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Spotlights and Stardust

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Daisy Johnson is an all-American girl, from a little town in the Midwest where neighbors help each other out and her mother makes jam from the berries that grow in their garden each year. She loves Steve Rogers pictures and vanilla milkshakes and she used to sew all her own clothes. She's never been kissed and she blushes at so much as the suggestion of going steady with a boy. Daisy Johnson is something that Shield Pictures made up.

The Daisy is real enough but the studio gave her the last name along with the rest of her invented biography, as they made her pose cuddling puppies and making meatloaf and perching winsomely on porch swings. And technically, she did grow up in a place where neighbors help each other out, only it was San Francisco's Chinatown and not the town that the publicity department invented. Her mother never made jam but she made the best soup dumplings Daisy has ever tasted. And Steve Rogers is just fine but she watched the last Natasha Romanoff movie three times and she'll take chocolate over vanilla any day and—she could go on and on. But the point is she's not always entirely sure where she starts and the studio ends.

The studio taught her how to walk and talk and eat a seven-course meal using all the correct utensils while not eating any of it at all and dance for take after take until her feet ache and her shoes are worn through. They gave her a new wardrobe and a new hairstyle and practically a new face. But the way she feels when she pretends to be someone else, imagining how they might think and act, letting their way of being settle onto her skin, is all hers. It has been since she was nine or ten, reading Shakespeare's plays in the back corner of the library and picturing herself as Beatrice or Juliet, sitting in the movies and mouthing the lines along with the actors up on screen, the undoubted star of every school play and pantomime. The way that she loves it so fiercely is all hers too. Sometimes she thinks that she has to love it as much as she does in order to pretend off screen as much as she does on screen.

So she practices her elocution in her tiny apartment and she dances with an imaginary partner and she hopes and plans and plots just a little. And the chance she's been waiting for comes in the middle of a perfectly ordinary Wednesday, while she's eating lunch and reading a paperback crime novel.

“Fitz and I are writing a part for you,” Jemma Simmons announces as she slides into a chair across from Daisy at the canteen, balancing a tray with a slice of pie on it that Daisy eyes enviously. (The staff here have instructions to serve her salads only and the occasional steamed chicken breast on special occasions.)

“I always said you two were the smartest screenwriters in Hollywood. Please tell me that it's a real part?” She's had a few roles that actually didn't end up on the cutting room floor, but they've all been bit parts, a few lines at most. She was Wanda Maximoff's maid once and helped her on with a fur while staring admiringly at her and she was a shopgirl who sold Pepper Potts a hat in the star's most recent picture. (The shopgirl costume was much better than the maid one.)

“Of course it's a real part! Fitz and I only write real parts,” Jemma says loftily. “No crowd of thousands nonsense.”

Leo Fitz is Jemma's writing partner. They used to be playwrights in London but they came over to Hollywood when the talkies started and all of a sudden the studios needed a lot more words on the page. They've been nominated for an Academy Award once but they haven't won yet and they're eternally bitter about it. Daisy suspects that they're in love but she can't tell if they've figured it out yet.

“A good real part?” Daisy asks. She knows that the studio isn't quite sure what to do with her yet. She's a little too old to play the kid sister but not old enough to play glamorous and there's half a dozen other fresh-faced ingenues with pretty singing voices vying for the exact same parts that she wants. What she needs is a part that's so unquestionably right for her they won't be able to imagine anyone else playing it.

“An excellent part. It's a comedy, mostly,” Jemma says. “Three friends who all come to New York hoping to make it big. There's a bit of romance, a bit of morals to keep the studio happy, a funny bit with a pet snake, lots of rapid-fire dialogue—you can talk fast, can't you? You'd be the one who wants to get on Broadway, so you'd get to sing and dance a bit too. Something heartfelt and wistful when you're at your low point, if we can get the right person to write it—Fitz and I can't write songs, although we've certainly tried--and then a big number to close out the picture.”

“I'll talk however fast you need me to,” Daisy says honestly. “You really think they'll want me for the picture?”

“I think they'd be fools not to,” Jemma says briskly. “I'll let you know as soon as we're done—we're still doing final edits on that latest Rogers-Carter picture and they want us to do the film treatment of the play we wrote for Bobbi Morse—but it ought to be soon.”

“Bobbi Morse? I thought she was...” Daisy trails off, not wanting to so much as say the words while they're within the gates of the studio. There had been an article about a year and a half ago, declaring a list of stars with recent notable flops box office poison and after a string of movies that ranged from mild disappointments to outright disasters, including one with a leopard, Bobbi Morse had been among them.

“Only temporarily. We wrote this play for her—built the whole thing around her--and it was a huge smash in New York so of course now they want to make a film of it. She bought the film rights before the play even went up because she's clever like that and every studio in town knew that if they wanted the play, she came along with it. So she sold it to Shield and got her choice of director and co-stars,” Jemma explains and makes an admiring noise before she begins to attack her pie. “Brilliant, from start to finish.”

“She'll be at Clint Barton's party Saturday night, if you want to see her up close,” Jemma adds. “You ought to go if you can manage it—just tell whoever's at the door that you know me and Fitz and they should let you in.”

Daisy Johnson has never turned down a party invitation in her life and so she goes. Clint Barton is fresh off of playing Robin Hood and his Beverly Hills mansion has crossbows mounted everywhere she looks. It's loud and sparkling and just approaching the point in the evening where elegance spills over into decadence, the drinks flowing and the guests sneaking off to bedrooms with people they're not married to. She knows that she ought to be saying witty things and sparkling as brilliantly as she possibly can, ideally within earshot of anyone with influence, but it's all a sea of diamonds and dancing girls and faces she's used to seeing up close on the big screen and she needs a moment to steel herself for it all. So she steals a flute of champagne and half a tray of deviled eggs and takes them down to a corner of the pool.

“Please say you're willing to share,” an instantly recognizable voice drawls. “I'm absolutely starving.”

And Bobbi Morse sits down right next to her.

She's beautiful on screen but in person...she's stunning and Daisy feels her heart stutter and stop a little in her chest before resuming beating twice as fast as before. Her eyes are a shade of blue that Daisy thinks the Pacific Ocean must be jealous of, her legs go on for miles and miles in perfectly tailored trousers, and her hair falls around her shoulders like a waterfall of gold. Daisy's not sure she's ever so much as thought the phrase “waterfall of gold” before.

“I'll let you have half,” Daisy says with a casualness she doesn't at all feel. “I haven't been allowed mayonnaise in six months and it's a truly transcendent experience.”

“Studio have you on a lettuce diet then?” Bobbi Morse tips her head to one side, examining, and Daisy feels a shiver run down her spine. She moves with a kind of languid grace that Daisy suspects can't be taught, no matter how much the studio instructors try. “You have the look. I see they've even given you the regulation haircut. Suits you better than most of them, though.”

“I talked the stylist into cutting it two inches shorter than the other girls. I had to stand out somehow.” Daisy shrugs.

“How do you like Hollywood, then? Is it everything you dreamed it would be when you were watching the pictures in whatever quaint small town the publicity people invented for you?”

“I don't know if I like Hollywood but I think I couldn't be anywhere else after being here,” she answers honestly. “Somehow, I love the movies more knowing what goes into making them.”

“I think we're all a little mad for loving it here,” Bobbi says. Then she grins and it's dazzling. “But I'd rather be around people who are just as mad as I am.”

“Oh, I'm completely mad. Just ask all the people in my imaginary small town when I decided to go and make my fortune in Hollywood. They'll sure be surprised when they see me up there on the big screen,” she adds in her best innocent starlet voice. “The people where I'm really from might think I'm mad too.”

“Oh, mine absolutely did. They're New England through and through and they were scandalized when I moved to New York. My mother fainted dead away when I told them I was moving to Los Angeles and had to be resurrected with a stiff drink,” Bobbi laughs, the sound low and sweet, and the sound sends a shiver down Daisy's spine. “What was the movie that did it for you, then? Convinced you that you had to make it in this town?”

“Will you laugh if I say all of them? But a little bit one of yours,” Daisy blurts out before she can think better of it. “When you were Jo in Little Women. You just—you weren't like anyone else I'd ever seen.”

“Do you want my advice? Decide who you're going to be before someone else decides it for you.” Bobbi pops another deviled egg into her mouth and winks at her, then she's up and striding across the lawn. Daisy can't help watching her go.

The next day, she buys half a dozen fan magazines and looks through them for any items about Bobbi Morse. It's dangerously close to infatuation and she finds that she can't bring herself to care.

 

She's eating lunch with Jemma in the canteen and swapping studio gossip when Bobbi appears at their table, wearing another pair of impeccably tailored trousers and ignoring the way the entire room gapes at her.

“I realized I didn't catch your name the other night,” she says.

“Daisy. Daisy Johnson. Although you could have found that out,” Daisy points out.

“I could have,” Bobbi agrees. “But I wanted to ask you in person.”

And with that, she leaves and Daisy's left staring after her until she remembers herself and wrenches her gaze back down to the wilted leaves of lettuce left on her plate. She knows she's blushing and she hates it. She almost never blushes. Prides herself on it, in fact. But something about Bobbi Morse has her at sixes and sevens, her normal composure shattered, and it's not because her face is plastered on every billboard and cinema screen from Los Angeles to Washington DC.

“I met her at that party you invited me to,” Daisy explains. “Just briefly but I—she leaves an impression.”

There are a thousand other things she wants to say and a thousand more she wants to ask Jemma about but she shoves a forkful of salad in her mouth to avoid saying anything else.

“And you like her,” Jemma says quietly as she stirs her tea, a little grin tugging at the corners of her mouth. She knows that Daisy likes girls just as much as she likes boys, partly because Jemma is uncommonly good at noticing things and partly because Daisy got horribly champagne drunk one night and cried on Jemma's shoulder about the girl who broke her heart back in San Francisco.

“I didn't want to,” Daisy grumbles. “But I do. Only a little bit.”

“Only a little bit?” Jemma teases.

“The tiniest bit,” Daisy says firmly. Then she sets her jaw and sets herself to the task of forgetting about Bobbi Morse.

If only it were so easy. Bobbi Morse is everywhere and she can't figure out if it's because Bobbi is the biggest star Shield Pictures has or because she simply can't help noticing her wherever she goes. (Maybe it's a little bit of both.) Bobbi is eating lunch in the canteen while telling jokes that make half her table burst out into uproarious laughter and are, from what Daisy can hear, so dirty they couldn't even have made it on screen before the Code. Bobbi is sitting in a canvas chair in between takes, reading a paperback book as the Southern California sun turns every line of her face golden. Bobbi is on the front pages of all the magazines and newspapers that stare out at her from every newsstand she passes and on the lips of everyone she talks to at the studio. And Bobbi is watching from the very back corner of the lot as Daisy does a screen test for the picture Jemma and Fitz finally finished writing, the one that she wants the lead in more than almost anything else.

Daisy doesn't notice that she's there until the screen test is over and Bobbi comes over to stand beside Jemma, who's bouncing a little with excitement as Fitz frantically scribbles notes all over their draft of the script. (Revisions, she suspects, are imminent.)

“Looks like a winner of a picture,” Bobbi says. She's wearing another pair of beautifully tailored trousers—Daisy read somewhere that she'll only wear a dress for a role—and she towers over almost everyone around her.

“It will be,” Jemma says confidently.

“It will be once we fix everything about the last thirty pages,” Fitz mutters.

“Are you going to be in it?” Bobbi calls and Daisy realizes that she's talking to her.

“If they like the screen test...” Daisy shrugs and tries not to look like all of her hopes and dreams are resting on a few minutes of film, which is absurd but completely true.

“Which they will,” Jemma interjects. “And if they don't, Fitz and I will browbeat them until they come to their senses.”

“She means that she'll browbeat them while I make agreeing noises in the background,” Fitz says as he crumples three entire script pages into a ball of despair.

“I thought it was good,” Bobbi says. “Your screen test. There's something about you that the camera likes.”

She smiles and then strides off. Clearly, Bobbi Morse likes having the last word. Daisy doesn't intend on letting her get away with it much longer.

 

A few days later, Daisy sees her in the canteen, nursing a cup of coffee as she flips through a script. So she goes over and takes the seat across from her like she does it every single day.

“Nowhere else to sit,” she says breezily when Bobbi arches one blond brow at her. “Well, nowhere besides across from Stephen Strange and you're much better company than him. He had some very uncomplimentary things to say about my energy the last time I came within five feet of him.”

“His accent is fake, you know. He's really from Nebraska.” Bobbi smiles wickedly, a dimple revealing itself deep in one cheek, but then her expression falls a little. “You should know that my stock isn't quite what it used to be, if you're going to ask me for a favor. Once the picture is a hit, it'll be a different story but things are still a tiny bit precarious with Fury after that damn Daily Bugle article.”

“I didn't come over here to ask for a favor. I came because I just wanted to talk to you.” Daisy takes a deep breath and tries to sound casual. “If you want to talk to me, that is.”

“Well, you're in for it now.” The smile is back now, tugging at the corners of Bobbi's mouth. “I'll talk your ear off if you'll let me.”

“There's nothing I'd like more.”

They start having lunch together every few days after that, whether it's in the canteen or off the lot at a tiny Hollywood restaurant where there's a booth permanently reserved for Bobbi. She has an endless trove of stories about anyone who's anyone in Hollywood but she's also a shockingly good listener, the kind who knows how to ask all the right questions and picks up on all the right details. And slowly, gradually, she offers up pieces of herself too and those are the best stories of all.

When Daisy gets the part, the small town girl with Broadway dreams and a pocket full of snappy lines, Bobbi runs lines with her and tells her when she doesn't get a scene right at first without hesitating. She teaches Daisy how to find her best angles under the harsh film lights too, tilting her jaw this way and that, and if her hands linger for a second longer than strictly necessary, neither of them object. They even go out to the Coconut Grove one night, where Bobbi lets Clint Barton waltz her around the dance floor and they talk entirely too amicably for a couple whose divorce was the talk of Hollywood three years ago.

“It was an arrangement,” Bobbi tells her in the car on the way home. “There's more of them in Hollywood than you think.”

Daisy doesn't entirely know what to think about that.

Her picture starts filming and so does Bobbi's and really they shouldn't have time to see each other but they do anyway. And sometimes, after everything's stopped filming for the day, they find a deserted soundstage and sit there and talk.

“Don't you have a mansion in Beverly Hills to lounge elegantly around instead of a dusty set?” Daisy teases.

“Mansions in Beverly Hills are boring. Especially when you're the only one there.” Bobbi's voice is light as air, those cut glass vowels as flawless as ever, but there's something melancholy about the lines of her face as she tips her profile up to catch the last rays of the California sun. And Daisy...Daisy wants to see her smile in all her brilliance again and hear the sound of her laugh echo off the lighting rigs and cardboard backdrops and wildly, stupidly she wants to promise that she'd follow Bobbi wherever she goes, mansion to studio backlot and back again.

“You don't have to be,” she blurts out. “If—if you didn't want to.”

“I might not.” Bobbi taps her fingers lightly against her thigh, considering, and then turns to face her full on. “So tell me then, Daisy Johnson, what do you really think of me? Not very many people in this town are bold enough to tell me the truth.”

It's more than one question, Daisy knows, and she wants so very badly to get it right.

“I think you're the most fascinating woman in Hollywood,” Daisy says and reaches out a hand to skim along the line of Bobbi's face. When she goes to drop her hand, Bobbi's comes up and keeps it there. “And that all I want is to know more about you.”

“We'll have to be careful. But we could--” Bobbi pauses, swallowing, and Daisy thinks improbably that the other woman might actually be nervous. “We could build something, the two of us. If you wanted to try.”

“I do,” Daisy whispers and she stretches up onto the tips of her toes to press her mouth to Bobbi's. She tastes sweet, like honey, and she sighs a little when Daisy first kisses her and every press of her lips sends zips of electricity racing down Daisy's spine. And she knows that almost everything in Hollywood is an invention, a creation of klieg lights and painted backdrops and a dash of stardust, but kissing Bobbi Morse is the most real thing she's felt in her entire life.