The Choice to Change

July 02, 2017:

Disturbed by her conversation with Grymalkin, Juno Hart approaches Jessica Jones to get some answers. They share an intense conversation on the nature of Juno's past…and the power of choice.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, NY


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Grymalkin, Bucky Barnes, Azalea Kingston, Red Robin


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Juno didn't think much of her last conversation with Grymalkin, the talking cat (that is occasionally human). He usually talks about things that she doesn't much care about, or that don't have much to really do with her, but this last time… he'd asked a question that she didn't really have an answer for. And she still doesn't really have one; Juno doesn't know 'who she is' other than 'Juno-who-was-J-27-and-Yuliya'. She'd never thought to even ask the question, had she?

Truthfully, she's not sure she wants to know. She's not sure she cares enough to ask.

But he had mentioned Bukiy, and Jessica, and inferred that they knew more than she did - that their kindness is for a reason. That she isn't just a tool to them - not even a tool that belongs to someone else. It's weird, isn't it?

She only knows two people she could ask besides Miss Elena and Pearce. Bukiy is in prison and has his own problems, so Juno can't ask him. That leaves Jessica Jones, who might know less about her origins, but would likely be able to tell her more about if or why Juno should care at all. She'd sent a text saying that she was coming over, and an hour or so later, knocks on the front door of the private eye's office/apartment. "Jessica? It's me."

Outside, the skies are overcast. Cool, breezy winds threaten a huge summer storm later. But Jessica Jones is home. Sitting at her desk, nursing a cup of coffee with the windows flung wide to the skies; the wind suits her mood. No lights are on, but she'd been typing away on a holographic keypad, writing up the case report on one of the boring, run-of-the-mill, low-key cases she's mostly restricted herself to since Bucky's arrest, incarceration, and then subsequent release on bail to what amounts to more or less a kind of enforced house arrest, with too many people all too willing to take "justice," as they see it, into their own hands.

She hears the knock; the voice, her fingers pause in the air, and she shuts the whole thing down; she'd chosen to do that while waiting for the girl to come over.

"Come in," she says, standing to greet her. She studies Juno, asking, "Everything okay?"

She motions Juno to the couch, and adds, "Want a soda or something?"

The Juno on the other side of the door doesn't seem to be in a bad mood, at least. But then, barring extreme circumstances, does she ever?

She comes in and has a seat after dropping her backpack, sprawling inelegantly across the couch as if she could radiate all the summer heat out of her skin if she just takes up enough space. "Sure! Thank-you," Juno nods, looking around the office again with her usual idle curiosity. She wonders if the storm will break before she goes home.

"Have you been okay?" She'd told Jessica there was something she wanted to ask her, but now that she's here Juno isn't sure how to phrase it, or even really what she wants.

Maybe she could just come out and say it. Jessica will understand what she means, right? And so, without even waiting for Jessica to have a seat herself, Juno blurts out, "What am I?"

Jessica is moving for the fridge, simply nodding her head to the question of is she alright.

The truth is…she is.

It's strange. She'd gone through mountains of depression trying to process everything. Bleeding moons and dead men in a church. Portals into other dimensions. The death of worlds. Her face off with a mind controller. Grieving Az, in a way, and then letting go, trusting others to either handle the girl…or finally fail her. Bucky's arrest and arraignment. Trying to chop wood and haul water through it all.

And then one day she woke up. There was still a mountain of wood to chop, still water to haul, and all of it had just become the new normal. She'd begun to realize, somewhat on her own, and somewhat with the help of her weird dream therapist, that every day was its own big plate, and she couldn't eat that plate if she was still trying to eat yesterday's plate, or was busy anticipating tomorrow's. Tomorrow's plate might be sad and awful, but today's is just today's, and today her friends are all still alive, her earth is still fine, and she's got herself a job of work to do, and people who need her to do it. It has resulted in a Jessica Jones who feels more stable, more centered in herself, than she's ever felt. She is almost afraid to enjoy it, almost afraid it won't last, and that even one week from now she'll be a broken down mess again…but it's a nice taste. A taste of who she can be.

All of this is too heavy and too intense to spill on the girl on her couch, though, so the nod is all she offers, along with a smile thrown over her shoulder.

A smile that fades a bit with her hand still on the handle of the fridge when Juno asks her question.

Here it is.

Jessica opens the fridge and withdraws a soda, opening it for Juno and bringing it back to her.

The conversation that I'm either not at all qualified to have with this girl…or the conversation that I am the best possible person on all the earth to have with this girl.

She sits down on the couch beside her, the silence no doubt doing much to lend itself to the gravity of the moment.

We're about to find out.

She reaches out. Offers a hand.

And decides not to give an answer. Not yet. Not just yet, because she'd better make damn sure she understands before she leaps in.

"Wanna tell me why you're asking just that question in just that way, Kiddo?"

It doesn't really matter to Juno if Jess is the best or the worst person to talk to about this. Right now at least, Jessica is the only person she can ask. She reaches out and takes the soda with a smile, gulping down some of it without regard for the way the fizz tickles her nose. Lowering the can, she sees Jessica offer a hand. She doesn't really understand why, but reaches out to take it anyway.

"Mmm. I guess… because I want to know if I should care or not. I found Grymalkin again, or he found me, and asked me about what happened with Peter Smirnov. I didn't really know why he cared, really," Juno shrugs, and lets go of Jessica's hand. The cold soda can is nicer to hold until she cools off.

The sofa is soft and comfortable. Juno takes another sip of soda and looks up at the ceiling for a moment. "He said I didn't know who or what I am. And a bunch of stuff about how I used to be a real person. I don't… really know if I sure care about it or not, though?"

Jessica studies Juno. "Should is a trap," she observes. She's sure heard that one from Jana, often enough.

But she doesn't expand on that any further. She is also no therapist.

She retracts her hand, leaning back on the couch and exhaling.

"What is a 'real person' to you, Juno?"

That cat. Tossing concepts at this child that she may not even be remotely ready for. But what's the sense in getting pissed off about that? He did what he thought was best. Can't control the whole world.

Still, she leans on asking more questions. Questions, she has learned, are never nearly as dangerous as blanket statements, or bald, direct answers. They're not even as dangerous as full on explanations.

Questions are the only thing that ever guides a dangerous conversation safely into port.

Should is a trap. It takes her a moment to parse the unusual sentence before she steps back to examine it more closely. So… expectations, maybe? Yes, Juno can see how those can be trouble. So she had tried very hard not to have any. It makes living easier.

"A real person… hmm. Like you," she says easily, putting her soda can on the table next to them. "Like Pearce. Like the people outside, who walk around and live and never were trained like me. People who have mothers and fathers and sisters. Even Bukiy is a real person, after all," Juno nods, a little satisfied with that part of her answer, at least. Maybe she means 'people with choices', but that's not quite true - Miss Elena always says that Juno has a choice, even when she's giving out a mission.

"The people out there," she motions to the window. "People who aren't like me. People who didn't come from Kindergarten." She wonders what 'real' means to Jessica. "Does that… make sense to you?"

"Yes," Jessica says softly. "It makes sense."

Outside, the wind picks up. This hiss of rain hits the streets. Washing away garbage, smell, summer heat. Turning streetlights into blurs, making everything impressionistic. The wind drives some of the rain onto Jessica's windowsill, but not much. She watches the grey day unfold, but she doesn't move to stop it from entering her home.

"He's right, you know. Grymalkin. About you."

She pauses, smiling a little. "I take a bit of exception to the terminology. You are real. You never stopped being real. But someone stole something from you, long ago, so long ago that you were too young to remember. Smirnov. The other people at the Kindergarten. They stole parts of your life, and you sense that, and those things that he stole make you feel less real. And of course. He and the others probably told you a bunch of bullshit that also made you feel less real, because that's how fuckers like that operate."

She won't go too far down this road, not without a detour into another question, one that might help lead Juno to an understanding. "Remember that traffiker you were going to gank? The one Red Robin talked you into having arrested instead? You knew he was a real bad son of a bitch. What made him bad? What made him so bad that stopping him from doing any more bad was the right thing to do?"

With the coming of the rain, some of the pent-up feeling hanging over the city eases a bit. Juno watches it fall outside the window, posture still relaxed. She isn't tense at all, despite her small misgivings about asking the question that she did. Juno likes the rain here. It feels real.

"I don't know an English word for it yet," she shrugs. Maybe one day she will. "But… most people, the 'real' people, they don't see things like I do. They don't…" Juno trails off. She doesn't know how to say that they are uninvolved. That sometimes she feels like she is the only person she knows here that lives like a ghost.

They live in a world she's still struggling to understand, because they are People and not things.

She thinks back to that night. She had wanted him to die, because… She had fractured her leg trying to finish the job after Red Robin had made her miss the first shot. Even now… "Because Miss Elena said that he was an evil man, that he took real people and hurt them and sold them to other evil men. That they would be hurt, and keep hurting, and that they weren't like me. They wouldn't become like me. They would just hurt, for no reason other than someone else could make them hurt."

"It's true that the way that people hurt you made you stronger, and you ought to hold on to that. They still hurt you. I don't think you should lose sight of the fact that it made you stronger, more effective, capable of being— well. A hero, if that's who you want to be."

Restless, Jessica gets up. She trends to the fridge, pulling out a root beer. She twists the cap off it, dropping that in the trash, and comes back, swigging it, sitting down once more.

"But…that doens't mean the fact that someone stole you away and took away all the things you were supposed to have less wrong. The people at that Kindergarten are really no better than that traffiker. You probably had a home once. A family. People who loved you. You might have gone to school like other girls your age. The fact that someone's giving you a warm bed? Letting you eat as much as you want? Not hurting you? Not punishing you? That strikes you as the best god damn thing ever, and I'm not saying Elena isn't kind to provide it. But it's the god damn baseline for how people are supposed to be treated, Juno. How you should have been treated, all along, all these years."

She leans forward, puts the root beer back on her coffee table. She rests her elbows on her knees, letting her arms dangle a bit, staring resolutely at the rain. Her voice has been quiet, steady all this time. "Maybe they told you that there was something about you that made this all right, and proper, and good. How they treated you. Did they? Did they tell you that you were just somehow inherently different from everyone else?"

Pain made her stronger. Training made her skilled. Her sense of self is innately tied to those qualities, the idea that all the things she endured were for something. "When I think about the idea that those people might have been hurt for no reason…" Juno begins softly, and stops for a moment. It had made her feel bad, hadn't it. She had felt a little bit sick and didn't know precisely why. "I wanted to stop it from happening." If they were going to become strong, like Juno, then maybe it would be okay. If they were young like she was, if they wouldn't remember anything.

But those people, they were older. They would remember, no matter how long they were kept, that they had been real once. Juno sighs.

A home. A family. She has a home now though, a home where she's treated well. She is able to live with Pearce and belong to Miss Elena because she grew up the way she did. Could any other life have had a reward so good? "If I had a family… I wonder if they're still alive. I wonder if I would want to see them." People usually do, right? Jessica wants to see her family again, all the time, but she can't. Would it be cruel for Juno to pursue her own if she decided that she wants to?

Pushing the table out of the way with her foot, Juno turns herself upside-down on the couch with her calves propped up over the back and her upper body hanging off of the seat. Crossing her arms behind her head, she starts doing sit-ups because she wants to move, suddenly she doesn't want to be still at all. One, two, three…

"They told me," Juno tries to remember, eyes a little distant, still moving throughout all of it. "They told me that sacrifices have to be made sometimes. That someone had to be a soldier. Someone had to be able to do all these things."

Jessica watches the girl do push-ups. This thing they told Juno actually isn't the worst thing they could have told her. That's a blessing.

"Usually," she says quietly. "Soldiers choose. They choose, Juno, when they're old enough to choose. Here in the States? 18. Minimum. And they aren't trained brutally. It's hard. It's unpleasant. But it's not brutal. The way they trained you was wrong. You've become amazing as a result, but that doesn't stop it from being wrong."

Jessica turns the bottle of root beer over and over in her hands with no real desire for it. It's something to play with. Something to keep her hands occupied while she navigates this mine field.

"Someone made me feel like I wasn't real once. Took away my choices. And Bucky. And Elena. And Oliver. We all know what it's like. If you think we're real, well. That just goes to show you can be, too, if it's what you want."

She finally puts the root beer down. "I could try to find them," she says. "Your parents. It's what I do. It's one of the ways I help people." Sure, she'll just take on a cold case in a foreign country and wrap that right up. Why not? "Might take me awhile. I'd have to start learning some Russian. And I can't guarantee I can. But I can try."

"That's for normal soldiers though." She hopes it's for the normal ones here, otherwise America will have a bunch of grey-haired rookies out there! Juno accepts the 'amazing' comment because it's not a lie - she is very good, because if she wasn't she would be dead. The ones who weren't amazing didn't last.

Her rhythm doesn't falter. Up, down, up, down. She's not even breaking a real sweat (other than the normal 'hot summer evening' glow), just moving for the sake of motion. Exercise helps her think.

Juno doesn't slow down until Jessica reveals a little bit about her own past. Turning her head to watch the detective talk, she considers the idea of it all. That the reason she's here at all is because someone might have mistreated her. Because without that, there would be no reason for her to be with Miss Elena. No reason for Jessica to know her. No reason that she would have ever met Bukiy, or held Grymalkin. She would be another person entirely. Her name wouldn't be Juno, or J-27, or maybe even Yuliya.

How weird.

"You are real," she nods, and crosses her ankles on top of the couch. "So, maybe I can be too, after all…?" But does she want to? Will she be a different person after all? Would she—

She's silent, slowing to a stop after Jessica makes that offer. "…Not yet," she decides after a long minute of quiet. "Maybe… I don't know what to do. About them. I don't remember them at all. It would be…"

Juno trails off, turning her head the other way to stare at the wall.

"There is nothing," Jessica admits, "more terrifying than change. Especially when— you have an image of yourself in your head."

She gets down on the floor next to Juno, sitting next to her but facing in the opposite direction, so she can look at the opposite wall.

"But you only have to do it when you are ready. Because it's your choice, and nobody is going to take any choice away from you. Except…it's also inevitable, a little. Every time you meet a new person or try a new thing, you'll change just a little bit. But the big changes happen only by choice. You'll find things you like about who you are now, things you don't, and you might decide to change them…or to leave them alone. And that's honestly okay. And you don't have to do or decide anything at all today."

After a moment she starts doing sit ups with the girl, feeling the same urge. To move. Thunder rolls outside, and she says, "I'm changing right now. Scares the fuck out of me."

Juno hears Jessica moving, but doesn't turn her head back immediately. She trusts Jessica, that the older girl isn't going to hurt her just because she can. Juno believes in an order to the universe, even if there's a lot of unexpected surprises too. And Jessica is right, because hasn't she changed already? Just from coming here, just from meeting Grymalkin and Jessica and everybody else. Even that girl that she met during her first trip to the mall.

"It's true," Juno admits, finally turning to watch as Jessica moves to exercise with her. "I've already learned a lot. And every thing I learn makes me see things a little more differently, doesn't it? Meeting people is like that, too." Did Jessica change at all because she met Juno? Because she became Bukiy's friend? "I don't think you're changing into anybody bad," she offers, though her limited experience with different types of human beings might not be much of a comfort. "I like you, no matter what you change into."

"No, nobody bad— and thank you. I like you too."

Jessica is contemplative. "In fact, I'm getting better. I was pretty terrible last year. I was drunk and unhappy all the time. I really didn't care about anybody other than myself, my pain, doing the bare minimum to get by. You wouldn't have liked me back then."

Up and down, forward and back, the rhythm of the sit-ups soothing, helpful. "And for the most part I'm even kind of proud of myself, for making the decision to change. But sometimes I look in the mirror, and it's still scary. Because much as I don't want to be that person ever again, I don't know who the new person is yet, not really, not always. Sometimes I want to run back to being the old person because I know her. I guess what I'm saying is…you might go through that too. And that's okay as well. But I've got a lot that I didn't have before. Friends. Like you. So the change has been worth it."

A pause. Should she warn her?

She should.

"And…when you start thinking about this stuff, you may start hurting. Not physically. In your heart. That's going to kind of suck, and maybe you won't know what to do with that. Maybe it won't happen, but…it might. But sometimes you gotta push through that. You don't have to do it alone though."

Was Jessica really so different one year ago? It's hard to imagine her as anything but what she is now. And yet, she had been different - Juno remembers the story of how she learned to ice skate with her dad. That Jessica would have been very, very different from the one beside her now. Given enough time, everybody changes, don't they?

Maybe even Bukiy, Zimniy Soldat, will change someday.

Juno is quiet, but she's clearly thinking Jessica's words over. She's considering, despite the normal blank-ish look in her eyes. "If you change in a way that makes you happy, you should be proud, right?" Juno thinks so. She's happy that Jessica is becoming happier with herself - that she's feeling so much better than she apparently used to be.

"It's okay if you don't know who you're becoming yet, I think," she ventures, flopping back to hang upside down off the edge of the sofa. "It's okay to hurt, too, if you need to. Because hurting makes you become stronger." Can a heart become stronger too? Will she become an even better person after she figures all this out?

"And like I said, last time. If I can help you when you need it, and you don't come get me, I'll be mad. Okay?" Juno takes a deep breath, lets it out, and starts back at the sit-ups. There are a million things that she doesn't know, but there is an order to the universe, and a pattern to the stars, and even if people change all the time and the future isn't certain… As long as it's for a reason, Juno knows she can endure anything. So can Jessica, it seems.

"I will," Jessica says quietly. "I promise. I don't have anything right now, but…that doesn't mean I won't." She doesn't break the pattern of sit-ups, even as she mentally runs through everything she's got going on. Everything's quiet. Calm before the storm, she's sure. Everything's stalled. Like Jessica's entire world is holding its breath right now.

Perhaps, ultimately, it is.

She smiles at Juno. "I'd never stop anyone helping if they wanted to." And she wouldn't. Why would she ever take away from the one thing that makes her feel right with the world? Helping is about what keeps Jessica Jones mostly sane these days. "I'd tell you to go help others too, but…I don't really want you to kill anybody. If you thought you could knock out people who were hurting others, I'd tell you to go do some of that. There's always people in need somewhere."

She's getting better at the whole not-killing-people thing. It's true that most of her training amounted to all the most efficient ways of making a person stop breathing, she knows how to adapt them. She knows the sorts of injuries that hurt without harming. Juno just never had much of a reason to use them before. "I'll think about it," she nods, chin tucked against her chest as she pulls herself up again. The wet smell of the rain and the hot scent of asphalt waft through the open window along with a few drops of water.

"You said I can choose what I want to be, right? That means choosing what I do, too." It means fewer knives, fewer guns, and more chances of getting injured. It means maybe becoming a better person. That's a good reason to hurt. "So yeah. I'll try that too."

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