AN: So there has been much speculation about Fitz's face at the end of FZZT; I've heard people opine that he's realizing his feelings for her, or that he's realizing her feelings for him, or possibly that we're going to find out that he's bad which would be awesome because I'd love to watch Fitz try to be evil. But to me, what I saw most in his face was unhappiness. I have no idea if that was deliberate or my misinterpretation or just a weird choice on the actor's part, but either way, I decided to write a fic based on what it could mean if he was in fact unhappy. And then it grew way out of control and morphed from one part to three.
. . . . . .
The bunk is quiet and dark and, at that moment, feels very . . . safe, somehow. But maybe that has to do with the fact that his best friend is sitting by his side, whole and healthy, not dead in the Atlantic somewhere.
She's currently reassuring him. "Ward did an amazing thing, yes. But it wasn't Ward by my side in that lab searching for a cure. It wasn't Ward giving me hope when I had none. It was you. You're the hero."
"Yeah?" He smiles shyly.
The kiss she places on his cheek is sweet, friendly, grateful, and Fitz smiles to himself as Simmons leaves the bunk, scratching his neck and thinking how glad he is she's alive.
But somehow his mind can't focus on the good right now. Somehow almost immediately other thoughts creep in, thoughts of Skye talking earlier about their psychic connection—assuming, like so many people they'd met, that they were a couple. They've both always laughed it off because there is now and always has been absolutely nothing like that between them; he loves her of course, but the way you love a best friend, a sister—or in their case, even the way you love your own voice, your own hands, your own mind: you don't think about it because they're always there, but you could not function without them. Simmons is everything to him . . . except a romantic partner.
But that kiss—surely it was just friendly, he tells himself, but a part of his mind he cannot turn off has started to worry. What if, that little piece of him insists, it wasn't just a thank-you? There are other ways to tell a friend thanks. What if it was more? What if she has started to feel for you something that you do not and cannot return?
It's crazy, he tells himself. That's never been him and Jemma and it never will be. But still, he finds himself shifting uncomfortably and hugging the pillow closer to his chest, and he can feel himself frowning.
. . . . . .
The team doesn't often take meals together, but that night, by some unspoken agreement they find themselves gathering for dinner at the same time. Amazing how nearly losing one of your own changes things.
There's an advantage to eating together, Fitz sees, because he and Skye reach for their silverware at the same time and their fingers brush and he knows how juvenile it is of him but he can't help the little smile that flickers across his face. Skye just laughs and apologizes and hands him a fork and he wishes he had the courage to brush her hand again as he takes it from her—but he doesn't have that courage, never has. But still, he lingers over getting his drink so that he and Skye are heading for the table at the same time, so that hopefully he can sit next to her at the table without it being entirely obvious that he's doing so.
And maybe it would have worked—they do seem to be heading for two side-by-side chairs—if not for the fact that just then Skye glances back and sees Simmons heading for the table as well, so at the last moment, after Fitz has already set his plate down in front of one chair, the hacker veers left and takes the next seat down, leaving a spot open for Simmons to sit by her partner.
The sick feeling from earlier returns. Skye, at least, clearly thinks they're a couple, or at least, as one professor had once called them, a matched set. How can she ever notice him if she thinks he's already involved with someone else?
He can't move now—that would be too obvious—but he spends the entire meal talking over Simmons to Skye. Simmons doesn't seem to notice; she's deep in conversation with Coulson, across the table, about her thoughts on building up a supply of anti-serum for the Chitauri virus, in case anyone else comes in contact with items left over from the invasion. Unfortunately Skye seems equally enthralled by the anti-serum conversation, making Fitz's attempts at engaging her nearly impossible. Time, he tells himself. Give it time.
When everyone's meal is finished, Ward, of all people, unexpectedly holds up a glass. "A toast," he says. "To Jemma Simmons, who is smart enough to fight an alien virus and brave enough to give up her own life to save the team."
"Hear hear," says Coulson, lifting his glass, and around him the rest of the team does the same while Simmons blushes very prettily.
"Well, while we're making toasts," Simmons says, "I'd like to propose one to Ward, for jumping out after me, and one to Fitz, who would have jumped out after me if Ward hadn't beat him to it."
Laughter ripples around the table as everyone raises their glasses. Fitz smiles and squirms under the attention and can't help sneaking a glance at Skye to see if she's looking at him. And she is, sort of, or at least she's looking back and forth between him and Ward, which is at least a step in the right direction.
Then, without warning, someone is touching him, and he jumps a little. It's Simmons, ruffling his hair affectionately as she has done since they were students. And that Skye does see; he can see her smiling at them both in a sort of "Aw, isn't it cute" way.
See? asks that part of him that he's been trying to ignore. Simmons likes you, as in she likes you, and as long as Skye sees that she is never going pay you any attention.
And Fitz looks at Simmons, smiling broadly at him, and he looks at Skye, smiling broadly at them both, and suddenly he's not in the mood for merriment any longer.
. . . . . .
"Fitz, come take a look at this!"
Fitz glances up from test results he's reading to see Simmons standing in front of one of the large display screens, which appears to be showing a magnification of some sort of cell, though not any he recognizes. Probably they're more epithelial cells from the helmet; Simmons' brush with death has only made her more fascinated by the virus, and she's become quite passionate about studying it and developing more anti-serum. She's always been enthralled by the deadly and gruesome, and he isn't sure if that makes her brave or certifiable.
Right now, though, he finds himself rather less interested than normal in probing the depths of his partner's psyche; the lingering fear that she's fallen in love with him seems to be tainting all their interactions. He hesitates at his workstation, but when she repeats her request he sighs and joins her at the screen, careful to put more space between them than he usually does.
She doesn't notice. "So I've been attempting to study the propagation mechanism of the virus—how a virus can actually be propagated through an electrostatic shock . . ."
As she rambles on he lets his mind wander. This is the way they've always been; they both like to talk through what they're thinking about, and as a result he knows far more about biochem than most engineers ever would. So he's capable of understanding what she's saying, and in normal circumstances would have been interested in it. But these are not normal circumstances; these are affairs of the heart. He's been thinking it over since last night, and he's decided that the best thing to do is cool things off a little between him and Simmons. Not ignore her, of course; besides being his lab partner she's his best friend. But just to keep a little distance between them—enough that she'll maybe take the hint and prevent them from having to have an awkward conversation that can only ruin their friendship.
"What do you think?" Simmons suddenly asks, breaking him from his reverie.
He stares at her blankly. "I . . . don't really know what to tell you," he says truthfully. "This is really your area of expertise, not mine."
Simmons looks at him curiously, but before she can speak he returns to his test results. A few more days of this, he tells himself, a few more days of refusing to do the wonder twins thing, and she'll get the hint.
. . . . . .
Well, his plan seems to be working, because two weeks later when Coulson calls them all for a briefing, Simmons doesn't even sit on the same couch as him. Normally they sit together, closer than is socially acceptable—in their time together, looking over each other's shoulders at microscopes and computers, they've completely lost any sense of the other's personal space. But now she's sitting next to May. Fitz hides a smile and sits next to Skye, who is on the couch with Ward.
"Possible gifted," Coulson explains. "Kid from an Amazonian tribe. A trader saw him and reported he seems to be able to control plant growth. Since it's biological, Simmons, we want you on the ground as soon as possible to investigate it."
"Sounds like fun," says Simmons enthusiastically, and Fitz can't help smiling a little.
"There's a problem," May says. "It's deep in the Amazon, two hundred and fifty miles from the nearest airstrip big enough to land this plane at. Once we've landed, we'll have to have to grab a prop plane and then a boat to get there. We're looking at a half day of travel."
"And as this is a nomadic group that tends to move once they run into outsiders, we want to get on the ground as soon as possible, in case they are planning on pulling up roots and we're about to lose them to the rainforest." Coulson has his arms crossed across his chest.
"Solutions?" Ward asks.
"I'll land the plane and we'll travel upriver to the location with all our gear," says May. "But first we're going to drop you, Coulson and Simmons at the location to do observation."
Coulson looks at Ward. "You all right doing a tandem jump with Simmons?"
Not likely, Fitz scoffs to himself. They all know perfectly well Ward hates working with the two of them—and Skye, a lot of the time—in dangerous field situations. They hold him back, he claims, keeps him from doing his job.
So he's startled when Ward nods. "No problem. We've already done the last couple hundred feet of a tandem jump, after all." And Ward—Ward—cracks a smile at Simmons.
"All right, we're an hour from the jump site," says Coulson. "Gear up. Simmons, you'd better go figure out what you need to bring that fits in a backpack and won't break in case of a hard landing."
At this Simmons shoots Coulson an incredulous look and Fitz can only chuckle. She's right—given the complexity of most of their equipment, those are actually very tall orders to fill.
He catches up with her at the top of the stairs. "Take the DWARF prototypes. They don't have the quite the same flight capabilities and wireless range, but they'll do the job with any biological scans you need."
She stops walking and looks back at him, surprised. "Are you certain? We're jumping out of a plane into a rainforest. I can't promise they won't be damaged."
"They're just the prototypes," he shrugs. "And it makes the most sense."
"Thanks, Fitz." She gives him a tight smile and continues down the stairs.
She's so matter-of-fact about the whole thing that he can't help calling after her. "Aren't you nervous?" he asks, trotting after her. "You've never skydived before."
She chuckles a little. "I have once. I just didn't expect to survive the landing."
"She'll be fine," comes Ward's voice from behind them on the stairs, and Fitz pauses and looks back at him. "She's a tougher girl than we give her credit for." His words are to Fitz but his eyes are on Simmons, and when Fitz looks over at his friend, she's blushing.
. . . . . .
"She's crazy," Skye says, shouting to be heard over the roar of the boat motor. "But in an awesome way. I did not expect that when I met her."
"Simmons?" Fitz shouts back, clarifying.
"She jumped out of a plane twice," Skye says. "I think she's braver than me and I'm the one training to be a field agent."
So bravery impresses Skye, then? He needs an opportunity to be brave.
"Why didn't the two of you ever become field agents?" Skye shouts.
"Oh, that. Well, we—our field assessments weren't—we just never really wanted to, you know? We're very happy in our lab, making . . . very important scientific breakthroughs."
May, sitting across the boat from them, smirks at him, and Fitz sighs inwardly. Of course May knows they both failed their field assessments. May knows everything.
"If you're ever interested," the woman calls over in her usual deadpan way, "me or Coulson would be happy to train your for another attempt."
"You should do it," Skye grins. "That would be so cool."
Fitz doesn't think there's enough training in the world to turn him into a gun-shooting, karate-fighting, plane-jumping secret agent like Ward or May, but he doesn't bring that up. He's trying to look brave right now, after all. So he turns the focus away from him. "How's your training going?" he asks Skye, and to his surprise her face falls.
"Okay, I guess," she shrugs. "I mean, the actual stuff I'm supposed to be learning is going okay, but . . ." She sighs. "Ward's still mad at me. I mean, we're doing better than we were, and he's still training me and stuff, but we don't hang out anymore. When I walk into a room and he's already there, half the time he'll just leave. And if he walks into a room and I'm there alone, he looks super suspicious and asks what I've been doing, like he thinks he's just interrupted me sending SHIELD secrets to Rising Tide." She sighs and slumps back against the bench. "I think that's the thing I regret the most, you know? I mean obviously I regret all of it, but, like, you and Simmons forgave me, because you're like that. But Ward doesn't trust people, and after I blew that once I don't know if he'll ever trust me again. Maybe I should . . . I don't know, get another SO."
Across the boat May is watching them with raised eyebrows. "You know," she says, "if you ever want a break from Ward for a while, Coulson or I would be happy to take you on for a few weeks until you and Ward work this out."
"Thanks," smiles Skye. "But I think telling him I don't want to train with him anymore would just drive a bigger wedge between us. I'll stick with it—slow and steady, that's the key with Ward."
Too bad; her taking a break from Ward might have been a golden opportunity for Fitz. But at least their estrangement does give him more of a chance than he normally has. He gives Skye a sympathetic smile and she smiles back.
. . . . . .
"It's incredible," Simmons grins. "This boy does seem to be able to increase plant growth at a noticeable rate, simply by touching them. I'm taking back several samples of affected vegetation to look for any changes in the plants' cellular structure."
"And the boy?" May asks.
"Well, the language barrier is making things difficult, but from what I can tell, the tribe understandably refuses to allow us to take the boy in for further examination," says Coulson. "I would do the same in their case."
"So what now?" asks Fitz.
"Well, now that the boy's powers are confirmed, SHIELD will monitor the tribe from afar. That's all we can do."
"Especially given that we feel the boy could do little harm with these powers," offers Simmons.
"So we came all this way for nothing?" asks Skye incredulously, and Fitz sees Ward's glance slide to her, then away.
"Not at all," Coulson smiles. "You came to pick us up."
A few minutes later, Fitz has helped Simmons pack away the DWARF prototypes, which have been scanning affected vegetation, and is returning to the others when he hears Ward and Skye talking a few meters away, mostly hidden from view by the thick foliage.
"I'm sorry," Skye is saying, "but I don't understand why you're mad at me."
"Why were you questioning your orders like that? In front of your commanding officer?" Ward demands.
"Because I . . . am not actually a SHIELD agent?" she says in her isn't-it-obvious tone.
"And you won't be if you keep this up. I can train you to shoot a gun but apparently I can't train you to take any of this seriously. I absolutely will not recommend you be approved as a field agent if I don't trust your commitment to this team and to SHIELD."
"Why are you being so hard on me?" she demands. "It was dumb comment. It didn't mean anything." Fitz agrees; Ward is blowing this whole thing out of proportion.
"Because I'm seeing a pattern here," says Ward. "You never want to be held responsible for any of your actions."
Skye is silent a long moment. "So I take it you're still mad at me about the Miles thing," she says softly.
There's another pause, and then the sound of Ward walking away. When Fitz leans to the side to get a view of Skye's face, he sees she's crying.
. . . . . .
When the bus is safely airborne, May walks into the lounge where Fitz is reading a book and Ward is getting himself a drink. "So I was thinking," she says to Ward. "You've done really great work with Skye, but Coulson and I were talking and we feel it could be a good experience for her if I took over her training for a few weeks. I could get her started on flight basics and offer some insights on being a woman in this organization."
Ward has gone quite still, his face impassive, his grip tight on his glass. "Oh?" he says.
"Yes, when I was a trainee, I thought the rotations I did with Cecelia Jackson were some of the most important of my training. Being a woman in an organization like this is a different experience and one that you cannot speak to."
It's a reasonable argument, and if Fitz hadn't heard Skye and May's conversation on the boat, if he hadn't seen Skye's tears in the jungle, he probably would have bought it.
But Ward seems suspicious, like maybe he realizes how hard on Skye he's being, like he suspects she asked for this transfer. Still, it's a reasonable argument and it comes down from Coulson, so he shrugs. "Fine."
May nods and leaves the room, and maybe Ward has forgotten Fitz is there because he allows himself a moment to be angry, to slam his cup down on the bar. What Fitz isn't sure of is who Ward is angry at—Skye, May, or himself.
Just then Simmons walks in, clearly heading for her bunk, but when Ward sees her he calls out her name like it's forced out of him, like it's a reflex.
"Yes?" She turns and smiles at Ward. Fitz has seen her smile a million times but never quite like this, never quite so . . . girlishly.
"You told me you enjoyed that tandem jump, right?"
"Oh yes," she smiles. "That was very exciting." Neither of them seems to notice Fitz is in the room.
"Well look, I've got some free time coming up. What if I trained you to jump alone? Then if a situation like the one we just had ever comes up again, you can do it on your own."
Simmons looks surprised and pleased. "Well . . . yes, I would love that." She gives an embarrassed little shrug. "It would be nice to feel like I'm not such a burden to the team."
"Good," says Ward. "Tomorrow at ten o'clock. I'll come find you. Wear something you can move in."
He nods at her and leaves the room, his face still set in lines of anger. Simmons stands there a moment longer, that silly, sweet grin still lingering on her lips, and then she leaves too. Fitz watches them both go, a heavy feeling settling into his stomach. He'd wanted Simmons out of his hair and Skye away from Ward, but now that it's happened, he can't help feeling that things have just gone terribly wrong.
. . . . . .