T2C Interlude: A Victory in Front of Me

August 02, 2017:

Jessica Jones is left reeling from her own testimony. Raw from revealing her past to the world and assaulted by the prying eyes of the public, she receives a timely rescue from one Sally Stojespal. Nevertheless, Sally's seemingly innocuous restaurant choice casts Jessica into a perilous struggle with her inner demons.

New York City

The federal courthouse, the highway, and a trendy Italian restaurant that Tony really likes.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Matt Murdock, Captain America, Tony Stark, John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara, Trish Walker, Red Robin, Michael Carter

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Jones testimony in re: John Doe, Ozone Park: "Sergeant Barnes reacted precisely as any trained soldier would react." #T2C

Jessica Jones first person to start talking about mind control in re: #JBB, prosecution calls credibility into question. #T2C

Jones defends status as experiential expert, reminds court she's under oath, offers to take lie detector test. #T2C

#JJ unapologetic about treatment, becomes unintentional mental health advocate when sanity is called into question on the stand. #T2C

"Zebediah Kilgrave?" Is there any reason to put any stock in this? What does this have to do with #JBB anyway? #T2C

Jones on stand: "I witnessed Sgt. Barnes fighting his conditioning on multiple occasions. It's harder than you think it is." #T2C

Direct, cross, re-direct. They're very innocuous words that hide some rough truths. Being on the stand sucks. It sucks to be asked probing questions, to be challenged, pressed, made fun of, condescended to. It sucks to have someone's life riding on your words. It sucks to wonder what twelve people think of your every word, expression, gesture and tonal choice.

Jessica Jones made it through. Even after her rehearsal with Matt she had dared to hope that Kilgrave wouldn't come up on the stand. There was, after all, an argument for its total lack of relevance. But the fact is, she was probably the first person to use the words "mind control" in regards to Bucky Barnes. She had reported it to Captain America in front of multiple SHIELD agents. There was a prosecutorial argument that it all came from her, that any other evidence of mental tampering had been massaged to fit the theory of one very deeply disturbed woman.

She had dared to hope that her mental health issues wouldn't come up on the stand too.

The thing is, Matt knows his job, and he knows it well. There were some variants in how Archer asked his questions, and in the order that he asked them, but in general, the bespectacled defense lawyer's guesses about how Archer would proceed were pretty spot on.

One would think the cross-examination would have been easier, and in some cases it was. When she described how Bucky fought his conditioning it was just fine. Describing exactly what it felt like to be under mind control was not as fine, but only because she doesn't like talking about that time in her life at all.

She emerges from a side door of the courthouse, leading into the alleyway. She has already ducked into a bathroom and changed, courtesy of her "STUFF" app. She has sunglasses on. And a ballcap. She tries to get out unobtrusively, feeling like her whole body is one big exposed nerve, feeling looked at, feeling judged, feeling filthy, feeling like damaged goods on every level. But the reporters are pretty smart. They've clogged not just the front steps, but the alleyway. They're even up on the rooftops, because by now her ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound is pretty well documented, courtesy of several YouTube videos.

She'd spent the afternoon in the audience, the gallery behind the defense tables almost set up like a church. Rows of seats, almost like pews, all aimed at the altar of Justice itself - and the sensation that Justice itself is very, very present can't be shaken. Rusalka Stojespal, though, takes one of those seats near the front - making sure that she could be seen.

In SHIELD uniform, no less. Ostensibly the fashionable dark suit that makes up the agency's style, but with a metal briefcase embossed with SHIELD's rising eagle for all to see, and to make it utterly clear a lapel pin opposite her own family's coat of arms. She's followed the twitter feeds silently, watching them and feeling as if it's some giant sports event complete with commentators.

In some ways, it is. In many more ways, it's nothing so crass and simple.

Fortunately, when Jessica's testimony ends, the shaken Sokovian manages to gather herself quickly enough. As much demand as there is on this trial, even her blatant presence is easily ignored by those who are much more interested in the great scoop of the latest witness. Between sunglasses, dark suit, and a quick exit to the parking garage after seeing which way Jessica had gone, noone pays much attention to the young woman.

Which makes the surprise all the more workable when a gaggle of reporters and at least one cameraman manages to win the Jessica Jones Exit Lottery, swarming the woman. Whatever they're about to ask her, whatever questions might be shouted, get drowned out in a loud, angry snarl of a four hundred horsepower engine. A white and black Lotus Evora dives for the curb, bare inches away from one of the political vultures as if they weren't even there.

It's not Sally's fault they're standing in the driveway.

The door pops open, and Sally leans across the central console while revving the engine a moment more. There's an insistent "IN!" to Jessica, giving her a chance to escape in a safe coccoon of steel and speed.

Jones does not hesitate.

She executes one of her power leaps. She executes it a little bit badly, whipping over the head of a reporter and diving in hard enough to wrench her shoulder, but she is in and slamming the door before anyone can react. She yanks the seatbelt over her slim frame and mutters a quiet, "Thanks," not quite ready to talk, joke, or even express proper appreciation for the unlikely rescue yet.

Indeed, as soon as she is in the cocoon of the very nice car she exhales and whips off her ball cap, but then leans her head against the window for a moment, ignoring the reporter who is actually crass enough to beat the palm of his hand at the window, shouting, "Miss Jones!" They might write a story about her SHIELD extraction if they connect the car with Sally, or her Sokovian extraction, but most will just know some car came and picked her up.

"Fucking vultures," Jones mutters. "I can't believe I ever thought I wanted to be a journalist."

Sally yanks herself back as Jessical practically teleports in - she'd been expecting the PI to perform something like that, but hadn't expected it to be quite like that! Clearly she's underestimating just how super- JJ's super-powers are. And for a moment she's about to drop them into gear and burn rubber away, before her own ire finally reaches a flashpoint when the window is pounded upon.

Leaving the engine running, Sally stands out of the car from the driver's side. The passenger's is locked as soon as Jessica hit the door, leaving her passenger safe - but she's had enough. The comments, the headlines, and now the hounding of a personal friend?

"ENOUGH." The voice is strong, angry, but extremely controlled. Rusalka Stojespal ignores the cries and calls from the reporters, and finds her voice for a moment - but just one moment. "Enough hounding the victims. Are you any better than those who tormented her? Him?" Her eyes flick to the courthouse and the man on trial within. "Ms. Jones spoke the truth. That is what you asked of her. Sergeant Barnes spoke the truth. That is what you asked of him. You who wish to label people as evil, as demons - know what it is you speak of!"

Her nostrils flare a moment as she takes a deep breath. "SHIELD believes in him. SHIELD has fought Hydra and those who followed them for decades. My family fought them - and bled, and died - for decades. If you want to call someone evil, begin with the devil himself! The people that would twist and break even a hero's mind? They would care nothing of doing the same to anyone else - everyone else."

She finally stares at the reporter who'd slammed his hand against the car. "Why aren't you tracking them down? Why don't you hammer on their doors, on their cars, and demand answers of them? Leave this woman alone," she adds, in a voice that she'd never thought she'd had before. A hard voice. An implacable boulder, unmoving and with all the weight of nobility.

Somewhere in Sokovia, Dragana Stojespal smiles.

With that, Sally slips back into the car, slams the door, and gives the reporters gathered precisely two seconds as she revs the engine again - then floors it away.

"…Sorry about that…"

The speech is impassioned, and immenently quotable. And tomorrow the headlines will read:

SHIELD Supports Sgt. Barnes, Agent Issues Statement.

All the bits about how reporters suck will be snipped. It's a journalist's perogative. They can quote anything you say on the record, or that you don't specify as off the record, or that you say in public. They are not obligated to quote all of it.

The truth is SHIELD does support Sgt. Barnes, or at least the part of SHIELD not infected by Hydra agents, but they were not necessarily prepared to step out of the shadows and say so. The cat is out of the bag now, however, and for better or worse, SHIELD's viewpoints have been logged and, in a matter of hours talking heads will be discussing this at length, either in condemnation or in support. It may, in some small way, even be one of the horseshoe nails that helps get Sgt. Barnes acquitted later.

But in the meantime, there is Jessica Jones, who barely registers more than this: Sally is out there giving some reporters what for. In point of fact, she's in there literally catching her breath, trying to meditate her way to Tibetian singing bowls and gentle pools of water. What happens is not that. What happens is she zones out. Shuts down. Super she may be, but as she pointed out on the stand, super does not mean invulnerable. There are always weaknesses. There are always those who can overpower you anyway.

So she snaps to when Sally apologizes, and she mostly just seems confused. "Shouldn't that be my line? They fucking messed with your car. You're here pulling off the rescue of the god damn century as far as I'm concerned." She seems wan, her normally strong voice a little thin and ragged around the edges, but some of that inner spark is still in there.

Tonight the talk shows will have a new face to pick apart and a new voice. Such is life. Tomorrow morning, Phil Coulson's headache will exacerbate. Such is life. Tomorrow afternoon, the junior SHIELD agent who came out of nowhere will very pointedly return to nowhere, and give nary a peep in front of a reporter ever again. There will be many extra points made to highlight this.

Such is life.

For now, at least, she's where she belongs most of all. In the driver's seat, in control - and with a friend. A friend who, it seems, is just a little bit shaken. The Lotus burns hard into traffic, though not so much as to cause more than a loud engine as Sally makes sure the reporters can't get any last comments through - and can't critique her driving as anything other than perfect.

When Jessica jumps, Sally glances over after buckling herself in. "Car? Hmpf. Kometa is made of sterner things than that. That was not what angered me, Jessica." She quirks a half-smile. "We Sokovians…we Stojespal, especially, perhaps it's something in our blood. Our people are very important to us, and we would face firing squads to protect them. Some reporters, meh." Her hand lifts off of the gearshift to brush away the air.

"I was in the courtroom, when you testified. I…wanted to be there to try to cheer you up a little, maybe…a friendly face? I did not realize it would…" Her voice pauses, less because of changing lanes and more because of a little lingering shock. "Be so personal for you," she finally adds in that soft Sokovian accent. "I did not mean to intrude so much. That is, to listen to things that…"

That she'd rather not have had to say. To anyone, ever.

But then there's a bit of a smirk. "Rescue of the century? Hm. Perhaps! I like that idea. Though I think I'm going to need to stick with you for a little bit," she adds. "Someone has to protect you, after all." And Sally looks over to Jessica with a small smile, the jest obviously silly on its face - but maybe there's some truth to it all.

There's a faint, fond smile when Sally calls her one of her people. She'll take it. A lot of Jessica's life lately has been a sometimes overbearing, clumsy, and intense attempt to fill voids in her life, to find places where she feels like she fits. She often feels like the big, strangely shaped puzzle piece with no good spot to click into. The out-of-synch pain in almost everyone's ass. But from time to time, she's reminded that she really is blessed with some fantastic friends, people who accept her and care about her even if they can't be everything to her that she's lost. Now is one of those times.

Sally starts apologizing for hearing personal things, and Jessica Jones just stares out the window at the New York traffic, at all the little shops and businesses and people moving about their lives. She doesn't want to look at the young noblewoman, or anyone much at all really, but she finally sort of half-shakes her head. "The whole world has heard, why should you apologize for hearing? You didn't intrude, Archer did. I appreciate you caring enough to come get me. Not everyone would have done that. Or thought to do that."

Sally talks about protecting her, and Jessica chuffs. It's a warm almost-laugh, and it doesn't strike her as that silly at all. "Fair enough," is what she says.

"I didn't realize you'd been in the galley all this time. What's your take on what's going on in there?" She is almost desperate to talk about anything other than herself, and if this actually touches on what just happened it's still something she deeply cares about. "I need an opinion that isn't Trish or Twitter."

There's a lot she can be, and a lot she can't. Right now, Sally's young enough to have plenty of time to find out and be those things…and young enough to have the enthusiasm to believe it's really possible. Perhaps Jessica Jones is a professional pain in the ass, but she's also been a valuable friend and a good source of help in the past. Certainly enough that Sally likes her honesty and bluntness; it's refreshing in some circles.

Sally has an eclectic balance, in the end. A master spy, a military family, a professional cynic superheroine, a mad genius billionaire, a musician, a pilot. Such souls circle this one, their presence forging her into something quite new and different than the usual noble-born child. If that means she accepts Jessica with all her faults, and even kind of likes some of those rough edges?

Well, that's just the way life is.

"Mm." Her opinion is that, perhaps it was something for the whole world to hear - but it's still the kind of nightmare that noone should ever have had to live through. Not Jones, not Barnes, not Foster…not anyone. "I suppose justice is what it is in this country. Sometimes, back home…maybe it's a little more personal, but…certainly not quite so public. Perhaps we're one of the last noble families of Sokovia, but my family takes its duty seriously. It's…a different perspective, sometimes."

She shrugs, sliding the Evora around a taxicab that can't make up its mind whether to stuff another passenger in with the four already there or give up the avarice and just do its job. "Fair enough, then." With a bit of a grin, she thinks a moment - then darts the car to an onramp, getting an exasperated honk from the taxi in her wake. Sally has a plan, and a destination now.

"My opinion? Hm. I admit," she starts, accelerating onto a freeway past a few exits, "that I have only partially been there. I hadn't been at the previous testimony, but I was listening to what I could. Between classes, and whatnot," she adds. Stark would have kittens if she wasn't keeping up with her lessons. So would a lot of others. "But…my opinion?"

Her feet do the dance, shifting up to accelerate and then back down to catch the exit. Damn slowpoke garbage truck. "Is what I said to those vultures. I believe Sergeant Barnes. My family…" Sigh. "Sokovia has been a very close companion to Ukraine. When Hydra first rampaged, when the Nazis came…they gave us promises, and kind words, and relief from the Soviets. Mudakiy." A word Jessica would know, pluralized! "The horrors they inflicted, I…have read about. Have heard about."

Sigh. "My great-grandmother, my Baba?" She can't help the soft affection for the nickname. "Told me many of those stories. And still hates them today. Absolutely I believe they could be that evil. And…" Okay stop blushing already, dammit! "I believe in Captain America, too. And you."

"Mudakiy," Jessica agrees. That one was assholes, right? Her memory isn't quite so sharp right this second, but context clues are beautiful things. "It's too bad James would never consent to just go hide out in Sokovia for awhile."

But she falls silent on the matter of why that might be. That's not business to spread around.

She is silent for awhile, but finally says, "I appreciate that. Being believed." It's obviously kind of a big deal to her, someone whose life was in fact shaped in very large part by not being believed by the people who should have been there to help her. And now she will leave pretty much precisely nothing in the hands of any cops. Between that, and the trial, she trusts them only to either be complete, useless lumps or actively in the way of any good anyone might be doing.

"I appreciate you believing in James, too," she adds.

She pulls her leather jacket close and tight about her body, pulling the zipper straight up. "Hydra sucks," she adds, which is wholly unnecessary but at least pretty much an honest opinion. She finds the seat adjustment and leans it back a little bit. It's hard to tell if her eyes are open or closed behind those sunglasses, but closed is probably the safe bet.

The agreement's mutual, and her estimate of the translation is correct. It's a fun word and an easy one to remember! The mention of Sokovia gets a bit of a smile. "It's beautiful land. The hills, the rivers, it's rustic perhaps. Not nearly so technologically amazing; it's still home. And I think he would enjoy it, if he ever did visit. He would be welcome." That, she can say as heiress.

"I have no reason to doubt you. And plenty of reasons to believe you. Besides…" Sally frowns a little, thinking. It was familiar, watching Jessica's testimony. Seeing the pain in her, seeing the anger. Knowing those same feelings of being the victim, knowing that there was another that truly hurt you - and being unable to do anything about it. But any sort of comparison dies on her lips.

Anything that she's been through, the pain of her father's murder - it all pales in comparison to the woman next to her. To the pain of Sergeant Barnes of the Howling Commandos. What can she say? "All I can do is believe," she finally settles on. "But I will do that, at least."

"Jessica…" She glances over, taking in the black-haired woman who huddles up. "Look…I know you were in the courtroom all day. I would have showed up for lunch, but they kept the witnesses away from the gallery. So. I owe you a meal, it seems, and perhaps something to wash away the day. Quiet."

The Lotus makes its way down a few city streets, before finally pulling in to a small underground lot that Tony Stark had pointed out to her. Said lot leads to an italian restaurant, one that this time of day, this day of the week, is virtually empty. "I have it on good authority that this is one of the finest places in the Five Boroughs, and I for one am quite hungry. And I have lost two pounds this week, therefore I must balance my weight properly with some nice Italian."

Shutting the car off, she leans forward and grins a little. "I'm sure their chairs are much more comfortable than the car window…even if it is my car."

Jessica Jones opens her mouth to say that Sally doesn't owe her a thing, but food and a quiet place sounds good.

She looks down, still for a moment. Italian food is…fraught. For her. It was Kilgrave's very favorite thing. Beautiful, highly priced Italian restaurants with a specific Italian dish that he made her choke down again and again. "You will love it," he said, the first time, and she woodenly repeated the words. "I will love it." She has preferred dives ever since, and the only Italian she has been able to manage is pizza.

She knows if she just opened her mouth and said so Sally would take her somewhere else. But something in her rebels, and rebels hard.

What am I going to let him ruin for me? What am I going to let him take from me? There was a time I loved Italian. Does he get to win, or am I going to take another piece of my life back, today, of all days?

"That sounds great. Thanks. I really appreciate it."

Something to wash away the day. She longs for booze. She can have it now. Being drunk won't tank her credibility or Bucky's. She just has to decide if she's going to let that monkey on her back win, too. She's not sure yet. She really isn't. She reaches into her pocket and clutches something tight. She summons a wan smile as she looks at Sally. "You're a good friend, Sally. This is really cool of you."

Pain is not a competition— a lesson that Jessica has been learning. Pain is just pain, and someone else's seeming worse doesn't negate the immediacy of what is being felt or thought about. But she doesn't even notice Sally quietly sitting on some of her own. "What do you recommend, there?" she asks, instead. Small talk is hard for her too, but in this case the question comes naturally.

Owing is one thing. Favors between friends tend to be ephemeral things, transactions never recorded in any credit and debit line. It's just what they do for each other, Sally figures. Besides, she's taken Sloane here once or twice, and instantly achieved VIP status upon paying for for the amount of food the Inhuman could put away.

The details of the PI's relationship with italian food are things that Sally is entirely unaware of. If she'd known, she'd instantly have chosen another option, not wanting to dredge up even more bad memories for Jessica. As it is, she takes the woman's approval on its face, not privy to the reasons why.

If she knew, she'd approve even more.

"Excellent. I have decided last month that I would pick my way through their menu, and so far…hm, I think I am up for chicken marsala. Oh, er…I hope you don't mind spicy." She grins, having seen the gusto to which the chefs go for their food. "And rich. And 'oh-god-we're-going-pants-shopping-after-this flavor."

And then Sally reaches up and gives her friend's shoulder a squeeze. "C'mon. You look cold, I'm sure they'll make it warm for you, okay? Then I'll take you home. But, after today…da. You need a break." Leading Jessica to the restaurant, she thinks. "Hm…welllll, that depends. For a day like you had?" Apologetic, but trying to put a better spin on things.

"Tagliatelle with bolognese sauce as an appetizer, with eggplant parmesan with buffalo mozarella for a main. Their pasta is divine, and well." Door opened, and they're practically the only ones present - welcomed, and seated quickly.

Impressively, there's no prices listed on the menu - and like every italian dinner since God dropped a boot in the Mediterranean and thought it would make a neat country, their selection of light wines is equally magnificent. None of it the kind of strong harsh drink that Jessica would seek to hide in.

If she'd have said Bucatini all'Amatriciana, Jessica might have had to give the game away and beg for another locale. But she doesn't. Jess actually has no idea what a Tagliatelle is, but she figures she'll find out soon enough.

Smell memory is potent. The scent hits her like a brick truck. She struggles with that while they wait to be seated, but outwardly? She probably just looks closed off, locked behind her walls in the same way she has since she got in the car. There's a strained look to her features that just hasn't gone away yet, and there's nary a flicker now. Indeed, after a moment she forces herself to inhale it.

This is the scent of a friend helping you now, she tells herself, clenching her fists in her jacket. It doesn't get to be a Kilgrave scent anymore.

More things Sally won't get to know. She can't know that Jessica can literally feel Kilgrave standing behind her right now. She can feel his smug smirk, feel his hand on her shoulder. She's afraid to turn around, lest she see him. Afraid she'll see him and he will be there, and afraid she'll hallucinate him even though he is not. He leans in close and whispers: "Jessicaaaaa."

Fuck you. Fuck off. Burn in Hell.

When they're seated she takes off her sunglasses at last, rude as it was to keep them on, silly as it was to do so in the darkened restaurant. She keeps the jacket on. It's not temperature, not in August for sure, but armor that she desperately needs. She scans the wine menu. It's not hard liquor, but any deviation, any at all, will put her back to square one on the program. 90+ hard won days. The possibility of making it all the way to 120.

Or immediate comfort, here and now, in the company of someone who is not aware that she is an alcoholic. That didn't come out on the stand, wonder of wonders (though Archer will find out late in the game, and will try to slip it right into closing arguments). She also should not be combining booze with her medication, though it will hardly kill her.

She scans the wine menu as if she's the sort of person who really and truly knows the difference between the sorts of flavors this restaurant is making available to her. It's light. Maybe just one glass, or two. You've earned it…

And she falls. She repeats Sally's suggestion word for word, and then says, "I'll have a Pinot Grigio with that as well." I'll take a sip of water between every sip of wine, she promises herself, desperately. But I have to make him go away. God, will he ever just go away? "Working your way through the menu, huh?" She adds, encouraging Sally to just talk about that, figuring it's the kind of opening that could allow someone to expand at length if they so desired.

Fortunately there are more things on the menu, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your nightmares. Unfortunately Sally has no idea of what those nightmares entail, other than the basics she'd heard on the stand. When Sally looks back at the older PI, she blinks a little in worry.

"Hey…are you alright? You've been a little, uh, withdrawn? I mean…" Well, she can understand, and Sally can't help bristle slightly at what the reporters and that prosecutor did to her. Yes, she understands the fundamental structure of the adversarial system, and perhaps it had benefits compared to simple appeal to noble arbitration. But it also had a way of chewing people up and spitting them out, sacrificed to the blind god above the court.

The nightmares, the horrors her friend has, echo only in Jessica's head. None of it leaks out, other than the woman's reaction of tugging the jacket around her. Sally, in her innocence, can only chalk it up to reliving a nightmare, and the stress of being on the stand. She knows the teeth are there, chewing - she just doesn't know how sharp they are.

"Mmmmhm. Line by li-ooh. I forgot about this one." The blue-eyed girl tucks her menu aside, nodding to the waiter. "Malfatti, please. Prosciutto di Parma with melon for a starter, today. The marsala will have to wait. And, tea please - yes, the breakfast blend." Alas. But she's just in the mood for fine pasta and cheese - and the ricotta dumplings, cherry tomatoes, pancetta, and pecorino cry out to her. Or maybe her stomach does to it.

"They make some fantastic appetizers especially. The fennel salad is to die for, with the olives and provolone through it. I can't come here that often or else well." There's a gentle nudge of amusement given to Jessica. "I'd have to have your metabolism, wouldn't I? There's no way I could maintain my figure if I gave in so much…"

She smiles. "Absolutely I am glad I heard about this place from Mr. Stark. So…what about you? What do you like the most?"

"I um, haven't had Italian for awhile," Jessica admits.

She ignores the question, about her well-being, unable to engage with that. She gives a quick little smile that is in truth an act of defiance, a victory for her. A smile she chooses to give. An ability to smile at all, which had disappeared for nearly 2 years of her life before slowly restoring itself in January of this very year. Instead, she'll talk about food, and wrestle with whether or not she is actually going to drink the drink that she just ordered, and how bad it will be if she actually drinks it.

"I guess Sal Sarino's deli technically counts as he is Italian, but I mean, he makes sandwiches. The best damned sandwiches in the world, so we'll have to go. There's a gyro place I love, and my sister has a place that makes pierogis that are really fantastic. I like Chinese okay. And Indian food, I love that. The shit with the little cube cheese, and I mean I know butter chicken is just a bastardization of a real dish but I can't get enough of that shit. This guy Michael who is coming to work on the Project with us? He brought me these things called rashers. British bacon. And I thought— how fucking different can bacon be? Pretty fucking different, and it was fucking fantastic."

Something strange is happening. She has this…normal conversation about food.

She lists out things she likes, she loves, and there are touchstones of memory to quite a few of them. Meeting with John and Zee after hours at Sal's, a night that became a sort of personal turning point for her. Meeting Matt there, too. She had just liked his smile back then, but that had led directly to the incident that allowed the man to just scoop her heart into his pocket and wander off with it. Gyros for John after he was back from Hell, and for Red while they worked. Chinese— so many nights of working cases with Chinese in hand. Indian, her personal comfort food. Her sister alternatively elated and concerned about telling her all about her new powers, about having Daredevil's digits. Even Michael, so polite and closed off, but just making this friendly gesture, being accepting of her foibles.

It eases some of the pressure. It's crazy. But it does.

The waiter pours her wine. She inhales the scent of it. Tries to decide if she wants to go down this road. It will be good. So good. So incredibly good. For now she just stares at it, deciding.

"Well then. You're in for a treat. The Tagliatelle is a really good pasta, and it's got some strength to it so it goes great with the sauce. And the buffalo mozarella, well. It's got a little spice to it, alright. With the eggplant? Ugh. I could die happy and full."


"I probably would, too…" Caloric intake, of course, is measured in gallons at a restaurant like this.

"Sal - wait. Was that the deli you went to, that day I fixed your disposal?" Sally thinks back, remembering the godlike simplicity. "That…bozhe miy that was so good. I didn't know sandwiches could be like that, heh." She nods, taking the rest of it in - and laughing at rashers. "And I thought Americans liked strange names! I'll put it on my list."

Conversation goes easily - it's just two friends, a couple Columbia Girls of various stripe, having themselves a fine time. As far as Rusalka Stojespal, protector of Her people considers, now the day just started. She also happily shares a number of favorites from home - Ukrainian fare, mostly, with a little of the Sokovian touches that make it unique.

And then mention of the gigantic and literal christmas-eve feasts that make up the greatest meal of the year. "Twelve dishes. I am not joking, Jessica. It is…I think you're supposed to eat everything, curl up in bed, and wait for the new year hibernating like the honey-eaters. The bears." She grins. "I suppose…" She pauses, thinking, and giving a sly smile at her companion.

"I suppose it would not be good to leave new friends out of such a tradition. Aah, I'll need to get Baba's recipes then. You, Sloane, a few others." She grins. "If I am going to follow tradition after all I might as well at least put my own spin on it, yes?"

And then, in a freight train of smell and food and smell and flavor and smell and gaining weight just by looking at it, dinner has arrived.

"I think I wanna go to Sokovia for Christmas," Jessica says dryly. "And I hate traveling, so that tells you something about your descriptive skills."

The wine sits untouched as she listens to the Columbia girl share the food traditions that have shaped her memories, her best ones, maybe. Promising to get Baba's recipies, maybe invite over a few friends. Another quick, rare smile touches her lips. "I'd like to do that," she says.

It might be that right there which decides her. Which gives her the strength. She takes a few bites of food that is, in fact, frankly fabulous despite her trepidation about it. Now it's just food. And that's as it should be. Just food, not some horrific reminder of a horrific thing. She looks back at the wine. "Sally," she says at last. "What's Ukranian for 'I didn't come this far just to get this far,' anyway?"

It's a song lyric. One she likes, one she associates with the Shitty Club, in fact, with its common thread of beating back demons and pushing forward. But it's the one that's banging around in her head right now, and sometimes saying something in another language gives that thing gravitas that was not there before.

Sally can't help bursting into giggles, even as she tries to attack the pasta. "I'll see what I can do, perhaps." She grins - but she's also kinda serious. Why not drag her friends for a short visit? Some of them, she realizes, thinking of Sloane especially…really could use some true family around. And some maybe just need a break for a bit.

Besides, Sokovia loves its festivals.

"Either way. This Christmas will be special. Make it, or take it," she adds, pointing at Jessica. And adding a few fingers to her headcount, for that matter. Because damn it, it's Christmas. If there is ever a time to come together, that's it.

Sally can't help but grin as her friend takes her first bites, mistaking the trepidation for the fear that it won't be as good as it's been hyped - but it is, and she takes a good bite of her own in satisfaction. And then gets asked a curious question. "Hm."

It's got a nice poetic touch to it, so she thinks a moment before answering. "Ya ne podorozhuvav tak daleko, shchob til'ky podorozhuvaty tak daleko. It sounds like a family creed?" Something of Jessica's, perhaps?

Jessica opens her mouth to try to repeat that. "Ya ne…pour a doro…yeah, okay, nevermind, good enough."

A waiter passes with a tray. Jessica scoops up the Pinot Grigo. She has it in hand now, and she can't stop herself…

She takes a long, deep drag which only an alcoholic would take of any good wine, then thunks the now half-full glass on the waiter's tray, gasping a little bit. It was good, so good, and she regrets giving the glass away. But she's committed now, adding, "Slob Tak Dalek," to that, utterly butchering the language, but…just kind of getting at least some of the phrase right in there. She wets her lips, tasting the wine on it, inhaling it. That was a mistake, but even touching the glass overcame her completely.

Some roads are straight. Others wind.

"Think I gotta give up my 90-day AA token over that?" she asks, because Sally is, after all, someone who can be trusted to be an impartial judge. "Or does that just kind of count as…as…a sampler?"

She's not even embarrassed. Dignity has been in short supply today, anyway.

"Ya ne - bah. Good enough!" Sally can't help the laugh. "As long as that one is, the food would be cold before we finished. Eat first. Language lessons later." Right? Right!

And then something strange happens, and Sally can't help but stare - just as the waiter does - as Jessica partakes, then denies the rest of the wine. There's a concerned look on their faces; both thinking there was something terrible or wrong about it.

Sally jumps in quickly - "No, no it's alright. She has to drive later, so just a little bit. Right?" That makes sense. Same reason - aside from being eighteen, but only for a little longer - that she isn't drinking herself. The fight that Jessica goes through for that moment, that momentary loss, is something she hadn't been aware of.

And when the AA token is mentioned, she thinks - and remembers commercials. Stories. Explanations. "Bozhe miy, I didn't - oh god. I did not know at all, Jessica, really - that. I feel a fool." To bring her here and shove such temptation in her face. To cause her to stumble - she has let down one of HER people.

After a moment, she thinks about it - the mention of a sampler, and remembering the definition of life being 'a fight, every day' - and there's a whisper of wisdom into her ear. From where, she doesn't know, but she'll take it. "Perhaps not a sampler - but perhaps something to celebrate? Each day is a battle, da? You took a punch. And yet…" She nods to the retreating waiter and the disappearing glass.

"And yet you still conquered it. Yes? Even taking a blow, you fought back. And were victorious."

Jessica's face twists. "This isn't on you," she says quietly. "There is booze at every fucking restaurant, Sally. Every last one. There's fucking booze at fucking Sal's. It's something I have to learn to live with, being around it. This is not your fucking fault." She drinks down water, desperately emptying the entire glass as if it's a shot. Perhaps to dilute the wine, perhaps to simulate the action of guzzling something. But she takes back her token, re-seals her commitment. It's a celebration, Sally says, and she nods thoughtfully.
She still conquered it. She'll take it. "It's just been a long fucking…everything."

She's not drunk, which means she's sober— a distinction that seems simple, but which she has to work through anyway. She just took a drink. She didn't relapse. She just had a moment. She spins the token between her fingers, then puts it firmly away. Keeping it. She won't give it up, not this time, won't beat herself up, won't make a big fucking production (well, more than she has already) out of one quick mistake, one battle with temptation. For her constitution, that was nothing. All of this is a justification, but it's one she'll cling to, because right now, today, it's more destructive to beat herself up than it is to give herself a quick pass. And she reached for light white wine, of all things, not hard liquor.

"I'm sorry," she adds. "For having the fight in front of you." It's possible she should not have mentioned the token at all, but the truth is she needed exterior wisdom, exterior perspective.

Sally is wise beyond her years. She is no American teen. She grew up with too much responsibility. She has too much intelligence. She is able to reframe the discussion into something useful. A bridge back from where Jessica is— on this day where she is not entirely 'okay'— back to being okay again. Back to having some kind of superior position over the demons that plague her.

The expression on her friend's face, as well as the truth she speaks, silences Rusalka's protest. She's right, and the Sokovian knows it - but she still frowns. She'd at least have said something if she'd known, but…

Her own water glass is handed over, in case Jessica needs more. Just something to wash the taste off, maybe. Or dilute it? Something like that? "Alright, alright. Not my fault. Not yours either, since…" Shrug. "You beat it, yes? Besides."

She leans in a little conspiratorally, just to share a private comment. "Aren't dinner wines just sorta slightly spicy grape juice anyway?" Yeah, best not let the waiter - or the sommelier - hear that one. "I mean, so…really, you're fine. One sip of it. And you put it back." Sally looks over at her with a newfound respect, actually. There's encouragement in those eyes, before she just reaches over and pats the raven-haired woman on the head.

"You did not have a fight in front of me. You had a victory in front of me. And I am glad to have seen it. I told you when we met I could tell you were a strong and smart person, eh? Going to tell me I'm wrong?" Especially when she turns back to her meal, taking a bite, and then giving Jessica a thoughtful look.

"Especially when I could just leave you here and make you walk home for saying such a horrible and false thing, hmmm?" She grins, giving Jessica a wink before turning back to her food. "But I will remember next time. It is good to be victorious, but better to not do battle anyway. Still?"

She can't help the smile on her face. "I was right all along." Oh yes, she's smug. Yes, too much responsibity. Yes, too much brains for her age. But sometimes she can do good with that, and by god and Khoro's magnificent tail she will. Smugly, of course. As she deserves.

Jessica will take that water and guzzle it too, but she also snarfs it. Snarfs it when Sally says it's just slightly spicy grape juice. Suddenly all the tension is bursting out of her in a silent laugh. She gracelessly wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, shoulders shaking. She can imagine the sommnelier losing his shit at a comment like that, and it pleases her greatly. Sally, meanwhile, continues absolving her.

The pat on her head makes her go cross-eyed though, with a look of 'what the hell' darting clearly over her expressive face, but then she just laughs again. Because it's like patting a ten-year old on the head. There are many times where she'd never consent to such a thing, but right this second it strikes her as hilarious. Maybe she just needs to laugh at anything. Battles have been fought today, but the war for Bucky's life is far from won. Maybe he'd understand that just fine though, the need to just laugh at any stupid thing when it all gets too tiresome.

"Damn, they teach you to play some dirty fucking pool in Sokovia," she says genially, as Sally threatens to just leave her behind if she says anything shitty about herself. Since she has a tendency to do just that, she does not protest. She won't throw compliments back in her friend's face. In fact, she's gotten a couple of others lately, and she sort of takes them briefly out of her mental 'box' to examine them, hold them, and hold on to them. When she's done mentally putting them away again, she can feel the memory of Kilgrave's fingers on her back, but the memory of the man is silent, and not so horrifically present.

"So that's what you do? You make things and you're right about things?" Jess teases, brown eyes twinkling as the last of the shadows ease from her face. She unzips her leather jacket and slides out of it to finish her meal, revealing the self-same Pink Floyd tank top that Sally had loaned her the last time they hung out. "Oh. Damn. I meant to return this."

The sudden burst of laughter sends water in places, and she's quick to dart to a napkin and hold it out. But the laughter gets a grin on her face, and the gentle pat was just something meant to be comforting - the reaction to it wasn't what she expected, as Jessica cracks up again. This time it's infectious as it continues from the PI, and the hell with it.

She joins in; it's not hard. Maybe it's been stressful for the both of them today. Even if she wasn't on the stand herself, it's been rough watching. Maybe her snap at the reporters earlier, too, was part of that stress - but for now it's just laughter, the two of them finally winding down looking for breath.

"Hah! It is a Stojespal tradition. Don't come to the chess table until you've already won." Set up all the pieces yourself and don't let anyone get in a chance; a simple straightforward domination. But Jessica's quiet, and Sally gives her her moment. It's only fair, and besides that pasta - followed by the eggplant - is so fantastically good.

And then there's a look of surprise - she hadn't seen the shirt. "Eh? Oh! Bah, don't worry about it. I'm going to be moving soon; the last thing I need is /more/ clothes to pack and transport. Keep it. Pink Floyd is a fine band." Shrug. It's not an issue for her, really; instead she's just a little curious as to why her friend's been in the jacket all this time. "Finally warmed up?"

"Oh. And yes. I am right about things and I make things. And I drive very well. Very well. And teach language on the side."

Finally warmed up?

Jessica opens her mouth to explain that heat and cold barely bother her, but…there are different ways to be cold. And she doesn't really want to wind back down the road where she explains how that jacket makes her feel. It, and the spares she has, makes her feel safe. But safety is a kind of warmth, and she decides that explanation is good enough. "Yeah, warm enough," she says, half-smirking.

She tilts her head. "Where are you moving? You're not going back to Sokovia are you? We need you here."

Which may be selfish, or may not, because they are, after all, charged with (somehow) fighting a world-eating machine god at (some point). And if all has been extremely, thankfully quiet on that front, Jessica can still feel that very long, very dark, very deep shadow stretching itself over almost every action she takes. Every decision she makes has her wondering if she herself is helping to bring about that future or prevent it. It also makes her wonder if she will be where she needs to be to stop things when they need to be stopped. Even if it isn't all on her own shoulders, she feels weight as if it is. Jessica doesn't know what to do except but to take full responsibility for whatever she sets her hand and mind to.

That does not mean that she doesn't value help. Far from it. And Sally, with her designs of modified ICERs and shocking punch-gloves, along with her willingness to deal with refugees and in general help wherever she can, has as far as Jess is concerned been just as valuable as any senior SHIELD agent, MI-6 agent, or Avenger that could ultimately end up helping with this thing.

There's a nod. A simple lie, but yet one founded on truth enough. It's not a thing Sally worries about as it is, though she can definitely agree to the warmth. And then there's a headtilt, and a question which gets a hand raised - and a noodle slurped up quickly.

"No no, nothing! Not like that I mean. No, I…my dorm is nice, but you have been there. It's a little small. And, if my education continues as it's been, well…I won't have enough in-class credits to be given a dorm room, and would need off-site housing. I'm doing my practical and applied sciences with Mr. Stark, and only handling theoretical work with the college, so my course load is down."

She laughs. "Not that it makes it any easier! The things I am learning, I just…I would not have it any other way. But I will still get a proper diploma. Just…under special circumstances." She thinks back to her SHIELD badge. "Which seems to be the way I do things these days, sigh." Her momentary impression of a put upon 40 year old lamenting life is as brief as it is silly.

"But I have been looking for someplace large, with room to work and study and entertain. And my birthday is coming up, so why not 'trade up' as it were and buy myself a present? That is what I mean." She's staying. Very much the American these days, despite her distant and ancient roots. There's no way she'd abandon her people to return home.

Miss Rusalka Stojespal instead is simply going to set up her own estate in New York, where she is most clearly needed.

"Awesome, good for you," Jessica says, grinning. "Well. I happen to know someone who is really good at balancing furniture on her head. Even couches." If there were ever a friend who could help a person move, Jessica Jones is it. She's the one friend in all creation who probably won't get put off or put out by the exercise, either. Even multiple trips aren't much as far as she's concerned. It's no worse than moving some groceries for her. And she is genuinely relieved Sally won't be taking off. The girl who thought to bring a car around when she was feeling low and exposed, who has made her feel normal, on this day, of all days, has more than earned herself a moving buddy, as well as Jessica's 'give-a-damn' as far as her staying in New York City goes.

She also smirks.

"Oh yeah," she says, referencing another conversation. "Yeah, you're just so behind. SHIELD Agent Level 3 at 18, personal attention from Stark, only handling theoretical work while Columbia Fucking University scratches its ass and tries to keep up with you. I can see why you'd be worried you're kind of behind the curve and all." But this is a friendly tease, not the sort of cutting diatribes she's capable of, and really, the fact that Jessica's giving those sorts of ribbings is a testament, 100% and absolutely, to just how 'warm' she really is at this particular moment, even as she spears the last bit of eggplant off her plate and clears it off.

Now she can't even feel the fingers. They're just gone. There are now just two people at the table, in truth.

"Ah, good. I was hoping her rates weren't too extravagant. You know, typical serfdom contracts and all with the nobility." She laughs, the generally joyful attitude still spreading into a comfortable warmth for them both. "In truth, I love Sokovia, but. I can be so much here. And still serve the family and our people. And maybe," she adds, adding another bite of that exceptional Italian food, "add a few more to our ranks."

There's an eyebrow raised as Jessica mentions something else, and then a snarf as she tries to not choke on her food. "Yes, I know. Such a tragic fate for one so young and beautiful and gifted, woe. But I am sure I will…somehow…persevere." The laughter's almost a steady state of being, at this point. Frankly…maybe the day started off as bad as it could. Revelations made, pain exposed. But time - time with those who might well be family, true family - heals all wounds. So does some reassurance and wisdom.

Really fantastic Italian food has a little to do with it as well. Somewhere.

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