AKA Theory of the Crime

August 05, 2017:

Hours after the verdict Jessica Jones makes plans to travel to Wakanda in the hopes of getting out in front of T'Challa's plans for Bucky Barnes. Her theory of the crime prompts her to reach out to a pair of friends who are deeply at odds with one another…

Alias Investigations

Now hosting: touchy family reunions.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Matt Murdock, Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, T'Challa, Trish Walker, Sizani

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica Jones really only waits a few hours after the trial to put in the call that asks both Carters to come to Alias Investigations. It had been, in fact, long enough to let everyone get home or wherever they were going, and long enough for Jessica to share a brief conversation with Matthew Murdock. His reaction to what she had to say (something like— 'that sounds like an awfully tall order, Jess') got her thinking that yes. Yes it did.

And she had to think of who she might call. And once it occurred to her, the answer seemed simple.

So it's perhaps 5 hours after, which means it's around 7:00 PM. She'd said, "Will order food if you're hungry," to each of them.

Peggy had got: "It's about Bucky."

Michael had got: "You said you were bored."

Both of them had got: "Play nice with the other consultant who will be here."

*

If the messages had been the other way around, it probably would not have properly summoned the respective Carters. As it stands, Michael has been quite bored. He had been tasked by his superiors to keep tabs on the trial, which has meant a lot of lurking in bars near the courthouse and just generally following the news. It's stuff a low-ranked analyst would be tasked with, but seeing as there hasn't been any immediate movement on the larger issue, he's been in a bit of a holding pattern.

He isn't expecting anyone there but Jessica when he makes his way to Alias, carrying a bag from a nearby market.

*

There is pure relief from Peggy after the verdict is rendered for James Barnes. Despite all that she has said and hoped, in the back of her mind was still the nagging fear that the jury would find him guilty. Now that the verdict is rendered, the woman who has not slept well for weeks finally manages to relax. Well, as much as Peggy Carter relaxes.

The text is all that is necessary to summon her to Jessica's office. Jessica has something and it's about Bucky? She's there as soon as possible, the edge of worry creeping up in the back of her mind.

*

"Oh hey, you brought food. Thanks, Michael," Jessica says, when he shows up. She's leaning against her desk, butt on the rim of it, arms crossed. She's taken off the jacket and the sunglasses the camera captured her in, but otherwise looks the same. Jeans. Blue t-shirt. Boots.

And here comes Peggy, and she says, "I'll get right to the point. I need your help. Both of you. The United States has acquitted Bucky, but he's still got a big panther problem."

She points at Michael. "I know you said you aren't a fan of the man, but I need help, and Peggy is, so if she agrees, she'll need help too."

She looks at Peggy and says, "I got a lot of information to give you. I'll try to keep it concise. And he introduced himself to me because of the Decimux thing, which is how I know him too. Whenever ago, I don't really remember."

She looks at them to see if they're both still listening. If one or more of them is going to storm out of here, well…best she find out before she starts her version of a 'briefing.'

*

Carters don't storm. If Michael were to leave in some dramatic fashion, it would not be described as 'storming.' That's far too improper. A sudden tea emergency, perhaps.
He's about to open his mouth to say something to Jessica, but that's cut off when Peggy appears. He inhales, lifts his brows at her, then turns back towards the PI to hear the rest of the explanation.

"To be fair…" he begins, only after Jessica is done. "I have no real opinion of Barnes outside of his Winter Soldier persona. It seems I haven't really met him."

*

Peggy's focus is immediately on Jessica. However, it's impossible for her not to notice her brother standing there. The other consultant, of course. She looks between Jess and Michael for a few moments, a couple of scenarios running through her head in the moments of silence that pass.

The posture noticeably changes. While she is generally of good posture, with Jessica her stance was a little less guarded, more casual. Now, she stops and stands very straight, almost as if she's back in line at school. She doesn't run, nor does she storm. She assumes that Jessica didn't lie: this is about James. And so, she stays. "I see." That is her assessment of the PI already knowing Michael.

"If there is a lot to discuss, perhaps we should start sooner rather than later, then." She looks at Michael finally for more than a glance and gives him a nod in greeting. There's that, at least.

*

"Good," Jessica tells Michael, when he says, in his very British fashion, that he has no opinion of James Barnes. This non-opinion earns him one of her rare smiles, a quick, wry, tense thing that flits across her face but is no less genuine for its tension.

She watches the body language of the two. Oh yeah. This is gonna be fun.

But she jumps right into it. "You're both aware that Wakanda accused James of bombing the Mizizi Conference, which took place in April. This was of course a science conference, and there's no way in Hell that James did it. For one thing, Jane was there, and Jane would personally destroy anyone who tried to bomb that much science. T'Challa leaked the news story during the American trial, but the charges didn't make it inside. He has personally assured me— T'Challa, that is— that he personally intends to murder Bucky because he believes Bucky to be a terrorist that targeted his people. I've been trying to investigate the case and clear his name, but there was only so much I could do from here, while the trial was ongoing. Originally, King T'Challa awarded me the right to look at the investigative files, but I was stonewalled almost immediately after that."

That is not, however, why she is calling them here. That is the recap. "I plan to take a plane out to Wakanda tonight to try to get this done, because frankly I think T'Challa will move after Bucky pretty quickly. Which brings us to why you two are here. And the reason why you two are here is because I have a really nasty theory of the crime, and if I'm right solving this and finding the real culprit will demand the expertise of a pair of seasoned spies."

She glances from Carter to Carter to see if she still has their attention, or to see if they have any questions so far.

*

Michael is likewise a little more composed and straight-backed than usual. Though with him, it's really hard to tell. He hasn't met anyone in New York yet with whom he would genuinely let his guard down.

He listens to Jessica. The basics of that he's either aware of, or inferred through conversations with Jessica. He doesn't editorialize, snark, or offer any kind of comment. Instead, he just listens, always aware of his sister's body language.

"If there is a genuine threat to Barnes' life, there may be official measures to assist him, especially now that he has been cleared of charges." Of course, the career spy advocates for official channels as a first resort. He doesn't comment yet on the idea of the two of them working together.

*

Peggy's arms cross as she listens to Jessica's recap of how the King of Wakanda believes James to be responsible for a tragedy in his country. There's, of course, a feeling of protectiveness that immediately makes her bristle. "April after James escaped Hydra for the last time." This, of course, they both know. They just went through this at the trial. "So, someone may be attempting to frame him."

The thought that someone will be 'moving after' Bucky so close to the end of this emotional and bruising trial causes her eyebrows to furrow significantly. "Without sanctions? He means to move against James and provoke international incident?" It may not actually be at that caliber, but she seems to believe that it could reach there.

Unfortunately, what she says next in response to Michael may completely contradict her previous indignation. "Perhaps, however, I certainly do not have the means to start a department investigation such as this at the moment."

*

"Yeah, official channels and international incidents are both out as rescue mechanisms." The Private Investigator reaches behind her, into the desk. "This had been slipped under the door when I got home."

It's printed on plain stock paper. She holds it out to whomever wants to take it, if either do. It just reads:

'Our government intends to remain blind to the actions of panthers. Tell your friend to watch his back.'

She shrugs, uncomfortably. "I think the warning probably legit, for a host of reasons we can get into later if you really care."

Peggy says someone is attempting to frame him, and she nods. "James said he thinks it was Hydra, but I think it's very possible someone's already working that angle. That's not where I think we need to focus." She notes Peggy's saying she has no means to start a department investigation, and furrows her brow with concern, but says, "I don't think we need your department, Peggy. Just you. T'Challa sure doesn't give a shit about SHIELD's authority. The only thing that will move him is proof positive." She makes a resolution to ask just what has happened to her friend though.

*

Michael is thoughtfully quiet for a few moments. He considers what has been said, then purses his lips. "I feel it is only fair for me to tell you that any involvement on my part would be reported to my superiors. Now, I don't believe they would object, given that Barnes was cleared through your court system. And god knows we've had our own difficulties with Wakanda. But. If you want this business to be completely removed from official channels, I might not be your man. I could make a strong case for my superiors not informing our American counterparts given that it's likely they're already aware."

*

It's Peggy who takes the plain stock paper. Inadvertently, she rubs her fingers across it to judge ply and thread of the paper. "And we have no means of learning who sent this? Whose country? With James it is impossible to tell who might would even deign to claim ownership. If we assume this is the US Government, then it sounds more like they wish us to solve the matters without their diplomatic channels."

There is a look from Jessica that Peggy certainly catches, but makes no move to react or even acknowledge. Her demeanor gives nothing to show that her statement is nothing but official. 'It sounds as if the official channels are pulling back," she tells Michael. It does not exactly sound like a challenge, but it she says it as a fact, even if she does not know it to be true.

*

"That's the thing, Michael. I'm not really going in unofficially. As far as Wakanda is concerned I'm as official as anyone from America's going to get." Jessica says, her discomfort growing. She hesitates, then pulls out a panther tooth necklace. Like the one members of the Dora Milaje wear. "This thing I pulled, dueling for permission to get access, to investigate at all, basically got me named an agent of Wakanda."

A dry look to Peggy. "So I really am 'Agent Jones', now, apparently. And seriously, I think our country sent that. I have a little hidden camera installed above my door these days. The clip I got showed me the person slipping that under my door. I'm pretty sure the dude came out of USA Archer's office. One of his aides that I've seen around. And I'm pretty sure our own government has been poking into the lives of everyone involved with James, so…pretty sure they know about my ties to Wakanda."

There are several attendant ironies to all of these revelations. The twist of her mouth is all the acknowledgement of those ironies that she's likely to give.

"I was real careful in my wording when I went to the embassy, making sure to cover anyone I might ask to help me in the future. I'm officially allowed to go in there and look if I want to. I would like to leave fast, because T'Challa said something about how if I wasn't 'hard enough on Barnes' he'd try me as a traitor to the nation or something, which in their parlance means 'I'll rip your head off or send people to rip your head off till it's off.' It's just some bullshit, but I'd rather be 10000 feet in the air or 8000 miles away when he starts making his move so he can't use me against James. And I hate to fly. So. That's saying something. I just need help. Actually, Michael, you're the one that tipped me off, that gave me this theory. Not at the time, but it was something you said to me. About political opportunism. That and the one precious new fact I've managed to shake out while here is what has given me my theory."

*

Michael looks from Peggy to Jessica, and then nods. "Since you mentioned Wakanda, I have been rolling it over in my head. I certainly have no proof in anything, but…" He takes a moment to gather his thoughts. "I could see Russia or someone else wanting Barnes dead. I don't know how reliable his memory is, but if he has any at all, he likely has a lot of compromising information. Normally, what keeps a spy from revealing those secrets is loyalty. Barnes has no reason to be loyal to his former captors."

He takes a moment to set down the grocery bag. Inside is a selection of crackers and cheese and a demi baguette. Fancy, of course. He wasn't going to bring Kraft Singles and Wonder Bread.

"The best way for Russia or some other party to be rid of Barnes is to convince another country or parties - say, Wakanda - to do their work for them. That adds another layer of distance. So it could be a combination of what I posited before - that Wakanda doesn't care about Barnes' mental state and just wants revenge. And that another party is pulling the strings either for revenge or to silence him."

He then looks to Peggy. "Ordinarily, this is precisely the sort of thing agencies like MI6 would be involved in. Usually the only time we don't is if we get a request from our allies to stay out of it. I could fairly easily confirm definitively whether the FBI and the CIA intend to stay out of it."

*

An agent of Wakanda. Peggy looks at the necklace and raises an eyebrow. The arms have remained crossed. It's possibly they will remain that way the entire time Michael remains in the office. However, mentally, she is on the case. Unsurprisingly, Peggy is used to compartmentalizing feelings. "It seems as if King T'Challa might be unwilling to listen to reason if he has decided that James is the one responsible. Has he already made up his mind about the perpetrator?" That is, James himself.

There's a look between Michael and Jessica again. "Yes, this certainly sounds like a way for Russia to discredit and also disavow James. However, it's possible another enemy of Wakanda simply saw the trial as an opportunity to frame first a ghost and now the actual figure.

The fact that Michael can now easily confirm that the FBI and CIA are involved are not ruffle her without meaning to. "Yes, that seems helpful," she tells Michael, though her tone is neutral - perhaps even curt. "And if your agency allows, it seems as if that is exactly the sort of thing that would be helpful." Asking for his help or condemning him? It's really very hard to tell.

*

"It could be Russia, but I think it's even simpler than that. Still, see. Right there." Jessica is not shy. She is, however, starving. She gets a cracker, plops some cheese on top of it. "That's the kind of thought process I didn't even have. This is why you two are so vital."

She finishes her cracker and paces around. "I think the problem is internal to Wakanda. There are two factions operating there right now. One is T'Challa's. More progressive. Interested in taking Wakanda into the future, and letting it take its place on the world stage. The other is more traditional. They want to keep everything the way it is."

She just ignores the tension, the sniping between the two. She had to have braced herself for some of that before she brought them here. Or. A lot. Of that.

"This is the one new fact I got: Wakandan Intelligence Services were running operations on the day of the Mizizi attack. I think that could mean that Mizizi was a false flag operation. I think the person we're looking for is a traitor within WIS, perhaps several factional traitors within WIS. I think that's why I was stonewalled so quickly. I think Hydra basically went to these people, said look, we'll handle the explosion if you handle the cover-up, the perfect fall guy just bought himself a ticket for him and his girlfriend. It's literally just a theory, a gut feeling. If I'm wrong, well, it could be Russia. It could be more conventional even, and your eyes and ears would still be real helpful on a case that's 5 months cold and picked over already. If I'm right? Well…I'm no spy. As for T'Challa…"

She frowns. "I don't know. He could be running a real long con on his own people right now, hoping he comes up smelling like political roses while a disposable outsider puts her head in the crosshairs of traitors whose existence he does suspect. He could also just be super pissed, with a bad case of Barnes Tunnel Vision. I don't know."

*

"It could be a faction within Wakanda supported by Hydra, certainly." Michael takes a breath. "The truth is, Barnes is not lacking in enemies."

He side-eyes Peggy, then faces her more fully. "Peggy. I'm willing to help with this. But I understand if you're not comfortable working with me yet. I understand it's a lot to digest." Which is a particularly British understatement.

*

Peggy sighs as she listens, looking down as she thinks over the myriad of possibilities laid out in front of her as well as the now personal aspect that has cropped up.

"We have everything to lose here," Peggy tells Jessica and Michael very firmly. "Even if King T'Challa is playing a con against his counter, he is king. No matter what happens, we are outsiders attempting to solve a problem. If we win, and do not win over the king, it looks bad for both us and King T'Challa. If we lose, we are part of the reason why. If he is part of the problem, we are outside forces attempting to depose a sovereign." The woman sighs, shaking her head. "At the end of the day, I don't believe any of this will reflect well upon us."

Immediately, they are right back into the politics and the back and forth. Peggy's back remains very straight, wishing for just this moment she perhaps played her cards differently. "However, we know that James did not do this bombing - brainwashing or no. So, it is another entity either within or without Wakanda. We must help them solve that." She looks to Michael. "And we need all the help we may gather to do this."

*

Peggy points out that they're being set up to either take falls themselves or get smeared themselves, and Jessica can only nod in agreement. She's not thrilled either, but her jaw sets in a firm, tight line. The truth is, it also doesn't matter. It won't be the first time someone has tried to screw her, and it won't be the last time. But it does bring an awareness of what it means to ask for help, produces a guilty expression that she soon banishes. The truth is, there's a job to do, and as best Jessica can tell out of all the people who both can help and might want to help…these two are the right ones to ask right now.

She decides to fall silent though. This is really about the two siblings now, this question of whether Michael is going. There had been an inherent risk of bringing them together. But the reasons why she decided to do that are as long and as myriad as the reasons why she decided it had to be them.

She helps herself to more cheese and crackers while they have their Moment.

*

"The way around it, as I mentioned to Ms. Jones, is to find the true guilty party. T'Challa wants to punish the party responsible. If we can simultaneously prove it wasn't Barnes and serve up the true guilty party, then all sides save face. Especially if we uncover a conspiracy to deceive him." Michael pauses, takes a breath, then, "That is assuming it isn't simply a faction within his own government. Then we get into matters of complicated internal politics. It becomes more difficult to come away from that scenario cleanly."

He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. He nods once at Peggy. "I will do what I can. In fact…" he glances at his phone to check the time. "…a friend of mine in London is on shift at the moment. If I hurry, I can reach him. Perhaps I can gain access to what my government knows about the bombing and some intelligence about this faction within Wakanda."

*

If Jessica worries that Peggy will not go because of Michael? That is something she need not have concerned herself about. James is in trouble by outside sources. It must be Tuesday and Peggy remains a steadfast friend and advocate of his. She does not believe the accusations made against Bucky and so she must see them through to the end. If Michael will help? Then Michael should accompany them. It might be hypocritical, but she accepts his help in the mission much easier than she accepts him as her brother returned. Duty, Britain, etc.

"If you can reach him, please let us know." Peggy's not about to stop a connection that might stop this all. "No matter the risk, we must attempt to resolve this."

*

"It's settled then," Jessica says quietly. "Look, I've asked my sister to help with this, to charter a flight. We can be out of here in an hour, hour and a half. Is that enough time for you guys to pack and settle affairs here?"

There are very few instances where she will use her sister's money. And in truth, Trish doesn't like spending it. Trish has watched too many of her fellow former child stars go down in flames. But Trish is also passionate about contributing where and how she can, especially for friends. A few weeks ago it was two well-placed radio spots, one for Steve Rogers, one for Matt Murdock. And numerous other radio spots and Twitter follow-ups after that.

Today it's dipping into her ridiculous fund to charter a flight. Otherwise they might have been stuck wasting precious time trying to get space on a commercial flight, to say nothing of losing possible productive hours to being wholly unable to speak freely.

As such, they get the most economical private flight money can buy, and if it's not the poshest of all posh flights it is what is. "Hangar 8," she adds, clearing her throat, even as she stares down at the panther tooth necklace.

She finally drapes it around her neck with every evidence of very mixed feelings about the thing.

"We might have one asset. Sizani, a Dora Milaje. She's sympathetic to this investigation. She tried to help in her own way, but I think that avenue is closed. I think it might be good to touch base with her at some point, too."

*

"I don't even need to pack," says Michael. What that means is left ambiguous. Either that means he's always packed, or agencies wherever he goes have a bag for him. He looks down at his phone again, then, "My friend is on duty and has a moment to talk. Excuse me. I'm going to make a few calls. But I can easily be ready within the hour." With that, he nods to them both as if they were simple colleagues, then steps out into the hall.

*

A chartered flight, that will be something Peggy will be interested in. While SHIELD does that every now and again, it's more government funded and less glamorous. "I'll be there." There's no attempt to speak for Michael. While he seems amenable, it's entirely possible he might not join int he last minute as far as she is concerned.

Michael leaves with an appropriate reason and once he's through the door, her shoulders roll just slightly. "He'll certainly have a host of connections to help," she says blandly, rather than discuss her personal connection - or lack thereof at the moment - with her brother.

*

Jessica watches Peggy with her bland shoulder roll. She herself is already packed, thanks to her STUFF app. She listens to Peggy's bland assessment. Her own expression is difficult to read. Tense. A little sorry. Exhausted.

"We may only have days," is what she says, gently, instead. "We didn't all just go through everything we all just went through to let this be how it ends. You should know that I have reason to believe Jane's going after any Hydra participants in her own way, and that she won't take help or even talk about what she's doing."

And then, quiet and concerned: "Peggy? What did you mean about you and department investigations?"

*

Peggy watches where Michael left. There's no anger in her posture, just tiredness. It's been there since the beginning, but she does not hide it now. The question is met with silence for a bit. It's not that Peggy is thinking up an answer or building up the strength. Instead, her mind is still with Michael for a few moments as he leaves.

However, the question is met with bluntness and with no sense of personal shame. She tells Jess, "I've been suspended from SHIELD for my statements at the trial. I have no ability to ask SHIELD for anything at the moment other than as a private citizen." Her tone is neutral. This is a company she helped build and now she is disavowed from it for now. Maybe forever. However, it does not sound as if she is devastated. Instead, it sounds as if she is telling Jessica this news in the same way she would report the weather.

"As such, I do not quite have the ins I once did on those matters."

*

She sounds like a Brit stiff upper lipping. To the max. To the extreme. And in that moment, Jessica gives her friend a long look, softened by empathy that is so easy to miss on a face that's habitually devoid of much expression other than…well. Resting bitch face, to be honest.

"Those fuckers," she says, vehemently. "Shame on them and to Hell with them too." It's almost as if she's trying to…what? Swear so Peggy won't have to? "Do you want back in? Because if you do then, I mean I don't know how yet, but if there's a way to make it happen, I'll help. Some petty dictator's sex tapes that can be found to give SHIELD the leverage it needs to solve some other problem, some government official that has a heroin problem that can be exposed if they don't give you your job back. Something."

Typical Jessica. Decide what needs to happen first, figure out how to get there after. Not really ever entirely convinced there's a problem that can't be solved, a mountain that can't be climbed, a barrier that can't be gotten around. And totally willing to kick down doors, break few laws and slap a few heads to make it happen too. Whether or not this is at all realistic is just…not really considered.

But then, nothing about Jessica's life exactly follows conventional patterns these days, and they are literally an hour away from doing something else that should, by rights, be considered completely and totally impossible by anyone else's standards.

*

Peggy looks to Jessica with a smile at her immediate vehement reaction. It's warm despite the past few weeks of sleeplessness and the past few hours of professional hardship. Her arms uncross and she reaches out a hand to place for a few moments on Jessica's shoulder. It's quick, a pat really. British comfort.

"Thank you," she tells her sincerely for the swear filled diatribe. "I am still SHIELD. My name simply reads suspended for now, I believe." Finally, there's a bit of a smirk. "Either way, I did what needed to be done before there was a SHIELD and I will continue to do so. This will not stop me for going to Wakanda or helping those that need it." She gives Jessica almost a shrug. "That is, in fact, why I started SHIELD."

The lengths Jessica is willing to go to in order help her gain her position back is met with a soft laugh. "I'll be alright," she tells Jess. "I understand why I have been placed on leave." She has her reasons as to why she feels it was needed to do break ranks in order to clear James' name, but for now that is all played close to the chest. "If by giving truthful testimony in order to allow an innocent man go free requires heroin and blackmail in order to be reinstated, I do not believe SHIELD is a place I should be employed any more." There's a smirk. She's teasing.

*

Jessica Jones gives a sheepish grin, but she clasps Peggy's shoulder briefly in return. "What? I'm sure I read crap like that in some sort of spy novel. Our hypothetical assholes would totally have it coming!" She's teasing right back, her brown eyes twinkling, but it's clear that Peggy's answer has upped her admiration for the other woman. Not, really, that Peggy needed too many more boosts, she's already one of the people Jess respects to an insane degree. Still, seeing the other woman not just stiffen up, but smirk and joke with her reassures her that the woman will weather her suspension alright.

"They'll come crawling back," is her prediction. "In the meantime, I guess that just means no SHIELD breathing down our necks while we try to make these freaking panthers see some sense. I know we can get this done, I just feel it. I don't know exactly where to start yet, but…I know we can do this."

*

Peggy gives Jessica a raised eyebrow at the tease, smile still on her face. It’s possible this cuts the agent deeply and she has not yet shown. However, it’s also possible that she does not at all regret her actions and therefore will not be bitter about the punishment handed down. “Perhaps they will. For now, though, I believe it best to focus on what is in front of us.” It’s both easier and more productive as far as she is concerned.

“Either more or less. If I’m under some form of suspicion, it’s likely they’ll keep some form of tabs on me. But, at the very least, where we’re going it will be just as difficult. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise.” She nods. “Luckily, two heads are better than one, I have heard said. And though my brother may be a headstrong dingus, he’s good at what he does. We’ll solve this.”

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