So you’ll take their side on this,” and stepped back, she felt as if there was a line drawn between them, one of him marking himself as S.H.I.E.L.D. and her as something else. It wasn’t the first time someone at the Hub had made Jemma feel this way; sometimes she wondered if they even envied the more worldly life she now lived in New York City, or felt like she was no longer “pure” S.H.I.E.L.D. because of it.
It wasn’t going to intimidate her today. On the contrary, she nodded and said, “I am the reason why they have any trust in you.”
He clearly didn’t believe her, with hurt more, but he said, “Will you at least tell me now, since the sooner his main doctor knows, the better?”
“Could have told you as soon as I walked in here,” she said. “Although in a day or two you might know better than me; you’re the one who needs to know exactly what that tumor needs to look like then. Unless he has the hands delirium.”
“You know the rest of it becomes irrelevant in the case of the hands delirium,” he said. “In the interest of disclosing things, I will tell you we saw the very first case of it on Earth, though you don’t remember that now.”
It was the kind of informing her about those twenty-four hours she couldn’t remember that Jemma was used to, except there was something off about the way he talked. Three years of dating someone who could tell when most people were lying had left her sometimes able to intuit when someone might be deceiving her even without hearing their heartbeats, and she thought Lincoln might be leaving something out. But she, unlike Matt, couldn’t be sure, and that confrontation, she decided, could wait.
They received words a couple of hours later that the mission had returned, and successfully captured one Kenin, who were they currently holding and trying to interrogate. Jemma had figured Matt would probably be required for that; even if his normal interrogation methods weren’t the ones S.H.I.E.L.D. currently went for, his lie-detecting ability was an obvious asset there. Also, she wasn’t sure how much he was really going to be able to be around Foggy without getting ill.
Nonetheless he showed up, a couple of hours later, even bearing protein bars, which was good, because by then Foggy was losing the ability to stomach anything else. He was helping his friend eat them when Preeti again stepped away from a moment, and Jemma was able to ask him, “How’d it go?”
He shrugged. “He’s the weakest of our targets, though also the hardest to locate; we split up, and Stick and his student Claw were the ones to find him. I suppose it’s a sign of goodwill towards the rest of us they brought him back alive; though Stick wouldn’t stop grumbling about it. Claw seemed more upset; he hinted it might have been Kenin who killed the other student Stick was supposed to bring with him.”
“Not a very impressive student, then,” Foggy quipped between bites, which Jemma would’ve scolded him for had he looked less awful.
Not that Matt was looking much better by the time he finished eating, though they all knew he would nonetheless sit there all night unless someone intervened. To their surprise, when Lincoln came over to them, he did so, saying, “Mr. Murdock, I have to be frank; we cannot have you getting ill in here. If you get much worse-looking than you are right now I will kick you out.”
“Why not?” asked Foggy. “It’s only a matter of time before I start throwing up; I know that.”
“And that is bad enough,” said Lincoln. “I won’t have him doing it too.”
Jemma wished there was a way to ask Matt about the doctor’s heartbeat at the moment, though she suspected he might be deliberately avoiding any direct lies. But even without any certainty of his motives, she still felt angry enough she decided it was time to investigate his claims from earlier that day. “Are you worried about this more than usual because of the chance of hands delirium?” she asked; they’d have to explain what that was to the two men later, she supposed. “Is that something I’d understand better if I remembered seeing it?”
“No, not really,” said Lincoln, and even she could now be really sure this was a topic he didn’t want to talk about. “Besides, you actually didn’t see it in person; you saw it over the screen. Listen, May just commed; I’m wanted down where they’ve got the prisoner. Hopefully I won’t be long; she didn’t make it sound like I would be.”
When he was gone, Matt said, “His words about you seeing it over a screen and about being needed are all true, but he was *terrified* by something. His smell was screaming that.”
That was not something Jemma had expected. “I can’t imagine why,” she said. “The chances of you getting the condition known as hands delirium, Foggy, aren’t even very high.”
“Are you sure you’re reading his reaction right, Matt?” asked Foggy. “Maybe remembering what he saw during that weird day we don’t remember is hard for him to do.”
“Given what he’s seen and been through in the past it’s not likely,” said Jemma. “And from what I’ve heard, the hands delirium isn’t any more upsetting a sight than you’re probably going to be within another day or so anyway. Well, except that it’s fatal and there’s no cure, but so would be you having a heart attack on the operating table, and plenty of other things.”
“Don’t remind me,” groaned Foggy, and he closed his eyes and pressed his face downward into his pillow, trying to reduce his nausea, Jemma assumed. “I don’t know if I’m even going to hold down those bars. Speaking of which, Jemma, have you eaten since breakfast this morning?”
“I don’t have much of an appetite,” she said, since that was perfect truth. “I suppose we both should eat, though. Should’ve brought more of those bars.”
“I’ll get more of them,” said Matt, pretty hastily, and when she watched him walk out, she saw he wasn’t really that steady on his feet.
When Karen returned the next day, she brought Foggy’s parents and two of his three siblings with her. She and Jemma were quick to agree they should get some alone time with him while he was still fit company, and meanwhile May had been reminding Jemma she was overdue for her marksmanship test to the point they’d had to waive it for her last field mission, so after leading the Nelsons to the infirmary and introducing them to Lincoln and Preeti they’d headed for the main range.
The first round of testing she hit the target once; she was way out of practice. She did better in the second, and when she hit a bullseye on her final shot, May commented, “You might just pass this today.” But she didn’t do as well in the third round, and when her last shot barely hit the target, May shook her head and said, “You’re going to have to hit seven to pass.”
The target could now set itself back up; a latest innovation of Stark’s. Jemma was sorry for that, though, because it took less time; she had less than a minute and a half to regroup herself for the final round. She never felt comfortable in the shooting range in the first place, plus there were two more groups on the range consisting of people she barely knew or didn’t know at all, and they were shooting up a racket. She didn’t know how she was going to hit seven, honestly.
Then next to her, Karen said, “I remember when I was young, and my father first taught me how to shoot a gun, he taught me a whole breathing regimen. I always thought it was silly, really.”
“Well, now you know it wasn’t,” said May.
“Yeah,” said Karen. “I think it might even work better for me now than yours did-no offense.”
“None taken. How does it go?”
Jemma was now staring down the target, try to will the pieces of it sliding into place to move more slowly. But she listened, and felt her breathing change as Karen, stepping behind her, said, “He used to say to me: keep your arms still, and make your breath like gliding over the snow, up on the mountains, rise, and then flow, right along with the bullet. Not that I could ever do it back then.”
But she started reciting it as everything slid in place for the final round, and a twenty-second countdown started. “Rise, and flow. Breathe in, then down. Arms still…”
Jemma’s arms were still. Years’ worth of practical instructions ran through her head. When the clock went from :02 to :01, she breathed in. Rise…
She wasn’t sure how she hit eight. She didn’t even entirely believe she had until she heard May’s pleased, “Passed. Well done. Both of you.”
“Thank you,” Jemma said, handing Karen the gun so she could get her headgear off. “I think Fitz might want you here next time he has to take this test.”
“I’ll tell him the trick beforehand,” she said. “Now my turn.”
When the target was once again reassembled, Jemma and May watched as Karen, her breathing steady, her arms still, and her eyes anything but, hit another bullseye on her first shot, and the rest of them were almost as good. “I think all she really needed was practice,” May murmured to Jemma. “I didn’t even have to tell her much.”
Karen and Candace were both helping Preeti clean up a now passed-out Foggy when a huge commotion was followed by a whole group of people led by Colonel Rhodes and including all three of Stick, Claw, and Daredevil, the first like the last still in his suit, carrying a limp female form into the infirmary. When Lincoln came running, Colonel Rhodes said, “Typhoid Mary here didn’t want to be taken alive. We need to find out what she took and how to stop it.”
Jemma was joining them even before Lincoln had looked over at her. She took in the woman’s unnatural palor and dried out look as Stick said, “The Hand has several kinds of poison, and this looks like the effects of one of them they refer to as ‘the dirty blood,’ although it can’t be a pure form of it; otherwise she’d be dead already.”
“What’s in it?” Jemma asked him. When he told her, she shook her head. “If any of that’s in her, we’ll likely lose her within a few more hours. Still, get her some dextrose and a lot of water. Now; we can’t afford to wait.”
Dextrose and water, and they hooked her up and measured her vitals; her heart rate was only 37 BPM. Taking samples from her took far too long; at one point they even opened a vein and no blood came out at all. Daredevil ended up sitting down next to her and reporting more details on the flow of blood and oxygen through her body whenever he was asked for them, which was roughly once a minute. One hair-raising half-hour later, it was looking like she’d taken an version of the poison Stick had named, although one of the ingredients was missing-possibly evaporated if the solution had gotten overheated, she thought-and Jemma found herself turning to Colonel Rhodes and asking him, “How badly do you want this woman alive? And do you think Coulson or Romanov would agree? There’s one thing we can do that might give her a serious chance of surviving, but I’m not doing it without authorization from at least one of them.” Although Lincoln might; she wasn’t sure where he would stand on this issue ethically, but he was currently absorbed in administering something to their patient and didn’t say anything.
“She knows where Kirigi is,” said Joey, from where he was standing next to Daredevil. “He’s gone to ground, and if we don’t get it from her, we’ll have to delay at least. That could spell disaster when we still have four more targets including both of the most dangerous ones. Any delays and they cotton on to what we’re doing, they might…I know you’ve heard more about the Steel Serpent, but the other more dangerous target, her buddy Junzo Muto? Might start committing mass murder in response, and when I say mass, I mean thousands.”
Colonel Rhodes tapped his wrist. “Director Coulson, come in?”
Lincoln had finished what he was doing and seemed to realize they were doing something important, by the way he was looking over. “Go over to where we keep the Kree chemicals,” Jemma called to him; he should definitely handle this substance himself. “Get the one in the lock-bottle labelled G.H. and bring it over here.”
Lincoln turned and ran, showing no indication he had any real idea of what she was talking about, but she heard a gasp from a couple of the Secret Warriors who knew what the substance in question actually was. She wondered if they might try to object to its use even if they got approval. Although maybe not, because when Colonel Rhodes explained the situation into his communicator, she heard Coulson say, “I see. Well, if you think we absolutely need to keep this woman alive or we put *that* many lives at risk, do it.”
“For the record,” said Stick, “she might be Inhuman. We’re not really sure. I understand that to mean she might be immune from the side-effects of that stuff.”
“Let’s hope so,” said Joey, who was one of the people who had gasped.
Lincoln had his thumbprint pressed across the tiny bottle and was whispering an authorization code, and it cracked open. “Entire contents?” he called to Jemma.
She tried to think back, to the details she’d read of what they’d done to Coulson in T.A.H.I.T.I. she’d read about, so many years ago now, when they’d been desperate to save Skye. “Five milliliters,” she said to him, and grabbed a needle to bring to him.
“That’s the entire contents,” he informed her as he took the needle from her.
For a minute after Typhoid Mary was injected, nothing happened. Then Daredevil started to say, “Her blood flow’s starting to increase…”
Then her eyes snapped open and she lurched upward, half sitting up, half standing up, and let out a scream that sent all the smaller objects in the immediately vicinity rattling. Then, before anyone could grab her, she had launched herself off the bed and straight towards where Foggy lay surrounded by his family.
Jemma hastily got herself out of the way as everyone else leapt after her, three people getting hold of her immediately, two more getting there a split second later. They blocked her view of what was going on, though she could hear the sounds of a struggling. But any chance of her caring about the details of that ended with the sight that instead became in front of her eyes.
Karen, Preeti, and the Nelsons were all on the floor, passed out. With Foggy’s parents on the other side of the bed from Typhoid Mary, which meant there was no way that whatever she had projected that had knocked them out hadn’t hit him too.
When the dust cleared, Typhoid Mary was comatose, although the poison was eventually determined to likely be out of her system, and it looked like she might stay as she was indefinitely. They moved her into the soundproofed room.
Karen, Preeti, and the Nelsons all woke up within a couple of hours, insisted they were all feeling fine, and turned up nothing out of the ordinary on their scanners. The fetus was perfectly fine too, as far as anyone could tell. The best theory anyone had was that they had been hit by some sort of psionic blow. Jemma found herself listing off the side-effects of G.H. and hammering it into everyone’s heads that if they found themselves drawing any abstract patterns of lines and small circles they were to contact her immediately.
Foggy didn’t wake. He moved and murmured incomprehensible things in his sleep, but no matter how much anyone shook him he simply would not open his eyes, or show any real comprehension of his surroundings. His numbers remained what Lincoln and Jemma had been hoping for, but telling that to his family didn’t seem to comfort even Karen. As with the others, their scanners picked up nothing in him that they hadn’t injected into him themselves.
Daredevil left, and Matt came back in his day clothes, claiming one of the clients they’d recently taken pro bono had just driven him up, and having little trouble feigning shock and dismay when receiving the abbreviated version of the day’s events. He and Karen sat next to each other, him now seemingly beyond reacting to his sensory input, and her now seemingly beyond caring, and neither of them expected to be in much of a mood to chat anyway. This time Jemma went to get everyone something to eat, partly so she could have a talk with someone. She wasn’t even sure who; just someone who could give her an update on things.
In the end she didn’t even have to seek her someones out; she was grabbing sandwich packs in the cafeteria when Skye and Coulson called her over to where they were finishing their own evening meals, and when she got there, Skye said, “Thought you should know we’re calling Fitz and Mack up here. We took a few interesting items off Typhoid Mary’s right-hand woman today we want them to look at.”
That made her glad; having Fitz with her was at last once again the simple pleasure it had been back when their friendship had first begun. “You think they’ll want my help much?” she asked.
“I don’t think they’ll push you for it if you feel like you can’t abandon Mr. Nelson,” said Coulson. “Especially after what happened today.”
“And for the record,” said Skye, “if Typhoid Mary is Inhuman, then she’s done a remarkable job of staying out of contact with just about all the Inhumans in the world that we know about, and there’s evidence she had her abilities before the whole fish oil pill thing happened, so she isn’t a case of that and just going undiscovered.”
Jemma knew she ought to care about that, but at the moment she didn’t. Instead she said, “All I know is she’s not waking up, so you aren’t going to get your information about where Kirigi is.”
“We’ll hunt him out,” shrugged Skye. “We’ll have to hope the delay doesn’t…you might even have to put up with your boyfriend all day tomorrow. Though I would like to come back with you, Jemma, and get a look at her.”
When they were walking down an otherwise empty corridor, she then said, “How likely is Foggy not to get the hands delirium?”
Jemma shrugged. “No idea anymore.”
“I see,” said Skye. “Okay, Jemma. Listen. If Foggy shows the symptoms, and I’m here at the Hub, you have to find me immediately, because I will then have something to tell you. If I’m not here, you have to find Coulson, and you have to insist he tell you what I’m going to tell him after I leave the infirmary tonight.”
For Skye, this was bizarre. “Why won’t you tell me now, when it could be so vital?” she asked. “Is it to do with those twenty-four hours?” She recalled Coulson couldn’t remember them either.
There were several moments walking where Skye didn’t respond. Then she said, “Yes. But, Jemma, you know I wouldn’t keep such a thing from you if there wasn’t very good reason for it, right?”
“I…” Jemma didn’t think it was likely she would, but she wasn’t really certain; Daisy Johnson was so different, now, than who she had been when Jemma had first met her.
“This is something I would only be justified in burdening you with it we needed to in order to save Foggy’s life,” she insisted. “Please, don’t ask me any more than that.” She sounded so anxious about it that Jemma didn’t.
The Nelsons went home early the next day, still showing no adverse affects. Karen slept in a chair by Foggy’s bedside, and though Matt and Jemma went back to their own room, they came back with her after everyone saw the Nelsons off. Foggy was exactly as he had been the previous night, and nor had he woken up at ten, when Matt was summoned to a meeting. Throughout the morning Jemma carefully monitored the slightly reduced cocktail of drugs they were inject into him, all too aware that they could only ease up on the treatment for so long.
Fitz and Mack arrived late in the morning, and apparently crashed the meeting. They showed up at the infirmary around noon along with Matt bearing food. “We’ve been told the Hand’s technology will be provided to us for analysis in a couple of hours,” Fitz told her. “Until then we can sit with you if you like.”
They were just finishing up their lunch when Karen first noticed the twitching, pointing out with a, “Look, his hands.”
Mack’s reaction when he looked told Jemma everything. “Did you see it, Mack?” she asked him. “During that period…”
“I did,” said Mack, and he was getting up, grabbing a pair of gloves, and they watched as he lifted Foggy’s eyelids, looked, and then grimly nodded. “No question,” he said.
Jemma tapped the nearest comm. “Agent Johnson, come in,” she said, her voice shaking. “Skye, Foggy’s got the hands delirium.”
Matt made the sign of the cross, as Fitz whimpered, “Oh God, no one’s survived that, have they?”
“Actually, one person did,” said Mack, but he was shaking his head.
“WHAT?!” everyone demanded at once.
“Daisy’s coming, right?” he said. “She’s going to explain, isn’t she?”
“Explain what?!” demanded Fitz. But Mack pulled away, and shook his head even harder.
A few minutes later Skye came running in, and without breaking her pace seized Jemma’s arm and started to drag her clearly towards the soundproofed room. Fitz leapt up in pursuit; Jemma heard him all but scream, “LET ME GO, MACK!” when his fiancée tried to restrain him.
“FRIDAY,” Skye barked as she all but shoved Jemma into the room, “engage the full lock on Room 6-A-1; no one opens that door again until I do.” But even as the Hub’s Intelligent Computer System acknowledged receipt of the order, Fitz all but knocked Skye into the door to push through it before she could.
As the door slid shut behind the three of them, and it was just them and a comatose Typhoid Mary, Fitz said, “I have gotten Mack to tell me that Jemma and I both suffered something horribly traumatic that I don’t want to remember. He also specifically said you witnessed it, Daisy." That alone made clear how much he meant business; it was still rare for either he or Jemma to call Skye by her real name. "He hinted that the order you gave me yesterday to bring up the alien samples Jemma and Bobbi have been working on also have something to do with this. If Jemma has to hear about it, I’m hearing about it with her.”
“You shouldn’t…” Skye was shaking her head. Tears were streaming down her face. “It’s bad enough if Jemma chooses to-”
“CHOOSES?” Jemma interrupted. “Surely, you can’t…”
“I am not going to order you to do this,” said Skye. “I know what you’d want to say to that, but I would not order you to do this if you needed to in order to save the entire universe. And even as it is, if you insist on this, Fitz, I’ll tell you both, but first you both are swearing to me that you will not tell what I am about to tell you to anyone who doesn’t know about it already-and that means anyone who doesn’t remember besides Coulson-he, Stark, and Barnes are the only people we’ve told, and the latter two only because we ultimately needed to restore their memories.”
“Fine, I swear it, then,” said Fitz, and Jemma echoed. “Now tell us what happened so that apparently half the world can’t remember it, and the other half keeps refusing to tell them.”
“And there’s a reason for that, isn’t there?” said Jemma. “I saw it when Matt asked Jessica Jones if she thought there was a reason, and she practically fled; it was obviously because she knew she couldn’t lie to him. What is it?”
Skye wiped away her tears, met their eyes, and said, “Everyone who doesn’t remember that day doesn’t because they died during it.”
“All we’ve had to go on are a list of the chemicals you had with you, and what you gathered on the planet. Bobbi went back to it later and collected new samples of the same materials-that’s what you’ve been working on these past four months. She kept insisting you could probably eventually find the cure again without having to…but now the only way you can save Foggy is to go into the Theta Brain-Wave Frequency Machine and get Wanda to restore your memories, and they can’t be restored selectively; it’s all of nothing, which means you’ll have to remember…” Skye stopped there; she still hadn’t given them more than the vaguest account of their deaths, saying only that they had suffered prolonged pain and torture, the kind it could do Jemma serious psychological damage to remember.
The whole thing was still hard to comprehend, the idea that one person with a few extra-powerful stones had wrecked such death and destruction across the entirety of creation. But there was no time to care about that at the moment. “I’ll do it,” said Jemma. “I should have been doing it as soon as it became clear hands delirium was going to occur again on Earth, and I’m definitely doing it now.”
“Right, then,” said Fitz. “I’m doing it with you, Jemma. That machine always does less damage when it’s working on two people at once and you shouldn’t have to face any of this alone.”
“Fitz!” Both women protested together, but he just folded his arms and shook his head. “How much would we have to do to stop you?” sighed Skye.
“Probably knock me out,” he said. “And when you know my medical history, Skye, you know exactly what that could do to me.”
She hesitated a last moment, then slumped in defeat. “Fine then. FRIDAY, get the machine ready, and contact Wanda. Make sure no one else hears about this when you tell her. And open the door.”
It was when the door started opening and they could once again hear what was going on outside that they discovered the situation had deteriorated while they were talking. They could hear Lincoln yelling something, Foggy’s yelling something else, obvious delirious, Preeti loudly speaking out what sounded like some alarming numbers related to his vitals, and Karen crying. “How bad is it?” Skye called as they hurried out to the sight of Lincoln zapping at Foggy while Matt and Mack held him down.
“It’s all bad,” Foggy wailed in response. “He’s never going to forgive himself and it’s all because of me. He killed him because of me, and now I’m going to die on him, and he’ll still have killed someone because of me…”
So much anguish in his voice. But not nearly as much as Jemma knew had to be slamming into Matt at that moment.
Matt, who like her and Fitz had been dead, along with both his best friends, and most of the other inhabitants of Hell’s Kitchen; she’d noticed already how few of the neighbors had remembered, and according to Skye they’d most of them been dead early in events. And now she could never tell him.
“Either,” said Lincoln, “Jemma’s doing what I assume you just told her she could do, and she does it fast, or you call his family and get them to come back here now.”
“We’re doing it,” said Fitz. “Just wait here; we’ll be back hopefully soon.”
“We? Oh no…” started Mack, and Jemma couldn’t look at Matt anymore, because he could never know what she was about to do to herself, and she didn’t even know how they were going to deal with that-if he stayed, of course.
“Mack,” said Fitz warningly, the tone he used to make clear it was useless to argue with him, one he’d actually developed when Jemma had been in the monolith. “Go to the lab and get the stuff I brought up with us.” The last thing Jemma saw before they started running out was his resigned face.
So they ran, the two of them and Skye, to the lift that couldn’t go down two floors fast enough, then from it past too many doors, containing all the secret things whose existence S.H.I.E.L.D. had managed to conceal from the world even through the leaks and the Civil War, both the two scientists finally staggering through the door FRIDAY had opened for them. The machine was up and running, and as they caught their breath they heard FRIDAY say, “Ms. Maximoff is on the level and will be here in two minutes.”
“We can get the process started in the meantime,” said Skye. The new version of the machine was wider, enough for two people to go in at once, and the two of them crammed themselves onto the bunk. Their arms laced themselves together a moment before their fingers did, and as Skye started hastily slapping on whatever monitoring devices could be put on quickly, they looked at each other. Fitz looked too much like he had that dark day when they’d been in that pod and he’d been ready to sacrifice his own life to save hers, a sacrifice they would both still make, much as their feelings for each other had changed and grown more complicated since then. Together, he mouthed the reminder.
When they heard Wanda’s footsteps, Skye turned the machine on, and they both looked up and into the blue light…
They were at the lab when the explosion happened. They ran outside, on the comms with headquarters, but while the Avengers had already been behaving like something had been up they hadn’t told Coulson or anyone else anything. But the fires were coming straight from Hell’s Kitchen.
Jessica Jones arrived when the Secret Warriors had been escorting them into a Quinjet, ignoring Jemma’s screams about Matt. “They almost certainly all of them dead, Jemma,” she said, and Jemma certainly wasn’t able to stop screaming then. All through the flight back upstate she wasn’t able to handle, though poor Fitz tried so hard to help.
It had happened everywhere. By the time they got to headquarters the situation was already desperate. They got to witness a great interdimensional portal being opened, which a whole group of them were to go through. At that point in time she and Fitz were still able to be a little awed by it. That was the last emotional response they’d have to any of the sights they’d see that day.
The hands delirium first manifested when they were traveling through the crazy fabric of time and space. Lincoln had showed them his patients over the screen they’d had constantly on to stay in touch with Earth, most of them civilians who lived in the area. One by one, each of them went into a mad delirium; all of them were dead within hours. More patients were coming in; Lincoln and Jemma spent two hours brainstorming any ideas they could try for a cure when there was no time to devise one in the usual way.
The portal went awry; they made an emergency landing on a planet with a sentient-less ecosystem. They were substances there which all the patients had shown signs of being exposed to. Jemma and Bobbi gathered all the samples they could get their hands on and came back to the ship with news that Sam Wilson had the hands delirium; he’d spent too much time, it seemed, trying to save the lives of the locals. They didn’t even know if they weren’t all infected with it. When they decided to quaratine him on the planet, Jemma volunteered to stay behind with him.
An hour of trying to analyze what was in his blood; the hands delirium didn’t seem to have any specific elements to cause it. But it wasn’t unlike the Chitauri virus Jemma herself had once been infected with(she avoided skin-to-skin contact with Sam, and he generated no kinds of shocks), and, having a hunch, she took some Kree organic matter with some matter from the planet with some genetic similarity(there were invasive plants here from Hala; the Kree had probably paid plenty of visits). By then he’d stopped shouting and gone into the final coma, so there hadn’t even been time to catch animals to test her formula on; she just shot in it and hoped. Five minutes later, his eyes blinked open.
Skye and Fitz came back on a smaller ship she’d apparently borrowed from some aliens when Jemma commed the group to tell them she had the cure and it had worked on Sam. Skye and Sam had been on one end of the tiny ship to tell everyone the good news while she and Fitz sat together on the other side and she started to tell him what she’d done. But she hadn’t quite finished her account when the ship shook, and Sam cried out, “Tractor beam!”
They tried everything they could to break the beam but it was no use. When they were plugged into a mammoth ship that looked mercenary in build, the door slid open, and Sam threw himself forward, only to instantly fall dead without even anything hitting him.
The laughter that filled the ship made Jemma’s spine creep up with dread and her extremities grow cold, like they’d never be warm again. The voice that followed boomed through them and almost sliced their hearts open. “So,” it said. “Daisy Johnson. You’re the troublesome Inhuman who led the group who stopped me. And here I thought that foolish Thanos had killed you and robbed me of my revenge, but instead he provides me with the perfect opportunity to take it. These two…” And Jemma felt something seize her, pull her and Fitz forward until they were right in front of Skye. “They’re dear to you, aren’t they?”
The pain started in the small of her back, a sharp stab that would have sent her lurching if she wasn’t somehow immobilized. Then, slowly, it start to spread, up her back and down her legs, getting worse and worse, even before she felt something start to cut into her flesh. Skye was standing there, horrified, looking like she was trying to move but couldn’t either. “Now,” chuckled that voice. “Let’s see how long we can take having them die in front of you.”
It took a few more minutes for the pain to spread until there was no cell in Jemma’s body that wasn’t in pain beyond what she had ever known. By then she was screaming, unable to stop herself, the screams still coming out of her even when she couldn’t breathe. Her bones were being broken, her muscles shredded, her skin melted, and she didn’t know how she could still be conscious, but she was, looking straight at poor Skye, who was watching her two friends be tortured to death and was helpless to stop it, and maybe the only thing that hurt more than that was hearing Fitz scream next to her, knowing he was going through the same thing.
It went on, and on, and on. To keep track of time was impossible; all Jemma knew was it wasn’t stopping, and she didn’t even care about living anymore; if this monster let her, she’d gladly beg him for death. Let it end, let it end, let it end, and she was starting to think it never would; even when the universe collapsed she’d still be here-
The ship rocked, and for a split second she could move again; she stumbled forward before again being immobilized. Skye was visibly struggling to break free. “NO!” screamed their tormenter. “I’ll have these two at least!” Jemma’s spine bent itself backwards and snapped-
“It is done,” Wanda’s voice brought Jemma back to herself. “They remember everything now.”
“Jemma?” Fitz’s voice was shaking violently. So was the rest of him. So was Jemma. “You’re alive?”
“We’re alive,” she gasped out, and they nearly collided with the sides of the machine as they threw their arms around each other, Jemma frantically feeling for his pulse. Alive alive alive….
But they couldn’t stay like this; Jemma leapt up, and Fitz with her. “Come on,” she said, and they took off, leaving Skye and Wanda behind, running back to the lift, their hands still clutched together, because they both needed that contact to know that the other was alive and well.
“Samples O-91, O-452, and P-4, with yupapine and r’za,” she panted out without preamble when they raced back into the infirmary. “Add some naloxone too. We may also end up using the valethin later, if this saves him.” Aside from her orders and their footsteps as Lincoln and Preeti rushed to get what she’d just named all was eerily quiet; Foggy had gone into the final coma, Matt was crouched next to him, muttering prayers under his breath, Mack silently followed the two medical people, probably just not wanting to stand or sit still, and Karen was just sitting, looking like she was beyond feeling anything anymore.
“Sample P-4’s the tropical Hala leafs,” said Fitz. “They need to be ground.”
“I’ll do it,” Mack said to Preeti, and she looked at him, then handed him what he needed. “How thorough does it have to be?”
“Not very,” said Jemma. “I pretty much only mashed them up,” and maybe she shouldn’t have said that in front of multiple people who wouldn’t remember, but she’d start monitoring her words later when every second might not be vital towards Foggy’s survival. “Chemicals in first. Start putting the O-91 in as soon as it’s gone blue-gray, then the other two as soon as that’s dissolved. And get a clean drip chamber; we’re going to pump it into him strong as that machine will do it.”
She ended up getting the O-452 herself, carefully measuring out the amount of milliliters, even though she was aware she had no way of knowing that a slightly different amount wouldn’t be better. Or worse, for that matter. Someone would have to do a more proper study in the future. Someone else; she wasn’t sure she would be able to get involved in such a thing and get out with her sanity intact.
It felt like the leaves took too long to dissolve, but they did, and the other two compounds dissolved faster. Preeti had already replaced the drip chamber, and Fitz took her hand again as he said, “All ready,” which was still a relief; she was still trying to get it through her head that he was still alive, that she still was. With her free hand she poured the serum in; with his he turned the pump up to its highest setting.
“With…with the other person who was cured, he woke up five minutes later,” she said. “But there’s no way of knowing how typical that reaction is.” And then, there was nothing to do but wait, standing there, listening to the sounds of the machine working and Matt continuing to pray. At some point, Karen stood up and walked up to the medical bed, and she and Matt, too, took each others hands, in what Jemma was dead certain was the first time she’d touched him since she’d watch him brutally beat her and Foggy’s would-be assassin to death.
She lost track of time. Jemma had been doing a lot of that lately. She was just thinking of looking at the pump’s monitors to try to figure out how long it had been when there was a rough gasp.
Below them, Foggy opened his eyes, looked blearily up at them, and asked, “M-matt? Wha-areyu…”
Karen all but screamed and joined Matt in falling to her knees, crying into her husband’s stomach. Jemma nearly did the same, but ultimately just collapsed against Fitz as the two of them swayed dangerously about. Fitz’s breathing was harsh, close to hyperventilating; she had the feeling the two of them might be about to have that crash they’d had to put off in order to save Foggy’s life.
Mack was there; Jemma heard him murmur soothing words just before Fitz, and her with him, hit something solid. “It’s over now, Leo,” she was close enough to hear him whisper. “You did good. Great, really.”
Jemma’s eyes had been closed, but she opened them in time to see Matt rise to his feet, and open his mouth to start, “Mack, do you…”
“No,” Mack cut him off. “You can’t ask about this, Murdock. I know it’s hard, and I’d hate it if I were in your shoes. But if you love Jemma, never ask her what she did to herself to save your best friend’s life.”
The crash didn’t come then. It couldn’t; Jemma still had work to do. A half hour more left them reasonably confident Foggy was cured of the hands delirium, but assessing his full condition took another hour. Thankfully when Lincoln gave the full pronouncement of the situation to his patient, the news was good. “The chemo is working,” he told him. “Obviously this whole sequence of events has thrown our schedule off a bit, but I’m optimistic we’ll be able to do the surgery within a couple of days of when we would have done it.”
“I feel much worse, though,” croaked Foggy, when he had walked off. “Like, I’ve gone from Level 3 of Just Plain Awful to Level 100 of Oh Please Just Let Me Die Already.”
“But we’re not going to let you die,” Fitz grinned at him. “Sorry.”
Eventually Fitz and Mack had to depart for the lab, especially since with Kirigi still not found, anything that had the slightest chance of providing any information his location might be deduced from had to be analyzed. He and Jemma shared one last hug, and he reminded her softly, “We’re alive. We’re going to be alive. Just remember that.”
Jemma spent the next hour reminding herself continually of that as she continued to do her own work around the infirmary. It helped her to see the readings from Foggy continue to turn out good news, and also, Matt and Karen started talking to each other and such. There was still some distance between them, but they were on their way. Even if it wouldn’t matter much if Matt didn’t stay.
And then Sam Wilson walked in.
Jemma heard his voice first, saying, “Murdock, new meeting happening right now in…” But she stopped hearing what he was saying after she turned around. All she could think of was that man falling dead, just like that, just before the pain hit, and no, please, she couldn’t go through that again, she couldn’t have Fitz going through that again. Already she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t run, couldn’t do anything…
“Jemma.” Matt’s voice was sooth and calm by her, and that made no sense, because she could have sworn he’d been dead for hours. “Breathe. Remember what I taught you to do. Focus on your breathing. You can breathe. Just count in your head.” And yes, he was alive, and they all were, she remembered Fitz telling her that now, but she was still terrified, the room was still a blur in her head, and she was struggling to count. “Breath in, one…two…” Her lungs grabbed for air.
She eventually became aware of everything again, including everyone standing there by her, all of them looking worried. “Dr. Campbell,” said Matt, “what she did…is she going to have more panic attacks because of it?”
“It’s likely,” said Lincoln in response. “And I’m afraid they might not stop after a few months this time.”
“Karen,” said Matt, “do you think you could go with Jemma back to our quarters, make sure she eats something? Heart’s starting to return to normal now.”
Karen stayed with Jemma about as long as the other woman thought she could bear to, until it was just advanced enough into the evening that it seemed all right to go to bed. Even then, she gave her one last hug, and murmured, “If there is anything I can ever do…”
"Sushi date when this is all over?” Jemma asked her, because they hadn’t had them recently, but she thought she might need the normality of it then. “We’ll try to stick to the ones whose smell you can currently stand.”
“And it’ll be completely on me,” Karen chuckled.
Surprisingly, there were no nightmares for Jemma to wake screaming from. It was when the sound of the door opening that jarred her awake and sent her scrambling back and away from the intruder, before Matt hastily said, “Jemma, it’s just me.”
“Evening,” she sighed sheepishly, and slid back around the covers, reassured by the familiar sound of him putting his glasses down and undressing; it felt not unlike a typical late-night return.
“They found Kirigi and Muto,” he said as he joined her in bed. “The two of them have apparently put their differences aside, which raises the worry this whole mission might backfire, although we are now getting reports that Kenin and Typhoid Mary’s supporters have turned on the rest of the Hand. Tomorrow this place might empty; the Avengers are now all officially involved in this too.”
He was ready when she reached for him in the darkness, pulling her in with strokes to her hair and tender kisses to her face. “Let me just say,” he said, “that I’m not sure I’ve met anyone as crazily noble as you.”
“It wasn’t all nobility,” she replied. “As a medical woman, it was my duty, and besides that…there is a man dead because of what I did, and don’t think I ever forget that, just like you know you won’t.”
“Well,” he said, “Mack told me not to ask, and Daisy cornered me after the meeting to tell me again not to ask, so I won’t. But I heard what Fitz said to you just before he went off to the lab, and I can guess at things enough to think that if that’s why you subjected yourself to this, even if only partly, then you’re about to do as much penance for what you did as even God can ask for.”
Jemma supposed that was true, and as something that could be true even for those, like her, who weren’t Catholic. It was a deeply comforting thing.
She woke up again, not really knowing the time but not thinking it was morning yet, to the awareness that Matt was no longer lying with her. She nearly called for the lights, but first asked softly, “Matt?”
“Foggy’s right,” he said, and she was pretty sure he was sitting over the edge of the bed. “I lost control because his throat nearly got slit. Though why he should ever blame himself for that…it’s not his fault I’m a sick fuck who thinks it’s okay to murder someone just because they nearly killed someone I care about. I don’t think this is what Stick meant when he told me it’s a weakness to care about people like that, but he’s right. Caring’s my weakness.”
At hearing that, Jemma felt such pure rage surge through her that for a moment she couldn’t breathe, and it propelled her up and towards him, not even caring when she accidentally collided with him because he’d been sitting closer than she’d thought. “Do you know the last person to say such a thing to me?” she demanded. “Do you?” Of course he didn’t; she hadn’t told him this part when she’d told him the story. “Grant Ward. Just before he dumped that pod with me and Fitz in it into the ocean.”
“Oh, I’m-I’m so sorry, Jemma,” Matt hastily stammered. “I…I didn’t…I don’t…”
“And did you know,” she barraged on, “if at that moment, he’d listened to his heart and figured out a way to help us escape that plane, instead of just obeying the orders of the abusive mentor who had convinced him he owed him,” she didn’t even need to see Matt to tell she’d made him flinch, “well, he’d already done a few things it might have taken us an effort to forgive him for, but at that point we still might have done it, and then he would’ve come to a much better fate, and done good in the world instead of evil.”
“Well, obviously,” said Matt, “because he was Hydra.”
“And who is Stick, and who are the Chaste?” she shot back. “We don’t know, not really. All we know is they spend the majority of their time fighting this other group of people that happen to be bad guys, and we don’t absolutely even have proof of that to back up their words, and even if we did, that doesn’t necessarily make them good guys. And who are you?” Her voice was getting shrill, she knew; it might even be hurting his ears, but she couldn’t stop, not now.
“You know a lot of people wouldn’t have a nice answer for that question.” He was prevaricating. “Including a lot of your colleagues.”
“And have you not said the same thing about them, and about the Avengers, and about how they don’t care about Hell’s Kitchen, and what happens there once the aliens are gone?” That had been an early quarrel they’d had, one that had sprung up while following the story of Captain America’s killer.
“And you told me that was an unfair thing to say. And you were right; I knew that even then.”
That was a new admission, but Jemma didn’t care. “Unfair, yes, but you know, it is true; people like the Avengers, and us at S.H.I.E.L.D., we spend all our time protecting the forest, because it needs it, yes, but that doesn’t mean sometimes the trees don’t need help too. Hell’s Kitchen has certainly needed the Defenders over the years, and you even needed to save it before all of the others even came back to town-and Cage certainly could never have managed it if you hadn’t thwarted Fisk either.
And all because you cared about the city, and the people in it. Caring’s not your weakness, Matt. It’s your source of strength.”
Matt was silent. Which was arguably a good sign; it meant he was thinking her words over, instead of just rejecting them as being too kind to him, which she’d feared he might do in his current state. Jemma’s anger was spent as well, and after another minute or so, she sighed, “How much have you slept?”
“Probably not enough,” he conceded, and she heard and felt him move to lie back down. She joined him, and he pulled the bedclothes back other them and held her again, but more loosely than he had, as if he was preparing himself to pull away from her. Jemma lay on the stiff, starched mattress, and longed for their sagging bed at home, for the old, half-broken down, lived-in smell of their apartment, even for the glow of the lights and the intrusion of the sounds of the city outside. Those, she thought, would definitely be beneficial for her in the months and possibly much longer to come.
It made her wonder if she could bear to keeping living there if Matt left. Maybe a little more than she could bear to live anywhere else. Unless Foggy died, and she moved in with Karen and the baby or something. Although that assumed she wouldn’t get so bad she’d just be another burden for a widowed new mother.
Matt had been right; the next day HQ all but emptied. Even Fitz, once he was asked by Coulson if he thought he was up to it, joined Mack and a small group traveling up to the old hidden base in Canada, where they were apparently doing something technical and important; Jemma never heard the full details. She was pretty sure she would’ve been asked too, but with Lincoln and his entire staff also among those involved in the mission someone had to stay behind with Foggy and Karen.
Foggy was slightly better that morning, fully lucid and even down, he said, to “Level 90 of Oh Please Let Me Die Already. Maybe even Level 89 at times.” He was even able to eat actual food, so long as its taste or smell wasn’t very strong. When Jemma told Karen where she could find the free bagels, Foggy sent up to the high heavens praises of S.H.I.E.L.D. she’d definitely never thought she’d ever hear from him. The three of them all ended up having them for their breakfast, though they had to have them without the cream cheese, because Foggy couldn’t stand the smell. “I know,” he said to Karen. “It’s like I’m the pregnant one.”
“Wish Candace could’ve come,” he added later. They all had; she had been quite put out when Jemma had had to call her that morning to say she wouldn’t be allowed to come to headquarters after all that day; with everyone absent it simply couldn’t be handled. They were all hoping she’d be able to come the following day, but as she’d angrily told Jemma, she wasn’t sure she’d get that day off.
When Foggy started spending more time unconscious than conscious again, the two women started taking turns spending time with him. Ironically, when Jemma spent her breaks in the lab, the place she’d found triggering three years ago, she felt tension she hadn’t even noticed herself as carrying go away, as she buried herself analyzing some rocks from one of the other Nine Realms, and tried not to think of where they might have come from.
She was bringing back more bagels for lunch when she heard Karen talking to what sounded like Fitz over the infirmary’s main comm, she hurried back in with a, “Oh God, is something wrong?” There were images in her head of the base falling apart, the Hand attacking, Mack lying dead on the floor beside him.
“No!” She heard Fitz hastily say. “Well, kind of; they’re closing in on our two targets, and it’s seems they’ve turned against each other, and in the kind of way that does not make the mission easier. But everything’s fine here. I just…” His voice turned sheepish as he finished. “I just went into a bit of a panic…”
“He needed assurance the base wasn’t being attacked,” they heard Mack explain. “Apparently there’s now evidence some faction of the Hand was considering that. Though given how chaos the organization’s been engulfed in since, I don’t think they’re going forward with it. But he was having a panic attack.”
“It’s all right,” said Fitz. “I’m better now.”
Jemma felt better too, hearing his voice again, and hearing that he was for the moment safe. She feared she and Fitz might drive Matt and Mack both crazy during the months to come-if, of course, Matt stayed. “We’re good here, too, Fitz,” she said. “Just going in for our second round of bagels for the day.”
“Did somebody say the B-word?” Foggy was awake. He even lifted his head up, if only a little, and as if it weighed a hundred pounds.
“Yes,” Karen agreed. “Those sound wonderful right now.”
“They do,” they heard Fitz agree over the comm. “Save one for me when we get home?”
But when Karen took two bagels and held one of them up within easy biting range, Foggy made a face, then shook his head sadly, before mumbling, “Cantanymoresorry.”
Jemma took another look as his readings, which were what she would’ve expected from the morning readings. She felt too little comfort from that. “Fitz,” she asked. “Can you…just stay on the line? Just for a little while?” Besides being pretty unprofessional, this wasn’t healthy, but it was only the day after and too much was going on; so long as it didn't actually interfere with the mission she could indulge.
“Yeah,” Fitz said, and she could tell he was glad for the request.
About an hour after they finally had to disconnect, they got another buzz, this time from Lincoln. “We captured Muto, though he killed Kirigi first, but there was a fight. They’re bringing back multiple wounded, at least seven, maybe more, and Daisy wants us all headed out after Azuma Goda, so most of my staff will be coming back with them, but you’ll be needed.”
“Got it,” said Jemma, but dread filled her. She’d done this a couple of times, back during those days in 2014 when she and Trip had basically been S.H.I.E.L.D.’s medical team, but on that day all she could think about was the dead and dying she’d seen and only remembered now. “Karen,” she asked, “do you happen to have any experience with having more than one patient at once?”
“Not exactly the kind that takes place in an antiseptic medical center-or even our relatively clean apartment, and it was a long time ago, but actually, yes.” That had really been the best answer Jemma had thought she could hope for; that the part of Karen’s past that had never been Jemma’s business might contain something like that.
“In any case you can help me prepare this place. Start getting supplies out; you’ve seen where they are by now, I assume.”
One of the few other S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel who had been left behind notified them when the quinjet carrying the wounded landed. The group that arrived at the infirmary ten minutes later was led by Preeti, and Bucky was there too, carrying the biggest of the six wounded men, as Jemma counted them up, before saying, “Lincoln said there were at least seven.”
“Eight,” replied Preeti. “Two of them were pronounced dead en route.” She didn’t even break stride, helping the woman leaning on her arm onto a bed and promptly turning to two more patients being supported by Jesse Winters, the male nurse. “Agent Latta here’s not far off. The rest of them should live if we can keep the blood loss from getting to them.”
“Oh God,” whimpered Karen; she didn’t have their trained detachment. Jemma was struggling to reach hers, even as she obediently helped Agent Latta into a bed with his feet up and took an initial assessment of the burns covering too much of him.
She was going too slow, she knew. Images kept flashing through her head of burn victims she’d seen on that day, before they’d gone through the portal. “He’s in shock,” she said out loud, as much to keep the thought in her own head as anything else. “He’s breathing normally; the burns are all on his lower body.”
“We’ve got medicine for that among the Chaste.” Jemma hadn’t even noticed Claw had been among those coming in. “It didn’t work on Agent Hawthorne, but she wasn’t able to breathe. I’ve put a bit of it on his burns already and I can try a bit more.”
Jemma pulled her assessment back together in her head, forced herself to calculate the man’s chances without mysterious Chaste medical help, and said, “Do it.”
“I won’t put much on, though,” he said, as he nonetheless pulled a container out of his coat and coated his hands in the ointment in it. “We would have more with us, except Dagger happened to be carrying one of our containers with him when he went and got killed.”
Still, at the touch of the ointment, the rough burns visibly softened, skin yellowed and blackened faded to something less dead, and when Jesse brought more medicines and bandages along with other supplies, Jemma decided to be optimistic this man would live.
Focusing on him allowed her to shut most the rest of her surroundings out, for the most part. She observed the others being bandaged, with Karen helping on one of them, and other work being done on the man Bucky had carried in, but the images bounced off her head without her reacting to them. Claw disappeared from the man’s bedside at some point, which she did not mind at all.
But when she had done all she could for him, she had to look around more thoroughly. By then, thankfully, everyone had been done for the others too. Karen had returned to sit by Foggy, who had apparently slept through the whole thing, and the rest of the medical staff had fallen back into their regular routine; she even saw Preeti conferring with another one of the nurses as they examined the contents of one of the drawers Jemma and Karen had emptied to prepare the infirmary beforehand, presumably about getting new supplies.
But the patients hadn’t quieted. Agent Latta had been making soft groans ever since Claw had started putting ointment on him, and he still hadn’t stopped. And then she walked too close to where another one of the agents who was very heavily bandaged up was breathing harshly, and wildly, Jemma found herself thinking she’d seen that woman do so before, seen her over the screen in the throes of hands delirium. Part of her brain was trying to determine if it really had been that woman or it was just her memory playing tricks on her, but it didn’t even seem to matter. Suddenly she was back on that day, in this very infirmary, watching people bleeding out from the explosions they’d come there fleeing, so many of them dead not at all longer after their arrival.
She didn’t even realize she was showing visible signs of her distress until Karen was there, and she said softly, “Are you having a panic attack? Or…”
“I don’t…” She still had a vague idea of where and when she was, and she was aware that not only was this woman alive but so were their two men. But she felt pushed to her limit nonetheless.
Karen looked around, and then said, “Soundproofed room?” Jemma nodded, and Karen led her there like she might have led Matt, Jemma clinging to her arm, sealed the door behind them, and held her as she broke down.
It was only much later, when everyone except the Secret Warriors had returned, three of their six patients had been released from the infirmary, and Candace had even been confirmed as coming the following day, that Jemma actually thought about what Claw had said to her and realized it was a little strange, that one of the Chaste would go off and fight the Hand completely on his own and get killed; the story as she’d heard it before gave the impression the Hand had attacked Stick and his two followers and Dagger had gotten killed that way.
Something kept her from saying anything to Matt about it that night, though, and the next morning Candace arrived early, Karen went back down to the city, and he was therefore constantly in her company, so to talk to him about it was impossible, and Jemma still felt oddly reluctant to. But after the previous two days, no one was going to make any comment if she wanted to spend more time with Fitz, so she ended up taking a late breakfast with him and Mack in their quarters, and telling them instead.
“That’s not the story as we heard it either,” said Mack. “Although nor has anyone heard that Dagger did *not* go after some Hand operative by himself and find himself outmatched. Maybe you should talk to Coulson or May about this. Or maybe even Daisy.”
“Skye would be a good idea,” commented Fitz. “She might be able to even find out exactly what happened. We’ve designed some monitoring equipment whose use has so far been restricted to the Warriors, and combine that with her hacking skills, and she might be able to retrace the movement of all three of them en route here.”
When the Warriors returned, however, it was with Azuma Goda, but it was also with Joey’s corpse. Hardly the first casualty the group had suffered during their four and a half year history, but Skye always took them hard. “Although at least he’s at peace now,” Yo-Yo said when she brought the body in for autopsy. “I’m not sure he ever was before, you know.”
The memorial service for all three of the fallen was that evening. Jemma stood with Matt and Candace, listening as first Coulson, then Skye, than others spoke their eulogies, her eyes on her old friend as much as she could get away with. Her eyes stayed dry this time; perhaps she, too, though Joey was now at last at peace. She didn’t look that happy, either, when Jerry Sledge finished up his eulogy with a call to take the last of the Hand’s lieutenants down in a very violent way. Not for the first time, Jemma thought about the fact that she’d not only been forced to watch her and Fitz be tortured to death, but she’d had to carry that memory all this time, never allowing herself to show any sign of it around them, and she wondered if the two of them would ever talk about that, if they could ever bear to.
After some hesitation, she volunteered to help Skye pack up Joey’s things.
When Claw’s words were repeated to her, she confirmed what Jemma had already suspected. “They didn’t exactly say the circumstances under which he was killed. But they sure didn’t make it sound like a case of that, and if it was, at the very least, they’ve been less forthcoming with us than they ought to be. Stick also made it sound like they had no more knowledge of where exactly anyone in the Hand was than we already did, and if this is true, that was an even less excusable lie.”
“What do you think we should do?” Jemma asked. “Should we go to Coulson?”
Skye considered, then said, “Yes, but right now, only to him, unless he decides otherwise. Meanwhile, I’ll start digging, at least in what spare time I have right now. I’ve gotten the impression Stick and Claw are likely to both stick around even after we take Steel Serpent for the interrogations, and that’s going to take a few days at least, so I’ll have time then.”
“Thank you,” Jemma said to her. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“Oh,” grinned Skye, “I think I have some idea. Remember, I read his profile too.”
Some idea, yes, but Jemma had not yet told anyone about Matt possibly joining the Chaste. She felt very strongly that Foggy and Karen ought to be the next ones to know, and now certainly was not the time to tell them. Until he was at least through the surgery, she simply had to keep her silence on that.
But a few days would be fine. If she and Skye were lucky enough, his decision, either way, would be a hell of a lot more informed than she just bet Stick would’ve liked it to be.
The surgery and the raid on where the Steel Serpent was holed up were scheduled for the same day. Of course they were. The evening before, after dinner, as Matt and Jemma walked back to their quarters, he started talking about her needing to be in her best condition the next day and how he’d been pretty neglectful as a sexual partner, but he was willing to make up for it if she wanted. Of course he would only allow himself sex with her now for her sake rather than his.
And of course he went down on her. He’d told her once that had always been his favorite thing to do to a woman in bed. Jemma was pretty sure that was because he found it easier emotionally to give than to receive.
Not that he didn’t get a lot of what he wanted out of it. And that night, after working her up with his hands on every inch of her body, he simply said, “Stop me when you’ve had enough,” and tore into her with his mouth like a man dying of starvation, testament to how much during the past two weeks since they’d last made love that Sunday he’d missed this-or maybe just how much he wanted to taste every last drop while he was still with her.
It had been a long two weeks for her, too. It took less than a minute of her writhing under Matt’s tongue before she was screaming into her hands, coming so hard the world went fuzzy, but she came out of it still hungry for more. Good thing, too, since Matt was still going, until her whole body was twitching and tingling as he slowly pushed her over into a second orgasm. Then, on hearing Matt’s breathing and feeling his mouth now focused on her clit, eager as ever, she nearly went straight to a third, holding off only because she knew they’d have to stop then when she had a difficult surgery the next day, and she didn’t want this to end.
But when finally, after the third faded, and she reluctantly sighed, “You have to stop, Matt, or I won’t be able to function tomorrow,” she heard his breathing take on a different rhythm, a more desperate one, and he hissed, “Jemma, I need you to hurt me.”
It wasn’t surprising. He’d asked her for that sometimes(and last week she’d learned just what he’d done before he’d asked the first time). In the past he’d even had girlfriends who had gone at him with whips and things. Jemma wasn’t willing to do that, but she was willing to use her teeth.
He’d reduced her so thoroughly, when she raised her head, he had to guide her to the bruises on his chest. But then she bit down, and his loud cry was half pain, half relief. She raised her eyes up, wanting to see his face; he always looked so open when she did this to him. She somehow got her arms to work again, and she dug her nails into his back, knowing when she found another bruise when he whimpered down to her. She let her head fall to his side and sank her teeth into a bigger bruise there. From that angle she had a clear view of his cock; it visibly twitched as she did it. She ached to have it in her; but she was pretty sure the slightest touch would finish him.
She gently pushed him onto his back, letting herself watch his face as she took to the bruises with her nails. With each press of them he flinched and gasped, sightless eyes moving upwards towards the heavens, until he finally panted, “Jemma, please, please, I can’t…I can’t…” She reached down and grasped his cock hard, and he arched up the bed as he came, croaking out what might have been her name or might have been blasphemy or might have just been nonsense. She put her teeth into one last bruise near his neck, kept it there until he whined, and then she let herself slump down on him completely.
He was kissing her where his mouth would easily reach, the top of her head, above her ear; she shifted first so their lips could meet, then so she could hold him closer, wrap him in her limbs until he was surrounded by her, something she usually did for him, but tonight there was her own want in it as well. This was their place, just the two of them, and Jemma wanted to keep him there, warm and loved.
When they came up for air, he was babbling, “I love you Jemma, I love you, I love you, I love you, I’ll never stop, I’ll never stop…” and she couldn’t keep the tears back at the thought that he might mean it as goodbye.
Eventually she staggered out to pee and to get them some wet towels, wearing the lawyer’s shirt he’d entertained Foggy’s parents in earlier that day, as if she needed to further advertise to anyone who happened to be about exactly what they’d just been doing, as if there was anyone within normal human earshot who hadn’t known already. She wouldn’t be surprised if Stick had detected it too, wherever he was at the moment. She hoped he had.
She examined the bruises as she washed Matt off, but she’d gotten really good at not exacerbating them. “How are you doing?” she asked, glad he wouldn’t protest the question anymore, had accepted she would always ask it after doing this to him.
He even gave it some consideration; she was folding the towels up to take them out(she didn’t want the smell bothering him tonight), when he said, “About how I’ve been, I think. I’m sorry; I know you wish I felt better.”
“At the moment" she shrugged, "I’d settle for us both getting a decent night’s sleep.”
They both slept well enough, and Matt was again there to hug Foggy goodbye before he went in for the surgery prep. “Remember,” Foggy said to him. “The whole family will be back up here tonight and if you aren’t there as yourself they will want to know why.”
“I know,” said Matt. “Don’t have a heart attack on the operating table, okay?”
Scott arrived with the news that the combined S.H.I.E.L.D.-Avengers group had headed out. The base wasn’t quite as emptied as it had been when they’d gone after Kirigi and Muto, but it wasn’t far off, and it especially felt that way when the only nurses left were Preeti, who was on hand for the surgery, and Jesse, who was basically running the rest of the infirmary. The latter also took Scott to get his suit disinfected, while Lincoln and Jemma set to work cutting Foggy open at the hip.
They were getting close to getting the bone exposed when the alarm first sounded. In the operating theater it was heavily muffled, which helped Jemma keep her hands steady, though even so Lincoln said to her, “Jemma, if you’re not up to this…”
“I should be,” she said. “You have memories of that day too.”
“I never even left the infirmary,” he said. “I saw and experienced pretty much a more intense version of what I’ve dealt with before.”
“We’re nearly done with this part,” said Jemma. “After that Scott takes over. I can do this much.”
The klaxons faded into the background after another few minutes, and Jemma felt no more panic before Scott came back in, bearing the specially sized surgical instruments he’d be shrinking with him. Lincoln turned on the monitor that would show the feed from the camera after he shrunk, but for now it contained one of the many diagrams Scott had spent the last week studying, now with blue and red dots on it. “It’s just as Preeti here talked you through when you did the drill Wednesday. You land on the blue dot, and you do not touch the red dots at all while you’re in there. I’ll be repeating her directions the entire time. Jemma will be with us most of the time as well, though right now, I think someone should go out and find out why that alarm’s sounding.”
When Jemma stepped back out into the infirmary, to her surprise she found that Jesse and Karen had been joined by Fitz and Mack. Karen immediately looked alarmed on seeing her, and she hastily said, “The surgery’s going well so far, though it’s early stages. We just wanted to know why the alarm sounded.”
Fitz shook his head. “Remember when we heard one of the factions of the Hand might be considering attacking the base? That was Madame Gao’s.”
“And they decided to launch the attack when we came at them,” said Jesse. “Luckily they assumed the base to be empty enough they sent only a minor force, but they’ve got the place surrounded at the moment.”
“Good thing we’ve got those experimental repulsion fields running,” said Mack. “Right now they’re holding.”
Strange, that the emotional detachment that should’ve come when she’d stood in the operating theatre instead clicked into place for Jemma when she heard that, even as she considered how close the infirmary was to the outer walls, and how if anyone broke through, they would all be immediately vulnerable. “Karen,” she said, “I assume you’re refusing to go to the saferooms we’re supposed to take civilians to in this case.”
“Not until my husband comes with me,” she said. “Until then you’d have to drag me there kicking and screaming.”
And they absolutely did not want to move Foggy now. Besides, “That might not actually be a bad thing, but if you stay here, you have to do your part. Jesse, you’re not a very good shot, are you?” When he shook his head emphatically, she said, “Then Karen here is probably the best shot we have among us right now. I think someone should go get her a firearm.” She expected protests, or at least someone asking why she was the one taking charge, but when there were none, she said to the woman in question, “Now, listen, Karen. We are breaking the rules here, although under circumstances where that should be allowed, and I am taking responsibility for your actions. Now it’s possible men may come in here and I may be back out here by then and I may order you not to shoot, or I may order you only to shoot on my command. Can you do that?”
She saw the other woman go from shock to acceptance; she, at least, would not question Jemma’s authority here. She waited for her nod before saying, “Although if anyone comes charging through that door, you officially have my authorization to shoot until further notice. We’re going to continue the operation for now.” She knew Lincoln would agree to that; she hoped Scott wouldn’t protest. “Come in and tell us if the walls get breached.”
Jemma walked back into the operating theatre ice cold and momentarily beyond fear. She realized as she did so she was in the state she had found within herself back on that planet, when she’d been so focused on saving Sam, and that might have even been why the news of the attack had put her brain back in order the way it had.
Scott, down where he was working on the cancer, did make his objections known for the record, but did so with clear resignation in his voice. Preeti said nothing on that matter, but resumed her instructions to Scott; it turned out she was doing a better job than Lincoln on directing him and so was doing most of the talking.
Over the next few hours the four of them continued to work, Lincoln and Jemma taking over when a knowledgeable touch was needed. The alarm blared on until they stopped hearing it, but no one burst in to inform them the Steel Serpent’s minions had penetrated the base.
Until the entire cancer had been removed from Foggy’s body and one of Fitz and Mack’s fancier robots was sewing him back up. That was when Fitz came in and said, “There are more people coming here, including possibly the Steel Serpent herself.”
“Where are the people who are supposed to by capturing her then?” asked Scott, who had gone back to his normal size.
“Don’t know,” said Fitz. “No one’s told me. All I know is Agent Lanos is up monitoring all the cameras and he’s calling everyone who’s here to tell them that. But also, Lincoln, Mack and I have an idea.”
They left Preeti to look over Foggy and the robot and contact them if anything further went wrong and stepped out in the infirmary. “Cancer’s out,” said Lincoln. “He’s being sewn up even as we speak. Call whoever’s in charge of the base at the moment, tell them we’ve got an idea.”
But Mack shook his head, saying, “Communications went down sometime between when Agent Lanos contacted us and a couple of minutes ago, when we tried to call Agents Telkov and Watson and for an update.”
That meant if the building’s western wall got breached, they would be completely on their own, unable to summon help in time. Jemma was now very glad Fitz and Mack had come up with their idea. Also that someone had gotten Karen both an actual gun and an ICER; they sat on a table next to her. Lincoln, seeing how anxious she looked, said, “Would you like to see your husband, Mrs. Nelson? He’s still unconscious, of course, but…”
The three of them went back into the operating theater, where Preeti raised her eyebrows at Karen, but said, “I think it will be safe to move him in an hour.”
“Will the barriers hold until then?” asked Karen, eyes fixed on Foggy, as if she could will him to respond.
“Your guess is as good as ours,” said Jemma. “I don’t think even Fitz or Mack can really tell; we don’t have enough information right now.”
“If things don’t change before then,” said Lincoln, “we’ll wheel him further in. Until then, Jemma, we should take turns staying in here. You first; I’ll help Fitz and Mack get the cords out of the storage pod.”
“You have to go with him, I’m afraid,” Jemma said to Karen then. “You’re the one standing guard.”
“Just remember,” Lincoln told her as they headed out. “Your husband is now cancer free.”
“Right,” said Karen, sounding as if she already knew better.
Half an hour later, Foggy was completely sewn up, and remained free of any serious complications. Jemma came out to deliver that good news to find the three men cursing over their contraption of power cords. “We can’t quite get the hooks on,” Fitz told her from he was holding up an exposed end of live wire and continually tapping it with a thick plastic-handled nail file.
“I think we can continue this work in the operating theater-come with us Scott, maybe you can get them on,” said Lincoln, and the three of them headed in, though Jemma thought she heard Mack protesting quietly. She joined Karen and Jesse from where he was showing her a monitor though which they at least could still tell if anyone was in the immediate area. “I don’t think anyone’s broken through the walls yet,” he said.
But then, ten minutes later, they heard a very loud crunch, one that Jemma didn’t think could have come from too far away. The three of them looked at each other, then Karen took hold of both her firearms.
“They’re here,” Jesse said five minutes after that, when his monitor started beeping. “Mostly men, though may be some women; the ninja outfits they’re all wearing make it difficult to tell…wait a minute; I don’t like the look of that one.”
The two women peered anxiously over his shoulder at the monitor. He was tapped into one of the security cameras not far from where they thought the wall might have been broken through. Most of the figures it showed were as he said; the number of them was worrying. But another one had just entered the picture: a wizened old woman, Chinese in appearance, who walked calmly behind them as if she was the back of a procession. Matt’s descriptions of Madame Gao to her had been pretty vague, and she might have even modified her appearance anyway, but still Jemma had no doubt.
She still had that calm in her; she thought she could possibly go on for hours. “Jesse,” she said; her voice was sharper than she’d ever heard it be. “Go in there and tell our three electrical blokes they might need to burst out and fire the instant they’re able to. Karen, take both your guns. Try shooting the ninjas with the ICER first; only use bullets if it doesn’t take them down, and then see if you can disable them without killing them. Although if this Steel Serpent has the same qualities as Rand’s, even bullets will only stop her for so long-even so, that might just buy us the time we need.”
It was five minutes later when the first trio of ninjas, whom they’d see separate from the others on the monitor, came racing, roaring, into the infirmary. When they did, Jemma deliberately jumped up and screamed; their attention turned to her entirely before they could scan the rest of the infirmary, and a moment later three shots rang out from the ICER, and they all collapsed. “They’ll send more next time,” she told Karen.
It was five the following time. That was trickier; Karen had only shot four when the fifth one reached her and knocked both her guns from her hands. But Jemma had come running when she’d realized he’d spotted Karen, and she managed to grab the ICER and shoot him herself. “That was too close. And there may even be more just outside the door; the way their shouts drowned out footprints. FRIDAY, could you set the camera…”
But then she trailed off; FRIDAY just had, and there were not any more ninjas outside the entrance of the infirmary, but instead there was only their mistress.
“Keep calm,” Jemma hissed, back towards the door of the operating theater. You can be ready whenever you like, boys, she thought. That the group of together could conquer any technical difficulties was beyond doubt, but could she and Karen hold out until they did?
The Steel Serpent stepped in; Karen fired both her weapons. The ICER had no visible effect; a bullet bounced off her head and sent her stumbling back. “Hold you bullets, Karen,” Jemma ordered; they needed to last as long as possible.
And lucky for them, the Steel Serpent apparently did not feel any need to hurry at that moment, instead she turned to Karen and said, “I would like to thank you. For killing Mr. Wesley. If you did not, I maybe would not have gotten away so easily.”
That was making Karen shake, in a way that reminded Jemma too much of that last hour alive in the spaceship. But even her fears were freezing over now; her heart’s furious pounding feeling almost like an aberration in the rest of her body. She thought of what information there had been in the woman’s Index profile, that she liked to play psychological games, even if it was just pretending not to understand English. Her liking of taunting her opponents on occasion, and a suggestion she could be drawn in and distracted if they did the same. “So you do admit occasionally certain humans can cause you trouble,” she all but drawled(there’d been a time years and years ago when she’d been able to do a killer Draco Malfoy impression). “Is that why you blinded and brainwashed all the desperate people you took advantage of back when you were working with Fisk?”
“They blinded themselves,” she hissed, and lunged at Jemma. Karen fired again; she would’ve gotten her straight through the heart had she been human. She stumbled harder, enough so that Karen was able to dash over to Jemma and point her gun in front of them, with both hands; she’d thrown the ICER away. “Because they believed.”
“Easy to believe when the universe doesn’t offer you anything better,” shrugged Jemma. “Tell me, did any of them really have a choice not to follow you?”
“I did not do as Asgardians do. They make their choice.” She still was walking forward; Jemma’s words and Karen’s bullets were slowing her down, but they weren’t stopping her. She was so close Jemma thought she probably had only one speech left before this woman did who knew what to them.
“I wasn’t even accusing you of mind control,” said Jemma. “There’s more than one way to force people to do something. By the way, do you want to know what happened to most of them? My boyfriend took some of them as clients after you abandoned them, though of course he couldn’t help them all; he’s told me a few things some of them said to him-things they were happy for the world to hear about, though they had to settled for anyone who would listen to him.” All of that was true, though the last part more technically.
She was now close enough Jemma could smell her foul breath. Karen fired another bullet, but that brought little relief. “Did you know,” she started, and Jemma thought her heart curled into itself and threatened not to work anymore.
But at that moment, the doors to the operating theater flew open. Jemma pulled Karen down with her-thank God she’d moved her hand away from the trigger-as above them the chords hit the Steel Serpent. They’d gotten the hooks on, and they caught on her sides. Before she could react, a shrunken Scott soared out through the air and hit her on the forehead, then leapt clear as the sizzle of electricity filled the air. The hooks were connected to the wire; instantly she yelled as the full force of Lincoln’s power hit her from two ends, and then two more as the ends also made contact with her. Not enough to take her down, but then Lincoln himself leapt over Jemma and Karen and delivered three more blasts, two with his hands, a third with another chord. Karen pulled away from Jemma and shot her remaining bullets into her side. Then for good measure, she grabbed the ICER and shot her with that too.
It brought her down. As the two women clambered to their feet, Karen took a look as her lying and smoking slightly on the floor and asked, “Is she dead?”
“Do you care right now?” asked Scott, as he got big again. “She’s out, and Nurse Whiddon’s got your husband ready to move, Mrs. Nelson. Let’s get you both and ourselves out of here before any more ninjas show up.”
The ran through the base with Karen and Lincoln bringing up the rear, her guns and his hands at the ready, and Fitz carrying the chords, since the whole idea had originally been come up with in case of more ninjas than they could otherwise take down, after all. But instead they ran into more S.H.I.E.L.D agents, who led them to an open saferoom and informed them that the Avengers and the others were all on their way back and were almost there. “You take care of Mr. Nelson,” Lincoln said to Jemma and the two nurses, and he and Scott left with them to go back into the fight.
Karen continued to stand at the door with her ICER for a while, but even the sounds of battle could only be vaguely heard. Jemma focused on Foggy. The skin around his hip had swollen something awful, but his vitals all read as normal. The drugs were starting to wear off; he didn’t wake, but he was making sounds in his sleep. “One piece of good news, at least,” she commented. “While of course there’s still the danger of metastasis, and he’d still got some long months ahead of him, I would say the odds officially are that he’ll get out of this alive.” Everyone cheered weakly.
Eventually the sound of battle died down, then stopped. Half an hour later, the door opened to admit May. “We’ve won,” she announced brusquely, “and we have wounded. You’re all wanted in the infirmary.”
“By the way,” she asked as she led them back, “was it you guys that shocked the Steel Serpent? You actually didn’t manage to kill her, but you weakened her enough we were able to subdue her.”
“It was,” said Fitz, and he started to explain what they’d done, in more detail than May probably cared about, and maybe even more rapidly than she could follow. Not eagerly, though. Jemma briefly remembered a time where he would have been, but that was a time so long ago she wasn’t even sure she was remembering it right anymore.
Matt was there in the infirmary, standing there, clad in a S.H.I.E.L.D. shirt and trousers that Jemma suspected he’d hastily thrown on so he didn’t have to worry if Foggy’s family still showed up. At least the base being attacked provided explanation for him looking so battered. When they came through the door, he was already coming towards them, but then he stopped. “Matt,” Karen sighed, “come here,” and a moment later he was in the embrace of her and Jemma both, chest and shoulders heaving, though Jemma felt no actual tears.
“Karen,” he choked, “Karen, can you forgive me…is Foggy…”
“I’m not sure there’s that much to forgive anymore,” said Karen. “And Jemma just said he’s likely to live.”
“Surgery went off without complications,” Jemma added. “He’s all right, feel him,” and she took Matt’s hand and laid it across Foggy’s cheek. “You can hear his heart and breathing’s normal, I know.”
“I know,” he said, and even as Preeti and Jesse wheeled Foggy further in he stumbled along, keeping contact. “I know...Karen, your baby is moving…”
“Is it?” Karen was getting choked up too, even on top of everything else; now she was the one with tears in her eyes. Dimly Jemma remembered Matt’s speculation on when he would first be able to tell. He’d been able to hear the heartbeat already; she remembered all of them there when he’d listened for it for the first time, weeks ago, now, before any of this had happened.
They came to a halt; the nurses pushed the three of them aside to do quick checks. Jemma knew she had to go; she was needed; she’d probably stayed too long already. And Matt seemed to realize that too, because he said, “Go do your work, Jemma. We’ll be right here and I’m not going anywhere.”
The intensity with which he spoke those last words and the way he squeezed her hand when he said them left no doubt of exactly what he meant. Ironically it keep Jemma there with him several moments longer, as once again she had to struggle to gain control of herself emotionally. But then she was calmly pulling away, saying, “You two might be of use too, you know. Be ready to be asked.”
The two of them were asked, although Matt’s usefulness became more limited after Foggy’s family did indeed show up, his mother especially anxious to see that he, Karen, and Matt all were fine when they’d driven up to a headquarters which had very much shown the signs of having just been attacked. But then they too helped out, even as the least injured started getting discharged and things got less crazy.
By the time her day was over, Jemma was so exhausted Matt ended up carrying her back to their quarters. But even so, now that they were alone, she asked for confirmation, “Your decision? You’ve really made it?”
“I think the moment I really made it is just before you came in,” he said, “and Coulson told me if I ever wanted to join S.H.I.E.L.D. I’d be welcome. He hinted Romanov might even try to recruit me into the Avengers.”
Jemma was surprising to feel dismay, as she said, “You’re not…”
He shook his head. “That was about when I realized, and I told him this, that if there’s one thing I’ve learned this past week, it’s that the world’s in much better hands than mine. Not perfect, mind you, I’ve learned *that* too this week. But you were right; this is where the world gets saved, and I’m happy to help out with that on occasion, but Hell’s Kitchen needs help too, and that’s my place. And I’m here with the three people I care about, and they’re going to be four soon, and Hell’s Kitchen might never be the best place to raise a child-if Foggy dies after all, and S.H.I.E.L.D. makes the offer to Karen, I’ll definitely encourage her to accept it-but if they do raise him or her there, I’m going to make it as good a place as possible for him or her to grow up.”
But then, as they approached their quarters, he said, “Also, we...I think it’s possible I’d be willing to do that for children of my own as well.” He no doubt heard just how hard her heart started to pound at that. “I mean, I’m not saying I’ll definitely be willing to have them, I may not ever…and that’s another thing you need to keep in mind, because…”
“Because what?” Jemma demanded when he didn’t immediately continue.
He turned; their door was in sight. “Because,” he finally said. “I’m about to ask you a question, and it’s one you don’t have to answer immediately if you don’t want to, and if you say no we can continue on living together exactly as we’ve done; I’ll certainly understand if this is a commitment you aren’t willing to make to me, but…” He walked through the door, placed her on the bed, and got down on one knee in front of her. “Jemma Elizabeth Simmons, will you marry me?”
This was absurd, she thought. Less than twelve hours ago he had seriously been considering leaving her. From a logical standpoint, she understood what was going through his head, what had caused this dramatic reversal, but it still felt too sudden. Meanwhile her mind was trying to gather together everything, including everything he had done and confessed to these past two weeks, but it just wasn’t happening at the moment.
So her reply was, “I’m too tired to answer that question right now.” She wondered if anyone had ever given such an answer before outside The Sims.
But Matt took it pretty well, standing up and saying, “Fair enough. Go ahead and sleep on it. Although I’m afraid you may have to deal with Stick tomorrow. Another thing Coulson said to me was he’s finally willing to talk about that ointment Claw used on Agent Latta. While offering condolences over Claw, I believe.” Claw had been among those killed that day. “You should offer them yourself. I think he really did care for Claw.”
Jemma supposed he might have; it wasn’t impossible. Although she still wasn’t sure the bracelet he’d left behind in Matt’s apartment, the indication that he might have cared for Matt, was real, or a fake he’d dropped on purpose. Still, Stick remained a subject between them it was still no use to discuss, at least now that Matt had turned his offer down, leaving no reason to.
Stick took her condolences without comment when she, he, Matt, and Coulson met in one of the smaller conference rooms. “We’ve never been able to make much of it,” he said. “If you people can figure out a way to synthesize it…”
“That will no doubt take some time,” said Coulson. “We’d need a way to keep in touch.”
Stick hesitated, then opened his mouth.
And then they were interrupted by the door opening, and Skye walked in, armed, and two more armed agents with her. “Agent Johnson,” Coulson started. “Is there another intrude…”
But he drifted off when the two agents positioned themselves on either side of Stick, and she pointed her gun straight at him. “Mr. Stick,” she said, “you are under arrest for the attempted murder of Franklin and Karen Nelson.”
She must have seen the jaws of the other three drop, because she said, “His other minion, Dagger, the one who got killed en route here? He wasn’t killed by the Hand. That wasn’t who he went after. I’ve got your files, Mr. Stick, the directions you gave him. Kill the people your rebel student is attached to, so you can lure him back into your army. You’re lucky, Jemma; he would’ve gone after you next.”
“You…” Matt was visibly shaking as he stood up. “You tried to kill them…?”
“Yeah,” Stick said, also standing, and clearly unrepentant. “And I’m only sorry I didn’t tell Dagger to go after your S.H.I.E.L.D. agent first, but I was under the impression at the time she was someone who could fight back. It was she who sweet-talked you into saying no to me, wasn’t it? I wonder what would happen if I-”
Matt cut him off with a roar of rage, throwing himself across the table even as Stick somehow managed to knock out both Skye and two her cohorts with a single move of his arm. Jemma heard Coulson calling for backup even as the fight went on, first one of them having the advantage, then the other. Then he threw himself between them, yelling, “Stop! Stop! Don’t think you can defeat every person we have in this building, Mr. Stick; surely you have the sense to acknowledge your game’s up there.”
Stick pulled away, heading for the door, but a split second later Jemma was there and sealing it. Matt had done him some damage, he was limping, but he was undoubtedly still dangerous. “You will not touch her!” Matt cried, and there was murder in him again, just like there’d been when he’d face down Stick’s minion.
But Coulson had him by the shoulders, and was saying, in that strong, firm, but still gentle voice with which he’d made everyone from Asgardians to frightened newly changed Inhuman children listen to him, “Mr. Murdock! Mr. Murdock. This is not who you are, and this is not what you do. You are a good man who fights to protect people. You do not hurt people for no purpose at all. You do not want to do what you think you want to do. Calm down. Calm down.”
Most people, Jemma thought, would never have gotten through to him. They were all fortunate Coulson was the sort of leader who could.
Stick almost seemed amused to watch Matt sag. Perhaps, as Coulson hoped, he realized his game was up, because he made no further attempt on anybody, even as Skye groaned and stirred. He turned towards Jemma. “Was it you?” he asked.
“I’m not the one who made his decision for him,” she shrugged. “I think I provided him with the foundation of it, but that was only by saying some things that were true. I’m not sorry.”
“No, of course you’re not,” he sneered. “Although wouldn’t you have ended up happy, I bet, if Dagger had just succeeded in killing the Nelsons. You’ve could’ve brought Matt up here for good and had him all to yourself-”
Jemma heard the shriek of fury that filled the room even before she realized it was coming from her own throat. She did feel it, though, when her fist connected with that monster’s face, and when she hit again, and again, and she never wanted to stop, not even if she killed him. She wanted to give him a punch for Foggy, and one for Karen, and then one the baby, and then more for Matt, Matt whose life he tried to ruin twice now, and might never be entirely free of him even after this should’ve made him so.
“Jemma, Jemma, stop!” Stick flew away from her as Skye raised her arm and pulled him by his bones away from everybody. “I’ll take care of this. Be aware, Mr. Stick, that if you try to fight any further, I will break every bone in your body, and I will feel good about it afterwards.”
Jemma’s fist fell. Coulson was gaping at her, but she was barely aware of that. Matt was gaping too, at least as much as one could when one couldn’t do so literally, but all she could think when she looked at him was she finally understood, after three years and all his words to her Wednesday night, exactly what he meant when he spoke of feeling the Devil inside him. That entity, regardless of what one cared to call it, that she’d known she’d had inside her too, that had clouded her mind and wrecked her judgement when she had committed her murder, but she hadn’t been consciously aware of it at the time, hadn’t even really thought it even existed, really.
Not the way she felt it now, screaming in her breast, exalting in the blood on Stick’s face she’d drawn, and longing to throw just one more punch.
The door slid open; a whole legion of security people had shown up. “You won’t fight,” said Skye, getting to her feet. “Will you, Mr. Stick?”
He didn’t. As they watched him disappear between the guards, Jemma said, “I don’t think either of us should ever have contact with him again, Matt.”
To her surprise, Matt said, “Yes. I don’t plan to.” Maybe he had finally learned what dangers to avoid.
Foggy and Karen had to be told. Jemma knew that almost immediately, that when someone tried to kill two people, they had to right to know who that someone was. Eventually she managed to persuade Matt to tell them so they’d know their would-be killer was safely in custody.
They gave the explanation as simply as possible later that morning, while Foggy’s family were invited on an unexpected tour of the headquarters(Jemma owed Skye big for that one). Just before Matt got a call; one of their clients who hadn’t wanted to make a deal had changed his mind, and Matt had to go back down to New York. Karen ended up going with him, the Nelsons giving them a lift.
Jemma was secretly grateful for it. Morning had provided her with no answer to Matt’s proposal, and being away from him for a little while was a relief, especially after what had just happened in the conference room. It was after that when Dr. Garner arrived, mostly to do grief counseling, and she asked for half an hour with him, and somehow managed to get it that afternoon.
It was too short a time, really; she spent half of it outlining the entire story of what had happened from that Monday onwards, and even then she felt like she left too much out. When she was done, he asked, “Are you afraid of Matt?”
“No,” she said, vehemently. “And not now, either. Really, I’ve seen and learned nothing about him I didn’t already know deep down, however unpleasant facing it has sometimes been.”
“But what about yourself?” he asked. “You’ve been talking all this time like your biggest worry is how this all has impacted him, but hasn’t anyone pointed out that in the past two weeks, you started by being heavily involved in the treatment and even designing the regimen yourself for the cancer of someone very important to you, been forced to remember an extremely traumatizing experience, to put it mildly, had to perform a difficult and unorthodox operation on the same person with the base under invasion, and then had to deal with combat when you’re still not cleared for it, even coming into direct confrontation with a very dangerous and powerful opponent, and all the while you’ve had to deal with the possibility of the man you love leaving you, and you never even told anyone about that until me, did you? You’ve made it clear to me already you don’t see yourself as the person you were when Coulson called Matt two weeks ago, and you’re right; you’re not.”
“I know,” said Jemma. “I even heard May say that once, that you don’t come out of experiences like what I now remember the same person. I just wish I had some idea of whom I’m about to become. Last time I changed this much I did not become a good person at all; I committed murder, caused Skye great emotional pain, and nearly drove Fitz away.” She remembered that day a year ago, when she and Fitz had finally talked about the things he’d said to her during those dark days. It had been one of the hardest conversations either of them had ever had, even then. She never wanted to make him, herself, or anyone else feel that way again.
“And how does Matt fit into that? After this morning, are you worried being around him makes you a worse person, a more violent one?”
And that was it, her newest fear. But now that she sat and considered it, Jemma found herself shaking her head. “The worst act of violence I ever committed I did so before meeting him. This morning…I don’t know what I would’ve done if there’d been no one there to yell at me to stop. But I can’t blame him for that, any more than Foggy should blame himself for…the only thing he’s done is made me more aware of it. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
“In theory,” said Dr. Garner. “Although do you think he would blame himself for it anyway?”
“Yes,” sighed Jemma. “I suppose I could point out the hypocrisy of that to him…” She actually giggled. That felt good to do. “I suppose thing at base is…the two of us aren’t that different. We’ve both got the devil in us, to use a convenient description for it, but it’s not even just that. It’s…we’re good in the same way too, aren’t we? And that’s a good thing usually; it certainly has helped us understand each other. But…”
“But,” said Dr. Garner, “do you want your husband to be the person who exposes you to yourself? That’s destroyed many a marriage, with people who can’t handle that. You have to decide if you can spend your entire life handling what he does to himself, because I think you know already that’s not going to ever go away, and what he does to you, even if he doesn’t actually intend to do anything. Especially if you’re not sure what the trauma you’ve just suffered is going to do to you, or how he’ll respond.”
“Actually,” smiled Jemma, “I do absolutely know how he’ll handle my being traumatized.” Matt would be there for whatever she needed, now that he was staying; there was simply no doubt in her head about that. “Good to have faith in one thing working out, I suppose…”
Between the number of patients that were still in the infirmary through to the evening, the memorial service that happened then, and the amount of time he was sleeping, Jemma spent the day wanting to at least get Foggy’s completely frank opinion on what he had just learned about Stick, without Matt around, but she didn’t get the opportunity then. But the next morning things slowed a bit, and when she first dropped in on Foggy, he was awake, and he even grinned at her, “You know, I think I’m down to Level 50 of Just Plain Awful.”
“Well,” said Jemma, “you might finally get out of here soon. You might even be able to go home in a couple more days, though that’s going to be a pretty hard journey.”
“Hey,” he said, his grin fading a bit, “can’t be worse than our trip here, not really. I mean, at least Matt and Karen are talking to each other again.”
Then he said, “He told me, you know. What I said when I was in the hands delirium. Scolded me for feeling that way. And yet had our roles been reversed…”
“But now you know you two were targeted because of him,” said Jemma. “I am not looking forward to seeing him process that, really.”
“Not actually a danger I saw coming, I admit,” said Foggy. “There was always the worry Daredevil’s enemies would connect him to the firm or something, but while I knew already Stick wasn’t a nice guy, I never imagined…”
“I didn’t either, not really,” said Jemma. “But I can’t say I’m surprised.”
Foggy’s eyes narrowed knowingly. “Let me guess,” he said, after a pause. “You know stuff because you looked it up in your secret somehow-not-leaked-with-everything-else S.H.I.E.L.D. database, and he forbade you to tell us.” At her surprised look, he said, “I know him, Jemma. I can make a lot of guesses, which I’m not sure I even want you confirming, honestly, because you might think him an idiot for making you keep your mouth shut, and you’re probably right that he is, but, well, it’s his secrets-more or less-and he has a right to be an idiot. Seriously, there’s a famous Supreme Court opinion that actually says people have the right to be idiots, though that’s about refusing to have a lawyer.”
He really was good at getting people to smile, even as she said, “It’s just so frustrating, though.”
“Well, that’s Matt,” said Foggy. “He’ll never let you help as much as you want to. And then he gets convinced he knows what’s best for you…you’re lucky, you know, in that he doesn’t then go and try to boss you around the way he does me and Karen, since you’re a big strong S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Did you know, just before I found out his big secret, he found out about her secret quest to destroy Fisk, and he was all mad and ‘don’t put yourself in danger ever’ when he was out every night…”
“That’s the thing,” sighed Jemma. “The crazy thing about his hypocrisies. Inevitably they involve him treating himself worse than other people.”
Foggy laughed, weakly, but he was laughing. “You’re finally learning, aren’t you, what it’s like to live in the orbit of Matt Murdock. He will confound you. He will frustrate you. And honestly, Jemma, if you’ve never wanted to punch him in his stupid, I know best and I don’t even have to consult you on it, the devil is full of tricks face during these three years, you’re not human. But,” he sighed, “he will care about you in a way that no one else could. And I don’t know about you, but I am a better person than I ever would have been because he’s my friend.”
So she wasn’t going to get anything useful relating to Stick out of Foggy alone, Jemma thought, but Karen was always the better bet there anyway, and meanwhile, he’d inadvertently brought a further clarity to her head that she needed then.
There was more consideration to be done then, of course, pros and cons, now determined, to be more carefully scrutinized. She thought about it on and off as she made rounds, as she talked with Lincoln, and then finally as she ate her lunch. And then, about an hour before Matt and Karen were expected back, she made her decision.
She dropped into the lab then, wanting the first person she told to be Fitz. But she found him with Skye, the two of them bent over the latest version of S.T.A.N., who still wasn’t working properly. “Jemma,” said Skye. “What can we do for you today?”
Jemma just smiled, and said to her, “You can agree to be my maid of honor.”
They wheeled Foggy through the building and out to the main entrance, him waxing poetic about fresh air and the smell of robot-mowed grass, even if the robot he’d seen mowing the grass still seemed a little freaky-looking to him. Jemma wasn’t sure he wasn’t even more over the moon as she was. Although he had been a little annoyed at learning Matt had proposed and she hadn’t told him that morning, but he seemed over that quickly enough. Or maybe the aggravation was just because his hair had started to come out. “Not the sight Karen should be coming back to,” he said to Jemma at one point. “I think she’ll miss it even more than me.”
There were multiple secrets, now, that Jemma would have to keep from him. Now that they wouldn’t ever necessarily have to know it, she didn’t know if Matt would ever tell them he’d been considering leaving all of them. She thought he ought to, but she didn’t have to right to force him.
Since word had long passed to everyone in the building by then, Jemma insisted when Maria Hill pulled her van up that she go in first, so Matt could hear about her acceptance from she herself first. Luckily he and Karen were the only passengers, and the latter ended up stepping out first so Matt could kiss her silly, the two of them pressed together on the backseat like a pair of teenagers. Maria eventually lost her patience and tapped on the door with a, “Unless you guys want an extra ride to the garage, get out now.”
Maybe they had spent a little too long holed up in there, because it took them a minute or so to spot the welcoming party, now taking a stroll on the grass, and even then Jemma ended up identifying everyone in it, just to make it easier. Coulson had taken over pushing Foggy’s wheelchair, and he and May were making further use of the trip outside to do a closer survey of the damage done to headquarters. They saw May lean over and whisper something to Karen, after which Matt exclaimed, “The Avengers are making them pay for it? Isn’t Stark supposed to be paying for everything?”
“Sometimes they get put out when we start doing their missions first,” shrugged Jemma. “As long as they can give Foggy the rest of his therapy, we’ll all live.”
Karen laughed, and said something louder, which seemed to amuse both the men too. It was good, Jemma thought, when she was newly engaged, to know that their families were able to get along.
When they caught up, Coulson once again offered his hand. “Welcome to the S.H.I.E.L.D. family, Mr. Murdock. You should be aware, we can put very high demands on our agents’ spouses, even more so when they marry superheroes, though even they will learn it’s not easy to be married to a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. We expect spouses to be supportive, able to function on their own for days and sometimes weeks, not too prone to prying, and we also strongly recommend they train in first aid.”
“Hey,” said Foggy, “I’m pretty sure he’s got all that covered.”
“Well,” smiled Coulson, “in that case, we also expect to have the wedding date reported to us as soon as its set. Don’t want to miss seeing Agent Simmons get married, of course.”
“It’s going to be a while, I think,” said Matt. “For one thing, we have to wait until the best man is healthy. Also maybe until his hair grows back. Maybe even until he fits into his clothes again.” He must have heard how loosely Foggy’s medical gown hung around him; he’d lost a lot of weight already.
“Now, hey,” Foggy protested. “Don’t go assuming I’m going to go and get fat again. I might not. I’m going to have a kid to support, remember?”
Karen chuckled, then said, “Did you contact those Japanese scientists?”
“We did,” said Coulson. “We’ve arranged it all. They’ve got the cure, and they’ll do the normal rigmarole and get it out to the public.”
“And you don’t want credit at all, Jemma?” asked Foggy. “For a cure people keep telling me you did something horrible to yourself to find?”
“No,” said Jemma. “I just…couldn’t handle any attention related to that.” Even now, talking about it this much, she thought too much about the fact that all six of them standing there had been dead, and none of them knew it except she and Coulson. She didn’t even know how May had died, though she got the impression it had been very shortly before the whole thing had been reversed. The next few months would be hard enough for the four of them as it was; she didn’t want anything else to deal with on top of that.
She actually hadn’t been trying to sleep, that Friday night, the first time he went out again after at last coming home. But it had been long enough a day she had dozed off, which had hardly been an unusual thing, except that while in the past, she would have been vaguely aware of his return but would not have reacted to the sound of him coming in, now the footsteps she suddenly heard in the apartment made her instantly wide awake and leaping to her feet, before she remembered it was just Matt.
Jemma tried to will her heart to return to its normal pace before Matt came into the bedroom, but he’d probably heard her entirely physical response. He came in with his costume hastily half pulled off already, and looking so anxious she said, “I’m okay, just startled is all.” She looked him over. He wasn’t limping, and it looked like his armor had held; he had a lot of blood on him, but Jemma thought most of it probably wasn’t his. That made her ask, “How…”
“Stopped a would-be rapist,” he said. “Had to break into his would-be victim’s apartment to do it, unfortunately. I left her with a lot to deal with, between the glass and the blood on her floor.”
“Less than she would’ve had to deal with if you hadn’t been there,” she reminded him, although her mind was already less on the toll he’d taken on the woman’s apartment and more on the toll he’d clearly taken on himself. “How’d you leave him?”
“Not sure he’ll be able to walk for a while. He’ll live though. There was a mugger too, but he dropped it and ran when he saw me coming. Or maybe smelt me…” He sighed, and shook his head. “I should shower.”
He came of the bathroom clean, but still looking so mentally beat up Jemma got up to hug him. She made sure to put her hands on bare skin, so he could feel the ring newly placed on her finger, a shiny steel band she could easily wear her lab gloves over and keep on while doing a number of her other tasks as well. “This feels good,” she told him, and sighed as his arms wrapped around her and his face buried itself in her neck. “You feel good. Be here with me,” she whispered to him, and she slowly felt him relax.
When they settled onto the bed she cradled his head to her breast, something in the past she had done more when he came home wounded, but now she needed the feeling of him being safe more, and maybe even he needed to know he was safe too, if in a very different way and for very different reasons than she did. “I wasn’t there, you know,” he said, “when the Avengers took Madame Gao down. And I should be relieved I wasn’t. But instead I’m sorry. Now she’ll never answer for what she did to those people, not really; they have other priorities up there-and I understand that, but I just wish…”
“I know,” she said. “I know.” She considered what to tell him, then decided to tell him all; she was still keeping one great secret from him and that was enough. “I tried to call her out on it, you know. Karen and I were trying to buy time with bullets and taunts so Lincoln and the other boys could get their power surge ready. I don’t think she saw herself as wronging those puny humans. She seemed to genuinely think she was doing them a favor. She viewed us all as so low, so…” She shuddered.
He tensed. “Did she...” he started.
“They got it ready before she could,” she said, and stroked her hands over his heart, where the devil raged, contained around her, but no longer trying to hide at all. He’d clearly let it out with a vengeance that night. They could live with that.
“Sleep,” she whispered to him, kissing his brow. “You’ve got a busy day tomorrow, remember. Working with your hands all day.” He was doing a lot of charity work on the weekends, now, one part of the penance Father Lantom was directing him to do. The priest was also trying to get Jemma involved in the Church’s work there, perhaps thinking he might make a genuine convert of her by the time they married, and not just a bride willing to jump through the hoops because being married in his church was important to her groom, but not really willing to believe. That was all going to horrify some of Jemma’s relations back home, but she really didn’t care.
“I love you,” he murmured, and pressed kisses to her skin. It was a display of tenderness he needed to make, she thought, feelings he needed to feel, to quiet the devil inside him completely for a while, or maybe just know that was not all that was in his heart.
Jemma understood that now, especially because it was partly for the same reason she whispered the same words back, and continued to cradle him. Her own devil had been quiet since that morning when Stick had brought that rage out of her, but the amount of anger she had inside her had again increased, which was only natural, of course, after what she’d been through and now remembered. She might never even have that feeling again, but she would still always be aware of it, what was in herself, and would hold her demons there, where, as with Matt’s, they could both live with them.
She’d made the right decision, agreeing to marry him.
“I’ll try to figure out a way to come in that won’t freak you out,” he whispered before they dropped off, for which she was grateful, though she wasn’t sure how he could do it.
Annie Nelson was born the day after her father finished the last of his radiation treatment. It was Jemma who delivered her, glad she’d stayed on the base with the Nelsons even after her fiancée had run back to New York.
It was strange, how relaxed she was as she did it, even as Karen made no attempt to keep quiet despite it being the wee hours of the morning, and even as Foggy let her crush his hand, he leaned heavily against the infirmary bed for support and looked ready to pass out from pure exhaustion the entire time. It might have even been the most relaxed she’d been as a medic since she’d done what she’d needed to do to save Foggy from the hands delirium. Perhaps it was simply the anticipation, that she’d known this was coming for so long and had especially thought she might end up doing this when they’d had both Karen’s due date and the entire schedule for Foggy’s cancer treatment.
It had been a long six months. She’d had a lot of bad days, and even though she had less of them now she was starting to think there would probably always be some. A long six months for them all. Matt still carried the guilt of what he’d done, and it still dominated him when he came home on some nights. Though at last he was done with the medical torture, Foggy leaned against that bed a hairless, diminished shadow of his former self. Even Karen seemed to have grown more paranoid, despite knowing the assassin hadn't been sent by Fisk, a bit more jumpy and a bit more cynical.
She thought he might have actually nodded off when she saw how Foggy jerked upward, at hearing the first cries of his daughter. “Is that…is that her?” he whispered.
“Who do you think that is, the baby being born next door?” Karen gasped out to him, a mix between awe, pain, and an exhaustion that probably almost matched her husband’s.
“It’s her,” said Jemma, as she carefully lifted her up so that both her parents could see her. “Let me just get the cord cut and her cleaned up. And maybe get you a chair, Foggy.”
He was still in that chair two hours later, he and Karen holding hands, but both asleep. Annie would soon need feeding again, of course, but for now she too slept peacefully in the little bed Jesse had managed to find in the back. Jemma stood over her, feeling more light-hearted than she had felt in a very long time, when she heard the footsteps, along with the clack of the cane, and felt even happier. Mack, of all people, had been the one driving the van coming up to headquarters at dawn, and he had texted her after parking, to inform her Matt was returned.
She went to the door to greet him, and was glad when he stopped there, allowing her to place a finger to his lips. He nodded, slid his arm through hers and tucked his cane under the other arm. He knew where the baby was already, of course, but he still let her lead him, and looked a little stunned when, after placing her finger against his lips again, Jemma lifted her out and placed her in his arms. “Annie,” she whispered. “This is Uncle Matt.”
The expression on his face as he ran his fingers over hers, and then when he heard her wake up from it, and for the moment just smile and gurgle, was enough to make Jemma’s heart sing. “Hello, Annie,” he whispered, grinning silly, helplessly.
And somehow, looking at him then, Jemma just knew, beyond a doubt, that someday she would watch as he shared this moment with their own child. She didn’t know how far in the future it would be, and what joys and sorrows awaited them in the meantime, but still, she thought, it would come. And he would be a good father, no matter what he thought of it now, with the same fierce devotion his own father had shown him, though maybe also with some knowledge that poor man hadn’t had.
The two of them together had just gotten her back into her bed when she wailed. Poor Matt hastily scooped her back up with a, “Did I do something wrong?”
“No, she’s just hungry,” Jemma said. “Take her over to Karen.” The Nelsons were stirring at the noise, and Karen blinked her eyes open just in time to receive her daughter from Matt. “I’m afraid this is what at least the next couple of weeks are going to be like,” Jemma told both her and Foggy, who was also looking blearily up at that them.
Karen made a noise of pain as Annie claimed her nipple, but even so her gaze was adoring as said, “Think that still might be better than this last one.”
“Eons better,” Foggy agreed. “Really, this is nice.” He managed to prop his head up on the arm of his chair and he too was just gazing adoringly at the baby. “Yesterday I was a cancer patient, and today, we’re parents. It’s at moments like these that you think maybe you’re through the worst of life.”
“Maybe we are,” said Jemma, and maybe it was daring of her, but at that moment she believed it.