bcfictionalboysarebetter on Tumblr suggested a Fitzsimmons AU based on the Doctor Who episode The Girl Who Waited. Since I love the show (and especially the relationship between Amy and Rory) I thought I'd give it a go.
Massive thanks go to my wonderful betas notapepper and StarryDreamer01 for all of their help and support. You guys rock.
In retrospect, Jemma should have realized the mission was doomed from the start.
Several weeks had passed since the utter disaster that was San Juan and since Skye had met her father and somehow acquired the ability to cause seismic tremors at will (and sometimes against her will). Several weeks since they had lost Trip.
Skye was taking it the hardest; she blamed herself for his death and wouldn't hear a word against it, no matter how much they tried to reason with her. It was her own cross to bear, she said, and the best way for her to deal with it was to learn to understand and control her new abilities.
They hadn't gotten very far on the understanding part. Without the obelisk and lacking any sort of sample of the mist or crystal that Skye had said it released, they had nothing to go on but conjecture. Jemma had taken blood and tissue samples and, after comparing them to samples left over from their time on the Bus, had concluded that there was definitely a difference in her cellular structure and DNA-but she couldn't explain it. With only human DNA to go on as a baseline, she could only describe it as human plus extra. Once it was determined that Skye's new abilities weren't immediately detrimental to her health, the focus had switched from understanding to control.
There wasn't much more they could do that Skye's training with May hadn't already accomplished, either. She tended to unwillingly cause small quakes and tremors if she grew overly tired or emotional, and in those times she had to rely on all the calming and meditation techniques May had taught her in order to regain control of herself and make the shaking stop. Eventually she could learn to properly use her abilities, but before that could happen she had to first accept them.
Utility would come in time, Jemma reasoned. Right now Skye's emotions-everyone's, really-were still too raw to even begin thinking about moving past, moving on. So everyone at the Playground became accustomed to the occasional rattling of tables and chairs, and made sure not to place breakable objects close to surface edges. The days began to slip by, one by one.
Jemma was working in the lab when she got a call to report to the Bus for a mission briefing. She set aside her current run of sample analyses as quickly as she could and shed her lab coat before heading to the hangar, her curiosity piqued. She knew May, Hunter, and Bobbi had just recently returned from doing a recon of a location Coulson believed might have a lead on information regarding the Kree, the alien race Skye had confirmed had ties to whatever it was she had now become. Maybe they had turned up some useful intel and Coulson was preparing them for a full-blown op.
As she approached the lowered ramp of the Bus, she could see that she was the last of the usual team to arrive. May was standing next to Coulson, apart from the rest of the group; they were talking quietly to themselves. Bobbi and Hunter were on the far left, while Skye and Mack stood in the center of the ramp. Standing off to Skye's right was Fitz. Jemma came quietly up between them, giving Fitz a small smile when he turned his head to look at her. His face was unreadable, eyes lingering on hers just a second too long, before he looked away again.
She swallowed and forced away the disappointment and resignation she knew was fighting to show on her face.
They had reached a fragile sort of détente upon coming back from San Juan. Fitz had left the lab to work in the garage with Mack just like he said he intended to, but he was no longer going out of his way to avoid her. He assisted her in the lab if required (which wasn't often as she might have liked) and he'd stay in the common area if she came in with a mug of tea. He wouldn't make up excuses to be anywhere but alone with her. She supposed she should have viewed it as a small victory of sorts, but it felt hollow. She knew it was on her for letting her hopes rise after the way he'd held her in San Juan, but there it was. She'd believed, for a moment, that extreme duress had caused Fitz to put aside all of the hurt and bitterness between them and let instinct take over. She'd still believed that deep down, at their core, they were still the same people who had been best friends for a decade and would always be there for one another.
So when Fitz never mentioned the incident again and went back to keeping his distance, she was faced with cold reality once more. He'd only grabbed onto her to keep her from going down the shaft after Trip, only pulled her back and held on because he didn't want to watch someone else needlessly die. Anything beyond that was just her wishful thinking.
Their friendship was damaged beyond repair. The knowledge that it was all her fault-that if she'd only made different choices, fought just a little harder, swum a little faster-threatened to suffocate her on the best of days. On the worst, it was all she could do to put up her front of false cheer and soldier on the way everyone expected her to.
Coulson clearing his throat brought Jemma's attention back to focus. "Now that you're all here, we can get started," he said. "As most of you know, we've got some information back from the recon mission that May led to Mississippi, and it-well, they found a lot more than they expected to." With a wry look, he nodded to Skye. She tapped the tablet she was holding a few times, and a holo display sprung to life in the center of the cargo bay. It showed a topographic map of a region covered in rolling hills, focusing in on a small series of caves burrowed into the side of one. Coulson nodded to May, and she took up the narrative.
"We thought this was going to be a simple scouting op," she said, pacing slowly before the map. "At worst, possibly a retrieval of some small artifact, something we could handle on our own to transport back here for further study. Unfortunately, what we found could not be moved." Skye tapped her tablet again and a photo popped up over the map. It showed a large device that was obviously mechanical in nature, with a dedicated console covered in buttons and switches, connected to what looked like a large, empty window frame. The frame was easily taller than an average human and wide enough for at least two to fit through. Pipes went from the console straight into the cave's stone floor, and even though the device was clearly made of some sort of metal, it almost looked as though it had grown organically from the cave floor itself. In her periphery, Jemma saw Fitz lean forward slightly, one hand coming up to rub a thumb at his jaw.
"Our best guess is that it's some sort of portal, or window-into what, we don't know," May was saying, pausing off to one side of the photo display. "But it's clearly very advanced tech, possibly even alien, and way beyond the resources we had."
"Which is why we're sending a full team in this time," Coulson added, nodding down at the assembled agents. "We need to get a full idea of what this device is and what it can do and, if necessary, neutralize it. It doesn't look like the sort of thing we want Hydra getting their hands on." He took a second to acknowledge the murmurs of assent amongst them. "I'll be running back end with Skye on comms. May, Bobbi, Hunter, you'll be securing the perimeter and keeping an eye out for anyone unfriendly. Fitz, Simmons, you've got full run on whatever this thing is. Figure it out. Mack, you're backup in case we need it." Coulson smiled tightly. "Any questions?"
One glance told Jemma that Fitz's shoulders had tensed up, but it wasn't him who raised a hand. It was Mack.
"Sir…you sure we need a full team for this?" He was asking what everyone else was thinking: that the last time they'd sent in a full team, they'd lost one of their own. The air palpably thickened.
Coulson didn't hesitate in replying, however. "I'm sure. Something of this size and possible power, we want to make sure we're prepared on all fronts." He nodded once. "Dismissed. We need to have wheels up in an hour."
That didn't leave them much time to get their equipment assembled. As everyone scattered in different directions to prepare, Jemma turned to Fitz. "I'll get the suits and some sample containers?" She tried to keep her voice as polite and professional as possible.
"Yeah," Fitz said quietly, eyes trained on the floor. "I'll get the D.W.A.R.F.s." Then he looked up and past her, to Mack. "Let's go."
"Lead the way, Turbo," Mack replied, and together they turned and walked into what had once been the Bus' lab to start digging through the equipment stacked there. Jemma watched them go, a sad, heavy sort of ache settling over her heart. It was commonplace now, that ache, but that didn't make it any easier to deal with.
She allowed herself the briefest of moments to wallow before she sighed and straightened her shoulders. She wasn't of use to anyone if she was falling apart emotionally. Turning, she started back towards the base's lab to start collecting the things they'd need for the mission.
Once they had reached the caves and headed inside, Fitz didn't want to admit it-wouldn't admit it, in fact, even if it was obvious-but he was feeling paranoid.
Missions hadn't had the greatest track record of running smoothly lately, and he couldn't shake the feeling that this one was yet another disaster waiting to happen. It had all the hallmarks of an op set up for failure: a mysterious device of unknown origin, as full a complement of tactical backup as they could get, a heightened sense of urgency, and the specter of Hydra hanging over their heads. Normally he didn't think he would be quite as nervous as he was now-he'd actually lost most of his fear of going into the field, even before he'd ended up on the bottom of the ocean-but…Jemma was involved.
Jemma, who was currently walking in front of him down a dimly-lit cave passage, wearing a hazard suit sans the head gear, one gloved hand trailing lightly over the cave wall next to her.
He knew Jemma was perfectly capable of taking care of herself; she'd proven that many times during the years they'd known each other, and especially in the past year. She didn't need, didn't want him worrying over her. But he never had managed to shake the instinctive need to protect her. That hadn't changed, at least, even if everything else had. He didn't think it ever would change, either. As long as Jemma Simmons lived and breathed, his overwhelming priority was to make sure she was safe and cared for.
Even if he no longer fit into that equation.
Being without Jemma hurt, but being near her hurt even worse, so he'd chosen the path of least resistance. He couldn't stand to be around her, knowing that every time she looked at him all she saw was the broken shell of the man he used to be. She couldn't accept that the Fitz she wanted had died in that med pod and was never coming back. He felt like a failure in her eyes, and that somehow managed to hurt more than the frustration and the stuttered words and the shaking hands combined. He was no longer Jemma's equal-no longer her perfect match. And it killed him.
She was better off without him. Besides, even if she ever did come to accept that he was irrevocably changed, the yawning gulf of hurt and abandonment between them was too wide to ever be crossed again. She would always be wishing for someone he wasn't, and he didn't think he could ever come to fully open up and trust her again.
Their relationship was damaged beyond repair, and it was his fault. He'd confessed his feelings for her, so sure he was about to die, but Jemma had dragged him to the surface as damaged goods and then left him the first opportunity she had. She was so put off by the mere idea of him loving her that not even their friendship was worth salvaging.
He wished he'd never told her.
Sometimes, he even wished she'd left him in the med pod.
Ahead of him, Jemma's foot slipped on a slick spot of rock and she stumbled slightly. Fitz's free hand, the one not carrying the D.W.A.R.F. case, automatically twitched toward her but he stopped himself just short of reaching out. It was that damned instinct again. He just hoped that Mack, who was behind him, hadn't noticed.
"I don't like this," he muttered. His voice sounded unnaturally loud, bouncing off the walls of the narrow tunnel they were in.
"We'll be fine," Jemma said, ever the optimist. She'd regained her footing. "It's just a cave, Fitz, not even a dangerous one."
He envied her surety. How did she stay so calm all the time? Suddenly, his temper flared. "Yeah, because being in a cave w-worked out so well the last time we were in one," he snapped, far harsher than he meant to.
Jemma didn't reply or even look back at him, but it was impossible to miss the way she flinched. He could feel Mack's disapproval too, burning into the back of his head in silent judgment. Briefly closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and slowly let it out. She hadn't deserved that; she'd only been stating facts in an attempt to soothe him. He hated himself for it.
They walked in silence for another moment. "I think what Simmons meant," Mack said at length, "is that we won't have to go digging this time around. We can see what we're getting into. No going in blind."
If anyone had a right to be nervous going into this, Fitz thought, it was Mack. He'd been the one to go in blind at San Juan, and he'd paid a price for it. As much as it bothered him to admit it to himself, Mack's reassurance went a lot farther than Jemma's.
"Exactly," Jemma said. She was back to being almost cheerful, as if his words had never affected her. His temper swelled again, but before he could reply, the passage in front of her evened out and widened into a large chamber; May, who had been leading the way, stepped to the side as Jemma, Fitz, and Mack entered and got a look around them.
It was a large room, maybe slightly smaller than the common area back at the Playground and just as tall, and was a dead end to the passage they'd gone down. It was obviously man-made-the lines and surfaces of the room were too smooth and even to be anything device from the mission briefing photo took up most of the back half of the it; the pictures hadn't really done it justice. It looked even larger and more complex in person. Fitz could only begin to guess what all the levers and dials meant, and what function the device served.
In the corner, May was alerting Coulson and Skye via comm that they'd reached the device. Next to him, Mack was giving the device a thoughtful look while Jemma set her case down and double-checked that her gloves were on all the way. It had been decided that she and Fitz, having the most cause to get close to the device, would wear protective gear from the neck down, just in case. They didn't want to find out the hard way (again) what consequences touching it would have.
Fitz set the D.W.A.R.F. case down and opened it, taking out the two trifold tablets and handing one to Jemma. She took it from him without comment, slipping her hand under the strap as he did the same, and tapped a few commands in. One by one, the D.W.A.R.F.s hummed to life and rose up out of the case, buzzing away toward the device at their command.
"I'll stay here at the entrance and keep watch," May said, nodding toward the passage they'd entered from. "Skye and Bobbi aren't reporting anyone else in the area, but just in case…"
Fitz nodded at her and turned back to his tablet, frowning at the data that had just started to come in. He directed one of the drones to fly closer to the base of the main console of the device. "I'm reading some sort of-of energy-thing-"
Jemma leaned in to get a closer look at his tablet. "Internal power source?" she supplied.
"Yes," he said, inwardly cursing the jumble of words in his head. "Yeah-that. But it's dormant. Not on."
"You think there might be an 'on' switch, then?" Jemma mused.
Mack had come to stand behind them, looking over their shoulders at both their tablets, then over to the device. "Would we want to hit it if there was?"
"Only one way to find out," Fitz said slowly, and walked forward. Tapping at his tablet again, he instructed the closest drone to give him an x-ray scan of the inside of the console in order to try and determine where the bulk of the power source was, and what it was connected to. A minute later, he had it. "Um-right here." He pointed to a large, white circular button on the right side of the console interface. "That's-that's the 'on' switch."
Then he looked up at them, his lips pursed. Surely it couldn't be that easy?
May simply raised her eyebrows in a silent question. Mack shook his head and held his hands up. "Hey, you're the man with the gloves on," he said.
But Jemma, her free hand raised almost as if to reach out to him, frowned and looked down at her tablet. "Wait, let me finish this one scan…" She looked up towards a drone that was flying over the top of the console before going higher to skirt the edge of the empty frame. After a few seconds, her tablet beeped and she gave a firm nod of her head. "Right. I'm not picking up any other potential energy sources and the structural integrity of the device itself, while made out of an alloy the D.W.A.R.F.s don't recognize, seems to be solid. I don't think it's a weapon." Her eyes met his. "Go ahead, Fitz."
Giving them one last look, Fitz turned to the console and pressed the button.
A deep, reverberating hum filled the room as multiple lights and buttons blinked to life on the console. Fitz instinctively took a step back as May, Mack, and Jemma all took a step forward. A high-pitched whine had come in over the top of the hum and other assorted noises of what he could only imagine was a machine or computer booting up, and that worried him, but after several tense seconds it faded away, leaving just the hum.
But nothing else happened.
There was no loud bang, no sudden beams of energy, nothing shooting at them. The empty frame connected to the machine remained just that way-empty. Confused, Fitz blinked at it a few times before turning to look back at the others. They looked just as confused as he did.
Suddenly, Coulson's voice sounded in his ear. "What was all that noise?"
Fitz jumped slightly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jemma startle just the same. He'd forgotten about the comm in his ear. "Oh-uh-I, um-I turned the device on, sir."
"That's all you did? Turn it on?"
"Yeah-yes, sir," Fitz said, swallowing and looking back to his tablet. The drones were sending a whole new flood of data across the screen. "I think. It's not doing anything."
"We still don't know what its purpose is," Jemma rushed to add, taking another step toward him. She was looking quickly back and forth between her tablet and the machine. "But based on the readings I'm getting I think it's safe to say it's not human in origin."
Fitz nodded even though Coulson couldn't see him. "Keep up the good work, guys," Coulson said. "And-try not to blow anything up."
Jemma laughed slightly at the director's attempt at levity before coming over to join Fitz "Right, sir. Okay, let's see what we can pick up now…"
She seemed to be directing her drones toward the empty frame, while he concentrated back on the console. He glanced at the readouts on his tablet, did a double-take and looked again, frowning and ducking his head to get a better look. "That...that can't be right."
"Hmm?" Jemma was inspecting what looked to be a small screen connected to the left side of the console on a pivoting arm.
"The-the energy source," he said, briefly laying a gloved hand flat on the side of the console. He could feel it vibrating lightly beneath his palm. "It's…" He frowned again. "The data I'm getting suggests it's a-a plasma core."
Jemma's head immediately snapped over to look at him in disbelief. "But that's not possible."
Fitz swallowed a frustrated sigh. "Yes, I know that, Jemma, but-"
Mack crossed his arms. "Wait. You mean plasma energy, like the theoretical stuff?"
Fitz nodded. "Yeah." He looked over to May, who still had a questioning look on her face. "It's all theory-guesswork-it, it doesn't even exist yet-"
"-Because human technology hasn't advanced far enough yet to even be capable of it," Jemma finished. "It's just a hypothesis." He nodded at her, almost gratefully; the words had started to slip away from him and, just for a second, they'd been in sync. She gave him a very small smile as something that was unmistakably warmth bloomed in her eyes.
He shoved away the love that flared in his chest in response. There wasn't room for that, not now, not ever. He turned to face May. "It means this machine, whatever it is, is-um-we didn't make it. Humans didn't. Not without-without help, anyway."
May nodded, absorbing all this. "Can you think of any way to tell who did make it?"
"Fitz, come look at this," Jemma murmured. She appeared not to have heard May speak; when he turned back to her, Fitz saw her gingerly prodding at the screen she'd been looking at earlier. "This screen...it has a display of some sort."
"What?" He walked over to stand just behind and off to the side of her. Sure enough, the screen-which before had looked like a rectangular pane of framed glass similar in size to their tablets-was now lit up with the image of an empty room. It was nondescript, long and narrow, with plain white walls and no visible furniture or decoration. A single closed door was set into the far wall. Without thinking, Fitz reached around Jemma to tap at the screen with one finger. It didn't react to his touch.
If his sudden closeness made her uncomfortable, Jemma didn't show it. She turned her head slightly in his direction. "Do you think it's just an image, or a video link?" She pulled the screen a little closer to them.
"Hard to-um, hard to tell." He tapped the screen again. The image was slightly distorted around the edges and fritzed slightly at random, but without any moving objects in view it was impossible to tell. "Let me get one of the D.W.A.R.F.s to-"
He was interrupted by a sudden rush of sound coming from the console, followed by a loud pinging noise. Before they had a chance to react, the empty frame next to them sparked with a burst of bright white light.
Jemma jerked backward into Fitz as both of them raised a hand to shield their eyes. When the light faded, the frame was filled with what looked like a thin sheet of lightly rippling water, the image of the room on the small screen projected onto it.
"Woah, woah," Fitz muttered as his fingers wrapped around her arm, tugging her back a few steps. Looking behind her, she saw that both May and Mack had ICERs out, held up at the ready. Turning back to the frame, she swallowed and consulted her tablet again. "Well, I think that probably answers that question," she said, a faint note of anxiety creeping into her voice.
"What's that?" Coulson asked over the comm.
"Almost definitely a-a portal," Fitz answered, tapping rapidly at his tablet. Three of the drones flew over to buzz around the frame. "To some room, somewhere. Exactly where is anyone's guess."
Coulson's reply was immediate. "Do not engage," he said. "Don't go through it, don't touch it, and don't let anything come through it."
"Copy that," May said tersely, taking a few steps toward the center of the room, ICER still raised.
"Fitz, are you getting anything on this?" Jemma was focused on her tablet again.
He shook his head. "No, not really. Can't get a reading yet on any-any-what's on the other side. But there's been a massive increase in power. The energy spike is off the charts."
Curious, Jemma walked away to go around the other side of the frame. She could see straight through the portal and the image of the room; Fitz was visible straight across from her, blurry and indistinct, but still there. "This is incredible," she said, unable to hide her excitement despite her slight worry. "Imagine all the possibilities of where this might go! It could be all the way across the world, or to another planet. It could even be to another dimension." She came back to stand right in front of it. "We just need to find a way of detecting where it goes without actually going through it."
Fitz frowned at his tablet. "Give me a few more m-minutes with the D.W.A.R.F.s and I might be able to."
As if on cue, there was the sound of a distant, muffled explosion.
"What the hell was that?" Coulson and Mack asked, almost at the same time.
Bobbi's voice came over the comm, short and clipped. "Hydra. Late to the party for once."
Jemma turned to look at Fitz, eyes wide. He stared back for a second before blinking. "Right. Time to go," he said, and turned to go back to the D.W.A.R.F. case just as Hunter came skidding in.
"Bloody fucking Hydra," he gasped, out of breath. "Can't we have something go right for once, just once?"
May was already turning to flank him, both of them raising their pistols to aim down the passageway. "Would be nice, wouldn't it?" Mack asked. His ICER was up too, but he was staying by the equipment cases. Fitz was kneeling next to him, reaching up to catch the first drone as it flew toward him.
Jemma hadn't moved. "Fitz, I've almost got a lock on these portal readings," she said quickly, fingers flying over her tablet. "I just need one more minute."
"No time, Jemma." Fitz put the second the drone back into the case.
Bobbi ran in just as another explosion sounded outside. "That might slow them down just a little," she said, flipping her staves in her hands. "The rest of them we'll just have to bottleneck here. There's not a lot of them; I don't think they expected us to already be here."
Fitz had all of the drones inside the case now, save the one that Jemma still had flying near the portal frame. He gestured with his hands for her to come over, but she ignored him. "I'm almost done-"
"Jemma." His voice had taken on an urgent tone, the one he got when he was stressed. Standing, Fitz ran to her and pulled her tablet from her hands, jamming a finger on it as he turned to run back to the case. The remaining drone followed him.
Jemma flushed hot with indignation. "Fitz!"
Suddenly a spray of bullets hit the stone wall across from the passage opening and ricocheted off in several different directions. May, Hunter, and Bobbi all ducked and scrambled to one side while Fitz swore as he snapped the D.W.A.R.F. case shut. There was a split second where Jemma ducked too and her flight instincts kicked in; but because she was out in the open she hesitated, unsure where the bullets were flying-one pinged off the frame right next to her-and that indecision combined with ducking made her stumble. Her arms pinwheeled wildly and she cried out as she tried to regain her balance. One arm hit the portal and a burst of tingles shot through her body.
But she couldn't stop herself. She had one second to hear Fitz shouting her name, terrified, before the room tilted and she was falling, falling, falling back into and through the portal.