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you taught me the courage of stars

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"I have to go back."

Bobbi stared at her friend and could do nothing more but shake her head, dumbfounded.

"Why?" she managed to say, sounding slightly hurt. Fitz had spent months working himself to pieces, risking his life to get her back from a place Jemma had clearly been traumatised by—so traumatised that she hadn't been able to talk about it with anyone, not even the person she trusted the most. And now she wanted to return to that godawful place?

Something was not right.

Jemma wrung her hands together and Bobbi's eyes flickered over to the gesture, an old tell for the biochemist.

"Why would you want to go back there?" she pressed, stepping closer.

Jemma bit her lip and seemed to grow more nervous by the second. She kept glancing around the room and the blonde had a feeling she was being triggered by her surroundings again. The lack of sleep and general tension around the base were breaking her down, and it seemed like whatever she was struggling with was the final straw.

"I don't think I should tell you."

Bobbi frowned, growing more and more suspicious. "Why not, Jemma?" she repeated.

The fragile scientist's eyes filled with tears and she looked at the specialist pleadingly.

"Because now I don't know whether he was real."

"Who?"

Jemma swallowed hard and pushed the name past her lips.

"Trip."

---

"You... what?" Skye—Daisy whispered, not believing what the other two agents had just told her.

Jemma was still silently crying, and Bobbi had her arm tight around her friend, seemingly at a loss as well.

"This is what you have been keeping from us?"

Jemma flinched and Daisy noticed that she almost looked scared and was probably worried about her reaction, like she'd be mad at her. As if she could be mad at someone who'd been there for her from the start. Kind-hearted and passionate Jemma Simmons, who'd spent six months in hell while everyone had given up on her except for the guy who never would. To the contrary, Daisy felt more ashamed every day.

She tentatively reached out towards her and to her surprise, the biochemist immediately responded and let herself be hugged.

"Jemma, I can't even imagine living with that," she admitted, squeezing her tightly. "We have to tell the others," she added, looking at Bobbi for support.

"We can't," Jemma replied, releasing a sob. "I've been out of it ever since I returned. What if it was just my brain compensating for the loneliness? How can I know if it's real? If he was, that means I left him there," she told them, rubbing her temples. "But if he wasn't, we'll never know because the portal's been destroyed. I'm so sorry. I—I feel like I'm going crazy."

Daisy shook her head, dismissing her apology, and grabbed her friend's hand between hers and squeezed. "You have to at least tell Fitz," she tried gently.

"I can't," she repeated, "the last person I can tell is Fitz."

Daisy sighed, confused at Jemma's reaction, because if anyone would understand doubting themselves, it'd be Fitz. But looking at the insecurity and guilt all over her posture and face, before too long she understood what her friend was thinking.

"Is this why you've been keeping your distance from him?"

The biochemist looked down again. "I can't very well tell him I may or may not have been hallucinating Trip. He'll be devastated."

Bobbi and Daisy exchanged knowing glances.

"But Jemma, you don't have feelings for Trip, do you?" Bobbi asked her, though she was pretty sure of the answer. Anyone with eyes knew what had been growing before Jemma disappeared.

"No, but—"

"If you keep this from him, he'll think otherwise," Daisy replied gently. "I mean, Jemma, the guy has spent the last six months moving Heaven and Earth, almost literally, to find you."

Bobbi nodded in agreement. "Even if Trip's... Out there," she hesistated for a second, "Fitz won't let you go without a fight."

That managed to put a smile on all their faces, and Daisy was happy to see Jemma's eyes full of affection for their engineer. Some things never changed, thankfully.

"But man, I can't believe we're even talking about this. He was there with you? How is that even possible? I mean, I saw him... We all did," Daisy stood up, pacing around the room, and then regarded her friends helplessly. "What do we do?"

Bobbi furrowed her brow and then simply said, "We need to see what Jemma saw. But first, you have to tell Fitz, little lady. We're not doing anything until he knows."

Jemma steeled herself, hoping he would understand.

---

"One day when I was running again, he just found me there. I never got to ask how, we didn't really have much time to talk, with all the fleeing, and when we did, it was about you guys, happy memories. Then when you sent the flare, I was alone. He'd gone somewhere when I was sleeping. I tried to find him, but I couldn't and then when I saw you... I thought I was dreaming."

Fitz was a loss for words as he listened to his companion. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. He'd gotten her off the planet, and part of him was glad she hadn't been alone, but the thought that they'd left their teammate there was almost unbearable.

"I never questioned it, Fitz, but now I just can't be sure," she told him desperately. He could tell she was barely keeping it together, and by all means, he knew what hallucinating was like, and feeling like you were losing it.

He had known something was amiss when she got home, but he hadn't wanted to push her or take PTSD lightly, so he'd vowed he would let her come to him when she was ready. If he'd known that she had been dealing with this, however... He wouldn't have let her slowly torture herself.

"I'm so sorry I've been so distant, Fitz," she said, sobbing again. "You risked everything for me, and I didn't know how to tell you what happened. I'm just so horrified with myself that I couldn't handle being around you without further feeling like I didn't deserve you. You saved me again, Fitz. You're the best person I know."

Fitz leaned forward on instinct and wrapped his arms around her, letting her cry on his shoulder. He kissed her hair gently and tried to hide the tears in his eyes. Jemma needed strength. His mind was reeling, but he was sure of one thing.

"Jemma, whatever you might think, you don't owe me anything. I know you would've done the same thing for me, no matter what, and I also know telling me this must've been hard for you. You're always thinking of other people instead of yourself, aren't you?" he commented, almost ruefully shaking his head. "I know you, Jemma Simmons, I can see what you're getting at here. I remember how I used to be around Trip, but that's so far in the past I can't see the water or the bridge anymore."

She chuckled despite herself, her heart bursting with love for the man beside her. Because now she realised that's what it was.

Her crying was subsiding to soft sniffles when he added quietly, "And besides, I think I know where I stand with you."

Jemma buried herself closer into his side and slung her arm across his chest. "You better," she replied, and Fitz could almost feel her smile, and he hoped she could feel his.

"I've never doubted you before, and I won't start now, Jemma. If he's out there, we'll find him. You and me. We're going to fix this."

"Together," Jemma supplied, and he held her even closer to him in response.

"Together."

---

"Alright team," Coulson called out a couple days later. Jemma had been talking to Andrew for hours on end every day, starting to work through her trauma. She was slowly coming to terms with the fact that she'd done what anyone would've done and gotten out of there, and Andrew had been trying to convince her that getting help was what would save Trip. "If he's actually there," Jemma kept reminding him, but just like Fitz, he still seemed to have faith in her sanity.

Coulson looked around the room and tried to act cool, but really, with everything they'd been through lately, he was almost at the end of his thether. They needed another win.

"We're going to get to the bottom of this. We're not giving up, we owe that to Simmons and to Trip if he's still alive."

All of them—save for May and Hunter—were standing in the lab and for the first time in a while, Jemma felt grounded by this familiar scene. Even though she could almost feel the guilt radiating off each and every one of them. Understandably, they had still been treading lightly around her, but she finally needed to clear the air.

"I'd like to say something, Sir, if I may?"

Coulson nodded his assent and she stepped forward, glancing at Fitz for reassurance.

"I want to thank you all for not simply dismissing this, even though I know it sounds ludicrous. So before we do anything, I would like all of you to stop thinking you need to feel guilty or something."

Right on cue, everyone looked down or away, and Jemma sighed. "Just like that. I don't blame any of you, obviously. I was gone for half a year. Everything indicated I was dead. You were using your common sense. I guess Fitz just ignored his..." she concluded, taking his hand and lacing their fingers together. If the others noticed the red colouring their cheeks, they didn't comment on it. "Please, just be the friends I know and love. That'll make me heal most of all."

"Thanks for saying that, Jemma. I think it's safe to say, though, that you're not going anywhere alone for the forseeable future," Coulson assured her, and the biochemist hoped that the team would start to lose their trepidation around her from then on. "Now, are you sure you want to this? I've already told you how I feel about it and—"

"With all due respect, Sir, but I've made up my mind. I want to know."

Everyone turned around to stare at the white offending machine in the center of the lab. The "TAHITI machine", as they had dubbed it. Modified by Fitz to hook up to a screen and hopefully transfer Jemma's memories so they could see them too.

Soon, Jemma was all hooked up and the tension in the room made her heartbeat and blood pressure higher than normal already. Seeing this, Fitz stepped away from the controls and took her hand in his, blocking out everything else in her line of sight.

"Try to relax, Jemma. You're safe. I'm not going to let anything happen to you, okay?" he promised her, speaking in low tones so no one would hear. Though Jemma couldn't care less if they did.

"I hope I'm right, Fitz. I hope he's alive."

"Me too, Jemma. But just say the word if you want it to end, alright? I don't want you to overdo yourself."

He was looking at her with such intensity and affection that she couldn't help herself and quickly leaned up to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. He looked dumbstruck and the familiar sight of bashful Fitz calmed her nerves instantly.

Mack cleared his throat, having taken Fitz' spot behind the controls. "You stay right there, Turbo. I got this."

"Ready, FitzSimmons?" Coulson called, taking a tablet with Jemma's vitals on them.

"Turn it on, Mack," Jemma replied, closing her eyes and squeezing Fitz' hand again.

After a few seconds, she felt every muscle in her body tense up as the machine located the right memories from her brain. She clenched her teeth and could hear the team talking among themselves, but she just tried to concentrate on Fitz' soothing words.

---

Daisy glanced at Fitz as the screen began to clear up and images appeared of what he, judging by his expression, apparently recognised as the alien planet.

Jemma seemed to run through the days and months, from memories of running to sitting in a cave, to fixing up wounds and running again. No one said it, but they were all thinking it: no wonder she was different. Or rather, it was a wonder she was still so strong. Not even Nick Fury could've gone through that and not be scarred.

Then suddenly, Jemma made a distressed sound and the image flickered again, and Jemma running turned to black when she collided with something. Or someone.

"Oh my God," Daisy breathed out as the image shook and then revealed Triplett, looking equally harrowed as Jemma had been when they recovered her.

"I'll be damned," Coulson agreed, as Mack began to press some buttons, bringing the image on more screens around the room. "Fitz, Bobbi, how can we verify whether it's really him?"

Bobbi spoke up first, stepping closer to the monitor, "Well, the obvious signs of hallucinations aren't there, from what I can tell. He doesn't look the same as when she last saw him, and he's got a shadow."

"The surefire way, I guess, is to identify something about him that Jemma doesn't know. You know, something physical," Fitz continued, eyes fixated on their friend on screen.

"What doesn't she know? Jemma's the team doctor," Coulson countered.

"I don't—something that isn't relevant to his health," Fitz replied, while the memories were now following each other rapidly. Months' worth of them doing the same thing Jemma had been doing alone before that.

"Sir, Simmons' heart rate is beginning to pick up. Blood pressure too," Mack warned when she projected memories of them holding onto each other beside a fire, of Trip seemingly wiping tears from Jemma's face, and even a few of them laughing quietly.

"Spiking, Sir. I think she's had enough," Mack insisted, beginning to shut the machine down.

Daisy's eyes started to blur with tears, but still she noticed it. "The tattoo."

Jemma cried out in pain as all the memories overwhelmed her and the machine started to give off sparks.

"Fitz, do the override now! Shut it down!" Coulson ordered, and the engineer did as he was told, making sure Mack got the electrodes off Jemma before carrying her away from the machine. The machine gave off more sparks and smoke before the room turned quiet.

"Jemma, are you okay?" Bobbi asked, worry lacing her voice. And even though Jemma was clearly drained by the whole experience, she only wanted to know, "Did you see?"

Mack helped to keep her upright until Fitz took his place and let her rest against his chest, pointing at the screen. "Right there."

Jemma's face crumpled at seeing the image of her hand in Trip's and that all too familiar gentle smile on his face. She noticed Daisy was studying the screen diligently, but before anyone could ask her, she turned around, two tears falling down her cheek. "It's him."

She asked Mack to rewind the recording to where Trip had wiped Jemma's tears and had it pause there. Daisy grabbed a tablet and zoomed in on his wrist. "He has a tattoo," she began. "One that he usually hid beneath his watch or a wristband because it's so personal to him. He'd probably kill me for telling you this. I would've never known about it, but one time we were training and I pinned him to the ground, knocked the watch right off. That's when I saw it."

"What are we looking at here? Numbers?" Bobbi asked.

"Yeah, 040314. It's..."

"The day he first worked with us. When you were shot," Jemma filled in, swallowing hard. "We talked about that day one night. But I had no idea."

The room fell silent as that information sunk in. Jemma and Daisy looked at each other in equal parts disbelief and conviction until Coulson stepped forward.

"Alright, team, you've heard it. Simmons was right. We have to go back. Triplett's still out there. We have no time to feel sorry for ourselves or wallow, we can deal with all that later. And we will, at length. For now, let's get to work."

He walked over to Fitz and Simmons and took the biochemist's hand. "Good job, Jemma. Don't worry, we're going to get him back. Rest up for now, okay?"

Jemma nodded weakly, but her smile was still blinding, and as Fitz gently kissed her temple, Coulson knew they would eventually be alright. As soon as they got their teammate back.

"Ah man," the Director said to Bobbi as they headed for the lab, "that means I have to get in touch with Randolph again."

Bobbi raised an amused eyebrow. "To the plane?"

"To the plane."

---

Trip had heard the screaming thanks to the strong winds carrying the sound, and he ran towards it as fast as he could. Climbing a nearby hill, he was close enough to distinguish two shapes, one of them he'd come to recognise as Jemma's, but the other...

"Come on, Jemma, hold on!"

The sound of that voice had him nailed to the ground, because there was no mistaking it. He should've known. Fitz. Of course he'd find her.

Before he could move or attempt to get their attention, they'd grabbed hold of each other, were dragged away and had disappeared. The wind died down, and he tried to grasp what had just happened. Jemma got out. Fitz had done it—not that he should have been surprised.

But then it dawned on him. He was alone again. From the moment he'd appeared on this planet, he had looked out for himself, stayed alive for months until he'd disintegrated again, just like before, and ended up in a valley, where he'd found Jemma not too long after. If he could only control those damn powers, he might be able to get back on his own.

But he couldn't despair. His friend was safe, and his increased strength gave him an edge. It had so far. He got closer to where FitzSimmons vanished and noticed the sparkle of the necklace Jemma always wore—probably a gift from Fitz, he now realised, when he recalled the way she always held onto it. And as he picked it up, he was certain of one thing: they'd figure it out. Help was on the way.