Not Looking for Comfort

August 04, 2017:

An unwelcome blast from the past arrives at Alias Investigations when Luke Cage shows up to ask Jessica Jones some hard questions.

Alias Investigations

It's maybe kind of a heap.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, T'Challa

Mood Music: Gasoline


Fade In…

@LexCorpNetwork
#JJones testimony on Barnes "distinct mind control" symptoms seems sketchy… at best. #T2C

@BenUlrich
2014 #JJ police report entered into evidence. Alleged meta forced Jones to assault a bank teller, and a former Seagate prison guard.

The day after Jessica Jones, PI took the stand in the Trial of Two Centuries a flood of defense witnesses followed. She was a hostile witness for the prosecution, but ended up mostly serving the defense instead, even as USA David Archer tried to discredit her. But the jury probably would be in deliberations before any attempts to grab a certain 2014 police report would have borne fruit. It definitely talked about "Kilgrave" getting hit by the same bus that killed Reva. And it definitely talked about Jessica reporting having been forced to assault a few interesting people, including one Seagate prison guard.

Meanwhile, Jessica Jones is hiding from the world. As…best as one can hide in one's own office. The lights are off, but…if the soft music playing inside is any indication (the song of the moment is "Gasoline," with the lead singer mournfully telling the world she thinks there's a fault in her code). The walls are so thin that it drifts out just a little bit into the hallway.

If any attempts to call her were made they probably went straight to voicemail, a curt but professional thing that lets people know that Alias Investigations is "here to help." But the address is public, and the door blessed with a frosted glass insert with big gold letters.

*

A shadow darkens the small gap between floor and door and with the lights off inside there is no doubt a very large silhouette blotting out the majority of the light from the hallway through that frosted glass insert. There the figure pauses for a moment, a shift in the shadow as a seemingly bald head swivels to take in the perimeter of the door from where the hinges might be down to the handle and lock. Finally there is just a knock on the wooden frame, hard enough to rattle the glass.

*

True facts: surprisingly few people knock on Jessica's door.

The music shuts off, and Jessica peers at the shadow. It doesn't look like a reporter. And it doesn't look like a friend. She fumbles for the app on her phone that will activate the little camera that could tell her who it might be, but the damn thing is frozen. She contemplates ignoring it, but something drives her to the door.

She yanks it open. Maybe it's a client. If it is, she's probably not getting hired. She's dressed in black, baggy sweatpants and a black, baggy tank top. Her hair isn't brushed, and the scowl on her face doesn't match her opening words at all, nor does the dull, disinterested tone. "Welcome to Alias Investigations," she begins.

Then she really looks at who is at the door. And all the blood drains from a face that is already pale.

*

Luke's chin adjusts, tilting downwards to take in the visage of the shorter woman. His lips were resting in a sort of vague smile, but that fades quickly into something akin to concern when he sees the change in her face toward pallor. "Whoa, hey. Normally I'm all for women swooning at my feet…" He starts in speech as well as movement, the wide expanse of his hand instinctually reaching for her elbow in case she's about to pass out or something dually unfortunate.

*

She does not pass out, at least, though nothing he does or says does much to restore her pallor to anything at all that looks more healthy. He takes her elbow— helpfully, kindly even, but she stiffens at the unexpected touch just the same. She lets him help her, but is soon gently disentangling herself, swallowing.

"It's fine," she lies. "I just stood up too fast."

She sort of gestures at her couch. There's a pillow there, and an old, ratty quilt. The place is absolutely spartan, but it's a one bedroom, begging the question of why she seems to habitually sleep out here. She scrubs her fingers through her hair and says, "Just…throw that shit to the side. Sit anywhere. You can sit at the desk too. Wherever."

The garbage cans are overflowing. As is the sink, with dirty dishes. She hesitates, reaching past a giant punching bag to turn on one of the lights. It swings a little. She reaches out to stop it. Despite the general sort of neglect, the place isn't cluttered. In fact it's almost barren, really. There is a pushpin map on the wall, an item of indeterminate purpose, though an upside-down dirty post-it that has migrated just beneath it might have provided a clue once.

She takes a deep breath. "Sorry, you caught me at kind of a. Time. Jessica Jones. PI. How can I help you?"

*

His hand naturally falls away when she twists out of his steadying grip, moving to mirror the other that's shoved into the kangaroo pockets of his hoodie. Luke sort of ducks into the doorway, not that it's a necessity it's just one of those habits from hitting your head too many times when entering a room. His forehead creases as he takes in the apartment as well as her instructions to just move shit out of the way to make room on the couch. That's where he heads, but he doesn't sit down just yet. "Well, I was actually hoping you could answer a few questions for me. I can give you a few moments if you need to, uh, wake up?" His voice rumbles, barely hiding the note of amusement in it.

*

"Uh yeah. Sure. You want coffee? I can brew some."

His amusement only seems to fluster her more. She swallows, then makes a beeline for the coffee pot regardless of what he says in regards to wanting any. And, casually, as if she just has no idea at all: "So at some point, clients— or potential clients— or even people with questions usually give me their names."

The quilt is old and well-loved, a handmade patchwork sort of thing. She gets the pot on, then suddenly seems to realize there's not a single clean coffee cup in the place. She exhales and goes to the sink, quickly rinsing a couple of them out. She grimaces at the wall as she scrubs them, perhaps more vigorously than she has to. She runs the water hot enough for it to start steaming into the small space. It occurs to her to add, "Sorry about the mess."

*

"No you're not." Luke casually comments to the apology, reaching over to finger the edge of the quilt before grabbing a handful of it, to move it aside. "I'm actually still marveling you let me in the door without an introduction in the first place. Big black man knocking on a white girl's door at night." He grins as the couch quietly groans when he drops his frame down into it. "Luke Cage."

*

That comment actually produces something like an offended scowl. "I can take care of myself," she growls. "And the day I'm scared of someone based on their fucking skin color is the day I turn in my license." And oh is that anger ever welcome. It's easier, so much easier than everything else, and she clings to it like she's drowning in the depths of the Atlantic and this is her only life preserver, but it soon slips away.

The coffee brews fast. She thunks his down black, but includes a couple of diner cream and sugar packets scrounged from a drawer should he want them, and a freshly washed spoon. His coffee cup says, "Do No Harm, But Take No Shit."

Her own, says, aptly enough, "Do I Look Like I Rise and Shine?" She drinks hers black.

She pulls over a chair from the client side of the desk, whips it around, and straddles it. Her face goes unreadable by the time this exercise is over. She holds her coffee cup out almost like a shield. Takes a fortifying sip.

"So. Questions?"

*

Luke is still wondering what to do with a cup of coffee he never asked for, so he just wraps his paws around it and cradles it between his spread knees as he leans forward to talk to her. "You know, this would be a whole lot easier if this coffee had a little Irish in it. I want to talk to you about my dead wife. I believe you may have had some sort of connection to her. Or at least knew her. Reva. Reva Connors."

*

"You should have been by here like 10 months ago then," Jessica says. "I'm afraid Alias Investigations is now strictly bring-your-own Irish."

She doesn't seem to care if he drinks his or not, but she sure drinks hers. She in fact downs it like it really was a shot when he mentions Reva Connors. "I do know the name. I investigated the bus crash pretty thoroughly since my own personal nightmare was hit by the same vehicle. I guess the— trial— made the connection. For you."

She turns away from him, ostensibly to set the cup down, very gently, on her desk. She tips her head forward till her hair hides her entire face, casting her eyes downward as she offers a sincere, soft, "I'm very sorry for your loss."

*

"I'm past people being sorry for my loss. Now, I just want answers." Luke's voice gets a little more firm, a little defensive even about the fact that he can still be affected by hear those kinds of condolences. "Look, I get it's a long shot but maybe there's a connection. And if you knew him, and he knew her, then maybe…why was she out there that night? Why was she with him? Something had to have turned up in your investigation."

*

Jessica doesn't raise her head. She doesn't look at him. Not right away. He gets firm with her, and she visibly flinches a little bit.

She stands up abruptly and reaches into the desk drawer. She pulls out a pack of vanilla cigarillos. She opens her window and sinks into the frame, lighting one up, taking a long, deep inhale. She tumps out a few ashes. Swallows hard, gazes out at the lovely view of the brick wall of the opposite building, and says roughly, "You know what I encounter a lot? As a PI? People totally sure things are connected when they're not. A loved one out at the wrong place and the wrong time becomes this whole big conspiracy. They think it's going to make it easier if there are some answers at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. Even when they are? It's not easier. It doesn't make the dead any less dead."

A second long pull. Some smoke backdrafts back in, courtesy of the wind. Her hand shakes. "I wish I could help you out, Luke, but I just can't." True in one respect, false in another. "You might just need to accept the idea that…that random chance. Is a thing."

*

"Then why the hell have you been looking like you've seen a ghost the minute you opened the door?" The man has anger in him, perhaps it's always simmering just beneath the surface so it doesn't take much for it to boil over. Luke's hand tightens into a fist, unfortunately he's forgotten he's still holding a mug within the grasp of his fingers. The ceramic shatters and crumbles before the noise of it even hits his ears or he can even register the warmth of the coffee against his skin. He should be hissing in pain, but instead he's just blurting out, "Sweet Christmas," as he rushes to the sink.

*

Because I spent what a year and a half, two years? Trying to keep tabs on you and make sure you were okay? Trying to help out where I could from the shadows without fucking up your life, before I decided that was unhealthy as fuck?

Her face twists into something unreadable, vaguely unhappy, but unreadable.

Still, if she's frightened by a big, angry (black) man pulling one of her own feats in her office, none of that shows. And she sure doesn't look surprised. Anger doesn't make her flinch. Anger is welcome. Anger is, in fact, deserved.

I should just tell him, and let him do whatever he needs to do in response. Like Bucky. Letting him have his say. But then what happens to Bucky when T'Challa starts rampaging?

She is just looking at him. Cigarette in her mouth. Slowly, her face translates itself into a look. The look says, 'Are you done yet?'

But when she speaks, her voice is weary. Even gentle. She props her arm over her knee, the cigar-cigarette hybrid still burning away between her fingers. "Go home, Luke. If I know much about love, I guess what I know is Reva would want you to be happy." If I know much about you, it's that you deserve to be. "I can't tell you a damn thing that's going to bring you comfort. It was an accident. That's the answer."

*

Luke is busy at the sink, swiping away shards of ceramic and rinsing coffee off his hands. Of course none of it drew blood, and his skin isn't scolded from the hot coffee, but he plays it off like he's used to doing by now. "You know, you really shouldn't get your dishware from tourist gift shops, buy it at the corner bodega like the rest of us."

Her words do little to stave him off though, "I'm not looking for comfort, Miss Jones, I'm looking for anything that makes a god damned speck of sense. Sorry, but 'it was an accident' doesn't make it any easier to sleep at night. You should know something about that, right? Camped out like you are on your couch."

"You know something. Even if it's about this Kilgrave fellow that you didn't tell the court. What if she was mind controlled too?"

*

"I'll buy my coffee cups wherever the fuck I please," Jessica says, but there's no heat in it. "I'm camped out on my couch cause I have a couple of wards who live in the bedroom. Or had. I'm not sure if either of them are coming back, until I know, beds are theirs."

Really, that sets off a whole flood of thoughts about other people she's failed, but her dark eyes stay focused on the man trying to protect his own secrets at her sink. Her smile turns wry, bitter. There's another person whose life she has ruined. There's another person whose secrets she knows, without a right to them. Whose secrets she was not trying to learn, but did.

He asks the hard question, presses. He's not going to be put off. But if she answers that question, it's all going to come out. She's honestly not much of a liar unless she's pretexting for a case.

She opens her mouth, trying to summon the courage to do it, trying to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may. The answer sticks in her throat, and what she says, at last, is: "I— think I've— honestly done all the talking about Kilgrave that I can do for awhile." She flinches. Wondering if he read all the transcripts, all the tweets. What did he read? What did he see? What talking head talked about her? She talked about everything but Reva on that stand, including the rapes. So that answer, at least, is genuine.

Her words are dull as she attacks the cigar again. "I fucking never wanted to talk about him at all, okay? I fucking didn't need my friends knowing about that, let alone the entire god damn world."

*

Luke cranks off the tap, choosing to dry his hands on the thighs of his jeans as his boots fall heavily back in her direction. "And I never wanted my wife to be killed by a bus, but here we are, aren't we? Look, I know how this works. You're a PI, you get paid for information. I'll give you the very last dime I have in the bank if you'll just give me some answers. And if you don't have them. Find them."

*

"You need to keep your money," Jessica says, sharply, whipping her head around to glower at him. There's true anger in those brown eyes. Whatever this is about, it's sure as hell not that. She stumps out the cigarillo and flicks the butt into the alleyway like an asshole.

She exhales. "Christ. This isn't about money! Look, I am not even going to be in the country the moment Sergeant Barnes' verdict gets handed down. If he's acquitted, then I have an existing case I have to go pursue. Someone firebombed a conference halfway around the world and I gotta deal with that. I— when I'm done with that— I just— I have to go do that first. Then maybe— Then I'll call you, okay? You can just leave a number and I'll call you, and we'll go from there. And I'll…I'll look into it."

She drops her head again, staring at the floor, crossing her arms tight to her chest.

*

"I left my number." Luke says, finally near enough to glower down at her, though the anger and ire isn't directed at her, not really. "At least a dozen times on your machine." He reaches out to snatch a pen from her desk, then goes to likewise reach for her hand, likely to write it down on her flesh.

*

"Yeah, well, checking my voicemail hasn't exactly been my biggest god damn priority lately," Jessica snarls back.

Her phone (a Stark phone, as it happens, weirdly expensive given the state of the place) pipes up helpfully, in a polite, upper-crust British voice. "Don't worry, Miss Jones. I have them all arranged by folders for you. Mr. Cage did indeed call several times. Would you like me to play them now?"

Jessica rolls her eyes. "No, thanks, Jarvis."

He reaches for her hand, and she snatches it back. "Jesus! Do you just randomly grab people to write on them all the time? Is that a thing you do? You heard the phone, he's got your number. Fucking Hell, Cage, haven't you ever heard of fucking paper? What the fuck!"

She tucks her arms hard under her armpits, glowering at him like he's just committed a capital offense.

*

"Like I could find a piece of paper in this heap." And with that, he flicks the pen in the direction of her nose, but doesn't seem concerned whether or not it connects. Satisfied that 'Jarvis' has his contact information, he tosses the pen back towards her desk. "I'm trusting you." He saddles her with that before he heads to the door.

*

Insulting Alias is almost enough to make her forget everything that she owes to this man, everything that she's holding back from him. It washes away the guilt in a flood of welcome rage.

She gets up.

She stalks to her desk.

She yanks open a desk drawer hard enough to nearly spill its contents onto the floor.

She finds a yellow notepad. She rips off a piece of paper. Balls it up. And just whips it at the back of his head as hard as she can. Not…that…this is going to do much good. "Take one for the road," she snipes. A heap, her ass!

Then he says he trusts her, and the grimace across her face is pained and dark. Jesus Christ, why the fuck would he do that?

"Yeah. Sure," is what she mutters, embarrassed by her outburst and distressed that she let her temper get away from her with this person, of all people.

*

Of course no matter how hard she whips it, it wouldn't do any damage. Not that Luke doesn't feel it though. "Sweet sister." He comments, rubbing the back of his shiny bald head as he comments, "You should pitch for the Yankees." He gives a chuckle that, despite everything, still has a touch of actual amusement in it. "Come lock your door." He instructs as he sidles out of Alias Investigations. At least for the night.

*

And now he's giving her instructions on how to—

Jessica Jones swallows. He's too likable. Why does he have to be likable? Why can't he just be an asshole?

She opens her mouth to explain how 99% of her clients and friends just break in. How they pick her lock, or wander through her windows, or freaking shadow step or teleport or what have you. That she gave up on keeping valuables in the office or ever locking her door as a result. That he's a rarity for knocking so politely.

Instead, she finds herself so weirdly touched by his concern that she just nods mutely and steps softly behind him.

He'll hear the click of the lock behind him.

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