Disclaimer: Characters aren't mine. Title comes from the song "Bravado" by Lorde and the lyrics really felt applicable to this story for some reason. It gave me feels okay!?
A/N: So the actual basis for this story came from a dream I had the other night. I thought it would be like a short, four page drabble and we could all move on with our lives. I apologize for the monster that it became. I also apologize for having only marginal knowledge about HYDRA and geography and I apologize if the scant amount of German in this story is horribly wrong. I used an online translator and I did the best I could; if anyone has thoughts or pointers definitely let me know! Also I guess this story contains spoilers for "Seeds," even though it takes place (in my mind) in the months after that episode. I'm really bad at guessing and making up awesome head-canons so I didn't touch too much on Skye's 0-8-4 status. But I think, if you squint, you might be able to see my thoughts for what I believe her "powers" really are. Maybe? Anyway, sorry this is a rambling note. On with the story and I hope you all enjoy.
It's completely an accident really. It was supposed to be a simple retrieval mission, the type of thing they've done dozens of times before and while things don't usually go all that smoothly, it wasn't supposed to go like this.
They'd gotten word of an 0-8-4 in the Pyrenees Mountains and even though Coulson doesn't make it seem like it's anything major, they still change their course instantly and Jemma tries not to be disappointed. They'd been heading toward the Triskelion, which meant a few days off The Bus and a few days in just the company of a certain member of the team and Jemma knows that retrieving an 0-8-4 before it can fall into the wrong hands is obviously more important than a vacation but still. She's allowed a little sting of disappointment.
As soon as they land, it quickly becomes clear that they aren't the only ones after the object. They engage with a splinter HYDRA cell, desperate to get their hands on the object for their own nefarious purpose. But, in the end, their team gets the 0-8-4.
The HYDRA team gets Skye.
In the initial chaos of the retrieval and escape, it escapes everyone's attention that Skye is missing. Wheels are up before Skye's absence is noticed and while that makes Jemma feel horrible, it's nothing compared to how she feels when she realizes that Skye isn't just missing; she's been taken, she's in the hands of the people who just spent the last half hour trying to kill them. Jemma loses any semblance of composure as she begs Coulson and then May to turn the plane around and go back for Skye. Fitz has to lead her back to her bunk and he pats her knee while she cries into his shoulder; he's the only one who knows about the relationship she's been cultivating with Skye and it's a relief to be able to let it all go in front of him. Though, Jemma figures that her display in the cargo hold might not have been all that subtle.
Jemma doesn't care about subtlety. She just wants Skye.
Later when they've all come together to plot their next move, Ward suggests that Skye is simply being held for ransom and the HYDRA group will make contact soon. They'll do what they always do and sweep in, get the girl and take down the bad guys. Fitz suggests that it shouldn't be too hard to track the cell's whereabouts, regardless of whether they make contact first. Jemma doesn't say anything at all because she's too busy letting the ache of missing Skye steadily consume her.
Coulson and May exchange glances and Coulson's face becomes even more drawn. "It's not a ransom thing." He says gravely and Jemma lifts her head at his ominous tone. "They meant to take her." He hesitates, eyes flicking toward May once more. "There's something you all need to know."
You can't stop shaking but you try to tell yourself that it's from the cold and not fear to make yourself feel braver and stronger than you really are. In truth, it's stifling hot in the room they've put you in. Beads of sweat have collected across your skin and your trembling constantly sheds them. You're underground, you think. There's no window and the door has a flap that can only be opened on the outside so they can look at you but you have no control, no way to see outside. And look they do.
It's almost a relief, in a strange way. All anyone seems to be interested in at first is looking. You're like a fish in a bowl, one of Jemma's specimens under the microscope. The passing soldiers and other HYDRA members lift the flap and stare at you, sitting in a corner with your knees drawn to your chest, whispering about you in German, their cadence confused, excited or sometimes even bored.
But you know the looking will stop soon enough. The HYDRA team was in those mountains looking for an 0-8-4. And they got one. You wonder if you're a bigger deal than the object they were actually looking for, if you're some sort of great discovery.
You hate how there's a part of you that's curious, desperate for them to do more than just look. You want to know what they'll find about you. You want to know what you are.
Of course, that curiosity disappears the second the door swings open and two soldiers step into the room to pull you out of it.
The Bus is quiet around Jemma, aside from the constant hum of the engines beneath her feet. The sound that means that she's moving farther away from Skye.
Of course, there's no proof that the HYDRA headquarters is located in the Pyrenees or that that's still where they're holding Skye. But Jemma still feels like they're abandoning her, leaving her to suffer her fate alone. Jemma's heart seizes at the idea of what they could possibly be doing to Skye right now. Coulson's revelation about the truth of Skye's past only made her feel worse. They won't keep Skye as a hostage, they won't be interested in torturing her for SHIELD information that she doesn't have. They're going to study her.
Jemma knows. Because that's what she would do.
Of course, she wouldn't. Because this Skye they're talking about. Skye. Her Skye. But the HYDRA scientists won't care that Skye likes to sleep on her back with one arm draped over her face or that she thinks ketchup is weird or that she always cries when she watches the Harry Potter movies. None of that will matter to them. All that matters is what Skye really is and how they can use her.
As Jemma sits in her lab, she tries to keep her eyes focused solely on the polished surface of the table in front of her. It's better than letting her eyes wander toward all the instruments and wondering about how they could be used on Skye. It'll be a different kind of torture because they won't have to wheedle the information out of her. They'll just take it.
Jemma groans and buries her face in her hands. The helplessness she feels, the desperate longing to have Skye back, it's completely exhausting. She feels like she's going to fall apart. She has to trust that there's a plan, that they're not just going to leave one of their own in the hands of the enemy. But right now it doesn't feel like enough.
They give you a blanket and a bowl of what looks like some kind of soup and there's a greasy film on top of it and weird chunks floating around in the broth. You leave the bowl untouched and spread the blanket out on the floor. You're still trembling as you lay down on the blanket, unable to curl into yourself because your entire body aches and any movement just makes tears spring to your eyes. Your skin is bruised from their needles and your muscles hurt from being poked and prodded and pushed and pulled. It will only get worse, you know.
You're exhausted but sleep doesn't come right away. You're afraid to sleep, afraid of what comes next. And your mind is busy, thinking and hoping and wishing. You know the team is coming for you. They have to. That's just what you all do for each other. It's only a matter of time, you just have to make it until they come.
And you think about Jemma and how if everything had gone according to plan, you'd be with her now, off The Bus and enjoying a few days vacation in whatever city another one of SHIELD's headquarters was housed in. Sight-seeing with Jemma, going out to dinner with her, doing normal people things…it would have been wonderful.
Now you'd settle for never getting off The Bus again as long as it meant you were with the rest of team. As long as it meant you could be with Jemma.
"Did you know about Skye?" Fitz asks Jemma the following morning. He doesn't say anything about coming into the lab and finding her asleep at the table. He just gives her a mug of tea and a wane smile.
Jemma shakes her head, wrapping her hands around the mug but not lifting it to her lips. She feels cold despite the perfectly controlled climate in the lab and everywhere on The Bus. It's the kind of cold that seeps all the way inside of her and she knows it won't go away until she can put her arms around Skye once more.
"I had no idea." Jemma tells him honestly. "She never told me. Only that Coulson told her that her parents were definitely dead."
Fitz purses his lips, frowning. "Why wouldn't she say anything?" He wonders in a tone that Jemma knows means he's talking more to himself than expecting an actual answer. "Maybe if she had just-"
Fitz stops himself when Jemma glares at him, her eyes like daggers. Skye's secretive nature has nothing to do with the fact that she's been taken. There's nothing they could have done. Whatever tools HYDRA was using to the track the 0-8-4 registered Skye's presence as well. It wasn't Skye's fault.
"I wonder why she didn't even tell you." Fitz muses, tapping his fingers on the table.
Jemma doesn't say anything. She and Skye were still in the beginning stages of their relationship, they were still learning things about each other, Skye was still opening herself up to Jemma, letting herself trust someone for the first time in her life. The reason for Skye's secretiveness became all too clear to Jemma last night as she'd sat in her lab. Skye hadn't wanted Jemma's interest in her to be influenced by her unusual status; or maybe she hadn't wanted to scare her away. Jemma never would have let her interest in Skye become classified as "lab experiment."
She hopes that she gets the chance to tell Skye that.
They bring in a translator once they realize that you don't understand all the commands and comments being lobbed at you in German. The guy's name is Lukas and he has one of those sweet baby faces that you know groups like HYDRA (and SHIELD for that matter) love because they're so unassuming. He looks like the type of guy that you can't help but like. He also has a whole good-cop routine going on and he smiles easily and he tries to get you to loosen up by telling jokes in thickly accented English. He asks you your name and you tell him a lie, even though you don't think it'll change your situation much.
"Now, Ashley, we can help each other, yeah?" Lukas tells her as he brings her another bowl of gross stew and a heel of bread. "We can be friends."
You don't need any friends like Lukas. But you reach for the bread anyway. Your stomach is empty and your head feels fuzzy and foggy from the heat and lack of sleep and food and water. If you're going to make it until the team can get to you, you can't be completely adverse to the things they have to offer.
"They want to know what you are." Lukas tells you as you tear the bread in half and all but cram it into your mouth. "You tell me, I tell them. See, friends."
"Are you going to let me go?" You question and your voice is laced with sarcasm and doubt. They aren't going to let you go, that much is obvious.
Lukas smiles and nods. "You must cooperate. It's good for everyone. For you, especially."
You scoff and finish the rest of the bread. It's a lost cause. You can't tell them what you are anyway.
Over the next few days, Jemma realizes that there's a lot of things that she has never been able to tell Skye. It's funny all of the simple things that get put off when you think you have an exorbitant amount of time. Jemma has gotten used to falling asleep with Skye beside her; she's become used to curling against her in her sleep, reaching for Skye as she dreamt. She never told Skye how nice it was, how her presence seemed to soothe her and banish the nightmares that had plagued her since she'd jumped from the plane months before.
It's been just shy of seven months since their flirtations and shy smiles evolved into kisses and timid touches that quickly grew more self-assured and desperate but Jemma still feels like she started taking it all for granted. Skye was always there, just like she'd been since she first walked onto The Bus with the same look on her face that Jemma imagined she wore whenever she was being placed in a new foster home. Jemma never thought about what might happen if Skye just wasn't there.
Now she knows.
It's very unpleasant.
The Bus is quiet, lonely and sullen. Ward is in the cargo hold most of the time, lifting weights and whaling on the bag until he comes to her with split knuckles. She knows he blames himself for Skye being taken. They all do. But as Skye's SO, Ward has made himself determined to shoulder the blame alone. Of course, Jemma knows exactly how he feels. If it's not her job to keep Skye safe, then Jemma doesn't know whose it is.
Fitz and Coulson are working on attempting to track the HYDRA cell that has Skye and Jemma overhears Coulson constantly on the phone with various superiors, asking for intel or manpower to dedicate to the search. He lies about why Skye was taken; he tells them that she's just a member of his team and he will get her back.
Jemma feels like she does a whole lot of nothing. There's nothing she can do at the moment, nothing to analyze or study or work at until she unravels the mystery. Her two PhDs mean nothing right now; her skills, which have always seemed so exceptional and important, can do nothing now. There's nothing she can do but wait.
Jemma hates waiting.
Skye's laptop sits on one of the tables in the lab, only now there's no Skye sitting there with it, giggling at ridiculous videos or combing in Internet for interesting facts or developing stories. Jemma feels like it's ironic that the one person who could probably make headway in finding Skye is Skye herself. But Jemma doesn't understand the computer voodoo she works anymore than Skye knows her way around a lab.
So they all sit. And wait.
Jemma will never take a crowded bed for granted again.
They see your inability to answer their very simple question (Was bist du?!) as an act of defiance and retaliation. You can't answer them because who you are, what you are, has always been a mystery. Learning you were an 0-8-4 (whatever that meant) did little to shed some light on things.
What are you?
A SHIELD agent in training. A hacktivist. Jemma Simmons' girlfriend. Grant Ward's rookie. Phil Coulson's protégée. Part of a team.
You don't tell them these things but those aren't the answers they're looking for anyway.
They want to know what you are. A living weapon? A super soldier? Something they can use and harness and control?
You can't give them the answers they need, so they decide to try and take them from you.
Lukas clucks his tongue at you in disappointment after they jerk your head up from a bucket of water. You gasp for air, sputtering. Afraid. "You bring this on yourself." Your friend Lukas reminds you.
"Fight!" Lukas barks at you another time. "Defend yourself!"
You start to wonder the difference between being beaten and being broken. Because you're starting to feel like you're both. They want you to stop hiding who you are, to unleash whatever unknown power that you have hidden inside you. They pummel you, drown you, strike you, starve you and you've learned to say "stop" and "please" in German and it makes no difference.
You wish that you were concealing some sort of power, that you were just biding your time and waiting until you could unleash your true self and kill them all.
You want to kill them all.
But you aren't the thing that they seem to think you are.
You've stopped counting the days. You've stopped trying to figure out how long you've been in this room, in these labs, with these people. Instead you count the bruises, the lacerations, the number of times you taste blood when you purse your lips. You've stopped wondering about what you look like because you're sure there's not much to see beyond bruises and bumps and dirty hair.
Instead, you lay on your dirty blanket in your sweltering room and stare at the ceiling and think about Jemma because thinking about anything else has ceased to give you any sort of comfort. You think about her accent, her smile, the way she sighs your name when you touch, the softness in her eyes. She's the most patient person you've ever met and Jemma seems unable to give up on anything.
"It's been a week." Jemma protests the second she steps into Coulson's office. "Over a week. Eight days."
Eight days is a long to stay alive after your heart as been torn out of your chest.
Coulson gives her a patient smile but his eyes betray his own fears and exhaustions and his own worries about what that might mean for Skye. Eight days is a long time to be in the hands of an enemy who wants to know how you work.
"We're doing the best we can." Coulson says softly.
"No you're not!" Jemma shouts. "You aren't doing anything! Or we would have her back by now!"
Coulson doesn't try and stop her when she storms out of the office.
Jemma goes into the lab and sits in the chair where Skye constantly curled up with her computer and she glowers at the sleeping laptop.
Fitz works silently; he's given up attempting to cajole her into picking up a project or analyzing data. Her mind isn't in it, anyway.
Instead Jemma starts making a list of all of the things she wants to tell Skye when she's finally returned to her.
The first is I love you.
Jemma hasn't gotten much farther than that.
You start watching your surroundings and the soldiers who drag you from your room and back on endless rotation. No one talks to you aside from Lukas and the doctors through Lukas. But you don't need them to talk to you. They seem to speak volumes anyway.
The soldier that always reaches out to support you when you stumble feels bad for you. It comes off of him in waves. He'd feel better if you only smiled at him, made it seem like it wasn't so bad. You don't smile.
The HYDRA soldier that stands guard outside of the lab is afraid. You don't know of what (take your pick, honestly) but he's afraid. It will make him slow to react in a crisis.
The doctor reminds you a little bit of Fitz and even Jemma. Single-minded focus, a desperate determination to make you useful to their cause. All he thinks about is the science, the experiments, the outcome. He does not take part in anything that goes on outside his lab.
Lukas enjoys taunting you and yelling; he likes teasing you with a smile and then yanking the rug out from under you because it makes him feel big and important. He's brash and impulsive. His pride pushes him to get you to talk.
You don't get to see much during your walks back and forth from your room to the other places in the compound. But you try and look anyway, past the little windows on the doors to the rooms and to way lies beyond. One flight of stairs brings you to the outside, to the ground level. From there, it's anyone's guess what lies beyond.
Outside. If you can just get outside…
Jemma thinks about the first time that Skye asked her to go out with her. Skye kept skirting around the issue, breaking off her sentences before they were finished and doing a lot of mumbling and fidgeting. Jemma had only been half paying attention anyway, her focus on the results of a test she had just performed on a fungal sample.
"I think we should go out sometime." Skye blurted suddenly and Jemma looked up from her papers, studying Skye curiously.
"Go out?" Jemma repeated. "Where?"
Skye had sighed, exasperated. "On a date! You, me, an awkward first date and hopefully a second one and the chance to kiss you good night." She said. "You know…a date."
Jemma had felt her cheeks grow hot and nerves tangle up her stomach. "Oh…that kind of go out." She'd said dumbly.
Skye looked embarrassed. "Never mind." She said quickly. "I think I got confused and I-"
"That would be lovely." Jemma interrupted before her nerves and the anxiety that had suddenly reared up in her mind could get the better of her. "We should do that."
Skye smiled at her and Jemma felt her nervousness slowly start to dissipate. A date with Skye.
It wasn't until that moment that she even realized how much she wanted such a thing.
And yes, there was a good night kiss. Several in fact.
"I'm scared." You tell Lukas several hours after you've just had your head shoved in a bucket of icy water. As though the first dozen times they did that weren't enough and you were just waiting until you were tired of holding your breath. Of course, nothing happened because nothing ever happens. You're starting to get the feeling that your 0-8-4 status doesn't give you superhero strength or powers. If only they would realize that as well.
"Then stop fighting." Lukas says and he's wearing his I'm your friend smile and his tone is soft. He puts a hand on your shoulder and you don't flinch away. "Tell them. Tell me."
You lift your head and nod slowly. "I…I'm sorry." Your voice trembles and you swallow like you're pushing away tears. "I should…I should have just…"
Lukas pats your back and it makes your sink crawl. "We'll go to the doctor." He tells you, getting to his feet.
You let him help you up. "No. It has to be outside." You tell him, hoping that you sound convincing. Praying. "We need space."
You hope this bizarrely vague statement is enough to ignite Lukas' curiosity. It sounds like complete bullshit to you but all you need is for them to be intrigued enough that they turn off their bullshit detectors long enough to take you outside.
Thankfully, they do. The idea that your mysterious powers need a lot of space to manifest themselves is too good to turn down.
The sad-eyed soldier and the nervous one escort you as they always do with Lukas and the doctor in charge trailing behind. There are a few more curious onlookers following in their wake and while this makes you anxious, you're too far gone now to stop and think.
But let's be honest. Stopping and thinking has never been your strong point.
The extra gawkers can't change how perfect the situation is. They take you above ground for the first time in you don't even know how long and the sun burns your eyes but the air is cool and sweet and you want to turn your face toward the sky and soak it all in. But you're not really keen on being killed because you were staring at the clouds and marveling at the color of the sky.
The compound is encircled by high fences and beyond the fence are trees and thick undergrowth and brush that make you wonder how far away you are from the spot where they grabbed you. How far is it from the next town, how far are you from someone who could help you? How far will you even be able to run before they catch you? And is the fence electrified?
You push that thought away. No second thoughts. You'd rather die trying to make an escape than let them kill you because you can't shoot lasers out of your eyes or something.
Lukas translates your request to have everyone back up and give you plenty of space and after a few rounds of bickering, the doctor finally gives into your request and you judge that there's at least three yards between you and the nearest soldier. Thankfully the closest soldier to where you're standing is the one you know would hesitate and fumble when it came time to draw his gun.
You take a deep breath and a subtle step backward. You raise your hands like a particularly fervent Baptist preacher and lift your face toward the sky and you can feel the tension around you, the collective intake of breath, the mixture of fear and excitement at what will come next.
You turn and run.
Ward would be amazed. He makes you jog around The Bus on endless loops and you huff and puff and whine the entire time. Mostly because you don't want to. But still. He would be shocked to see you sprinting now. Your muscles burn and every inch of your body aches from the lack of food and being stuck in a room for however long. Oh, and, you know, being tortured for days. But still, you don't stop. You just run.
You make a jump for the fence just as the shouting begins. You've only ever climbed a fence once in your life, the night that you won your laptop playing poker with a few guys you honestly had no business hanging around. Somehow you managed to make it over with both you and the laptop intact and only your dress torn. You were laughing then, like you'd never experienced something so exhilarating.
You're not laughing now.
It's been days since you walked more than a few feet at time, days since you had something substantial to eat, days since you forgot what it was like to not be awash with pain and fear. Your clothes are torn, your feet bare and dirty. But you're pretty sure that Peter Parker would be looking at you enviously in this moment.
There's shouting and commands and you don't have to know German to know what the yelling means. The first bullet whistles past your ear and you don't think about anything but getting to the top of the fence. When you reach the top and swing your leg over, you think about just letting go and hoping for the best but it's too far to jump unless luck is really on your side.
One of the bullets hits the fence and rattles the mesh and you let go without thinking and when you hit the ground the air whooshes out of your lungs and stars dance in front of your eyes the way they did the first time you kissed Jemma. You were breathless then too and you just wanted more, you never wanted the dizziness to end. But now you feel like you're going to die and you know if you don't somehow manage to get to your feet and just run then you really will die and the last time you'll ever have kissed Jemma will have been in the kitchen on the morning before the mission when you were too tired and too distracted to give her anything more than a peck on the cheek.
What kind of goodbye kiss is that?
You fight down a wave of nausea and force yourself to your feet. Your legs buckle and you catch yourself before you fall flat on your face. You half run, half crawl toward the tree line and don't bother to look back. You don't want to know how close they are to catching you.
Jemma wakes up to find her heart beating in her chest and her hands holding the mussed bedsheets tightly. She was dreaming about Skye, though she can't remember anymore if it was about how things were thirteen days before or how they've been after. It doesn't matter, the effect is always the same. Pounding heart, brow damp with sweat, an empty bed.
As soon as Jemma walks out of her pod, she can sense that something is different. It's early, even too early for Fitz to be up in the kitchen making tea, but something is going on anyway. Jemma can feel it in the way that The Bus seems to vibrate under her feet, the subtle signs of an adjustment in course. She can feel it in the electric silence that seems to have filled the plane, tense with expectation.
Jemma goes to Coulson's office and he looks at her and smiles. "We got 'em."
The compound is in Germany. Almost a thousand miles from where Jemma last saw Skye.
It's harder to wait now than it has been for the past thirteen days. Jemma's heart hurts with longing, her hands itch to touch Skye, to pull her close and reassure herself that she's okay, that she's real, that she has her again. And she might never let her go.
You're not where you thought you were. That much is obvious. You don't know much about geography or finding your way when you're lost in the woods, in a foreign country, without even a pair of shoes (seriously, Ward should really have made that part of your training at least once) but you know enough to realize that you're not even close to where you last saw the team. It makes sense, in a way. HYDRA wouldn't have made themselves easy to find; if they hadn't strayed from their last known location, the team would have found you by now. It's completely logical. But it still pisses you off.
Eventually you stop being pissed off. It takes too much energy. You're too busy being cold, you're too busy giving yourself pep talks to put one foot in front of the other. The woods around you seem to stretch on endlessly and each tree looks like the dozens around it.
You're lost. You will die in these woods and no one will ever know what happened to you.
What a way to go.
The HYDRA compound doesn't stand a chance. Not when they're faced with five pissed off agents who just really want their Skye back. It's a take no prisoners mission and Jemma can only think of the moment when she'll be face to face with Skye and can hold the other girl in her arms.
Ward and May either eliminate or subdue the soldiers and Jemma's stomach turns when she finds an obviously well used lab while she and Fitz are searching the grounds with Coulson, looking for Skye. There are almost two-dozen neatly labeled vials of blood arranged on one of the counters and a few notebooks filled with scrawl that Jemma isn't sure she could decipher even if she read German perfectly.
But there's no Skye.
Jemma pushes down the panic that threatens to crawl into her throat and suffocate her, forcing herself to remain focused and professional. But Skye is nowhere to be found.
There's one guy who seems to speak pretty fluent English and Ward doesn't waste anytime taking him into the interrogation room on The Bus and letting out his frustrations.
Even though Jemma is afraid of the outcome, she finds herself unable to look away from the live feed, standing between Coulson and Fitz, all of them tense and desperate for Skye's whereabouts. Jemma's fingernails have carved crescents into her palms but she can't force herself to relax.
"Where is she?!" Ward practically growls, shaking his hand out after delivering another punch to the man's jaw. "We know that you took her. Tell me where she is."
Ward balls his hand into a fist once more and if he's hitting that guy anywhere near as hard as he's been hitting the bag recently, Jemma almost feels sorry for him.
"Verloren." The man says finally, wiping his split lip on the fabric of his shirt since his hands are cuffed behind his back. "Gone." He grins at Ward. "You're too late."
Jemma sinks to her knees and presses her forehead against the cool floor to steady herself. She doesn't make a sound, doesn't move a muscle. She just closes her eyes and waits. For what, she doesn't know.
You wrap your arms around yourself as you settle against the trunk of a tree, teeth chattering, limbs weak and shivering. You think about Jemma and the first time you ever kissed her, how you'd been painfully nervous and how you'd been thinking about doing it all night. Honestly, you'd been thinking of kissing her for long before your first official date (off The Bus and everything!) and even though you'd been around Jemma for months the sudden change in what you guys were (or could be) made you nervous and tongue-tied. Jemma had been the opposite, talking a mile a minute, on and on. It had made you feel better to see her so nervous too, though you couldn't understand how someone like you could cause that reaction in someone like her. When you'd finally moved in to kiss her, your foreheads bumped together and you'd been mortified. But she'd pressed her lips gently against your forehead before your lips finally found hers and you didn't feel so nervous after that anymore.
You never really felt nervous around Jemma, even though new friends, especially female friends who were painfully smarter than you were, had never been your specialty. Things had been different with Jemma, though. Comfortable. Welcome. You used to marvel at how well the two of you fit together in your tiny beds; the mattresses were not made for two but you made it work anyway. It was nice. Comfortable.
You close your eyes now and conjure up the image of Jemma there, laying in bed next to you, the laptop between the two of you, some cheesy horror movie playing on the screen. You can't remember the sensations, the way it had felt to be so close to her, but you can remember her face, her little smile, her soft eyes. That will have to be enough.
It seems almost impossible to force your eyes open again but your body seems to move on its own, without bothering to ask for your permission. There's someone, or something, out there. You can hear it, moving around the forest, moving closer to where you are. You'd rather just sit there with your eyes closed because it's less taxing but your eyes open anyway and you prepare yourself for the worst. Lukas. A HYDRA soldier. A bear. Whatever.
A dog. Huh. Not what you were expecting.
It's a big dog with thick, shaggy fur and its mouth open and tongue hanging out in the way that you always thought was sort of like a dog smile. It's huge tail is fanning the air and it inches its head closer to you, sniffing experimentally.
You reach a hand out, resting your shaking fingers in the scruff around the animal's neck. The fur is warm and when the dog moves closer, you can't resist the impulse to bury your face in the fur, savoring the marginal heat.
"Abbo!" A man's voice causes you to jerk away from the animal, a spark of fear flaring through your body. The man speaks in German and even though his voice is kinder than those you've grown used to hearing, you still feel the irrefutable need to escape, to get away and run.
You try to stand but unceremoniously fall back to the ground, barely catching yourself. You've gone as far as you can and that certainty, that inevitability really sinks in for the first time.
Another command in German makes the dog go bounding away from you and you lift your head to stare at the man. You'd like to at least look into the face of the person who will either kill you or drag you back to that sweltering room and the lab.
But the man is clearly not a soldier. There's a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder and he's dressed for the weather, not for fighting or stealth. There's a little boy hiding behind his legs, clear blue eyes peeking out from between a hat and a thick scarf. But he still looks scared. Of you.
You lock eyes with the man, who has an expression of trepidation on his own face. Mixed with what you think might be concern.
"Bitten." You say softly, one of only two words you committed to memory while with the HYDRA soldiers.
You can only hope that this time it has an impact.
Jemma has taken to sleeping in Skye's bunk and no one has said anything about it even though Jemma knows what they're all thinking. It's not exactly the healthiest thing that she could be doing right now. She knows this. It's pretty obvious that sleeping on Skye's pillow in hopes of finding some lingering trace of her there is not healthy. But she goes in there every night and no one says a word when she emerges from Skye's pod each morning. Not even Fitz.
That's how Jemma knows her new state is worrying the others. Fitz always has something to say.
But Jemma feels like she's entitled, especially because she has this list of things that she never got to say to Skye and now never will. I love you has been replaced by one, far more simple truth: gone.
Skye came into her life suddenly and unexpectedly. Maybe it's fitting that she left the same way.
Jemma's not buying that but sometimes it makes everything hurt a little less.
The first time that Jemma fell asleep in your bed, it was completely by accident. You'd been watching a movie together to unwind from a mission that had involved way too much running and almost dying and you'd both fallen asleep before the movie even made it halfway through its complicated plot.
You had woken up first, confused and disoriented because of the computer on your lap and the pressure against your side. Jemma had slept on, unbothered by your sudden, sporadic movements. The laptop you shut and eased onto the floor. Jemma you let stay and when you woke up again hours later, you found that you'd moved around each other in your sleep, shifting and realigning until you fit together effortlessly. That was the first time you felt a stirring in your chest, the spark that promised that this could be something. And how you wanted it to be something.
You feel groggy and disoriented now, confused and lost. You can hear the sounds of someone moving around, the muted noises of someone trying to be consciousness of the sounds they're producing. You're warm and there's a pressure against your side, comforting yet somehow unfamiliar.
"Jemma." You say softly and your voice is cracked and dry. "Jemma." Your eyes flutter open and you're not staring at the ceiling of your pod and the source of pressure next to you isn't Jemma. It's the big furry dog from the woods.
And it all comes rushing back to you and the languid feelings that had slipped over your body while you were sleeping and dreaming of Jemma disappear like they'd never been there at all. You jerk upright and everything spins.
Your surroundings are unfamiliar and your vision still spins and tilts a little as you turn your head to try and take everything in. It looks like a cabin of some sort: rustic wooden walls, a wooden floor underneath you and beams across the roof. There's a fire burning brightly in a stone fireplace to your left and an small, open kitchen in front of you. There's a woman moving around, taking dishes from the cabinets and talking in a low voice to the man standing beside her. The man you saw in the woods, the one with the dog and the rifle and the little boy.
Slowly you shift your position, unable to keep from remembering the things that Ward taught you during training. Assess the situation quickly and efficiently; look for threats; note the exits. Unfortunately you know that there's no way you're making a break for it, even if the situation called for such action. Your body feels impossibly heavy, sore and stiff. Your hands are wrapped in strips of loose bandages and when you try to wiggle your toes, you find they're bound as well. You can only imagine the state that your body is in after the hospitality of the HYDRA soldiers and wandering through the woods.
Nothing in the room seems overtly threatening. In fact, it's pretty much the definition of peaceful and comforting thanks to the warmth and sound of the fire and the smells coming from the kitchen that make your stomach rumble. The little boy from the woods is even playing beside the fire, a safe distance away from where you're lying. He seems oblivious to your presence as he makes his plastic animals move across the wooden floor, making them talk to each other in German. He's content to trust in the safety of his home and his parents only a few yards away even with a stranger in his midst; he has yet to come to the realization that safety and security are tenuous things that can be taken away at a moment's notice, no matter where you are.
The boy lifts his head suddenly and meets your gaze and you can tell that he's no longer afraid, just curious and you manage a smile that you hope is reassuring. The boy gets to his feet and hurries into the kitchen, tugging on the woman's shirt and gesturing in your direction.
It's almost comical how everyone turns toward you in unison and there are three pairs of unfamiliar eyes studying you from across an unfamiliar room. You try to offer another smile but it's exhausting trying to remain in an upright position and you lay back down once more, groaning at the movement. The dog beside you shifts and licks your face and you raise a feeble hand to try and push him away. It doesn't make much of a difference; he barely budges
So much for Ward being impressed by your physical prowess.
The woman comes over with a bowl of soup in her hands and even though your stomach rolls as you remember the strew from the HYDRA compound, you don't push the offering aside. It's embarrassing the way that the woman has to prop you up against her chest, holding you upright as she spoons the broth into your mouth and even though you don't understand the things she's saying to you, her voice is soft and soothing. That, coupled with the warmth of the soup, makes your eyelids go heavy and your head start to nod forward and it's not long before the woman is helping you lay down once more and you're lost to the waking world.
It's been almost a week since their worries and efforts to find Skye came to their unwelcome conclusion but Jemma feels like time is no longer passing the way that it used to. Or maybe the days have always dragged on like this, each second and minute feeling like molasses as it clicks off the clock and she never noticed because she was always occupied, always busy in her lab or with Skye or another member of the team. She knows that eventually she'll go back to her lab and spend her hours looking at samples and discovering the new and infinitely crazy things about the world that have been opened up to her since she entered the SHIELD Academy. Eventually they'll all go back to normal, everything will go back to normal and Skye will just become the ghost they all carry around with them before they set her aside completely. She'll just be the one they couldn't save, the failed mission, another casualty.
Jemma thinks that worries her more than anything else.
And maybe that's why she's taken to hanging out in the cockpit with May, watching the world pass by from forty-thousand feet. May is quiet and composed and she seems to understand the tumultuous feelings that move through Jemma on an endless loop. Most importantly, she seems to know how to carry her ghosts around with her so that she never truly loses them.
But mostly, Jemma enjoys her silence, the rumble of the air as it passes by and the quiet but constant garble of chatter from the radio. Jemma knows that Skye used to do this sometimes; she'd come and sit with May and neither of them would say anything but it still seemed somehow relaxing and meditative for them both. And now Jemma is starting to understand why.
Slowly, you start to feel like your old self again. Physically, anyway. There's still parts of you that are missing, pieces that have been taken away that you're not sure if you'll ever find again. Pieces that are actually the people that are missing from your life, the people that make each minute you spend away from them agonizing. The team. And Jemma.
During the day, you focus on growing stronger. Being able to walk more than a few steps at a time, helping Ines in the kitchen or following Maximilian and Abbo outside even though you can't keep up with them as they run around and play in the yard. At night, you dream about Jemma.
You've managed to come up with a crude sort of communication with the family that involves a lot of gesturing and it makes you feel like you're playing the world's longest game of Charades.
You've always hated that game.
Maximilian seems to find you endlessly hilarious and is always giggling at your elaborate and exaggerated gestures but Thomas and Ines watch you with earnest as you attempt to decipher each other.
You borrow some of Maximilian's crayons and draw a passable version of the American flag and point to yourself and both Ines and Thomas nod and give you a look that easily translates to duh in any language. You put your meager art skills to the test trying to draw a building and even though you know it's not going to make a difference, you write the words American Embassy underneath it just to make yourself feel better. You draw an arrow connecting the two pictures and hope that it all makes sense. Somehow.
Ines and Thomas talk to each other as they look at the picture and Ines shrugs but Thomas seems more contemplative and you're a little embarrassed by how lopsided and lumpy your building looks.
"I need to go to the American Embassy." You say out loud because sometimes it makes you feel better to hear your voice even though you're the only one who understands what you're saying.
But Thomas nods and you feel a grin spread across your face. "Danke."
Jemma is in her usual spot in the copilot's seat when May receives the orders from Coulson to alter their course and head toward the American Embassy in Germany. May looks like she wants to question this decision but settles instead for looking at Jemma with an arched eyebrow and an expression that might pass as curious.
And though she doesn't know why, Jemma feels a stirring in her chest, a jolt of excitement after three weeks of nothing. It's a faint spark but it's there nonetheless. And she finds herself eager for the first time in days.
At first, no one at the Embassy wants anything to do with you. You're still definitely a mess, even though the time you spent with Thomas and his family improved your generally sorry state. You're wearing Ines's clothes, which are about three sizes too big for you and Ines has cut a few inches off your hair because it was nearly unsalvageable after your time with HYDRA and in the woods. But you have a feeling that what makes most people look away is the expression in your eyes, the shadows that lurk there with the longing and desperate need to find where you belong. That's something you're used to after your time at St. Agnes.
But finally someone listens to you long enough for you to actually explain who you need to get in contact with but it takes talking to three different people before you actually find someone you believes that you're actually a SHIELD agent. Or, well, a SHIELD asset anyway.
And from there, it's just waiting. You're not good at waiting. You do a lot of pacing around the "rec" room, which is really a television constantly playing CNN and a ratty old couch and a ping pong table. You actually get pretty good at playing ping pong with yourself, bouncing the ball against the wall endlessly until the click of the plastic against the paddle becomes almost soothing.
It's funny, in a way, that even after you escaped the HYDRA compound and managed not to die from exposure in the woods, that you're still just waiting around for the team. At least they have coffee here.
When the team finally does show up, they don't find you shivering and bruised on the floor of a room in the HYDRA compound. They don't find you half dead in the woods, lost and nearly delirious. They find you on a couch watching CNN with a cup of coffee in your hands and it's so banal, so anticlimactic that it's almost a relief. You'd rather them see you like this than the way you have been.
Now that the moment has finally come, you don't know what to do. It's like meeting everyone for the first time, only worse because you can't just go in all smiles and bravado and pretend like everything is fine and dandy. Everything is not fine but it's on the way back in that direction. Especially now that the team is here.
But when Jemma steps out from behind Ward, everything else falls away. You can't think past the very simple truth that Jemma, your Jemma, is right here, only feet away from where you're standing now.
That's too far away in your opinion.
You go to her and you meet in a tangle of limbs, twining around each other and fusing back together. You press your face against the curve of her neck and reacquaint yourself with the things that your memories couldn't conjure up: the smell of her shampoo, the softness of her skin, the warmth of her.
You close your eyes and hold her close and this makes it all worth it.
"We thought you were dead." Jemma tells Skye softly, some time later, when they're all back on The Bus and putting Germany far behind them.
They're in Skye's bed, curled together and facing each other and Jemma is trailing her fingers gently across the curve of Skye's cheek. She feels like there's no way that she can possibly be close enough to Skye right now to constantly chase away her fears and her worries that this is all a dream and that she'll wake up in an empty bed once more and Skye will really, truly be gone. She feels like she constantly needs to be touching Skye, even in some small way, just to make sure that she doesn't slip away again.
But Jemma knows that having Skye back isn't just a dream or wishful thinking. Skye told them everything, about her time in the compound and her escape over the fence and how Thomas and his family had taken her in when she would have died otherwise. Jemma understands the meaning of the HYDRA man's words now; Skye had gone, she'd slipped through their grasp and the team's almost simultaneously. Jemma feels like she's capable of strangling that guy with her bare hands. He could have clarified.
"I'm sorry." Skye says softly. She takes Jemma's hand in hers and pressing a kiss against her palm. "Sorry it took me so long." There's a spark of amusement in her eyes.
Jemma just smiles softly and twines their fingers together. They haven't talked much about the specifics of how they both spent the past few weeks; they're both still too drunk on the sensation of being together once again. Jemma knows all of that will come later and for now, she's fine with things being the way that they are. She has Skye here once more and it's hard to see past that.
"Coulson…told you about me, didn't he?" Skye questions tentatively, her eyes searching Jemma's. "About…why they…"
Jemma just nods and Skye just sighs and grimaces. "I…I'm sorry I didn't tell you before."
"It doesn't matter." Jemma assures her, moving closer to Skye so their foreheads rest together. "None of that matters."
Skye looks skeptical in spite of herself. "But-"
"I love you." Jemma interjects and Skye quickly falls silent, a look of surprise crossing her face as her cheeks grow pink. "I never said it before and I thought…I thought I might never get the chance and I…I love you."
Skye smiles at her and kisses Jemma softly. Jemma pulls her closer and feels herself starting to let go of the heaviness she's been carrying around with her for so long.
Jemma falls asleep with her arms wrapped around you and her chin tucked against your shoulder. Her breath is warm against your skin, her chest brushing against your back with the steadiness that comes in sleep. You feel the fuzziness of sleep starting to settle over you and there's no reason to fight it, not now, not anymore. You're safe here, in this place, with these people, with Jemma.
In the morning, when you wake up, the first thing you'll see will be Jemma. You won't have to rely on your memories anymore, you'll be able to create new ones, even if they're full of the mundane and ordinary. The things that you've come to love doing with Jemma. The things you've come to love about your life since you first set foot on The Bus.
There's something to be said about the mundane. The days when you're not being shot at or almost killed or even kidnapped or lost in the woods. You're definitely going to appreciate the days when all you do is waste time on the Internet and listen to Jemma ramble on about science.
And, of course, kissing Jemma in the middle of her rants so she just gets flustered and forgets her train of thought.
That's pretty nice too.