“You know, I really thought I’d make it to heaven,” Fitz admits woefully, one arm thrown dramatically over the couch in their Academy dorm where he and Jemma are both currently flopped like a pair of sad seals. “But here we are in Hades anyway.”
“What d’you think we did to deserve it?” Jemma wonders out loud. “We’re clearly being punished for something.”
Fitz stops to think about it. “We did piss off Professor March last week,” he offered.
“An amateuer mistake,” Jemma nods. A wave of semi-cool air hits her face from the cracked window in the corner and she groans in relief. “What time is it anyway?”
“Nearly midnight. The news report said they’d try to have the power back up by six so the air conditioning should be back by then. But there’s no guarantees.”
“Oh god. I don’t think I can last that long,” Jemma says mournfully.
“Yeah, there’s no way I’m gonna be able to sleep.” Fitz taps the side of the couch thoughtfully. “Right, that’s enough of this,” he says suddenly, jumping up.
“Enough of what?”
“Feeling sorry for ourselves! We are going to do what we can to cool down and then we’re going to watch a movie and sleep. Deal?”
“Deal,” Jemma agrees. “Well, the first thing to go has got to be that shirt,” she says, and Fitz’s stomach drops.
“I- uh-” he stammers, and Jemma cuts him off with an eye roll.
“Oh, go on, Fitz, I won’t mind. It’s long sleeves and you’ve got it buttoned up to the collar, that can’t be comfortable.” Jemma takes a step forward. “Here,” she says, and she starts undoing the buttons.
He’s hallucinating from the heat, Fitz decides, because that’s the only possible explanation for why Jemma would be taking off his shirt like this. “I got it,” he says, mentally slapping himself as soon as the words come out. He’s absolutely sabotaging himself here, but it just doesn’t feel right to let Jemma do all this without knowing how he feels.
“We’re a bit unmatched,” he says, not caring how it sounds as he crosses his arms over his chest. He feels a bit silly standing in their living room without a shirt.
“Right,” Jemma agrees absentmindedly, and she twists off her shirt in one fluid motion. Fitz gapes. She’s wearing a yellow camisole underneath, but the thin fabric and tiny spaghetti straps are still a far cry from the lab coats and cardigans he’s grown used to seeing her in. Get a hold of yourself, he tells himself, trying to shake off the things that seeing his best friend dressed like that brings to mind.
“Happy now?” he asks with an eyebrow raised, and she smiles.
“Very. Do you know what I’m craving right now?” Jemma says, changing the subject a little too quickly. “Popsicles.”
Fitz frowns. “When was the last time we bought those?”
“Bought? For shame, Fitz! We make them!” Jemma said like it was the most evident thing in the world.
“We do? Since when?” he protests. He is feeling very out of control all of a sudden.
“Since now,” she says and then she’s dragging him off to the kitchen. “Tell me what fruit you can find,” she instructs, rummaging through the cupboard for honey.
Fitz scours the kitchen, but he can’t seem to find much besides half a box of strawberries and a few sad bananas. “It’ll have to do,” Jemma sighs, and sets him off to work blending the fruit. She finds the wooden skewers and the cups to freeze them in and tells him what ingredients to mix in and it’s like she’s done it a hundred times. Maybe she has. Fitz is learning a lot of new things about her tonight.
The popsicles take an agonizing two hours to freeze, and Fitz spends them watching a penguin documentary with Jemma. He’s supposed to be watching the documentary, anyway, but he mostly just ends up watching Jemma. She’s rapt with attention, screwing her face up into the oddest expressions and actually cooing when she learns that penguins spend their lives in monogamous relationships that begin by proposing with a pebble.
There are also… other… reasons why Fitz finds himself especially distracted tonight. Jemma’s always been a cuddly Netflix partner, but it’s far too sticky and warm in the room to justify the arm that keeps finding its way back to his thigh, tracing tiny circles that are driving him mad. One of her straps slipped twenty minutes ago, and he doesn’t know how to tell her, so he just lets her lean against him with the bare shoulder. He doesn’t think he’s ever felt this much of her skin before. It feels important, like maybe Jemma isn’t only cuddly because she’s cold all the time and maybe, just maybe, she likes the way it feels to be curled against him too. It’s nearly three in the morning, but Fitz has never felt this wide awake. I should tell her, he thinks, not for the first time. But then the timer goes off for the popsicles and he’s being dragged to the kitchen again for a new type of torture.
It should be illegal, the way Jemma eats that goddamn popsicle. She can’t just bite it properly or even suck straight down. No, she has to lick stripes down its length, pausing every few seconds to swallow around it. And yes, Fitz can admit that the icy fruit feels heavenly in the oppressive heat, but surely it doesn’t justify the way Jemma actually moans around it. He eats his own popsicle as quickly as he can so he doesn’t have to risk choking on it due to the stream of obscene noises currently coming out of his best friend’s mouth.
“Are you finished already?” Jemma says. “I guess some boys really can’t last.”
“Jemma,” he sputters, and she laughs.
“Sorry,” she says, but Fitz isn’t convinced. She’s been acting weird all night. Must be the heat getting to her. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she was making a move on him. Unfortunately, he does know better. Jemma’s said so many times how happy she is to be single again and anyway, he’s the furthest thing from her type. Her string of ex-boyfriends is made up entirely of tall, broad guys that could crack a cantaloupe between their biceps. Fitz can do the math. So he keeps his mouth shut.
“Twenty questions,” Jemma announces suddenly. “You first.”
And Fitz has to grin because here, at last, is familiar territory. It’s the game they play to narrow the field when one of them babbles for too long, or to pull each other out of their heads when they’ve been in the lab for nine hours straight and forgotten what human interaction is like. “Ready,” he says. “Plant, animal, or mineral?”
“Plant?” she guesses. He shakes his head.
“Animal, then,” she says, and of course she’s right. Fitz never does minerals. It’s just not as much fun when the answer is salt, he thinks.
“Are they human?” she asks. Negative.
“A mammal?” Affirmative.
“A primate?” Affirmative.
“Oh, Fitz, have you gone for the monkeys again?” she laughs.
Fitz holds a hand to his chest in mock hurt. “What d’you mean, again? Last time it was orangutans and that is entirely different,” he defends.
“Of course it is,” Jemma says, patting his hand to pacify him. She doesn’t pull it away. Huh. “My turn, when you’re ready.”
Fitz tries not to focus too much on the way she’s woven her fingers between his. “Um, mineral,” he guesses, because Jemma likes to play devil’s advocate and test his memory of the periodic table. But it’s negative.
“Plant? Animal? Right. Are they human?” he asks, using up three of his guesses rapidfire. He’s surprised when she nods yes to the last two. He can’t remember the last time Jemma chose a human. Maybe she’s tired of being predictable.
“Okay, are they famous?” he asks, and she laughs a little too hard in response. “I’ll take that as a no. Is it a guy?” he asks, and she nods again. “Do I know him?”
“Rather well,” Jemma says.
“Do I like him, then?” he asks.
“I should hope so,” she says, and he cocks his head at her suspiciously.
“Do you like him?” he asks before he can think about it. Affirmative. Shit. Fitz knows he’s down by nearly half his questions, but he’s stopped caring about the game. “Do you like him? Does he know? Does he feel the same? Is he cute? Is he a decent guy because honestly, Jemma, we really don’t need a repeat of the last one you had over here-” he’s babbling and Jemma finally takes her hand off of his, but only to smack his arm.
“Fitz,” she complains. “One at a time.”
“Just tell me the answer,” he says slumping in his chair, suddenly miserable. Jemma likes someone. It’s a cruel end to the fantasies he’s been letting himself indulge all night. He's not sure he’s ready to watch her with someone else again.
“Fitz,” she says softer, and it’s like she knows exactly what he’s thinking and wants to let him down easily. She’s too damn nice for her own good. “Fitz,” she repeats, but he still can’t bring himself to meet her eyes.
“Fitz, look at me.” Jemma shifts into the authoritative professor voice she’s been developing and it works for whatever reason, because his head snaps up and they’re making eye contact. When did her face get so close? “To answer your questions, yes I like him and no, he doesn’t know, actually, because he’s a great blubbering idiot and can’t realize that a girl likes him even when she tears a shirt off his back.”
Oh. Oh. “Wait, you mean-” he says, but he’s afraid to finish the sentence.
“Now you’re getting it,” Jemma laughs, and then she’s closing the last of the distance between them. His brain officially short circuits.
Kissing Jemma is like snapping the last piece of a puzzle into place and standing back to see that there’s this beautiful picture that’s been there the whole time, just out of reach. Kissing Jemma is like running into someone you haven’t seen in years, only to find that they’ve grown up while you were gone and they’ve changed as much as you have. It’s familiar and new and mind numbing all at once.
She pulls back, and Fitz hopes that she credits the lack of air conditioning for the shocking shade of red that he’s sure he’s gone by now. “Does that answer your question?” she smirks.
“I think I got some of it, but maybe you should try again just to be sure,” he suggests. Fitz tries not to be disappointed when she just laughs at him in response.
“So…” she says. It’s his turn, it seems.
“So,” Fitz says. There’s an awkward pause where he figures that he really has nothing left to lose and then he says it. “So I like you, Jemma. Have for years, really? And… if you’re interested, and it’s totally fine if you’re not but it’s just that the events of the last few hours have seemed like maybe you are and if you are then that’s great! But if you don’t want to then I mean-” He’s rambling, he realizes, and he makes himself stop and think. He wants to say this right.
“If I’m interested?” Jemma prompts gently.
“Right.” Fitz takes a breath. “If… you’re interested… I’d like to take you on a date. Several, if possible? I don’t know what to call it, how you want me to label it, but I know that ever since you walked into my life you’ve made it such a brighter place. And it would be a privilege, Jemma Simmons, to love you however you’ll let me.”
“Fitz,” she whispers, and it’s enough. “Oh, took you long enough,” she says, and this time he’s the one that kisses her. He half expects for the novelty to have worn off, for the way his heart and lungs and stomach all protested last time to have been a fluke of introducing an unknown to the equation, but it’s just as wonderful the second time. She likes me, he thinks, and it’s a revelation. And I love her.
It’s only the sound of the vents above them finally sputtering back to life that breaks them apart. “Oh, thank heavens!” Jemma cries and she runs to stand underneath the cool air suddenly blasting above them.
“Hallelujah,” Fitz agrees. It’s a miracle, in more ways than one.
They wait for the house to cool down a bit more before their eyes are slipping shut despite themselves and they are reluctantly forced to call it a night. Fitz stops her at the door to her bedroom and kisses her because he can now. He’s half afraid that he’ll wake up and find it was all a fever dream, but Jemma just smiles and tells him goodnight.
“To be continued?” he asks, a second before she shuts the door.
“To be continued,” she says, and it sounds like a promise.