A/N: This was written for the FitzSimmons Secret Santa exchange (2014) for EclecticMuse on tumblr who'd provided the prompt "You're strange and you're beautiful." The word minimum was 1000 words. Somehow it got away from me and I wrote over 12,000! (eep!) It is AU but only to serve the story idea of Fitz and Simmons seeing each other only once a year.
Special thanks to amandajbruce for editing and offering me feedback on the story. It was much appreciated (read her Secret Santa story, it's SO GOOD!). I hope EclecticMuse (and you, the reader!) enjoy it and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Fitz hears Jemma's voice before he actually sees her fully, her face hidden by the oversized poinsettia that she's carrying as she crosses into the entryway of her parents' house.
"Fitz? Is that you?" She calls out, her voice muffled by the red plant.
"Yeah," he replies, quickly discarding his jacket on a nearby chair. "Let me help you," he offers. Without waiting for her answer, he takes the heavy plant from Jemma and follows her into the Simmons' kitchen.
With her hand at his elbow she steers him toward its center and once he's secured it upon the table, he turns, finally able to take her in more fully. She's as beautiful as he remembers and the very sight of her nearly steals his breath away.
"It's been three years," she notes, her hands at her hips and her eyes bright.
He swallows the lump in his throat and nods. "I know."
She narrows her eyes. "Did you move to China?"
A smile quirks upon his lips. Fitz shakes his head.
He snorts and shakes his head.
"Then what, pray tell, were you doing that caused you to miss the last three Christmases?"
He opens his mouth to answer but finds himself at a loss for words. The truth stalls upon his lips and he can't bring himself to say what he truly intends to.
"It's a long story," he says after an extended pause. He thinks that she'll press for more information, that she won't accept his excuse, but she does. With two quick strides, she reaches for him, gathering him into her arms and pressing her body tight against him.
"I've missed your stupid face," she mutters into his sweater.
"I missed your stupid face as well."
He can feel her grin against him and he hopes that she can't detect the quickening pace of his heart.
"Now remember what you promised, darling," Jemma's mother warns from the front seat of the car. "You're going to be a good girl, right?"
"Leave her alone, Anne," her father clucks. "Our girl will be perfectly fine. Won't you Jemma?"
The young girl looks up, her pink plastic stethoscope pressed against the chest of her stuffed monkey. "Will there be anyone my age there?" She asks instead of replying.
Her parents share a look and there's a moment of silence that the young Jemma doesn't quite register.
"Yes, love," her father replies at last. "Leo Fitz will be there."
"Who's he?" She wraps a blood pressure cuff onto her monkey's arm.
"Just a boy," her mother explains quickly. "You'll be nice to him, yes?"
Jemma shrugs and begins to squeeze the bulb of her toy sphygmomanometer. "Only if he's nice to me first."
"She's just a little girl, Tom," her mother hisses, hopeful that her voice is masked by the chorus of a song that plays on the radio. "Are you sure this is wise?"
Her father shifts the car into park and reaches for his wife's hand, squeezing it. "Fury wants them to meet and get to know each other. It's just one day every Christmas; what harm can come of it? If they don't like each other, we've done our part; there's nothing he can say then."
"What's a fury?" Jemma asks, leaning over her mother's shoulder, seat belt already unbuckled.
"Nothing important, darling." She shoots her husband a heeded look. "Gather your stuff, we're here now."
"I hate his stupid face!" Jemma declares with tears streaked against her round cheeks.
"Jemma Laura Simmons! You apologize this instant," her mother cautions, kneeling to her level. "You know better than to say such things, especially in Mrs. Fitz's home. It's rude."
"B-but," she sniffs. "He took Goodall. Said he was going to keep her."
Her mother turns toward the blond, curly haired boy that stands a few feet away, clutching his own mother's hand. "Leo," she asks sternly. "Did you take Jemma's monkey?"
He looks up at his mother and back toward Jemma. "I like it," he replies simply.
"Leo," his mother, Susan, says sharply, tugging his hand. "Doctor Simmons asked you a question. Did you take Jemma's monkey? Have you hidden it somewhere?"
The boy nods, his lip quivering ever so slightly.
"That's not very nice," she chastises. "Go and get it, please. You need to return it."
He looks up at his mother, eyes pleading. It's as if he's hoping she'll change her mind. When she tilts her head, he understands the look she gives him and begrudgingly walks toward the room's bay window, his feet dragging across the carpet. "It's there," he says, pointing.
"Get it. Now, Leo," his mother commands, tersely.
The boy huffs and pulls the curtain back, revealing the once concealed stuffed monkey. He leans down and collects it, shuffling back to the center of the room where he hands it to Jemma.
"Here," he says crossly, unable to meet her eyes.
She snatches it from his grasp and holds it tight against her chest, her face nuzzling into its faux fur.
"Now apologize and wish Jemma a happy Christmas."
"Sorry," he mutters.
"Happy Christmas, Jemma."
Anne Simmons taps her daughter on the head. "Jemma? What do you say?" The girl looks up at her mother for guidance. "Wish Leo a Happy Christmas."
Jemma turns and faces the boy who watches her expectantly. She frowns and grumbles, "Happy Christmas."
"There!" Her mother declares happily. "That wasn't so diff-"
"I still think he has a stupid face."
"Susan?" Anne calls out from the kitchen. "Have you seen Jemma lately? She and Leo have been awfully quiet."
Susan Fitz looks up from the dining table where she'd been gathering the used tea cups.
"I'm sure they're fine," Tom reasons over his wife's shoulder as he wipes his hands against a dish towel. "They're probably off fighting again."
"They're in the living room," Andrew Fitz whispers, rejoining his wife. "Dead asleep by the Christmas tree; it must've been all the sweets. They're practically curled into each other," he adds with a chuckle.
Anne looks to Susan and both women's eyes widen.
"Get the camera!"
The Simmons family had left before the break of dawn in order to reach Glasgow before noon and while traffic was generally light during the holidays, a recent bout of bad weather had left the roads slightly treacherous and slow going. Anne and Tom had considered not making the journey that Christmas, but they knew that the year had been a particularly difficult one for the young Leo Fitz. Susan had even hinted at her son's social withdrawal and wondered whether Jemma's presence might help alleviate his grief, even in the slightest.
"Jemma?" Anne calls softly, turning in the front passenger seat.
Jemma looks up expectantly from the book she's reading and marks her page with a finger. "Yeah?" Her eyes flit to her left where her stuffed monkey, Goodall sits buckled in its seat.
"We're almost at Leo and Susan's. Do you remember what I told you?"
"I remember everything, mum," she replies matter-of-factly.
Anne raises her eyebrow slightly and glances at her husband. "Just the same, you must remember to be kind to Leo. He's been through a lot this year."
"Jemma," her mother says warningly. "Don't use that tone with me. What have I said to you before?"
She lowers her chin and returns her attention to her book. "Mum, everything will be fine. You worry too much. We've been emailing, you know."
Anne gives her daughter a quizzical look. Her mouth opens to question her further but Tom's hand reaches across the console and he presses his palm against her wrist, the action stalling the words upon her lips. She nods faintly, understanding her husband's wordless action.
When they at last arrive in Glasgow, they are quickly ushered into the warm interior of the Fitz home. It's not until her mother pulls Jemma's coat from her shoulders that she realizes that the home looks different. While the familiar lopsided Christmas tree is still in the living room, as is Fitz's stocking which hangs from the fireplace's mantel, much of the lively Christmas decorations which have typically blanketed the house are missing. There is no garland along the stairwell, no twinkle lights lining the window frames and there isn't a poinsettia in sight. It is a marked difference from years past.
"He's in his room, love," Susan Fitz whispers in to Jemma's ear after pulling her into an extra long hug.
She nods, understanding, clutching Goodall in her arms.
She climbs the stairs to the second floor bedrooms slowly, her hands wringing at the monkey's stuffed arm, her fingers turning through its matted fur nervously. She can see the door to Leo's room from the landing and as expected it's closed, the familiar Transformers stickers and KEEP OUT sign masking a likely sadness that must lie behind it.
She knocks hesitantly at first. When he doesn't answer, she tries again with more determination.
"Go away!" A voice snarls from behind the closed door.
"I shall do no such thing," Jemma replies firmly with sudden strength in her voice. "Let me in."
"We brought you chocolate from that store on Birch Street. The type you like too; I made sure we got lots with pecans."
"I don't care."
She stares at the door handle and silently debates storming into his room and demanding that he watch the Christmas specials with her, just like they'd done before. But the knowledge of why Leo is avoiding their annual gathering stops her. Instead, she slides to the floor, pressing her back against the wall adjacent to his bedroom door, Goodall cradled in her lap.
"I'm sorry about your dad," she says quietly.
There's a brief pause before he replies, "it's not your fault."
"I know." She sighs, unable to help the heaviness she feels in her chest. "Just the same. I wish you'd come out."
"I don't want to. I don't want to see anyone."
"Not even me?"
"Not even you."
She nods, even though she knows that he can't see her. "Okay."
They sit in silence for a few minutes and Jemma wracks her brain for something to talk about, a topic of conversation that would take his mind off of… everything. "Would you like to hear about this book I'm reading?"
She thinks she hears a soft sniffle, but she can't be sure. "Yeah. I s'pose so."
A smile pulls at Jemma's lips and she adjusts her position on the floor so that she's facing Leo's door and she begins to talk, letting her words flow effortlessly.
That Christmas, for the first time, they spend the holiday apart; yet they are together. She tells him about Gregor Mendel and meticulously details his pea plant experiments. Leo finds the idea of breeding plants preposterous and counters by explaining that he's been trying to build a miniature version of Igor Sikorsky's four-engine plane. She's duly impressed and tells him to record a video when he test pilots it, she'd like to see it. At no point does Leo venture from his room and Jemma never asks him too.
When her parents call for her, telling her that it's time to go she makes an easy decision.
"I'm going to leave you something. When you open your door, you'll find it. I think it will help. It helps me when I'm sad."
"I'm not sad," he retorts, defensively through the door.
She shakes her head in silent objection. "Okay, sure. But just the same..."
He's quiet for a moment before he replies. "Thanks."
She's about to stand up when she hears him call her name.
"Yeah?" The door is cracked slightly open and she can see the shadow of his body in the light that filters through from his room.
"Happy Christmas, stupid face."
She smiles wide. "Happy Christmas, Leo."
It isn't until they are well on their way toward the English-Scottish border and checking into their hotel for the night that her mother realizes that something is missing from the backseat of their car.
"Where's Goodall?" She asks, her daughter bent over a book that is illuminated by a headlamp.
Jemma looks up and shrugs, the light momentarily blinding her mother. "I left her with Leo. He needed her more than I did."
"It's a strange name," Leo notes as he passes Jemma the remote. They'd been watching Christmas specials for the last two hours and he'd barely registered anything that had aired on the screen before them out of sheer nerves. He has a favour to ask of her and he's not sure how she'll react.
"It's not that bad," Jemma replies, shrugging her shoulders dismissively as she flips through the various channels.
"Only insane people would name their child after Leopold Ruzicka," he reasons. "No one even knows who that is!"
"Your parents are not insane," she defends as she finds a channel to settle on and places the remote between them. "Besides, I know who he is."
He groans. "Of course you would."
She glares at him. "For the record he won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He's very important and if people don't know who he is then they're the ones that are strange. Stupid, really."
He shakes his head. "I'm pretty sure they'd find you odd for even knowing that about him." Jemma swats at his arm and he attempts to avoid the hit by leaning out of her reach. "Regardless, I want people to just call me Fitz." There. He'd finally said it.
She rolls her eyes. "Leo is a perfectly acceptable name."
"Fitz sounds…I dunno, cooler." He cringes at the ridiculousness of his own words.
Her head snaps toward him. "Are people making fun of you?"
He's quick to shake his head but he can't meet her eyes. He is certain she is disbelieving.
She narrows her eyes. "Really?"
"Besides, my zodiac sign is Leo," he adds quickly, clearing his throat. "How ridiculous is that? Leo Fitz is a Leo." He finishes with a rising, mimicking pitch to his voice.
She gives him a look that he can't quite define and relents, allows him the reprieve. "You don't actually believe in that nonsense, do you?"
"Just call me Fitz from now on, okay?"
Jemma shakes her head in resignation and shrugs. "You are one odd creature, you know that right?"
"Yeah, yeah," he says mockingly. "And I should be lucky that our parents are friends and spend Christmas together, otherwise you wouldn't be caught dead in my presence. Am I right?" He grins at her.
"Absolutely. Fitz." She replies with emphasis, sticking her tongue out. "Now hush, it's starting." She points to the television and curls her feet under her as the TARDIS flies past, pulling both of their attention back to the screen.
"Fitz!" Jemma cries, throwing her hands up in frustration. "Your reasons are stupid."
"You know I hate parties," he declares. "All the people…"
Jemma shakes her head, groaning. "Parties by definition require people to be there."
"You know what I mean."
She rolls her eyes and wraps her knitted violet scarf around her neck. "It's just one Christmas party. Besides, my mum said I could go only if you came with me. You have to come."
Fitz crosses his arms at his chest. "I don't have to do anything," he notes stubbornly.
"My house, my rules."
He pulls back his head and narrows his eyes. "What's that supposed to mean? It's not your house. It's your parents' house."
Jemma slides her arms through her coat sleeves and pauses, eyeing him carefully. "Catherine Hall will be there."
He frowns, confused, his mind running through the names of Jemma's friends that she's spoken of over the last few years. "Who's Catherine Hall?"
"The girl in my class photo that you fancy. The one with the big…" She makes a face. "Ears."
"She doesn't have big ears!" He retorts quickly with a smirk as he reaches for his own coat that hangs in the closet.
"So you'll come along then?"
"Well, you're not allowed to go without me, are you?"
"You need to come," she says, tugging at his sleeve. "I need to use the loo."
Almost as soon as they'd arrived at the party, Fitz had beelined for the kitchen in search of snacks. Somehow, in the process, they'd lost each other and he can't help his surprise when he discovers that she'd been in search of him for quite some time. The last he'd heard was that she'd been dancing with a boy in Sixth form.
He'd finally managed to find a quiet sanctum in the house and he had zero intention of leaving it anytime soon. "Why? You're perfectly capable of going to the bathroom without my help, thankyouverymuch. Besides, it's a thousand times quieter in here."
"I need you to come with me." Jemma says, insistent, eyes darting to the doorway. "They won't leave me alone."
He looks up from the book he'd been flipping through and studies her curiously. "Who?"
"Them." Jemma bobs her head to the side, her face reddening and voice squeaking ever so slightly.
"Who's them?" Fitz's eyes flit from side to side, examining the partygoers that mill around them. None seem to be paying any attention to either Jemma or Fitz.
There's a brief pause. "All the boys. They're being ridiculous."
"Why?" He asks, confused. "What are they doing?"
"They've found out I'm leaving for Cambridge at the end of the school year." Her words rush from her lips, each seeming to stumble over the one that preceded it. "They keep getting handsy."
Fitz can't help but laugh at the thought and she punches him in the arm. "Ack!" He cries out, rubbing the spot she'd hit. "What're you hitting me for? I'm not the one pawing at you."
"Maybe if you would, I wouldn't have to-" She stops herself before the words are fully out of her mouth, her eyes widen and her cheeks redden at her mistake.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He asks, making a face, oblivious to his friend's embarrassment.
Jemma ignores his question and turns away, motioning toward the doorway. "Will you come with me?" She asks again.
He turns his gaze toward the book between his hands and sighs heavily, considering his options. After an extended pause he agrees at last, "Fine. But you owe me."
A victorious smile pulls at her lips as she tugs at his shirt sleeve. "C'mon then."
He follows her through the doorway and past the bodies that are pressed against every wall crowding the hallway. It seems as if everything smells of sweat and stale beer and Fitz wonders briefly if Jemma could even begin to know a fraction of the people that are there.
As they weave through the throng, he tries in vain to keep up with her light golden-brown hair as it bobs through the crush of people. She's quicker than him and when a new song starts up on the stereo causing the bodies pressed against him to move with more animation, he almost almost immediately loses sight of her.
"Jemma?" He calls out, turning in a full circle. He knows shouting for her over the thump of the music is useless, but he tries anyway. "Jemma?!"
A strange girl with red hair and teeth too big for her face, taps him on the shoulder and yells something, pointing to her left. Fitz shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders. He can't understand her, her thick Yorkshire accent makes her practically incomprehensible when mixed with the loud, incessant dance beat that seems to fill every corner of the room.
"Jemma?" He tries again.
"Right here," Jemma yells in return. His heart leaps a bit, startled by the sight of her suddenly in front of him and her voice in his ear. "Take my hand," she mouths, locking her fingers against his without waiting for his reply. "This way I won't lose you," she cries into his ear, leaning against his shoulder.
He nods, swallowing thickly as she pulls at his hand, dragging him through the crowd and up the stairs. There's an odd, unexpected rush of heat that flares in his chest and he wonders dumbly if it has something to do with the fact that his fingers are laced into Jemma Simmons'.
When she comes to a stop outside of a closed bedroom door, he's not expecting it and he practically collides into her.
She turns on her heel to face him and her chest presses briefly against his. He flushes at the feel of her and wills his brain to focus. When she uses his chest as leverage to lean into him, he practically curses at the way his body irrationally responds to her. He forces himself to desperately cling to images of the Queen or the latest football match or… anything else that he can think of.
"Wait for me here," she instructs, shouting into his ear. "Count to a hundred and if I'm not back by then, come get me."
"What?" He says, jerking his head back, confused. "I'm not going to count how long it takes you-"
"Just wait here," she interrupts, rolling her eyes as she turns, opening the door to the bedroom.
"I'm not going to wait outside a bedroom for you!" He yells at her back, following her into the room.
There's a lull in the music as the track changes, exchanging the loud techno beat for a softer, slow song. If it hadn't been for that brief pause, Fitz probably would never have heard her.
She steps backward and directly into him, nearly causing Fitz to tip over. He looks over her head to see what had startled her and notices an oblivious couple upon the bed, their arms and legs tangled and their faces pressed together. He has to choke back his laughter at the sheer sight of them as Jemma steps back again and turns, pushing him from the room. Her hand reaches for the doorknob and she pulls the door closed behind her.
"We have to go!" She declares, panicked.
"Go? Why?" Fitz brings his eyebrows together. "We haven't even found Cath-"
"She's not even here," Jemma says, exasperation evident in her every word.
He shakes his head, not understanding. "What? I thought you-"
"I lied." She grips his arms and turns him, leading him toward the stairwell. "We need to leave."
"Jemma, you're being unreasonable," he protests loudly as they weave their way hurriedly down to the lower level. He's practically tripping over his own feet as he chases her to the front door. "Why do you want to go all of a sudden? You can't possibly want to-"
"-You're the one that didn't want to come in the first place," she replies coldly as she begins to dig haphazardly through the coat pile that lies on the floor of the entryway. "Help me find our damn coats."
"No need to be abrasive," he mutters, helping her locate their missing outerwear. "It was a simple observation."
"Here," she says shoving his coat against his chest. "Let's go."
Before he can say anything in reply, she's out the door and into the cold night air of the street. He can hear her heels clacking against the driveway's stonework as he jogs after her.
"We can call a cab," he offers as they come to the sidewalk, finally able to properly pull his coat on. "I still have the twenty quid your parents gave me earlier in my wallet."
"We're not using your Christmas gift on a cab," she retorts pointedly.
"I don't mind," he says gently, trying to ease the strange new tension between them. "Besides it's damn near freezing out here."
"It's barely two kilometers to my house." Her lips quirk, breaking her sullen pout. "You'll survive; you're Scottish," she teases. "You should be used to the cold."
He cocks his head toward her, continuing to match her pace. "What's that supposed to mean? Just because I'm Scottish doesn't mean I en-" Jemma's face fully breaks in the midst of his rant and he can't help but let the tension in his shoulders relax. He shakes his head and jabs her in the side with his elbow. "Bloody hell, you're just riling me up."
She sighs, willing the edginess from her voice; the tiny cloud of warmth from her breath, hanging briefly in the air.
"Did you know him?" He asks cautiously.
Her pace slows ever so slightly. "I don't really want to talk about it."
"So you do know him?"
Jemma glares at him and presses her fists into the pockets of her coat and shrugs awkwardly. "We had a deal."
"A deal?" He frowns and slips his gloves on to his hands. "What sort of deal?"
Her cheeks redden. "It's embarrassing."
"As embarrassing as walking in on two people snog-"
"Alright!" She groans, turning her face away. "He promised he'd kiss me," she says quickly, wincing at her own words.
Fitz makes a face. "Why'd he do that?"
'Golly, Fitz," she says sarcastically. "Thanks."
"I just mean it seemed like he had a girlfriend-"
She shrugs and tucks her chin into the collar of her coat and mutters her reply. "I'd paid him, that's why."
Fitz comes to a stop and grabs her arm, planting her in place. "Why'd you go and do something like that?"
Jemma can't meet his eyes and she studies her feet as she digs her heel into the slush of the sidewalk. "I didn't want to go to Cambridge without…" She tilts her head quickly to the side. "You know."
He shakes his head. "Without what?"
Her face slips deeper into the collar of her coat. "Without having kissed someone," she murmurs, embarrassed.
Fitz doesn't mean to, but the laughter bursts from him uncontrolled.
"Thanks," she says hotly, her face burning as she begins to march ahead. "You're something else you know that?"
"Jemma!" He calls, running to catch up with her. "I didn't mean it that way. It's just-" he pauses trying to catch his breath. "I would've figured you'd have kissed someone by now. I mean…" His cheeks flush as he scrambles to find the right words. "It's just, that you're… I just figured-"
"Listen," she says tersely, a renewed edge evident in her voice. "I realize that maybe the girls where you're from are...licentious-"
"-But here it's not exactly easy to find a bloke, especially when one spends all of her free time studying so that she can get into the best university well ahead of all of her peers."
He raises his hands. "I didn't mean any offence, honest."
"It sure felt that way," she grumbles.
"It's just that you said all the lads were getting handsy- I'd assumed…"
"Well, I lied."
Fitz furrows his brows and can't help but chuckle. "That was you lying? I'll have to remember that; I should've figured something was up. You were doing this twitchy thing with your face; you looked so strange." He cocks his head to the side and looks at her questioningly. "Why did you want me to follow you to the bathroom then? Might as well come out with it."
She groans again and starts quickening her pace. "I wasn't sure if he was going to… well…" she reddens at the thought and straightens her shoulders. "I wasn't sure if he was going to be a gentleman about it. I figured you could…" She stalls, searching for the right words and comes up empty, the red of her face spreading to her ears.
"Jemma!" He says, dragging out her name. His eyes are bright and there's laughter in his voice when he teases, "This story is so fantastic. I'm never going to let you live this down, you know that, right?"
She narrows her eyes, a relenting smile pulling at her own lips. She pulls her gloved fist from her coat and decides to go with the only option she can think of: threatening to punch him in the arm once again. "Don't you dare!" She warns.
With a hoot of laughter, Fitz takes off, making a run for the Simmons house, hollering that she'll have to catch him first. She dashes after him but her speed is greatly impeded by her dress shoes and stockings which are wet with snow.
"Come back here Leopold Fitz!" Jemma calls out into the night.
"Why would I?" He trills in reply as he nears the refuge that is the front yard of the Simmons home. "Wouldn't want you to get handsy…"
"Argh!" She groans in frustration and comes to a stop at the edge of her parents' property. She eyes a pile of snow at her feet and reaches down, gathering it between her hands. "Come 'ere!" She says threateningly as she approaches him, her hand cocked over her shoulder, ready to attack.
Fitz bounces on the balls of his feet, prepared to dash the second that Jemma manages to get relatively near to him. His grin is wide and wild, silently daring her to launch her wet weapon of choice. "There's one thing I don't understand," he challenges mirthfully.
She circles him and he bounces backward, keeping a safe distance between them. "Hm? What's that?"
"Why didn't you ask me?"
"Ask you what?" She takes two steps forward, snowball at the ready causing Fitz to take a stride back.
Realization quickly dawns on her and Jemma's face pinks slightly. She clicks her tongue and shakes her head, dismissive. "You would never agree to that."
"What makes you say that?"
"We've known each other since we were infants," she reasons slowly, pressing the snow against her opposite palm and stepping tentatively forward.
"We were six when we met. Not infants."
He doesn't seem to notice her movement and fails to move away; she's practically cornered him against her neighbour's snow dusted hedge.
"Whatever. Might as well be the same thing."
She comes to a stop and studies him, cautious and questioning. "You want to kiss me?"
He blanches and makes a face, desperate to cover up his mistakenly bold and unhindered question. "N-no. God, Jemma. I don't want to kiss you."
"But if I asked you, you would?"
He shrugs and nods his head, slow and almost unsure. What has he done?
She narrows her eyes and steps closer and he thinks she's a bit like a lioness stalking her prey. "I suppose it would test my hypothesis," she reasons softly; her eyes flitting to his lips.
Fitz frowns, swallowing thickly. "Hy-hypothesis?"
She nods but doesn't reply, stepping closer. Her face is suddenly serious and she narrows the distance between them. He can feel the warmth of her breath in the air and Fitz instantly wonders what his sudden (and possibly ill-conceived) bravado may have caused. He's struck silent, unsure of why he'd even orchestrated the conversation in the first place.
When her lips press against his, cold and wide, he's startled. She presses a bit too hard and their teeth almost immediately knock; they are both clearly sloppy and unpracticed. The blood courses hotly through his veins, freeing his mind of all thought as her lips move a little too quickly and his fingers grip a little too tightly at her hips, frozen in shock.
Jemma is surprised by how warm Fitz is against her and her body instinctively moves closer toward him. The ball of snow crumbles in her hand when she clings to his shoulder, attempting to keep herself steady. She's acutely aware that the kiss between them is bad, very bad- strange even- and she desperately tries to improve it by working her lips against his, mimicking what she'd seen in films. What she'd studied.
It's a quick sequence of knocks, a knuckle tapping against a window pane, that sends them jumping apart. Her heart is practically in her throat and she pants, breathless. She can't bare to look at either Fitz or the source of the sound.
"It's our parents," he explains in a whisper, equally winded. When she dares to look up at him, mortification is written plainly across his face.
She shakes her head, realizing her mistake.
"Now what?" He says, his face flushing further when he notices that his hands are still on her. "Wh-What should we tell them?" He swallows thickly willing the stutter from his voice as he forces his hands into his pockets. "We can't stay out here forever."
She frowns and evaluates each of their options. "We should tell them exactly what it is," she decides on, sounding more sure than she actually feels.
His eyebrows raise, his heart is beating into his throat and he's not entirely certain why. "Which is what?"
"A kiss between friends, obviously." There's a squeak in her voice again. Damn it. "It meant nothing."
He nods slowly, confused. "R-right."
Without a further word, she turns on her heel and heads with purpose toward the house, leaving Fitz where he stands, mouth agape. He's quite certain she'll have to be the one to explain things because he's at a complete loss.
Later, when the Fitzes are driving home, his mum taps her finger against his knee and motions for him to remove his earphones from his ears.
"Are you and Jemma dating?" She asks, concern riddled across her face.
He shakes his head, sullenly. "No."
Susan frowns but seems relieved just the same. "But you two-"
"She's just someone I see at Christmas time, Mum. We're just friends. It was nothing." He replaces the earphones in his ears and turns the volume up on his device, distinctly aware of how false his words sound even to him.
"It felt rather tense at dinner, don't you think? They barely said two words to each other." Anne says as she passes Susan a stack of clean dishes. " Do you think they'll be okay?"
She reaches up and places them inside a cupboard to the left of the stove top. "I suspect so. I think they emailed a bit over the course of the year. I know Leo was having some difficulty with his chemistry professor and Jemma helped him out of a pinch he was in."
Anne nods. "That's good. They've been so quiet today so I was a little worried."
"They're teens, darling," Tom reminds from the dining table as he gathers up the paper remnants of the Christmas crackers. "They're bound to be flighty and moody; they're probably watching their programs right now with nary a care in the world. Fury said we shouldn't worry. He seems to think that things are right on schedule."
"Really?" Susan asks, turning toward him in surprise. "Even with an actual ocean separating them? I thought Director Fury would've at the very least have insisted on them being in the same country. I can't imagine he was too happy when Leo moved to America."
"When I last checked in with him he said things were progressing as required and that we shouldn't get involved." He shrugs and tosses the paper scraps into the trash bin. "He was, admittedly, a bit concerned about what had happened last Christmas though."
The women glance at each other knowingly. "Rightfully so," Susan says, wincing at the memory. "Leo was a right nightmare for a solid week after the fact."
Anne nods. "Jemma as well. Truthfully, I'm rather curious as to what had happened before… well, you know."
"We're not to press," Tom reminds. "Fury's orders. Besides it's not like either of them would ever tell us. We're likely never know."
"It's such a shame, really," Anne laments. "They were just so adorable-"
Susan smiles. "Beautiful, really with the snow all around them…"
Tom snorts and shakes his head. "You two are incorrigible, you know that? Just remember that this is meant to be business, yeah?"
Anne rolls her eyes and tosses a dish towel at her husband. "S.H.I.E.L.D allows its agents to date. If they didn't you'd still be sitting in that lab with a monkey as your girlfriend."
"Trinkets wasn't that bad," he teases. "At least she didn't try to set her daughter up on dates."
Anne makes a face at her husband and Susan can't help but laugh at the couple's exchange. "I will say," Susan adds. "If Andrew were still here, he'd probably be stringing up mistletoe all over that living room and forcing those two to kiss again."
"Look at the lot of you with your fanciful ideas, ganging up on me." Tom shakes his head, grinning as he heads to the doorway. "Well I don't know about you two, but I'm going to go and see what the center of all of our attention is up to."
Barely a few minutes pass before Anne hears her husband calling her name in faint whisper.
When the two mothers arrive at the living room, Tom waves for them to approach quietly and points to the couch. There they find Fitz with his arm wrapped around Jemma's shoulder as she sits curled into him, her head tucked against his chest. Both are fast asleep before the television, unaware of the trio that stands watching them.
"Camera?" Anne whispers to Susan who grins, nodding in reply.
She's barely over the threshold of the front door before she's calling out for Fitz. "Where are you?" She sing-songs, a grin wide upon her lips. "Aren't you going to come and say hello?"
When Fitz rounds the corner, Jemma can't help but clap her hands in excitement when she jovially declares, "I've missed your stupid face, Fitz!"
"Jemma!" Someone hisses from behind her. A tall man with perfectly mussed dark hair, tisks as he steps into the light of the entryway. "That's not very polite," he scolds.
Both Fitz and Jemma turn their faces toward him, frowning.
"James," Jemma clucks, rolling her eyes as she elbows him. "It's an inside joke between Fitz and I. He's not offended, are you Fitz?"
Agape and rendered speechless by the exchange that is happening before him, Fitz can only shake his head in reply.
"See?" Jemma shucks her boots and steps more fully into the house. "Fitz, this is my boyfriend James. James, this is Fitz."
When James smiles it's as though his dark features come alive under the coloured lights that his mother had strung along the frame of the door. Fitz thinks he looks a bit like the Chelsea midfielder and he has to suppress the sudden urge that rises in his chest to ask the taller man to leave. And, he thinks bitterly, to stop touching his friend.
Jemma gives Fitz a quick peck on the cheek as she passes while leading James by the hand. Fitz is practically gawking as he follows them into the living room and when his mum embraces the stranger and declares the match before her to be "perfectly lovely" he thinks he might literally be sick.
Jemma can barely find enough focus to concentrate on her studying. Every visible inch of her apartment seems to be covered in study notes and open textbooks and yet, her mind barely registers a fraction of it. She'd made the heartbreaking decision to stay at the Academy for the holidays and finalize her dissertation so that she could present her findings in the new year and fast track her degree. In turn, doing so meant that she'd be missing Christmas in Sheffield; a Christmas that included her parents and the Fitzes, rather than a pile of study notes.
Their joined Christmas celebrations had long become a tradition between their families, with each taking turns or throwing rock-paper-scissors in order to see who would host. She can't even remember a Christmas spent without Leo Fitz and her heart twists at the thought of their first Christmas truly apart.
While they'd often skyped and shared resources and notes of encouragement via email, it wasn't the same. She misses her family and more importantly, she thinks, she misses him.
She wants to hear all about his first term at the Academy's American facility and compare their experiences. Both are things that they'd rarely discussed due to the time differences between them and the sheer amount of work that is required of first year students which keeps them busy.
Jemma can't help the aggravated groan that crosses her lips and she tosses her marked up spiral notebook to the floor. She's too distracted and the incessant Christmas music from next door isn't helping the process. She wants nothing more than to curl up with a cup of tea and watch Christmas specials on a television, just like she'd done every year previous.
But she can't.
Jemma considers marching next door and asking her neighbours (politely, of course) to turn down their music when there's a knock at her own door.
Surprised, she slowly rises to her feet assuming that one of the partygoers must've misread the apartment numbers. She's about to declare as much when she opens her door but an oversized poinsettia with legs greets her instead.
"For you!" The poinsettia is unceremoniously shoved into her hands and she very nearly falls backward from the gesture. A strong, gloved hand reaches for her, steadying her. "Don't fall now! Can't have you injured at Christmas."
She recognizes the teasing Scottish lilt before he even manages to complete his sentence. "Fitz?" She calls, using her chin to push the bracts from blocking her vision and he laughs at her efforts. "Is it really you?"
He guides her to a nearby table and she can't put the heavy plant down fast enough, nearly knocking a stack of notebooks to the floor in the process. Her hands reach for him, pulling him into a tight hug and she barely registers the cold of his jacket or the fact that she's still wearing her reindeer flannels.
"What are you doing here?" Jemma asks giddily, pressed against him. "Shouldn't you be in Scotland? Or Sheffield with my parents?"
She can feel him taking his gloves off at her back and she finally releases him from her grip.
"I was at your parents' place but then I remembered that you weren't coming this year," he says tucking his gloves into his pockets. She motions for his coat and he slips it from his shoulders and passes it to her, taking in her apartment for the first time. "No one should spend Christmas alone. Much less in an apartment filled with…" He picks up a nearby spiral notebook. "With homework? Jemma!"
She quickly hooks his coat onto the coat rack and snatches the book from his hands, giving him an exaggerated frown. "You know very well that they've moved me into an accelerated program," she says. "I've got a double course load now; I'm barely keeping my head above water."
"They're still trying to transition you into SciOps?" He asks following her into the living room where she clears the sofa of even more papers and books.
She nods and motions for him to sit next to her. "That's the plan. But I'm not sure if I can do it."
"You know you can."
She shakes her head, her eyes downcast as she studies her fingers in her lap. "I know you're right, it's just-" Jemma sighs, flustered. "It's very hard going at it alone. I wish you were doing the program with me."
Fitz's lips begin to quirk and he struggles to keep his composure. "I have a bit of a confession to make."
Jemma looks up. "Oh?"
He nods, no longer able to control his grin. "They've put me on the fast track as well. This time next year they'll likely grant me my transfer papers to your division."
Jemma's eyes widen as she stares at him, incredulous. "Are you serious?" He nods. "Here?" He nods a second time and she can't help the squeal of excitement that escapes as she throws her arms around his shoulders. "This is so fantastic! Can you imagine?" She asks rhetorically when she releases him. "The two of us finally being able to work together! The stuff we'd-"
"You don't have a telly," he notes frowning, pointing to the empty space beyond the coffee table.
She rolls her eyes at his interruption. "When am I meant to watch television, Fitz?" She motions at the piles of books that are spread across every surface that surrounds them. "If I want to take a break I just watch something on the internet. The BBC has some great docu-"
"But it's Christmas!"
He pouts and crosses his arms at his chest. "What about our programs?"
"You'll be missing them this year," she says with a laugh, shaking her head.
His mouth hangs open in exaggerated shock. "You can not be serious?"
Jemma shrugs. "I don't know what you want me to say. We have no way of watching them properly. Not legally anyway." She narrows her eyes and points her finger at him. "And I will not have you taking part in any illegal shenanigans on my computer."
Fitz stares at her for an extended moment; it's as though he's mentally calculating a possible solution to their lack-of-a-television problem. He startles her slightly when he jumps to his feet and holds his hand out. "Come," he says excitedly. "If we don't have a television, we shall find one."
Jemma stares at his hand. "How? It's Christmas. Everything will be closed."
He flattens his hand out more and juts it toward her with determination. "Not the pubs," he says, eyes twinkling. "There must be one open."
A smile blooms on her lips and she takes his offered hand, rising to her feet. "Just don't even think about getting me drunk. I have to study tomorrow and I will not be able to do it with a hangover."
"I make no promises, Jemma Simmons."
"It's a Christmas classic, Fitz," she slurs, pulling his arm against her as she folds closer into him.
He laughs. "That is no Christmas film. It's depressing. Christmas films should be happy. Not about divorce, loneliness, affairs and..."
"Kissing your best friend's girlfriend?"
His cheeks redden slightly and he hopes that she doesn't notice. "Right," he says slowly. "But I think they were married."
"Don't forget the porn actors…"
She gasps and comes to a stop and looks up at him, mouth wide open. "They were showing that film in a pub."
He nods and begins to walk again, trying to contain his laughter as the truth of the situation begins to dawn on her.
"They were showing a porn in a pub!" She repeats, incredulous as she hastens to catch up with him.
"Well, it's not quite a porn, Jemma. It's more a Christmas film than it is a porn."
Jemma laughs and pokes him in the side with her finger. "Aha!" She declares. "You admit that it's a Christmas film!"
"You're drunk," he reasons, snickering as he shakes his head. "I'll admit to no such thing."
"Would you do it?" She asks, eyes wide with curiosity.
"Do what?" He scrunches his face. "A porn?"
"No!" Jemma laughs, covering her face with her hands in embarrassment. "Would you kiss your best friend's girlfriend?"
"Well," he says with mock pensivity. "You're my best friend, so that would mean I'd be kissing your girlfriend, so yes?"
Her fist slams playfully into his arm. "You're impossible, you know that right?"
Fitz laughs, holding his hand against his arm to protect it from further assault. "You asked!"
"Well then I hope my imaginary girlfriend is a terrible kisser," she says with a lighthearted huff.
"Speaking of terrible kissers, what happened to your boyfriend? Shouldn't he be around?" The words blurt from his mouth before he has a chance to stop them.
Jemma is unaffected by the question and she rolls her eyes in reply. "Oh, I tossed him long ago. He was jealous of everything! And everyone!" She declares, throwing her arms out to her sides in demonstration. "And you're not wrong. He was a terrible kisser." She shakes her head. "I shan't defend him. He was very…" She sticks her tongue out in disgust. "Wet."
Fitz's eyes widen and he can't help but snort at her description. "Worse than us, then?"
She comes to a stop and stares up at him confused. "We weren't terrible," she states pointedly.
"Jemma. Our kiss was awful. We were fifteen!" His cheeks pink at the memory and his eyes dart toward the ground. "Clearly you are drunk," he adds hoping to alleviate a sudden, awkward tension that has seemed to fill the space between them. "You've obviously forgotten."
"I'm not drunk," she insists quickly. "And it wasn't awful."
Jemma's face is so earnest that Fitz almost believes her.
"Did you think it was awful?" She continues, furrowing her brows, concern clearly written across her face.
His blush deepens and he moves to walk away, intent on ignoring her persistent questioning of an event he'd rather forget. But when she grabs his arm and calls his name, rooting him in place, an excuse stalls on his lips. When he at last meets her gaze, dumbfounded and struggling for a response, she silences him further when she steps toward him and stretches upward, kissing him full on the lips.
While his heart still hammers in his chest and his hands reach for her, yearning, pulling her close; the kiss is different- very different- from the one he remembers. Her hands steady his face and with each slow draw upon his lips she steals his breath, making it her own. Each of her kisses are languid, yet incautious; it's a fearless assault that challenges his self-control.
When she pulls back from him they are both breathless and while he is fevered and holding fast to her, she is notably wide-eyed and pale.
"I'm drunk," she says feebly.
He nods dumbly, the fire in his blood cooling; disappointment snakes through him,
"I think I'm going to be sick…"
What he initially hears is an excuse to their frenetic union on a snowy side street in the late hours of Christmas Day. He's forcing himself not to show his disappointment and it isn't until she pushes past him, rushing toward a nearby trash bin that he fully understands her meaning.
Jemma Simmons is most definitely drunk.
In that moment Fitz decides to stay the night; he rubs her back and pulls her hair into an elastic and brings her a cup of ginger tea when she's finally settled, resting in her bed. When he's certain she's fallen fast asleep, he makes space for himself on the sofa next to her spiral notebooks, textbooks and papers that are filled with chemical equations.
And in the early hours of the morning, when he hears her come awake and head into the shower, he rises and scribbles her a quick note that bids his goodbye before sliding out the door to catch his train back to Glasgow.
The minutes seem to tick by torturously slow and it feels as if every minute sends Fitz back in time by two. It is obvious to all that he is anxious about something. His fingers knead at the letter in his hands as he mentally recites his speech. According to Jemma's parents her train was meant to arrive at four and he'd briefly considered meeting her at the station himself, but his mum peppers him with last minute chores and by the time he's bringing the last of the gifts down from the attic, the clock has moved past her arrival time.
Fitz is desperate to press the envelope into her hands and when he thinks about how it might be the key to everything changing between them, his heart leaps, beating quickly into his throat. He tries to calm his nerves by reminding himself that he'd worked hard for this moment; he'd studied and practiced, perfecting his craft. They'd talked about the potential before and what it would be like to work as a team and he's fairly certain she'll be ecstatic. They are admittedly the brightest and best at their respective divisions and merging their abilities could only result in abounding success.
It's what else he wants to ask her that frightens him to the core.
He decides that a proper cup of tea with a spot of whiskey might settle his nerves and when he closes in on the kitchen about to ask where he could find his mum's stash of Chivas, he's startled into silence when he hears her mention Jemma's name.
"What about Jemma? Do you think she knows?" She asks, passing the creamer to Tom.
He shakes his head. "It's unclear. Although, we both think she suspects something. When we last talked with her she'd seemed rather anxious to get here. Said Leo had a surprise for her." He shrugs and Fitz steps back into the shadow of the hallway, out of sight and curious to watch and listen in further.
His mother blanches slightly. "And what about Fury?"
Anne smiles as she brings her cup to her lips. "He thinks the timing is perfect. He said that it was under his orders to initiate the transition. S.H.I.E.L.D is desperate to pair them up officially."
"And Leo? Does he suspect anything?"
Susan shakes her head as she takes the seat next to Anne. Her face noticeably melancholic. "He's certain the letter was on his own merit."
Anne reaches for her friend's hand and squeezes it. "Leo is such a smart boy, I'm sure he's worked hard and deserves the promotion. His talent must weigh into it."
She shrugs weakly. "I know, I know. I keep telling myself the same thing. I've seen his work with my own eyes; I know he's talented and deserving. But they were six when the plan was put in place. Fury couldn't have known. He can't have known that they'd-"
"-That it'd work?" Tom finishes.
She nods, sighing. "And well…" Her lips pull into a wistful smile. "I never expected they'd…" She pauses, trying to find the right word.
"Like each other?" Anne offers.
She nods again. "It all can't have been in the plan."
Tom shakes his head. "You can never tell, Susan. Fury said their partnership would have a significant role in grounding S.H.I.E.L.D's future. If he'd known enough back then to get us to spend these Christmases together, then maybe it was all part of the plan. Maybe Fury banked on them falling for each other; maybe it only works if they do."
Fitz stumbles back from the wall, all sound lost to him as Tom's words send the blood rushing to his head. In the distance he can hear the front door opening and Jemma's familiar sing-songy voice calling his nickname. When their parents rise from the kitchen table to greet her they pass him, oblivious and unaware that he'd just been a witness to their conversation.
The envelope crumples in his hand and when an edge of the paper stabs his skin an immediate decision forms in his mind. He stuffs it into his back pocket and when Jemma presses her lips to his cheek and squeezes his arm playfully, teasing him about the obvious frown upon his face, he lies fluidly and explains quickly that he'd been denied the promotion.
Her own face falls at the news and when she asks what this means he says that he'll likely be stuck in America for a few more years.
"It's just so strange," she says confused as she removes her jacket, folding it along her forearm. "Even at my division they've been talking about your inventions. There'd been rumours about your trans-"
"They were wrong," he interrupts a bit too coldly, ignoring the puzzled look his mum shoots his way.
"Where is he?" Jemma asks, a curious and wide grin upon her lips.
When Susan turns to face her, her answer is clear, written across her every feature. "I'm so sorry, love," she says softly, passing her coat to Anne. "He's a bit tied up in America with a big project they've given him." There's a rise in her voice that Jemma catches almost instantly and she can feel her heart sink to her stomach.
"So he's not coming?"
Susan shakes her head.
Without a word, Jemma turns on her heel and marches from the front entrance, desperate to not let them see her falter. Her smile sags noticeably when she hurries past her father and into the safe confines of her childhood bedroom where she finally allows her body to sink to the floor.
Disappointment wracks her; she'd gotten so used to seeing him at Christmas time and she can't help but wonder if something had precipitated his sudden absence. He'd certainly given no indication that he was planning on missing their Christmas celebrations.
She pulls her cell from her pocket and slides her thumb across the screen to quickly compose a message to him.
I miss your stupid face. Why aren't you here?
Jemma watches her phone, waiting for his typical, immediate reply. None comes.
She tries again. Are you mad at me?
When her phone buzzes, she nearly drops it from surprise. She suspects a part of her had expected him not to reply, to have been away from his phone. Or avoiding her, even.
No. I could never be mad at you.
Then why aren't you here?
There's a long pause after her last message and she holds her breath waiting for his response. Her heart beats heavily against her chest, anxious and nervous at the same time.
Her phone buzzes with a new reply. Busy. You know how it is.
She's barely through the Fitz' front door when she tears off her coat, scanning the entryway for him.
"Where is he?" She calls, forcing a jovial sound into her voice. "He's here this year right?" She asks, turning toward Susan who's gathering coats in her arms.
She shakes her head, her mouth a straight line. "Not this year, love."
"Oh." Jemma can't mask the disappointment any longer and she can feel the sting rising behind her eyes.
"But he said that he'd left something on his bed that might help," Susan says, motioning gently toward the stairs.
Jemma nods, wringing her hands at her waist. She takes the stairs quickly and opens the door to Fitz's old room, curious as to what's been left behind, hopeful for some clue as to his absence. When she flicks the switch for the ceiling light and illuminates the room, she can't help her gasp.
"Goodall," she whispers, laughing through a choked sob, the tears she'd been holding back suddenly cascading freely down her cheeks. She strides toward it, reaching for its familiar comfort. Her hands are quick and desperate, fisting into the matted fur of the plush monkey that she'd long forgotten about.
She sits on his bed and presses the stuffed animal to her chest, soaking in the faint smell of Fitz's cologne. Her eyes blur with tears and she wonders if her childhood belief in the magic of Goodall might've worn off a bit.
In truth, she thinks, there's really only one thing- one person- that truly helps her when she's sad and for some reason it's becoming increasingly clear that he's avoiding her at Christmas.
"You're avoiding me," she notes matter-of-factly as she dusts the snow from the bench in her parents' front yard and takes a seat next to him. "I was looking all over the house for you. I had to ask my mum where you'd disappeared to."
He shakes his head, solemn. "I'm not avoiding you. I just needed to think a bit."
Fitz has been oddly quiet since his arrival and it hasn't gone unnoticed. Three years may have passed since they'd been in each other's physical presence, but she knew her friend to be typically much more talkative. In the past, there was rarely a quiet moment; every second that they were together seemed to have been filled with discussion of scientific discoveries or even debate on whether the Doctor's latest companion was deserving enough. The silence and tension between them unnerves her and she isn't about to let another Christmas pass without understanding why.
Jemma tightens her scarf at her neck. "It's been three years, Fitz. Plus you're sitting out in the cold in my parents' garden rather than fighting me for the remote. In the warmth."
He sighs lightly in response, his warm breath clouding the air before him.
"Has something gone wrong between us? Cause you've been acting strange since the moment you arrived."
Fitz at last turns to face her, his eyes wide and suddenly fearful. "No! Of course not. I've told you, you've done nothing wrong."
"It feels like it though," she murmurs, her fingers twisting in her lap. She exhales nervously and squares her shoulders, willing herself confident and decisive. "Out with it, then. I won't leave you alone until you tell me."
He looks away again. "It's a long trip from America, Jemma," he reasons, quietly. "That's all." She thinks he might be as bad at lying as she is.
Jemma shakes her head, indignant. "That's bollocks and you know it." She reaches into her coat pocket and pulls out a creased and worn envelope and holds it out to him, her hand shaking slightly. "Does it have anything to do with this?"
She knows he recognizes it the second she offers it to him as his mouth falls open. She nods toward the folded paper, encouraging him to take it.
"Your mum found it in your bedroom," she explains as he runs the tips of his fingers over the edges of the worn paper. "She gave it to me last year when you didn't turn up for the third time; I guess she figured if you were to explain your reasoning, it'd be to me." She looks off into the distance, her vision blurring and she wills herself not to cry. "Truthfully I was scared to know why myself, it's why I waited until I saw you again to ask. Why didn't you take the transfer, Fitz? Didn't you want to work with me?"
"It's all I've ever wanted," he insists, his voice so soft that his words are almost lost in the cold wind that lighty stirs her hair. "I told you that before. I've wanted nothing else."
"Then what happened?"
He takes a deep and shaky breath before he's able to meet her gaze again. "It's all been a plan from the start," Fitz explains, tucking the envelope into the pocket of his coat. "It was a set up."
She frowns, confused. "What do you mean 'a set up'? What are you talking about?"
"We were matched as kids, Jemma," he says faintly, motioning between them. "They've been banking on us becoming friends… partners. They've been using us!"
She can't help the unfettered chuckle that bursts from her and relief floods her body. "This is all about Fury's plan?"
He stares, disbelieving. "You knew?"
"Oh, Fitz!" She declares, pressing her hands to her cheeks. "I overheard my parents talking about it ages ago."
"And you didn't tell me?"
"Honestly, I didn't think it was important."
"But they've forced us to be friends," he says, insistent, his voice rising with every syllable. "It's as if we're pawns!"
"Really, Fitz!" Jemma says. "Do you really think that we were forced to be friends?!"
"But our parents…! They brought us together every Christmas. They made us-"
"Didn't you take Psychology at the Academy?"
"Psychology?" He blusters. "What are you on about?"
"Gordon Allport," she states definitively as if the very name holds all of the answers.
"Gordon Allport," she repeats deliberately as she launches into her explanation. "He theorized that humans are motivated by their conscious desires, not unconscious ones. You see," she adds slowly, watching him carefully as she speaks. "People seek out like-minded individuals in order to further develop their intellect and their personalities."
"So you don't agree?" He asks, shaking his head, bewildered. "You don't think it was purposeful? Planned?"
"Well, certainly it was purposeful and expected," Jemma confirms. "But they didn't force me to have-" She pauses and pinches her eyes shut for a moment, refocusing her explanation. "They didn't force us to be friends. Not in the least."
Jemma can feel her resolve cracking as he stares at her, eyes clouded with confusion. He bites his lip as he processes her analysis and she tugs lightly at her earlobe, wondering if he'll see the point she's trying in vain to make.
He shakes his head. "I don't understand."
She breathes out slowly, exhaling her sudden nervous energy. "We're friends Fitz," she explains hesitantly. "Because we want to be friends. Not because our parents forced us to be."
Fitz stares at her for a moment, seemingly stunned into silence and Jemma wonders briefly if she'd been mistaken. Maybe they aren't really friends... Maybe he doesn't feel the same… It would explain his absence...
He squeezes his eyes shut and his fingers pinch briefly at the bridge of his nose before he suddenly jumps to his feet and begins pacing before her. "It doesn't make sense though," he replies at a jumbled pace. "What about… All the feelings? The physiological response?"
She jerks her head, startled. "Physiological?"
"They should be ephemeral!"
She leans forward, captivated and equally desperate for him to clarify his meaning. He can't possibly mean…? "What should?"
"The feelings!" He replies, exasperated as if she meant to innately understand what he means. "If what you're saying is true then what was the causation?" He flattens his hand against his chest and stares at her, begging for an answer. "Why do I feel this way about…" He swallows thickly, his breath laboured and eyes wide and pleading, focused solely on her. "Everything."
Jemma stares, spellbound. "Our feelings affect our behaviour," she explains, her voice delicate and unsure, testing for his reaction. In truth, Jemma is not entirely sure if she's answering him with scientific fact or vocalizing her own internal thoughts.
"I need a logical reason."
"A logical reason to what?" Her fingers clutch the edge of the bench. "I like you, Fitz," she admits nervously, the words free-falling from her tongue. "It's not because our parents set up an environment conducive to friendship, or because the director of S.H.I.E.L.D thinks we'd make good lab partners. I've wanted to be with you."
He watches her; it's as if his blue eyes are studying every crease upon her face and she can barely breathe as she waits for his reaction, hopeful that he'll understand the truth in her confession.
Her stomach begins to knot when Fitz doesn't immediately acknowledge her declaration; every doubt she'd had seems to float anew to the surface. Her mind reels, readying an excuse when she notices Fitz stepping forward and in the pulse of a heartbeat he reaches for her, taking her face between his hands and pressing his unguarded lips against hers. His mouth devours her gasp of surprise and every conscious thought she'd had along with it.
Her breath hitches when his mouth slides more firmly against her own; she's wanted nothing less for as long as she can remember.
It's Fitz that pulls back first, his chest heaving, unable to tear his eyes from her as he steps back widening the space between them.
"I- I didn't…If you don't… I mean..." His tongue darts quickly across his lips and his hand rubs at his neck as his face reddens, strangely abashed.
She stands and steps toward him. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea," she says, her words a fevered whisper.
His eyes meet hers and when she further narrows the gap between them, he lets her, frozen in place. "What do you mean?"
Jemma's heart thumps wildly in her chest, pushing her toward admitting at long last what she'd so perfectly guarded. "I don't want this to be just a kiss between friends at Christmas time. I don't want it to be like before. I-"
"Want it to be different?"
She nods slowly and carefully and it's Fitz this time that steps toward her, putting their bodies inches apart.
"I'd rather like to spend New Years with you."
"Just New Years?" He teases lightly, a smile quirking at his lips as his hand cautiously cups her cheek.
She leans into his touch, shaking her head ever so slightly. "Every day."
Jemma smiles shyly, lacking the exact words to properly reassure him. Instead, she decides to show him when she presses up on the balls of her feet and closes the remaining gap between them, meeting him more fully.
Later, while sitting in the warmth of the living room by the lights of the Christmas tree, Fitz will steal the television remote from Jemma's hand and she, in return, will punch him playfully in the arm. When he tentatively wraps his arm around her shoulder and pulls her tighter against him, both won't hesitate to agree that for once, everything is beautifully perfect.
When Fitz finally opens his eyes, it's the twinkling of the lights on the Christmas tree and Jemma's heavy breathing against his chest that greets him. His hand rubs at her slick back and he can't help the grin that spreads across his lips as a light shiver courses through his body.
Jemma reaches upward to the sofa, pulling a blanket from the seat and throws it over her shoulders allowing it to serve the dual effect of warming them both simultaneously. Curled against his warmth, she nuzzles her face lightly against his chin and smiles against his skin. She doesn't think she'll ever get used to feeling him all around her, breathing him in and experiencing every part that he has to offer and the very thought sends a blush to her cheeks. She bows her head into the crook of his neck and presses her lips against the light stubble of his chin.
"What do you think our parents would say if they knew what we'd done under the Christmas tree?" She asks, murmuring against his jawline.
His body shakes lightly with his laugh and his arms tighten around her. "I don't exactly want to think about our parents right now, Jem." She grins wickedly in reply, her lips warm against his face. "The greatest idea you ever had was sending them to that spa on the coast."
"It was inspired, wasn't it?" She notes lazily, nipping gently at his ear lobe. When he groans contently, she redoubles her efforts and traces his jawline, pressing soft kisses as she slowly shifts her body, nudging him purposefully.
"What did I do right in this world to deserve you?"
"You stole my stuffed monkey," she deadpans against his chin and he laughs. "I was so furious with you."
He grins at the memory. "Well you deserved it after saying I had a stupid face. Besides, I rather liked that monkey."
She laughs. "You never did give her back."
"Did so," he protests. "I left her for you that one Christmas."
"And I never took her with me. Left her right there on your bed."
He clicks his tongue and tucks an errant piece of her hair behind her ear, letting his thumb rest upon her cheek. "Well then, it's settled. You gave her to me!"
"It was a loan!" She corrects teasingly, swatting at his shoulder.
Fitz shakes his head, grinning. His fingers move to gently run along the length of her spine and she settles back against him. "You want to know something?" He asks.
His lips press against the top of her head. "I love your stupid face."
She lifts her head and props her chin upon his chest, her dark eyes sparkling in the glow of the Christmas tree. "And I love your stupid face."
"Happy Christmas, Jemma."
"Happy Christmas, Fitz."
Thank you for reading! I'd love it if you'd leave a comment and let me know which age was your favourite.