That was how it had been going, most recently. From the time they’d found each other on this spaceship, they’d tried to never be more than a few meters away from each other, the general feeling being that they should take no risks of losing each other, at least until they found someone else. The first time they’d slept, they’d kept a distance from each other, but now, eight sleeps later, this wasn’t the first time they’d at least woken up pressed against each other. They’d even hugged while awake a couple of times.
So far, they hadn’t manage to spot any other living thing, but all the same, they were pretty sure they weren’t alone on this ship. The corridors they wandered through were too clean, for one thing, considering how much time they’d definitely been up in space. For another, at one point there’d been a lot of space junk outside the windows, and the ship had run into nothing, indicating someone had to be steering it, though of course that could’ve been by remote. Also, more than once they’d both had that prickly feeling at the back of their necks that they were being watched.
Not at all an ideal situation for repairing a relationship, but at least they’d been forced to get used to each other as they were now. Fitz clearly hadn’t expected Jemma to put full trust in him for the first few hours after their reunion, but now he did, at least when they were back to back S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and seemed to accept that without protest.
She heard him let out that groan he always did when roused before he’d slept as much as he would’ve liked, and looked down, as she tried to pull them up. The protesting noise he made and the sight of him snuggling further into her was so reminiscent of countless mornings it hurt, the longing a hit to the gut.
“I know we should get up,” Fitz murmured, “but what’s the point? Maybe we should just make them come to us.”
“We’re going to have to get food and water,” Jemma reminded him. At least the ship had stores, and in places where they’d been able to find them. Put there deliberately, probably. She understood Fitz’s sentiments; she didn’t know what game their captors were playing, but she knew it was wrong of them to play it. “Or at least relieve ourselves at some point.” The ship had plumbing, and places for that. They’d each take a turn in them, with the other standing right outside. It was still the furthest apart they ever got.
“Few more minutes, at least?” That Jemma certainly had no objection to. Quite the opposite. This was something Fitz hadn’t shown interest in before just now, and it felt good, the way very little had since the moment she’d first discovered there were LMDs on the base. She could forget everything for a few moments like this.
Until Fitz said, “This I never did with her. I never just snuggled up to her and listened to her heartbeat. I….couldn’t even imagine doing it, really.”
It made sense, she supposed, if that was why he was doing this. There were plenty of reasons, of course, that for the moment he wasn’t touching her much. But one of them had to be how badly his memories of their physical intimacy were tainted, stolen and appropriated by Aida.
Jemma had, for her own part, also reminded herself that he was essentially a rape victim, even if she feared he’d never be able to bring himself to call it that. So she kept herself still, tried to stay relaxed, and also tried to come up with the words to tell him he could touch, or ask her to touch him, but she had to be sure he wasn't feeling pressured.
Before she could, he continued, “I don’t think she entirely liked how I turned out, being raised by my dad, or would have, had she ever understood what that meant. There was a lot of…what’s the new phrase? Toxic masculinity?”
“Sounds right,” said Jemma, trying to keep her voice neutral. Painful as she feared the next few minutes were going to be, this had still been what she’d been hoping for. Just for Fitz to talk to her.
“For the longest time I could never let myself be vulnerable,” he said. “Not to anyone, at least after he took me away from my mum. And the way he taught me to think about women…honestly, Jemma, when I’ve thought too much about it, I’ve thought thank God I didn’t meet you, because if I had, I still would’ve…” He stopped like he couldn’t bear to go on.
“But with her,” Jemma nonetheless had to point out, much as she didn’t want to hear about it. “Didn’t she…”
“Base my relationship with her on ours? Oh, she tried, all she could. But the more I think of it? She didn’t know what she was doing. She couldn’t understand, not then.
Ophelia, she was…she was like the noble lady in the medieval stories that knights loved. I adored her. I would do anything for her. I worshiped the ground she walked on. I think maybe I loved her in a way, but I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know.” No declaration he’d still never loved anyone but her, but Jemma had never wanted that from him.
“But…she was still a prize. A precious one to be protected, and-and a goddess to be obeyed….I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms…and while I can’t say I never let myself be vulnerable to her, I was always scared of her and that she’d despise me for it whenever I did. And even when we were best friends at the Academy, I don’t think I ever viewed her as a person like myself whom I could connect with. I only pretended I was doing so.” At that last sentence, his tone went right back into self-disgust.
And no, Jemma was not going to have that. She understood Fitz might never repudiate Aida the way he ought, but she drew the line at him feeling guilty over supposedly wronging her. “Are you sure she wanted that?” she asked, and she couldn’t keep herself from sounding snappish. “She made for herself a world that worshiped her, after all. More likely you were exactly what she wanted.”
He didn’t protest, which surprised her a little, saying, “Well, I suppose she found me being the way I was convenient,” if doubtfully.
They fell silent, then, for a minute or so. Jemma was just about to suggest they get up when Fitz said, “I know what I did do to you is far worse, but…I can’t stop thinking about the fact that if Ophelia hadn’t taken you out of my life and replaced you with herself…I would have viewed you that way. I still wouldn’t have loved you right. There was never a way we could’ve…”
“But this is now,” said Jemma, using the words she’d repeat until they took, or she found better ones, or one or both of them bit the dust. “You’re doing *this* right now. And you’ve never worshiped me, not like that.”
“I know,” he said. Then, voice trembling. “But it’s harder now, you know. I suppose maybe I hadn’t never heard that little voice in my head telling me this is unmanly…but now I hear it regularly. And I have…thoughts…about you. I know they’re wrong, I know you’re my equal, I know I should never think otherwise, but I can’t stop.”
“Get practice ignoring all that?” she tried. “Surely you had to learn to do that once. Every bloke who doesn’t spend his life as a stoic asshole probably has to in our world.”
“Yeah, kind of, maybe…” Fitz let out a long breath. “But…the other thing is, all those awful things I did for Ophelia, if you wanted me to do them? Well, I might balk initially. One thing my dad did do was making me more….compliant…in general. But if you wanted me to enough, and tried hard enough? I think you could get me to do every last one of them again.
I know you never would, of course,” he hastily added, and yeah, they were both of them clinging on to that fact. Even with that reassurance, the knowledge that, practically, it didn’t need to come to anything, knowing she had that kind of power over him was unsettling.
“And,” he continued. “I’ve been having more bad thoughts. Of what happens if we ever get the advantage over these assholes that have taken us captive.” Jemma flicked her gaze around the walls, wondering if there was some hidden camera there they couldn’t see, but Fitz sounded like he was way past giving a damn.
“Can’t say I haven’t been having a few thoughts myself,” she said, and really, their captors would have to be extremely presumptuous to think they wouldn’t be angry, so this wasn’t telling them anything they shouldn’t already know.
“But you wouldn’t…” Fitz sighed, and pressed himself further into her chest. “I know how to hurt them now. Instinctively. Not even just in a laboratory, in an open fight too. It’s a thing I’ll never be able to not know again.” He did raise his voice a little, clearly hoping any eavesdroppers took note, but it was still mostly anguish.
“That,” Jemma replied, “is only an enhanced version of what we’d all long become already. It’s what may help us survive on this ship.” That was probably giving away information, but, Jemma decided, if they were finally talking, it was worth that. She’d rather die in Fitz’s embrace than live having lost him.
“You’ve long become,” Fitz murmured, almost to himself. “Of course you have. Anyone who’s been through what you have would, and I’d have never blamed you for that part anyway.
You’re still you, anyway,” he continued. “I saw you at your ugliest two years ago, and even then you were you. Even when you got scared and hostile to Daisy’s new powers, you still wanted to help. Even when you wouldn’t forgive me, you dropped all that when the base got invaded. You’re brilliant and foolish and idealistic, even now, you’ve got the biggest heart I’ve ever seen, and the biggest stubbornness streak-which can be either or a good or a bad thing, same with your ruthlessness. You’re a true friend and a wonderful girlfriend, even when you’ve driven me crazy as both.”
His voice was near hoarse as he finished, “I loved you when you were at your best and I loved you when you were at your worst, and unless someone forces me to forget to again I’ll love you with every last beat of this fucked up heart.”
“And I love you,” Jemma said. She couldn’t help it. Even as she briefly had to brace against the memory of the last time she’d said those words to him, and she’d meant them, even then. That was probably what he’d meant just then when he’d called her foolish, and he was right, but there it was. As was the rest of it: “And I’m going to keep on loving you for as long as I’m who I am, even when neither of us can stand it…”
“You love me as much as I love you.” Jemma wasn’t sure if Fitz was genuinely stunned, or just overwhelmed by that fact. “I never wanted that for you, you know. For you to love me back romantically, yes, but…I never wanted your happiness to be dependent on me like this.”
“Oh, Fitz,” she sighed, “it was already. Long before I went from just loving you to being in love with you. I thought you knew that.”
Another pause and then, he said, “You’re right. Maybe I should’ve. Didn’t want to. Isn’t that silly. Hardly the worst thing either of us has had to face about each other, right?” He let out a mirthless chuckle.
But this was such a minor sin Jemma wouldn’t let him brood over it. Instead she reached down and touched his hand; and to her relief, he wrapped it around her own. “Add it to the list of things we’ll just have to cope with, then. Together.” It wouldn’t be such a hard thing to cope with normally. Even now, it wouldn’t be if they could just solve all the other bigger problems.
“Fair enough,” said Fitz. “And really, I always knew I couldn’t demand you love me in a certain way. I suppose I can’t really demand you not love me in a certain way either.”
“No, you can’t. So,” she tried to summon some cheer, just a little, as she continue, “so, really, Fitz, you should start behaving accordingly.”
What cheer she’d managed was driven away by Fitz’s broken, “How? I still can’t even look…”
“Then close your eyes,” Jemma told him, on an impulsive idea. “Keep them closed,” she instructed, and Fitz obeyed, saying nothing even as she moved herself down. She herself still hadn’t looked him right in the face much since the Framework. But the look he bore now, his eyes screwed shut, his mouth parted to take frantic breaths in and out, filled her with so much tenderness, there was no room for fear.
“Can I kiss your face multiple times?” she asked, because she was going to ask when it came anything like that, at least for a little while. At his nod, she pressed her kisses to his nose, his cheeks, his trembling chin. “My face is right in front of yours,” she whispered. “You can kiss it, if you want. Or we can just stay like this for another minute or so, or even get up. Up to you.”
She watched his expression turn hesitant, and then he moved forward, eyes still closed, and his lips brushed a clumsy path, from above one of her eyes downward, running down the side of her nose.
They met hers, and she wasn’t even sure who opened their mouth first, but a moment later they both had, their tongues were wet and hungry against each other, and oh God, Jemma had missed this so much. Fitz had too, if the way he whimpered into her mouth was any indication.
A moment later he drew back, and she could guess what he was thinking. “It’s all right,” she whispered. “You can be needy, weak, vulnerable. You don’t need to be scared, or ashamed. You know that.”
“Jemma...” Her name on his mouth had never sounded so wrecked, and she knew he was done even before the sobbing started.
His head fell on her chest as he cried, same position as they’d started the conversation in, ears straining for her heartbeat. He was crying out of pain and guilt, of course, but she hoped there might be at least a little of relief in there too.
He could have her heart, same as he’d probably had it for most of the time they’d known each other. Jemma didn’t cry herself this time, just held him close, the man she now knew she had back with her.