Stir Crazy

July 17, 2017:

Michael Carter makes good on a low-key promise to Jessica Jones. Michael gets himself a dose of the infamous Jones temper, but handles it with grace as spy and detective come to understand some of what they have in common.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, New York

If you can't yell a little here, where can you yell?


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Peggy Carter, Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, Matt Murdock, T'Challa, Tony Stark

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

When Michael Carter makes his way to Alias Investigations today he will indeed find one Jessica Jones a whole lot of Not Busy. It's a rare situation, and one that would be rightly driving her crazy…

If she weren't consciously engaged in an exercise designed to combat the feeling of being driven crazy. Soft music— Tibetan singing bowls, in fact— issues quietly from her phone as she sits on her couch, hands on her knees, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth.

The woman is meditating, for a whole host of reasons, even though this is not an exercise most would associate with her.

Of course, when she becomes aware at someone at the door (either by virtue of a knock or the sound of it opening), she shuts it all down. But even so, the music choice and the fact that there are no papers, no ringing phones, no clamor of clients, not even a television in the middle of a show— says that he's picked a good time.


Michael Carter knocks, of course he knocks. It's a wonder that he didn't call ahead for an appointment. But what he's here for doesn't really deserve the high status of being marked in her day planner - or wherever else she keeps track of these things. He's carrying a bag marked with a deli and another marked with a butcher. "Ms. Jones. I hope I'm not disturbing you." He's, as usual, clad in a well-fitted, classic but not dated suit, minus a tie. Despite the fact that it's summertime.


"No, not at all," Jessica says, having answered the door. She spots the bag, and a hint of a grin not fully realized starts to tug at the edges of her features. It's a sort of— hey, is that what I think it is— grin.

She's wearing jeans, though these are pretty nice jeans, and a plain, olive green T-shirt with a V neck and three decorative buttons. She's gotten a bit of a haircut since he last saw her, long black locks chopped to something just above shoulder length. But other than that she pretty much looks like Jones.

"Come on in, make yourself at home," she says, after a moment. "How are you? And… could this be, in your hand there, British— or should I say— real— bacon?"


"It is indeed," says Michael. He holds up the deli bag. "This is a BLT, made with proper rashers. And this…" he holds up the other bag. "Is a half pound, in case you like it. If you do not, I shall take it home and happily consume it."


The grin actually finds its way all the way onto Jessica's face. "Thanks," she says. "I was just starting to get hungry, too."

She sort of motions him over to her desk, though she pulls the chair from the business side of it over to the more companionable side. "Would you like something to drink? I got water, soda, lemonaid." She figures he's at least staying for a moment, because, after all, he has to find out if he's taking the half a pound of proper rashers. No coffee today; the pot is empty and long cold. Even she doesn't drink it all day long, in the heat.

She suddenly smirks, even as she moves to the fridge to get something for herself, regardless of whether he decides on something. "This isn't a 'I chickened out and didn't tell Peggy after all, please don't out me' bribe, is it?" The tone is teasing, she doesn't really believe it is…but still feels almost honor-bound to check.


"I will probably regret it because it is likely to be exceedingly sweet, but lemonade would be nice, thank you." Michael takes a seat and sets the bacon down. Then he withdraws two sandwiches. They're on fresh baked seven grain bread with generous amount of mayo, fresh tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. The bacon is clearly not crispy except for the bit on one end, but it is pearled with grease.

"Ah, no. It is…perhaps…a 'please talk to my sister and convince her I am not some trick' bribe."


She withdraws lemonaids for both of them; they are indeed storebought and probably yes, likely to be exceedingly sweet. Jessica takes a note…the British, perhaps, are not too fond of too much sugar in their lemonaid. Or is this a Michael thing?

She sets them down in either case, pulls her own sandwich over, and peeks at the proper rasher, mostly cause she's curious. Upon seeing it, she takes a bite. She closes her eyes for just a moment, giving him a thumbs up when she decides she likes it; the closed eyes were, in fact, so she could sort of discern what the differences are. Less salt, a bit like ham, a bit like sweet, but without the cloying sweetness of honey baked ham. "I'm afraid you're going to have to leave your bacon," she informs him.

On the matter of Peggy, she's silent for a bit. Finally she says, "Well, that was an expected reaction. I could, but then you'd have to tell her you told someone else— me, of all people— first. She might just need time you know. Time to vet and verify you, and if she is going to find everything she should then…you'll be clear. I know it sucks, but…nothing good can come of rushing that."


Michael seems pleased by her reaction, even if it means he has to go back to the butcher for some of his own. "It's also great with eggs, beans and black and white pudding." He bites into his own sandwich and nods in approval. "I like mine cut a tad thinner, but good show otherwise." And yes, he did just say 'good show' unironically.
He looks at the ground, then back up as he listens to Jessica's advice. "The problem is, I do need to move forward with my mission. Peggy's not currently trusting me, and I haven't been able to see Mr. Stark. I'm not accustomed to hitting this many barriers."


"Seeing Mr. Stark's easy. I can get you to him whenever you want," Jessica replies. "Though I don't know how much 'moving forward' there is to be done just yet. I don't think any of us are sure how to do that. Anyway, I can do this one of several ways. I can text him to let you know you're coming to introduce yourself, or I can just bring you up and in to whatever workshop he's currently holed up in."

It's probably the weirdest back channel ever built, but in this matter, it seems Michael has one. Then again, it was weird for Tony to ever show up in her office in person.


Michael looks surprised that this channel exists, and that Jessica Jones has access to it. He blinks. "Well. I was given to understand that Mr. Stark likes to avoid meetings if they don't particularly interest him." He takes a neat bite of his sandwich, chews (thoroughly) and then, "I leave the method up to your counsel."


"Everything to do with Machine Gods eating planets personally interests him," Jessica says dryly. "Especially since it all had to do with his stuff. I think he takes the whole thing as a personal affront these days."

She pulls out her phone— an S-Phone, in fact, he might note— and fires off a text to him, just because it's a quick and easy way to set things up without forcing her to leave her sandwhich. She does, however, go and put the half pound in the fridge while she's thinking about it.

"Tony's how I ended up on this madness at all," she explains. "He hired me to look into the stolen tech and the murders before we all thought it was anything bigger or more complicated than that. He's honestly a lot more down-to-earth than most people imagine."


"It makes sense that a man with Mr. Stark's profile would cultivate an image. It's smart, really." Michael gives a tenative sip of the lemonade. The brief face he makes suggests he finds it too sweet, but he politely drinks anyway. He listens to her story and nods thoughtfully. "I do admit, I was wondering how you came to be tied up in something that seems quite…high-level. No offense, of course. I've heard you're very good at what you do. But threats to existence as we know it probably isn't one of your bullet points in your Yellow Pages ad."


"At this rate? It should be," Jessica says with a low snort.

Indicating this isn't even the only world-threatening issue she's in on.

"He apparently keeps tabs on metas," she says with a shrug. "And my Dad worked for him, while he was still alive, so he may have had a head start on that. I dunno. I've been getting a lot of crazy crap lately on the basis of 'I need something done, and I need someone who won't be squished by it.' That's been pretty much my whole practice since November."

No sign of offense at all registers to his spy's keen eye. If anything, there's something rueful about her words. What he will pick up on is that despite the griping about the 'crazy crap,' there is some part of her that takes to it like a fish to water, maybe even loves it, and doesn't entirely know what to do with herself, now, that there's some kind of a lull.

Still, she doesn't want to sit here and just blather on about herself, so she asks, "Other than feeling frustrated about your mission and your sister, how are you settling in to New York?"


"Well, I do hope Mr. Stark compensates you well for your work." Michael salutes with the lemonade. He takes the tiniest sip before returning to his sandwich.
"I will be honest. I find myself rather restless. I haven't had this much free time since the 1930s. Which is why I'm eager to get to work." He glances over his shoulder to indicate the rest of the city, then back to Jessica. "I'm afraid I'm far too English for New York City. Everyone here is too busy for politeness. Not that…" he holds up a hand, "I say that a complaint."


"He takes care of me more than he should," Jessica says, and seems to mean that. She's fond of Tony; and trusts him. His spy's gaze might pick that out, too. He's become a friend, and not just a client.

She's amused as he hastens to assure her he's not complaining about New York or its people. "It's okay, Michael," she says dryly. "You can complain if you want, it's not going to hurt my fragile New York feelings. People can be polite, it's just a different polite. You'll find the rhythm of it eventually, if you stay long enough. Not that…I'm precisely Emily Post or anything."

She frowns thoughtfully. "I'd give you a thread to tug on if I had one. There's still one murder outstanding on this case, and while it takes a back seat to Machine God— I think it was the Iron Monger who did it— it still bothers the Hell out of me. Thing is? I got no leads."


"See? I can't even complain properly." Michael scratches his temple and chuckles. "Well, at least I'm finding my way around. The last map I memorized was from 1966. Things have changed a little bit since then."

He leans forward with interest as she breaks up a case. "Oh?" And then, "You know, if you find yourself at a dead end with any of your other cases, I may be able to help. I do have significant intelligence resources. I can tell my superiors that any information is in the name of cementing relationships with allies."


Jessica lifts her eyebrows thoughtfully at that one. She drums her fingers on the desk.

"One of them, I think, is under control." And she thinks Constantine's head would explode if she tried to throw Michael at him.

"For the Iron Monger, maybe your significant intelligence resources could shake out a lead. I really would like to nail him to the wall for the murder of Cassandra Marx. She was just an old lady taking care of a baby, and he beheaded her."

And she takes it personally.

But none of this is what she's leading up to. Slowly she says, "Maybe some advice. Say you put yourself into a position, made a sort of bargain, got yourself even a promise from a world ruler that you could look at certain files and investigation resources. And say you found, once that happened, that you were getting stonewalled at every turn, because the people with that information were in fact the intelligence service of that country, and they in fact have no interest in sharing anything with you at all, other than one agent who may or may not be throwing you at everything but the thing you want to look at to mostly keep you busy. You're an intel guy. What would your next step be?"


Michael takes in Jessica's not-so-hypothetical. He eats the last few bites of his sandwich, then rubs his fingers clean with a napkin. "I suppose that would depend on the nature of the bargain. And it would depend on the country. Each intelligence agency has their quirks, and their pressure points. It's just a matter of knowing how to apply them." His brows arch.


Jessica hesitates. But…she's not going to give good advice if she doesn't level, and she realizes that a few seconds after.

"Wakanda," she says with a grimace. "I went to Wakanda and tried to obtain permission to access the intelligence files about Mizizi, try to give the case another look. Both so my friend's lawyer wouldn't be blindsided by anything having to do with it in court, and to try to clear him of terrorism with Wakanda. Ahh…"

Here she looks embarrassed. "I had a pre-existing relationship with their King. He's hired me too."

Yep. Definitely not your standard scuzzy PI practice, for all that it looks exactly like a standard scuzzy PI practice. "He threw me into a trial of my own, by ritual combat, and I won. He said he wouldn't give consent unless he could trust me to put Wakanda's interests first, to act in this matter like a quote-unquote Agent of Wakanda. I didn't love it, since he said that could mean he'd send me after my friend or rip off my head for treason— which is really just him trying to hold me hostage over him I think. And that should have been it. He gave his consent, I should have had a stack of papers and videos and transcripts and names to go through like any other case. I don't. I don't have jack crap. The Wakandan Intelligence Service is giving me the run around and T'Challa is not available. Which, you know what? If he seriously comes and tries to give me shit about being a Wakandan agent or whatever after this run around I'm going to tell him right where his panther ass can shove it, but…if I were concerned with saving my own head I wouldn't have even gone. I'd much rather have what I went for."


"Wakanda was going to be my guess," says Michael. "They…well, let's just say there's an entire year-long supplemental course for agents to take at MI6 to learn the intricacies of dealing with Wakanda."

He is quiet for a long moment, as he listens to what she has to say. Something hardens a little on his fac.e He purses his lips. "This wouldn't be the trial of the Winter Soldier, would it?" When he says that name, some of his affable Britishness fades away.


"I probably should have taken that course," Jessica mutters, exhaling. Really and truly. Because hearing that, on top of what Bucky already told her, does not fill her with confidence. It in fact makes her feel like she's stepped off a cliff and fallen in some quicksand. But then…that is 100% her life anyway, so what else is new?

He hardens, and Jessica hardens with him. A lot, in fact.

"His name is James Barnes," she says flatly. "The Winter Solider is a creation, a fiction, a product of mind control and torture. Mind control and torture ought to be a pass, Michael, for anyone."


"He's tried to kill me. Multiple times," says Michael, without much inflection. "I daresay some of the charges against him come from my government."

He sighs and drops his shoulders. "I'm not without sympathy for the man. I'm aware of his history. But I also know how difficult it is to remove conditioning like that. He is dangerous, even if he doesn't intend to be. And anway, even if I did decide he was blameless, a trial like this is about governments as much as it is about individuals. As it sounds like you've discovered."


Jessica decides this is an excellent time to practice Matt's principles. She takes a deep breath. Holds it for five seconds. Exhales for five seconds. "The government part's already handled," she points out. "With most everyone. But Wakanda. As to that, yeah, Winter Soldier stuck a gun in my face a few times too. But you know what? I'm still here, and so are you."

She stands up, ostensibly to get another lemonaid, though hers is 1/4 full still. In reality, she's restless, needing to move right out of his proximity. At last, she says, "That man fought against that conditioning. Tooth and nail, whenever and however he could. And that's not easy. It takes Herculean will. Most people never would. James isn't dangerous, and he is blameless. Unless you've got a thing for blaming the victim."

She's proud of herself, for how even and noncommittal her tone is. Under the surface, some emotion is seething, especially on that final statement, but…it would take someone with Michael's skill set to see it. This is about more. More than a friend she's steadfastly defending, though she's certainly doing that.


Michael watches her, but not in an obvious way. He's searching for cues. He doesn't know for certain, of course - he's not psychic, but he thinks he knows why this has touched a nerve. He stands, but not because he's restless. He re-buttons his blazer.

"Ms. Jones, I understand Mr. Barnes perhaps better than you realize." He inhales, slowly. "I am afraid I don't have a lot of advice when it comes to Wakanda. Respect is very important to them, but they're also quite secretive. Unlike other countries, Wakanda doesn't tend to follow anyone's lead but their own. I daresay you know all that, especially if you know the King. I would say you likely know more about them and how to deal with them than I do."


"Maybe so. I probably should have skipped the request for advice," Jessica says, and while she's not exploding into temper, she is very careful about closing the fridge door, very careful not to slam it, even as she takes another one of those slow, deep breaths. She watches him stand and prepare to leave.

"If you think you get it, and you're still judging him? Holding shit against him? Then you don't. You don't get it at all," she says.

Her phone dings. She strides to scoop it up.

"Tony will see you on Wednesday. It was kind of you to stop by, kind of you to bring lunch. Thank you."

See? This New Yorker can do politeness. And if with Jessica Jones, the replacement of that easy-going acceptance with stiff formality speaks of someone who is actually furious beneath a frozen surface, holding on to that fury because she feels she must, and should…

Well. He did lament its lack.


"I'm afraid I've offended you because I'm looking at his trial in a political context. Had I know you were friends, I would not have done so." And apparently Michael gets uber British when he's trying to smooth things over.

"Thank you for your assistance with Mr. Stark. Enjoy the rashers." And without any additional fanfare, the spy turns and heads for the door.


"You haven't offended me, like you used the wrong fucking dinner fork," Jessica snaps. "Because you talked about it in a political context. I'm pretty fucking smart, I know damned well that it's got political context."

Well, there goes the ice, shattering. She's not perfect at this yet. And truth is, she likes Michael. Enough to just…be honest with him. Be herself. Even if that means he doesn't end up liking her in turn. Or even if he just walks out, as she stops him.

"What pisses me off is the fact that you, personally, think that he isn't blameless. 100% blameless. If someone took control of your mind and made you do things you didn't want to do? You'd want people to blame that fucker. And it could happen to you. Shit, some of the people we'll be fighting on this Decimux thing might have that power. One already did. There are telepaths who can do it too. Magicians who can do it. And some people do it through torture and needles or science or whatever. 50 ways to fuck your brain up. If someone did that to you? You'd want us to blame them. Even as you blamed the fuck out of yourself, you'd want the people around you to understand…it was not you. It wasn't your will, it wasn't your desire, and you had no power to stop it."


"You misunderstand me, Ms. Jones," says Michael. He's calm even as she raises her voice. He looks sympathetic in the face of her passion. "And it has happened to me, in a way." He shakes his head. "Please don't mention that to Peggy. She's got to accept I'm actually her brother before I start dragging out my skeletons for her to examine."

He takes a deep breath. "What I meant by politicial is, there are parties in this who could believe entirely that Barnes was not responsible for his actions. But they will still seek to see him punished because it makes a statement. So there may be no convincing Wakanda even with proof of his innocence." A beat, then, "Not to say it's a lost cause. But if you give Wakanda a bigger fish - say, his handlers - they may be satisfied."


She stops, as he says it's happened to him in away, her temper draining away as if he'd pulled the plug on a bathtub in tempest. She grimaces— stupid, Jess, really stupid, just step right into it why don't you— and she looks down. "I would never break your confidences," she says, after a moment of composing herself. "Especially not on something like that."

He points to the bigger fish, and she nods. "Yeah. Yeah. Good advice." That may be what Jane is working on. A project she herself has no context or ability to help with. She'd gone in with the thought that she'd approach it like a case, like…like a detective. But there's an international political thing going on. It's cloaks and daggers and spies.

Maybe she should have stayed out of it.

She has no idea how to live with herself, staying out of it.

"I'm sorry. That you've been through that too. It's…way too common. I'm sorry I yelled at you too. It was inappropriate, especially as I misunderstood you."


Michael smiles. It seems genuine. "Ms. Jones, I can take being yelled at. I didn't realize this was personal for you. I would have been more sensitive if I had." He nods towards her.

"I might suggest speaking to Barnes. I don't know how much he remembers. But…if he knows something that could lead to someone who does have a dirty conscience, then perhaps the Wakandans could be persuaded to back down. Especially if there was an extradition agreement to allow the Wakandans to pass their own judgment."


"Yeah well, I can take people not being ultra sensitive," Jessica returns, with an answering half smile. He renders his advice, and the smile turns wry. "That one was step one," she admits. "That's where a detective would start too. Our professions are alike, except when they're totally different."

She starts picking up after their lunch, now just needing something to do with her hands. With the whole thing smoothed over— and with Michael having joined the ranks of people whom Jessica know can take her as she is, without her having to handle him with kid gloves, she adds:

"Truth is, I'm going batshit. I wish I had a case to bring you in on, but right now everything's just…stopped. In suspension. A few other…personal…matters but…none of those have leads or threads or starting points either. I've been careful about what I've allowed myself to handle. Going pretty darn crazy. Usually I juggle, 2, 3 big ones, sometimes squeeze in 3, 4 smaller ones. But if I get something juicy and you're still bored, I'll be happy to call you for back up."


"Ms. Jones, I believe we may be a bit a like in that regard," says Michael wryly. On being bored without several balls to juggle, that is. For decades, he was only brought out of stasis when he had a job to do. Now that he has to live through the mundane bits of everyday life, he's found himself going more than a little stir-crazy.

"In any case, you know how to get in touch with me should you need anything. I can't promise I can help. There is politics involved. But I will try. And thank you again for arranging the meeting with Mr. Stark."

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