AN: Sorry for the long break. November and December were very busy months.
. . . . . .
"It doesn't necessarily mean anything," says Skye.
"Or it means everything," says Fitz.
"It could have been friendly," says Skye. "That's something friends do."
"I should have seen this coming," says Fitz. "She spent so much time with him, she was bound to fall for him some time."
"Although he never really did that when we were friends."
"And why wouldn't she? He's taller than me, he's more handsome than me, he's stronger than me."
Skye's face brightens. "But," she points out, "he's my SO. Maybe he would have thought getting too informal with me was inappropriate, but since she's just a co-worker it's okay."
"Maybe I should start lifting weights."
Her face falls again. "Although that would mean that even if we become friends again, he wouldn't ever let it become anything more."
Fitz sighs. "I hate lifting weights. I'm like a Tyrannosaurus Rex—puny little arms. All my strength is in my legs."
"Stop being weird, Fitz," she says. "This is serious."
"Yeah," he agrees, finally looking up at her, "but right now there's nothing we can do about it."
And Skye sighs and falls against the couch because it's unfortunate but true, and he knows she hates it as much as he does. But there's really nothing to be done but wait.
. . . . . .
Simmons was right: Coulson needs him. But there's a disadvantage to being called away, he finds when he returns to the plane after a long day in the field: he's missed a call from Simmons, as he left his cell on the plane and she didn't take her earpiece with her.
"Hi, Fitz!" runs the cheery message she's left him. "I'm sorry I missed you, but I hope that means you're off doing something exciting. Everything's great here. Do you remember Dr. Miller from the academy? He was giving a lecture on his latest discoveries in extraterrestrial biology and he called me up to talk about my work on the Chitauri virus. Completely impromptu, absolutely terrifying, but it went really well and so many people wanted to talk to me afterwards! It was incredible!"
He can hear the giddiness in her voice and he finds himself smiling in return, but the smile can't stamp out the worry he still feels.
"Anyway, I'll tell you all about it when I get back." She pauses, apparently listening to something, then adds, "Ward says to tell you all that he hopes you all haven't been causing too much trouble for May while he's been gone."
She laughs and says goodbye and the message ends, and Fitz is left feeling more alone than ever.
. . . . . .
The tapping of his keyboard echoes through the lab, which feels positively cavernous when it's so empty and quiet. After four years with Simmons, he's not used to being alone—not at work, not after work.
So he's glad when he hears the door slide open behind him; Skye, probably, coming to chat with him, or Coulson with a mission. He's hurriedly finishing typing the line he's on when the newcomer speaks.
"I don't think I've ever heard it so quiet in here."
"Jemma!" he gasps, spinning around in his chair, and before he's made a conscious decision about how to greet her, his body moves of its own accord and he's on his feet wrapping his arms around her.
"Hello, Fitz," she laughs, hugging him back. "Did you miss me?"
"So much," he mumbles into her hair. "I finally got that prototype of the new concussion grenades operational and no one even cared about how I fixed the overheating problem." This is probably the point where most people would end the hug. He doesn't. "But I thought you weren't back until tomorrow."
She chuckles and extricates herself from his arms and he misses her already. "The only thing left to stay for was a cocktail social tonight, and Ward and I didn't really care to attend." That warms him through—maybe she'd missed him too—until she adds, "Everyone I wanted to talk to was leaving early anyway."
Still, she's home and that's the important part. Her duffel bag is still sitting on the ground, and he picks it up. "Let's go get you unpacked and you can tell me all about the conference."
"Deal," she smiles.
As they climb the stairs Ward falls into step behind them, his duffel bag in hand, and Fitz hopes that Skye's around; she'd be sorry to find out he was home and she'd missed welcoming him. And his hopes are fulfilled: he and Simmons are halfway to her bunk when Skye appears and her eyes fall on Ward, standing at the fridge.
"Hey," she says, and Fitz can tell she's striving hard for a normal tone. "You're back early."
And Ward pauses, then turns to look at her. "Hey," he says back, and his gaze slides down to the table, but then back up to her. "Yeah, we are."
What follows is one of the most uncomfortable silences Fitz has experienced in a long time, which Ward eventually breaks by picking up his bag. "Better go unpack," he says, and strides to his bunk, leaving Skye looking disappointed.
And Simmons, watching him go, sighs.
. . . . . .
"And then," Simmons says, carefully hanging up her jacket, "Dr. Hernandez talked—you remember Dr. Hernandez from that whole Cincinatti incident?—she talked about her ongoing study of organ functionality in gifteds with above-human strength. Absolutely fascinating. We've always known that the effects on internal systems vary based on the source of the strength, but she's studying patterns of system change across various strength sources. Professor Erskine's super soldier serum has still never been matched in terms of the amount of long-term system stability it provides the subject."
"Impressive," Fitz smiles from where he sits on her bed. "Did you run into Marilyn Barnes?"
"Yes, we got dinner together Tuesday. She sends her love, by the way. She was just reassigned to the Hub—apparently her research on mutations really impressed the right people. She was telling me about her lab—it sounds amazing." A half-smile crosses her face as she pulls her pajama pants out of her duffel. "Of course I love our lab, but the fact is that being on an airplane really limits the amount of space we have available."
His smile freezes on his face, and he can feel it getting ever more fake as he tries to decide how to respond. In the end he can't hide his feelings; he never could. "So did anyone try to tempt you into a fancy new lab?" he asks, his eyes fixed on the bedspread, and he knows how he must sound.
She pauses, her hands growing still where they rest on her now-empty bag, and looks at him knowingly. "It was mentioned as a possibility a time or two," she says. "But I told everyone the same thing." He raises a questioning eyebrow and she smiles. "That I'm happy where I am."
He gives a hesitant little smile. "Really?"
She sits down next to him on the bed, and if he leaned over just a little their shoulders would brush. He doesn't dare do it. "Really," she confirms. "I'm not done seeing the world yet, I get to be out on the front lines investigating amazing things . . . and I've got my best friend here." And she does what he didn't dare and leans over to nudge his arm.
He grins, his gaze fixed shyly on his hands. "I'm glad. I would miss you." And he looks up and over at her at the same time she looks up and over at him. They're so close now, and the bunk is so quiet, and her smile is so perfect, that he actually leans toward her—the sort of bold action he's usually terrified to take.
But in the end nothing happens—in the end he stops before she's even noticed that he's done anything—because the thought of Grant Ward has suddenly popped into his head, and the reminder that he doesn't know what's going on between the two of them overrides any amount of courage he can muster to convince himself to kiss her.
Simmons, oblivious, lays her head on his shoulder and sighs contentedly. "It's good to be home."
And Fitz, still haunted by that uncertainty and by the threat of Ward's absurdly handsome cheekbones, takes a breath, pauses, then speaks in a rush. "Did you have a nice time hanging out with Ward at the conference?"
"Ward?" She sounds surprised. "Honestly, we didn't see each other much; I was attending presentations and he had security duties to attend to."
"Oh," says Fitz. "Were you . . . unhappy about that?"
She chuckles. "Should I have been unhappy?"
"I mean, did you want to spend more time with him? Do you want to spend more time with him now?"
And now Simmons is lifting her head from his shoulder and turning to look at him in surprise. "Fitz, what are you saying?"
And he doesn't mean to be this forward but the question bursts out of him. "Are you and Ward dating?"
Simmons' face is a perfect picture of surprise, and then she starts laughing. He hopes that's a good sign, and it turns out he's right. "Sorry, it's just so odd having you ask me about my dating life," she smiles. "But no, we're not dating at all. We're not even interested in each other."
Oh, thank goodness. "I don't mean to be rude, asking like that," he explains. "It's just that . . . since we're all living here together . . ."
"It would affect all of us," she finishes.
"Exactly. And see, when he first started training you, you seemed . . ."
He can't find the word but she doesn't need him to. "I know," she says, and looks slightly embarrassed. "I had a bit of a crush on him after he jumped out of the plane after me," she admits. "But that never went anywhere and now, I can assure you, it's quite in the past."
"Really?" He fights back a relieved smile. "You just . . . stopped?"
"As I spent time with him, I realized . . . I don't know, the shine wore off after a while. And then he told me—well, I forced it out of him—that his interest lies elsewhere." She smiles ruefully. "And he said that this person is the reason he decided to train me in the first place; it was not, as I'd hoped, that he wanted to spend more time with me."
"That must have hurt," he says sympathetically, but his mind is still processing what she said and what it could mean.
"It's all right," she says. "We've become rather good friends now and I'm quite happy with things as they are."
There's a long pause while Fitz has a fierce internal debate, and then he speaks. "Was it Skye?" he asks. "Who Ward's interested in." It's not really his business, who Ward pines for, but it has absolutely become his business to be concerned about Skye, and from Simmons' hints he has a wild hope about Ward's little secret.
Simmons hesitates. "I don't know if I should—"
"Just tell me," he insists. "Please? Is it Skye? Just tell me that it's Skye."
She looks surprised. "You want it to be?" He nods and she shrugs. "Well . . . yes, it's Skye. He's very attached to her and it worries him a lot because he thinks feelings like that would interfere with his ability to do his job, so he's been distancing himself from her. And then he suspects she's still interested in Miles." She looks at him more closely, peers at his growing smile. "You're happy about this? I didn't want to tell you because you're . . . you know, quite fond of Skye."
She doesn't know, he realizes, and then thinks, Well, of course she doesn't know—I never told her. "Oh, don't worry about that," he assures her. "I have been very over Skye for a while now."
"Oh, good," she smiles, and his heart pounds a little faster, but then she adds, "I was worried about both you and Ward being interested in her—it seemed like it had to end in heartbreak for at least one of you."
"Skye really likes him," Fitz admits. "She's been heartbroken lately about him pushing her away this last month or two. I don't think it's occurred to her that he could be just trying to stay focused on his job. I wish we could convince Ward to tell her."
And at that Simmons starts to smile, her I'm-having-a-brilliant-plan smile. "Fitz," she says, "I think it's time we took those two in hand."
He's not sure what that entails, but he'd follow Simmons to the ends of the earth when she smiles like that.
"Okay," he says, then pauses. "What does that mean?"
. . . . . .
Two days later he's regretting agreeing with her. "I am never listening to one of your ideas again," he gasps between gulps from his water bottle. "I went into science to avoid running."
"It's not so bad," Simmons tries to smile, but he can see perfectly well that her face is brick red and sweaty and that she's leaning heavily against the railing. "It's good exercise, anyway."
"If this is good exercise, I'd rather die of heart failure at fifty, thanks."
"Don't be ridiculous, Fitz. Anyway we needed some kind of outing that would interest both of them, and as they're both supposed to be in good shape to be field agents . . ." She's referring, of course, to her plan to force Ward to stop avoiding Skye. Thus far it's been a bust: at lunch on Monday and at their movie night last night, Ward and Skye sat as far from each other as possible and exchanged minimal conversation. And this outing—making use of the track at the base they're parked at—seems to be equally unsuccessful.
"Look at them, they're not even anywhere each other!" Fitz points out, flinging his hand out in a sloppy sweep that takes in Skye jogging determinedly down the track and Ward, across the field, doing sprints on the stairs that lead up to the parking lot. "I don't think this has really worked at bringing them together." He shakes his head. "I guess we shouldn't be surprised that running laps isn't hardcore enough for Special Agent Grant Ward."
Simmons sighs and slumps against the railing. "I know. I pictured this working better in my head." A frown crosses her face. "And I think I'm getting shin splints. Isn't shin splints a thing? I don't know, I've never run enough to get them."
But whether or not it's shin splints, the pain on her face is undeniable and Fitz quickly puts his water bottle back on the bench and moves to comfort her. "Do you need anything?" he asks, and one hand reaches out to rub her back reassuringly but ends up hovering uselessly near her shoulder after he realizes she might not want to him to touch her when she's all sweaty.
She shakes her head and starts doing toe-touches—he's not sure that's the right thing to do for shin splints but he doesn't say anything because what does he know about running, really—while he averts his eyes so it doesn't look like he's watching her bend over. "This might have been a terrible idea," she says.
"Hey, it wasn't terrible," he says quickly. "It was just . . . not as good as you'd hoped."
She laughs. "Fitz . . ." she starts as she reaches for her water bottle.
But he never finds out what she would have said because Skye jogs up at that moment, drenched in sweat and looking exhausted. "I think I've had more than enough of that for today," she says. "Me and running aren't exactly best friends." She chuckles and takes a drink. "Although I used to be better at it—had to run from the cops more than once in the past. Miles has much longer legs than me, so I had to run hard to keep up." Fitz and Simmons both laugh and she tells them, "I almost got the both of us arrested once."
And while she's smiling at the memory, Ward appears behind her, clearly having heard at least part of the conversation. "So your boyfriend encouraged your delinquency? Sounds like a great basis for a relationship." But he winces as much as Skye does; maybe he regrets the mocking tone of his comment—maybe it was meant to be a joke, not an insult. Or maybe he regrets calling Miles her boyfriend.
And Skye, Fitz can see from her expression, is fed up. "Well, he had my back," she says tartly. "He never left me behind, or abandoned me, and he was always supportive even when I screwed up. And I'd say that's pretty important in any relationship."
Ward is silent as she walks away, back toward the parking lot, but now that Fitz knows what to look for he can see that the older agent is conflicted and regretful.
"Oh, dear," says Simmons quietly. "Maybe it's time to call it a day."
"Good," says Fitz promptly, but Ward shakes his head.
"I'll stay out here a while longer," he says, giving Simmons a look.
She looks apologetic. "I'm sorry, Grant," she says. "I didn't mean for—"
His face softens a little. "I know, Jem." And then he jogs away, leaving Fitz and Simmons alone.
"Oh dear," Simmons repeats.
. . . . . .
Fitz sees Coulson that night when they both go to the fridge at the same time for drinks. "I see you and Jemma have become friends again," the older agent says conversationally.
"Yes sir," Fitz smiles.
Coulson hesitates, then asks, "Is that all you two are becoming?"
And now the smile's gone. "Why does everyone on the plane feel like that's their business?" he demands.
Coulson is sympathetic. "You want people feeling like your personal life is their business," he says mildly, "try dying and coming back to life."
. . . . . .
Four days and as many botched matchmaking attempts later, Simmons has a breakthrough. "We're the problem," she tells Fitz. "We're always with them, so they talk to us instead of each other. We need to take ourselves out of the equation."
Her new plan is simple: they all have the next day off, as Coulson and May have a mandatory meeting to attend on base, and she invites Skye and Ward to come to the local aquarium in the morning. Fitz isn't surprised that Skye's interested in seeing the aquarium—she's Skye, of course she'd love looking at tropical fish—but he's shocked when Ward agrees. Maybe his friendship with Simmons has given her some influence over him, Fitz ponders, or maybe it's that he wants to be near Skye.
And the next morning, when the four of them have gathered in front of the lab, Simmons' and Fitz's phones beep at the same time. "Oh no," Simmons sighs as she whips out her phone, "it's from Fury."
Fitz looks down at his phone, but the e-mail is not from Fury. It's from Simmons, and the subject line is simply "Please play along."
"He needs us to run some simulations," she says. "Some 0-8-4 found at the bottom of the East River, maybe left over from the invasion. All his science teams are being called on to help process it." She looks to Fitz for confirmation, and he simply shrugs helplessly at Ward and Skye, knowing perfectly well that he's a terrible liar and if he opens his mouth the jig will immediately be up.
"I guess we can't come to the aquarium," Simmons sighs. "But look, I already bought the tickets last night online, and they're non-refundable; you two should go, at least, so it's not a total waste of money."
As she's not much better at lying than he is, Fitz is fairly sure that Ward and Skye know she's making this up, but to his surprise they both agree—hesitantly, but they agree, as though they're both willing to play along if it lets them spend time together. And when the two of them have disappeared in the direction of the base exit, Simmons laughs delightedly and clasps her hands together. "Let's hope they take advantage of this fine opportunity," she says.
"Yeah," says Fitz, "but what do we do now? It's our day off and we're stuck here working on a made-up assignment."
She turns a look of mock hurt on him. "When have I ever let you down, Leo Fitz?" And sweeping into the lab, she reaches into a cupboard and pulls out a colorful box.
"Explorers and Pirates," he reads off the box. "You got the new Settlers of Catan expansion!"
"I knew you've been meaning to buy it since it came out, but we've been on the move so much in the last few months—" She smiles and hands him the box. "So here. To officially say thank you for saving my life and for being my best friend."
There's a warm feeling in his chest and it grows until it blocks his throat a little and he has to swallow hard before he can answer. "Thank you, Jemma," he says softly, and sets the box down on the lab table so he can wrap his arms around her. It's been a long time since someone got him a gift. "Thank you so much. You are the— I—" But he can't force the words out, and after returning the hug, Simmons laughs and pulls away.
"I hope you're ready to take me on," she says, reaching into the same cupboard and pulling out a bag of candy—she really prepared well for this. "If you recall, I destroyed you in our last game."
"I was on painkillers," he reminds her. "You won't be so lucky this time." She laughs, and he smiles back, and the two best friends sit down to enjoy their game.
. . . . . .
Two hours later, Simmons sits back in her chair and smirks. "You're not on painkillers today," she reminds him. "What's your excuse this time?"
Fitz shoots her a dirty look, but he can't keep it up when faced with her smile, and he finds himself laughing. "All right, this time you won, fair and square."
Simmons looks pleased and stretches her arms above her head. "Come on," she says. "We've been inside for three days. Let's go for a walk or something."
Fitz makes a face—he doesn't really see the point of the outdoors—but willingly stands up to go with her. And they've walked to the top of the ramp when suddenly Simmons gasps and turns away. "Agent Sitwell!" she whispers.
Fitz peers out into the bright daylight and catches sight of a vaguely familiar figure walking across the tarmac. "The guy you shot in the chest?" he asks, but Simmons doesn't answer, busy trying to hide herself behind Fitz's body—not easy, given how slight he is.
He chuckles at her. "He's not coming this way," he assures her. "He's headed off to the control tower."
A relieved sigh comes from behind him, and Simmons peeks out over his shoulder to make sure the man is really gone. "Sorry," she says, not knowing that Fitz would never object to having her that close. "I just—I know Coulson smoothed it over, but I still worry a bit about seeing him again." She sighs. "He's a very nice man; I didn't mean to shoot him."
"Hey," he says, turning to face her, "you did it to save your teammates." But then he catches his breath because he's standing much closer to her than he's used to—they're always in each other's space, but never face to face, so near each other that he can count the freckles scattered across her nose. His heart starts to pound and everything seems to be so much louder than it did a moment ago, and of its own accord his hand comes up and brushes a strand of hair from her face. "You did it for me."
Her eyes are wide and surprised and she bites her lower lip and he blames that for what happens next, because now that his attention has been drawn to her mouth he can't possibly focus on anything else, and with a sudden surge of courage that shocks him, he bends down and presses his lips to hers.
For one beautiful moment they stand like that, one glorious moment where he believes she's going to let him kiss her, and then she pulls away and stumbles back a few steps, staring up at him in shock and something like accusation, and he feel like the floor has fallen away beneath him.
"Leo," she gasps, and under other circumstances he would have loved to hear his given name from her mouth, "what are you doing?"
Heat rushes to his face and he's sure he's as red as a tomato. "Kissing you," he mumbles, although he's pretty sure that's not exactly what she's asking.
"Why?" she demands.
It's a discouraging question, because he'd rather hoped it would be obvious. "Why?" he repeats, then thinks In for a penny, in for a pound, and blurts out, "Because I'm crazy about you, Jemma." He reaches out toward her, eager to touch her again. "You are the most— I am so—"
But she twists away, out of his reach. "No, you're not," she informs him.
"I'm not?" he repeats, a bit incredulous. "How would you know?"
"Fitz," she says reasonably, but her face is pained, "think about what you're doing. You were in love with Skye last month and then you got over it quite quickly. So what happens when you're over this next month?"
"I won't be," he insists, but she shakes her head.
"They'd split us up. Is that what you want?"
"No," he says quickly. The inexplicable bravery that made him kiss her is draining away quickly, and he has to force himself to speak. "I was . . . fascinated by Skye. She was, you know, new and different and exciting. But once I got to know her, I realized I wasn't interested in her. But you . . . I know everything about you, and I love everything about you. It took me much longer than it should have to see that, but now that I have, I'm not going to get over it." And he looks at his best friend, standing lovely and confused before him, and he speaks. "I love you, Jemma."
But she shakes her head again. "Leo, no . . ."
His body is very still but his mind is a maelstrom. "So I take it you don't feel the same way?"
"It's— I don't—" she says brokenly, and he sees that he's made her cry. Instinctively he steps toward her, and she shakes her head again and flees up the stairs, leaving him standing alone in the silence.
He doesn't know how long he stands there, trembling and clenching his hands into fists so hard that he thinks his fingernails digging into his palms might draw blood. He'd known this was a possibility, but he'd hoped so much . . . he'd hoped . . .
He's so distracted by his own thoughts and his own heartbreak that he doesn't hear Ward and Skye until they're right behind him. "I know that you asked May to take over your training," Ward is telling her, and as Fitz turns he sees them standing at the bottom of the ramp, as far apart as two people can stand and still be considered to be standing together. "If you were unhappy, why didn't you talk to me?" His voice is quiet but his face is a thundercloud.
Skye's isn't much sunnier. "Because you're so easy to talk to?" she asks. "Is that what you're saying, Grant? You're the one who got all weird on me first."
"Because I don't know—" He sighs and turns away, his face impassive but his jaw clenched.
Skye's expression is easier to read, and even through his own pain Fitz hurts for her. "Well, maybe it's good that I'm working with May," she mutters after a long few moments of silence from Grant. "Obviously the two of us can't even talk to each other." And she mirrors Ward's posture, turning away from him, her own jaw clenched, and suddenly Fitz can't stand it. He can't stand that everyone is fighting, and he can't stand that two people who care for each other can't get past their own issues, and he can't stand the pain in his mind and he has to speak out to drown it out, at least for a moment.
"You two are ridiculous," he yells, his accent more pronounced than normal in his heightened emotional state. Ward and Skye both look up at him in surprise as he walks down the ramp toward them. "And I am done watching you two tiptoe around each other and hurt each other." He stops a few feet above them on the ramp and points at Ward. "Ward, Skye is completely into you and only asked for May to train her because you've been so angry with her lately and she hoped it would give you time to cool off and forgive her." Ward's careful mask cracks a little and he looks over at Skye, who looks embarrassedly at the ground. "Skye, Ward is completely into you and has been weird around you lately because he thinks it's not professional of him and he's a little worried that you're still in love with Miles." He turns back to Ward. "Which she's not. It's all you, I promise."
The two agents look shell-shocked, but at least they're looking at each other now.
He knows he's too loud and he doesn't care. "You care about each other; you ought to be together." They're staring at him a little now, too, and he supposes it's because, based on the prickling behind his eyelids, he looks like he's about to cry. Which is true. "So for the love of Pete, will you do something about it? You are both driving me crazy." And he stalks off the ramp and across the tarmac without looking back, with no idea of where he's going to go next but a firm conviction that he can't go back to that plane any time soon.
. . . . . .
In the end he takes the free SHIELD shuttle from the main base entrance to the bus station at the edge of town, then picks a direction and starts walking. He's walked for nearly half an hour, his mind swirling with everything and nothing, before his emotional turmoil dies down enough for him to wonder where he is and realize that it's one o'clock and he hasn't eaten yet. He left the plane without his wallet but luckily happens to have five American dollars in his pocket. It's not much, but he looks at the menus in the windows of all the restaurants he passes until he finds one where his five dollars will buy him a stack of pancakes, which he eats in gloomy silence, not returning the smiles of the friendly waitress who comes by to fill up his water glass.
Then, entirely without money and more than a little lost, he keeps on down the street. He has managed to find his way into the center of town, he finds, and he wanders into the park around city hall and flops down on a bench. He's lucky it's a warm day, he supposes, as he didn't bring a jacket either. One tiny blessing in the midst of a pile of misfortune.
What now? he wonders. Simmons is convinced that their being together would ruin their partnership (and also doesn't care for him at all, though he doesn't want to think about that right now) but it seems to be rather too late for that. By saying something about it—by falling in love with her in the first place—he's ruined their partnership. Because how can he go back and face her? How can they work together in the easy harmony that they used to now that his confession is hanging over both their heads? How can he stand to be in such close quarters with her knowing now that any time he touches her or even gets close, she'll wonder if he's making a move on her again? He's ruined everything, and things between them will be so awkward now that eventually one of them will ask for a transfer. Or Coulson will just fire them.
He sits there in that park for nearly two hours, until he's sore from the hard bench, then gets up and walks around downtown for another hour. By this time it's nearly five o'clock, and, knowing that he can't avoid the bus forever—and that he has no money for dinner—he reluctantly asks a passerby directions to the bus station.
It's a half-hour walk back, then a twenty-minute wait for the shuttle, then a ten-minute ride back to the base, and by the time he reaches the tarmac the sun is nearing the horizon. The bus hasn't moved, but based on lights he can see on inside, he knows Coulson and May have returned from their meeting. Good, he won't have to wait for tonight for Coulson to kick him off the team for his failed attempt at fraternization.
The ramp is down but the whole lower level is dark and empty, and Fitz steps quietly as he walks on board and climbs the stairs. He'll have to face Simmons—and Ward and Skye, who are undoubtedly curious about his outburst—some time, but he is going to put it off as long as possible, thank you very much.
He's deep into another round of mental self-castigation when he reaches the lounge, and the sight that meets his eyes distracts him, just for the moment, from his internal conflict. The TV is showing The Bourne Identity, and there on the couch, looking as awkward as two teenagers on their first date, are Skye and Ward. But the important thing is that they're sitting close enough that their legs are touching. The important thing is that he's holding her hand. And this pierces Fitz's cloud of self pity long enough to make him smile; at least something good came out of today. After all, as Skye once said to him, someone on this plane ought to be happy.
They don't notice him until the sound of him opening the fridge distracts them from their movie, and Skye smiles at him but immediately her face falls into a questioning expression and she opens her mouth, obviously intending to ask him about earlier. He shakes his head at her and she falls back against the couch, sending sympathy and support across the room with her eyes. He smiles back, a little shakily, and turns back to the fridge.
There's half a sandwich inside, left over from his dinner last night, and although he knows eating it will only remind him of the girl who made it for him, he doesn't want to stay in the lounge any longer; he's ruining Skye and Ward's date already. So he grabs the sandwich then looks around; he'd intended on going to his bunk, but Simmons' door is closed which probably means she's in there and he finds that he wants to stay as far from her as possible for the moment. So he goes back downstairs, grabbing a bottle of soda as he leaves the lounge, and sits cross-legged at the top of the still-open ramp. There's such a beautiful sunset tonight, and it almost distracts him from his thoughts for a moment. Almost.
And he's halfway through his sandwich before he hears footsteps on the stairs; he hadn't expected them to give him this long to be alone, and he appreciates that they waited a while. He doesn't turn around, certain that Skye or Coulson or whoever has come to comfort (or fire) him will make themselves known soon enough.
And he's right. "Hello, Fitz," comes a soft voice from above him, and he can't help the too-loud deep breath that he takes to steady his nerves. There's a rustling of cloth, and then Simmons is sitting cross-legged next to him. He doesn't look at her—he can't look at her. Not yet.
"About earlier—" she starts.
"We don't have to talk about it," he interrupts, still looking down at his sandwich.
She's silent a moment. "I want to talk about it," she says quietly. He doesn't respond; there's nothing he can say, and they sit in silence a long time.
Finally Simmons speaks. "When we met," she says, "I was so in love with you." At that his gaze snaps to her, but she's looking determinedly at her hands in her lap, so he looks back at his sandwich. "I mean, not right off, but do you remember that first October, that time when we talked all night in the student union building after that visiting scholar lecture? I was smitten after that; you were so many things I'd always wanted. But then that spring you had that massive crush on Christina, do you remember?"
Fitz shivers a little—the night has turned cool—and keeps his gaze firmly away from her.
"And she was so many things I'd never be—so beautiful and sophisticated and fashionable, and I thought if that was the kind of girl you fell for, you'd never fall for a girl like me. So I made myself stop." She laughs without mirth. "You can make yourself stop feeling a lot of things, if you try hard enough. Or at least you can bury those feelings. I told myself that you were my friend and that was enough, and it became true. You became the best friend I'd ever had and I never wanted anything else, after that first year. Never even considered it . . . until this morning."
She pauses and he dares a glance over to her knee, but no nearer her face. What is she saying?
"And then you . . . kissed me—" (he knows the shadings of her voice to know she's blushing right now) "—and suddenly it reminded me of things I spent a long time ignoring." Out of the corner of his eye he can see she's turned to look at him, but he doesn't look back. "And in a lot of ways it's a bad idea. You know that, right? So many things could go wrong. That's why I was so . . . aghast this morning. But . . ." Her gaze drops back to her lap. "But here's the thing, Leo. I made myself stop thinking about all the things I loved about you all those years ago, but that doesn't mean they went away. That doesn't mean I stopped being aware of them. And now, after this morning—I haven't been able to think about anything else all day."
And now she's looking right at the side of his face; now her hand is on his arm, urging him to turn to her. "And this is a lot to take in all at once and I'm a little freaked out just now, but this could be . . . I mean, you're wonderful and funny and smart and good, and . . . I want to try this. If you still want to."
And finally he looks up, into her hopeful face, into her beautiful beloved eyes, and he can see she means it and there's a funny feeling in his stomach like he might float away like a balloon. "I do," he says fervently, and the dark cloud that's been lurking over his head all day is banished by the sunlight of her smile.
"Fitz . . ." she begins, beaming, one hand coming up to caress his cheek.
"Keep calling me Leo," he smiles, taking her free hand in his. "I think I like it."
"Leo," she repeats, laughing a little. "Can I kiss you?"
He blinks, surprised. "Yes," he blurts out quickly. "I mean, yeah, if you want to. I would love that."
And this one is so much better than this morning's because she leans into it, putting one hand on his shoulder for balance, and kisses him in a way that gives him hope for the future—for their future. Then she rests her head on his shoulder and he takes her hand and they watch the last of the sun slip behind the horizon.
After a long blissful period of just enjoying the feeling of one another, she suddenly laughs. "By the way," she says, "did you see Ward and Skye upstairs? My aquarium plan worked."
No, my yelling at them worked, he thinks, but he says nothing. This is a perfect moment—the first of many perfect moments, he hopes—and he's not going to spoil it. After all, it certainly took them long enough to get here.
. . . . . .
"Two in one day," says May drily, looking up at the security camera feed.
"Pretty impressive timing, really," smiles Coulson.
"I told you, putting four attractive young people in a tiny box for months on end—this was bound to happen sooner or later."
And Coulson smiles again. "I don't really mind," he admits.
But May looks stern. "Skye's already a higher risk than some people in the organization are comfortable with," she points out. "If Ward hurts her, she could very easily turn."
"Ward won't hurt her," says Coulson with certainty, and when May raises an eyebrow at him, he explains, "He's had enough terrible relationships, with his family and this job, that when he finds someone he's willing to invest in, I get the impression he takes that commitment quite seriously."
"All right, what about these two?" she says, jerking her head toward the screen.
"Fitzsimmons?" he asks, looking at the feed where their resident biochemist is resting her head on the shoulder of their resident engineer. "They were going to happen eventually, regardless of what I think. Besides—" And he quirks an eyebrow at May. "They're kind of sweet together, don't you think?"
May rolls her eyes and turns off the screen, but when she turns back to him there's the tiniest spark of warmth in her eyes. "You're ridiculous," she says.
"Hey," he says, "someone on this plane ought to be happy."
. . . . . .