Jemma Simmons used to love the excitement and adrenaline of field work. The danger and the rewards were more intense than anything she'd ever done. She was part of a team designed to protect the citizens of Earth and its countries, and she had begun her work on the Bus with stars in her eyes.
The rosy tint on her metaphorical safety goggles has worn away. She hates field work now, hates the stress of sending her best friend and partner on missions, even with Ward at his side. She hates leaving the lab. She's starting to hate the Bus, too, not because it's too cramped or because it flies around the globe, but because it takes them into danger.
She wants to go back to the Academy and teach freshman about quantum biophysics and spend long nights working in her lab and never, ever go into hot zones. She doesn't think Fitz feels the same way. He tells her with enthusiasm all about his exciting, terrifying missions, about taking the DWARFs in and "bringing finesse to the art of reconnaissance." She's glad he likes it, but she wishes he didn't. It would be easier for her if they both hated field work. She worries about him. She worries about herself, what she would do without him. She doesn't like to think about it, but every time the Bus goes into the air, it's a very real possibility.
It's one of those terrifying, worrisome missions that he's come back from. She and Agent May are the only ones on the grounded Bus, waiting for sight or sound of the boys. Skye's still in rehab, working off the side effects of being shot in the chest. The mission wasn't supposed to be this dangerous, and that makes her feel even worse. She's worried for Coulson and Ward, of course, but they have years of fighting experience. Fitz only knows basic self-defense, and he hadn't done much better than Jemma on the firearms qualification.
She's bitten three of her fingernails to the quick—a habit she'd kicked in sixth form that comes back when she's properly nervous—and started on a fourth when the cargo bay door opens. The Bus is in the air before the door closes, and it takes Jemma a moment to realize they've got the boys back on board. Coulson's leaning against the van, panting heavily. There's blood on his face, but even from here she can tell he's okay; most of it isn't his. Ward looks much the same, though there's less blood on his face and more on his shirt. Fitz appears to be covered in blood from head to toe, and Ward is practically holding him up. He looks to be in bad shape.
Simmons doesn't even try to stop herself from running out of the lab. She doesn't care that she's wearing a shirt she actually likes and Fitz is a bloody mess. She latches onto him briefly before stepping back and inspecting him. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he says. He sounds winded, and Jemma realizes he's not been shot or stabbed. She wonders briefly how far they ran, and how fast.
She throws her arms around Fitz again. "I was so worried. When we lost communication, we knew something had gone wrong, but—"
"Simmons," Fitz interrupts. "I get that you're freaking out, but you might let me get a glass of water."
"Right. Yes. And, uh, maybe a towel." His shirt is ruined, but she might be able to save the jeans. He'll need a shower as well. Maybe two. She tears her eyes away from him, reminding herself that he won't vanish if she looks away, only to find that there's no one else in the cargo bay. She hears the clank-clank of footsteps on the metal stairs, and turns to see Coulson and Ward trudging up the spiral staircase. Coulson never lets Simmons patch him up, and Ward never admits to needing it.
She cracks open a cold bottle of water from the lab fridge while Fitz washes his hands, red soap swirling into the drain. She finds a rag and sets to making sure he really is okay. When he's downed all 16.9 ounces (she's always thought it was an odd figure; why not 17?), he starts telling her all about the mission, how it was a regular piece-of-pie recon until something went wrong and—
"Fitz!" she snaps. She can't stand to listen to it, not because it's boring or terrifying, but because he doesn't seem to notice that it's dangerous and it terrifies her whenever he goes out and his retellings only make her relive her side of the story. "Stop it!"
She walks a few paces away, bloody rag in one hand. Her eyes water, blurring the different white surfaces of the lab into one pristine blob. She shakes her head, unable to speak. She's never cried over him going into the field, even when he's gone. The last time she cried on the Bus was just after Skye was shot.
"Simmons?" He's trying to be kind and gentle, but she knows his curiosity won't let him leave her alone, even if she were to scream in his face.
She scrubs at her eyes with the heel of her empty hand as she turns to face him. She takes a long, shaking breath. "I'm terrified, Fitz. I thought field work would be fun, but it's—it's not. Every time you go out on missions, I worry. What would I do if you didn't come back?"
"Jemma…" Fitz takes the rag from her hands and starts scrubbing at his forearms. His hands are still stained in places, but he's gotten most of the blood off so far. "I'll always come back," he promises. "I'm a bit useless without you, if I'm honest." A corner of his mouth lifts in a sheepish smile.
Simmons backs away from him, crossing her arms over herself. "I'm not kidding around. I don't like field work any more. You were right. I'd rather be in a lab underground, far away from all this running around and getting shot at."
"I don't like it either! You think you've got it bad—I'm the one getting shot at! And I don't have the time to wonder if I'll ever see you again because I'm too bloody busy trying not to die."
Simmons scoffs. "You like the danger! You make it sound so romantic in all your stories."
"Yeah, because you like fieldwork but you never get to go, not since you jumped out of the plane—which, by the way, I still haven't forgiven you for."
"I didn't see any other option," she spits. "I wasn't going to risk everyone dying."
"You could have at least taken a parachute with you!"
"What would it matter if I had a parachute? I was going to die."
"Yeah, and I don't bloody need reminding about that, thanks!" His hands are balled into tight fists, and she's in tears.
It's not worth fighting about, she realizes. All the fight drains out of her, and she slouches against the table. "I'm sorry, Fitz. If you want to go out with Ward and Coulson, I—I'll be okay."
Fitz is still riled up. "Well, I'm bloody sorry, too! Maybe if someone had told me it was going to be this bloody dangerous, I'd have tried harder to get you to stay at the Academy."
Fitz realizes she's not arguing any more, and he throws the blood-stained rag onto the table. He huffs, and then says, "Jem, don't—I'm sorry." He reaches for her, but she twists away and runs out of the lab.
She makes it all the way to her bunk, bloodstains still on her jumper and her jeans, before tears start falling in earnest. She peels off the dirty clothes and puts on a tanktop and sweats, and then crawls under her favorite throw, clutches a pillow, and cries. Cries because she's always terrified Fitz is going to die, or she's going to die, or worse. Cries because Fitz is right, damn it, and she hates field work, hates the danger, but knows she'd never be happy in a normal lab, either. Cries because Fitz hates the constant possibility of dying, too, and it's her fault he's been dragged into it. And then she cries just because there are more tears left, and eventually she stops crying. Her head is throbbing and her throat is sore and her eyes are puffy and red, so she washes her face in her little sink. She's drying her hands when someone knocks on her door.
It's Fitz, of course, and when she opens the door, he's in clean clothes (a t-shirt and sweats, too), his hair is damp, and he appears to be clean of all the blood. There's a bandage on his forehead, but it's not big, and his jaw looks bruised.
"I'm sorry I dragged you into this, Fitz," she says.
He shakes his head and sighs. "Stop it. I just—I wanted to make sure you were okay before I go pass out. The adrenaline's wearing off, and—" He yawns. "Yeah, that."
Jemma giggles despite herself, and Fitz gives her a smile in return. "I am, though. Sorry, I mean."
"Oh, my god," Fitz sighs in loud exasperation and starts to walk away, but Jemma catches him by the arm, surprising both of them.
"I—sorry. I just—I mean, if you need a nap…" She doesn't know how to put into words that she needs to know he's still there and he's okay, that he's not dead or kidnapped or injured. "Don't go? I mean, you don't have to go, if you want to—"
He doesn't respond for what feels like aeons, but then he walks in and slides her door shut. She finds an extra pillow for him in her closet and he's asleep before she even pulls a blanket over him. All the worrying and crying has worn her out, too, and she falls asleep almost instantly.
She wakes up in the middle of the night and it's so stuffy in her bunk that she shrugs off Fitz's arm around her and kicks off the blanket.
"Jmm?" he mumbles.
"'S too hot," she says, still half asleep herself.
"Yeah," he agrees.
Her sweats are living up to their name, and after a full minute of sweltering stuffiness, she gives up and kicks them off, too. The air circulating through the room is much more comfortable on her bare legs than the sweat-damp pyjamas.
Fitz copies her, kicking off the blanket and his sweats, all without opening his eyes. He pats the bed next to him, feeling for Jemma's hand, and then she scoots in next to him, more comfortable without all the layers suffocating her. He smells like night sweat and shampoo and that strange metallic undertone that's always present on him. He wraps one arm around her and they both fall back into a blissful, dreamless sleep.