There might be many things Jemma Simmons worried about when she pondered her relationship with Leo Fitz, but his fidelity had never been one of them. There might have been a time when he’d been as prone as any weak male to being bowled over by attractive females (witness his crush on Skye when in their early days on the Bus), but ever since he had declared his feelings to her on the bottom of the ocean, and indeed when she thought about it rather before that, she had never had any cause to think that he was romantically interested in anyone other than her. Even when he had been angry with her and trying (unsuccessfully) to get over her, he had sought the comparative simplicity of male camaraderie rather than pursuing other women. And while she might have harboured some slight jealousy when she saw how close he had become with Bobbi while she was on Maveth, and the influence Bobbi had had on (among other things) his wardrobe, it was clear that Bobbi treated him a with kindly, almost sisterly affection that was returned with warmth and gratitude but not ardour.
All of which accounted for her astonishment when she turned the corner of a corridor near the lab to see Fitz embracing one of their lab assistants. And even then she probably wouldn’t have been worried except that it was Katie Phipps, who had been throwing herself shamelessly at him for weeks. Jemma could have sworn that he hadn’t noticed – he treated Katie with the same quixotic mix of angry frustration and benevolent patience, depending more on his mood than anything they had actually done, he had for all their employees – but now here she was, head buried in his shoulder, their arms around each other. Jemma stopped short, trying to decide what to do. True, she and Fitz were not in fact together. She had rather thought that the fact that they had recently started doing what really could only be described as snogging, tugging each other around corners and pushing each other against lab benches, and on one memorable occasion even interrupting their favourite episode of Doctor Who, had indicated a certain understanding that even if they weren’t technically together yet they were heading in that direction as fast as their bruised hearts could feasibly get there.
Fitz either heard her or saw her approach, because he raised his head – she rather thought he had been speaking quietly in Katie’s ear, and it made Jemma cringe to think what he might have been saying. He made an odd, sheepish grimace and, most strangely of all, instead of looking guilty he just nodded his head back towards her in an indication that she should return the way she had come. She blinked at him for a moment and then turned around and headed back to the lab, still speechless with astonishment. It wasn’t until later that she really became angry – later, when it took Fitz a full forty-eight minutes to return to the lab, and moreover he was in a different shirt, a white linen one rather than the pale blue he had worn earlier that morning. Katie never returned at all.
She supposed she wasn’t very surprised that other women were showing interest in Fitz. He had always been handsome, and whatever transformation he had gone through while she was on Maveth had turned him, objectively, into a very attractive man on all counts, aside from his temper and his tendency to treat most people as though they were idiots (neither of which had ever bothered her in the slightest). But he also wasn’t someone who encouraged physical contact, and she couldn’t think of any reason other than the obvious for him to be embracing someone who was not herself – particularly someone who wasn’t even a friend, as far as she was aware. The more she looked at him working calmly away, his strong, dexterous hands delicately manipulating electronics, his lean, attractive form highlighted by his professional attire, his handsome features focussed on his tinkering, the more angry she got. How dare he toy with her like this? What on earth was going on?
By mid-day she had built up enough of a head of steam that she knew she wasn’t going to get any work done while she was obsessing over Fitz. Action was clearly required. Putting away her biological samples and taking off her gloves, she resolutely walked over to Fitz’s work station and stood next to him, summoning her most professional demeanour. “Doctor Fitz, I wonder whether I might have a word with you. In private.”
Fitz looked up, initially smiling at her – but that smile fell as she talked, as he registered the strangely cold way she was talking to him. He nodded uncertainly, gesturing towards the door and following as she stalked out of the room. Deciding quickly that she wanted to be at a certain advantage she headed for her own home turf, registering out of the corner of her eye that Fitz was trailing her dutifully to her bunk. When they were both in the room she shut the door behind them, hoping for enough privacy to finish what was going to be a difficult conversation. Although she felt secure in her indignation, nerves were churning in her stomach at the thought of actually addressing this amorphous arrangement that was between them, and she found she couldn’t quite look at him and still have the courage to talk, so she resolutely turned her back before speaking.
“Fitz, it occurs to me that we have never actually addressed dating other people.” She heard a shaky gasp, and wondered what was causing such surprise – the fact that she was directly speaking about the elephant in the room?
“No, I suppose we haven’t,” he muttered. She heard a squeak – it sounded as though he had sat down rather heavily on her bed. “I mean – well of course we’ve never really promised… I suppose all the kissing did sort of get my hopes up, but… “ after these cryptic phrases he stuttered to a stop for a moment, before saying in a stronger, rather forced tone “but of course if you want to date someone else, you know I’d never stand in the way of your happiness.” His voice broke slightly on the last word. Jemma frowned, and for the first time seriously considered that she had the wrong end of the stick entirely. She turned to face Fitz and he had that expression on his face again, the one she hated and had seen entirely too much of – that strange mix of heartbreak and endless patience, the kind of self-sacrificing devotion she’d never really seen in anyone else. He turned his face slightly away from her and rubbed a fist under his eyes as though fending off tears… something was definitely wrong with this situation.
“Fitz,” she started, and paused. He didn’t turn to look at her. “Fitz, I’m not dating someone else. You are.” This did get him to turn to her, his eyes wide with confustion.
“I am?” he asked. Jemma blinked.
“Katie Phipps. I saw you this morning.” Fitz stared at her for a moment before letting out a choked sob that turned into a wave of helpless laughter as he leaned forward in breathless relief. Jemma fumed, not at all happy to be mocked when she was trying to have a serious conversation. “Fitz – I don’t appreciate being laughed at. Fitz!” Fitz appeared to be making an attempt to calm himself down.
“I’m sorry—really, Simmons, don’t be mad, it’s not what you think.” She narrowed her eyes at him so he stood up and walked towards her, holding up his hands in a placatory manner. “Jemma, Phipps’s father died. She was crying, she went in for a hug and I didn’t know what to do – about ten seconds after you left I was patting her on the shoulder and walking her down to Coulson’s office so she could ask him for some compassionate leave. I would have mentioned it but on the way back to the lab I got an idea, so I figured it could wait til we broke for lunch.” He brushed his knuckles over her cheek and down her arm before saying, “Honestly, though – what were you thinking? You know how I feel about you. You think that after everything we’ve been though, I’d change my mind just because some young girl batted her eyelashes at me? You’ve got more sense than that.” Jemma blinked, feeling suddenly foolish. Of course that made more sense. Thinking back over the morning, she offered some of the observations that had made her curious.
“You changed your shirt. And she is awfully pretty. I didn’t know you’d even noticed her flirting, but…”
“Well my first shirt was all covered in tears and snot and bloody mascara, wasn’t it? I don’t mind if you cry all over me, but I’m not that keen on other people trying it. And she may be pretty, but you’re stunning. I had noticed her flirting, I’m not blind, but frankly I didn’t care.” He spoke softly, reassuringly, holding her eyes in his warm blue gaze. Simmons found the corners of her mouth tipping up in a cautious smile.
“It’s possible,” she suggested, “that we should make this agreement between us more explicit.” Fitz froze, his eyes growing wide. Simmons thought back over what she had just said and rolled her eyes. “I meant that we could use more clarification, Fitz. Honestly,” she scoffed. Fitz blushed and she couldn’t help poking a bit of fun. “Although I suppose we could maybe use a little of the other kind of explicit too,” she murmured, enjoying the way his jaw dropped in surprise until she dragged him into a deep, drugging kiss, arching towards him and reveling in the way his hands flew up to grab her hips and anchor her close. When she drew back he followed, his lips gently brushing hers in a series of achingly tender caresses.
“Well you’re right about one thing,” he murmured at last. “If what we’re doing is so uncertain that it let you think even for a second that I might want to be with someone else, then something needs to change.”
“What do you suggest?” Jemma asked, wondering whether he was truly, at long last, ready to take the plunge.
“Well… hypothetically, if we were to decide to… to be together, to be in a relationship… what would actually change?” His voice was nervous, and he wasn’t quite meeting her eyes, but he sounded determined. Simmons smiled.
“Not a whole lot, really, except that we could stop making each other guess so much what the other was thinking… and maybe we could actually start edging towards… well…`explicit’,” she suggested. Fitz blushed, but was reassured enough by her response that he finally brought his eyes up to meet her gaze.
“Well then?” was all he said, and she was amazed at how big a thing he was inviting her into with such simple words. How all of a sudden none of it seemed scary.
“I’m ready if you are,” she replied, and the brilliant shine of his grin re-assured her that those were the only words he needed.