The Panther and the PI

March 12, 2017:

T'challa hires Jessica Jones to pursue a certain shapeshifting cat.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, NY

Never enter the normal way.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Tony Stark, Juno Hart, Grymalkin

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

There were no outward signs that he was waiting.

Were it a normal visit, there would be a limousine parked outside, and armed guards lining the halls. The protocol for a head of state of even a warrior nation such as Wakanda would inform nothing less. Certainly, his security, to say nothing of the Milaje, would prefer it. But there are entirely different respects to pay tonight.

Either by the coincidence of the time or for the expenditure of due patience, it is evening, and the room is barely lit by the lights of the city outside. Even so, he shows no outward disorientation.

He bears not the vestments of his nation's highest warrior, but the dressed down earth tones of his civil preference, all long sleeves and crisp pressed attire, punctuated only sparsely by the trinkets and baubles itinerant to and emblematic of his own royal station. The Wakandan king stands at the window, his hands folded neatly behind his back. He looks out, with the air of time's passage, if not timeliness itself.

He has been here long enough to know every quality of the scent of the person at whose pleasure he waits.

But T'Challa is a man of restraint, and though the door is now unlocked where it wasn't left that way before, he bears not even the faintest hint of self-invitation. He has been here for quite some time, but not a single item in the office has been moved. He carries neither the misinclinations of a rogue nor the puerile egotism of a would-be invader. Only task weights the young man. Task, and nothing more.

—-

Jessica Jones' scent is a thing of leather and vanilla, and of course of whatever pheromone strains make up the woman beneath those things. But these are what predominate. Leather, vanilla, and touches of rich, deep coffee. The apartment itself, if his nose is that good, bears the strains of whiskey and tequila and cigarette smoke, but these traces are faint and old, though at one point they were all flowing freely enough for their smell to soak into the wood of the floor.

As for Jessica's reaction to his presence? Well…the Private Investigator has gotten used to walking in from a night of work to find strange people in her apartment. These days she often just leaves the door open for clients to make themselves at home. Many of the people living here prefer the window for entry, too.

This time she hadn't, because she'd expected to be gone for several days, or even longer. But…he's also not the first person to simply disable her locks and walk in, nor will he probably be the last. She's come to accept that's just the way it goes these days. It doesn't even phase her.

As it stands, every tool of her working life now fits comfortably into her pockets; the apartment is basically free of valuables at all, and the three living there (for there are two more scents to be found here— Jessica's is easy to pick out because she's the only one who ever sits in the big chair behind the desk) are basically their own security system.

Because she sees him the moment she walks in the door, there is no startlement or upset. Had he snuck up on her? That would have been another matter.

She steps in with heavy boots, clad in jeans, a grey t-shirt, her leather jacket, new boots. A diamond-shaped gunmetal grey necklace swings from her neck, her dark hair brushes her shoulders. He is stately, and well dressed, royal. She is the gritty streets of New York City personified, though all of her clothing is both new and clean.

She takes in details of the man at her window in the blink of an eye, then closes the door behind her. Her tone is professional, polite, contained, if demonstrably tired. "Welcome to Alias Investigations," she says. "How can we help?"

—-

There is a tapestry of scent in the room, one he has spent much time reading.

Truthfully, against the backdrop of aroma in the storied room, T'Challa may as well not smell of anything at all. His scent is comparitively milder; and even though the city has done its level best to imprint upon him the threaded tale of grime and broken glass, his clothes and body still carry the scent of the grasses of the veldt.

Though the Wakandan king may have gained entry absent permission to the investigator's offices, it's clear it is not his intention to annoy, ambush or harass Jones. A form of respect, wordless and alien, but everpresent.

"In my native country," T'Challa begins, quietly, "there is space enough for every person, land enough for every mouth. There is much that we do to assure that the people are not cramped, that they are not poor, and that they do not have to steal for every want."

Without turning, he blinks slowly, the lights from the window shining off of his dark skin.
"This land… is different," he remarks.

Minding the exact fall of his cuffs, worrying the cut of those sleeves with the lightest adjustment, T'Challa turns towards the winding scent of the woman returned, a fixed and stately demeanor cutting across him. "I fear it may be an insult to your intelligence, Miss Jones, to ask you if you are familiar with who I am. I apologize, as my intelligence services have told me that your office is one with the highest specializations and success rates in the city."

He holds himself to a standard, as he does not shift, nor does he succumb to the urge to put his hands in his pockets. The only favor T'Challa submits to is the touch of the dark metal of the ring on his hand, the gesture as absent of thought as the rest of his actions are thoughtful. An instinct, born in the blood. "With that recognition, I come to you with need of your service. Or rather, that I've been made aware of a troubling thing which may be beyond our discretions."

His eyes narrow. Noticeable, because he has no trouble holding someone's gaze when needed.
"It is… a perplexing dilemma."

—-

She meets his gaze without flinching.

In all actuality, until he says that she should recognize him, it takes her a moment to recognize the King of Wakanda. Not because she hasn't watched enough of the news to know, but because he's out of place in this setting. Tony Stark walking into her office had caused her to walk back out again, then return in case she was hallucinating. But…he's got too much dignity to provoke that response, or perhaps she's getting used to the idea that Alias is getting a bit more attention these days than her old dirty picture fare was managing to bring forth in the past.

She looks closely at him, though, just to make sure she's not looking at an actor, a lookalike, an impostor.

She's apparently satisfied with whatever she sees.

His intelligence services rate her success rates…she hadn't really thought about them before. They're nowhere on her marketing; she never tells clients about them. But she realizes, abruptly, that yeah…for the most part…she sure does close her cases, even though she hadn't really thought she was up to the level of royalty hiring her yet.

He tells her about his country, she listens, at first openly confused by his first words. Then she realizes he's talking about the fact that she's got three people crowded into a one bedroom. She chooses not to address it. They get by, there are worse things.

"There's no need to apologize, Your Majesty," is what she says at last. Is that right? Your Majesty? She looks a little uncertain for a moment, but then shakes it off. Okay. There's a King in her office. At the end of the day…there's little to do but to treat his case like any other case. He didn't come here expecting a diplomat. She hopes. If he did, this is gonna get real interesting real fast.

She crosses to her desk, but does not sit down; she merely digs out a legal pad. "Would you care for some coffee? And please, feel free to make yourself at home." She gestures to the seats. "My hospitality is humble, but my welcome is warm."

Intelligence services may have also said she was a foul-mouthed, stompy, prickly person who was hard to get along with, but the truth is nobody survives as a private investigator if they don't learn how to modify their approach for the people they are dealing with; she's perfectly capable of finding some etiquette when the situation calls for it. "Either way, I'm ready to listen and hope I can help. I just need to take some notes."

She drags her chair off of the power side of the desk, opting to place it beside it instead, not quite feeling audacious enough to perhaps offend the King by choosing inauspicious positioning. She sets down the pad, but politely stands until the King either decides to sit, accept coffee, or start talking. If he starts talking? She'll have to sit; she won't be able to write good notes while standing upright.

—-

T'Challa gives the impression of a man who is not accustomed to missing small details; something betraying, even something as menial as a hint of trepidation in meeting with the sharp edge of his even stare would have been noticed. It should not be an unfamiliar sensation to a seasoned professional. He takes her measure the same as he might any other. It only comes as a discomfort that his eye seems so much like a great cat's vague interest in the dark. The feeling is tempered only by great restraint, and the wisdom of the panthers from which the sensation derives. He takes measure in a handful of time, and she stands without balking against it.

The investigator's level of composure goes over well with the panther-like king.

Likely, there have been several attempts to impersonate T'Challa in his native land, shortly after the death of his father, perhaps even before as a youth. They will try anything, but they were never quite …. perfect. That was the damning mistake that sent several men home to their countries of origin in more pieces than when they came. The weight that he carries with him is seldom a thing that can be replicated. Even his pleasure is a thing wane, diluted by circumstance and necessity.

"I will need none of either, though it pleases me to entertain the thought," he notes, though it is not entirely clear if he is talking about the proffered coffee and seat, or her hospitality and welcome. T'Challa speaks easily now, and though he turns her down, he does not have the contritions of a man given to lying out of politeness. He is perfectly comfortable on his feet. The throne is seat enough, and Wakanda's royals are not given to rest on their laurels overmuch.

Irrespective of that, he seems not to mind Jessica's choice of seats, his eyes settling on her chair for only moments when she elects to move it. He stalks—as a matter of course, as an instinctive movement, away from the desk entirely. Perhaps it is a conscious choice, allowing her the space and room to consider her own self in time. Perhaps it is merely because he is more accustomed to the dark than the light. He says nothing more of it.

"I've come to you today because there was a break-in at my delegation's hotel a few days ago," T'Challa explains, taking no further preamble. "The girl who broke in was too young for the blood on her hands. Even so, she seemed a fitful thing, speaking of cats taking the form of men, of taking liberties that are not theirs. I am unsure what of her ravings were real and what were fiction. But due to what was done to her, these are not allegations I can overlook."

He pauses a moment, long enough to string a thought along in his mind. "I can only ask this of someone such as you. If I were to look into the matter personally, or if I were to send one of my own… if I were not handled well by what I find, my hand would be forced. In a situation that I do not fully understand, that may become troublesome. As I said, this land is different."

With his explanation, Jessica may slowly come to the realization that he may not have been fully referring to the three kept in her apartment with his earlier comments. Layers upon layers, the panther thinks in.

—-

Jessica Jones sits, and she writes. She lets the window provide her light, positinoning the legal pad right in a convenient square of it, seeming content to let him prowl in the darker shadows of her place, of which there are plenty when the lights remain off.

She seems to appreciate the space. It's subtle, the shifts that betray it, but when he moves away from her there are parts of her that relax, that are more able to focus on what he's saying to her. It's nothing conscious. It's nothing chosen. But it's there. His catlike energy doesn't bother her— that much is clear. She just likes her space, is leery about people in hers.

He speaks very poetically, but she jots down the facts within the eloquent speech patterns. It's clear tiny girl assassins and shapeshifting cats don't phase her though. What does narrow her eyes, and make her angry, is the notion of someone taking liberties with a young woman. That raises her hackles in a way that shows in the firming of her jaw.

She offers assurances first, her own speech patterns bold and straightforward. "Don't worry. I understand cases where the personal involvement of important people would be disastrous." Case. A case. The Tony Stark case. But…well, maybe that's becoming her specialty, and either way it doesn't really matter. He already said he knows all about her agency's track record; if it's a matter of public record, he knows about them. Quite a few are, thanks to the court cases attached to them. If he were uneasy about her qualifications, he wouldn't be here. Personally, in fact, instead of sending some aide or member of his guard.

"What did she say exactly?" she asks, laying down the first of her questions. But there are more to follow. "How do you know there is blood on her hands? Did she kill someone, breaking into your hotel?"

"And…are you asking me to find the young lady or to find the shapeshifter who accosted her? What's the endgame here, Your Majesty? If your hand were forced, what would you have to do?"

She's swimming in International waters all of a sudden, she, who has never left the Tri-State area. She becomes keenly aware of it as she jots down thoughts, ideas, questions, not just the facts he's given her. She thinks rapid-fire, she writes equally rapidly. Questions about the 'why' of the case are surely as important as the what, at this point.

—-

The young Wakandan king isn't looking directly at her, not anymore, all arms folded and in the dark. For someone who holds eyes as easily as T'Challa, it can't be pure coincidence. But then again, he doesn't actually need to see her to hold meter to her. He can hear her heartbeat, and scent the difference between the graphite of a pencil and the ink flowing from her ballpoint. Most importantly, he can hear her jaw tighten as he touches on the liberties that may have been taken with the young rogue.

"She killed no one in my hotel and no one amongst my delegation. I would not be here, otherwise," T'Challa explains, his tone reflecting a matter of fact. "But even you know that blood is the easiest scent of all for a person to detect. For someone that young, the scent of blood was too strong and too old. In my culture, warriors were cut from very young cloth. But at our borders, the cloth was much younger. You must understand, Miss Jones, that it is no great thing for a panther to tell when a child has been ill used. The scent and the look in their eyes is unmistakable."

"Even more so, than to determine the number of weeks it has been since a bottle has been opened here," the young man points out, as if anticipating the need for proof. He raises a hand, absently running a thumb across his jaw.
"…and how many times it had been opened prior."

Letting the idea soak into the desk that he consciously allows between them, T'Challa speaks no more of the idea. Whether it be from his sense of smell or his intelligence services, he seems no more interested in further explaining what else he might know. "I want you to find the shapeshifter," he asks plainly. "And put an end to his endeavors. I do not know what he has done to the child, but it is clearly enough to have set her to trying to kill cats in the dark. She said that he transformed in her lap. If it is merely benign, then it is a mere mischief to which Wakandan punishment will not apply. But perhaps he is something more."

"In either case, ours is a warrior culture," T'Challa explains, answering the last of Jessica's questions. "If I find him first, then our country's justice demands that I take his arms for the panther god."
He seems content to leave it at that.

—-

"Four weeks. Or so." Jessica says dryly, losing the more polished edge as he touches on her alcoholism, brings it right up as he explains his abilities to her. That's a very personal detail; it brings out more of her true self; suddenly he's just a person, for all his rank, and just like that she's decided to treat him as such. Not impolitely: there's nothing hostile about her tone, but with raw, casual honesty. Her heartbeat has been more or less steady the whole time, focused; it only dips and drops once as he goes there before picking up and returning to its previous state.

"And a whole frickin' lot. But if you gave a damn about the scent profile of the Wild Turkey in the apartment, you wouldn't have continued to stand here long enough for me to come home and find you."

Depending on how much his Intelligence service dug into her, well…she's been going to AA. She's doing what she can do about the booze problem. But…she also closed a great many cases as a raging alcoholic…drunk or sober, her casework is impeccable.

As for all he's telling her now, she hadn't entirely understood all he could do…she'd heard of some mystic panther sort of whatnot involving the royalty of his family in her reading and Internet surfing, but now she files these details away. He can smell blood on a person's hands; he can smell booze in her apartment.

But she seems satisfied with his answer about what he wants, and the endgame. "I'm not sure you going all Chewbacca on this asshole is a bad thing, but…alright. Case accepted. I'll find him, and find out what his deal is. Don't suppose you know where this girl is now, or what her name is? I'd like to talk to her; that's going to be the first step. If you don't, that's fine, I think I know how I might be able to find her if so. Any security footage from the break-in will help a great deal too."

She taps her pen on the legal pad a few times, thinking. "Obviously you're aware this might take some time…if Dude can be a cat, well…there are a metric fuckton of cats in the Tri-State area. If we've lucked out, she hasn't washed the clothes she wore when he did it yet. I've got some resources not everyone has, some people I can call in, but if you're hoping I'll get it done in two or three days I'm afraid I'm going to have to reset your expectations just a bit."

She digs out a standard contract, trying to estimate the number of hours required for the deposit. The contract lists the rates; $200 an hour. She takes a moment trying to estimate how much time finding a shapeshifter cat will take in real hours worked; she comes up with a rather arbitrary number because she truly has no fricking clue. It could be a case of a few days, with help from her friends, or it could be a case of a few weeks. But…some ideas are starting to form; she doesn't think it will take as long as Stark's corporate espionage and murder case, at least.

"I'll need a $1000 deposit and for you to approve the paperwork right here." She puts a little x where he'll need to sign and puts the pen down next to that.

Anger at this 'cat's' behavior notwithstanding, she is running a business, and while she's been known to do pro bono work for good causes she usually saves the pro bono part for those who truly can't afford it. T'challa can, so she asks for the check without a hint of shame. Doing that pays for the people who are truly destitute.

—-

She riles slightly at his observation. There is no anger in her voice, none that he could hear. But this was the Jessica Jones that his intelligence services had told him about, the one that speaks easily and acts even moreso. For some reason, the king seems satisfied.

Sometimes it is necessary to see the blood before the gravity of the wound is realized.

He turns towards Jessica, appearing no different as he had before. His movements, should she pay any closer attention than she had before, are of notice. They seem too fluid, as if he moves impossibly, shifting nigh-bonelessly in the dark. Too much like the great predators of his country's worship. This time, the edge of his gaze now settles with the same weight on the desk, and the contracts being taken out of it. His interest is mild, like rain on the savannah as she mentions time and money.

If he smiles, if he notices her references to Chewbacca, it is impossibly slight.

"Don't misunderstand, Miss Jones," T'Challa points out, as he approaches the desk, introducing a billfold from his pocket, thick with several different colors of crisp currency. The money does not seem like it has been in his pockets for very long. Two or three different colors are sorted out between his small and ring fingers, before green is counted out into his other hand. He continues to count off bills for a long time, long enough for the silence to become awkward, and for T'Challa to recognize it, and continue his thought. "But even by its own code, I am not bound by your nation's contracts and written agreements. It is not my preference to deal in these matters in so plain a form. We have our own ways. Despite what this culture may have instilled in you, it is no crime to struggle with grave matters. You have done honorable work, which is why I chose you. For the moment, you have the trust of my country and everyone loyal to it at your back."

He sets a stack of crisp new bills on the desk, next to the unused pen.
As if he knows why she asks, it is more than the asked for amount.

"Nevertheless, it is important to me that this matter be concluded as swiftly, as quietly, and as thuroughly as possible," the panther king points out. Instead of answering her further line of questioning, he completes his thought. "If you need any further details, or any further funding, I will make my delegation available to you at the hotel. I trust you to assure that justice is done," the panther notes plainly. It's notable that he doesn't ask any more than one last open thought, absently asked while sorting away cash.

"Is there anything else we can provide to assist you?"

—-

The trust of a King. The trust of an entire country.

There is a moment where Jessica just gets an odd expression on her face. Sometimes, this woman doesn't even trust herself. When she looks in the mirror, she doesn't see honor, she sees a real fuck-up. And yet…here's someone else, trusting her with things that matter. It makes her want to live up to it, at least, makes her see some version of herself that can live up to such things; it's touching to her. It may not be particularly politic to let that show, but given shifts in scents and heartbeat she can't exactly hide it from him either.

All she says, though is, "Thanks. For your trust. Contract's not a big deal. Just habit. I can do business with a handshake too."

She watches money just appear on her desk and says, "Especially when you handle the handshake that way." She estimates that amount…maybe a lot more than the contract would be worth, in total, before she's all done with it, but…she still has no idea, and it could all turn into a shit storm of dead ends too.

Money, it should be noted, is not a particular motivator for her. The way she looks at is the way someone might look at a tool; there's no greed there. At the same time, she has a practical, realistic attitude towards it, starting with its ability to pay her rent, feed her wards, and maybe grow Alias into the thing she wants it to become.

"No. I'll stop by your hotel tomorrow, speak to your delegation, see what I can see." She writes two names on her legal pad, and pushes it aside; those two names are key to her case. "If you want me to update them, I'll update them. You want me to update you, give me some way to do that that doesn't route me through a million miles of switchboards, please. I won't call your number on a whim, I respect your time."

—-

There is the sense that T'Challa pays no mind to the amount just spent, and that certainly, more can be made available on request, and the only reason that it is not made immediately so is from some honor, or sense of respect for Jessica's business. Certainly though it may be small, the list of her resources is long enough that he surmises that she could easily have more, if she wanted it.

The fact that she doesn't speaks leagues.

Still, that much has driven the panther to select her of all of her country to represent its justices. His trust is not unconditional, judging by the way that he looks at her, rolling the idea in his mind. There is a grave importance in what he does. "A handshake is a symbol of trust established between two parties," T'Challa agrees, still mercifully mild in thought. "But what symbol is there for trust between a woman and her nation?" he asks, rhetorically. In this, there is something meaningful. Something that does not involve the nation of panthers and warriors, or the king thrust as head of it all.

"My country will be watching you closely, Miss Jones," T'Challa continues, drawing a small, translucent amber card from his hip pocket. "I expect that you will perform as admirably as you always have."

Holding the translucent card over the investigator, T'Challa is silent a moment as a reticule materializes across its surface, brackets highlighting, if she's a good judge of angles, Jessica's jacket pocket. The white brackets turn red, and a hostile-looking alert crops up, with a choice outlined. T'Challa frowns, tapping in the negative. It is the most outward emotion he has actually shown since entering. "My delegation will provide a contact for you," he explains, while starting up something that scrolls very quickly, in a black box. It is hard to read from behind, and the language is foreign besides. "Please keep them apprised of all of your needs and updates, I trust them implicitly."

He selects something else on the screen.
"But if my attention is required, connect to the civilian networks on your mobile device, and dial '9.'"
That may be direct enough.

Ultimately, for whatever reason, T'Challa doesn't specify which civilian network to connect to before pocketing the card. It's definitely not a mobile phone. It's debatable that the young panther even owns one. Turning away from Jones, T'Challa opens a hand in farewell gesture, taking great care thereafter to smooth out his shirt. "Your results are appreciated, Jessica Jones," he says, in his particular way, "… I am eager to hear of your future exploits."

With that and barring further questions worth answering, the young Wakandan king takes his leave. No fanfare, no attendants. No anthem piped through the building or from the rooftops. The king just opens the door behind him and steps out, taking great care to lock the lower latch before he shuts it behind him.

He is gone entirely too quickly.

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