Finally, when the two of them got close enough Jemma could press her face into his neck, she came to a decision. “I know you’ll bring me back again,” she whispered. Then, having wiggled her bonds loose, she slid her hand into his jacket and placed it over one of the grenades. As she hoped, nobody bothered react to this; they knew neither of their captives was in position to escape.
It felt like the dead wrong decision a moment later, when he immediately asked, “Do you want to go back to that planet, then, stay with Will unrescued?” and he had that heartbroken tone she was so sick of hearing.
“No,” she whispered fiercely. “But I’m willing to in order to keep that thing from getting back here. You have to understand, Fitz, it’s…”
“I know, you’ve made that clear,” he muttered back. “But please, Jemma, I really don’t know if I’d be able to get you back if we destroyed that portal.”
They dared not argue too much; it was only a matter of time before someone around them decided it was worth the effort to listen in. They therefore got no further in the points they made to each other when the portal was activated.
So that was when Jemma, hand still on the grenade, yanked herself away and jumped while activating it before tossing it into the air. Which also had a chance of killing her anyway, which was probably part of the reason Fitz cried out “NO!” and jumped after her. He grabbed her and they fell through together.
When they realized it wouldn’t go through the portal before detonating, one of the Hydra agents actually lunged forward to grab the grenade, but it was too late. It exploded just before it would’ve touched the surface.
The portal was destroyed, and this time it would never be reopened. Hydra’s quest would be forever unfulfilled.
It had been a frustrating few hours, trying to get the ancient computer to cooperate, afraid that at any moment it would go down and never come up and they’d be stranded here and she would have given up her phone for nothing. When Jemma moved her head back and forth and told herself that banging it into the screen would be a very, very bad idea, Will said, “Take a breather?”
“Two minutes,” she agreed, and slumped down to the ground, letting herself lay as she fell, with her knees scrunched up to her stomach.
She would never know why it was then he chose to speak. But she had been lying there about thirty seconds and was just thinking she should move before her legs got too cramped when he said, “You’ve already told me all you saw in the No-Fly Zone, right? You didn’t see remains of any other skeletons?”
“No,” she said. “Why would I have held anything back?”
“Just want to be…you know, until you showed up here, I thought this was the biggest news Earth was never going to hear, although now it isn’t quite that big after all, but you should probably know anyway. Among the skeletons I and the others found in the No-Fly Zone, there were two, which we were pretty sure were of sentient beings, we thought…they didn’t come from Earth.”
“Ah.” Up until her arrival with an account of events on Earth during the last 14 years, of course, he’d had every reason to believe that was the first signs humanity had ever found of not being alone in the universe. But there was something more to this, she could tell. Especially since it didn’t make sense he hadn’t told her about this yet. “Do you remember why you thought they weren’t from Earth?”
“Not entirely…” He started. She pulled herself up into a sitting position, and saw he was looking away, almost as if he was haunted. “Although there was one thing about those two skeletons that made us really hope they weren’t human, except hearing you talk about Asgardians and Kree and their being our size makes me think…they were small. Taylor pointed out other things, places where he theorized their bones weren’t fully developed.”
“They were children, then,” she breathed, trying to take in a new horror when her life had already become so many. “But who on…who in the universe would send children to this place?!”
They’d gotten there as quickly as they could, once the others all agreed to it, but it had taken far too long. Gamora had never been entirely sure where the planet had been located, and by the time they finally had the coordinates and had gotten the Milano to them, Thanos’ unfortunate new adoptee would have already been there for at least 18 days standard and probably longer. Still, they landed in the general area Gamora thought Thanos had landed when he’d dumped her there so long ago, near the deserted city she hoped was the same one she’d once stumbled through, far too close to where she knew the planet’s evil was at its strongest.
“It is good that we found it,” Drax commented as they touched down, and Peter started running the scanners, trying to detect life forms; any there were more likely than not to be their girl. “If this girl lives or if she dies, Thanos still will not have her, and that means he will then abduct another, so we will have to come here again and rescue her.” And he might have even done it anyway; obviously his adopting new daughters again was the result of his losing his two old ones, but they weren’t sure how many he’d be satisfied with.
“Uh,” said Peter from where he was looking at the screen, “things might’ve gotten more complicated, guys. You said you think there’s one only more inhabitant, really super bad guy, who doesn’t always give off a normal signature, Gamora?” When she confirmed, he said, “I can detect three life forms down there, standard biological signatures, definitely not those tentacles either, all together. At the border of the danger area, within sight of the city.”
“If the girl’s not alone, her companions are going to be bad news,” said Rocket. “Even if it’s not the planet’s normal inhabitant.”
“I will go for her anyway,” Gamora told them, not that she even ought to need to.
“I will go with you,” said Drax, which was not a surprise either.
“Me too,” said Peter. “Rocket and Groot stay with the ship?”
“I am Groot,” Groot acquiesced. Rocket said nothing at all, which qualified as an agreement from him as well.
The air was clear, thankfully, but even though the 50 days standard here Thanos had inflicted on her was years and years in the past, Gamora still felt what was in the atmosphere when she breathed in; she wasn’t sure how long that state of affairs would last. “It will get much more dangerous during a storm,” she warned them when she told them this. “It has been so many years it is likely the terrain is changed; we could easily stray into the danger area.”
“Let’s worry about that if it happens,” said Peter, a recklessness that would’ve made her unhappy if she hadn’t wanted to rescue this poor child so badly.
They made steady progress towards their quarry, which didn’t seem to be moving from their location much, just circling each other in the valley they were in, before drawing in close to each other again. They heard them before they saw them, getting close to the valley when shouting reached their ears. Three voices, two masculine, one feminine, none of whom sounded like they came from any particular race.
Or so Gamora thought, until Peter suddenly froze, and exclaimed, “Of all-I think that’s English!”
That ought to be impossible, they knew. But when Gamora started listening to the syllables…they were being spoken very fast, by the feminine voice and one of the two masculine voices especially, much faster than they were on most of the songs on Peter’s music modules, but it did sound like the same language. “Can you tell what they are saying?” Drax asked.
Peter stood there, clearly concentrating. “Been a long, long while since I’ve had to comprehend English speech, and they’re talking fast…she’s asking one of the guys why he brought them there, reminding him the portal is destroyed-they have a portal?” There was a pause during which they heard no more words. The three of them quickened their pace. Then more words, and Peter said, “One of them’s named Will, and she’s asking if he’s gone mad…woah, he’s saying he’s not Will, that Will died saving her…”
“He’s the evil, then,” said Gamora, and broke into a run before either of the other two could stop her.
Instead they followed; she heard their feet thump the ground behind her. There were vague sounds of a struggle, and then an agonized, “FITZ!” from the feminine voice just as they thought they heard a thud. “I think that’s a name too!” Peter said, unnecessarily.
Gamora recognized the next words that they heard from her, a chant of No no no no no… she’d heard that word sung often enough, after all. The voice of the evil, after that, though his words weren’t comprehensible; Peter didn’t even try to yell a translation. And then, from the feminine voice, an angry You murdered Will… More growls, the sound of more struggling, and then the feminine voice yelled FIRE GRENADE, BIATCH! Gamora didn’t recognize those second two words, but she got enough of an idea when they were followed by the sound of an explosion.
They came to the top of the valley and took in the sight. Three figures, all appearing to be Terran, even though one of them obviously was not. One male shifting on the ground, knocked out, Gamora thought, and now coming too. Near him, the female, on her knees, shaking and wailing in grief. A little way away, a male body on fire. Gamora could see something crawling out of him.
“M’am!” Peter called, and kept on running. “M’am!” He called again, following it with a stream of English words way too fast for Gamora to even hope to understand. The female looked up, vaguely uncomprehending. Beside her the living male scrambled to his feet and pulled out a makeshift weapon. Peter put up his hands, and continued to talk in English, and they watched as the man’s face calmed, and he lowered his weapon.
He raised it again when Gamora, having realized what was crawling out of the dead man, came charging with her own weapon drawn. “Tell them I need to destroy what’s coming out of that body!” she called to Peter, who hastily did so. Neither Terran made any protest as she fried that horrible worm.
The other male helped the female up and let her continue to cry against him as he and Peter talked. Gamora thought the he was introducing himself as Leo Fitz. The next word she recognized was year, when Peter repeated a phrase with it in it in shock. Fitz’s response then featured another phrase with years plural in it, one Peter repeated in even more shock.
When Gamora and Drax reached them Peter pointed to them and said their names. Then he said to the two of them, “These are Leo Fitz,” he pointed to the male, then to the female, “and Jemma Simmons. Mr. Fitz here claims that Ms. Simmons was recently stranded here for half an Earth sidereal, which…I can’t make the exact calculations offhand but that’s easily at least a third of a mega-stroke, while that guy, name of Will Daniels?” He pointed to the dead male. “Was here for fourteen of them. Except that’s not actually him; as the evil monster impersonating him just said, he was killed already. She got back to Earth through some fancy portal that they destroyed when they came back here, because they really wanted to keep evil monster away from our home planet. They’re leaving this rock with us.”
At least a third of a mega-stroke…and then twenty-eight times that…Gamora could scarcely believe it. She couldn’t imagine if Thanos had left her here that long. It certainly explained why the poor female looked so worn down in her face, like she’d been through a crest-fire. She hadn’t really believed Peter’s boasts about his planet, but if both he and Fitz were telling the truth about this one, than that was evidence of the race of Terrans being one as strong and as brave as well as as noble as any in the galaxy.
“Ask them about the girl,” Drax rumbled, although they could tell that he too was very impressed. Peter asked them in English, and Jemma Simmons started crying harder as Leo Fitz gave an answer so obviously sad Gamora had guessed at it even before Peter translated: “They found a recently deceased female child nearby. Not actually in the danger area, so we can retrieve her body. Grey scales and long-curled feet.” That matched the attributes the species they’d known the girl to be one of. “It…it looked like she deliberately smashed her head against the rocks.”
“Another victim of that terrible Thanos,” Drax said simply. “Let us not bury her here. Let us take her body, and bury it on a planet nearby.”
“We should do the same for him, if we can,” said Gamora, gesturing to Will Daniels’ body. “That might not have been him, but it is his genuine body, and it’s safe now that the worm’s down.” The two Terrans obviously agreed when Peter had translated her words, and Drax took off his jacket and placed it over the corpse; it was something that could smother the flames. Gamora did another test of the air, then said, “Also, we shouldn’t stay here anyway. There’s a sandstorm coming.”
She continued to watch the two Terrans as they led the way back to where they had found the girl’s body. Jemma Simmons eventually stopped crying, but she walked a bit like she was shrunk into herself, and she stayed very near Leo Fitz, the two of them speaking quiet English words to each other whenever he wasn’t asking questions of Peter. Gamora caught enough of their conversation to be pretty sure he was giving him a general history of the galaxy, as well as explaining further about Thanos and his history of kidnapping daughters for himself. She even heard him repeat some of it to his companion, who nodded and tried to look interested, but was clearly unable to really be.
Gamora decided to try to figure out how many English words she knew, and see if she could talk to her. If nothing else, she wanted to make clear her respect for her feat.
There was no moss on hand at the moment, and they hadn’t eaten in two days, which was the major reason Jemma didn’t turn back, even though she could already tell the storm was going to be a bad one. She was breathing in too much sand even by the time she reached the lake, which made her glad to dive in, even though the water itself was getting sand in it too.
It made the hunting harder as well; the tentacles didn’t like to come to the surface when a storm was coming. But finally one of them surged forward, and Jemma had become an expert at this now, especially since Will had long since figured how to kill with a quick cut. It took longer to get the tentacle free than to kill it. By the time she dragged herself and her kill out of the water, telling herself not to indulge in a quick bite because if she started eating now she wouldn’t stop, everything was already blowing all around her, and instead of putting her shirt back on she tied it around her face.
She ended up keeping her eyes shut as she staggered away; visibility was close to zero anyway. Beneath her wet feet the dirt turned to mud, clutched as her feet, more than it ought to, she thought. The stories Will had told her about the planet filled her head, ignoring the sensible part of her that insisted such things only happened on Doctor Who, that his crewmates and he himself had probably just suffered more mundane mental stress. Even the part of her that also argued they were not within his “No-Fly Zone” wasn’t having much success with her. She might know it was impossible that the planet was trying to hinder her from walking, trying to drag her back and down and away just like the monolith had, but, well…she didn’t really know it, actually.
But as she and her feet started to dry in the rushing air, she did feel a sense of triumph, because even with her eyes closed, she found her feet could feel where they were, remember the ground they had trod over between the shelter and the pond countless times, and she could even feel, as she approached a rock mound, where the ground was starting to rise up. A few weeks ago with her eyes closed she probably would have bumped into it; now she deftly avoided it.
The feeling didn’t last, though, not when even with the cloth on her face it felt like she was going to choke to death on the sand by the time she was using those feet to try to figure out how many steps away she was from the trapdoor. She was intensely relieved when she heard Will calling her name; he must have been opening it and checking regularly. She hurried towards it, only keeping her footing because the ground was so familiar, and let him take hold of her when at last she arrived home, and nearly fell through the entrance and to the floor below, coughing up what felt like half her body weight in sand.
“I should’ve gone,” he said; of course he would now, when she was in no state to argue. “A few more months and you’ll know better.”
When Fitz was able to feel emotions again, after they had retrieved the unfortunate dead child and were walking their way out of that planet, he found that he had a thousand of them. There was crushing relief they’d been rescued, for one thing, that he and Jemma would not perish here-more selfish relief he’d escaped suffering what she’d been through, having not had to survive on this planet for more than roughly four days. Still anxiety, though, about what the next step was. From what Mr. Quill had told them, they were very far away from Earth, and there was no convenient way to get there, and no ships even flying there-they couldn’t ask these people to do it, especially when they had no way to pay them. Although some concern about leaving when Coulson and the others might still try to come after them, but he didn’t think Coulson was likely to allow anyone to do anything that would get them stranded. Also guilt for the same reason, when he thought about the fact that unless by some miracle they were able to get back to Earth fast, their friends would almost certainly be led to think both of them lost.
A lot of grief, though, for the dead man whose burned body was now being carried by the alien Drax, and much more powerfully then he’d thought he’d feel it. He hadn’t expected he’d genuinely want for Will to make it the way he had, and even beyond the thoughts about what losing him had done to Jemma. A hell of a lot of guilt there too, for having been jealous of him, and also for being a little relieved, because now he was once again the only man in Jemma’s heart. Not that he was sure anything would even come of that anyway, not after all she’d been through. Grief over the young child being carried by Peter Quill as well, especially so because she might have still been alive when they had come through the portal, and even if she had been dead already, it was apparently highly unlikely she had been for more than a day, two at most.
New anxiety about Jemma too, because the trauma of being tortured, nearly killing herself to destroy the portal(pity she and Tony Stark would probably never get the chance to commiserate about that kind of thing), and then having to kill the evil being who had been within the body of the man she had loved seemed to have sent her regressing. She was as she had been when he’d first rescued her, unsteady in her movements and obviously jumpy, not to mention even more obviously torn apart with grief-he wondered why he hadn’t noticed that part the first time around. It probably didn’t help that she was still in a lot of pain; she hadn’t tried to keep that from him, or from the creature they’d thought to be Will.
But eventually the fascination and curiousity started to come to the forefront, not to mention the sheer excitement and joy that here they were, about to become the second and third known humans to go out and see firsthand an interplanetary society about which they still knew relatively little, mostly only what various Asgardians had felt inclined to tell them. That they would, in all likelihood, be making themselves new lives in it, at least for a while. He had the feeling he was going to really annoy Mr. Quill with all the questions he was going to ask him. But there was more grief, to see Jemma unable to enjoy the fulfillment of something they’d both fantasized about all their lives, shared conversations on how amazing it would be, for it to be made clear just how thoroughly that part of her was wiped away, possibly for good.
But then the fear came back, when Jemma breathed in, and said, “Oh no,” and Gamora, whom Mr. Quill had said had been forced to survive her herself, looked at her, and then breathed in herself, then spoke what sounded like confirmation in the language they were using. Xandarian, Mr. Quill had called it, the galactic equivalent of English, except it was apparently a constructed language made up of ones Xandarians had spent more of their history speaking. “Don’t worry,” Peter then said to the two of them in English. “We’re pretty close to my ship. Be in fifteen, twenty at the most.”
“We’re going to have a full storm within ten,” Jemma told him. Peter addressed a question to Gamora, presumably for a second opinion. When she gave her response, he said, “Well, Gamora here says she can’t be as sure of that. She wasn’t here as long as you, remember.” Fitz was quickly getting the impression the amount of time Jemma and especially Will had lasted here had been truly extraordinary, possibly even record-setting. He was getting rather proud of Jemma for that, though then again, he’d known of her bravery and determination, plus the scientific knowledge that had served her well, especially that first month when she’d been completely on her own.
But meanwhile, Gamora had come over to them. Fitz hastily placed himself as close to Jemma as he could get without touching her, but Gamora kept her distance as she spoke to her, Peter helpfully translating her words: “She says she trusts your judgement. I guess if she does, we’d better too. Any suggestions for dealing with the storm?”
Jemma shrugged. “Put some cloth over whatever you breathe with? I’m sure she could tell you that.”
When Mr. Quill repeated that in Xandarian, Gamora laughed, which caused him to comment, “You got her to laugh. That’s not that easy for strangers, you know.”
But meanwhile there was definitely a storm on the way. Fitz himself had already been through two of those since their arrival, plus the one that had been going on when he’d first come through the portal and pulled Jemma back with him. Already it was getting harder to breathe. That probably wasn’t going to do most of them permanent damage, since most of them hadn’t been exposed to enough of it for that(at least according to what S.H.I.E.L.D.’s medical staff had been able to figure out by analyzing Jemma), but he knew what they could do to her mentally, had witnessed that firsthand, during the second storm they had been through.
And then it came, the winds and the sand and the horrible screeching of the air that he would still always associate with screaming for Jemma, hearing her cry out in response and seeing her stumble towards him, their hands struggling to keep hold as he was pulled away from her. Visibility plummeted fast; Jemma taking Fitz’s hand as he focused on her silhouette, barely able to see the others; this was the worst one he’d seen here. And then a minute later they heard Mr. Quill call out something in a panic.
“Are you not sure where your ship is?” Jemma called to him. This was like she’d been in the first storm that had hit after they’d come back here together, actually the worst of the two. She was deadly calm.
“I should be,” Mr. Quill yelled. They heard Gamora yell something too; she sounded annoyed.
“The storm probably won’t last long,” shouted Jemma. “We’re not far from the shelter Will and I lived in; we can get there and wait it out.”
“I can’t be one hundred percent sure if we don’t do that the last members of our crew won’t give us up for lost and fly off without us!”
Gamora was yelling another question. “What’s she asking?” Fitz demanded.
“She wants to know how well she can navigate the terrain. She thinks the two of you together might be able to get us back.”
“I can do that if you want…” She and Fitz kept hold of each other’s hands as she moved in the general direction of Gamora, though by now the storm was so thick they nearly collided into each other. Mr. Quill managed to get himself behind them and translated Gamora’s words: “Tell her where the ground rises and follows, and she’ll tell you where to go. Drax, you’d better come here and get a hold of us too!” Though at least he took a hold of Gamora’s arm, and Drax took a hold of him; Jemma was touched only by himself and Gamora.
Personally, even though it would’ve been tough to go back and spend more time where Jemma had lived with Will, Fitz thought it would’ve been better for them to wait the storm out, and he thought darkly this had better not aggravate her lungs enough to give her any serious trouble. But there they were, a lump of five living beings plus two dead ones(it was a good thing his nose was so deadened), two women who had been through Hell guiding three men out of it. The first Xandarian words he and Jemma learned were for “forward” and “left” and “right” and “not there” and “close.”
His fears about the exact nature of this storm got confirmed, when Jemma suddenly wailed, “It’s out here. This entire planet is turning into a no-fly zone. We didn’t kill him; we should’ve known better. He’ll never let us escape…”
Gamora barked something in response, firm and determined; Mr. Quill’s translation was carried away by the wind and Fitz didn’t hear it clearly, but he thought he had a good idea of what she was saying. More words, and Gamora had managed to learn the English phrase “This way.”
And then they had gotten close enough to see the ship, with Peter yelling, “Here’s my ride. The Milano, as lovely as the babe she’s named after. Regret she’s not being shown at her best by these surroundings, but I’m sure you’ll get a chance to see her properly in her splendor. And will that Rocket please get the ramp lowered?!”
The ramp ended up lowering itself as they stumbled into it, all of them colliding into each other and into the metal, until they were all lying on it; then without warning it started to raise itself, and then they had to scramble to keep from slipping off. But it got them all up, somehow, with them pulling away from each other and pulling themselves upright, shaking off dust and sand and who knew what else, until they heard a new voice exclaim something that sounded extremely unimpressed.
Fitz had been warned already about the final two members of the crew being an overly large raccoon and a sentient walking tree, but still, it was a little jarring to see it. It did not help matters that the raccoon had a gun half his size and a look of cruel amusement in his eyes; this was not a person Fitz thought he was ever going to trust. Though the tree had neither; it simply looked confused.
The raccoon pointed obviously at them and barked a question. His expression did not change any at Mr. Quill’s answer. When Gamora spoke up for them as well, he did lower the gun, and Fitz thought she intimidated him. Good.
“Welcome to the Milano,” Mr. Quill said to them. “Originally more or less designed for piracy, which means she goes fast and is pretty good at hiding-the official thing they call these babies is M-ships, but I’ve made a couple of special modifications myself.” He did a good Han Solo impression at this last bit, and then grinned at them, no doubt glad to find a pop culture reference they had in common. “Artificial gravity’s close enough to Earth you shouldn’t have any trouble. Air mix is a bit more complicated, especially because we’ve had to prioritize the healthy growth of Groot here, but so long as neither of you have asthma you should still be fine. We’ve got a single guest room available-do you two mind sharing a bunk?”
Fitz looked at Jemma, who nodded, and then said, “We can share quarters.” He just hoped they’d be able to find something soft for him to sleep on if she felt the need to be alone in the bed; at this point he was convinced she could go any way at all when it came to having him around, but he was pretty sure she’d sleep better if he was sleeping nearby. He just hoped she wouldn’t be stupidly noble and not let him. Especially since he wasn’t sure he really wanted to being sleeping alone himself anyway.
He saw the look Mr. Quill gave Jemma then, half considering. It looked like he was that type of guy, the type whom in the past Jemma would’ve happily hopped into bed with when he put the moves on her, then confused considerably when his callousness the next day didn’t bother her. Those days were definitely over for her now. He hoped Mr. Quill wouldn’t try anything. All else aside, Jemma was in no state for that.
“I don’t even remember where they’re buried anymore,” he said, out of the blue, a few days after they’d met and come to their accord. She didn’t have to ask whom he was talking about.
“It bothers me more, I think, because I was the only one who ever knew,” he continued. “I mean, when we all said goodbye to our families, they knew they might not see us again, or at least I think they all knew; I made that clear enough to my own parents. And it’s not like they’re ever going to know anyway, what happened.”
“Don’t say that,” Jemma reminded him, in her new role of hope.
“Well,” he said, “I just feel like someone should know. All these years, it’s been only me who knew even what happened to them, and now there’s you too, but you’ll never see the graves. I mean, we could go back to the general site, but with the sticks and helmets long since blown away, we could stand over any of the three of them and have no idea.”
“Their families will know,” Jemma insisted. “And it’ll be hard, of course, to know for sure, but at least they’ll have closure. And if you want to be the one to go around and tell them yourself, I’ll go with you.”
That got smile out of him. “That’s kind of you. Not that I believe I’ll ever have a chance to take you up on that offer, but it still is, just to make it.”
“It’ll be kinder when I follow through with it,” she insisted. “And I will.”
A neighboring system had a planet in it covered in soil and non-sentient life, and there was where they laid to rest the unfortunate girl they had been there to rescue and the equally unfortunate man for whom, too, help had come far too late. Drax and Peter together dug up two graves in a grove of tall alien stalks, and they all helped cover them. Jemma Simmons took a rock and a flint chip, and etched out the name of Will Daniels in Earth script, tenderly kissing it when it was in place, and then asked for the name of the girl, and it was hard to tell her they hadn’t known it. Instead Peter took another rock and etched out Unknown Child, then made his best guess at how to spell the name of her species, since they did know that, but their script hadn’t been standard. Gamora spoke one death blessing she’d heard his family say for one of her past victims, while Leo Fitz repeated the prayer he said he’d heard his mother say for his grandfather.
Simmons was crying by the end of that, and Gamora heard her sigh, “Oh Fitz,” followed by a question that ended in the word family, and she thought included the word tell too, which left her with a pretty good idea of what she’d been lamenting about.
“Weather’s good,” said Peter, “and I know some of the fruit here is edible. We could have a funeral picnic.”
The fruit was gathered, and they all gathered in a circle just by the grove, where there was enough space for them all to fit comfortably. The air felt clean and pure, and was filled with the sound of unknown animals chirping. Gamora thought it even put one of their two guests at his ease after a while. But even when her tears were dried, Simmons sat scrunched up and ate her fruit as if she was afraid to react to it.
“These two,” said Rocket, “they’re from the same nation as you? This America the Beautiful?” He was probably trying to find extra reasons Peter wanted to help these people who were unable to pay them.
“Actually,” said Peter, “they’re from Britain-Britain, right?” He spoke the last word in English, and Fitz repeated it in confirmation. “You see,” he explained to the others, “about three hundred years ago-well, more like three and a half hundred now-America was a British colony. That’s why we speak the same language. But then America didn’t want to be ruled over by Britain anymore, because it’s really this puny island, so they fought them and made them go away.”
“Ah,” said Drax. “So must you fight these two in accordance with this war?”
“No, no, that’s not going to be necessary!” Peter said hastily. “War’s over, long over.”
“So do you or they or anyone else have any idea where we’re going with them?” Rocket persisted.
“I talked with Mr. Fitz on the way here. He’s a really good engineer, claims to be one of the best Earth has.” Of course people had made such claims to them before, but those people hadn’t been much like Fitz, who looked, if anything, embarrassed at it being brought up. “His knowledge has been limited to what’s been done on Earth so far, of course, so no experience with spaceships or superlight engines, except some extremely experimental stuff the top-secret organization these two happen to belong to occasionally tinkered with. But he has a lot of knowledge and has invented a few things Shurlee might be interested in, might even be willing to pay for, or trade for good, practical lessons in space engineering.” Shurlee was a genius mechanic the Ravagers had patronized and Peter had known almost his entire time in space, someone whose passion in life was finding new and strange pieces of alien technology and figuring out how they worked; it was largely thanks to him that Peter’s sound-playing apparatus was still working as well as it was.
“Are they willing to stay with us, then?” asked Gamora. They could definitely do with a proper engineer on board.
“They’ve got to talk about that more between themselves,” said Peter. “Ms. Simmons, by the way, is a biochemist, and like Mr. Fitz, has a lot to learn about the outer space version of her field, but she too is very good at what she does, and we could definitely use her as a medic. But they do want to make it back to Earth if they ever can. That’ll take time and probably money; they might stay with us until they’ve earned enough, figured out something.”
“You know we ought to be meeting up with Hasta,” Rocket said. “Surely they can go to Shurlee after that. Only be a few days’ difference. You remember what I said about what happened when Groot and I stood him up.”
“I am Groot.”
“Yeah, I know, I know, all the sparkus came out of my tail eventually. Still don’t care to repeat the experience, okay?”
Peter had taken advantage of that exchange to lean over and whisper to the two Terrans, presumably the gist of what they were talking about. Fitz’s response was subdued; they did not want to inconvenience their rescuers too much. “Okay,” Peter said. “We’ll go see Hasta first, but we are not taking on any of his joyrides this time, got it?” The rest of them certainly had no problem with that.
“Good,” said Rocket. He took the last bite of his fruit, then jumped up. “We should go for a walk, Groot. See if we can find any decent soil here, fresh water.”
Peter talked to the Terrans as they walked off, hopefully explaining about the nutrients they always tried to find for Groot when they landed on planets like this one. Fitz asked Simmons a question, which she answered with No, though Gamora didn’t understand the rest of it. “So they’re staying out here,” Peter told the other two-then asked Fitz a question to which he answered yeah. “I’m going back to the ship.”
Drax ended up going with him, leaving Gamora with two people with whom she couldn’t easily communicate, but she was going to try. When they stood up, she stood up too. Then it occurred to her the two of them might want some privacy. She tried to think up English words, then thought up two, and asked, “I go?” Then another one, “Want?”
They were both smiling now. It was the first Simmons, at least, had done so. Even in that moment the two of them had shared when they had reached the safety of the Milano, when they had exchanged looks of relief and gratitude and understanding of each other, an intense moment of the kind of connection that Gamora still had experienced very little of with other people in her life, she still hadn’t smiled. She looked very different when she smiled. Not less wounded, necessarily, but still younger, somehow. Like she just might be okay, if she was given enough time, like there was hope for her, more than there was for Gamora.
The two of them were talking, heads close together and voices down; Gamora waited patiently. Then he said, “Go with us, if you want.”
So the three of them walked together, Gamora letting the two of them choose the direction, at least after she pointed out the location of the Milano to them and impressed on them the wish to not get too far away from it. Other than that bit of communication she didn’t even attempt to understand the words they spoke to each other, though it was impossible not to notice the desolation in her voice, the way she sometimes seemed to speak not to anyone at all. Nor did Gamora miss the tenderness in his, or the intense focus he had on her.
Finally she lay herself down on a bare stretch of rock, and he sat down in front of her. Gamora sat down too, though in the grass, a respectful distance away.
“I like it here,” said Simmons softly, slower, making it easy for Gamora to understand. She didn’t recognize her next words, but Fitz looked more sad at them. His words were faster; all she could tell was he was asking her something. Then he pointed upward; both females looked and saw a vast bird overheard. A common aster, not even native to this planet, but of course the two of them hadn’t seen an aster before, and Fitz sounded fascinated. Simmons looked, and she gave a short, very quiet response while the corners of her mouth quirked upward a little.
“Aster,” Gamora offered. Simmons repeated the word carefully, which made Fitz look happier. Then she pointed; a tiny burrowing animal had emerged. Gamora shook her head; she didn’t know what it was called. “Thank you,” Fitz said anyway.
Strangely enough, Jemma started minding the cold much more when she was sleeping underground, in the bed Will had managed to put together for her. It was as if the whole experience of being all alone out in an extraterrestrial open had kept her from feeling the details as much.
The first time she slept with Will-just literally, at that point in time-was a couple of weeks into it. Being removed from the constant menace of the surface also allowed the nightmares to kick in much more, she thought. She kept having them about the lake, and the tentacles. That night, she had one where she dreamed she was running towards the lake, watching Fitz be pulled down, him trying to talk to the tentacles and stuttering, and she was screaming at him to tell them to let him go, because in the dream she’d be certain they would if he did. But he couldn’t do it, and she watched him be pulled under, and heard him scream, and then actually heard the crunching…
She screamed herself awake, and still wasn’t fully aware of her surroundings when Will came running over-he too was newly awoken and running on instinct, and she was shoving him to the ground and yelling, “Let him go! Let him go!” before he pulled away with a calm, “Jemma, Jemma, it was just a dream. It’s me. I’m fine.”
Sure, he was fine. And sure, Fitz was on Earth right now. But he was trying to get to her, and all Jemma could think was what if he got caught in the portal, and they didn’t find him before he found the lake, and…
“That sounded like a bad one,” Will commented after another minute or so. “Want to talk about it?”
Jemma opened her mouth, but all that came out was a sob. “I’ll take that for a no,” he said, and got up to go back to his blankets.
And no, at that moment, Jemma couldn’t stand to be alone. “Will…” she called, less the start of anything than the desperate protest of a wounded bird.
He stopped, looked back, was clearly trying to hide some impatience. “Can I stay with you?” came out before Jemma was even aware it was going to.
He shrugged. “Come on,” he said.
He raised the blanket as she staggered after him, then threw am arm loosely over her as she pressed herself to his warmth. Her head was against his chest, and she could hear his heartbeat. That felt more reassuring than anything else had, really, just the knowledge that she was not the only living being on this planet.
It wouldn’t be the last time she’d be seeking it out in the night either; she’d do so again, on and off, until the two of them became lovers. And even then, that was always how they slept, her burrowed against him, head by his heart.
The problem with being on a spaceship was that it was impossible to escape the sound of the engine. Of course Jemma had already endured being on ships and in that situation, and no part of the Playground was completely quiet either, and she’d managed to get used to them again, but a spaceship engine, or at least the Milano’s engine, was louder. Not something space pirates normally cared about, she supposed, since the sound wouldn't reach any other ships. It took Jemma too long to get to sleep that first night, and in the end she only managed it by a combination of exhaustion and being in Fitz’s arms and focusing on his heartbeat, the two of them crowded together on the bunk, and she forcing herself not to think of a time when she had been kept sane by someone else’s.
She hadn’t told him why. It was being dishonest with him, yes, but the alternatives were either causing him yet more pain or doing without, so this was her best bad option. At least he wasn’t going to have to sleep on the floor.
That was especially a good thing when, ironically, it was him who was having the nightmares now. He woke up from them gasping and sobbing. “I can’t stop hearing you scream,” he’d whimpered to her, and she found herself hoping that back on Earth Coulson had succeeded in killing Ward, and had made it painful.
Her single broken bone was a rib. Otherwise they hadn’t broken anything or done anything that would permanently cripple her. Jemma wasn’t sure if they’d been saving that for later, if that simply hadn’t been the style of her torturer, or even if some remaining feeling of Ward’s had made him order him not to go that far. But even days later, some of the aches and pains were still fading, and there was one in her right leg and another in her neck that she was starting to think would be there for good. She was learning to walk with pain.
The engine’s din wasn’t as bad on the flight deck. On the second day of their eight-day trip to Olvar, Jemma found she felt better if she went up there and just laid in the corner for a while. Mr. Quill did not entirely like her there, but thankfully he found it within himself to put up with it. Fitz came and went, often with reading materials; he was determined to learn everything he could about the universe they’d gotten into as fast as possible, both for practical purposes and simply to know things for their own sake. He repeated to her much of what he had read, but Jemma didn’t always fully listen. She knew that she, too, would eventually have to apply herself and find her role within this new place, but she figured she could at least give herself these eight days to recuperate.
On the third day, Mr. Quill gave in an gave Fitz a lengthy explanation of how everything in the cockpit worked, although things briefly became hostile when he declared his Zephyr One was more advanced, and made clear his belief of how much he could improve the Milano’s system. “I don't know,” he said in response, “that I would ever want you to go that far with my engines.”
“You’ll regret it if you don’t,” Jemma told him from the floor.
“Oh will I?” he demanded, and she found herself actually laughing. She hadn’t expected that; she hadn’t laughed since she’d first been pulled back through the portal. But it was just so funny, these advanced outer space people who probably looked down on Earth for not having any contact with them not being as good as her own Leo Fitz.
And then Fitz was laughing too, probably just happy to hear her do so, and Mr. Quill was looking like he was going to kick them both out, but at that moment Gamora came up the steps. She asked Peter something in Xandarian; he snapped in answer. She, apparently unbothered, retorted something else and sat down in the other chair. Mr. Quill took a look at the screens, then sighed, said a word to Gamora Jemma believed was an affirmative, then to the two of them, “We’re on cruise control now, and I’m probably going to regret leaving the three of you up here alone, but I’m going to go have lunch.”
“You are,” said Gamora when he was gone; Jemma immediately got the feeling she’d been preparing her English. “More good? Less bad?”
“Yes,” Jemma told her. “Thank you.”
Down below they heard music start; Mr. Quill had turned on one of his audio cassettes. The song it was in the middle of was one Jemma had heard before, and she could vaguely remember it, being at Marks and Spencer with her mother, bored, finding the man’s voice annoying and wishing the store would play something else already, but she didn’t find it that way now. She recalled putting her new shirt on the next day, and finding it wonderfully warm, even if she’d never entirely liked the way it looked. She’d been cold a lot on that planet.
“When…” Gamora looked hesitant. “When you are good enough, I want to know your story. His also. You are both very…people should hear your story.”
Oh God, she was not going to be able to do that for a very, very long time, not when this person was still pretty much a stranger. She didn’t know if she’d be able to talk about it ever. She found herself even curling into herself a little at the thought, drawing in the shirt she was wearing. One of Mr. Quill’s; the clothes they’d been wearing when they’d gone through the portal were so sand-ridden they were putting off wearing them again until they had to, accepting the loan of clothes from the other three humanoids on board.
The other two must have seen her reaction, because Gamora hastily said, “Sorry,” while Fitz growled, “You leave her alone. She doesn’t owe you some tale of mighty accomplishment.”
“Don’t…” Jemma shook her head. “Don’t, Fitz. I understand. Really, I do.” In truth, she wished she could bear to do it, because Will deserved to have his story told to the universe, to receive all the accolades and honors he deserved for his feat, and how he’d saved her even at the cost of his own life. If they ever did get back to Earth, she might even force herself to tell the story. She didn’t even care that Hydra was responsible for the whole business; there had never been any evidence he’d known that, and she didn’t see it as preventing him from deserving anything.
And she found herself thinking, too, of what she knew about Gamora’s history, most what Mr. Quill had told them when he’d first found them and had to explain why he was there. She probably didn’t want to talk about it either, but Jemma had been longing to have at least one answer from her, and she asked, “If you don’t mind my asking…while you were on that planet…did you ever go into…”
“Yes,” said Gamora. “Not many times, but yes.”
“And do you…do you ever feel better about it?”
It took too long for Gamora to respond, and Jemma’s heart sank. Then she said, “More is…with me. More things, I have had. Don’t know…”
“What caused what?” That sounded fair enough, but still Jemma felt disappointed. She would have liked to have a reason to believe she wouldn’t feel this way forever.
“Caused?” repeated Gamora; apparently that wasn’t a word she had been able to learn from the audio cassettes. It was a strange way to know parts of a language, to know enough words to form a sentence but to have never been taught in the slightest how to string them together properly.
“We’re going to learn Xandarian, you know,” said Fitz. “I’m starting to learn some words already, and Mr. Quill thinks there’s a place in Olvar where I can get something to help us both.”
“He needs…talk with you,” said Gamora. “To you. Help.”
“I can’t really ask him to take that kind of time out,” Fitz said sheepishly. “Unless you guys really need us to be able to understand it at some point for some reason. At least if I know a little of it now, I’ll be able to help Jemma here when she starts learning.”
Jemma wished she could feel the kind of excitement about it she heard from him. But she wasn’t sure how long it would be before she’d be able to concentrate enough to speak a completely new language anyway.
Gamora must have guessed something of the truth, from the sad way she looked at Jemma as she said, “Wish more English, can help.”
“Thanks,” said Fitz. “For saying that. Listen, I’m going to go eat myself. You want me to bring you anything, Jemma? You should eat something.”
“Yes, thank you.” Mr. Quill would not be happy about them bringing food up here, they knew, but they didn’t care that much.
Then she was alone with Gamora. The woman who was like her, despite her reminding Jemma more of Agent May, and she was supposed to bond with, she knew. But she just wasn’t up to any intense conversations or sympathies or anything like that.
Which thankfully Gamora realized, as she just said. “All right. Just rest,” and turned her attention to the flight controls. It made Jemma feel safe, in a very particular way which she hadn’t had in a very, very long time.
“I never thought I’d be happy to hear the Spice Girls again,” chuckled Will. “I remember I almost hated ‘2 Become 1’ when I heard it on the radio so many times.”
“Blasphemy,” Jemma told him, the only proper retort, of course, from someone who had become a devoted fan the first time she had heard “Wannabe.” “Bet you never even heard this one, did you?”
“No,” Will admitted. “What does hasta man-yana mean anyway?”
“See you tomorrow, literally. I think here, though, they mean it a little more poetically, as in, until tomorrow.”
“Of course, that makes sense.” They were listening to “Viva Forever,” the penultimate track from Spice World, which after the album’s release had quickly become Jemma’s favorite song by her favorite band, and actually remained so even now.
She wasn’t likely to play him every song on her phone. It wasn’t the most prudent use of the battery, for one thing. Also their tastes in music were pretty different, though they did share a liking for 80s new wave. But the Spice Girls and the other music she’d listened to when she was ten and eleven and twelve now carried some nostalgia for him, as what he’d been hearing on the radio in the final years before he had been cut off from Earth, and they were indulging in bringing back a few of his memories, although this one was simply being played because it was Jemma’s favorite.
“Sad song,” he commented, when it was done. “Maybe not the kind of song we should be listening to when stranded on an alien planet all alone.”
“Maybe,” Jemma conceded.
Mr. Quill played one of his tapes at dinner that night, the second one, which played well for a tape that had spent two and a half decades sitting around wrapped up and occasionally getting tossed about. “I’m a little wary about what the multiple plays are doing to it, though,” he’d commented to Fitz. “So I probably would’ve gone to see Shurlee anyway.”
Fitz still hadn’t even gotten tired of learning about the food. He had helped cook it that afternoon, mostly so he could hear more about the planet the vegetables had come from. Mr. Quill had also told a tale of how the animal the meat was from had been ceremonially hunted down, but Fitz privately thought that one was an exaggeration at the very least. He thought he might tell the story to Jemma after dinner, though.
In any case, it all made for a good stew, and Fitz was trying to think of what it tasted like. One of the vegetables tasted like carrots, but that was as good as he was managing. The meat had a weird, broad taste, and felt very filling.
Jemma had remained quiet the entire time, and the rest were talking almost entirely in Xandarian. He tried to pick up words at first, but the only ones he could really manage was Groot’s “Ut usi Groot,” and apparently that was some completely different manner of speech that only Rocket could fully understand. One would think with him around they would be used to doing translations and making sure everyone at the table understood each other, but apparently not.
So he ate his stew, and took it as encouraging that Jemma was consuming her own at a healthy pace, and his mind wandered to that evening, how much he should ask her, if he could gauge how much the conversation with Gamora had stressed her without straining her further. He didn’t even realize he was absently singing along with the Beatles song that had come up on the tape until Mr. Quill commented, “Wow, we’ve got someone on board who can sing!”
“Not really,” Fitz said hastily. “I mean, yeah, I can carry a tune, but that’s all, and Jemma can do that much as well.”
“Still more than any of us can do,” he said, and said some words in Xandarian then. When he was done with them Rocket made a sardonic-sounding comment, while Groot commented, “Ut usi Groot,” which made the raccoon laugh. “They seem to think,” Mr. Quill translated, “that if Terran music is so great, which, of course, they doubt, we should hear more of it, since you’ve heard twenty-five years of it I haven’t.”
“Unfortunately we don’t have any recordings with us,” said Fitz.
“They, uh, figured that,” said Mr. Quill. “They, um, want you to sing.”
“Not funny,” snapped Fitz; he doubted that was anything other than that damn raccoon being an asshole, and the tree going along with him. “We are not going to embarrass ourselves for your amusement. Or at least Jemma’s not going to, even if you insist I do it for payment or whatever.”
“Fitz,” said Jemma softly, “I don’t mind.” And oh no, she should not be doing this to herself, but he probably shouldn’t insist on stopping her, even if she would allow him to.
“I admit,” said Mr. Quill, “I am kind of curious myself, just to hear a little bit of what I’ve missed.” Of course he was. Fitz had already had quite a time trying to explain everything that had happened to Earth since 1988, and he’d shown some interest in pop culture, been especially fascinated to hear about the Star Wars prequels, wanted lots of details even when Fitz had warned him the movies hadn’t been very good, and even urged Fitz to try to remember as much as he could of what he’d heard about the impending new movies.
And that was all understandable, it truly was, but it still didn't give them the right to demand more. And Fitz was just drawing in breath to make some sort of speech about that when Jemma said, “I don’t know how many songs I remember all the words for offhand, do you, Fitz? Of course if you want to hear anything by the Spice Girls I could probably manage that; you always remember the music of your favorite artists from early adolescence and just before; I think there was even a scientific study on that recently. They’re a British girl pop power group from the 90s,” she then explained to Mr. Quill, which caused him to make a face. Well, not their problem he didn’t like what she had memorized.
If she was going to do this, she at least wasn’t going to be doing it alone. “I could try to sing ‘Viva Forever’ with you,” Fitz offered. “The chorus, at least; that I know I’ve got memorized.” It had been one of the songs they’d sung together when they’d been in the box.
Jemma, hesitant, started to ask, “Do you really think that’s the best song…”
But meanwhile Mr. Quill had been translating their conversation into Xandarian, and now Rocket was clapping, and yelling, “Song! Song!” having apparently somehow picked up you could yell that in English. And Drax had also figured out how to echo, “Yes. Song.” And then Gamora was yelling it too, and Groot was just yelling, “Ut usi Groot!” but Fitz didn’t need Rocket’s help to figure out what he meant there. And then Mr. Quill walked over to the wall and tapped a command, and his own music stopped.
And Jemma, after one last look at Fitz, began to sing, “Do you still remember, how it used to be, feeling together, believing whatever my love has said to me…” Otherwise silence suddenly fell at the table, and the only other sound became Mr. Quill quietly translating the lyrics.
Her voice was no more special than his, but the sorrow in it, if one wasn’t like Fitz, who simply hated when she was in pain, was the kind that could break the listener’s heart in the way they might like. And oh God, why he did suggest she sing this song, because the words hit him hard, and he suspected his voice sounded pretty emotionally moving to the detached listener too, as he joined in the chorus, singing, “I’ll be waiting, everlasting, like the sun…” Oh yes, they’d had to mention the sun too, hadn’t they? Jemma had to be hating that. The second verse, if anything, just hurt more, “Yes I still remember, every whispered word, the touch of your skin, giving life from within…” This would’ve been bad enough had the song only applied to one of him and Will.
But they sung the whole thing, finishing to a respectful hush, before Mr. Quill led off the applause. “You’re welcome,” Fitz said. “Please don’t make us do that again.”
But after the group had broken up, and they returned to their quarters, Jemma said, “You know, the singing actually made me feel a lot better. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve heard music can be therapeutic.”
“You can sing when we’re alone then, if you want,” he said to her. “But it wasn’t right, making us put ourselves on display like that.”
“You didn’t like it, did you? Fitz,” she sighed, “you still don’t have to do everything for me.”
“We’ve had that discussion already,” he reminded her. “And…well, I’ve done things I-I’ve found…” His tongue was failing to work again; damn it, why was that *still* happening around her sometimes?
“Worse?” she asked, and his head jerked as he nodded. To that, she just said, “I’m sorry, Fitz. I really am.”
As they got into bed together, she said, very hesitantly, “Fitz…I think…if we had brought him back to Earth successfully…I probably would’ve still chosen you.”
He believed her, and it made things hurt a lot less, to hear that, but even so he had to say, “But we’ll never know for sure, will we?”
“I’m sorry,” she said again, and she kissed his lips chastely, her hands gripping his shoulders in such a way that made him think part of her wanted to do more.
He held her close as they drifted off, and dreamed of a future where she would do more, without shame or guilt, and his arms would bring her happiness, instead of just relief.
“So let me sum this all up,” said Will. “From what you say, New York City was first attacked by human terrorists within a month after I left, then eleven years later was attacked *again* by aliens, we also invaded Iraq a second time which turned out to be a really bad idea, even if it made your father a lot of money, and as a result the Middle East is in even more chaos than usual, not only does S.H.I.E.L.D. exist but they got infiltrated by an Nazi organization from World War II and nearly got destroyed, there’s an elite group of superheroes called the Avengers that go around doing superhero things, the gods of Norse mythology are real, although they’re just really powerful and really long-lived aliens, everyone now carries a cellphone that’s actually a tiny computer, and communicates with the world by posting messages on social media websites, and everyone in the world is now a photographer, and most of them post pictures and videos of cats, America might or might not elect a president even stupider than the one who was in office when I was last there, the Cold War is coming back, global warming is already causing disaster and may cause more in the future, and the second Star Wars prequel was about as bad as the first, but the third was a little better?”
“I know,” said Jemma. “It’s a lot to take in.” She had spent nearly six hours giving him a general history of the world since August of 2001. It had been a long and less than straightforward process; there were things she hadn’t thought to explain which had left him confused and needing explanations for later, and occasionally she’d gone off rambling about some science-related event where he’d put up with her talking for way too long before finally admitting he was never going to understand what she was talking about. The whole thing had made her aware especially of how crazily the world had changed in less than fifteen years, and how no one even remembered how much that was reflected by the innocent-looking device she was currently holding in her hand.
“You know,” she said, as she turned it on long enough just to look at that picture of Fitz again, “if we ever do get home, you’ll have a lot of adjusting to do. You’ll probably even have to relearn how to use desktop computers, especially since they’ve probably ‘upgraded’ Windows again.”
“Always was a Mac person,” he said. “Although I’ve been forced to use Microsoft, of course. But they’ve probably changed too, haven’t they? Not that it matters, of course.”
“Oh no,” Jemma told him, “you shouldn’t get to escape on that excuse. In fact,” she added after another moment’s consideration, “I should start your preparation for integration into 2010s society by taking you through a modern custom. Come on, we’re going to take a selfie.”
“A what?” When she explained what it was, he looked incredulous. “This is not where I’d like to remember myself being, you know.”
“Nor I,” said Jemma, “but you know, all the photos I take here have historical value. There ought to be one of the both of us, and I will also request you smile for the photo as well.”
“This is probably the best group photo we have right now.” Fitz and Gamora had joined Peter up in the cockpit, where Jemma was also in her usual place, and the two men had been having a conversation about photos, and the taking of them. The general galaxy seemed to have evolved beyond selfies; there were many places where one could easily just get the computer to take a photo by itself, such as the one of their hosts Fitz currently had loaded up on a tablet. “You can see Groot’s about the size he is now in it, though if you know where to look you can see lots of differences between the photos; there’s more than one way he’s maturing right now. I suppose it’s good enough for all the newspapers on Earth, if you ever get back and then they want to run a story about us, even if obviously it’ll be a little old by then.”
“Or on news websites on the internet,” Fitz reminded him. “Not unlike plenty of networks you’ve seen out here that way, I understand.” He’d explained to him how the internet worked, even talked about how it had in fact been in use already in the late 1980s, even if young Peter had still never heard of it. He thought maybe he’d started to impress on him just how prevalent the use of it now was on Earth, and how much its existence had changed just about every aspect of daily life. And it wasn’t as if Peter hadn’t run into similar things in multiple interstellar societies; in fact, for most of his life, he’d used such things every day, just like they did. But he kept overlooking that when asking questions or making assumptions about things related to Earth in the modern day. It was as if Earth was still time capsuled in his head and it couldn’t break out.
“Yeah,” he said, when he was reminded of that. “And those would be in color, wouldn’t they?” He made a remark to Gamora then, maybe about her being green in the photo. She responded with a tiny snort.
“What would you want with making all of this public, though?” asked Peter. “Unless Earth increases its interplanetary contact a *lot* within the next few years anyway. I mean, I’ve heard stories about planets like Earth, who have been keeping to themselves. On most of them the general populace don’t even know there are any sentient races in the universe besides themselves, although Earth’s not the only one where certain people found out first, and kept it to themselves until something happened that exposed everything. The results when people find out usually aren’t pretty.”
“I suppose it’s not really our call, is it?” said Jemma from the floor. “If we had our way, it would be Coulson’s, assuming he’s still head of S.H.I.E.L.D. when we got back, though I suppose those certain people might take it out of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hands.”
“It’s not you guys she wants to publicize,” Fitz said to Peter.
“Of course not,” Peter agreed. “Though you know…I suppose my grandparents are probably dead by now…”
“If we find your relatives,” said Fitz, “we’ll let them know about you. I’m sure we’ll be allowed to do that much. We’ll show them the picture too.”
“And the other pictures,” Jemma suggested from the floor.
“Oh no, please,” Peter protested, “not the other pictures!” Those were some embarrassing pictures, but his mortification was obviously exaggerated, maybe even as an attempt to make Jemma laugh. It did make her smile.
“Do you know,” asked Gamora, “what you want to do at Olvar?”
Jemma shrugged. “See its sun?”
“I’m definitely going out,” said Fitz, and even in his grief for Jemma being unable to share it, he couldn’t help his excitement. “I suppose you probably don’t want me to go see this Hasta with you, but I’m perfectly willing to go about on my own. I’ll have those basic Xandarian phrases down by then.”
“You sure you won’t get in trouble?” pointed out Peter.
“Yeah,” Fitz assured him. “Don’t worry; I’ve had my share of that kind of adventure now.” Of course Peter looked skeptical; people often did when he tried to claim things like that. Fitz wasn’t that impressed with him either.
“Maybe Drax go with?” Gamora suggested. “He and Hasta…bad idea anyway.”
Now Fitz was getting angry. “I don’t need…” he started.
“Fitz,” Jemma interrupted, and he stopped. “Look, I know you’d probably be fine on your own. But having someone with you, on a planet where you barely speak the official language, and that’s not even the first tongue of most of the inhabitants, and there are apparently shady characters? I think having someone like Drax with you is just common sense.”
He hadn’t realized she’d learned that much about Olvar. Learning she had made him so glad he didn’t feel like protesting anymore. Especially since he was happy to do whatever would give her better peace of mind.
Gamora, meanwhile, had asked Peter something in Xandarian, and now he was responding, and he didn’t sound happy, and nor did she when she started speaking again. Fitz vaguely thought he should tell him all right, if Drax was willing to come with him he’d let him, but when they started talking faster and more intensely, both of them now frowning and looking like they might growl, he went and sat down next to Jemma and whispered to her, “I think we shouldn’t get involved in that.”
“No, definitely not,” Jemma agreed. She reached out her hand; Fitz took it. “Do you think they’d mind if I started singing?” she asked.
“They made you sing last night; they’ve forfeited the right to complain.”
“But would you mind?”
She’d feel guilty if he just said he didn’t, and that would mar the effects of her singing. So Fitz forced himself to think about for a moment, before he said, “Just don’t sing that Spice Girls song again. You can sing another one if you want.”
“Was thinking more along the lines of Coldplay, actually.” Not Fitz’s first choice of rock group, there. But at this point he wouldn’t really mind either. “It’s just I’ve had ‘Fix You’ stuck in my head all day…”
“Sing it out, definitely,” Fitz agreed. “Actually, pity we can’t play them the proper version of it, but if they’re not listening right now anyway…” He didn’t think they’d be, not with the other two voices in the cockpit getting louder.
But when Jemma, after a minute or so of gathering herself fully together, started singing, “When you try your best but you don’t succeed…” Gamora stopped arguing, which stopped Peter as well. When Jemma had finished singing the first verse, and paused to draw breath, she said, “I am sorry. We upset you?”
“No, that’s fine,” said Jemma. “I just feel like singing right now.” Fitz folded his arms and leaned protectively over her, to make clear they ought not to have a problem with that. Not that he thought he could really intimidate either of them; he’d seen Gamora practice her fighting skills, but still.
But neither of them objected. On the contrary, as Jemma continued to sing, Gamora relaxed against her seat and listened attentively, while even Peter seemed to be, although he kept his eyes on the console.
When she was done, Gamora said, “I like you singing. If you want to sing, I want to listen, if okay.”
“I think that would be okay,” said Jemma. Then, more mischievously, “Though you’d have to come up here and endure his company.”
“Very funny,” grumbled Peter, but it was half-hearted.
Will had had a very imaginative mother; she had made up stories to tell him at bedtime when he had been a boy, and he had spent much of the last fourteen years trying to remember as much of them as possible. Having someone to tell them to helped, even if Jemma eventually got bored of how many of them had girls being rescued.
“I guess I did like the idea of being able to rescue girls,” Will admitted to her when she told him that. “Rescue anyone, really, but girls especially.”
“Well, you rescued me,” she told him. “More or less.”
“Pity I didn’t enjoy it more,” he sighed. His head fell, and then was looking at his old computer; the two of them were sitting near it. “By the time we came here, I didn’t find it exciting anymore. I just wanted things to…”
“Work out fine?” Jemma knew the feeling; she’d had it hammered into her this past year.
“Yeah,” he said. “The thing about stories is you know they’re going to have a happy ending. Well, unless they don’t, but my mother’s stories always did.”
Jemma’s mother hadn’t been one for storytelling; no one in her family had been. When they’d been at the academy, Fitz’s possessions had included a book of Scottish stories he’d grown up with, though now she hadn’t seen it in years; she feared he must have lost it. He’d had them by heart anyway. His favorite had been the first in the book, “My Own Self,” about a little boy who had stayed up one night and met and played with a little faerie girl he’d found in the chimney, although Fitz did wish he hadn’t been scared out of staying up late again because of it. The part where the little girl had been pulled back up into the chimney, presumably by her parents, still ran through Jemma’s head sometimes when she was going through the trapdoor.
She ended up telling Will that story a few days later, just for a change of pace. “So you would rather be a faerie than a damsel in distress?” he grinned at her when she finished. “Although I’m with your friend; I don’t get why the boy didn’t want to meet her again. If I’d been the boy, I would’ve stayed up late every night after that. Not like he even had my reasons for being wary.”
“Why are you assuming I’m the faerie?” Jemma retorted. “You’re the mysterious man I found in this place in the night, after all.”
“You’re the one who fell down into my home?” he offered.
“You set the trap. That was a very faerie thing for you to do-remember the faeries in these stories weren’t supposed to be nice people…”
They ended up debating it until they went to sleep, and they never quite settled it even after that, which of them was the faerie who had come down to play with and scare a disobedient human child.
Jemma sang more for Gamora, over the remaining handful of days as they approached Olvar. Sometimes one or both of their two Terran men would be there, and if Peter was there he always translated her words. But for the most part, Gamora found herself being introduced to the more recent popular songs of Earth with only a limited ability to understand their lyrics. Still, some of them she liked very much, from the Spice Girls’ “Denying” to the almost overly cheery “Boom Clap,” where Jemma taught her the meaning of the word clap by performing the action with her hands when she sung it. “A childish thing for me to do,” she said. “But right now I don’t care.” Gamora didn’t care either; she did it with her.
The day before they reached their destination, Jemma had gotten used enough to the engine that she wasn’t always retreating to the cockpit anymore, and the two of them were in one corner of the main common area, Gamora doing her daily workout while Jemma tried to sing songs that worked with that-she didn’t really succeed, but Gamora appreciated it anyway. She did start clapping while she sang, so she focused on that sound.
She though Jemma was starting to get a little strained by the time she started singing a song by some singing contest winner called Phillip Phillips. But she didn’t realize how serious that was, until right in the middle of singing “Just know you’re not alone…” she stopped clapping and burst into tears.
Gamora stopped her workout and sat down next to where she was sitting. She had never been good at comforting people, but she put a hand on Jemma’s shoulder, and the Terran leaned into it. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “Just…I only even played that song for Will once, but he liked it, and later we decided it was our song…and it’s a song Fitz loves…”
And then she started babbling, so fast that despite an increase in her English vocabulary Gamora still couldn’t understand much of what she said. But she understood enough to know Jemma was spilling to her what she’d already long figured out: her feelings for both the man with her and the man she’d been forced to kill, her guilt over it, and especially for how Fitz had suffered because of it. Terrans, Gamora had learned, were patriarchal and possessive, and that was responsible for a lot of this female’s misery, though not for all of it. “I suppose it matters less now,” she finished, “since Will is dead, but even now, I still can’t bring myself to give Fitz all he deserves, and I’m hoping I will eventually…it’s crazy, because before all this I was never in love in my life. And then suddenly I’m in love with two people? It makes no sense.”
Gamora wasn’t entirely sure what the word sense meant, but she more or less understood the rest. “You think that is bad,” she said. “Terrans think that is bad.”
“Well, yes,” said Jemma. “If Will had lived, I would have had to cause one of them so much pain. In fact, I have anyway, even when he didn’t!”
“That is unlucky,” said Gamora. “But still, my people thought different. They said, second love…” she really wished she had enough English to do this justice, “…more than first. Because there was first. Love two people, love both more. They thought probably, love in different ways, family and friends and then lover, but they would still say, you love Fitz more, because you loved Will.”
Jemma took that without reaction, just looked at her for a minute. Then she said, “Thought, you said. Said, you said. All past tense…” She must have seen Gamora didn’t understand that last word, because added, “Like they don’t anymore.”
She should have just said everything in the present, Gamora thought. She could’ve easily gotten away with it. But now that she was caught, she said, “All dead. Thanos killed everybody. Leaving only me. I am only Zehoberai alive.”
“Oh,” and there was the gasp, the horror. Gamora braced herself for the pity.
But instead of the usual words of sorrow, Jemma’s next were, “Then why are we singing my songs and talking about Earth? Other people can do that. But your people, their culture, their things. I know you were pretty young when Thanos kidnapped you-I assume that’s when he killed all your people too-but still, surely you remember some things. Has anyone else even written anything about them?”
“I can’t sing,” Gamora reminded her. “And you can not understand my own language.”
“Then let’s get over to Peter and he can translate as you tell me everything you can remember about the Zehoberai. I feel like I should get something to take notes on here…of course I’m not the best person for this, since Earth’s contact with extraterrestrial society is so limited, and I supposed your normal crewmates don’t care about this sort of thing, do they? Maybe we should get Fitz too. He’d probably be a better scribe than me right now anyway. The two of us are still better than no one. Maybe we can tell other people out here in space during the next few years. I think Peter finally agreed to let Fitz spend a few minutes flying the Milano, but they must be done with that by now.”
She was moving with new energy, Gamora observed as she followed her up to the flight deck, the kind she hadn’t really displayed when she’d first come on board. New focus too.
When they reached the cockpit, Peter was back at the controls, but Fitz was grinning, and he greeted them with an exclamation of, “I did it, Jemma! I flew a spaceship! I flew a real live spaceship!”
“Mack’s going to be jealous,” grinned Jemma, and set to work explaining their new purpose. Gamora didn’t try to understand her words, then, instead trying to think of what to tell them first. Most of the memories of her childhood before Thanos had come were deeply personal: the faces of her parents, the blankets she’d slept in, the time she’d snuck in under the floor to spy on the grown-ups(Fitz would’ve been fascinated to learn how that floor had worked, no doubt, but Gamora herself had never bothered to know; she’d just known there was space under it she could squeeze into).
She actually remembered her Aunt-she thought it had been her Aunt-constantly singing as she worked around the house, when she had visited when her father had gotten sick. But she couldn’t even remember the words anymore, just the melody, and that was impossible for her to convey to them, not when none of them knew any system of musical notation. Trapped in her head with no way to be heard by anybody else.
Of course, she didn’t even remember very many words of her original language anyway. She could remember what some people had said, but not the words they had spoken.
But as she thought back, a memory she hadn’t thought about since her world had ended came into her head, one from only five nights before it had all happened, the last time her mother had told her a story before bed. She wasn’t sure she would even be able to remember all the details, but she remembered the child in the wind, and the dying old man who had heard her, and his grandson whom he’d wanted the child to meet, but she couldn’t. She didn’t even know if it had been a traditional bedtime story, or if her mother had just made it up herself. But if she could just remember enough of it, it might be worth telling it again.
Peter didn’t look too impressed, but he was agreeing. “So,” he said, as Jemma settled down onto her usual spot on the floor, and Fitz took hold of a tablet they’d happened to have up there. “What will you tell us, Gamora?”
“A story my mother tell me,” she said in English; she didn’t think she’d ever mention when she’d told it, that it had been the last one. Then she switched to Xandarian as she began, “It took place a long time ago, before anyone had been born,” she remembered the literal words of that one, now that she also remembered her mother had prefaced every story she’d told with it. “There was a man who lived deep in the mountains…” Or had it been high in the mountains? She feared it had been high in the mountains. Feel her way forward, she told herself, live with missteps. “He lived all alone…except sometimes when his daughter visited, and she had her family with her…”
“The sun will come out tomorrow…” Of course she had to sing it, as the two of them were settling down to sleep for the last time in that long, long night.
“If you still have the energy to sing after that adventure in the storm,” Will chuckled at her, “and then after…” He ran his fingers, still sticky with her secretions, down her body, pausing on her knee, even though she’d wiped the semen off of it. Typical male, all about where he’d marked her. “I didn’t do my job well enough.”
“Oh no,” she giggled, “you are not up for another round right now. Remember, we’ve got to be up at least a couple of hours before sunup, preferably three.” He had already been tired once they’ve finally gotten down here and out of the dust, the planet’s attempt, he probably thought, to finally do them in, too spiteful to just let them have the sun again. But they’d also been so relieved to be alive they really hadn’t been able to keep their hands off of each other.
She still wasn’t even sure where he’d gone before that. She’d ask him later, after the sunrise.
It seemed like everything was focused on that now, seeing the sun again. It made Jemma worry what they were going to do when it had set. Having something to look forward to had made life here much more bearable. She was still settling into the notion that they were stuck here for life, and that they had each other for comfort, but that was all. She feared her worst unhappiness over it was yet to come.
The sun on Olvar was big. Big and white, and its glare made everyone in the location the Milano had landed in feel like they were being baked. It was like that most of the time here, their companions told said. Jemma obviously didn’t care. She settled herself out in the shippark, as they took to calling it, surrounded by all the other ships that Fitz would’ve loved to see the insides of, but the others strongly discouraged him from trying, accepted the protective lotion that was offered to her, and made clear being in the sun was her main wish for this particular planet, at least for now.
Drax as a companion definitely wasn’t her. He hadn’t made nearly the kind of effort to understand English that Gamora had, and he gave only grunts in response to Fitz’s comments as they walked down the hills and passed the buildings made of sandstone and the ugly plants whose planting looked strategic(maybe keeping the air from being even worse?), and all the people of so many different kinds, until Fitz stopped making them. Instead, he tried to compile a mental list of things to tell Jemma later. The fancy ornamental posts at the intersections. The family of tiny lavender people where six individuals who were obviously kids went running amok, their parents chasing after them in a vain attempt to keep them under control, getting underfoot of everybody else. The young couple that sat on a bench by the road and just gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes while their antennae tangled above their heads. Given some of the reactions from others passers-by to this, Fitz thought that might not entirely be something it was appropriate to do in public, maybe like making out in front of other people. There was too much; he’d never remember it all.
“Big day,” Drax commented to him when they reached the entrance to the market, and saw the crowd. The people of various species were packed in to the point it would’ve been a lot harder for Fitz to get anywhere if his companion hadn’t taken the lead and started pushing through with his bulk. He hoped there weren’t any of those tiny lavender people around; they’d get crushed.
Drax helped with more than just his large size; he also knew where their first destination was, and he guided them there even without being asked, although he moved so fast Fitz thought a couple of times they could’ve used a piece of rope to tie themselves together. It wasn’t even just the lack of free space in the market; he thought, there were people who tried to bump him even when they didn’t have to. He ended up keeping a hand over the breast pocket where he’d put the money, glad he’d borrowed one of Gamora’s vests which had them, even if it the fit was way wrong in certain places.
The market was not shaped like a quadrilateral; Fitz thought it might have been originally, but now it had narrow alleyways of stands sticking out of it, including a few that bent and had alleyways of their own to spread further. When things were this crowded these were pretty much hell, so naturally Ei’at Goff was pretty far down one of them. He was a member of a species known as the Yush, and they looked mostly like very bumpy rock people with very big eyes. He was bent over some sort of tablet, only half-paying attention to the sea of people in front of him.
Still, his gaze was sharp when Drax’s pushing Fitz forward caused him to look up. Fitz rattled off the words he’d spent the morning practicing: “Yopxi. Ut usi Leo Fitz. Ut lessi ti-roki atti-romer acki Xandarian.” Hello. My name is Leo Fitz. I want to buy tapes for learning Xandarian. Well, actually, tapes wasn’t the most accurate translation, but Peter had insisted to him it was close enough.
Ei’at Goff seemed to consider him for a moment, confused. It was because he thought he was Xandarian, Fitz thought. “Ut pl’usi Xandarian, ut usi Terran,” he offered.
Goff growled something impatient that he didn’t understand. His voice was a lot more high-pitched than he had been expecting. He must have seen his reaction, because he snapped something else.
He really should be used to selling to people who couldn’t speak Xandarian, he thought, annoyed, as Drax thankfully stepped forward and took over. “Bad idea, say Terran,” he explained to him as Fitz took the money out. “He only know one Terran.” He continued to speak to Goff, who reached down and pulled out a metal chip.
They were just making the exchange when suddenly the sound of an explosion roared through the air, and Fitz thought the ground shook slightly, although that might have been caused by the shrieks that filled the market, and the jumping of half of the people in it. It hadn’t actually happened within the market, though. But he didn’t think it had been very from it either.
Drax shoved the remainder of the money into the vendor’s hands so fast some of it clattered to the ground. With his free hand he grabbed Fitz and started pulling him away-towards the end of the alley. With everything decoratively fenced in, he wasn’t sure if there were even entrances down there, but he supposed if there weren’t Drax would probably make one.
Sure enough, that was exactly what he did, knocking the bars of the fence into each other, shoving Fitz through the resulting gap, and clambering over himself, lingering on the top just long enough to look over in the direction the explosion had come from. “Hasta!” he yelled as he did so. “Ve trligess erk poilo Hasta yarkis!”
“Near Hasta?!” a horrified Fitz repeated; he’d understood that much. “You think we had something do with it?”
Drax looked at him as if he was an idiot, which was pretty much an answer. Then he grabbed him and they started running towards the explosion.
At least they’d gotten the language tapes. Although Fitz actually had also wanted to buy some clothes as well, maybe some large tunics he and Jemma could share; it was getting tiring having to borrow.
Closer to the site and Drax took them through a door in the side of a large building, hitting the rod sticking out of the door until it beeped-breaking the lock, Fitz thought, and then down a flight of steps that quickly grew very filthy and smelly. He was obviously trying to avoid being stopped by law enforcement, but Fitz definitely was not looking forward to possibly wading through alien shit, if this was a sewer system.
But instead, when they were far enough down Fitz thought they had to be below even most people’s basements, if anyone here had them(likely in a hot climate), Drax said, “Secret places here. Yondu know, so Quill know, so we know.” They reached another door with another rod he punched out, and passed through it into a dimly lit tunnel; probably absolutely filthy, if the way Fitz’s boots(borrowed from Peter and stuffed with extra socks) squelched against the floor were any indication.
Fitz was just trying to figure out if they’d been walking for ten or twenty minutes when the other end opened, and Peter’s voice called out, “Reti-unri tarkis?”
“It’s just us!” Fitz called back. “We’re here! Ounsi unress tarkis!”
Drax said more, the conversation continued in rapid Xandarian, and they stopped walking and let their companions join them, before they all headed back the way Fitz and Drax had come. Fitz couldn’t tell much besides that they were mentioning Hasta a lot, but he hoped it was over. As they headed back up the stairs, Gamora sidled over to him and said, “They fight. Peter never wants to see Hasta again. Rocket…” She shook her head.
After an explosion like that, most Earth cities would’ve gone into lockdown, but that didn’t seem to be the case on Olvar. When they emerged, they could see a lot of big flying vehicles circling the explosion area, but the streets were far from empty, and when they passed the market, though it was no longer packed to the gills the way it had been earlier, there were still plenty of people milling about.
Later, Jemma would wonder how many of the hallucinations from her first month on the planet had been caused simply by her isolation and how many had been caused by the planet. But she doubted by then that the planet would’ve given her any non-violent images of Fitz.
She woke up near the lake to find him sitting next to her, in the outfit he’d been wearing when they’d been at the bottom of the sea(Why was it always that one?). He didn’t bother to say hi this time, just said, “Hungry?”
“Is that what triggered you this time?” she asked dully. But she was; she was going to have to face down that thing again. She already had the shiv at the ready. “You know, I’m starting to worry sooner or later I’m going to forget how to talk to you.”
“Even though your head created me?”
“My head’s not behaving rationally anymore,” she shrugged. “And I’m not just talking about you either. There’s a reason you don’t try to touch me anymore.” He had often held her hand during her early days of hallucinating him, even hugged her once. But now, after nearly a month of never having anything on her skin besides air and dust and water, the thought of being touched was so overwhelming Jemma had started to fear it.
“I know,” Fitz said, because of course he did; she’d created him, after all. “And when you were always the more social of the two of us too. Even if I rescued you tomorrow, that would still be different now, wouldn’t it?”
“Don’t…” And there were tears showing up. Stupid of her, and she knew that, but everything was just too much, the long hours she’d spent stranded and the date that should’ve long happened by now and the loneliness and the possibility she would never see another human being again.
The explosion worried Jemma, but much to her relief Peter quickly managed to comm her and assure her everything was under control, so she should stay where she was. So she did, watching the aliens who had parked all the other ships around them hurry back and fly away, and wow, were most of their ships far too loud. When the others returned, it was just after the fourth one had departed, and that one had left her especially rattled; she’d even fled into the ship, and spent a few minutes lying on her bunk, trying to get herself calm and collected again.
She couldn’t hide her condition from Fitz, of course. She walked down the ramp to greet them, and he took one look and cried out, “Jemma, are you all right?!”
When he ran forward, she let him hug her, though when he came to the actual putting his arms on her part he was sure to slow his movements way down, even though she didn’t really need him to anymore. “Just the ships all taking off,” she said to him. “They’re a bit loud.”
“Ships taking off?” Gamora repeated from the ground. “Problem. More will take off.”
“Lots more,” said Peter. “With the business Gamora and I still have to get done here thanks to Hasta’s latest antics we’re probably going to be the last people to leave this place. The others aren’t going to hang around after that explosion earlier today.”
Disbelievingly Jemma looked around at all the craft still there. To have to listen through every last one of them seemed impossible to bear.
But then Rocket said something in Xandarian, and he, Peter, and Groot had a conversation Fitz tried to listen to, but he quickly shook his head with a “They’re talking too fast.” A couple minutes into it, though, Gamora came over, and said, “Rocket wants market. Maybe you two go with?”
“It might be better than the alternative,” said Fitz. “It’s a little less crowded than it was before the explosion, and if more offworlders flee it might get even less so. And while I got the language stuff, we didn’t get any clothes. You come with us, Jemma, we can even both try things on. Maybe you could even get yourself a hairbrush and things like that.” Fitz had been fine with Peter’s combs, but she’d been borrowing Gamora’s brush, which wasn’t one entirely suited for human hair.
It was clear when Peter officially offered the suggestion and the two of them agreed to it that Rocket was not happy to have them with him and Groot, who was going as well. He had stubbornly refused to do any actual study of English, and Jemma was pretty sure he had never forgiven the profession of scientists in general for creating him the way they had, and obviously it didn’t help matters that she was a biochemist. But Groot smiled at them and hovered protectively over Jemma almost as soon as they were out of the shippark, for which she was grateful.
She kept close to him and Fitz both as they entered the market, indeed, the two of them practically closed themselves around her. There might have been, “Lots less people,” as Fitz whispered to her, but there were still far more than she felt comfortable with at all. She had thought she and Fitz might separate from the other two, but she knew then it wouldn’t happen. They’d just have to follow Rocket around while he bought his weapons and anything they could find for Groot, before they did their own shopping.
It was kind of fascinating to watch him like this, though. Jemma wasn’t sure if it was the curiousity of a scientist, starting to creep back for things and people she was used to, or the interest of the hardened agent the past year and a half had turned her into. Rocket didn’t draw his weapon while they were in the market, though he had his hand on the handle a lot, but that he was a threat to almost none of the other people around physically seemed to make him paradoxically bolder, jumping up onto the stands to get in people’s faces when he haggled with them, and occasionally knocking something down. He also occasionally glanced back at Groot, whom Jemma was pretty sure he usually also involved in intimidating people, but he didn’t leave Jemma’s side, and eventually Rocket gave up on that.
Finally he had purchased two new guns, assorted paraphernalia, and a huge bag of fertilizer, giving them all to Groot to carry as Fitz and Jemma set to work searching for the best place to buy humanoid-size clothing. Most of the clothing stands tended towards hot-weather stuff, but they finally found a large one near the market’s center which sold things for more temperate climates. It was run by an elderly Xandarian couple that actually didn’t speak the official Xandarian language, or even one of the main three languages it was a hodgepodge of, but a more obscure one called Rovic; they and Rocket communicated as best they could in Toul, which was the tongue of the local area.
Jemma supposed the two of them thought their customers to be the same species as them. No one told them otherwise, anyway.
They had each settled on some practical tunics and leggings, and gotten also themselves boots and sandels, and various things for her hair, when she found the dress. She’d been thumbing through what seemed to be a sales rack, and then suddenly she found herself grasping it. It was made of such soft black fabric; it was thick and looked sturdy but felt more like satin, and was a sleeveless dress of relatively simple design, except that the asymmetrical straps that were clearly meant to fall over the arms were slightly fancier. It tumbled down from her hands, and instantly Jemma loved it.
The female Xandarian saw, and started eagerly talking. When Rocket began talking in Xandarian, Fitz came over to say, “I think she’s saying these were big last year…last one, she just said…”
“We shouldn’t buy it,” said Jemma sadly. “The life we’re likely to be living for the next few years, there probably won’t be very many opportunities to wear such a thing.”
But Fitz considered the dress thoughtfully as the old woman continued to babble, and then said, “We don’t really know where we’ll be going. We might not even end up staying on the Milano. And also, remember, these guys saved everyone’s lives once and are still considered to be heroes on Xander. Ship ever wanders over there, or to any other big Nova Empire planets, they’ll probably be invited to a few official functions. Or we could...maybe find other occasions for it...at the very least, you should try it on, see what you look like in it.”
Jemma wasn’t sure when she went behind the privacy screen in the corner whether she wanted it to fit or not. But the cloth felt so good on her skin, some parts of which still remained sore even two weeks after she’d been tortured, and the skirt fell nicely to just above her ankles, and when she looked at herself in the mirror, despite the vicious scars that Inhuman torturer had left on her shoulder which were now visible, she found herself thinking how nice it was to look good again, another thing she hadn’t had lately.
Then she stepped into the main part of the tent, with a, “How do I look?” and heard in response a scornful snort, a contemplative, “Ut usi Groot,” and a sharp inhale.
Fitz had never looked at her the way he was looking at her now. There were some emotions he’d displayed before, yes, the admiration, and the affection, and the almost embarrassed touch of awe, plus the shyness. But mixed in with all of them, she could see a new glint. It was sharp in his eyes as he ran them up and down her, lingering a little bit on her backside, which the skirt flattered, and then met hers, their hunger unmistakable.
It made heat to rival that of the planet form in Jemma, up in her face, down in her core, flickering up and down her spine. She was a little startled to realize how much she liked having Fitz look at her like that. She’d already supposed he was having the thoughts behind it; that was only logical, after all. And she’d gotten a taste of his passion that day in the lab when she’d gotten that first taste of his lips. She’d liked it, too. A lot. Really, she’d found herself thinking that if it wasn’t for the whole problem of Will, she would have been nothing but generally in favor of any of that. But this…she wanted Fitz to never stop looking at her like that. She wanted him to come over and press kisses to her bare skin, even though she still wasn’t sure she was actually ready for that. The possibilities were rushing through her head in an instant. She was getting wet for the first time since she’d returned to Earth.
She was definitely buying this dress.
“I sometimes recite things in my head,” said Will. “When I feel like I’m on the verge of going crazy. Like all the cities I’ve ever spent time in, starting with the one I was born in, which actually wasn’t the small town I grew up in; my mom had complications and they ran her to a hospital in the big city…”
“Remarkable job for you to have kept track of them,” said Jemma. “I don’t think I could remember all of them. There’s been a lot of time, of course, where I haven’t really known where I was, because it was something I didn’t need to know...”
“Happened to me, too,” said Will. “During the early parts of the NASA project, when they were being extra concerned about everything being top secret. I just skip those.
Other times,” he continued. “I recite number patterns. There was one time I recited nearly two hundred prime numbers. Most of the ones below a hundred I don’t even have to think about it anymore; I have them memorized. Fibonacci numbers too. The trick is to have enough lists of things so you don’t feel like any particular one will drive you crazy if you ever even so much as think about its existence again.”
Jemma had heard a story that once Coulson had been held captive and tortured by the Five Rings, and he had keep himself sane by reciting all the names of the Howling Commandos, both during and after the war, in the order they had joined(he even knew whose paperwork had been processed fastest for the original squadron, according to the story). She herself had no such lists. Unless… “Should I recite the periodic table, then?” she asked. “I’ve got that memorized. Unless they’d discovered any new elements in the past few months.”
“That’s a good one,” he said. “So, you start with hydrogen and helium.”
“Yes,” she said, “and hydrogen, chemical symbol H, is a nonmetal, with an atomic mass of 1.00794…”
“Ut usi, un unsi, um erk,” Jemma was reciting. “Ounsi unress, oansi unrett, umsi unri.”
Next to her, Fitz tapped his tablet, and a tinny voice recited her exact words back to her. “Even perfectly pronounced,” he commented. “And when the third person ones took me a lot longer. At this rate you might seriously be able to join my talks with Shurlee by the time we reach Tuill.”
“You’ll have to teach me Xandarian engineering terms, then.” He could; he was learning them.
The two of them were sitting against the wall on the lower level, nearer to the engine than Jemma could have easily managed when she’d first boarded, but she was getting much better at that now. Drax was sitting nearby, cleaning his weapons and ignoring them. But just then Jemma heard some unmistakable footsteps, and she rose to her feet as the newcomer approached, saying, “Yopxi, Groot,” although unfortunately she mangled the pronunciation of it. “Ranu-unsi un?” Actually, she thought the un was optional there, but she said it just to be safe.
“Ut usi Groot.” He sounded amused, but also pleased.
“Mepxa, Groot,” said Fitz, also standing up. “Next,” he then said to Jemma, “I’ll teach you how to say-”
But at that moment, the Milano was suddenly hit hard enough by something the inertia carried through the grid, and sent all three of them stumbling to the wall. Probably just dark matter turbulence, Jemma reminded herself. She and Fitz had already experienced hits of that, although for all the previous ones she’d been up in the cockpit, and it was definitely worse down here.
It was a lengthy one too, and Groot was just starting to call, “Ut usi-” when things surged the other way and they all went flying again, and from the other side of the room, one of Drax’s sharpening implements went flying through the air, and hit Jemma on the shoulder.
There was a moment where all she could feel was the pain flaring back up-and then, suddenly she was back on the Hydra base, with that metal-manipulating monster with his wicked grin who didn’t even seem to hear her when she screamed, except when he seemed annoyed that was all he was getting out of her.
She gritted her teeth, and returned to her list. She remembered exactly where in it she’d been when he’d left off: Number 27, Colbalt, symbol CO, transition metal, atomic mass 58.93319, 27 protons and electrons, 32 neutrons, 4 energy levels, ionization energy 760.4 kilojoules per mole, 1.91 electonegativity. Number 28, Nickel, symbol NI, transition metal, atomic mass…
“Jemma, Jemma?” Fitz’s voice somehow sounded both near and far away, which made sense if they’d turned the comm on both ways so now she could hear him too, but there wasn’t any static. Instead she could hear his anguish all the more, his, “Please, Jemma!”, and she forced herself to keep going, to not give these bastards anything. Atomic mass 58.6934, 28 protons and electrons, 31 neutrons, 4 energy levels, ionization energy 745.5 kilojoules per mole, 1.88 electronegativity…
Groot’s hand touched her arm, and she screeched herself away. “Number 29, copper, symbol CU, transition metal, 29 protons and electrons…”
It wasn’t the first time she’d slipped and started reciting it out loud, and Fitz interrupted, “Jemma, Jemma, please, we are on the Milano, and I’m right here, and no one here is going to hurt you.”
It got through to her. The shaking of the ship had stopped, and Fitz, Groot, and Drax were steady, obviously concerned presences around her. Still, Jemma found herself scrunched up into herself, and unwilling to move, and she desperately wished Groot and Drax would go away.
Her and Fitz’s eyes met; he looked relieved after a moment, hopefully realizing the flashback had passed. “Do you want to go upstairs?” he asked. “Don’t touch her again, either of you.”
“Ut usi Groot,” said Groot apologetically, and when Jemma turned and started walking towards the ladder, he and Drax moved aside. Fitz followed her, still carrying the language reader.
Peter and Gamora were up in the cockpit, and while the former didn’t look too happy to have a pair of visitors when he was dealing with dark matter turbulence, which probably hadn’t left the engines unscathed, the latter gave him a preemptive look, and he made no protest as Jemma settled into her usual place and closed her eyes. “Touch me?” she whispered to Fitz, and he carefully put his hand on her back.
After a few minutes, when there had been no further turbulence, he whispered, “Do you want to resume the language lessons? Or I could recite the elements with you, until you feel a little better.”
They ended up getting all the way to Xenon before Jemma felt completely like herself again, and then for good measure they sung the Tom Lehrer element song, which made Peter laugh, at least once they explained what Harvard was; he hadn’t heard of it as a kid. “I’ve been trying to find out what they call some of those elements out here,” said Fitz. “I’ve got a small list, if you’d like to see it. Most of these words weren’t Xandarian originally, though; a lot of elements were discovered and named by the Kree.”
Jemma was still getting what they’d been told was the standard interstellar script memorized, but at least she had the most common letters down, and that made reading easier, especially with Fitz there to remind her what the others were. Hydrogen was known as kuta. Oxygen was called puulu. Carbon was called erro. Fitz had gathered the names of roughly twenty of the most common elements; he must have been planning to show them to her later in the lesson. “I think they’ve also found more elements that are unknown on Earth,” he finished. “We should add them to our list at some point.”
"That’s all very well and good,” said Peter, turning around to talk to them, “but does she know the Xandarian for, “We’re going to have to stay on Tuill for at least five days standard to get the engine cleaned up, unless your genius kicks in really fast?’”
Jemma didn’t, of course, but Fitz replied, “Texa ruzilla…” He paused for a moment, then said, “ruzilla erk hui…”
“No,” Peter interrupted him, “the engine is not broken. You aren’t allowed to change the sentence just so you can use the words you know already.”
For a fleeting moment Jemma was annoyed at him, but Fitz ruefully smiled, and said, “I’ll know that one by the time we get to Tuill. Meanwhile, Jemma, we’re going to expand your vocabulary a bit, just some more basic verbs, simple actions like walking and talking…”
When they finally descended the ladder for dinner, Fitz told her the Xandarian word for that too. He was then waxing on various food-related words when Groot passed them by with Rocket riding off his shoulders, and Jemma was quick to spot the blood on the back of his vest, enough of it that she thought he was still bleeding. “Rocket,” she called over to him, “have you gotten yourself bandaged?” Fitz added several words that she was pretty sure got the message across in Xandarian.
Rocket’s only response was a glare. Groot’s long-suffering, “Ut usi Groot,” told her the rest.
“Um pl’erk oona,” she scolded him. “Ut t’arrot.” I look instead of I will look, since she didn’t know any tenses besides present yet, which she feared Rocket would hold against her far more than was called for.
Thankfully Groot made her job a lot easier by wrapping his fingers around his companion and lowering him to the floor despite his protests. As behind them Gamora and Peter came down the ladder, Fitz said to them, “Rocket’s injured. Could one of you go get your medical kit?”
Eventually, after a lot of words, half of which were lost in translation, and Peter fetching the kit and even being kind enough to identify the antiseptic to her immediately, Jemma’s patient submitted to having his wounds treated and bandaged. By then Drax had shown up to stand over her as well, and Jemma was aware that this was the first thing either she or Fitz had done to truly make themselves useful on board. Strange that she should be the one to do that first.
Not that Rocket was grateful. He hopped back onto Groot without so much as a “Yapxa” and didn’t even look at her for the rest of the night, no matter how much Fitz glared at him. That was all right, though; Jemma didn’t take it personally.
“He named them after the Disney seven dwarves?” Jemma could tell that Will was genuinely trying not to laugh, but he was failing miserably.
“It was obvious enough a thing to do,” she told him. “I don’t think he was even the one who originally came up with the acronym, that was probably Leila,” poor Leila, who had been killed when the Sandbox had fallen, “and when we had seven of them, well…and we both got pretty quick at memorizing which ones were good for what probably because their names were so easy to remember.
Although we pretty much stopped using them, after…I think he’s been designing new ones, now.” Once upon a time, of course, she would’ve been the first to know about it. Now, she knew too little of what he’d been involved with the past year, although she did know he’d been doing more than most of the people on the Playground had noticed. Jemma had already vowed to herself that once she got home she would never let herself fall out of his loop like that again.
“Pity you didn’t bring any of them with you.” Will hadn’t seemed to notice her sadness, or, if he had, he had decided to ignore it.
Shurlee was member of the species known as the Centaurians, which Lady Sif had mentioned as existing to Coulson, so the two of them had known the name, and that they were blue, but nothing else. Peter, who had been raised by one following his abduction from Earth, gave them a little more information as they made the journey through Tuill their second day there. It was an old, run-down planet covered with too much urban sprawl, where the air was so polluted they kept ducking in and out of underground tunnels and other public indoor passageways to minimize their exposure to it. Jemma found herself wondering if Tuill’s fate could be Earth’s if the people on it waited too long to come to their senses.
Most of the inhabitants also lived underground, at least if they could afford to. Shurlee both lived and ran his business in a relatively spacious suite two levels down from the surface. “These are very crude lifts, actually,” Fitz commented as they climbed into one and made their way down.
“Yeah, he’s said that, too,” said Peter. “Although there is still a computer involved in operating them, for the record.”
“Not a very complicated one,” shrugged Fitz, and his words seemed reinforced when stopping caused the lift to shake like nobody’s business, and the lift doors had to groan to open.
Peter greeted the big, burly blue man very warmly, in a language that definitely was not Xandarian, which was all Jemma could know about that. They recognized their own names, of course, when Peter introduced them, before switching to English to say, “This is Shurlee, the best mechanic in this part of the galaxy.”
That, thought Jemma, was no longer necessarily true, now that Fitz was in this part of the galaxy. But of course he was too humble to make any such suggestion, merely holding out his hand, which Shurlee looked quizzically at for a second before Peter presumably instructed him to shake it and he did. He greeted him in Xandarian, and on another word from Peter Shurlee began talking in it, slowly enough for Jemma to pick up some words: rossazos-mechanics(roughly), haba-good, and a questioning word Jemma thought was asking after the quantity of something.
She could see Fitz surveying the room as he returned the Centaurian’s greeting with basic pleasantries. The place was filled with all sorts of contraptions, many of them obviously far from complete, of all sizes and shapes. Many were on tables or shelves, or other similar storage devices, but others were on the floor, and not just the ones too big to be on anything else, but even the little ones Jemma would’ve worried someone would accidentally step on and break.
One of these, which was some sort of data chip attached to a light by a thick wire, Fitz picked up, asking, “Renni-erk?”
This simple question of what it was provoked an excited answer from Shurlee, he started talking fast, rattling out so many fancy words that even when she thought she recognized an engineering term or two in there she still couldn’t hope to understand. Fitz looked a little flummoxed too. But then Shurlee repeated himself more slowly, and Fitz exclaimed, “Ah!” followed by more Xandarian. The main word Jemma caught was ruzilla; the rest of it went over her head.
After a minute or so, she looked at Peter, and he shook his head. “I know what the words mean, but I don’t understand what they’re talking about either.”
The two of them continued to babble to each other for a full ten minutes before Peter finally got Shurlee to look at his audio cassette. That gave the other two a chance to talk, and Fitz wouldn’t stop grinning as he said, “Bloke’s really smart. I mean, I explained the D.W.A.R.F.s to him, and he got it even faster than Leila did, and I mean in how we did the engines and the computers…he said he’s seen that done by some other civilizations too, which makes sense, I suppose. He’s seen stuff from a lot of civilizations. He’ll come to the Milano and walk me through the engines while we’re here, too, at least if Peter agrees to it.”
Then the two of them were talking again, but Peter turned to Jemma, and said, “Shurlee devised this liquid I could use on the stuff in the tapes, lessen the wear and tear on them, but he thinks we should tweak the formula for this second tape. He’s got the chemical formula, although unfortunately it’s going to be very hard to figure out what you call all the various substances listed.”
They had time, though; Fitz and Shurlee talked for another hour, and Jemma thought they either picked up or bent over to examine half the devices in the room. She was just thinking she was getting a general idea of what Peter was applying to the magnetic tape of his audio cassettes(she’d taught him the English term magnetic tape just that day; he’d been too young to care about how his tapes worked when he’d been abducted, so had only learned the alien terms), when Shurlee called Peter over. “He’s making you an offer!” he exclaimed, astonished. “Wants me to translate for this.”
The offer turned out to be a basic one to go into a partnership of convenience, that Fitz could travel around and bring him new pieces of technology which they could work on together. When Peter repeated the financial numbers, he added, “Those are good. You come back here every month or so, you could conceivably raise enough to buy yourself passage anywhere within a couple of years.” When Fitz accepted, the two of them shook hands again, and he and Jemma exchanged a look to confirm it, We’ve got our way back to Earth. All they’d need to do was raise the money and then figure out where it was in relation to them.
Fitz wouldn’t stop talking in the lift. It came out then that Shurlee had already requested a first destination for him, “And he’ll understand, of course, if you guys don’t want to run there immediately, but Reyda kind of sounds amazing, what he told me they’ve got there…” and by the time he finished talking, Jemma found herself thinking she wouldn’t entire mind seeing the planet in question herself.
“The air gets worse in the evening,” Peter warned them as they stepped back out onto the planet’s surface. “They do sell devices here where you can measure what’s in it at the moment; you can buy one if you want, Jemma. Although we should go to the person I know; there are a lot of fake or poor quality ones for sale.”
“I think I will,” she said. If they were going to be coming back here as often as they now planned, she’d want to know the long-term effects of repeated exposures on Fitz especially; he might have recovered from most of the obvious effects of his anoxia, but she knew there was still lingering damage there.
Unfortunately the salesbeing Peter knew to be honest was a little out of the way, and they had to walk out on the surface for over ten minutes at one point to get to him. Fitz stopped talking outside, instead just carefully breathed through his nose. Even back inside, he remained quiet as the air tester was bought. Outside, his breathing began to roughen, but he made no complaint.
Until they had finished their detour and were nearly back to the Milano, when he started to pant out, “Jemma, something’s wrong with the air.”
Jemma held out the air tester. A display she didn’t understand flashed up. Peter looked at it, and said, “Normal levels; this shouldn’t kill us.”
“But I can’t breathe,” said Fitz, and he collapsed to his knees. He was hyperventilating now, and he was clearly terrified.
“You said this thing can gauge his oxygen flow as well,” said Jemma.
Peter took it, and insisted it was normal. “As normal as it can be, anyway, in this quality of air.”
“Then he’s having a panic attack,” said Jemma. “Makes sense, considering his history. Come on, Fitz, we’ll take you inside.”
Through the nearest door, and into a small room with a pair of lift doors on one end, thankfully empty. Fitz was still panting wildly as Jemma lay him down, hands stroking his shoulder blades, and tried to keep her own rising panic at bay. Given how much Fitz had managed to hold himself together these past few weeks, and when he would’ve had every excuse if he hadn’t, Jemma was almost relieved that he’d now had his breakdown, and she no longer had to think about what it might consist of and could just get on with the job of handling it. Until the next one, anyway.
“When we come back here,” she said to Peter, “do you think we could have Shurlee come to us on the Milano, like he’s planning to already? He’s used to this air, after all. Unless Fitz really wants to go to his workshop.”
“We’ll ask him,” said Peter. “I think he’ll agree to it; I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t.”
The phone’s battery was down to 90%.
She turned it off, of course; she wasn’t going to use it again for a while. But even after the screen was blank, she found herself staring.
It was ridiculous. Being down to 90% was very typical for most phones. But after Fitz had put that battery of his into hers, Jemma didn’t think it had ever gone down that low until now.
It drove home to her how long she’d been stranded, and when for so much of the time she couldn’t feel it, not when there’d been no days to help mark the time. She wondered if she’d ultimately end up measuring the time that way, by when the battery was down to 85%, then 80%, then 75% percent, then on and on, until…
“If I’m here long enough for this battery to run down,” she said out loud, and some part of her was already insisting it was foolish to even say if but she would say it, period. “Will that be when I give up on ever getting home?”
“Wow, these are even worse about wasting energy than I thought,” said Fitz, stepping out of the tangle of the engines, clutching a small round metal component that was clearly corroded out. “How long has this even been in there?”
Jemma had spent some time, now, learning, among other things, about the most common corroding agents in outer space. She wasn’t ready yet to identify the exact cause of every spot of that connector node, but she could spot enough to say, “Probably at least two years. Let me properly test it and I could tell you.”
“You probably should,” said Fitz. “Or at least tell Peter. Although I don’t know if he’d listen…” They’d bought some replacement parts on the small skeevy space post they’d stopped at shortly after leaving Tuill. A handful of them had been so infected with a bacteria known as elum they’d been unusable, but there was still a pretty good pile, and Fitz grabbed a fresh connector node and stepped back into the engines. Jemma did not follow him actually in, but stood in the doorframe that had been created by removing the engine’s normal protective plating and strained her eyes to keep them on him, even in the limited light. Ever since he’d had his panic attack, she’d loathed the idea of letting him out of her sight. She’d have to eventually, she knew, but right now she didn’t.
“Although some of the things in her aren’t as bad as I initially thought, now that I understand how this thing actually works better,” he continued, tapping at something that lit up. “I thought it was mainly using the tellu, before Shurlee explained about the sosssisp.” That was a compound unknown on Earth, a fuel made of mixing up five different gases, including radon, livermorium-goridvriust, it was called out here, which had technically been discovered on Earth but had only existed for fractions of a second in a laboratory, a few more nonradioactive metals, three lanthanides, and a couple of substances Jemma had never heard of and was still reading about the exact nature of. “That of course releases three thousand obajo of energy per second under ideal conditions.” Jemma automatically did the conversion to Earth measurements in her head, although she was starting to anticipate a point where she might start thinking in terms of the alien measurements instead, since that would make things much easier. “I think it’s close to 2800 because of the conditions it’s kept under, and the engine puts about 2100 of that to use, though we might go up a hundred just by replacing all the rusty pieces, maybe even two….wait a minute…Jemma, could you come over here?”
The display he was looking at turned out to be a heat-scan display of what was going on in the engine chambers where the sosssisp was kept and used. At least those were made of materials replaced whenever the supply ran out and it became possible to do things with them, since that was a very basic safety measure for these types of engines. “Difficult, isn’t it?” he said to her. “Dealing with a substance you can’t look at without getting killed?” A relatively weak joke, but it made them both smile nonetheless.
Jemma looked at the display, and at the numbers next to the word luu. “The radon’s not mixing properly with the rest of it, is it?” she asked. That wasn’t surprising, since radon was a noble gas which did not easily combine with anything. “And then it’s decaying too fast-there is far more polonium in here than there should be. Which is a problem in itself, given the effect it has on our fuel.” She mentally ran through the list of 43 isotopes used here in space; there was actually one isotope known on Earth that wasn’t. None of them had properties to fully explain it. “It seems to be more of a problem in the leftmost chamber…”
“The supply pipe for the other gases really could be built better,” said Fitz. “Some of it even leaks out into these passageways; that’s why the control area is here on the other side, where there’s not enough of it to cause trouble-unless you’re a Movlingian anyway. Maybe something also gets in there that shouldn’t? Not that radon should be responding to just anything, but…”
“There’s something that it responds to,” shrugged Jemma. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned since coming on board this ship, it’s to never assume anything’s going to behave as it would under normal circumstances. I won’t be surprised on the day we run into the thing that has no response to gravity.”
“Kind of scary,” Fitz commented. “No longer being able to rely on what you thought you knew.”
“It is,” she said, “but at the same time…somewhere in me, maybe I do find it a little exciting.”
“Glad to hear it,” he smiled, and yeah, he would be. “Back to this, I wonder if we could do something about that pipe. None of the radioactive materials go through it; we get the kind of hazmat suits that are available out here and we could probably work on it no problem once the fuel supply goes a little more down.”
He was leaning over her as he spoke, probably not even thinking about it; since they came on board they’d slowly eased back into the kind of casual touching they had once thought nothing of, and now accepted as a sign of things to come. The problem was, since Olvar, Jemma had been unable to not think about it, to not feel the warmth of his body or his breath on her skin, and with one of his hands on the display, she tried not to look at it, because those hands were something she’d actually been having thoughts about for quite some time, and lately that had been getting worse.
At least part of her mind was nonetheless still working: “In the meantime, I wonder if maybe we should alter the mix that gets put in the chambers just a touch. Use a bit more of the luuvu, as they call that particular radon isotope out here, maybe do that thing they do to get the polonium to decay a little faster.”
“And we can harvest the energy from that, can’t we?” he said. “Send those ervaps they’d got into the chambers-they’ll fit through the big pipe no problem, and they’ll store it…but they’d have to stay in the chambers…”
“They’re made of a same metal alloy as the ship itself is, right? We could fit them into the pipes-not the one which delivers the livermorium and the pessa, obviously…”
“Yeah, and it would cool the temperature in the chambers, too, which is also a good idea…” Fitz tapped the console a few times, and muttered a few numbers under his breath. “You thinking a one percent switch to luuvu? I’m pretty sure we have the supplies for that. Maybe even a two percent, but…”
“Start at one,” said Jemma. “Safer that way. We really do not want to cause any explosions on this ship, do we?”
“Absolutely not. But we’ve got a plan, haven’t we?”
“Yes, we have,” she agreed, and turned around and hugged him tightly, because this occasion, where they were working together with more joy than pain once again, absolutely deserved that.
But it was only when they were in each other’s arms that she became aware how much they really had been scrunched up together in the narrow corridor; her backside was nearly touching the console while he was pretty much pressed up against the far wall, and meanwhile the two of them were pressed chest to chest, hip to hip, and thighs to thighs, as well as having their heads on each other’s shoulders. Suddenly it was hard for Jemma to thing about anything other than how much they were touching, and his arms around her, and his hands pressed against her back, and that she could feel his pulse against her cheek, and that it was going pretty fast.
Her own must have picked up too, because he asked, cautiously, “Jemma?”
On impulse she grabbed his head and kissed him, hard, and with tongue, which was something they hadn’t done before that. He kissed back eagerly, sloppily, and the moment she felt his tongue in her mouth all she could think was that she wanted more of that badly.
The sound of one of Peter’s tapes being turned on in the common area jarred them out of it, dropping their arms down as they pulled away from each other, and Jemma struggled to decide what to say next.
Fitz spoke first. “We should go to Peter and tell him about this. Hopefully he won’t be so stupid as to throw a fit.”
They held hands as they walked out, but they’d been doing that sort of thing already. Jemma’s lips were still tingling, but she wasn’t sure how he’d react if she tried to do that again. In recent days, when she’d started to become aware she just might be ready to go further with him, or maybe just suggest they go on a proper date, she’d also started to worry if he was emotionally ready for such things, even if he’d possibly wanted them too much and for too long to refuse them.
Although next opportunity, she decided, she was stealing one of Peter’s prophylactics and stashing it under their bunk. Just in case.
Jemma had always associated sex with warmth rather than heat, with comfort, and pleasure, like an extended version of a good hug. Granted, there had been one or two times when things had gotten more intense, like that time she and Beatrice Green had spent the day teasing each other before throwing themselves on each other, or the night she and Antoine Triplett had desperately held each other because their world had just collapsed around them, but even those had just felt like a stronger version of what she’d known already.
Writhing on Will’s fingers as he drove them in and out of her, arching into his mouth as it went up and down her body, she had to admit she’d had no idea.
He moved up to kiss her again, and again, and she chased his mouth, never wanting to stop tasting it now that she’d finally allowed herself to. When she got her hands on his back, his sides, his thighs, she couldn’t stop touching him, feeling him, her Will, at least until he did something clever enough with his hand it made her entire body spasm around him.
“That’s right, baby,” Will murmured to her between kisses back down her neck, leaving her free to cry out loud enough for the whole planet to hear. “Keep that up, you’re going to make me hard again.” He hadn’t lasted long at the start of this, when she’d gotten her mouth on his cock-and she’d always thought of that as something you did for the other person’s sake, but God had she loved tasting him and especially hearing his moans. She was all for making him come again, savoring it this time. Just the thought of it sparked the fire in her loins to an almost unbearable level, and she wanted to beg, but she couldn’t get the words together. Another twist of his fingers, his thumb pressing down on her clit, and Jemma was coming, loud and good, feeling like something hard and painful inside her was shattering away.
She did make him come a second time, hands on his cock until he shot it all over them both, his grunts delicious against her mouth. Then he collapsed against her with a, “Wow,” and lay completely limp, clearly not up to moving for a little bit. Jemma wasn’t either, honestly. Strange, she thought, how in the middle of Hell, she felt like like she’d just tasted Heaven.
It had been inevitable; she’d known that. Sooner or later, she’d have another nightmare she’d wake screaming from, and there’d been nothing she could do except hope it didn’t trigger Fitz.
It finally happened the night before they reached Reyda. She dreamed of Fitz, and Maveth, and him struggling as the dark shape held him down, and him yelling at her to run, and then at her to kill him, and she’d woken up just after seeing his eyes go dead, and she was sobbing as well as screaming, and Fitz was crying out, “No, Jemma, please, please,” and their hands were all over each other’s faces, touching frantically as he whimpered, “You’re all right, you’re all right, please be all right,” and then they were touching each other everyone else as well, Jemma looking into his eyes so she’d know they were his, even if he looked like he was about to die, and, “No, Fitz, please don’t die…”
“I…” Fitz was breathing as harshly as he had that day on Tuill, but she could see now the comprehension had set in, and then he was pressing kisses all over her face with a single sob of relief. She just stroked his cheeks and hair, hoping to reassure him further, herself still needing to know he was there, and that wasn’t enough, nor even were the tiny kisses she managed to get on him when his head was moving so fast, not when she had the man who was dearer to her than everything else in the universe put together shaking against her like this, and she just needed to…to…she didn’t know. All she knew was she was so full of feeling it was causing sharp pain in her chest.
And then, somehow, it might have even been by accident, they were kissing on the lips, and then both their mouths were open, and they were both trying to get their tongues into the other’s mouths, clashing against each other, and oh, Jemma liked that too, and she pulled Fitz as close as she could, and felt his cock start to stir, and that sparked a wave of desire that left her dizzy and panting against his mouth.
She let out a whimper of protest when he suddenly yanked himself back, shaking his head. “Please, Jemma,” he gasped. “I can’t…I don’t want to do much more of this and then have to stop.”
She saw his desperate hunger, felt her body ache with her own, and said, “You won’t,” because to hell with prudence; she couldn’t stand to deny either him or herself this any longer. When he didn’t look like he believed her, she tore off the tunic she was wearing, felt his eyes on her naked body like a physical caress, and simply said, “Touch me.”
And then at last she had his hands on her, their skin rough but their touch still gentle as he traced her torso up and down, maddeningly lightly, until she finally grabbed his tunic and pulled that off as well. His body was more muscled now than it had been in the past, and she thrilled to feel them moving under her hands, which dug into his shoulder blades as he brought his mouth down to her breasts. He was clumsy with it; she knew that while Fitz wasn’t a virgin his experience was much more limited than hers. But his tongue was hot and eager, and every stroke of it against the sensitive skin ran electricity through her body, until her core was so hot and molten and desperate to feel him, she was scrambling to the side of the bed, trying to get there without letting him go, pulling him with her until they nearly toppled off.
Finally she got her hand on the packet under the bunk. When she tore it open and handed the condom to him, the darkening of his eyes and his hoarse, “Jemma,” made her moan with sheer want, and then he was kissing her again, fast, hard kisses that just drove her crazy with her need for more, until finally a desperate “Please!” burst from her.
He looked at her, astonished, and then said, “Well, I can be sure you really do want this for yourself now,” and he should have known that already, of course, but they could talk about it later, because he was getting the condom on, and she pulled him back to her and his head close to hers, because she really wanted to see his face when he got inside her for the first time, and also to let him know this was one they were definitely into together.
They were even looking into each other’s eyes for the first few seconds after she felt him push between her labia, before his fluttered shut, and as he got in completely he let out a half-whimper, half-grunt that might have been the hottest sound Jemma had ever heard. She had to groan at the stretch herself; he was perfectly average in size, but it had been well over a year since she’d last been fucked, and the knowledge that it was Fitz inside her made her feel it even more. When she whispered, “Time to move,” he forced his eyes back open to look at her as he pulled out a little, and the love and vulnerability in them was almost too much to bear. Then his first thrust back in sent her eyes rolling to the back of her head.
It was all so much, the weight and heat of him against her and inside her, and moving, the way she could feel his slender body shifting, the tiny noises and loud breaths filling her ears, telling her just what this was doing to him, the press of his forehead against hers as he really started to fuck her. She pushed back against him with equal fervor, getting him in deeper, trying not to cry with how overwhelmed she was. Instead she heard choked words coming out of her mouth, feels so good, Fitz, you feel so good, please, Fitz, more, please, I need more…every gasped out plea from her made his breath hitch, his hips move harder, and when she managed to look at his face again the way it was screwed up in ecstasy drove her beyond words, she could only moan, and moan, and moan.
But she kept watching, forcing her gaze back again and again even as each spike of pleasure made it harder to concentrate, and she was rewarded for it when she was able to see his mouth fall open and his head outright heave with orgasm, and she ground herself harder against him, wanting to feel every last shiver that ran through him, god, this was better than anything, giving him this. It left her so close she had barely scrambled a hand down and pressed it against her clit when she herself was coming, her body rocking hard with it, and she had no idea how she kept herself from screaming with how good it felt.
“God, Jemma, that was…” Fitz was panting hard; they both were. “Never in my life…” He pulled out of her and then curled himself around her, and she found herself pressing her head against his chest again, until she could hear his heart hammer; that could make her universe stop spinning now, and more than Will’s ever had. He pressed more kisses to her hair before finally laying himself back, as she heard his heartbeat and breathing calm a little, as hers did the same.
Eventually, as she was just starting to think about what options for cleaning up they had, he said, “I suppose it’s kind of odd to say this now, but I’ve been thinking, and….and maybe w-we should try another date? On Reyda? T-they made it sound like i-it would be-be a good place for it.”
“It did. And…maybe we could go on a few more? Find quieter, cozier parts on those planets the Milano lands on, and be able to enjoy being on another planet by going to them?”
“Yeah,” Fitz agreed. “That sounds good.”
Eventually she headed for the ships’s privy with some towels to wet, and there was brought up short by the sight of Gamora, doing her exercises in the common area. She looked over at her, raised her eyebrows, and said, “Have you two finally decided things? Your screaming wake me up-I don’t think you wake anyone else up; I once had such dreams, and they learned to sleep. I wasn’t sure what other sounds were.” She was very matter-of-fact about it, but she did smirk when she saw how red Jemma turned. “If you did not want people to hear you…”
“I know,” Jemma conceded. “I’m sorry if we bothered you.”
“Oh, don’t worry there,” said Gamora with a sad smile. “As I say, others likely sleep, and as for me, I have been hearing far worse noises in the night than sex with two people in love.”
It was a couple of weeks before Jemma first ventured to ask the question, but she finally did when they had swallowed down a day’s allotment of moss and were left with little to do besides talk and listen to the sound of the storm up above until they felt tired enough to sleep. “Do you ever think about what it would’ve been like, if there’d been a different kind of planet on the other side of the portal? Like an inhabited one? What would’ve happened if you’d all come out in the middle of an alien metropolis or something?”
“Plenty,” he said. “Of course, that might not have been a good thing either. They might not have liked aliens showing up in their home, especially if they’d had some bad experiences with it before thanks to other portals or something like that. Or they might have just been evil. We might have all been shot on sight.”
“But what if you weren’t?” she persisted. “What if you’d gotten to really see a whole different world and gotten to know it, maybe been responsible for establishing contact between them and Earth, assuming they knew how the portals worked and could get your back through them?”
“I think you would appreciate such a thing a lot more than me,” he said with a smile. “Though, yes, I have sometimes thought about it. Honestly, there aren’t many possible outcomes other than this one that I haven’t come up with, these fourteen years.” He spoke the last part of that very darkly, and Jemma found herself wondering if he might have preferred to have just been shot immediately to what had instead happened to him.
“I’m sorry,” she started.
“Don’t be,” he said. “I just kind of wish that thing had sent you to such a place. I mean, not just because then it wouldn’t have sent you here, but because you would have loved it, wouldn’t you have?”
“Yeah,” said Jemma. But while she didn’t say it, didn’t know him well enough to try to yet, she found herself sadly thinking that she wouldn’t have loved it now as much as she would have as little as half a year ago. Now, especially after seeing what had happened with the Inhumans, she had too many of the thoughts that had come to him more naturally, about how hostile and dangerous strangers could be, and how there were so many ways it could’ve gone wrong.
Fitz had been right, when he’d noted the Guardians being heroes on Xander might result in the seven of them getting feted if they ever happened to be in the area again. He and Jemma had been on the Milano for about half an Earth year when they finally were, and that was how they ended up at a high ceremonial dinner, where they got introduced to Nova Prime and had the story told of how the previous month they’d managed to have their turn saving the day together during one adventure. That story had everyone present wanting to shake their hands.
It was too much attention, on top of too big a crowd for either of them to easily handle even now. By the time the main course had been eaten, Fitz was absolutely exhausted, and Jemma was looking far more strained. Thankfully Gamora spotted it too, and much to their relief led them outside during the pause between courses, where she left them at the entrance to a spectacular-looking floating parkland with a promise to make their excuses. “God bless her,” sighed Jemma as they collapsed into the transparent bubble that would take them up to the park, the skirt of her black dress getting bunched up around her knees.
It was late in the evening, and as they’d hoped, there weren’t too many other people in the park; it was a place full of elegant walkways elevated above the local fauna, and they easily found and started up a deserted one, hands clasped together, staring up at the stars; the city seemed to have some light pollution issues, but plenty of them were still visible. The longer they walked, the more visibly relaxed Jemma got, her tired smile broadening into something far brighter, and Fitz felt his own heart grow very light indeed. He knew she was feeling better when she started to sing, “And everything feels so complete, when you’re walking out on the street, and the wind catches your feet…”
The wind even came up then, and caught Jemma’s hair and the straps over her arms as well as her feet, causing them all to fly about at the two of them skidded forward together, until they both grabbed the railing. They were near the highest point of this particular walkway, and when they bent down against the increasing wind, they found much of the city was visible below them, the lights fanning out to illuminate its unique shape and buildings. They had seen it during the day already and known its naturalistic beauty, but now they felt the extent of that, even if all the flora and innovative architecture was no longer visible. If Nova Prime kept them long, they could spend days exploring this place.
But to Leo Fitz, that wasn’t half as thrilling a sight as the one right next to him, that of Jemma gazing out, her eyes wide and avid, trying to see as much of it as possible, face alight with excitement, and a little bit of awe, that the two of them were privileged enough to see this.
“Enmmet tuulusa!” There was another couple on a nearby walkway, Xandarians, and they’d called out a comment about the wind. Jemma had learned some time ago about how Xandarian respiratory structure was actually different from humans, and it caused them to automatically use their diaphragm more; their voices carried.
He and Jemma had practiced projecting their voices after she’d told him this, though when Jemma called back, “Tuulusa erk musni pol parkis!” she was still yelling more than projecting. She shook her head and whispered to Fitz; “Too much of this and they’ll know we’re imposters.”
“Aliens aren’t imposters,” he whispered back. “They don’t have to be here.” Really, they were fine here. Just another young couple in a cosmically cosmopolitan society. It was a feeling they were still both getting used to after spending so long in hiding from the world.
They exchanged a few more yelled comments to the other couple before the wind died down and they could start walking again without having it in their faces. Jemma didn’t resume her song, but kept her eyes where one of the outward streaks of the city was still visible. “It is a little cold,” she sighed. “Maybe I should’ve bought something with sleeves.” Or maybe not, given how quickly she then pressed herself up against him, making a pleased little noise as he put arm around her.
She just looked so happy. It wasn’t even just the smile, although it was that soft kind that bespoke of her being extremely contented with the universe(and he thought that one had disappeared for a long while before he’d seen it again out here). It was also in how relaxed she was, in how bright her eyes were still, even in how her head was tilted. When Jemma Simmons looked like this, as far as Leo Fitz was concerned, all was right with the universe.
There was a lot about their current state of affairs he would still like to have different. Like Earth being so far away, and it still being years before they’d see it and all their family and friends there again, and all those people probably thinking they were dead, or likely to think it within a few more months. Also everything that had happened to Jemma, which neither of them were completely recovered from, that she was still feeling pain as she walked, even if she’d learned to ignore it, and perhaps they’d always have the scars, as dark and as permanent and the ones that remained on Jemma’s bared shoulder, and even Will being dead. But when he was with Jemma like this, and she was happy, and he was part of what was making her happy, and he was happy too, and they were in love, well, he couldn’t be sorry they were out here in the vast reaches of space which had given the two of them that gift.
“When we get back to the ship we should decide where we’re going tomorrow night,” said Jemma. They’d already agreed to have a date night then; they’d had them on plenty of planets now, and he intended to have them on many more. “If it’s not ridiculously late at that point…I suppose we should probably drop in and put in a last appearance at that banquet…”
But Fitz noticed her steps were getting slightly less steady, and she was really starting to favor her undamaged leg, and as they had come to the stairs at the far end of the walkway he said, “You want to sit down for a few minutes?”
Although sitting down didn’t just mean sitting down, of course. It meant cuddling, and making out like teenagers; thankfully the railing was high enough to keep anyone from seeing them. Also, Jemma had worn this dress on enough of their fancier dates he automatically knew where he could quickly get his hands under it to touch skin-nowhere indecent, just places that made her shiver. At some point somebody’s leg slipped and they ended up lying on their sides, both of them too preoccupied with far pleasanter things to pay much attention. Like the fact that her hand had gotten under his tunic and found that spot on his lower back, and now he was the one shivering.
Not as much, though, as when she murmured through the kisses, “I love you.” She said it a lot now, since she’d waited some time before saying it. It had been a hard wait, but Fitz was glad she’d held out. Now, when she said it, they could both be certain it was true.
She did have presence of mind to add, “You probably shouldn’t put any hickeys on me, if we might have to go back to the banquet,” when his mouth went down her neck. He settled for the lightest of nips over her pulse and otherwise just pressed kisses to the skin, including on her scars, which he could at last kiss and touch without being filled with rage for how she had gotten them any longer.
Somewhere in the process Jemma rolled onto her back, and when they were done, she said, “I think…I know Betelgeuse should be visible from here, dimmer than it is from Earth but I still think we should be able to see it…” As Fitz shifted until he too was on his back and joined her in looking up at the night sky, she had her arm up and was tracing the sky with it. It took her another minute or so before she said, “There, that one. That dim star just below the two bright ones there, near the horizon.” Fitz spotted it, a faint, familiar light. He knew it was thousands of light years away from Xandar. But still, it was a comfort to see something this place and Earth shared. It made their home planet feel less like a place they’d been ripped away from and more like one that still existed in a place they could travel to.
“And straight on till morning?” he offered.
She giggled. “There might be other stars here we can see on Earth; I’m looking into it. We may even visit their solar systems; I know some of them have planets Earth hasn’t been able to detect. Home doesn’t need to seem that far away.”
“Yeah,” Fitz agreed, although he found himself thinking home didn’t seem that far away anyway, because it occurred to him that at the moment, when he thought the word-ixto in Xandarian-the first thing that popped into his head was the Milano, a place Jemma had already spent more time in than she had in the Playground, and also felt more like home to him than the latter ever had.
On the other hand, that might have simply been because of her. Home for him had been Jemma even before he had fallen in love with her. It was a favor he hoped he could return, to give her a home both before and after they got back to Earth.
It didn’t really hit for a while, all the details about what never going home meant; the change in her relationship with Will distracted her from that before it could. But when she woke up for the second time since they’d pushed their beds together to find Will smiling as he slept rolled against her, the most painful detail of all did, and she woke him up when she burst into tears.
“Jemma? Jemma? Shhh, it’s all right,” he said, putting his arms around her and rocking her slightly.
“No, it’s not,” she sobbed. “I’m never going to see Fitz again.”
She regretted it a second after it came out; what a thing to say to him. “Don’t get me wrong,” she hastily added. “You…this is good. But…”
“I understand,” he whispered to her. “I wouldn’t want to be just a replacement to you anyway, and I know perfectly well I can’t be; you’ve always made it clear what he meant to you.” Meant. Past tense. Jemma wailed into his chest.
“All I can say,” he said a few minutes later, “is that if Fitz truly loves you the way I do, he’ll want you to be happy above all else. Not the easiest thing to manage here, obviously, but you know, for the first time since I buried my teammates, I’m starting to think I could do it, so long as I’ve got you with me. Could you try to do it too, Jemma, at least eventually? Let me be someone who can make you happy? For all of our sakes, can you try to find what happiness you can?”
“I’ll try,” she choked out. It was a humbling thought, that there were two men whom she genuinely believed loved her that much. And her heart would never stop hurting for one of them, especially since she now feared he’d throw his life away on a hopeless quest, and there was nothing she would ever be able to do. But if trying to be happy was all she could ever do for him, well, she’d try harder than she’d ever tried to do anything.
It was kind of strange, how much Leo and Jemma Fitz-Simmons, as they had become by then, ended up owing to the evil being who had tried to destroy the entire universe. First Thanos’ actions had been the reason they had been rescued off the planet her noble actions might have otherwise condemned them to, and then, two and half years later, his universe-destroying attempt had made it, figuratively, a much smaller place. One which Thor himself was now willing to take a jaunt around to take home two of the Guardians of the Galaxy who had helped him and the other Avengers save it.
He was now thick in discussion with the other Guardians, probably giving them more updates about Earth, while Jemma sat in their new emptied quarters and waited impatiently for a final reading from the apparatus she had set up. She’d had to put everything together herself, what with being the only female of her species around for literally light-years. It was a good thing she’d known what to scan for in her urine. She’d been determined to do this here, so the friends she was leaving behind would know.
One last beep, and she took a deep breath, and looked.
The apparatus clattered to the floor as she dashed out to the others, and the expression on her face said it all; a moment later Fitz was on her and kissing her, murmuring syllables of happiness as he did so. In the background Jemma could hear Peter cheering and a happy hum from Groot.
They finally pulled apart when both Peter and Thor wanted to shake hands with Fitz and congratulate him, Thor with mighty words about impending fatherhood, and Jemma turned to Gamora for a tight hug, something she thought she’d taught her to accept and value. This was not an easy moment, of course, since it was one of goodbye as well, to someone who had been such a good friend to her, but Jemma could feel Gamora’s joy for her.
“If it’s a girl,” she said, the English sounding strange on her tongue, but she and Fitz were trying to get used to speaking it again, “we’ll name her for you.”
“Oh, really?” Peter had heard them. “Don’t suppose you’re looking suggestions for what to name a boy?”
Actually, Jemma knew exactly what she’d want to name any son of hers. Her eyes met Fitz’s then, and she could tell he could read off her face what she was thinking, including that she’d completely understand if he didn’t want that.
But after a moment, he said, “I think we’ve got someone else we’d name a boy after.”
They both got hugs from Groot as well-those were strange things, now that he was back at full growth-and solemn handshakes from Drax. Even Rocket also deigned to shake their hands, and he also looked maybe a little misty-eyed.
Thor was shouldering their bags, a collection of odd souvenirs and personal items(including her evening dress, of course), gadgets and scientific samples, a handful of paper and similar documents, and a couple of pieces of computer hardware with which Fitz was hoping to make their interstellar datachips interface with Earth’s computers. Fitz himself had five different kinds of datachips on him, each of them loaded to their maximum capacity with information about the galaxy, and also a lot of personal photos. Although Jemma suspected they’d get a bit of teasing for some of the photos from their wedding on Tostafiri; that had been a memorable event, to say the least. They’d probably have to do it all over anyway; Earth bureaucrats probably weren’t yet willing to believe in alien marriage certificates, even though they were bringing theirs with them, and they did hope S.H.I.E.L.D. would recognize it at least. And of course all their family and friends would want a ceremony they could attend.
Those of them that were still alive, anyway. The Avengers had now been told S.H.I.E.L.D. had been refounded, and that it was being run by someone they believed to be dead(Thor had told them to pass their praises on to “whichever valiant agent who was thought dead on the day S.H.I.E.L.D. fell that you now return to”), and they were also aware of the existence of the Secret Warriors, but they had no names, so Thor couldn’t tell them how any of their friends were doing. He intended to take them to the Avengers’ current headquarters first, where hopefully they would be able to get in touch with Maria Hill-she, at least, they knew to still be alive. She might have even learned already of their being among the Guardians and passed that news on.
Although as of yet, they hadn’t entirely decided they’d go back to S.H.I.E.L.D., even if they found it as they had left it. Jemma suspected they’d make the final decision there after spending some time with their families, maybe even after she had the baby. Also to be done before then was the sad task of visiting Will’s parents, at least assuming either of them were still alive, and delivering them the news of what had become of their son, although they might not mention his being possessed after death. The families of the other astronauts too, if they could track them down. At least she would have Fitz by her side for it. And any surviving relatives of Peter's would get happier news.
Peter had made clear he wouldn’t have them opening any interstellar portals on the Milano, so the ship had landed on a nearby planet, and everyone walked down the ramp together. It was cold enough Jemma felt the old pains in her neck and leg grow sharp, even though she’d wrapped a scarf around the former in anticipation of this. She was kind of excited about traveling through the bifrost, even after hearing the sad news about Asgard, but she was just a little worried about how it was going to affect her and Fitz both.
Thor thought them sufficient distance away a little bit of time before Peter did, but nobody objected when they walked some way before he finally conceded they were far away enough. “This will be easiest if you two are on either side of me,” said Thor, and reluctantly Jemma let go of her husband’s hand so they could position themselves. She took Fitz in as they did so, and she could see he was looking thoughtfully at her in the same manner. They had both aged much in the last half a decade, but also Jemma thought he looked a lot better than he had when they’d first arrived on the Milano, and she knew she felt a lot better. What would their friends in S.H.I.E.L.D. think, she wondered, when these two people they’d thought dead for two years came back to them, a pair of married space explorers, adventurers, and heroes, with a baby on the way?
She then took one last look at her fellow Guardians. When she saw the stars from Earth, she thought, for the rest of her life, unless it happened to take her back out to them again, her main thought would be as to where they were among them. She would never again look at Betelgeuse without thinking of all the other planets and people who were looking at it. She didn't know if she'd keep the habit of singing she'd had while out in space, but there were many songs that would now forever make her think of Gamora.
“Heimdall,” called Thor, “open the bifrost,” and they were flying away, into a new kind of unknown, the next adventure their life had brought them.