‘I’m sorry,’ Jemma said, for the eighth time.
Fitz opened his mouth to say that it was all right, that he understood that this was a rare opportunity, that he was sure they’d get another night off soon, that it was only dinner and there’d be other dinners, but another voice spoke first.
‘I should certainly think you’d be sorry. How much longer is this going to take?’
Fitz glared at their thoroughly unexpected, thoroughly unwelcome guest. ‘I’m going as fast as I can.’
‘What can I do to help?’ Jemma asked, her voice only slightly desperate.
He jerked his chin at the squat yellow alien, who was standing, arms folded, in the middle of the hangar, watching Fitz’s attempts to fix his small spaceship with beady, disapproving eyes. ‘Keep him occupied,’ Fitz muttered.
‘I don’t need anyone to keep me occupied,’ the alien said sharply. ‘I want to make sure you’re not doing anything stupid with my ship.’
‘Fitz is very good at this kind of thing,’ Jemma assured him. ‘You’re in the best possible hands.’
‘He’s already damaged the paintwork, look.’
‘Excuse me,’ Fitz snapped, ‘but I’m pretty sure you did that when you came plunging through the atmosphere at twenty-thousand miles an hour.’
‘How dare you?’ the alien exclaimed. ‘I’m an excellent pilot.’
‘No one’s saying you’re not an excellent pilot,’ Jemma said soothingly, shooting Fitz a warning look. ‘I think what Doctor Fitz is trying to do is put your fears about his abilities to rest. Why don’t you tell us a little more about your ship? It could help us to fix it faster.’
The alien narrowed his eyes. ‘No. I shan’t tell you anything. It’s a really good ship. I don’t want you copying it.’
Jemma turned back to Fitz and shrugged helplessly.
To be fair, their visitor was probably right about the copying, Fitz thought, gritting his teeth and twisting a bolt savagely with a spanner. There’d been a brief moment, just after S.H.I.E.L.D. had established that the stranded alien had very limited capacity for raining death and destruction, where he’d shared in Jemma’s assumption that this would be a valuable learning opportunity, a chance to understand more about life elsewhere in the universe.
All he’d learned so far about life elsewhere in the universe was that if it wasn’t trying to kill you then it was probably insufferable, and that just because it seemed helpful in theory for it to show up already equipped with a translator device, didn’t mean it was helpful in practice.
The alien wouldn’t tell them anything about his planet or his species or how he crashed. He’d given them his name, but Fitz was pretty sure that was only because he was reveling in the fact that it was a series of clicking and whirring sounds that no human could possibly replicate. His primary purpose there seemed to be establishing that he knew everything, though he’d presented no evidence to support this beyond a general air of superiority and derisiveness.
The alien had no weapons, but S.H.I.E.L.D. was monitoring the skies closely and searching for any similar crash landings across the globe, making sure that he wasn’t some kind of scout for, or distraction from, an actual threat. More than once that evening, Fitz had found himself half-wishing for something to turn up—just something minor, just something that justified chucking the alien in a cell for a few hours until they could fix his stupid ship and send him on his obnoxious way.
But there’d been nothing.
‘Your problem is probably that you’re used to fixing up primitive ships,’ the alien said. ‘Nothing sophisticated, like what I have.’
‘There aren’t any ships in here, so how would you know?’ Fitz demanded. The alien had refused to be separated from his craft, and as long as there was no way for him to steal any S.H.I.E.L.D. technology, Coulson couldn’t see the harm in it.
Fitz would gladly sit him down and explain the harm, if asked to do so.
‘How long have you two been together?’ the alien wanted to know.
Fitz looked up, startled.
‘Um… I’m not really sure how that’s relevant,’ Jemma replied, sounding as baffled as he felt at the abrupt change in direction.
‘Well, if it’s new and you’re still all smitten with each other, maybe you're a distraction,’ the alien suggested. ‘Maybe that’s why he's not fixing my ship quickly.’
‘Yeah, I’m sure that’s what’s distracting me,’ Fitz muttered.
‘You needn’t worry,’ Jemma said. ‘Fitz and I have worked very well together for well over ten years.’
‘Really?’ the alien asked, skeptical. ‘Actually worked? No sneaking off anywhere to—’
‘Right,’ Fitz said loudly, deciding he didn’t need to know where that sentence was going and slamming the spanner down with more force than necessary against the floor of the hangar. ‘I need a break.’
‘I don’t need a break,’ said the alien.
‘That’s because you’re not doing any work,’ he snapped.
‘I am doing work! I’m making sure you’re not—’
‘—Doing anything stupid,’ he finished. ‘Yes, you said. Well, if you’re so worried, why don’t you try fixing your own ship for a bit?’
‘I think a break is a great idea!’ Jemma said brightly.
‘He might not be planning to kill us, but I’m thinking about killing him,’ Fitz told Jemma, as soon as they’d left the alien to annoy Coulson and retreated to their quarters. He fell forward gracelessly onto the bed, feeling exhausted. Fair, since it was after midnight, but perhaps their visitor had some kind of psychic draining power.
That would be a reason to shut him out of sight somewhere, wouldn’t it?
‘You don’t mean that,’ Jemma said, closing the door behind her and coming to sit next to him on the bed.
‘Yes, I do,’ he insisted, voice muffled against his pillow.
‘I’m sorry,’ she sighed. ‘I shouldn’t have volunteered us for this.’
‘You don’t have to apologize.’
‘I just thought he’d be a bit nicer,’ she explained, ‘and I thought I’d have a chance to learn about his biology, where he comes from…’
Fitz snorted. ‘Yeah, good luck getting a blood sample out of him. Probably think you were trying to sedate him. Hey—’
‘We can’t drug someone for being annoying,’ Jemma said. ‘Anyway, as it is all the work’s fallen to you, which makes me feel even worse about ruining our evening.’
‘At least I can focus on work, rather than having to do nothing but listen to him yammering on.’
‘Well, Mack will be back in two days,’ she reminded him, rubbing her hand in soothing circles over his back. ‘That should make things easier.’
He turned his face to look at her. ‘This isn’t going to take two days,’ he said firmly.
‘You think you’re making a breakthrough?’
‘No, but no way am I going to last that long with him complaining at me. If I don’t figure it out, let’s just give him Lola and see how he does.’
She laughed, lying down next to him. ‘I think Coulson might have something to say about that.’
‘I’m not so sure,’ Fitz said. ‘Coulson’s the one having to put up with the miserable git right now.’
‘He’s probably very upset,’ Jemma reasoned. ‘It’s not fun, being stranded on a strange planet.’
He shifted so that they were lying face to face, suddenly feeling guilty, and rested his hand against her waist. ‘Yeah, I know that. Sorry if I’m being—’
She shook her head. ‘No, that wasn’t what I meant. I wasn’t even really thinking about that; I’m just… trying to think about things from his point of view.’ She sighed. ‘Though I have to admit he’s not exactly helping himself.’
‘Yeah, insulting the people who are trying to help you get home is pretty counterproductive.’
Jemma cupped his jaw, absently stroking the stubble-rough skin. ‘How can I help?’ she asked again, gently.
‘Ah…’ He closed his eyes, sighing and turning his face to press a brief kiss to her palm. ‘If he’s not actually going to tell us anything, he’d be best staying out of the way altogether. But he’s never going to go for that; he doesn’t trust us not to ruin his ship. Even though it’s already pretty ruined.’
‘Well,’ Jemma said, lowering her voice, even though there was no possible way they could be overheard (making sure their quarters were absolutely soundproofed had been high on their list of priorities, recently), ‘maybe we just don’t tell him we’re fixing it.’
‘He already knows we’re—oh.’ Fitz stopped. ‘You mean we should be underhanded and sneaky.’
‘I just think Coulson could be having a nice chat with him, that’s all,’ she said, sitting upright, eyes wide and innocent.
‘Right.’ He nodded. ‘Yep. Yes. I think that, too.’
‘So it would be rude to interrupt.’
‘Incredibly rude,’ he agreed.
‘So let’s, you know.’ Jemma inclined her head toward the door. ‘Let’s go and fix the ship, and just let him know later that we didn’t want to disturb him.’
‘I’m sure he’ll understand,’ he said.
As expected, the alien profoundly did not understand, and threatened several times to complain to the authorities until a haggard-looking Coulson told him that S.H.I.E.L.D. were, in fact, the authorities, that the ship was fixed, and that perhaps his time might be better spent travelling to a secure launch site where he could go home, since presumably there were people somewhere who were missing him.
Coulson didn’t say the last part with an awful lot of conviction, but after much muttering and glaring the alien agreed with that assessment of the situation, and Coulson went about looking for a team of hapless agents to escort their visitor to the launch site, or put a stop to any last-minute ideas he might have about attempting world domination or similar.
‘I need to speak to you two,’ he warned, pointing at Fitz and Simmons as they tried to quietly slip out of the room, but to their surprise his only comment was: ‘Good idea, letting me distract him while you two fixed the ship. Great work tonight.’
And then he headed off, presumably to collapse into bed.
‘I suppose we’d better turn in,’ Fitz said.
Jemma bit her lip, hesitant. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I could sleep. We did meet an extraterrestrial today, even if we didn’t get anything very useful out of him.’
‘Oh, right.’ He nodded, stepping closer to her, running his fingers lightly down her arm and then twining his fingers with hers. ‘I guess we could do something else, then.’
‘Yes! There’s an ice cream parlor we could easily get to that’s open all night,’ Jemma said, seemingly oblivious to the idea he’d been leaning toward. ‘It’s meant to be excellent. Why don’t we go there, have our date after all?’
Her smile was at once eager and apprehensive, and he wondered whether to promise her again that she really, really didn’t ruin his night.
He still got to spend it with her, didn’t he?
‘Is their strawberry any good?’ he asked.
Any nervousness in her expression vanished. ‘I don’t know,’ she said.
He squeezed her hand. ‘Then let’s go find out.’