But it seems Aida welcomes this meeting, because the doors open with her standing right there with that terrifying smile on her face. “Fitz isn’t here,” she singsongs.
“I know,” Jemma replies, stepping out of the lift.
Right now, Fitz is down on the first floor chasing a non-existent Inhuman assassin one of Daisy’s tricks made him believe is trying to get to Aida. “You two can’t meet,” she said to Jemma when they were planning this. “I don’t care if there’s a possibility he might remember you. More likely it'll end with him hurting you, and neither of you would ever recover from that, you know that. We can’t take that chance. Period.”
So instead, she says, “That’s all right. It’s you I wanted to see, because I have a question for you. As one person to another, because I actually do think you are one now.” Which means she can be held accountable for her sins.
“Oh?” She wasn’t expecting that, but she still sounds almost amused.
“Yes. You see, I’ve been looking into what my life in the Framework was supposed to be like before I was murdered, and as far as I can tell, you didn’t change anything. You made a change for Daisy, although I question if she *really* still regretted getting her Inhuman abilities at the time you built the Framework. Radcliffe was planning to plug all of us into here. Why didn’t you set something up for me?”
She might, of course, just claim it was bad luck, that Jemma being murdered was just the unfortunate unintended result of changing the lives of those already plugged in. There’s even a small chance it might be the truth.
But she doesn’t. Instead the smile drops from her face, and she says, “Because having you anywhere would’ve gotten you in Fitz’s way.”
“What?” Jemma can’t hide her shock.
“I admit I gave him special treatment.” She sounds smug, and Jemma can tell she believes herself to have done right. “But he’s Fitz. He’s the only person to truly be kind to me. Do you really think I wouldn’t love him? Just because it took you so long to truly appreciate him doesn’t mean others wouldn’t do it faster. And I know everything you’ve done. He spent six months struggling to rescue you while you were canoodling with another man. After he’d saved you, you only turned around and demanded he save your boyfriend too. And when that man died, you took him for yourself, and then all you did was hinder him. He went on about not telling you about me because of your polygraph tests, but I could tell it was because you’d stop him.
And now look at him.” She actually sounds proud. “Look at how great and successful a man he is. He does incredible things in his lab. You have no idea. And I give him everything. I choose him out of everyone. He’s got a girlfriend who properly supports him and loves him in the way he deserves to be loved.”
Jemma thought she couldn’t possibly hate this woman more. But now a whole new level of rage rises within her. “You think that’s love?!” she demands. “Taking someone and twisting their head around because you want a loyal lapdog, destroying what he is because you don’t think that’s what he should be, and then convincing yourself you’re doing him a bloody favor? Manipulating him into wanting you, when you’ve made him incapable of giving consent? You think brainwashing and rape are love?”
“I didn’t change that much.” She hasn’t reacted to Jemma’s words, unfortunately. “The main thing I really did was keep his father in his life. Smart man, he raised his son much better than his mum. And do you really think he was just the sweet spineless creature you liked to turn him into? That he never committed torture before coming into the Framework? Do you even know what he did when he first discovered Grant Ward in your dungeon?”
“Yes, I do.” Fitz confessed that to her a while ago. And she’d known already what he was willing to do to bad people, especially if they tortured her. This time in the Framework has made her see things about Fitz she wouldn’t have believed of him, but she'd known already about his dark side, and now she’s had time to think. “But you just said so yourself, you gave Fitz special treatment, changed more than just ‘the main thing.’ You turned him into something he was already capable of being, yes, but you had to subject him to just the right circumstances, didn’t you? He wouldn’t have become this monster without you carefully teaching him.” That she has to believe, or she doesn’t know what she’ll do.
But at least it seems she’s right to, because Aida doesn’t deny it. Instead she just says, “You see it as a monster. But he feels the same love for me he felt for you. And it’s out of love for me he did almost all you people saw him do. You’re saying his love turned him into a monster. Though given how selfish you are, you might just be convincing yourself of this because I took from you what you see as rightfully yours.”
“Not mine.” Jemma shakes her head. “I don’t own the man I love. You took from him what was rightfully his.”
The lights flicker hard. Aida looks around in panic. Just another minute or so, Jemma thinks; Daisy’s not done yet, but she’s getting there.
But Aida hisses, “What’s your friend doing? I’ve seen what she’s done too, you know, letting a man she hated die for her. Second man who’s done it. He understood love. I’m pretty sure the real one did too, but you’d never believe that, would you?”
Jemma doesn’t know how she can claim to love Fitz and then speak about Ward that way, but she’s beyond caring. “No. I do know that horrible a person as the real Grant Ward was, he still probably understood love better than you. That’s how little you know about it. At least he ultimately accepted who Daisy was even though it meant he had to let her go.”
Now it’s Aida looking shocked, so Jemma presses on. “That’s what real love is. It’s not making someone into what you want, it’s wanting what they are already. Not liking everything about them, but still taking the bad with the good, because it’s part of them. It’s not giving them a life, it’s figuring one out with them. It’s not expecting anything out of them, it’s being willing to give and receive. It’s not being perfect for them, it’s just being good to them, as much as you can be.
It’s being there when the chips are down, and it hurts like nothing you ever imagined for both of you, but you know the other person needs you to do what you’re doing. It’s giving someone up when you know it’s vital to their recovery, even though you want to die at the thought of being away from them. And yes, it’s doing the decent thing and helping someone recover the person they’re in love with, if only because they won’t be able to live with themselves if you don’t try.
And you know what else it is?” The lights actually blink out for a prolonged moment, and Jemma takes the opportunity to step forward, though she supposes Aida probably can track her feet anyway. “It’s being there for a man when he wakes up, having been violated in every way possible, and will, from what I understand, still have the memories of having been a monster, and have to live with this other man inside him for the rest of his life. It’s doing everything you can do help him be the man he was and he will still want to be, to convince him he can be and he deserves the chance. It’s accepting hard truths about him you maybe partly knew about, and trying to help him accept them. It’s being willing to make whatever life changes he has a need for, even if it’s leaving the only world you’ve known since you were seventeen behind.”
She thinks that might happen, that Fitz might not be able to trust himself in a lab again. She seriously has no idea what either of them will be in a year's time, if Fitz can't be a scientist anymore. It was both a shock and not at all surprising, to realize he's more important to her even than science. That was when she could be sure he truly was more important to her than anything.
And mission accomplished; around them the world starts to wobble, which means Daisy has launched the program, now as certain as she could get Aida wouldn’t be able to override it in the half a minute it would take to run. “And I’ll be setting about on that as soon as we can get to your base in the Baltic,” she tells Aida, “because the Framework is currently dislodging everyone. We’re all about to wake up. You’re going back into your android body just in time for Fitz to comprehend what you’ve done to him, and you’ll be right there. Mace is dead, and I don’t think any of the others will react in time to stop him. May would be most likely to, but she might not even try. If you’re lucky, he’ll just do to you what he did to the last person he heard make me scream. I know you’ll be a trickier case than that man, but I’m sure he’ll figure out a way. If you’re not, well, I suppose you’ll find out just how much cruelty of his you’ve forced out to the surface.”
And when his rage fades, that may just be one more act he’ll torment himself with the guilt over. But Aida doesn’t get to ever know that.
She should close her eyes and wait until she’s back in her body, and hope she doesn’t actually end up dead or insane. But Jemma can’t tear her eyes away from the terror she now sees in Aida. Which is reassurance, since it’s indication she really can’t stop this. But she also can’t suppress the savage joy that floods her heart, the kind that threatened her once, when she stood behind Grant Ward, the real one, with that grenade in her hand.
Aida is right about one thing. It was love, with only its target rather than its nature changed, that made Fitz into a monster. He might not be the only one.