A Better Trade Pact

June 24, 2017:

Sizani, daughter of the Kupaa and member of the Dora Milaje, shows up at Alias Investigations, and Jessica Jones learns yet another force may be aligning itself against James Buchanan Barnes.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, NYC

An unlikely place to prepare for wars.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Tony Stark, Azalea Kingston, Bucky Barnes, Spider-Man, Matt Murdock

Mood Music: Stand Your Ground, Phoenix Effect

Fade In…

Alias Investigations is awash in sound, even behind the door— if indeed the door will get the rare privilege of being used today. But the metaphor works even if one is coming via fire escape or phasing through shadows and walls or engaging in any of the other kinds of crazy crap that people have engaged in for the purposes of simply appearing inside of the home and office of one Jessica Jones.

Music, pounding away, though not quite so loudly that it might disturb the neighbors.

The music is something pounding and defiant. As are the lyrics.

Got a mind of my own, I ain’t no slave…When the vultures gather around you. You need to stand your ground.

It’s not even loud enough to fully conceal the other sound.

Thunk thunk whump whump!

If there were any clients who thought to stop by today, these sounds might have already driven them off.

Fists and feet land on a whirling, spinning punching bag hard enough to set the chain to rattling and the frame to rocking, though not hard enough to, say, punch straight through the bag. A narrow-eyed, raven-haired PI dances with it. Round kick— low. Round kick— high. Right cross, left hook, then dancing back again to avoid getting hit, retaking a fighting stance before doing it all over again.

Whump! Thump WHUMP!

A different series of moves, but the same emotion behind them. Anger, that someone or something needs to suffer for. Right now the something is this punching bag, which…might well need a replacement after this. This time a little stuffing hurks out of the seams. Jones doesn’t appear to notice.

She’s barefoot, in baggy red boxing shorts that come to her knees, fingerless boxing gloves, and a black tank top. Her hair is pulled back into a messy tail. She’s not sweating at all; her thick eyeliner (hers, again, not some imitation of someone else’s) isn’t even disturbed.

Maybe it owes to a desire to be unlike other patrons to visit this office, but Sizani does in fact use the door. Silently. Gently. In the shadow of a song that gives focus to physical drive, and in the wake of an anger that threatens to dismantle a punching bag. She is a ghost cast in shades of charcoal and violet, her motion stalling to take watch like a cat might play voyeur to a bird through a window. Her hip cocks slightly to the side, shifting her jacket and slacks as much as the slow cross of her arms. She does not watch in a way that is casual, an icy stare dissecting her movement and commitment to every blow. In the service of her King, with a purpose rooted in gathering information about this country and it's champions, she could watch her for hours. After all, she told Tony Stark that in her country to know someone is to know how they deal with an invader. Right now, Sizani can imagine some of the ways Jessica might based on her right hook alone.

There's a slight tilt of her head, an assessment is made after a minute or more, and then she finally speaks, purposefully scouring her with a slow downtick of her eyes that moves all the way to her bare feet before crawling it's way back up.

"You look as if you are preparing for war, Ms. Jones. I can see an enemy reflected in your eyes." Her accent will be familiar, though ever-slightly different. It is an accent Jessica will have only heard from the mouth of a King.

In truth, she can only see a punching bag, but it's the look that Jessica gives the bag that brings her claim to the forefront. Perhaps slow to show any real expression, it does not mean that one is absent. A slight smile finds her once she's certain she has Jessica's attention, and she closes the gap between them with a long stride, looking down at Jessica as proximity forces the height difference - only a few inches - into play. Some of that is from her boots, for certain. "I hope I am not interrupting too much of your day. My King does not often await the convenience of others, and so I must impose."

Jessica doesn’t start; she had become aware of the watching woman at some point. Normally she would have stopped immediately. Welcomed her to Alias Investigations, asked how she could help. This time, she gives the bag a bit more what-for.

The song ends, declaring that someone will “need an army to break me, an earthquake to shake me.”

Jessica turns and hits the “pause” button on the playlist, on her phone. She could just ask the personal assistant program to do it, but that seems ostentatious. “I prepare for many wars,” she says grimly, reaching out a hand to steady the bag at last. It thumps neatly into place.

“Dora Milaje?” she asks, with some surprise. None of them had ever spoken to her before. Most of them look at her like she’s dirt under their shoes, in fact, so this is already interesting to her.

Then she decides to simply address the woman’s words, shrugging a little. After all, for the most part she’s had a positive experience with Wakanda’s King. She’d even go so far as to tentatively call their relationship friendly, though it’s a little hard to tell, since he extends concern for her well-being with his right hand and threats to her life, or at least her limbs, with his left. But she chalks that up to being a…Wakanda…thing. Or maybe a royalty thing. Not like she’s had vast levels of experience with either.

“You’re not imposing. Door’s open. Business is open. Want coffee? I’m happy to hear what you or your King need from me.”

"Thank you, no." She replies, declining the coffee, and then she moves towards Jessica's desk where she sits with elegance that comes from lineage, training, or both. It should be Sizani's turn to be surprised, but the Dora Milaje are not a secret. Perhaps her King mentioned his protectors and prospective wives to this investigator. Perhaps she is just living up to her namesake.

"I would like you to tell me what you know of Tony Stark." Her gaze casts sidelong, watching Jessica for reaction, as the game of 'who knows what' is set in motion. Her hands fold over her lap, and she'll give Jessica all the time she needs to join her - winding down after exertion is always a very personal thing.

There is a presumption in her words, not so much about what she knows or doesn't, but that she will be paid as she has been paid before. That she will earn more than money, but a continued good relationship with one of the most secretive nations on the world. Does Jessica Jones know that between herself and the United States Government, she currently has a better trade pact with Wakanda?

That may be coming to an end, unless Wakanda values honor as much as past conversations seem to indicate.

Jessica goes to get her own coffee, pouring it black, and comes to sit at her side of the desk. She settles down and says, “Due to a conflict of interest and various confidentiality issues created by an existing contract, I am unable to provide Wakanda or anyone else with any information about Tony Stark or Stark Industries.”

There’s no heat in the tone. She’s quite matter-of-fact about it.

But then she has a question of her own. “You the one who provided him with the gas?”

Which may be giving away a bit of info, to be sure. But it’s also getting a bit of info, if the woman answers, and anything that touches on Azalea Kingston…

Well. Anything that touches on Az, she wants to know about.

There's a long moment as she mulls the information, her thumb brushing over her beaded bracelet as she ruminates on the levels of connection in front of her, painted only with words. "A gift that will save lives, I hope. Our avenue to quelling his prisoner should she rise up against him is a narrow one. My King will question his motives in person. I come here to wonder aloud the fascination Tony Stark has with containing the likes of this murdered God. Perhaps to understand how you know of this girl and the creature inside her, and to further understand why you and she both are to bear witness in the case of Sgt. Barnes."

The other shoe drops as loudly as something physical, and that tilt of her head back towards a neutral position might as well have been a tightening of a screw. This is her crucible, to put this information before Jessica and see what she holds on to and what she throws away. "There is Wakandan blood on his hands, Ms. Jones." Something bleeds through. Something personal. She does not yet say what, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly as the scent of black coffee fills the space between them, and Sizani adopts a gaze meant to champion a prelude to war.

But in this, she is a servant in many respects. In this, she is reserved by her duty, and held back by circumstance. Besides, whatever anger she might feel over the situation will not be solved by releasing it until The Winter Soldier is standing in front of her.

Everything easygoing and friendly instantly flows from the face of one Jessica Jones. She immediately shuts down.

"I have absolutely nothing to say about Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes." Jessica says, her tone growing flat. "Or his case, or anything touching upon his case. And I've said all I need to say about Azalea Kingston to your King, other than to say this. She is a girl. She is a victim. She deserves help. Nobody fucking wants to keep Xihunel, but we'd all sure like to save that girl. And solutions which throw the teenager out with the bathwater aren't acceptable."

Wakandan blood on his hands? What fresh bullshit is this? Better see what I can find out.

"If you would be interested in sharing details about the murder of Wakandan citizens, I will be happy to consider them carefully, should you be of a mind to trust the trust that your King has placed in me in the past and trust that I might do well by such details."

"It is an interesting phenomenon that I have found true of Americans. You speak like all Wakandans do at some point in their lives. Full of vigor. Self assured. But you do not grow up from this position. I imagine it is invigorating, but it also reveals much when you refuse to speak." There is only her stare. Only her icy judgement. And then something else, something that finds Jessica's mouth, as if she could glean the resolve of her words from the lips that formed them.

"You need not worry about me where the fate of the God creature and it's vessel are concerned. My King will decide, as Kings do, what is best for Wakanda on that front. My purpose here was to understand which piece of this puzzle you were, Ms. Jones. Where you fit. I have some idea, I think. There are countries all over this world that wish Barnes imprisoned or killed or both. But it is those who do not that intrigue me." She leans forward then, and whatever anger she might have held there is now gone.

"My King knows you as a person of honor and high character. A person who does not let her spirit succumb to it's darker turns. And so I ask you now as someone who has seen ambiguity, as someone who has lost women and men of my tribe to this man, what would you say to me to convince me he does not deserve the hammer the world has aligned against him?"

Any doubt of how personal it was is laid to rest, but also, there is something more. Something intrigued. Sizani has heard a different tale of James Barnes. Now she is asking Jessica for some portion of a truth. Is it a trick? Do Wakandans value deception? Is it a trap? Will it ruin her forever to stand like a rock for this man she knows is as much a victim as Azalea Kingston?

It's probably a trick or a trap even if Sizani does not mean it as one. If only by virtue of the Law of Unintended Consequences. So Jessica doesn’t exactly rush to spill what she knows.

"You know what you haven't given me yet? Your name," Jessica points out. "You're asking a lot of questions, for one who will not even give so small a detail."

She smirks faintly. "I am sure even Wakandans don't say every goddamn thing on their minds, and for a variety of reasons. Look. You wanna have a reason? I suggest you listen real close to what the defense has to say. Cause all the reasons are there. You'll have time to hear other things I might have to say when I take the stand. There is a time and a place for everything. But in the meantime, I ask you this."

She stands, leans across the desk, meets Sizani's eyes without fear. "If you trust my honor, and are looking for a reason why a man does not deserve the hammer of the world, then ask yourself this. Would a woman of honor stand by the vile? For my honor directs that act, and I hold to it though I and mine may stand alone against the entire world. It is an American failing to think honor and what's right always lie with the majority, but I think Wakandans are wiser. I think Wakandans know…sometimes it is the minority who must know the truth, and guard it, and push back even when friends are unable to see it."

Jessica, a voice warns in the back of her mind. A memory, but of one wiser than she, assuredly. Stop talking. And so she does, though her gaze remains steady.

It's a tour de force of countering her techniques to maintain superiority while grilling the intended focus of her investigation, and she watches Jessica enact it with professional admiration. The PI calls her out on not introducing herself, on trying to keep the battlefield unbalanced, and then unleashes her resolve when Sizani dares question who she would stand beside.

Stark impresses her for his ability to persist - he should have blown himself up long ago. Jessica impresses for entirely different reasons, and it bleeds through as Jessica speaks of Wakandan wisdom. Maybe they all have egos that can be praised and toyed with, too. Or maybe she's just enjoying the other side of the table she often puts people behind.

"I am Sizani, Daughter of the Kupaa, and Dora Milaje to King T'Challa. We guard only those things that would keep our country safe from invaders and exploiters. But we do know what it is like to stand against the entire world. To this end, I wish you good fortune." There's something there, some lingering thought caught in her eyes, and a question in her broken soul. How far will she go for truth? Not any farther today. Despite her own questions, the mention of Barnes' transgression against her country was to draw out Jessica's reaction.

That was not her mission today. Her mission, instead, is much simpler. Her eyes tick down and up again, taking stock of Jessica's lean, and the fierce nature of her commitment not only to Barnes, but to the others that stand with him. "And for your resolve, and this honor you hold dear, I would continue the relationship you have with my country by retaining your services once more." Her hand goes into her jacket, and she withdraws something dark, but slightly translucent. Is it a phone?

"I seek information on what your local newspapers refer to as 'A Masked Menace'. I am most concerned that those champions of New York have done nothing to stop this creature that routinely damages your city with his webbing, and assaults innocents on your streets. I would know the measure of this villain and his threat to my King."

Looks like J. Jonah Jameson's take on Spider-Man has reached at least ONE person.

Jessica's reaction might surprise Sizani.

She bursts out laughing, and she sits back down. “I’ll give you that one for free, Sizani. He’s harmless. J. Jonah Jameson has a bee up his ass, cause his bitching sells papers. Spider-Man’s got a good heart, would not hurt anyone, and seeks only to defend lives.”

She shakes her head, enjoying what she thinks might be her first honest laugh in nearly a month. “Bug, a threat. So funny. Holy shit, but I needed that. He might annoy T’Challa to death if they ever meet, but that is about it.”

Now genuinely amused, Jess asks, “Anyone else you’re concerned about?”

The laughter comes and goes, and Sizani looks every bit as intrigued by Jessica's exuberance as she was by her combat training, watching as she unintentionally brightens the investigator's day. Still, she does not press, if only because Jessica has proven reliable in her evaluations in the past. She must trust her King, and the resolve she sees on display up close.

"A bee..this sounds very painful." She can only comment on the idea of a bee being up JJJ's ass. She can't fathom why anyone would leave things that way, but then every culture has it's eccentricities. She scrolls through something, waving her hand over her device until finally she seems to pluck the image and cast it to the space between them. It is very much like a hologram that Stark might use, several images, some of them ghostly.

One is almost certainly Superman.

Another is almost certainly Batman.

The other is a newspaper article about The Devil of Hell's Kitchen.

"I know some of these individuals are not native to your city, but you seem to have encountered many of these self-described champions. The man who flies has been seen on camera, his reputation is well known. The others less so."

“Never encountered Superman directly. Batman is an asshole, but he defends his city and his people. And as for Daredevil? You won't find any warrior in this city with more honor than he. Or courage. No one.”

Subjective. She is aware they are subjective, her words on the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. But it's what she thinks, and as the subjective goes it probably lies pretty damned close to objective reality.

Even if he would probably get exasperated to hear her say so.

The hologram goes away as she puts her phone back inside her jacket, the Dora Milaje showing no sign that she believes Jessica, but she must hold some stock in what she's been told. Unless it is all a game to see what Jessica will tell her, and while most of this is about observation, she would like to know as much as she can about the protectors of this foreign land.

"A good start for now." Her gaze lifts, and she stands. There is a pause as she considers, and finally she offers her hand. Perhaps uncharacteristic of her to be so friendly, but she knows the value of Jessica's relationship with Wakanda. "I am sure we will have other tasks for you soon enough, once I consult with my King. I can promise you, you will be hearing from us soon."

Jessica might not notice it at first, but Sizani places an envelope on the desk. If asked, she would call it a retainer. A pathway to continued good relations, should she require Jessica to someday answer much harder questions.

Jessica stares at it, trying to decide the right thing to do here. She hasn't really done anything, for one thing. For another, she is aware of conflicts of interest right now. Her expressive face is thoughtful, lips twisting and thinning as she contemplates how best to handle this.

“Sizani, daughter of the Kupaa,” she says, carefully. “I would not insult you by throwing a gift in your face. But there are things more valuable to me than money. Integrity which says I have no right to take that at this time…and the friendship of your people, your King, and, perhaps, you, personally. My own does not need to be bought.”

But there are things she wants, or may need.

She slides the envelope back to Sizani. “If you wanna show appreciation, remember my words about Barnes. And…teach me the proper way for an outsider to appear before your King with a request, that she might be heard,” this, she thinks, will require more formality than catching him on his way to his car, “And, should such a request be needed, help me get in his schedule the right way.”

It's one of those moments that could turn tense or contrary, but as Jessica very carefully navigates the diplomatic waters of turning down money while at the same time wishing to maintain a good relationship, Sizani simply looks up. Then around. Oh yeah, she's judging the fuck out of this place, and finds it suspicious that Jessica won't take the money. But then, it occurs to her that may be why the gesture is meaningful, and so she reaches for the envelope and opens it, removing the business card she had left next to the many perfect hundred dollar bills. The card finds the desk, and it is completely plain, save for a hand written phone number. "You may contact me whenever you wish. I will make certain to make time to consider any request you might have of our King." She gives an ever-slight incline of her head, and then turns to go.

Stopping just as she opens the door, she hesitates a mere moment before offering. "When I arrived there was a man asleep in the elevator, and he did not have any shoes." She offers no course of action for this particular observation, but perhaps it occurred to Sizani that Jessica might know him. "I will take the stairs." And she leaves to do just that, carrying with her all the information her King will need to make a series of important decisions.

Some people just aren’t motivated by it.


“That’s just Andy,” Jessica observes, programming Sizani’s information into her phone without another glance at the envelope. “He’s harmless.”

If Jessica were, the fact that she’s worked for Stark Industries and the King of Wakanda would be all over her website. She’d have pressed Tony for testimonials. Instead of losing sleep over various world-ending scenarios, she’d have said, “Good luck with that, I’m out,” after capturing Holmes and essentially closing her case.

She’d have been peddling her services to other hard hitters, regardless of how good or how bad their needs were. At this point, she has the cred to reach out to some really deep pockets. She’d have been too busy to really help anyone with anything, other than perhaps to throw a little of her own money at various problems.

But she’s not. There are things more valuable than money in this world, things that Jessica cares about far more than she cares about elevating herself out of the scuzzy Hell’s Kitchen apartment that she calls her home.

And so she’s forgotten about those crisp, green bills by the time she hits “Save.”

Seconds later, she’s dialing Bucky Barnes.

“Hey Bucky?…”

“I gotta ask you a thing or two about Wakanda.”

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