Columbia Girls

June 04, 2017:

Rusalka Stojespal seeks advice from another powered person, Jessica Jones, and in the process gains a potential friend.

Alias Investigations

Other than the glass paned door with the words "Alias Investigations" inscribed in them in gold, it would be difficult to distinguish this business from any one of the low-rent apartments that surround it. Upon opening the door one will find a fairly nice office area though, with built-in shelving, hardwood floors, freshly painted grey walls, and pretty decorative half lights set directly into the walls. A decent desk and three-chair set is there to greet customers.

It's not impossible to see into the living spaces—a tiny kitchen with a two person chair and table set, featuring a red coffee pot, a living area with a soft blue couch with white throw pillows and a white afghan, and presumably a bedroom and bathroom somewhere beyond that. But they don't seem to interfere with the business portion of the business too terribly much.

Characters

NPCs:

Mentions: Sloane Albright, Kamala Khan, Tony Stark, Bucky Barnes, Trish Walker, Matt Murdock, John Constantine

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

It's a dreary day at Alias Investigations.

Outside, thunder rumbles and rain pounds away at filthy city streets. It's still hot, still requires the use of the old rattling window unit at the back of the apartment in order to make it tolerable for most people inside. The shades are drawn, the lights are off, and all told this means that even though it is daytime, it's shadowed inside. Not dark as pitch, but dark.

The place smells like chain-drunk coffee. The front room has a few oddities in it. A pushpin map on the wall with a post-it note reading 'Bullshit Nasty Magical Events.' A bunch of financial documents spread about the desk…someone filed an extension, and someone is still having trouble filing her taxes. Someone probably needs to hire an accountant. On the coffee table, a used car magazine, carelessly tossed down beside a half-full coffee cup.

On the couch, a private investigator in black sweat pants and a black tank top, soft, pj-fabric type stuff. A pillow under her head, a ratty old quilt on her body. But she's not asleep, for all that she's got her arm over her eyes. The Stark Phone beside her is patiently projecting holograms she's not even looking at. A tiny drone— Stark make for sure— amuses itself by spinning in and out of the holograms.

The walls are thin. As one approaches the door to the place (unlocked despite the fact that the PI hasn't rolled out of bed yet) one might hear this exchange.

"Well, check PR Web. Let's see if any tech firms meeting our parameters have taken venture capital money lately."

A voice that sounds like JARVIS, but is subtley different. Still male, still gently British, but a bit more stilted…some cross between a JARVIS and a Siri, the standard assistant on these types of phones. One can change the name or the personality, but Jessica never got around to it, never figured out what she might like better. "I'm sorry, Ms. Jones, but I'm not finding anything."

"That's fine. Set up an alert in case something comes across the transom."

She'd gotten the address from JARVIS, actually. Jessica Jones, private investigator, and part-time rescuer of Sokovian heiresses. Perhaps it was a strange thing to be rescued from, but it wasn't as if one Rusalka Stojespal was considering the possibility at the time. It isn't every day that a nanofoam structure is growing around your shoes after all; it was her first super-science accident.

She'll get used to it.

Still, the girl owes a debt of honor, and realized something relatively obvious in Jessica. Something that makes her wonder…so she'd decided to have a talk. A serious talk. The rain comes down, alternately in sheets and gaps, filling Sally's drive with the white noise of it hitting the roof. It's a comforting sound, one she's glad for. It soothes nerves as she pulls the white and black sportscar into a parking space in what looks like a run-down part of town.

Sally steps out, glancing around quickly before darting for the door - her umbrella's at home; the weather report hadn't planned on more than a light drizzle. At least she's got the racing jacket on, the soft treated leather keeping her dry. Once inside she sheds it; it may be that Jessica's air conditioning is working but it's still quite humid. A black and white sleeveless polo shirt over high-ankle designer blue jeans and low white socks makes up her outfit, the black t-strap flats that make her favorite driving shoes present as well.

A gentle knock at the door, wondering if she's got the right office - this seems curiously run down for someone who walks in Starkian circles, and she starts to wonder if the investigator behind the door is currently searching for the statue of a bird or something. She should probably warn him if he is…but instead she just hears the sound of voices, unintelligible but definitely present. Hrm…perhaps Ms. Jones is with someone. If so, the Sokovian can wait.

The glass on the door, at least, says 'Alias Investigations'…it's the only door with a frosted glass insert and gold lettering. Granted.

It's also in a rathole of a building, so she can be forgiven for wondering.

"Door's open," Jessica calls. She grimaces. And takes a deep breath. "Shut it down, Jarvis."

This could be a client. She should at least sit up.

The problem is, she's been lying down awake and trying to work because she's fighting with her own mind, and her own mind wants her to feel like she's got eight cars piled on top of her, 7 too many for her to lift off. She had been making the drone get her coffee. The act of sitting up feels like a supreme act of will.

But as she'd gone through her accounts she'd remembered that she only has one paying client, and if that paying client is Tony Stark that case isn't going to last forever. She might want to at least try to look like a professional for whomever this is.

She fixes her hand on the couch and pushes herself up into a sitting position. Time to chop wood, Jess.

"Sorry," she adds. "Hadn't made it to the shower yet."

That's when she finally looks at her visitor, and tilts her head. Oh hey, it's Intern Kid. What was her name…

"Strojespal, right? Sally. Sally Strojespal."

Alias Investigations. Is that the alias of the business, or…no, she won't wonder about that. It's just a name, after all. Americans love their strange and ironic names, it seems. Sally shakes her head, then hears the voice from within. One hand reaches down, twisting open the door handle, and then the scent of coffee hits her. Hard.

Nose wrinkling in distaste, Sally steps through the door. Americans and their irony and their coffee!

A hand raises slowly as the investigator sits up. "No, please do not apologize. I did not call ahead or warn you, I am sorry." Yup, same voice as before, Sokovian accent definitely present but not interfering with her speech. A glance around to take in the office's amenities, before she settles that blue-eyed gaze on Jessica.

She's close! And does better on the pronounciation than most. More importantly, she doesn't say 'Hello Bunny' which earns her points. At least someone hasn't heard that damn nickname, even if she was present for it. "Stojespal," she corrects gently. "And yes. Rusalka Stojespal, of House Stojespal, barony of Sokovia. But, please? I strongly prefer Sally."

Making her way to Jessica, she reaches a hand out to the investigator - not an offer up, but a handshake of greeting. It's aristocratic for a girl, softer and lightly done, but protocol demands such things. "I wanted to thank you for the other day, and properly apologize for all of the trouble. And for discounting you at first." For her claims of being one of Stark's circle, at least. For only thinking she was some hired rent-a-cop, not a fast thinking negotiator and apparent superhero.

Jessica's eyebrows lift at the titles. But…given she's had a king standing in this grungy space she doesn't react too strongly. She takes the hand and shakes it. "You already apologized for discounting me, and I already told you it was nothing," she points out, but though the words are gruff, they are not unkind. "And you don't have to apologize. You don't have to thank me either. Not that it's not appreciated. You want anything? Coffee, soda, bottled water? Might have some OJ too, not sure. Have a seat, make yourself at home."

If there's one thing Jones knows, it's that Sally didn't come all the way out here in the rain just to offer apologies and thanks. No, there's something else going on here. The dark-eyed woman studies her guest as if trying to divine what the rest of it might be, because she's sure there is a rest of it. Not a case, maybe, but a rest-of-it.

She downs her coffee and grimaces. It's gone cold. Now can she take the next big step? Can she get her own ass up and see to her guest? She finds she can. She heaves herself to her feet and trudges to the coffee pot. The cup reads: 'I am not good at advice. Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?'

She pours another cup, then tilts her head at Sally, waiting to see what she might want.

"That may be true," Sally agrees, "but I felt it appropriate. Especially thanks for saving me from…ah, whatever that was. I feel sorry for that student, but I believe he'll be alright - Mr. Stark was interested in whatever it was. Though…driving home barefoot in stockings was bothersome, I admit," she adds with a small laugh. "It may not seem like much, but…it was more scary than it seemed afterwards. To have it grow and consume, all because I stepped in the wrong spot…well."

She shivers, as only an eighteen year old faced with the potential of becoming one with the Blob can. "I doubt it would have been pleasant. So. I appreciate your efforts very much, I might add."

The offer of something to drink gets a nod. "Water, please, yes." She'll take a seat, lightly perched on one of Jessica's client-chairs. Nervous, clearly - though putting on a pretty good facade of serenity. There's definitely more on her mind, or her heart, than the simple words of the nobility.

When she spots the coffee cup, and reads it, she can't help a small startled chuckle - perhaps irony is something Sally Stojespal is going to have to get used to. "I came this way to find you specifically. Because, in a way, of what happened at the fair. You, ah…" Her fingers drum against her knee gently, wondering how to say precisely what she wants. "You are not…ah, you are more than 'just' a person. A good negotiator, and forceful," she adds, before correcting her track. Focus, Stojespal, stay on your line and follow it all the way through.

Blue eyes look up, a glimmer of worry and hope crossing them. "You are someone much stronger and more…gifted than normal people, are you not?" An obvious statement, but she's testing the waters. Some people might not like talking about it, but that dislike of talking is why she's /here/ instead of anywhere else.

There's some sympathy as Sally discusses her lingering fears, her ability to picture the worst. It's muted, but it's there. It's a measure of the life she'd led that she'd mostly found the nanofoam amusing, not scary. But now? She can see the scary side. Poor kid. Sally will be treated to a brief shoulder pat-pat. Then? Jessica gets the kid a bottled water.

She listens to the rambling speculations of what she might be, and a sort of wry amusement passes slowly over her features, chasing, at least momentarily, some of the deep lines and shadows away.

"Yeah, kid. I have powers. It's not like I have an STD. I'm not embarrassed by it, and I don't care. Given you were hugging The Water Dragon, I can't imagine you're a bigot. And if you were a bigot you'd have tossed a flaming brick through my window instead of knocking. So go ahead, spit it out already."

Again, it's gruff, but there's an undercurrent of gentleness too. She settles back on the couch, as if she's used the sum total of her energy. Clearly having powers hasn't fixed every problem in her life.

The shoulder pat is appreciated, as is the water - a nod of thanks for both, before she takes a long pull from the bottle. It may be plenty wet outside, but that doesn't mean that even a baroness's daughter isn't thirsty. And then they get down to brass tacks, in…typical American directness.

"W-no! No, I did not mean it like that, just…not everyone is quite so, er, accepting of such things. Even when they are gifted themselves." She grins a little at the nickname for Sloane Albright, and nods. "The Water Dragon…I like that name. It is not a bad one at all. But it is about her, actually, that I wanted to talk to you."

The mention of bigots gets a snarl across her features, distaste more than apparent. She's learned a lot about such things very lately, especially just how deep that hatred goes. Flaming bricks through windows, though…is an old tactic. One even she's heard of from the stories of the Stojespal family, in a time that seems less and less long ago the more she learns. And then she just sighs, before nodding. "Bigotry…yes."

She meets Jessica's gaze, finally. "Please do not let this go to anyone else, especially to the Water Dragon. She is a friend, a very dear friend of mine. But…her powers, her transformation, it is all very new. Her…" Please forgive me, Sloane. "Her life has not been very accepting of what has happened. As far as I care she is still the same, but…"

Sally bites her lip for a moment, thinking - then just lays it out. She's embraced an American name, she can be direct as well. Sometimes the world demands it. "I want to understand more of what she is going through, this change…and I want to help her. I do not make friends easily, but she is someone whom…I suppose you could say, 'just clicked.' And she has faced a lot of trouble, since she became what she is now."

The look in her eyes becomes a little more plaintive, someone searching blindly for a solution. "If you were her…when you found yourself gifted like that, what…what was it you wanted most? What can I do to help my friend?"

"Oh Jesus, kid."

Jessica's face falls into more open sympathy now, but there's something else. A wince.

"Look, I'm not sure I can help you," she says slowly. "For one thing…"

She tap-taps the cup. "I give shitty advice. Okay? I can't fix anything that way. I try and I mostly make it worse. I never help anyone I set out to help that way, ever. I don't know that my circumstances were anything like hers. I don't want to screw you up. Your friend either."

She looks down into her coffee. The look on her face tells a tale. She is a woman who wants to fix everything, in fact.

But some things just aren't easily fixed.

A pause. "Wait, what kind of trouble has she faced? Is someone threatening her? Because I can go have a 'chat' with whomever did." A chat where she holds them up by the neck and snarls in their faces, by the look on her own features. She almost looks eager for that, because that? She knows how to do that.

Congratulations, Jessica. You get to be an Answer Mom today. Clearly that's the perfect way to kick off a weekend!

The sympathy helps her mood - but the wince puts a dent in it. The words that come bring a slightly crestfallen look to Rusalka's face, as Jessica shoots down her questions. Understandable, but Sally is undaunted in the face of initial failure. The expression on the investigator's face when she looks into her coffee proves that failure is only an illusion, though.

"I'm afraid - glad! - that that has not happened. She is not being directly persecuted. No 'flaming bricks through windows;' she is actually in a very safe place right now." She doesn't specify that that very safe place happens to be the Triskelion, headquarters of SHIELD. "Of that I am sure. It is more of a personal thing…ah, I do not know how much I can or should say, but."

Sally swallows, pulling her hesitation down her throat. All in. "The Water Dragon - Sloane - her family had their own ideas for her life. Even before everything happened, that is. She is a musician, extremely talented. They wanted her to go on to a career of greatness; her desires…they are less grand." It parallels Sally's own life, and is one of the things that the two bonded over so well.

"She disappeared several months ago, and many people searched, but…only recently did she reappear, transformed. Her family…had their own ideas. So did many of the other people she knows." Sally reaches a hand up to her cheeks; not to brush a tear away but to trace where the Inhuman girl's scale patterns are. "I know this hurts her, but…I don't understand it. I don't know how to help, and I cannot simply ask. Not without causing so much more pain."

She thinks, anyway. "When you were given your powers…you seem to be much more comfortable with them, today, but…if it was like my friend's, what…what happened? For you? And what was it that…that you wanted most?" What can I provide that Sloane would need, is the unspoken question.

Jessica sighs. She already knows the answers aren't going to help, but…she'll share the story. She puts the coffee cup aside.

Once, she wouldn't have. But who cares, anymore, what people know about her or don't? Her secrets are few. She may not have any left at all by the time the summer is over.

She opens her mouth to start the story with 'I threw a Game Boy,' but Matt's voice drifts out to her from somewhere. Jess, you were a -kid-.

She closes her eyes. The zombie goes back to sleep. "It was different," she says, instead. "We got into a car accident. My family and I. The only shitty person in my family was me. 15 years old, surly, thought I was cooler n' shit, you know the type. Or maybe you don't, you came from a different world. The accident was with a truck full of highly experimental chemicals. We were all doused. Then the car exploded. My family all died, and I got bathed in this superheated chemical mix. My genetic strain was just right for it to change me. I was in a coma for awhile after that, and when I woke up someone had already adopted me. You know Trish Walker, Trish Talks? It was her Mom."

No need to add the rest of it. That she was kept in the coma. That a doctor spent two years stealing her tissue samples and forwarding them to an evil corporation. That's already being handled, and that will just scare the kid.

"So here I am. They died, I lived."

Matt's voice in her head. Nobody would say you profited.

But didn't I? Didn't I profit? I got powers, they went in the ground.

"I'm suddenly living a new life with a new family. I'm a high school sophomore at the age of 17. Depressed as fuck. I'd been a straight A student, my grades instantly tanked. I'd wanted to go to Columbia, maybe become a journalist…all that was a wash now, cause I couldn't think anymore. Everything was on a loop. They died, I lived. They died, I lived. And I was the asshole of that family. My baby brother? Sweetest kid you could imagine. I think that's what I wanted most. My brother, back. Or my Daddy. Or Mom."

A slow tear rolls down her cheek. The taste of Mom's eggs, in her mouth, in another universe, just six months ago. She squeezes up her eyes. She is not going to cry again.

She misses it so much lately. Being hard.

"Later, I guess, I just wanted to protect Trish. My new sister. My only friend."

Perhaps, from Jessica's point of view, the answers don't help. But right now, Sally could use any insight she can on what Sloane is going through. When the coffee cup is set aside, her Sokovian visitor takes one last sip from her bottle of water and then listens carefully, hands holding it in her lap.

And then realizes that the pain she'd tried to avoid in Sloane is tripled in Jessica's case. A soft gasp slips past her lips, hand rising in shame and shock to cover it up. She listens, though, taking on the story and its sadness with eyes wide in surprise - because she'd asked, and pushed Jessica into it.

A mumble of very soft Ukrainian slips out. Nekhay mudrist' vovka vrozhayu pomozhet vam. A wish for a blessing of one of Sally's homeland's old spirits, if the translation were available.

If she had strength, she'd reach out to squeeze Jessica's hand. Cover it, perhaps. Just to say she's not alone. But the shock of what she has done, the horror of Jessica's story…the sadness echoes in her face. "I did…not realize that such a thing…" A much harder swallow than before. "I am so terribly sorry for bringing up such memories. I had no idea," she adds as a lame excuse. Of course not. "You have been through a horrible, horrible time, Ms. Jones."

And then she blinks what might have been a tear away. "And…I am not sure I know of Trish Talks, this Mrs. Walker you mention. But it is not so different a world as you might think," she adds, looking back at Jessica while fingering the coat of arms sigil at her jacket's collar. "Not all of my home are the bright-and-polite, as it were. And…" Perhaps it'll be a connection that she can at least tell Jessica she understands - the only one she has, right now. Even as she'd sought advice for the same from the other woman.

"My father was murdered five years ago, back home. Life had seemed so…perfect, beforehand. And then he is being stabbed in the street, before my eyes. I…would act out. Rebel. Fight back, against things, because it seemed so unfair, so cruel. That feeling of wanting them back, I think…I understand, at least a little." The reasons why he was killed she leaves out - for now, anyway.

And then there's a bit of a small smile across her lips, quirking up at the side - irony abounds once more. "That…is actually my school. Columbia. Our school, I should say, Sloane and myself. I want to protect her too; she is like a sister - but there are things she goes through that I do not comprehend, and…it is difficult. Feeling helpless, watching her cry, watching her sadness…and unable to change it."

She touches the pin on her jacket collar again, then looks up with a pointed question - perhaps it's for Jessica, perhaps it's for the universe itself. "What good is all of this, when I am so powerless for the one thing I want?" It isn't just about Sloane. It isn't just about her father. It's a question about everything.

By the time Sally is done relaying how she can relate Jessica has found her composure again. She doesn't always cry at this memory, but right now her emotions are raw for other reasons.

"I'm sorry," she says quietly. "They ever catch the guy?"

This is not an offer to find him. Right now nothing could tear Jessica Jones away from New York City, and she's not sure how up she is to go to a country which she couldn't properly find on a map to begin with. But…it's still a question that she can't help.

Nevertheless, there are more immediate matters. She heaves a sigh and drains her coffee, putting it down, letting the cracked and crumbled remains of her walls come down again. This kid does NOT need her shit, and she's piling it on. Another fine example of how she breaks things when she tries to do this…making people feel better thing.

Still, the fact that these are Columbia kids touches another soft spot.

The feeling of the degree in her hand, bacon sizzling downstairs. Jessica Jones, Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Columbia University. God, she hasn't thought about this bullshit world of Hydra's in forever. Is it because she now knows that somewhere, all of those things could be true?

Or is it because a sword is dangling over the neck of someone else, someone who has been both friend and, at times, surrogate father to her?

She listens to Sally's helplessness. Her question about what good it does.

Jesus. What is she about to do?

"You can't always make it better, kid," she says gently. "Sometimes all you can do is keep saying, again and again, 'you're not alone. I'll always be here.' Sometimes all you can do is…"

What did Constantine tell her? "It's good for people to know that someone gives a shite, even if you can't fix it. The thing about wanting is…we don't always get what we want. In fact I'd say most of us get what we want about 1% of the time. It's not what we want to have or have happen. It's…it's about who we want to be in the face of all this bullshit. You gotta keep striving for what you want because otherwise 1% becomes 0%. But…at the end of the day you're the only thing you get to control. It's how you decide to respond."

Emotions are a thing that ebb and flow, coming and going with the tides. Sometimes it stacks up at the right time, sometimes at the wrong. For now, at least, it seems that they're both holding together - it could be a lot worse. Sally, at least, is holding her own, hands in her lap, clutching the half-full bottle of water. The nightmare she'd described in the car, though…it's a nightmare Sally has had. One she's witnessed on the track; the list of those who lost their lives in the quest for speed is long indeed - and grows longer every year. Sometimes, even in the fireball that the investigator describes.

She draws a sip as Jessica asks, nodding for a moment. "Yes. My grandaunt sent them, actually." And there's this bizarre, fierce serenity as she continues this tale, suddenly turned abhorrent despite the complacence on her face and the simple, direct words. "My great-grandmother, my Baba, discovered it. She resolved things, and then said very pretty lies at my grandaunt's funeral."

It's a Stojespal thing.

Jessica's memories of another world are something Sally has no idea of; she's only just learned of the very existence of Hydra - and with someone from her background, Eastern Europe…there are very long memories tied to that name. But that is another story, a long series of them - and right now, she's here for something else.

The words of advice that finally come, perhaps they're words that she knew already. That there wasn't anything else she could do BUT what she's been doing. Still, she listens, nodding slowly - and agreeing in the end. "It may only be one percent…but I vow it will never be zero. Ever." With Sloane, or with anything else she does. "Even if I can do nothing more than cling to hope, I shall do that, at least. I cannot…do nothing at all."

She looks back up at Jessica, looking the woman over. Wondering what kind of life she'd led since then. "I want to be someone to help. To be there. Even if it's just to let her know that…if that can help, then that I will do. If there is more…if there was anything you wanted, that a friend could provide, that would be it? That..having an anchor, I think the term is?"

"That's who I want to be too," Jessica says softly. "Though it took me long enough to get my head out of my ass so I could realize it."

She wraps the quilt around her shoulders, more for the sensation of it than for the heat or cold. She has the AC on cause she knows her clients or visitors need comfort. She's indifferent to all but the worst extremes of temperature.

"Mostly that's all you can do. Sometimes you can do material things for someone though. Feed them. Make sure they sleep. Hold their head while they puke up their hangover. Pick up their laundry or do something for them you know they'd want done but are in no position to do."

She smiles faintly. Is there anything she'd want from a friend?

"Acceptance," she says instantly. This is the gift all her friends have given her, really. "Meet me right where I am. Don't try to change me. Encourage me when I want to change, but don't tell me to change. But…see the best in me too. Know that when I fuck up it's probably with the best motives in the world. See me as I could be, not just as I am, and in so seeing, help me be that person. At least…that's what my friends do for me. Quite a few of them actually are good at the words thing too, good at making me feel like something other than second hand chicken fried shit when I'm at my lowest, but not all of them have that part, and I guess that's okay."

Maybe it's okay that she doesn't have that gift herself. "I wish I could know if I did that for them too, but…maybe everyone needs different things from everyone too. I've actually only had any for 8 months, not counting my sister, so…all this shit's new to me."

"I think," Rusalka starts, treading lightly, "that you had many more difficult things than I did. Concerning your family…and, everything that happened. I also had more support, as well. My mother, the rest of my family." Jessica's was flat-out gutted - to the point she ended up in a foster home. "That stability helped a bit, I suppose. So it really isn't that it's such a different thing."

Sally just had a head-start on dealing with things that Jessica didn't. She doesn't wave it over the investigator's head, merely offers it as a suggestion that they're similar enough. "Were the situation the same…I think it might have turned out the same, for either of us. And well…"

She gets a grin on her face, raising a fist as if to bump it against Jessica's. "We Columbia girls must stick together, right?" As far as Sally cares, the P.I. is at least an honorary member.

The instant answer helps, bringing a smile - a real smile, a hopeful one - to Sally's face. "That…I have done. Since the start, and I will always. No matter what, she is my dearest friend, and I swear nothing will change that." Ghosts of others she knows…spectres of betrayal circle, but she drives them away with the same determination she has on the race track. "I believe in her. I want to see her dreams come true, and I promise you that I will do that. For her sake.

The smile turns a little wry, though. "I suppose it is new for us all. But…I have learned a lot. Sloane is truly no different than she was in the past, just…like you. She still needs the same things, I suppose. Selfishly…" Ahem. "I am glad. In a way, I didn't want to lose her friendship, because…because I want the same thing. And she has always been there for me, so. I don't want that to change at all. So I will not change to her."

Then her voice gets a strangely disinterested aristocratic air, one she's practiced for humor around said same friend. "And you said your advice was useless. Such impressive bullshit, Ms. Jones." There's a quiver of a laugh hiding in her cheeks. "You do yourself and your clients disservices with such terrible lies, you know." Snerk.

There's a moment where she looks over the table, taking in the various things - and spotting the magazine. "You are into cars? Vintage?" Hey, there's sections for actual classics in such a thing!

Jessica smiles a little as Sally offers that fist, bumps it, ducks her head. That warms her, being an honorary Columbia girl. And the 'pass' she's given produces a dip of her head as well.

For one thing, Sally doesn't even know the half of it, but there is no way in Hell she is going there.

"You're free with your promises," Jessica says, still smiling a little. "Be careful with that. You can get awfully bound up in promises awfully fast. Promises are sacrosant."

Jessica looks up when Sally confesses she was afraid of losing Sloane's friendship. "Nobody sane pushes a friend away because they don't have powers too. And honestly? There are people out there with zero powers who are far more badass than me or Sloane could ever be. What we've got? One talent out of many. Useful sometimes. Useless— and even capable of making shit worse— at other times."

She is startled when Sally teases her about her advice being useless, teasing her about her lies. "Ah…not a lie. I have a terrible track record," she admits. "I'm glad this time I threw the dart into the hit zone. Usually I miss."

She blinks down at the car magazine. "Ah. No. I actually really hate driving. But…right now I've had cause to more and more, and sooner or later I gotta stop borrowing Trish's car. Usually I prefer to just leap around the city like a ridiculous grasshopper, but…" her voice turns sober. "Just…have places to go the trains and cabs won't roll. And sometimes I end up in Jersey for work too."

A fist is bumped, a connection is made. One she appreciates, in a way. She's seen Jessica stand down giant blue NFL linebackers wanting their sun back, without batting an eye. She's been a personal recipient of Jessica's lifesaving efforts, even if it hadn't quite been as serious as it seemed at first. And she's been gifted with Jessica's wisdom, which perhaps is merely experience critically analyzed.

But it was experience Sally doesn't have, and that is why she came to the other woman.

"My family's motto is Honor Unyielding. No matter what, we stand upon our word and hour honor, and will never shake. Not the true Stojespal," she concludes. That this means she intends to back her promise all the way to the far side of the gates of hell itself, well…so be it. She may seem to make those promises easily, but it is only one - and one she makes to herself. "Sacrosanct…that word, ah." A moment to think. "Ah. Nedotorkannyy - untouchable. Yes…they are. But I mean them when I make them," she adds, matter of fact.

"Of that I have no doubt. Working for Mr. Stark has…been eye-opening, in such matters. That there are so many others, the world is so much larger. I even saw Ms. Marvel, at that science fair." Duh, Jessica was there too. "And I have met Captain America. There are things in the world I once thought were merely stories…that are not. So. I suppose it does not matter what powers one has; as you say…there are more out there with and without them. What matters…what matters is family. That of blood, and that of choice."

A searching, long, slightly rambling statement - but it's one that Sally finally settles on, surely, at the end.

"Ah? Oh, I see." Sally bursts out laughing at the grasshopper comment, momentarily picturing this, before she looks outside. "I suppose a day like today is certainly not one for that! And yes. Some people I know dislike the idea of driving, but it is useful - much more so when you wish to operate on your own time. Sometimes…just getting away from everything, and focusing only on the road. It is a sort of hobby, perhaps…in another world, would have been my calling. But." She looks at the cover, seeing the first few advertisements splashed across it.

And sneers. "Overpriced trash…underpowered, unsafe heap…that one is not so bad, but it is a, ah…high-maintenance type." If the term is good enough for a boyfriend, it is good enough for an automobile. "Did you have one you had in mind?"

"And you ain't seen nothin' yet," Jessica mutters quietly, as Sally starts discussing some of her eye openers. It's with a high degree of wryness; Jessica's own world was smaller until 8 months ago too. Way smaller.

But really, she doesn't want to get into that. Right now, as on the day they met, something simple is a nice distraction, especially now that they've navigated out of some emotionally heavy waters.

"Something that puts a lot of metal between my head and the road when it inevitably flips or turns into a giant ball of death because most of the people on the road are morons? Cause that's my first freaking criteria." Jessica says dryly. "Something that isn't going to break every week and cost a fortune to freaking insure? Man, I shouldn't even be considering this, my income's really unpredictable. Things have been great for months, but they could turn on a dime at any second."

Still…"You sound like you're some sort of driving enthusiast?"

Certainly the way the girl is expertly evaluating all the cars in the magazine, along with the way she speaks of the act of driving itself, seems to indicate it.

The quiet mutter is heard, and the Sokovian can't help but wonder just what else is left in Pandora's Box to throw at the world. Hope might be nice, but maybe that's what her job is. It's certainly the job she's taken, joining SHIELD - because she's seen how terrible some of what was in that box is. And has heard family stories of more.

Instead of anything else, like a normal nod or sympathetic smile, Rusalka simply bursts out laughing at Jessica's list of requirements. "Ms. Jones, you are entirely correct. Bozhe moy, there are some truly insane people upon the roads. I have…" Fingers crossed. "Only once run into trouble, and it was not entirely my fault, it seems. You have heard the adage of black cats crossing your path? Do not stop to help them. It is worse."

Shudder.

"But I swear many of the people upon the roads think that that movie a few years ago, Rage Road, was…a driving lesson. The movie about the madman in the desert. Some of them seem to take it as inspiration; I cannot tell you how many times I have been saved by that car." She gestures to the outside, the white and black Lotus sportscar parked in the lot. "It isn't quite the kind of vehicle you describe, but it suits me."

Sally grins suddenly. "Absolutely yes. I love driving, and I am quite good at it - especially taking to the track. I feel…complete there, behind the wheel, and as if I'm doing what I'm truly supposed to. I'd considered becoming a professional driver, honestly." She still is, just…some sacrifices have to be made, in this case. "But I am just an engineering student, of all things - and, perhaps, part-timer. When such things come around." Oh god, please don't go to the big auto shows, Jessica. She's still scheduled to work at two more!

"Do what you are good at, my father once said. I am good at this. Quite good," she adds, without any false modesty. The magazine is collected, and flipped through. "So. Let me see. These…this, this, all trash. They look powerful, sturdy, but it is deception." Sneer. "Something reliable. This is, yes. A bit expensive, and perhaps heavy on fuel costs, though. Top ratings for crash safety and toughness, however. This one…" She looks through a few trucks and SUVs, considering the kinds of things that Jessica may end up doing.

Eventually she picks up a pen and circles three options. "One of these. Depending on your budget, and willingness to work on a few things. This one is very solid other than its transmission; it will last for a while but need replacement. This one…it is known for minor things, easy fixes, but is virtually as hard as a tank. I would dare someone to wreck it easily. The Ford…hm. It is satisfactory, but the most expensive. It certainly will stay out of the repair shop…unless you happen to drive it into a giant robot, perhaps."

She's joking about that last part, right? …Right?

"Did the black cat have one green eye and one gold eye?" Jessica asks. It's an idle question, like she doesn't really expect an answer, like she thinks Sally is talking about figurative black cats still but is going to ask anyway, simply because she has a reason to.

"Road Rage," she corrects, a smirk overtaking her feature. At least, for the sake of Sally's sanity, there is little chance that Jessica will ever go to a road show, unless, of course, she picks up another quick security gig for fast cash. Then? She might be in trouble.

"Huh. I like that one. In black." A pick up truck could be very useful, especially if she slapped a camper on the back to conceal any equipment or evidence or…corpses…she might need to carry back there, as she's not carrying corpses in her phone. It's a sad fact of her existence that carrying corpses (for SCIENCE!) has been one of the factors of her job lately, but there it is. "Perfect, thank you. I guess I lucked out, having an expert drop by today." She seems to mean it, circling the car for herself and the number, noting the price. The older model might just be within her budget, if she takes a risk. She'll have to look at it later in the week, will have to see.

Congratulations Jessica. You just shocked the hell out of one 'unflappable' Sokovian. Sally's jaw drops, and she gapes for a second or two before regaining her composure. "You…d-does everyone know of this damnable creature but me? Very strange things happened, my car suddenly took off in traffic and somehow my phone was wedged under the brake. I managed to stop, barely, but." There was damage, most of it on the bottom as she'd drifted over the curb. Fortunately it was easily fixed.

Talking to the police was less easy, at least until Agent Coulson had called her and heard her story.

"Yes, that. Insane. Nekulturnyy and foolish. It is a wonder that this city's traffic manages to accomplish going anywhere, sometimes." Oh, she can go on. For a long, long time - but Sally puts the brakes on that particular bit of debate. It's not for now.

"It is a good one. Black would look like a construction worker's truck." That gives her an idea. "A contractor, perhaps. Like you were fixing plumbing, or electrical work, or just parking at a construction site. It is a good cover, da?" Grin. And then it turns into a cynical laugh, followed by Sally stretching her legs in amusement. "I am hardly an expert. Merely an enthusiast. But I suppose advice for advice is a fair trade, is it not?"

Sally considers. She's a friend of Stark. Someone that the inventor doesn't just /know/ but banters with. Someone who gives a damn about youth, and has the kul'ky zi stali to stand up to anything while doing it. Fast, strong, determined…and sure of herself. A good person. It's an evaluation that takes a few seconds, but then Rusalka nods suddenly.

"Whatever you decide, I would be happy to assist you in maintaining it. I am skilled in such things, and it would be fun to work on from time to time. Besides," she adds, curiously cobalt-blue eyes twinkling in amusement.

"Columbia girls must stick together, da?"

Jessica scowls. "Like most supernatural creatures, he follows the letter of the law and not the spirit. You remind that thing, next time you see him, that he made a promise too…a promise not to hurt anyone. I'm sure he thinks he followed it because you were not in fact hurt, but all the same."

It is a good cover, and Jessica tilts a finger at Sally approvingly. "Good instincts," she compliments. "It's not a cover I've used before, but I've never had the truck before." She could change her entire identity with some truck magnets. The potential for using the vehicle to do her work better is definitely there, and puts another tick mark in her 'pros' and 'cons' boxes for buying and dealing with the damnable thing, even in New York City.

As is Sally's offer. Jessica opens her mouth, but nothing comes out. Maintenance was a major worry of hers, as listed out…she doesn't need the thing breaking down and eating parking fees while she can't use it because she can't afford to keep it running. She knows dick all about cars. And now, this girl just offers to help her out, out of the blue. And, furthermore, will probably tell her about the car so she can learn how to do a few things for herself. On one hand, her own internal sense of honor says that's the kind of service she ought to be paying for, and so she wrestles for a moment trying to determine if she's taking advantage. On the other, the 'girl' is actually an adult, and is trying to offer a gesture of friendship. Jessica had caught that evaluation, and slowly understands that it means she was being sized up and found worthy.

"That's a kind offer," she says. "And I think…I accept. Sticking together sounds good, yes."

"But…it's just a cat, right? Bad luck, apparently, but." Promises, she nods to - and the definition of a supernatural creature. Wonderful. There has already been things she thought were mere myth that have been screwing with her life. "Yes, fine. I will." Right before she stunguns the son of a bitch cat for Phil's sake.

Rusalka can't help but grin at the idea. "I have seen a few movies. And the idea just hit me as I was thinking about the truck, having seen so many. When I am not swearing at their drivers for cutting me off, I don't bother noticing them, in all honesty." Shrug. Perhaps a bad thing, but it isn't as if she's entirely unaware of traffic. Merely dismissive of assholes, as it were.

Sally can understand her feelings. She's never actually had car trouble herself - once notwithstanding, sabotage does not count - and her maintenance skills are magnificent. Sally sits there as Jessica stares thinking, very much a girl - letting her foot swing idly, shoe buckles glinting in the light. Merely waiting for her to decide. And it's perhaps the girl that looks forward to the idea of getting to maintain a large, sturdy truck like that - certainly it would be a lot easier to get at than the impressive engine of the lotus.

But it's also the adult that seeks to offer a favor, one of friendship - Jessica is blessed with wisdom, more than she may think. It's something Miss Rusalka Stojespal, daughter and heiress of the Stojespal barony, recognizes and desires to keep around. And it is the adult that is willing to share her knowledge for someone who may need it in the future.

Besides - if Tony Stark approves of her, Sally certainly can't deny she's a good person to know.

"Then it is a deal. When you decide, and when you find precisely what you need, let me know. I will give it a look over." There's an almost devilish glee on her face as she stands and strikes an excessively feminine pose. "Have you ever seen the look on a salesman's face, when a 'skinny little cute thing' promptly demonstrates his lack of knowledge of the vehicle and catches every last trick of trying to lie to a customer?"

"Right then, so taking you car shopping with me so I don't get ripped off. I bet you can shave a bunch off the price just by telling him everything that's wrong with it," Jessica says with a slow smirk. She may not know what it is to be the skinny girl at the car lot, but she's used to being underestimated, whether for her gender, her delicate features, her apparent socioeconomic status or whathave you. She uses it to her advantage a lot. She also gives no fucks. What they think is their business, usually, it's not hers.

The list of people whose opinion about herself she actually values is quite short.

There's a shadow and a thunk outside her door. Newspaper delivery. Jessica's breath catches. It steals her attention away from Sally.

She stands, goes to the door, stares down.

The Trial of Two Centuries!

And thus it begins. She was there at the bail hearing, sitting in the back in her one and only suit, but this is the first she's seen of the news coverage. She bends to pick up the paper, scanning the first few lines. If she can say anything for Ulrich, it's that he's a good man. A fair and persistent reporter, dedicated to the code of ethics that should bind all journalists, a code Jessica actually had memorized at 12 when she went to work for her little middle school paper, a lifetime ago.

She realizes she's being rude and smiles wanly at Sally. "Sorry, I— paper." As if that were a good explanation for everything.

""I admit it is not entirely polite of me…but it is hardly as if I am being treated fairly. Such things as turn-signal springs, or radiator bearings…it is impressive, at least, the creativity that they have." She might have let her accent slip, thickening it up a little. Skinny little cute /foreign/ girl. She grins - it's doubly fun to do at the auto show, making sure that the interested party knows /real/ facts about the automobiles…while, admittedly, dressed in a bunny-girl costume. At least it's easy to weed out those who are actually interested in the automobiles that way, even if it's embarrassing as hell to wear.

Perhaps it's still the child that takes such glee, but Sally has time to grow.

And then there is a thump against the door that gets a start out of the girl, before the building's occupant takes care of it. Just the news, it seems. She can't see the headlines, and doesn't care too much - there's always a lot going on in the news, and she has been excessively busy of late. The mention of the trial will be unnoticed…for now. Later, she will discover such things.

For now, Rusalka stands and nods. "It's quite alright. I should actually leave you to your work, I believe. I have a few projects to work on, even in summer. Interning for Mr. Stark, there is never a dull moment. You know?" Of course Jessica knows, the Totally Unofficial Judge has banished the word 'dull' from his personal universe. "Let me know when you are ready, and we will go shopping. Until then, Ms. Jones? Thank you very much for the advice."

Sally's smile shifts, turning more true to her innermost self. Less amusement, more gratitude. "It means a lot. I appreciate your time, especially unannounced and on a weekend, but." She shrugs apologetically, but doesn't say anything. 'Tony Stark.' 'Spare time.' Nuff said, as the saying goes. With that, she'll collect her jacket - it's still pouring rain outside, and unlike the forecast doesn't seem to want to stop.

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