See part 1 for all notes. Nearly every scene is controversial. You are forewarned. And no, I'm not about to get into a battle about it on the comments page. You can PM me.
~ To Seriously: I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I don't understand the logic of your objection - how do cursing and rape fall rationally into the same category of treatment?
If I don't like cursing and want it to stop, I don't curse and I mask the swear word with something else. If I don't like rape and want it to stop, I don't rape and I expose it for the horror it is - I don't try to mask it or the conditions which lead up to it, as it just makes the circumstances worse and is really a condoning of the behavior. I have an obligation to show it as it is, an obligation not to hide it. Vices end through suppression; evils end through exposure to the light.
I wrote the rape scenes to rip and to tear and to wound - to move the reader, to force us to think - not to titillate. They're meant to be agonizing, not fun. (If somebody's getting turned on by the rape scenes, there's either something wrong with the way I'm writing it or with the person reading it.) I wrote them because it seems we - me included - get more worked up about it happening to our favorite fictional characters than to nameless and faceless real people.
Do you mean because both bad language and rape are offensive, so they should be lumped together? But cocaine and food addictions are both addictions, but they're not treated exactly the same way. I mean, cocaine addicts want to get to a place where they never, ever touch cocaine again. I'm not sure doctors want food addicts to get to a place where they never, ever touch food again.
So, yes, seriously, I'm going to block swearing and write rape scenes; that's the logical way to condemn both. I guess I'm confused by the objection...?
~ To readers in general: I wasn't going to do this, but now that it's come up, I'd just like to mention a couple groups dealing with human trafficking, some specifically with sex trafficking. International Justice Mission, to begin; Not for Sale; ECPAT USA, which is teaming with a hospitality institute to stop human trafficking in hotels; Polaris Project; Hagar International, which is especially close to my heart. There are a lot out there, more than on this list.
OK, now I'm done and stepping off my soapbox. :-) Thank you to all who have read this far, and I hope the ending is satisfactory.
The day of Laura's first birthday party is, perhaps, typical of all that's craziest about life now. In the morning, Grant is led, in chains (Hand insists), through the helicarrier on which they're docked to an interrogation room. This time, he's behind the mirror, and as he listens to the interrogation of a HYDRA defector, he supplies questions for SHIELD to ask.
He's led back to the bus, where, out of sight of the cargo bay doors, Coulson, with a roll of his eyes, immediately unlocks his cuffs. He bounds up the ramp towards the lab, and his daughter stands up in her playpen and squeals in delight, raising her arms towards her father, who pulls her out of her playpen and tosses her straight into the air (that always makes Jemma's heart stop) before catching her and blowing raspberries on her stomach. The delighted shrieks of laughter fill the cargo bay, and the father finally sets daughter, giggling, on top of his shoulders.
There aren't a lot of supplies available to SHIELD now, due to the war and SHIELD's defeat in the area of public opinion, so they save and pool their rations (Fitz forgoes the spoonfuls of sugar for his tea) so they can have a homemade cake. Laura goes cross-eyed looking at the tiny lit candle on her slice. The candle was used once already, but it was that or buy a new one, and she's only a year old, so what does she know?
Letting her smear cake and icing all over her face and hair and body is the one indulgence of the day. Jemma fusses, but Coulson holds her back. "She's a baby, Jemma," he says gently. "Let's forget war and rationing for a moment and just let her be a baby for today."
There is no question now who the father of her child is. Even if Grant's clear affection for the child weren't enough of a giveaway, she is. Laura has outgrown her light brown hair and bluish-gray eyes and now has her father's ears and his dark hair and his dark eyes, though the shape of those eyes are Mum's.
When it becomes evident who Laura's father is, Grant gets a huge punch in the face from Coulson. More than a punch, actually - nearly a beating, which he stoically takes, and it's only the guilt in his face that eventually causes the older agent to stop. Jemma is horrified by the state of Grant's face and chest when she sees.
Grant's eyes are dull with guilt. He doesn't look at her as she administers treatment, doesn't talk to her the rest of that day.
She hears May and Coulson arguing about it.
It's Fitz who finally speaks up, and it's his status as Jemma's long-time best friend who gives his words weight. He concludes with a quiet statement: "Perhaps you should talk to Jemma."
With Skye, the trust is invariably broken, and Jemma is heartbroken for it. For months after the revelation of Laura's paternity, all Skye sees is a monster, her former SO, who abused her close friend. At the same time, this is now her former SO, her former SO, the man in whom she was interested not too long ago - the man who is now helplessly besotted with his little daughter - and even more so with his daughter's mother. Skye is both Laura's greatest defender and awkward aunt.
Some days Jemma wishes for the innocence they had in the months before HYDRA appeared: when they were just all SHIELD agents, when their world was uncomplicated - or as uncomplicated as a world of alien artifacts can be.
She still feels his eyes on her sometimes, both gentle and self-loathing.
On Jemma's birthday, Coulson administers the SHIELD oath again to Grant Ward. Laura sits on her lap and cheers along with Fitz and Skye. (Does May cheer about anything?) They congratulate him, and they troop down from Coulson's office to the lounge have a rare drink (rations, again), leaving Grant and Jemma alone temporarily.
She stands there with their daughter, who is having a contest with herself to see how many of her chubby fingers she can get into her mouth at once. He approaches her, and she looks up at him. She's about to joke about whether he's excited to be coming on their journey into mystery, but the words don't quite come out, and all she manages is, "So you're a proper SHIELD agent again" - but her pride and her delight shine through.
He smiles gently down at her. Then, his eyes twinkling, he puts his hands on his hips and narrows his eyes at her and turns on a gravelly voice, and does her 'Agent Grant Ward' impression. With the proper nasally tone.
She laughs instinctively, her smile genuinely bright across her face. Their daughter laughs because Mummy is laughing, and Daddy is smiling.
Even in her laughter, Jemma can feel tears slipping down her face. She doesn't know if it's because she mourns the loss of her innocence, or if she's celebrating the return of the Grant Ward she once knew.
He steps forward, cupping her face in both his hands. They could easily kill her, break her neck right now. Instead, he gently brushes the tears from her face and kisses her.
She discovers a year later, that, much to her horror, that all the SHIELD research - all her research - into the HYDRA implants isn't about saving HYDRA agents, like they did for Ward. SHIELD has developed a virus which will target the implants in HYDRA agents and trick the implants into believing they're being removed, thus triggering the failsafes and killing all the HYDRA agents. It's called Operation Heracles.
Grant is safe because his implants were removed, but all Jemma can think of is Laura Brown, and the crusty old doctor, and that sassy brunette nurse who helped her over those two-plus years ago.
There is very little she can do. She and Fitz and Skye are called in to help execute the plan, not to debate whether or not to do it. In the SHIELD meeting on the helicarrier, she argues vigorously against it. Victoria Hand and others are quite for it: after all, if HYDRA didn't want to die like this, they shouldn't have started the war. It's their fault. May and Coulson are stoically reluctant but see the benefits. Fitz and Skye don't look pleased at all, but orders are orders.
She uses the same argument she used against killing the super soldiers: they're still human. This type of mass biological murder is against everything SHIELD stands for, she argues. When it does nothing, she appeals straight to Coulson: doesn't everybody deserve a trial, she points out, using his words against him. The Nuremburg trials after World War II were exactly that, to demonstrate to the world that there was a difference between justice and what the Nazis had done.
She's outvoted. Not that she's surprised: she's been the "crazy b-tch who married that HYDRA agent" for ten months now, and it's reaching the point where it doesn't matter how brilliant her research is, it's looked on with suspicion because of her husband. She also knows it hurts everybody else on the team - hurts their credibility - even if they stand loyally by Grant. And, ultimately, all the good he's done in helping to bring down HYDRA is completely ignored, because, well, he's the HYDRA agent. And they still use the present tense in their description.
But if winning back respect means giving up Grant and Laura, she politely declines.
She retreats to her and Ward's room on the bus - the tiny little room carved out of basement storage. She tells him what's been decided - her clearance is now higher than his Level One clearance, so he wouldn't have been privy to that information - and watches as he says nothing.
He adjusts his new SHIELD uniform. He will be piloting one of the transports carrying the scientists doing this task. Up until five minutes ago, he had no idea whom he'd be flying and why.
"Grant, the doctor - the one who treated me. His nurse. Laura Brown. There have to be others," she argues. "You have to know some HYDRA agents who, if they were rescued out, would do the right thing."
He looks at her, his good eye looking just as dead as the other. He will fulfill his oath to SHIELD, because that's what he has just sworn. He will fulfill his oath to SHIELD because he won't endanger her or their daughter any more. But he knows just as well as she does that it's wrong.
It's killing him to do this. She knows it.
Jemma doesn't know enough engineering to fix the technological virus, and she doesn't have the time to learn. She also doesn't have time to alter the biological agent used to carry the virus to render it useless. She does, however, have the time to add a simple agent to all the vials to induce vomiting: none of the virus has time to seep into the body because the individual is too busy throwing it up. The temporary incapacitation will also allow the SHIELD transports to get out of range of HYDRA's guns, so they can escape without damage. It's only a temporary fix, but it buys her time to find a real solution.
She does not tell her husband. When he is interrogated, he can truthfully say he knew nothing.
The mission is a disaster, in more ways than one. The transports move in towards the HYDRA hub and release the signal. Their test subject in holding becomes violently ill, but not dead; that's the first sign that things are not going the way it was planned. As the virus releases, and the HYDRA agents become ill, the HYDRA helicarrier goes crazy, shooting wildly, and takes down a SHIELD plane. It's May and Ward, the first piloting helicopter back-up and the latter a transport, who manage to save the lives of the SHIELD personnel. There's confusion on deck as the transports radio back in panic.
What is even more shocking is the number of people ill on the SHIELD helicarrier. Terror runs rampant as the chief comm officer suddenly becomes ill, as do three of the crew on the deck of the helicarrier, and then Hand's right-hand man, post-Sitwell. It seems that HYDRA's activation hadn't actually brought out all the sleepers; it had missed those who had actively defected back to SHIELD (or simply refused HYDRA orders and stayed with SHIELD - whichever way one describes it). The chaos is horrible. It takes both Coulson and Hand to bring the helicarrier under control.
The medical bay is swarming with secret HYDRA-recruited, SHIELD-loyal agents. They're quarantined as SHIELD scientists try to figure out what to do.
Jemma is not with them. She sits in their apartment, her daughter on her lap. She has not been permitted in the war room, because she's no longer considered trustworthy. Laura plays with her stuffed rabbit, oblivious to everything going on.
Victoria Hand is furious. She knows exactly who did this, and she wants Dr. Simmons and her husband executed for treason. It doesn't matter that Agent Ward was actually in the midst of the battle, saving SHIELD pilots, when everything went south.
Hand points out, quite rightly, that this sabotage - and that's what it is - means the war against HYDRA has now been prolonged, and it doesn't ensure that SHIELD will win.
Skye knocks on their door half an hour later to announce that Coulson wants to see Jemma.
Jemma has made her peace with what will happen. She did the right thing - she will not be party to the use of biological and chemical warfare to kill people who are, yes, part of a terrorist organization, but have not been put on trial. That's the whole point, isn't it - justice? At the same time, she knows she has broken SHIELD rules, and there are consequences. When she made her decision, she also decided to accept those consequences willingly - execution included.
Her hands are surprisingly still and calm. She picks up Laura and gives her a kiss; her daughter beams at her and holds up her stuffed rabbit for a kiss, too. Jemma smiles, and kisses the toy on the nose. Laura gurgles at her happily.
Jemma turns to Grant, who is as still as stone. "Are you angry with me?" she whispers.
He shakes his head, and though this expression doesn't change, she can see the pain in his eyes. He would never ask her to be less than she is.
She smiles up at him, pulling his face down to hers. "You did the right thing, saving me and Fitz and leaving HYDRA," she whispers. "And I did the right thing, stopping SHIELD from indisriminate killing without justice."
He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out.
"A just war is fought for good ends, but it must be fought in a good manner," she repeats Agent Weaver's lesson, as much for her own benefit and reassurance as for his. "The ends do not justify the means."
He is silent.
She reaches up and kisses him, and he wraps his arms tightly around her, kissing her back with all the fervor and desperation of a husband about to lose his wife. She takes her locket, which has a photo of him on one side and one of Laura on the other, and puts it on.
She walks out of their room by the cargo bay, past the SHIELD agents giving her dirty looks; past the lab, where Fitz and Skye are standing silently; up the stairs to the main floor. She passes Triplett and Hand as she crosses the floor of the bus, and then climbs the stairwell to Coulson's office.
She stands before his desk, her hands folded in front of her, and she has an odd sense of déjà vu except there is no Grant standing next to her, dressed in a black tee-shirt, smelling of shower soap and seawater, shooting her concerned looks as Coulson yells at her for jumping. She can't believe how far away it all seems, when it was really only three years ago.
"Sit, Simmons." Coulson waves tiredly at the chair, not looking at her. She doesn't. "The virus download failed."
"I see, sir."
"I believe I'm far less disappointed than Hand wishes me to be." The older agent sounds weary. "Glad, perhaps."
Jemma says nothing. She knows that if she isn't executed for treason, it will simply be because Coulson has intervened.
"Captain Rogers and Commander Hill will be arriving in eighteen hours. We will debrief then."
"Do you want me here to be debriefed, sir?"
Coulson's voice turns steely and firm. He folds his hands carefully on his desk. "No. Why would you need to be debriefed, Agent Simmons?" he asks, his tone deliberate as he finally lifts his head to look her in the eye. "Do you have something to confess?"
"I - "
"Because I'm not taking statements," Coulson interrupts. "Now go see your husband and your daughter."
When the war with HYDRA is finally over, and the UN takes over the trials, she and Grant resign from SHIELD.
She goes into research - biomedical cancer research. He joins Interpol as a translator; he ends up a war strategist, including designing raids on everything from drug warehouses to brothels. (His boss doesn't probe too much as to where he gets his expertise.)
Skye wonders if they'd actually like this life, away from the adventures. Grant is done; he doesn't want to be at SHIELD any more, and his diminished eyesight takes him out of the running for major missions, anyhow. As for Jemma - well, she realizes that, as much as she enjoyed being in the field, the pain and the suffering has been more than she bargained for.
It's easy enough to blend in. They change their names, and only ever contact SHIELD through Fitz's secure channel. Grant gets Laura up in the morning, feeds her breakfast and gets her dressed, and then takes her to school on the way to work. Jemma picks up Laura in the afternoon on her way home and prepares dinner when she gets back.
They have two more children, both boys (much to Laura's visible disappointment), and their shrieks of innocent laughter fill the yard as their father chases all three around and around. They can't name them after their SHIELD colleagues - too obvious - but they pick names which reminds them of how far they've come.
Laura keeps her name.
The biochemist is sitting in bed, reading a medical article in the Lancet when her husband comes to bed. She smiles at him, but he doesn't return it.
He turns on the TV, and she looks surprised as Maria Hill and Nick Fury appear on screen. They watch as the two of them, flanked by Philip Coulson and Victoria Hand, speak. SHIELD is being re-established.
"It's been nine years," he comments.
She does the calculations in her head. Nine years since they first met, yes. Nine years since they started a journey that was less into mystery and more into pain and suffering. Hardly like Christmas - well, at least what the mass-market version of it is.
He doesn't say anything for awhile, and they watch the press conference in silence. When it's over, he leaves the TV on, so she believes the conversation is over.
That's when he finally speaks. "I didn't do it to win you over." He pauses. "I didn't believe it was even feasible."
She is about to offer comment, but wisely stays quiet. She takes the remote and turns down the volume, but leaves it on a little to fill the silence. She has no idea what he's talking about.
It's as if he doesn't know how to start. "When you and Fitz were first captured by HYDRA - when I first left - " He stops. It's not working. After a long moment of silence he begins again. "You asked me once why I confessed everything - my past, my ties to HYDRA, everything - to you."
She nods but wisely says nothing.
"I also told Skye once that every SHIELD agent has that defining moment, the reason why they join SHIELD." He takes a breath through his nose, tense. "For me, these are one and the same - it was you."
She is genuinely surprised. "Wait, I - what?"
He sits in silence for a long moment. "It feels like yesterday: you, kneeling on the cold floor in my room, dressed in nothing but your underclothing - sobbing, clasping my hands to your forehead." He is struggling to keep his voice steady, and largely succeeding, but there are tears sliding down his face. "Pleading with me, begging me, promising me you could stop crying long enough for me to have sex with you, if I would just please not let Fitz die." He breathes in. "I could see your ribs."
This is the first time she's ever seen her husband actually cry. She's seen him exhausted, frustrated, depressed - even see him with tears in his eyes. But never actually cry. Despite all they've gone through, this is the first.
He manages to get himself under control long enough to continue. "I knew at that moment you'd sacrifice yourself for Fitz. I could demand anything of you, including you in my bed every night. I could ask anything of you, and you'd give it to me, and not because you wanted to, but because you wanted to save Fitz." He took a deep breath. "Seeing you kneeling there - I was killing in you the spirit I had always cherished in you."
His voice is shaking in his confession. "Then - if I had been a better man - but then, I was HYDRA, so - if I had been a better man, I wouldn't have been tempted by your offer. But - " he closes his eyes. "I was so sorely tempted. Horrifingly tempted. That's why I had you sent away that night - had you out of my room before I reached the point where I'd take advantage of what you offered."
Her tears are dried on her face. She is silent.
"Until that moment - you always believe the rules are in place because others are terrible, because others have to be in check. Even when you admit you're not a good person, there's still that sense that at least you're not a bad one." His voice shook. "Seeing you there, begging me - it's when I finally realized I was the monster all those rules were there to protect against."
He is not looking at her, rubbing an exhausted hand down his face, over his hair. "After what I did to you, I didn't believe it was possible for me - or that I should be allowed - to earn back even your friendship, much less anything else. And it was soon evident to me that I loved a woman I had no hope of getting, a woman of whom I was entirely undeserving."
She watches him, her mouth slightly agape. He's never told her any of this.
He looks down at his hands, and carefully takes her hands in his larger ones. He keeps his gaze down, lowered so he isn't looking at her, even as she looks at his face. "And I had to decide - if I knew I could never have you, did I still do what I should do because it was the right thing, or did I just take the easy way out? The latter was horribly tempting, but I knew I should do the former, whatever the consequences."
She firmly believes it. She wants her children to do the same.
"That was the one thing that was you," he says, his voice quiet. "Speaking the truth and doing the the right thing, regardless of the consequences." He pauses. "And I made my decision."
She thinks for a moment, then frowns as she looks up at him. "Is that why you came back to SHIELD, instead of using your identities to disappear? May and Coulson could never figure that out."
"I had a lot of penance to pay for my sins. I'm not sure I've paid even a portion of them." His smile is bittersweet. "Going back to SHIELD was the right thing to do. It was more painful, yes - seeing you was pain and pleasure: knowing I'd damaged you enough that you'd never be who you were, and that I deserved to lose you; but seeing you, knowing that I was on the right track.
"I didn't do what I did to win you," he repeats. "I had no hope of it. But I did do them because I loved you." He is quiet. "You showed me what I should be doing, and why. If - if you had married Triplett, or whoever else - it wouldn't have mattered to me. I'd still have gone back, done what I did."
It's the most beautiful thing he could have said to her. "I'm not perfect," she whispers.
"I know that. I don't expect it. I will never ask you to clear a room, go undercover, interrogate somebody, do anything involving hand-eye coordination, try to explain science to high-schoolers, shoot a gun..." His eyes are twinkling at her, but they carry a weight and a sadness behind them. "But you - this - " his smile disappears, and he's just staring at her, all gentleness and intensity. "You pulled from a hell. You saved me from myself."
Her eyes are blurry with tears, and she flings her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. He buries his face in her hair, his long arms wrapping her tightly against him. "I love you," she whispers.