Then What?

June 19, 2017:

Jessica Jones returns to Kinsey Sheridan's Garage with good news, bad news, and even worse news.

Kinsey's Garage, Gotham City

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Matthew Murdock, Tony Stark, Peggy Carter, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Trish Walker, Spider-Man

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's mid-June and New York is beginning to veer toward the hotter, muggy temperatures for which it's more typically known in the summer, most of the year's bizarrely cold and wet history evaporating into memories for which its sweating populace will soon pine, after months of complaints.

To that end, the Garage's open doors tend to open on drive-up or request in the summer months, the better to keep the vast indoor space cool. They'll do so when Jessica arrives. A standing pole to one side of one of the drive-ups registers the presence of the vehicle, and the door begins to roll upward, leaving her free to drive into the zone marked with paint on the floor for arrivals.

Kinsey is behind the desk when it happens, bent forward with one hand on the top of the desk, hair knotted up behind her head loosely, pen clasped in her teeth and a pencil in her hand (for some reason) as she ticks things off on a clipboard. Half of the working bays in the Garage are empty, including the real money-makers — the two personal aircraft bays in the back.

It might be tempting to assume that business is slow, but the make and models of the cars on the floor are all upscale. Sports cars, luxury automobiles — big ticket vehicles. There's puzzlement unfolding in her expression as she glances up from what she's doing, obviously not expecting anyone —

And then it's Jessica, and more complicated things replace the confusion. There's welcome in the way she looks at that familiar little car, but also apprehension. Given the events of their last meeting, that's probably not terribly difficult to discern the source of.

She tosses the pencil down, straightens, realizes only then that she's got a pen in her mouth, and with a knit of the brows takes it out and tosses it onto the desk as well. Rather than circle around the long counter, she plants a hand on top of it and boosts her hip up onto it, swinging her legs over and dropping onto the other side. She's near the car door by the time the engine gets cut, though she pauses for a good long moment at the front of it to frown thoughtfully at the damage.

She frowns at Jessica too when she bends to look through the window.

"Well that doesn't look good," she says. There's concern etched in hazel eyes, open and evident. "You okay? Trish okay?"

"Yeah, she wasn't in the car, and I just got bonked in the face with an airbag. I had an argument with a pole, and the pole won."

A sudden, surprise pole.

Jessica's smile is a tense and tentative thing. Kinsey's not the only one feeling apprehension.

"I made sure nobody followed me here though," she adds.

She doesn't look great, really. The PI is clad carelessly in ripped jeans and a black tanktop. This in and of itself is meaningless; it's how she dresses. But her eyes are shadowed, and the lines in her face are a trifle deeper. She's not really bothering with much make-up, though in the past she has certainly favored dramatic eyeliners and bold mascara touches for all she might have protested that she did not care about such things. She's wearing sunglasses, though she pulls them off as soon as she stops the car, and tosses them into the little holder meant for such things.

"Sorry for not calling, I just— "

All at once Jessica realizes the reason she didn't. It had nothing to do with creepy overpasses.

Actually, no, it did have something to do with creepy overpasses. She straight up hated that. But…she also hadn't been, she realizes, entirely sure Kinsey would see her at all.

The mild frown that Kinsey is wearing when she leans down to look through the glass is not improved by what she sees. "That's something, anyway," is the response she opts for, leaving aside the matter of Jessica's drawn appearance. She steps back away from the door to leave room for it to swing open and let Jess out, and uses those steps to retreat toward the nose of the car again, slanting her gaze down at it sidelong, armed with this new information about just what it was that caused the damage.

She is herself not particularly well-dressed, but she rarely is when she's at the Garage. If she's more tired or under greater strain than usual, symptoms of that stress don't manifest themselves in her face.

She is both of those things, but military experience conferred certain advantages, to be sure.

"Inanimate objects usually do win, in my experience. …Usually. Should I ask why you picked a fight with infrastructure, or does that fall under 'I was working and I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you?' Or sue me. Whatever would be involved."

—-

Jessica gets out and offers a chuff of a laugh. "Well. It was a surprise pole. Part of some security measures that got activated. I didn't realize 'surprise poles' were in those security measures, or I might have waited a bit before issuing the phone calls that generated them. I think it falls into the 'it's a long story and not the most relevant one ever' category."

She leans against the car as Kinsey looks at it, crossing her arms. "How's it going for you? Last time we spoke, things were rough for you, even before I got there." No, Kinsey's signs of stress manifested themselves entirely differently, but Jessica hasn't forgotten…hasn't forgotten that her friend was pressed to her breaking point even before the robot started trying to communicate with her, even before Jessica interrupted her day with…

Well. Surprise robot.

And she has had enough presence of mind to be exceptionally concerned by what she heard, even if she herself had very little sense of what could be done. Still, here and now, she can certainly ask.

She does hold up a hand. "I am not prying," she adds. "This is a question of concern, not a dig for any information you don't want to divulge."

"I can't think of any context in which 'surprise pole' is a good thing," Kinsey quips, offhandedly and absent-mindedly, while she bends like a willow reed to lean in and tilt over to one side, the better to get a look at the frame underneath. "But I won't ask."

And then comes the inevitable and yet all-important question, and she can only delay for a matter of seconds with the need to look at the car. As she straightens she's drawing in a deep breath that helps her to do that very thing, expanding her ribs, and she holds it as she tilts her head and flicks her gaze toward the raven-haired PI, her expression wholly consumed with internal debate.

Whether or not to get into it. Whether or not 'I'm okay, it's fine, don't worry' is an acceptable thing to say — not because she thinks Jessica will believe it; the woman is what she is because she is perceptive and smart about people…but because she suspects Jessica would accept it, anyway, if she really needed that back door.

All of the debate goes out of her along with her held breath, released in a way that causes her shoulders to fall. She pivots loosely around and sinks back against the undamaged side of the hood in a slumping movement, back rounding and gaze dropped to the floor. Simultaneous to this movement, the door begins to roll shut and the soft pressure of the interior space increases, the anti-eavesdropping measures kicking on.

"I'm…okay," she begins, but it goes in another direction entirely after that. "I'm sorry about…that. You're really good at getting mixed up in things that aren't great for me, and it's not…it's not your fault, Jess. I would have done the same thing in your shoes. But this makes four people who know about me, now, if the robot counts as 'a people.' It couldn't have happened at a worse time. For me or for you."

She gathers her fingers into a weave in her slanted lap and stares at the shadows in her cuticles — oil she fights meticulously every night to scrub away. "You have to understand, I'm trying to protect you. There's already somebody out there who was spotted with me for one night, just one night, and now his friend and his friend's family are being…" Being what? Her brows knit. "I don't even know. Vaguely menaced?"

On the matter of whether Jessica would have let it go, Kinsey suspects correctly. However hurt she might have been initially, much of that had been in the way Kinsey had phrased things, and that was something she had time to realize over the weeks. Whatever else can be said about Jessica, she respects certain things. Choices. Boundaries. She builds in back doors and leaves outs wherever and whenever possible because of those things. She may step on them by mistake, but never when she's aware of what she's stepping on or over. She may push, but she tries not to step. It's a fine line to walk, but then again, Jessica's whole life are these crisscrossing series of thin lines and middles, these lines she must navigate with a tightrope walker's sense of balance.

"That's what you said," Jessica says, gently, wearily. "And to be fair, I have that knack with everyone I know. It kind of comes with the territory."

She's quiet, and she says, "And really, you're going to want to turn on the…noisy thingie…before I'm done, because regardless of anything you might need to tell me, I'm afraid I have things to tell you which might make it even worse. I've done all I can to shield you as much as I can, and certainly nothing is required of you that you don't want to do— but there are things you should know."

She shrugs about protecting. "As for protecting me, I appreciate the urge, but in the space of eight months I have flicked the nose of all sorts of crazy shit. What I didn't manage to nose-flick, my sister managed to nose-flick instead. It's just the life I live. I get 'vaguely menaced' and 'overtly menaced' every other day these days, seriously. Though to be honest, I don't know how much help I can be either. Things aren't going so hot for me either, lately. I'm starting to drop the plates I'm spinning. At the same time? I do feel strongly that if I'm going to call myself your friend, that means that I'm going to try to be there for you, too. Like I promised."

For Jessica, promises are sacrosant, which is why she makes them so rarely. "Same time, I also get it, and I'm not pissed off anymore."

"Yeah, you look tired, Jess," Kinsey confirms, the knit of her brows shifting just enough to turn consternation into sympathy. "I…I get that you're fine with it. I'd probably say that in your shoes, too. Not..maybe not right now, but generally, with friends. But, Jess, for me it's…" The breath she exhales is helpless, and so is the look on her face. "It's not about what you're comfortable with, it's about whether or not I could live with myself if something did happen. I couldn't. I just couldn't. I'm already — it's already hard enough that they're going after these other people who had nothing to do with it. If something happened to you I don't think I'd care if you told me you were willing to accept the risks, you know? It would just kill me."

One of her arms wraps over her middle, the other elbow propping atop that wrist, the backs of loosely curled fingers hovering in front of her lips. "Not that it may matter. Right before that conversation, somebody else I'm close to found out and it just — anyway. I'll…I'll think about it. I'm in this weird position where I'm not sure anymore if telling you is safer than not telling you, because you should at least be prepared, if that's even possible."

Some of the exhaustion momentarily surfaces, an expression that's fleeting but has the look of bedrock to it, the foundation of everything she layers over the top. It disappears quickly enough, subsumed beneath businesslike focus. "But…why don't you tell me what you've got going on, first? And, um.." She tilts forward at the waist, pushing up off of the car. Whatever injury she had when they met under the overpass, it's healed enough that she's not moving gingerly anymore. "You want some coffee, or something?"

"You trust the other three people who know?" Jessica asks. She hadn't forgotten about the three, and with one being recent— well, that would be enough to rattle anyone.

"I do want coffee," Jessica agrees. She glances back at Trish's car— well. Her car now. Trish decided she wants to trick out an SUV, and for all her protests about how wisely she wants to use her money, she's attached to that idea and gave Jess the car this morning. Which had amused Jessica to no end, really, but she can't deny the use of it.

Still, she's more than prepared to follow Kinsey back to the space where they've shared multiple cups of coffee in the past.

And then she tries to figure out how to tell Six what she needs to tell her. She's clearly trying to organize her thoughts, decide what's the most important. Decide how she can tell Kinsey what she needs to know and impress the importance of…everything… on her, without pressuring her unduly.

It is not an easy task.

At last she decides on a classic. "I have good news and bad news."

And then a twist. "And you don't get to choose which you get first, because the good news sort of sets up the rest. We're all secure and stuff? I can speak freely?"

She doesn't want to launch into this before Kinsey is ready.

Coffee gives Kinsey something to do with her hands, and she's always happier when she's on the move. They retreat to that rear corner of the shop and the wall that forms one part of the small interior two-storey loft area she lives in — presumably nothing special, since most of her guests never wind up there. There's coffee to be had there on the table in the makeshift waiting area, and she procures two cups of it as she mulls over and then answers the question she was asked.

"I trust three of them. I don't trust the robot. I have no reason to. Plus, even if it means well, anything that can be mined for information like a computer isn't very secure." But these are statements affixed with heavy caveats, the nature of which she questions the wisdom of divulging.

Eventually: "But one of them is you, and you might be the only girlfriend I even have anymore. One of them is Spider-Man, and his friends are already screwed because he was seen with me once. And one of them is…" Hesitation. Facing the table, she presses her lips together, eyes going momentarily distant. Enormous question marks loom up out of the darkness of her interior. "We're dating. Were dating? I don't know, Jess. Things are kind of complicated after…that. And he's pretty busy with work right now, so I'm not even sure we've had time to resolve it."

She plucks the mugs up and turns, returning to the PI and extending one of them. "So it's about more than trust, like I said. The people who know are some of the people I'd most want to protect from what's going on. It's…" Stressful. A burden. "Not ideal."

That being said, she sinks down into one of the waiting room chairs, and gestures to the one beside her, turning on an angle in the confines of the seat to face it better, her mug clasped in both hands. Delicate subject or not, she does find a small, ruefully amused smile for the approach that Jess chooses to take. "We're secure." And then, girding herself: "Let's hear it."

"Spider-Man's pretty paranoid about his own identity, he won't tell anybody shit," Jessica muses. "Extra…yeah."

Yeah, that's the worse news.

Her dark eyebrows lift, and she breaks into a grin at first— yay, Kinsey scored a cool guy?— but she sobers a moment later when she seems to indicate things are not going well. We're dating to were dating is a heck of a transition.

"I'm sorry. The whole love life thing sucks, and I don't think being the kinds of people you and I are make it any easier. You deserve to be happy. I know that much."

She decides peppering her with questions about this guy, which she'd perhaps happily do under other circumstances, is no more relevant than the surprise pole was. And if it's 'were', then…well…no sense pushing on anything painful. If it's is, it's possible Jessica is about to snag up Kinsey's life even more, making it harder, something she regrets.

"The good news," she says slowly, "is you don't have to do anything about Extra. Not exactly. Not directly. Not for him, anyway. Or me. You aren't, as best as I can tell, his idea of a Chosen One. He wasn't trying to recruit you, and he wasn't trying to get anything out of you. He genuinely wanted to offer aid and protection, and the reasons why are very firmly in the bad news category. And it's a lot of bad news, Kinsey."

She stares down into the coffee, and closes her eyes.

"The bad news needs some context, so I'm just going to start with this. It's dramatic, it's shitty, it's over the top, but I just…need you to understand. I need you to understand that I'm about to reveal that you're in a worse position than you think you're in even now, and that the stakes are pretty high, and that I'm doing all I can but I just don't know if I'm going to be able to do enough. For you. For anyone."

She frowns down at the table.

"I watched a world die two weeks ago."

She lets that sit for a moment before going on to explain: "An alternate earth, through a portal. We have refugees from another reality sitting in a hotel trying to make sense of their anything. It was fucking awful. There one minute, gone the rest, 200 desperate people were all that was left, and we didn't even get them all out before the portal collapsed. And Extra came here to try to protect you from the thing that killed that world."

How can a person see something like that, up close and personal, without changing? Jessica isn't making this up. All of the horror of that event rings in her hollow voice. Her shoulders weigh down. She clenches the coffee cup before remembering that might shatter it, and slowly releases her grip until it's something a little more normal.

You deserve to be happy. I know that much.

Kinsey's smile is genuine, but it sits adjacent to something hesitantly sheened with regret. "We both do." It's not clear if this is meant to mean she and Jess or she and the man she's maybe-dating. Both, possibly. Probably.

The good news does go some way toward pacifying the taut look of girded-ness about her, but it's a good thing she doesn't abandon it entirely, because what follows is, as promised, very firmly and categorically bad news. If there had ever been any doubts that she worked for the DEO in her prior life, they'd all disappear in an instant upon watching her reaction to that outlandish news. Rather, watching the lack of it, or at least the lack of the kind of response that has no experience with things like cross-dimensional threats of apocalyspse.

Things the DEO was specifically created to address.

She turns her head hard to one side the longer the explanation continues, in part because it's difficult to watch the subtle things that pass through Jessica's…everything…as she relates what she was forced to see.

"I'm sorry, Jess," she murmurs, when the horror story comes to its conclusion. Sympathy crests in hazel eyes as they sweep back toward the detective, taking in all at once the signs of heavy weight that seem to push down on her from the vault of the heavens. "There are infinite dimensions, as far as we know. The ones closest to our own tend to be the most like our own, though that's not always been true because of…" She lifts a hand and wobbles it around vaguely, indicating 'a bunch of complicated bullshit.' "There are a whole lot of them with destroyed Earths."

There's a long pause.

"I…guess that's not really going to make you feel any better," she admits, brows knitting. Pep talks, Kinsey: you could stand to work on them.

She lifts her cup for a cautious sip, then clears her throat and summons up whatever it is she needs to ask the question she's about to ask: "Why me, though? I mean…Jess. Seriously. I'm just…I just build things." And take them apart. "I have this whole meta thing on the side, but it's not a world-saving or world-ending power."

"Got two theories on why you," Jessica says. "And both of them are balls for you."

She doesn't raise her head, though she nods to show she's listening. She looks a little relieved. Kinsey has context. She understands parallel universes, she believes her, she gets, on some level, what Jessica has just had firmly imprinted on her mind.

"The thing eating these worlds is called Decimux. He's a machine god. He likes to eat them or he likes to assimilate them. I'm told he always comes and talks to you before he decides which, in every iteration where you exist. And that the method of approach isn't logical."

"At first," she adds, "I thought it was some sort of thing where he was your stalker. That he was in love with you. And that's theory one, because it's possible. I know he's cutting deals with an Aztec love goddess, for example, and normally he kills gods because they stand between him and what he wants to do."

She looks up, frowning, and says, "But then I started playing with his name. Deci - ten. Mux. A multiplier. Decimux. Extra keeps calling you 6.0. He keeps calling you 'The Builder.' So my other thought was…well. That you're somehow this thing's Mommy. That there will be a Seven, an Eight, a Nine, a Ten. He wants to check in with Mom before he starts doing whatever."

She frowns. "I don't have any more evidence for either theory than that, really. But…the important bit is that there are people from these other dimensions that resist this thing, and people that serve it. The resisters seem to fall into two camps. One camp, Extra's, feels like if you can be protected and warned off of dealing with Decimux or this Agency thing he runs, then…that's enough. The others seem to feel like it's important to kill you. And that is going to bring me to what is, for you, even worse news, I'm afraid."

"Yeah, the robot was usually screaming something about Decimux," Kinsey murmurs, tone edging into parchedly dry territory. After that she lapses into silence again, and the only thing that changes until she begins to respond is something subtle in her expression as Jessica outlines her theory about Kinsey's relationship to the world-eating thing in question.

"Okay," she says, holding up a hand, palm outward, and a relaxed halting gesture. "Before we get to the even worse news…" She sighs, setting her coffee cup on the side table to one side. "This is all part of that 'I don't think it's safe for you to know a lot about that side of my life' quandary I have, but at some point it's probably going to become important, so you may as well know now. Giving you the shortest short version possible, one of the side effects of the accident is that the AI I was working with at the time wound up…inside of my head. The technical details don't matter so much. It is, for all intents and purposes, fully sentient, and since its version number at the time of the accident was five…" After a brief pause, she moves her shoulders in a small shrug. "When I started building this alternate persona, I figured…five plus one equals six. Six is my operating handle for…you know. Everything that isn't Kinsey."

She reaches for the cup, and displays a theatrically subdued shiver. "Because that's all I need right now, is a cross-dimensional god baby that's also an unbelievable asshole. But even if some other version of me is responsible, I'm — I'm just not prepared to share accountability with one of the infinite versions of myself out of the infinite realities that I exist in. Who has that kinda time?"

Settling in with her mug, explanation concluded, she extends her hand, palm-upward, inviting Jess to continue. "So, with that in mind, let's…just…get the rest of it over with."

"I don't blame you, and I'm not trying to make you accountable," Jessica murmurs, shaking her head. "God knows what my other versions got up to, right? I'm just saying, this is how we're positioned right now."

Pause. Beat. She decides she owes Kinsey something, even if it's some form of levity, some fun to be had at her own expense. "Six is a much cooler superperson name than fucking Jewel, which is what apparently some of my versions went with. At least one of them had pink hair. So I'm definitely down for no accountability for alternate versions of ourselves. And if you tell anyone that, then I would have to kill you."

She may be smushed down by all that's going on with her, including the whole witnessing-a-cataclysm-thing, but with one tired joke Jessica is prepared to show that she ain't out yet.

But she sobers.

"There is a man in custody from this alternate universe. Without drowning you in detail: he is a murderer who stole tech from Stark Industries, he was what I thought the sum total of the case was, and he did it all in some sort of last-ditch attempt to rebel against Decimux."

Now she meets Kinsey's eyes, bulling ahead with a grim expression.

"I fucked him up pretty good, and right now he's in a SHIELD hospital. Maybe he won't wake up. But you're probably not that lucky, because SHIELD? Is pretty fantastic at putting people back together again." She drains her coffee, though it's cooling, much like she might drain a shot. Sometimes, psychologically, the motion of doing that is as soothing as actually having the forbidden booze in her hand.

"He knows about you. Hell, he thinks you're his sister. He was firmly in the kill Kinsey camp. Nobody else heard him begging me to murder him and then you— off the table, by the way, just in case you're wondering— but I'm thinking there's a really damned good chance that he's going to spill your name in interrogation. Kinsey Sheridan for sure, maybe even Six. They might let me in to be one of the interrogators, but I'm not SHIELD. I have no clearance. I do have relationships, which I can leverage. But that's no guarantee I can steer the conversation off you if they put him in a room. And that's no guarantee they won't go back at him eight, nine, ten times when I'm not there. I'm sorry, Kinsey. I've done everything I can do to protect your identity. I've withheld these crucial case facts from SHIELD and my client. But sooner or later this is going to spiral right out of my control, and I'm thinking sooner is coming fast. I have a solution to float your way, maybe, but first and foremost I felt it was only right to warn you."

She leaves, unsaid, that she could very well be in real deep hot water with SHIELD for holding out on them, but this fact is certainly one reason why she's so dismissive of Kinsey's attempts to protect her in the other direction.

"I'd have come sooner. But I've had some unwanted press attention lately. It took this long to be absolutely sure I could give them and quite a few of the other parties with an interest in watching my activities the slip, to come here in a way that wouldn't create any suspicion. Phone, internet, text…all out for this news."

It surprises Kinsey — that little piece of Jessica. That she knows as much about her other selves as she does, too, though with all of the interdimensional mix-up she's apparently involved in, somehow that surprises her less than what she's told. She visibly attempts to keep from finding it funny. Her eyes light up in a way that they haven't until that very moment, but she presses her lips together. It isn't enough. The laugh wants out, and out it comes, just a few — more of a giggle, really — and then she ducks her head and looks apologetic, brows knitting. "Jewel is pretty, though," she offers, rummaging up something reassuring to say. It can't quite oust the apology, because that returns in spades, alongside a steadier smile, when she adds, "I…can't picture you with pink hair, though." To Kinsey, Jessica Jones is the shitkicker-and-black-leather-jacket-wearing face of ass-beatings in Hell's Kitchen.

Up until recently, she was the only person Kinsey thought of that way, too.

Everything else? Less amusing.

As the explanation winds onward into thickets and brambles of bad news, her shoulders begin to tense, until finally things hit a breaking point after which she can no longer find it in herself to resist and rebel against what she's being told, and instead it washes over her like water breaking through a dam. Her head drops, one of her hands lifted, palm pressed to the side of her crown and fingers just barely sifted into her pinned-up hair. Her gaze drops to her knees, and it stays there; eventually, her eyes close.

There's a long silence after Jessica finishes speaking. At least silence isn't sobbing, though.

"Well. There goes any hope of finding out what the hell happened to me," she says finally, eyes opening, bleary. All of the exhaustion of the last month seems to have come crashing in along with that last bit of bad news. "I'm not gonna hang you out to dry on this, Jess. You can't withhold information from SHIELD. They'll — I don't know what they'll do. I appreciate that you did," she adds, slanting her eyes up long enough to ensure that the sincerity of that sentiment penetrates the fog of resignation hanging on her like a shroud. "You took a big risk for me, doing that. It means a lot. You have to tell them, though, even if it's just to show them that you always meant to. In the meantime, I…"

There's grief there, but it's muted. The emotions have yet to follow. In the meantime, there is thought, planning. She pins her lower lip between her teeth, then draws a long breath, mentally walking through the next week. "Is Tony Stark your client? Because of the guy stealing Stark tech? I know him. He offered me a job out of high school." Such is the state of her preoccupation with things that actually matter that she barely manages the disapproving frown that usually follows all mention of Tony Stark. "If he's caught up in what's going on, I should probably go see him before…before this SHIELD stuff catches up with me."

Jess offers a self-depricating smirk as Kinsey laughs. Since that was the point she's more happy about it than she appears. But she makes a show of scowling at her which can't hold up to close scrutiny. She snorts at her own expense too.

It's a short enough moment, the least modicum of balm that she can possibly give. And she knows it. She has envisioned this conversation a hundred times. She knows.

She shuts up and gives Kinsey time to process. She was ready for sobbing, if sobbing came, but somehow the grim acceptance isn't surprising either.

"Tony's my client," Jessica confirms, tackling that first. In fact…

It actually changes the shape of what she was going to say, adding a fourth option she hadn't considered.

She leans forward. "The way I see it, Kinsey, you have a few options here. One, you could just run. Take everything. Tonight. Liquidate it and go. Burn this place down if you have to. That would definitely end things with your man, unless you can convince him to go with you, and we'd never see each other again. But someone like you could run for a long time. Two government agencies looking for you, one shadowy evil whatever it is that you're worried about, and my money's still on you. But…I don't think that's any kind of life. I'll pretend I heard the name when Extra told me, maybe an oh yeah, the garage lady. They can't prove anything."

She reaches across the table. Tentatively. Offering a hand to her friend. If it's not taken the hesitation makes it clear she won't be offended.

"Two, you can play dumb. Let them come and ask their questions, be all like 'I'm just a mechanic.' They probably won't buy it. They're good. Really good. They'll probably treat you as hostile if you take that route. SHIELD won't vivisect you, but they won't hesitate to put you in protective custody either. Or prison."

A third imprisoned friend. God. Jessica's eyes tighten.

"Third option was the one I was preparing to launch at you when I came here. I am working this case side by side with Agent Peggy Carter, one of the most important agents in the whole damned organization. We're friends. She is a good woman. If we go to her, she will protect you. She could protect you as an asset, even if not an employee of SHIELD, if employment's not what you want. She can protect you from the DEO, and she can protect you from whomever these other people are, if they don't just back the eff off. She'd probably want you to work with us on finding a solution but…you know, getting all the info firsthand and partnering with us to kind of prevent the end of the world isn't the worst possible thing. And she could probably eventually help you find out what you want to know. I know before you were hesitant to take that offer, but…the situation has changed. And like it's not just Peggy. I can get— Steve Rogers will probably help too, if I ask him to. And they in turn have still more help within the organization. You'd be set if you'd only let me pull some strings for you."

She flushes bright red. Listen to her, talking about…pulling strings, like she's someone. But…she has these relationships, doesn't she? Shouldn't she use them on Kinsey's behalf?

"Fourth option is, yes, go to Tony. And you can trust Tony, Kinsey. He took care of my family when I couldn't, very recently. He gives a lot of himself. It can be hard to see under the act he pulls, but…it is an act. There's more to him than people realize. And Tony has so much clout with SHIELD that he, too, could protect you simply by threatening to throw a big enough tantrum to stop them from doing anything to you. And if he wanted you to work for him before, he'll want you again."

Tony's my client.

Confirmation gives Kinsey other things to consider, though she sets some of that aside so that she can better listen to what she's being told. It's easy to tell that the first option isn't going to gain any traction with her from almost the first sentence. Even indirect mention of Matt introduces considerations she has yet to give any airtime to, but she pushes those away along with the rest of the notion of living her life on the run. "I've never really been the 'running away' type."

'Playing dumb' gets more or less the same response, though it doesn't seem to require any commentary, as she offers none. The third option is the one Jess has spent the most time weighing, that's clear enough, and with good reason — it may be the only one that ultimately makes any sense. So Kinsey listens, and closely, to the outlines of what she's being told, but her reservations are legion, and she wears all of that on her face.

Because what she does is often, even usually, illegal. Being under the supervision of one of history's most famous intelligence operatives is…less than ideal. Not to mention —

"Steve Rogers. Captain America." She knows they're talking about the same Steve Rogers, of course, but she repeats it anyway, a flat tone that isn't quite incredulity, and not exactly exasperation, not entirely a kind of bewilderment at the turn her life has suddenly taken, but certainly something that lives in the same neighborhood as all three of the above.

"I think some combination of three and four is inevitable. Once SHIELD knows who I am and, assuming they believe any of this crazy bullshit they're hearing from whoever this guy is, what I am, they're not going to be keen to let me just…wander off. Organizations like that tend to take 'threats of worlds being eaten' pretty seriously. First, though, I…ugh. I should talk to Stark. Just…to find out what that option looks like. If you can give me enough breathing room to do that before the SHIELD follow-up, then…"

Then what?

Kinsey lets the sentence trail off, because really, that's the dominating question of her entire life now, she supposes:

Then what?

Jess can only shrug uncomfortably in the face of Kinsey's incredulity. Yep, her face says. Captain America. "I'm not entirely sure how he feels about me, but…I mean…we're on decent terms. And he and Peggy are close anyway so if she said to he'd do it for her anyway."

As for buying breathing room…"I can and I can't. I don't know when or if this guy wakes up. We're on a timer we can't see here." We, because as far as she's concerned, she's in this with Kinsey unless Kinsey directly tells her to fuck off. "And there's a gamble here, cause maybe he doesn't, and you make decisions based on the fact that he does and then…your life changes. For no reason. But…"

Jessica grimaces. And looks down. Should she have killed him? A question she's been over 100 times, but ultimately she came down on the right side of her gamble was the right gamble to make. Because if she'd killed him when he was no longer a threat, she'd be another nail in Bucky's coffin, and probably on trial herself, unless everyone that was in Stark Towers that night consented to cover up for her after making a choice to murder a witness— a vital witness— in cold blood.

"It's not a gamble I'd make."

She exhales. "All I can do is offer you some sanctuary maybe. If I ask Trish to squirrel you away in her apartment for awhile, no questions asked, she will. I'd just offer mine but my place is…insecure. My clients and friends have an alarming habit of just breaking in to wait for me. Anyone could wander in there. Trish's, by contrast, is an absolute fortress. Nobody gets in if she doesn't want them in there. Could buy you more time. Or…well."

She clears her throat. "I could just see if Tony's available tonight. I mean…I have his direct number."

As for then what, "Then we figure it out, Kinsey. Nobody ever gets certainty."

It can be fairly said that it doesn't improve matters to be reminded that all of this might happen for no reason. It is true, but it's a difficult truth. The senselessness of it, the injustice of it — they take the knife's edge on which the entire direction of her life presently turns and slide it with precision between her ribs. She leans forward, then, and presses her face into her hand, elbow on knee, though the other one remains in Jessica's, chilly as the concrete floor beneath them.

"I don't want to bring Trish into this," she says, firm. Probably no surprise there, given all of her resistance to getting even Jess herself involved.

"I have somewhere I can hide, but I don't see the point in hiding." At best it just delays the inevitable; at worst, SHIELD might discover the lab and the Valkyrie — resources she's not willing to part with.

Her head does lift again when Jess offers to call Tony, hazel eyes angled sidelong. The debate in her is token only — some stubborn piece of her offering massive resistance to the idea of throwing herself on Tony Stark's mercy — and it leaves her looking half-sick, the thought of doing that. After all these years, and all of the sniping, all of the —

"If you could do that," she says, voice threadbare, "I'd be grateful."

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