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a small cottage in perthshire

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There’s a small cottage buried deep in the hills of the Perthshire countryside, an hour’s drive to Glasgow with good traffic (and Fitz always knows precisely the optimum time to leave thanks to the highly technical traffic-monitoring technology he’s been developing as a hobby). The house is deceptively traditional on the outside: old greystone bricks with vines swamping the exterior walls, vast green gardens surrounding it that are lined with wildflowers, even a wooden picnic bench where the backdoor opens out on a grassy hill that rolls down to a loch. Inside, it’s utterly unique, modified beyond recognition: filled with gadgets for every requirement imaginable, with a basement converted into a laboratory and ceilings that are transformed with constellations after dark.

As Jemma drives across the crackling gravel of the driveway to line up her car so that it sits beside a matching vehicle of a different shade, she hears the sound of wild laughter coming from inside. The yelps and squeals of a child, followed by the warm call of her daughter’s name. Or some version of it. Monkey

The sunlight catching in her eyes, she squints to watch as the two voices appear, running, chasing, flying past the drive and down the garden path with their fluffy black Tibetan terrier galloping after them. Home, she thinks gratefully, as she always does here, in this spot just on the border between their bubble and the real world stretching out around it. In the peak of summer, it’s particularly magical: the green at its lushest, the bright sun setting the scene in a warm glow even in late afternoon, the sound of birds chirping providing a soothing backdrop. It’s just as she remembers it from her childhood, the view from this particular spot on the drive capturing the memory she has of passing by once on a family holiday. Fitz always prefers the winter, says it’s best at Christmastime, the valley around the loch set in a dusting of snow like something from a postcard; though, Jemma heavily suspects it’s more to do with his skin’s propensity to burn in any degree of sunlight and the midges, which seem particularly drawn to him. 

As he passes by now, chasing Alya down into the garden without a moment to stop and greet his wife, he looks completely and utterly at peace amid the Scottish summer heat. He looks like a man without a care in the world. Not a man who’s been to the brink of death, fallen over the edge and come back again. Not a man who’s fought Death itself on a farflung planet named after it. Not a man who’d once looked at her, pain in his eyes and his voice and his shaking hands as he’d dejectedly insisted they were cursed. 

Jemma smiles to herself watching Fitz and their daughter now, their miraculous, impossible joy infectious. She steps out of the car to hear their voices more clearly, perching on the bonnet to watch as they play together the way she’s so used to.

“Come on, you monkey! You must be hungry by now,” Fitz calls out, his playful tone earning giggles in response. “I made your favourite and if you don’t come and eat it now, you’ll be stuck with your mum’s cooking. She makes a good sandwich, I’ll give her that,” Fitz concedes, shooting a glance Jemma’s way and scrunching his nose, “but, come on, you know I’m the mash king!” Jemma only shakes her head.

“Mash potato!” Alya cheers, changing course to take a running jump up into his arms.

A deep groan escapes him as she lands on him, before Jemma hears Fitz say, “You’re gonna be too big for this soon. Blimey.” She feels a pang of melancholy at that thought. Her little girl, not so little anymore. Unconsciously, she moves a hand to rest over her stomach, feeling a phantom bump now in the place where she’d once carried her daughter.

“Mama!” Alya calls out suddenly, taking no notice of Fitz’s wince as she spots her mother over his shoulder. She brightens like always, giving a smile that’s Jemma’s alone.

Jemma walks down to meet them both, placing a hand flat on Fitz’s back before kissing Alya’s forehead. “Hello, sweet girl.” She can’t help but place another to her daughter’s cheek, caressing white-blonde hair that’s getting curlier by the day, as she teases, “What kind of trouble have you two been getting into while I was gone?”

There’s a moment where it seems as if Fitz wants to say something to her, something serious, a look at their daughter snapping him out of it. Instead, he smiles, raising his eyebrows conspiratorially at Alya before shaking his head just a little as she giggles and replies for them: “Nothing!” 

“Was it just daddy causing trouble then? I noticed there’s now a hole in the front door that wasn’t there when I left.” 

“Yeah,” she replies, before burrowing her face into his neck, her little fists balling up the fabric of Fitz’s top as she hides away from both her parents. 

“I can’t believe she just threw me under the bus when that is categorically not true! I was working hard on the prototype for that facial recognition dog flap we talked about, and what did this monkey do?” Fitz explains, heightening his words with typical dramatic flair. Jemma bites her lip to stop from laughing while Alya giggles softly like a melody carrying the words along, the sound of father and daughter together a sweet symphony to Jemma’s ears. Eyes blown wide open as Fitz gazes down at Alya, he teases her: “Come on, trouble. What did you do?” 

“I was helping Daddy,” she says, a little shyer now, her index finger pulling at her bottom lip.

“What a lovely idea,” Jemma replies warmly, rubbing Alya’s tummy and smiling wider purely because she can sense Fitz’s outrage about to boil over. 

“She–she put her face… in front of it! While I was still developing the software,” he says, voice cracking over his playful, pretend outrage. His hands tickle at Alya’s ribs to prompt the expected wriggling and shrieking as he carries on explaining to Jemma the very particular problem. “So now the blasted thing only opens for Alya! And I don’t think she needs to be crawling out through a flap in the door.” 

“Well, that sounds like it’s more a flaw in the technology to me, really,” Jemma states rather matter-of-factly, shrugging as she takes Alya from his arms and provides the escape from his tickling that her daughter had been reaching out for. “I don’t know why you even needed to start playing with the dog flap. Plenty of people in the world have dogs, Fitz, and they all do just fine without your facial recognition software.”

“That stray cat keeps bringing dead birds into the kitchen! I’m sorry I don’t want tiny little animal corpses in the room where we eat!”

Dismissively, Jemma remarks, “Fitz, you’ve really got to work on this irrational fear of cadavers.” 

He says nothing, tightly twisting his mouth closed and giving her the evil eye before she wanders back toward the house with an easy smile. Only to himself as he trails behind, though well within Jemma’s earshot, he mumbles, “It’s not a phobia. That smell is absolutely putrid. It’s a perfectly rational–”

“Come on, grumpy!” she calls back to him.

“Grumpy!” Alya joins in. 

“I made you your favourite dinner, and for what? To be ridiculed by my own daughter!” 

Jemma glances back so that he sees the way she rolls her eyes. “You know, the fact that you designed a motorised mechanism for mashing potato doesn’t make you good at cooking.”

Stopping abruptly, hands out at his sides, he asks, “Is it not delicious?” 

“It is delicious, Fitz,” Jemma concedes, “but–”

He puts his finger up to stop her. “Then it does.”

“Oh, put your stupid finger away,” she spits out at him, much to Alya’s amusement. Stage-whispering to her daughter, she adds, “Daddy’s very silly, isn’t he?” 

“Very silly,” Alya says, sighing dramatically as if tired of it, but her cheeky smile says otherwise.

Fitz only pouts, reluctantly following behind. 

“It’s okay, Daddy. You’re still the mash man, I promise,” Alya adds, warmly reaching out her hand to him as Jemma slows to let him catch up to them. She paws his cheek gently, and smiles as Fitz does. They share the same smile, Jemma always notices with a fondness: a slight dimple at the corners of their mouths, eyes lit up. There’s more enthusiasm in Alya’s, Fitz’s moonier and soft. 

“Well, if you promise.”

“I didn’t mean to mess up your work, Daddy,” she says, her tone grave and sincere. Enough to break Jemma’s heart before she looks at the way it softens Fitz’s demeanour.  

Fitz moves his face close to Alya’s, close enough that Jemma can feel the heat of him against them both. Not quite touching. And then he whispers, “Doesn’t matter one bit, Monkey. I’ll just erase the data and start again, shouldn’t take long once I track–” He cuts himself off. “Doesn’t matter.” 

“Will Daisy-pup be able to come back inside okay even though I messed it up?” 

“We’ll make sure she can,” Jemma promises. 

“Yeah,” Fitz adds, dragging out a lazy syllable, “don’t worry about Daisy. She’s born for adventure anyway, isn’t she? Like your mum.”

Her arms draped around Jemma’s neck, Alya says, “Mama doesn’t do adventures!” Like it’s the most ridiculous notion in the world. “Not big ones anyway, like Daisy does. Daisy went on a whole walk all by herself to see the sheep in the fields today. But she still knew the whole way home without me, or you, or Daddy to help her.”

Fitz’s eyes go wide, his teeth grinding as Jemma glares at him. Keeping her voice even for Alya, she replies, “Yes, you’re right. Compared to Daisy-pup, I’m downright boring.” 

“Not as boring as Daddy.”

Fitz stands there with his arms akimbo in mock outrage, his mouth hanging open as Jemma tilts her head to one side, eyebrows raised. “No, well–” 

“Hey, hey, hey!” 

 

*

 

After early dinner, spent sitting around the table as each member of the family gives their high point and low point of the day over sausage, mash and grandma’s gravy – with Alya speaking on Daisy the dog’s behalf, they retire to the couch for their movie du jour. The past two weeks have involved watching the same Disney film in increments of about 15 minutes. Neither Fitz nor Jemma has the foggiest idea what the plot is anymore, but the feeling of cuddling up together as a trio means that they don’t mind at all. It always feels like a throwback to that precious time when Alya was brand new and tiny, Fitz feeding her a bottle while Jemma played with her feet. 

It seems like yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time, but time itself holds little meaning really. It’s measured only through their child, inching taller with every passing day. 

Still, though she might be growing up fast, it’s not long before Alya begins to tire, clinging affectionately to her dad like a monkey, with her legs wrapped around his waist and her arms a knot around his neck. Fitz is used to this – the way she fades not long before her official bedtime, insisting she’s not tired, all the while dozing with her head rested heavy and limp against his shoulder. She pleads not to go to bed, as if it’s impossible that the day’s adventures can be over, and he relents on cue, just as Jemma had predicted long before their daughter could even talk. She’d planned for it, in fact, setting bedtime early to allow for this brief interlude of Fitz’s sweet, paternal conscience. 

Some evenings when Alya’s at her most resistant, bordering on irritable, Fitz walks around the house with her in his arms until she falls asleep.  Jemma notices the way he walks and walks long after she’s drifted off, too, until eventually, reluctantly, transferring her delicately into her bed. Most nights, he walks straight to his daughter’s bedroom and fires up the light display so that they can stargaze together as they lie side-by-side, squeezed together under the duvet. She’ll always look for her namesake, the routine as well-learned by now as a nursery rhyme, and helped along by Fitz’s manipulation of scale – which he’d deemed a necessary sacrifice for the purpose of his daughter’s entertainment.

One day they’ll let her stay up late enough to study the night sky for real. For now, it’s just a detailed projection. It’s still Jemma’s favourite sound in the world: the two of them whispering about the maps of constellations above them like the whole universe is a secret between the two of them. 

Tonight, she lets herself in on it, lifting the corner of the sheet to climb into the tiny bed with Fitz squeezed against the wall and Alya lying over the seam of their bodies. She doesn’t worry about how they’ll extricate themselves when she falls asleep, nor does she worry about what time it is, or the fact that Alya has a swimming lesson early in the morning. She lies back, her arm folded beneath her head as she stares up at the ceiling that glitters with stars as Fitz and Alya take turns to identify all of them.

“Will you show me where my beautiful, shining Alya is up there?” Jemma whispers to her little girl, whose hand immediately lifts to point to exactly the right star: Theta Serpentis A, right beside Theta Serpentis B and above C, the three bright points of the star system beaming back at them. 

“They take 4,000 years to–what was it, Daddy?”

“To revolve around each other.” His finger gesticulates the motion. 

“To revolve around each other,” she repeats, very seriously, turning her head to look at Jemma, who gives a solemn nod of understanding. 

“What was the other thing we learned?” Fitz prompts.

Alya turns to face him now, as if searching his expression for the right answer. 

He helps her out: “The surface temperature…” 

“It’s 8,000 kelvins! Which is a lot of kelvins, Mama.” 

“It is a lot of kelvins, sweetie. You’ll have to tell me what those are,” Jemma replies, voice soft and gentle, coaxing her daughter to sleep while genuinely curious to see what she can remember.

Alya reaches across to pull Fitz’s sleeve. He whispers in ear, before she announces, “It’s an absolute” – Fitz whispers to her again – “thermodynamic” – and again – “temperature scale.”

Fitz then adds, “It’s named after a Glasgow University engineer and physicist.” 

“Do you have anything named after you, Daddy?”

“You’re named after me,” he points out, poking her chest lightly with his finger. “That’s the only legacy I need, Monkey.”

Alya laughs it off. “No, I meant something better than that. Like a star like me, or a thermometer like kelvin.”

“You are” – he kisses her cheek, Alya pulling a face at the way his beard tickles against her skin – “the best thing on this whole entire planet. In the whole entire galaxy. My star.” 

“What about Mama?” she points out, almost a challenge. Jemma laughs, raising her eyebrows at Fitz as if to echo her daughter’s question. She can’t pretend not to get a kick out of ganging up on him with her little assistant. 

Fitz grins at Jemma and the look in his eyes sets off fireworks in her chest. “It’s a tie.”

“I can share,” their daughter declares proudly, before wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down into an uncomfortable hug. Jemma watches Fitz endure the discomfort, a grimace on his face where she can see it but Alya can’t, and a look exchanged between parents that says everything. Nevertheless, he lets her hold him tight as long as she wants until her grasp relaxes, Jemma’s gentle voice as she talks through each star above them steadily drawing her daughter to sleep. 

Once Alya’s completely out, the gentle rhythm of soft breaths in lieu of snores signalling their exit, they kiss her on the forehead in turn and carefully clamber out from beneath her. It’s not the first time and, with a sting, Jemma desperately hopes it isn’t the last time either. There are still stars to learn about, whole constellations to study. 

When they get into the hallway, after ever-so-slowly pulling Alya’s bedroom door shut, Jemma catches Fitz and pulls him back. Without warning, she’s kissing him, taking herself by surprise as much as him, and kissing him deeply and slowly. There’s a keen, imploring desperation buried in it, the fear of Alya’s childhood steadily slipping away like a passing season fresh in her mind and a need to take comfort in Fitz coming through with it. There’s also the fact that seeing the way he is with their daughter – patient, loving, silly – makes Jemma yearn for him more than ever. 

There’s a second where he doesn’t respond, the unexpectedness prompting a moment of hesitation before his lips part for her, his tongue meeting hers. She feels his hand move to hold her face reverently, the other guiding slowly down her back and drawing her closer until their bodies are pressed flush together. 

When Fitz draws away, dragging the end of the kiss out until their lips come apart, Jemma’s eyes reluctantly open to take in the dreamy look left on his face. There’s smugness in his smile, though it’s rooted in gratitude more than anything. Like he’s the luckiest man alive, like every word of his vows is echoing in his mind. How is it possible to feel so loved in just a look? He marvels at her, awe rich in his expression – like each kiss is as precious as their first, as monumental as when they’d first crossed the event horizon and ventured into this new phase of love

“Hello,” he says, the corner of his mouth lifting to a smile, the line of his lips smudged now. His eyes, adoring and utterly enrapt, move to her hair before she feels his hand tenderly tuck a lock of it behind her ear. “How was it today?”

The question brings her out of the lovely, warm haze she’d been caught up in, a shake of her head calling her back to reality. Memories of the meeting she’d had, the headmistress, the school tour. “Yeah. Yes. It was good. I think all that remains is to do one more thorough background check on the class she’d be joining and the teachers and also just, you know, any other staff that work in the general vicinity, and we might have found the one.” Jemma gives Fitz a smiling nod, though the crinkle above her nose betrays a glimmer of doubt. “We’ll have to pick out her adorable little uniform, and get her a lunch bag, a matchy-matchy stationery set. And, before you say anything, no gadgets.” 

Fitz goes to argue before she cuts him off: “No. I don’t want to get a call from the school saying she’s blown up her pencil case or… or some kid’s gone through her stuff and found a suspicious-looking mechanical toy.”

Fitz looks at her, imploring, but she only straightens up, her resolve holding firm.

“Fine,” he concedes. 

“It won’t be long before she’s making her own gadgets, I’m sure,” Jemma adds with a sigh, less frustrated with that notion than she pretends. Nevertheless, there, again, is that certain melancholy that accompanies the increasing distance from their daughter’s early childhood, days when their family was their whole world and they could keep her wrapped up in cotton wool.

“She’s growing up,” he replies, looking past Jemma and back at the closed door with the letters of ‘ALYA’ spelled out across stars. Dryly, he adds, “I don’t like it much.” 

Jemma laughs before smoothing her hands down his arms, then moving them up to massage his shoulders. “It’s wonderful, every bit of it. But it’s strange, the way you can miss your own child. The parts that have passed by already. Sometimes I worry it’s all going by too fast. I feel like I’m going to blink and she’ll be a teenager.”

Fitz pulls Jemma into his chest. “I know what you mean. I miss the baby smell. When she was just so tiny and brand new.” Jemma feels herself relax against him, the relief of hearing him say exactly how she feels like letting out a breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding.

“And when she used to giggle at her own reflection, that uncontrollable baby laughter.”

“Her little hands, with that steel grip that could crush your finger,” he counters, the exchange flowing effortlessly from one to the other in turn.

“And each day she’d do something new for the first time. Like sitting up, or rolling over, or her first steps.” Her eyes getting wider, more animated, she thinks back on the feeling, the thrill of it: “Every time was like the rush of adrenaline you get when you discover the polyclonal antibodies required to execute an effective antiserum for plasmapheresis, or… or identify the molecular evidence for a new species!”

Fitz nods along, before chiming in: “And her chubby little cheeks.”

“Oh gosh, her cheeks! Fitz,” Jemma gushes at the thought. “The hours we spent just staring at her. Our miracle.”

“And wondering how on earth something so perfect–”

“Yes!”

“–could ever, ever, someday make a Deke.” 

“Fitz!” She swats his arm lightly, laughing.

Instead of replying, he only pulls her tighter inside his embrace. For all the change that’s happened already and for all that’s yet to come, there is this one constant: the two of them, together. A silence settles between them as they reminisce, the memories playing out in a montage in Jemma’s mind; she knows Fitz well enough to know he’s doing the same.

She wonders at exactly what he’s thinking, listening to the sound of his heartbeat for an answer.

There’s an anticipation building inside her before she breaks the silence. 

“Fitz–” she starts, the name coming out uncertain before she’s interrupted by the sight of the dog, storming through the hallway proudly carrying what appears to be a squirrel carcass. 

The way she stops so abruptly prompts Fitz to draw away, following her eye-line to see for himself. He doesn’t make a sound, only stares, horrified, at the sight of it.

“Oh, god.” Jemma groans, before getting a hold of herself. She points authoritatively at the puppy and commands, “Drop!”

The dog opens her mouth wide enough for her catch to fall out, landing splat on the carpet. There’s a guilty look in the puppy’s eyes as she stares up at Jemma, pacing a few steps back as if suddenly realising her mistake. 

“I’m going outside,” Fitz decides, throwing up his arms in the air.

“Fitz!” she whisper-shouts, not wanting to wake Alya. “Fitz! Come back here right now.” 

 

*

 

Once the dead squirrel has been humanely disposed of, Jemma wanders out into the garden to find Fitz half-asleep on one of the sun loungers. He stirs at the sound of her footsteps, a pensive look on his face as Jemma hands him a beer to match her own. He takes it with a grateful nod before turning to look out on their idyllic garden again. 

They both love this garden most of all. After years without outdoor space, the sight of the rolling hills around their private haven of green comes to feel like contentment itself. There’s the little den they’d built for Alya at one corner, beside a mini allotment where Jemma’s started growing her own vegetables (mutating them to achieve optimum nutritional value and year-round agricultural success). There is the paddling pool that Alya can spend all day in and not get bored of, especially if Fitz coats himself in SPF and puts his trunks on to join the girls. There’s the tree swing that’s been there long before them, while the tree it hangs from bears a carving of their names that had been his mother’s suggestion; Fitz had thought it cheesy at the time, or claimed to, but sometimes Jemma catches him gazing at it when they’re outside. The look in his eye is anything but regret. 

The spot just outside the backdoor, where the sun loungers sit a few metres from their picnic bench, looks out on all of it. The perfect view of the garden, and the water and hills beyond it, makes this their favourite spot in summer. The only place to be after Alya’s drifted off and they’re alone, at peace for another night.

As has become their routine, Jemma settles in the seat beside Fitz’s, the dog following obediently and climbing up into her lap. She pets it absently with her free hand, not wanting to get too affectionate after the squirrel incident, no matter how loving the puppy wants to be now.  

“I think she likes you better than me,” he says before taking a sip of his beer, barely glancing over. His eyes seem fixed on a spot in the far distance. She can’t blame him; the sky before them is magnificent, shapeshifting above them, pink and purple and orange blending like the most spectacular painting.

“Nonsense!” 

Shooting a stern look at the oblivious animal, Fitz continues bitterly, “I think she’s bringing in the dead animals to taunt me.”

“She thinks she’s bringing you gifts. She doesn’t know any better,” Jemma explains, her voice the epitome of patience and sympathy before she talks to the dog in a light baby voice: “Do you, angel?” She scratches the dog’s chin indulgently to the sound of quiet, contented mewls. “She loves you really, Fitz.”

“Mm.” 

“Is everything okay? You seem like there’s something on your mind. I thought you were gonna say something when I got back from the city earlier,” she says, tentative. She keeps her attention focused on stroking the dog so as not to over-analyse his slightly strange mood. 

“You’ve been emailing Daisy,” he says, the words flat and neutral, though she knows he’s anything but. He still doesn’t look at her, even when she snaps her head around to stare at him. Instead, he fiddles with the label on his beer bottle. He fixates on the spot beneath a loose corner of damp paper, scratching with his thumbnail at where the adhesion has faded. 

Deflecting, her stomach turning as she senses where the conversation is headed, Jemma tries to make a light joke of it. “Honestly, I can understand imagining that she might like me more than you but thinking the dog and I have been emailing is a little paranoid.”

Of course, on cue, Fitz throws his hands up impatiently. “Not that Daisy! You know who I mean,” he grumbles. “Alya was trying to use your laptop to play her video game. But the email was open when I, uh… when I…” He scratches the back of his head. “I took it away from her.”

The only thing Jemma can think to ask is, “How?” 

“How many times did I tell you that your daughter’s name is not a secure password?”

“Well, I didn’t think she’d be the one hacking me.”

Fitz scoffs a dry laugh. “Well, surprise.” 

“She’s… smart,” Jemma remarks, reeling from the vision she has in her head of Alya tapping confidently away on a laptop at only six years old. “That’s really a bit of a worry.” 

“A bit of a worry,” he repeats, the sad irony of the wording not lost on her as he spits it back. She hears him let out a heavy sigh and braces for what she knows is coming. “Yeah. You deciding to conduct SHIELD work and not telling me might also be considered” – he pauses for effect as she dutifully rolls her eyes – “a bit of a worry, don’t you think? You were the one who said we were supposed to share everything!”

“Oh, Fitz!” she snaps at him. 

His beer abandoned on the table between them, he sits upright so that he’s facing Jemma with a scowl as he argues back, his voice rising higher: “What? How are you mad at me now?” 

Jemma follows suit and turns her body to face him, the motion of her legs shifting to sit sideways on the seat disturbing the dog. “You shouldn’t have read my emails! That’s private,” she replies, just as their puppy makes a break for it.

“Well, I didn’t mean to! But I couldn’t even understand why you’d be using the encrypted email account, and then I saw the words ‘genetic code’, ‘Terrigenesis’ and, oh, what was it? ‘Inhuman!’” he replies, saying each one even more pointedly until he’s full-on yelling the latter for emphasis. “And I realised that maybe you weren’t just having a nice chat about what to get Sousa for Christmas!” 

“Fitz, she needed my help!” 

“I thought we were done!” His hands cross to gesture a line, the kind of line Jemma knows they’ll never truly be able to draw. “We’re done with that, with SHIELD, with time travel and space adventures and, you know, almost dying and losing each other and finding each other and the whole cursed thing.”

Jemma shifts further forward, the divide between them closing as she perches on the edge of her chair. “Fitz,” she whispers softly this time, her favourite word. 

“There’s two of you now. There’s two of you I can’t lose,” he explains, voice pleading as Jemma’s gaze swims in sad eyes that pull her back in a heavy tide to the middle of the ocean. “And it’s–”

“Fitz,” she cuts him off, equal parts exasperated and touched. She shifts towards him, her hand moulding against the curve of his cheek as her thumb drags against the apple of it softly. “You’ll never lose me. Don’t you know that by now? We are... invincible.” Jemma can’t help but smile in the comfort of believing that, but it fades as she refocuses her attention on Fitz.

“Oh, for f–” He lets the end of the sentence die on his lips, bringing a hand up to the back of his head as he draws away. “What did you bloody well say that for?” 

Her mood sharpening again, pure irritation takes hold of Jemma. “What?”

“Well, now you’ve gone and done it,” he carries on, gesturing his hand out between them as if it’s so obvious. To Jemma, it is; at least what he’s driving at is. The same tired argument they always have, so familiar it’s almost a comfort but for the way it seems to pull at a thread of vulnerability she can’t seem to cut away for him.

“Oh, Fitz!” she snaps back, rolling her eyes so hard her head follows the motion too. “You’re being ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous?” he echoes, outrage lifting the octave. “Oh, what, I’m ridiculous? For not wanting to tempt fate?”

“You’re ridiculous to think that it exists.”

“How do you explain the last, what, 20 years?” 

“Love.”

“Well, yeah, but–”

“Fitz, we’ve been through everything we could ever have imagined and a hell of a lot we never could have, and look at us. Look where we are.” She sighs out a thick, uneven breath before meeting his eyes again: their vast, adoring blue so overwhelming it catches her in a heady wave. They never change. They call her back to every loaded gaze they’ve ever shared, across laboratories and battle scenes and crowded rooms and quiet dinner tables. “Dreaming of this is what kept me alive, and now it’s real. Me, you, Alya. This home. We’re here because we survived all of it, we beat all the odds.”

Jemma stands up and moves across from one sun lounger to the other to sit beside Fitz, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing tight in a tried and tested attempt to bring him out of his panic. Her hand slides across the plane of his upper back, eventually finding the crook of his neck, tense with nervous energy that dissipates instantly as her fingers press there, just so.  

“We get to grow old together, Fitz,” she says, pulling away to smile at him. 

“Only if we keep each other safe.”

“It was just an email,” she says, breezy, simple, exactly as casual as the message itself had been. She gives a shrug. “Just a simple anatomy analysis. For a friend.”

“Well, of course. That’s how it starts.” 

“Fitz,” she repeats, softer this time, fondness thick in her voice even when laced with exasperation. “I would’ve told you about it but I knew you’d be like this. I’m a doctor. I can be of use to Daisy without putting my life at risk. And I happen to think–”

“Oh, here it goes…”

“–that we can figure out a way to enjoy our peaceful life here, with Alya, and still be of service to those that need us. Like, for example, designing tech and creating vaccines remotely to support our old friends from time to time. No one else has the experience we do in this field, and don’t you think it would be a waste of our intelligence not to use it?” She shifts to lean on him just a little. A nudge. “We didn’t build the whole lab downstairs just for you to rewire the remote for the telly and make Daisy a faulty dog flap.”

When Jemma glances at his face to get a read on his reaction, Fitz is biting at his lip and looking at her like she’s crazy. Perhaps she is. It’s hard to know crazy from sane once you’ve travelled through space and ventured into alternate timelines and befriended aliens. His brow furrowed, he appears to consider it nevertheless – or maybe just consider her, and whether she’s truly lost it this time. Impossible to tell. 

“What do you think?” she pushes, sliding her hand into his.

“I–”

“Yes?”

He shakes his head, as if he can’t quite believe he’s relenting. “I still think it’s asking for trouble.”

“Trouble’s always gonna follow us, Fitz. It’s who we are now.” 

Fitz just groans, but when he dares to meet her eyes, she can see his resolve softening a little. Enough. “I’ve convinced you, haven’t I? Just a bit.”

Fitz shifts back and gestures for Jemma to move with him so they can both lie down together, pressed close up against one another on the lounger. It holds about as much space as Alya’s bed and yet they make it work, just like before. 

“For now, let’s just watch the sunset.” 

Jemma cosies up against him, laying a hand flat over his chest before resting her head over it there. She moves her legs to intertwine with his, their cold feet brushing together even as warmth blooms inside her. She feels his heartbeat calm beneath her ear, the rhythm evening out to a familiar tempo. 

“Actually, I did have one other small thing to talk to you about,” Jemma says casually, admiring the clouds like cotton candy stretching out above them. There’s something soothing in the scenery, this spectacular setting they call home, the golden circle sinking on the horizon as daylight fades. The fiery, warm shifting patterns of the August sky move over them, never the same as the day before, and she thinks maybe change isn’t such a bad thing at all.

“Mm,” Fitz replies, just as casually.

Jemma teases her bottom lip with her teeth, anticipating his reaction as she continues. “Tiny, really. Not even a quarter of an inch. The size of a blueberry.”

Fitz shifts slightly upright suddenly, staring down at her with no less than a good thousand questions burning in his eyes.

“I’d ask if you want to sit down, but you’re already sitting down. Or lying down, anyway.” 

“Jem–”

“Yeah,” she exhales, a dam bursting with it as she pulls back to look at him. They turn so that they’re lying side by side. Her watery smile is matched with his, but there’s still an edge of confusion there greeting her. “I wanted to tell you yesterday but I, umm,” she swallows, trying to get a hold of her emotions. “I wanted to be sure first. I went for a quick scan today, after visiting the school. Before I saw your mum, actually. It was torture not telling her. The whole lunch I felt like it was going to come bursting out.”

“A baby?” he asks, the words sound so brittle it almost breaks her heart.

She nods against the cushion of the seat, her hair fluffing a little against it. She feels a tear slip free, swiftly dropping from her cheek to leave a wet mark on the fabric. 

“A sibling for Alya?”

Jemma nods again, studying Fitz for his reaction. It seems to be shock, most of all. Slowly, as if not wanting to overwhelm him any further, she reminds him, “We were so worried about making sure she’s socialised properly. Now she’ll have all her new school friends, and a friend at home too.” 

“Jemma,” he says, a little breathless. Her name on his lips enough to make her heart beat in double time. He kisses her, quick and urgent. “I love you.”

Jemma laughs a teary, warm laugh before more ripples of tears follow. Because it never gets old. Because it’s the most obvious thing in the world. Because of course

Fitz holds her face, his hand against her neck as his thumb caresses her cheek, tenderly wiping away the tears that keep falling. “I know we’ve said it a thousand times, but… I do. I love you.” He swallows to find his voice again, rough and uneven through words that are so certain. “I can’t breathe sometimes with how much I love you. I love you, I love our life, I love our daughter. And I’m going to love this new baby so much.” 

“I know you will, Fitz. Of course you will.” She knows because she’s seen it, she’s seen that there’s no person in the world who’s got more love to give.

He leans forward to close the gap between them, tender lips pressing against hers. She feels his mouth curling gently, unable to halt a smile, even as he kisses her. 

“Hold on.” Fitz pulls away from her abruptly, his smile replaced by a darker look as she opens her eyes from their kiss. She knows what’s coming even before he says another word. “You’re pregnant and you still want to start working with SHIELD again?” The whole conversation seems to click in his mind. Jemma braces for impact as he draws in a breath, steeling herself for a rant to remember. “That sounds like a recipe for a perfectly uneventful time, I’m sure! I mean, just imagine it, if you suddenly became the target for some insane, evil alien monster – and let’s remember, it wouldn’t be the first time, or the second, or even the third – and we’re just out here almost completely unprotected, with two kids to take care of. It’s not like trouble’s had a hard time finding us in the past, is it?”

She interrupts to point out, “We’re not ‘completely unprotected’, Fitz. We’ve got our bubble.”

“Which only spans the perimeter of the cottage! You could be browsing the cheese aisle in Sainsbury’s and some thing comes after you, and then what happens?”

“Daisy would warn us. Besides which, we won’t be a target. No one would know.”

“Yeah, when has a secret ever come out? Secrets always work out great. I mean, Ward? Coulson? May? Daisy? Their secrets seemed to do them the world of good, Jem.”

“Fitz?” She puts a hand to his chest again, as if commanding his full attention. A single touch is enough to stop him suddenly, to bring him round from the never-ending spiral of worry. 

“Yes?”

“For now,” Jemma smiles to herself, sighing, “can we just watch the sunset?” 

Now that he’s looking her in the eye again properly, present with her in this quiet moment, he seems calm once more. Fitz breathes in and then nods, finding his voice to say, “Yes. Yeah.”

They shift closer again, her cheek settling against his chest just as it had been before her revelation. She feels him kiss the top of her head as her hand moves to her stomach, resting there the way she’d rested it against Fitz’s chest moments before. There’s no bump yet, only the thought of one. The thought of what’s to come. He rubs her back soothingly, protectively, and she can’t help the tears that keep flowing. 

Together, they watch the sun slowly go down on the day, the wild colours of the sky disappearing with it until they’re left with the blank darkness that folds into tomorrow. Jemma finds herself falling asleep with the dream of it curling comfort around her heart, the warmth of her husband enveloping her despite the brisk cool air. 

Tomorrow

Another day filled with possibility. 

Another day that feels impossible, for all it took to get here.

Another day of their extraordinary, ordinary life.