AKA Bad Decisions

September 26, 2017:

Luke Cage brings Jessica Jones some bad news. The push-pull of tension between them comes to a rather explosive end.

Birnin S'Yan

The home of one Rizza of the Sinjaan tribe, a motherly woman who has turned her home into a makeshift B&B for silly foreigners.

Characters

NPCs: An unknown agent, emitted by T'Challa.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, T'Challa

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The text from Luke Cage comes while Jessica is still running surveillance on a certain textiles factory, and while she's looking up the Chechen Wars because she is not well-versed enough in international politics for that little factoid about a bomb that nearly blew her face off in a library to immediately register. When she learns of the Russian connection, she narrows her eyes in a thoughtful frown.

Then, she texts back: 'Which city are you in? I'm in S'Yan. Can meet at Rizza's, its about time for food.'

After her initial feeling that she needed to Avoid Luke Cage at all Costs, Jones is at a sort of baseline. Her workaholism is back in charge. It leaves little room for much else. Not angst, not anxiety, not guilt, not anything. She's working a case. Through strange twists of fate, so is he. And that's it right now. For the most part.

She climb-leaps her way down and heads to Rizza's with a series of roof leaps that take her to the front door, and inside. Rizza, she has found, will let her pay for dinner too, and she loves this woman's cooking more than she has loved any restaurant she's been in here in this country. Her affection for the old woman is growing, too. But after telling Rizza she'd like to have dinner there tonight, probably for two, she heads to the parlor, a cozy living room where she can curl up in an overstuffed chair. Food won't be ready for awhile, and she might as well get comfortable.

Two months. They've been here, she realizes, two months. She shakes her head slowly at that as she stares blankly at a piece of art detailing a large boa constrictor slithering through the jungle. She holds up her hand. Stares at it. She is sunburnt for the first time since she was a child. It all seems…surreal, really.

She's dressed in ratty jeans and a blue bulletproof tank top, her panther tooth necklace, boots. Pensiveness is all over her face and frame by the time Luke Cage arrives.

*

Luke hasn't been doing much sleeping, that's the first thing that's evident as he ambles into the parlor. He dwarfs the doorway for a moment as he looks at Jessica curled up in that chair, and then iron wills himself further into the room. "Thanks for meeting me, Jones." The text made it clear that the news he had wouldn't be delivered over the phone, but was better to be given and received in person for whatever reason. Instead of taking a seat on the sofa, he reaches down and pulls over the coffee table and perches precariously on it's corner in front of Jessica, unsure of how to begin besides just rough politeness.

*

"You shouldn't be thanking me. I should be thanking you, for staying in this. You don't have a horse in this race anymore, but…here you are. I don't know why, but I appreciate it."

Damn. Detective Jones is slipping. Jessica is trying to peek out. She cuts her eyes towards him, takes in his appearance, and something crosses over her face.

Looking him in the eye is still hard. But…here he is, sitting on the coffee table like this is a major big deal. She turns to face him with a deep breath.

This does not look. Like good news. She has a sense she sometimes calls her FML sense, and it's tingling. Nobody sits like that for good news. He didn't refuse to do this by phone because it's good news either.

She takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders, straightens her back, tilts up her chin.

"Tell me," she says, softly.

*

Whatever is between them, however screwed up it is, Luke still seems to have an inkling of human compassion left in him, which is perhaps what has him reaching for Jessica's hand to attempt to sandwich it in-between his own. "They're just rumors right now, I'll dig into them more. All I can. I promise you that. But…" His chest expands with a deep inhale of breath meant to bolster the words. "Barnes…we're too late, Jess."

*

For a moment she just stares at him like she can't process what he's just said. Her face drains of all of its color, leaving only the livid splotches of the crimson burn across her peeling nose and cheeks. She lets him sandwich his hand. She doesn't pull it back or away. Her eyes take on a tell-tale sheen, though nothing falls. She opens her mouth three or four times before any sound manages to come out.

When it does, it's a negation, a silent shake of her head. "No, no that's—"

She reigns herself in, catches herself, blinks it all back, swallows it all down, though her voice takes on a roughness as tell-tale as the sheen in her eyes.

Jesus. -Jane-.

"What have— what did you hear?"

*

Luke keeps pressure on her hand, intent to keep it there now that he has it, as if suppling some sort of anchor incase she starts to float away. "There's a reason no one's been able to speak with T'Challa, or get an audience with him for well over a week now. A trial, by combat." The words are all jumbled in his head, even though no doubt he was trying to work through exactly what he would say on the way over here. "The translation was closer to 'execution', but …" Lips fold into his mouth, rewetting them with a dry tongue to little effect. "They fought bare knuckles, Barnes and T'Challa. They say the Black Panther tore off one of Barnes' limbs and … in the end he jumped off the waterfall, taking T'Challa with him. Shit, I'm sorry, I'm making a mess of this."

*

"Trial by combat. Yes, that's how Wakanda does things," Jessica says.

He's anchoring her. She is trying to drift away. She sounds a little dissociated, like she's an observer of all of this instead of living it. Or maybe her mind is at the waterfall. Seeing it. Seeing everything. Which limb did he tear off? The metal one or one of the good ones? Both of them going over the waterfall. Down, down, down, to be dashed on the rocks below. How much punishment can one body survive?

When she looks up, her eyes have gone dark and determined. "You're not. You're— Are they looking for bodies? They'd want to bury T'Challa's and stake Bucky's. If they don't have bodies yet…"

*

"That's one half of the rumor, the other half is that the battle is still ongoing. So I don't want to get your hopes up, Jess, but. We have a place. We know where they are, or at least where he was last seen. The place is called Warrior Falls, and I think we should go check it out for ourselves, but no. As of yet, there aren't any search efforts." Luke gives her fingers one last squeeze, only then looking as if he just realized he's holding onto her.

*

He squeezes her fingers, proposes a course of action, and she looks at him gratefully. Everything between them is screwed up, but somehow he still understands enough about her to understand the one key to everything with her. Keep moving. Do the next thing. "That's a good idea," she says, though already she's trying to decide what, exactly, they'll do there. No word that might cleanse his name exists there, does it? But if they've escaped into the jungle, if he is alive, how will they get the evidence, such as it is, to him?

For a moment she reaches out like she's going to touch his cheek. She has no idea why she's moved to do it. She stops herself. "I need to text Jane," she says quietly.

"She might have a way to track him. We might be able to get him out of here, or hide him until we've got what we need. She needs to know in any case."

The hand, she finds, drops to his shoulder. It hovers there. Light. Hesitant.

"Luke," she says quietly. "Are you sure you want to stay here? We've been here nearly sixty days. I can get you home. I can get you home in an instant, in fact, with one phone call."

The words come out hesitantly too.

It's insane. But her eyes tell a different story than her mouth. She doesn't want him to go. She just feels the out needs to be offered a second time.

*

The hand that reaches out to touch him might as well be a snake meant to bite Luke. It's one thing for him to give Jessica some comfort, but when her hand falls to his shoulder he does nothing but tense. At least he doesn't outright smack it away, that's progress, right? "I told you, I see things through." The words could easily sound as if he's been offended, instead they just come out in a grumble that betrays the hardship he's gone through just to be here. And for what? Jessica had the answers he sought all along, and it's not like he's getting paid to be here. "Pops is making sure my bills are paid while I'm gone. But it's time we put an end to this, one way or another, even if that means I take your damn phone and put Barnes in it myself before high tailing it out of Wakanda."

*

She jerks her hand away and stands up. "I told you. Humans don't travel via STUFF," she says flatly.

She's kicking herself for that, that attempt, and her face settles into hard, sour lines. She turns her back on him for the moment, crossing to the window looking out into the back yard. She whips out the damned phone and starts texting, presumably Jane, fingers flying over the keys.

As emotionless as a stranger when she says, "I can take care of your funding issues so your friend doesn't have to, at least whatever you're incurring here. I have an operational fund from an interested party and all items related to your very real contributions count as valid expenses. Don't be a stubborn ass about it, just get me your receipts or your best approximations thereof."

*

The problem with stubborn asses is that they're stubborn asses. As Jessica turns her back to him to start texting up a storm, the big man gets to his feet and loops his thumbs into barren belt loops. "I'm not in the habit of taking money from unnamed interested parties, Jones." It's amazing how many different iterations of her name their can be, with separate inflections for each of them. This is the one he uses when he's unimpressed with her sudden coldness.

*

"Stark Industries," Jessica returns, staring down at her phone as she waits for Jane to text back. "It's not the fucking mafia, if that's what you're fucking worried about. Luke Cage."

She has inflections as well, and hers says that she's starting to seethe beneath the surface. That she's trying to hold on to her temper, because she has no right to it, but she's failing. The way she absolutely mocks the tone he used for her name as she speaks his says it all right there. She's hurt, and because she's hurt, she's pissed, and she does not want to be either.

What is it with men I have feelings for being able to screw me up like this? Do I wanna do this right now? No. I want to concentrate so we can all solve the god damned case.

Though something Jane texts her, at least, brings a start of a hard smile to her face.

If Luke looks over her shoulder he might see: Jane Foster: Wait, they bring him here for execution and they let him fight?

Jessica Jones: That's how they do it.

Jane Foster: Here I thought these guys were smart.

*

"You say fuck a lot when when your hackles are raised." It's one of his casual observations that has little actual bearing on the conversation other than to not rise to the bait of an irritated Jessica Jones. Luke's weight shifts forward onto his toes, easily looking over her shoulder with the height difference. "You do have friends in high places, but I got a few of my own. Took a choice gig right before we left, it's tight, but it left me with a little bit of wiggle room for the trip." The words come in an airy distracted way, because he's also reading the exchange.

*

"My hackles aren't raised. My hackles are fine," Jessica snaps, very convincingly. "And I'm not fucking name dropping or whatever you're accusing me of. I'm trying to do the god damn right thing. You can use that money for anything else, because you coming here was the worst possible thing you could do for yourself, and we both know it was the worst possible thing you could do for yourself, and if you're going to see this through, great, but you shouldn't have to fucking sacrifice for it."

Jessica: Right?

Jane Foster: We have more time than I thought. If they think James is his prosthesis they're going to need a bit to be properly educated.

Jessica: I don't know which limb, it could have been one of the good ones. Lots of rumors say they're both dead but no bodies so don't buy it.

Jane: He wouldn't let anyone else have another. Not even T'Challa.

Jess: Fair.

Jessica shoves the phone in her pocket. And turns to face Luke head on, crossing her arms, her mouth set in a tight, grim line.

*

Luke's head slowly tilts down to look at Jessica, though it stops in the transition so he ends up looking at her from the bottom of his eyes that fan partially shut. He just looks a her for a good long moment, as if unsure where things go from here both professionally and, well, personally. "You know what the most annoying thing about you is?" He asks in the lower range of his register, so the sound seems to vibrate in his chest like a deep hum.

*

"What?"

The terse reply's meaning is all tonal, inviting him to continue. It has a dull edge to it; she can think of 100 annoying things about herself before breakfast. It has a slightly confused edge too, because of all the places she expected him to go in this conversation— personally or professionally— her #1 annoying bit was probably not it. She folds her arms a little more tightly to her chest, defensive and tense all at once. He's not sure, neither is she— she just is barreling ahead.

Barrelling ahead is what she does. She tilts her chin up and shifts on her toes a little bit as if she could make up the height distance between them through sheer determination alone. If she could puff up like a blowfish to make sure they were of a size as well she might well try it. But of course, it only makes her look like what she is: a very tiny woman. One with the capacity to toss a Lexus like a javelin, but still unable to gain any traction when it comes to an ability to properly loom in this… discussion? Argument? That point goes to him, 100%.

*

He has the loom advantage, and he abuses it, too. Luke takes a half step forward so that she'll have to crane her neck unless she wants to just stare at his breastbone. The most annoying thing? "I'm finding it impossible to hate you." Because he's tried. He's had the time to try. He's had the sleepless nights to try. And yet here he is, trying to ease her into the possibility that the man she came here to save might be gravely injured or worse. It's then that the expanse of his palm comes up behind her head to cover the back of it, and perhaps the worst decision he's made in a long time, he leans down to try and crush the grim line of her lips with his own.

*

She cranes her head, because she refuses to step back. Not that she has much room to do so unless she'd like to go through the window.

He says what he says, and what passes over her face is a riot and a rocket of all kinds of things. Shock and a bunch of other things.

But then he's making a bad decision.

Something she's no stranger to. That's going to be on her gravestone, probably. Here lies Jessica B. Jones. She died making a bad decision.

She makes another one right now though, because she wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him right back. She shouldn't. Not here, not now, not on the heels of the news he just gave, though Jane's utter faith in her own beau certainly did a lot to restore Jess herself to solid ground on that front. Not at all, probably, but that…really does not stop her in the least. That grim line changes shape as she becomes an enthusiastic participant in a delightfully insane moment.

*

A classic example of two wrongs most definitely not making a right. Sorry, Miss Rizza, that your window jamb gets dented when Luke reaches past Jessica to steady them, and accidentally squeezes the wood a little too hard so it starts to splinter beneath his grasp. He's too busy concentrating on the slant of Jessica's mouth beneath his and the growing urge to change this from a bad decision to a catastrophic one as his hand slides down from the back of her head to press her harder against his form.

*

She's having pretty much the same thought, because she certainly crushes him closer with the wrap of her own arms too, all without any fear at all that she's going to hurt him in the slightest. Which is thrilling as Hell. It may have been over a year since she last shared a kiss with a man, but she hasn't forgotten how. What is new is the part where she's got any passion in it, and it turns out she's got quite a bit, something she'll be happy to overthink later because hey, the bedrooms are not that far from the window and they could just pick one.

Any one will do, probably something like half past yesterday.

Her heart thunders against his chest, probably hard enough to be felt. Whatever her other faults, the woman is not at all shy, at least, not now.

*

Bedrooms. That seems to be what's on Luke's mind now as he pushes the back away from the window and leans the distance down to hook his thick arms beneath her and simply pluck her from the floor like she is the weight of a feather. That's not to say that she gets away scot-free with her half of the equation because he hitches her legs around his waist to at least free up one hand so he can shift the depth of their kiss, spitting her mouth with an insistent tongue as he starts to maneuver them back to one of the rented rooms.

*

Outside

"You know, sometimes, it is hard for us to comprehend how to get things done in this country…"

A hand opens, and he considers the problem thoughtfully, inspecting the canister filter in his hand. The hiss and click of his mask gives his voice a terrible reverberating effect when the filter is in. But now, his voice is clear and richly accented, the agent standing. "You would think that anyone able to get into this country would be able to take care of our problem…"

"This country is made up on reeds, easily bent and tilted to need. It is filled with backwards people, and they think in backwards ways. And now these others are trying to think backwards as well. Why can't they just let the past become the past…"

He clicks in the filter, and his voice becomes soulless.

"As always, I am alone in this."

He lifts the rocket launcher, and trains it on the Wakandan Rizza's house.

The gaseous munition rocket inside should be more than enough to erase everything. One squeeze of the trigger, and the rocket flies, leaving a visible trail in the air. It will shatter the window he shoots through, and bury itself somewhere in the kitchen. The second stage bursts, spreading a colorless, almond-scented gas throughout the kitchen. The gas itself is an excessively lethal poison.

"It is better that way."

It is also a hybrid of one of the hottest burning gases known to science.

An instant later, the rocket's third stage ignites, erasing half the house in an eyeblink. The thunderclap might as well had been the finger of a dark Wakandan god. Barely recognizable timber harpoons into the ground hundreds of feet away. The house will eventually burn to the ground in colorful flames, Wakandan architecture doing very little to control the fire, which seems almost overzealous in its need to vaporize just about anything involved in it.

By the time the fire burns, he is already gone.

*

Inside

Jessica locks those long legs of hers around his large body, and reaches for his shirt like she's going to rip it right off him. RIP in truth, Luke Cage's latest shirt.

And then everything is happening at once, and not at all in the way she wanted to happen just now.

A screaming wail she doesn't understand, high pitched and coming closer. Jessica's head snaps up, instincts on alert, the kiss broken as she instinctively tightens her grasp on Luke's body, not out of passion this time, but out of a moment both of alertness, and of wide-eyed fear.

The window shatters in that moment of cold realization.

From the front end of the house, Rizza is screaming. The scream is cut off by a coughing fit almost as soon as it begins, then…

Then nothing as white smoke slams through the house, followed by a thunderclap, fire, and fury.

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