Poisoned Ground

November 07, 2017:

Luke Cage catches Jessica Jones at a bad time when he shows up to try to mend some fences.

New York City


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster, Bucky Barnes, Danny Rand, Tony Stark, Daredevil, T'Challa, Michael Carter

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

When Luke Cage drops by Alias Investigations he'll find Jessica walking out the door, texting something into her phone. Her expression is grim as she pauses to lock up. She has better locks now, a keypad sort of thing that is a recent addition. She spots him in the hallway and her head dips from side to side, lips thinning. "Whatever you've got to say to me you need to say while I'm moving, I gotta get up to West 173rd and Fort Washington and I don't have time to stop."

Typical Jessica abruptness, but everything about her looks typical her right now. V-necked grey button up shirt, leather jacket, fingerless gloves, jeans, boots. Her panther tooth necklace swings at her throat as she walks. She apparently hasn't stopped wearing it, even now that she's home. "You wanna ride and talk you can ride and talk, I'm taking the car."

She walks right past him towards the elevator as she speaks, jamming the button up and down a few times.

With the changing of the seasons, Luke has forgone his hoodie in favor of a leather jacket, having ridden his motorcycle outside the apartment complex that houses Alias Investigations. He's somewhat caught by surprise by the brusque arrival of Jessica in the hallway, and whatever sort of speech he had worked up dies on his lips just as fast as those words spew out of her mouth. "Well can you eat and ride, too?" He hoists up a bag of Chinese food in one hand, his helmet hanging from the other.

The elevator arrives and she just stares at him as if she doesn't even know what to make of him.

She strides inside, opening the door for him, her face twisting with a multitude of emotions.

"I'm driving and not hungry, but you can ride if you want," she says, shaking her head. She looks back at him, lips pursed, and explains, "Just got a text a friend of mine went missing and was last seen at that location."

And then: "What is all this, anyway? Am I in some parallel universe where you didn't toss me out of your bar and go completely silent for a month, one where you can just show up with Chinese food like you didn't refuse to so much as hear me out?"

Luke slips inside the elevator from whence he just came, leaning against the wall and crooking one foot up casually against it. He takes all her words in stride, just looking at her for a long moment as the doors slide shut. "Do you ever take a day off?" He wonders aloud, resting the bag of food on his thigh. That's it, no explanation or apologies or attempted reconciliation beyond that for the moment.

Jessica Jones eyes Luke sidelong. "Sure. I took Halloween off, because it's impossible to get any work done on Halloween. I also take Thanksgiving off, because it's impossible to get any work done on Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and New Years, and St. Patrick's Day, for all the same reasons."

She hits the 1 button, tapping her foot impatiently as the filthy elevator travels downward. "There are an awful lot of people and things out there doing bad shit, as it turns out. Got home to two kidnapping attempts, a building that makes people wanna murder one another and now this. Not to mention my biggest client had a giant security failure the other night. You might have seen the results. Giant light in the sky, windows blowing out all over town."

She exhales through her teeth, looking like she's in danger of hitting the '1' button three or four more times. She refrains, but only because she doesn't want to jam up the elevator. "And I don't know who takes days off when their friends go missing anyway."

"Like I said, you need a day off." Luke's eyes roll up to the lights that let them know what floor they're passing now, watching one count off before he puts voice to speech again. "Here I thought Rand just installed his own personal Millionaire Bat Signal. Someone was in need of having their feng shui balanced." A pause. "Stark came to see me, that your doing?"

"God, I hope not, that's the last thing that kid needs," Jessica Jones says, in response to the bit about Rand. "He's attracting enough fucking attention as it is."

She whips her head towards him as he asks if Tony visiting him was her doing. "Nope," she says. "God knows my first two attempts to do right by you pissed you right the fuck off, I don't know why I'd stick my head in a hornet's nest by trying to take on a third. Tony does what Tony does for Tony's own reasons, and if he told you I sent him? He was full of shit."

She's four floors up; it doesn't take long for the elevator to reach the bottom floor. She strides across the lobby towards the parking garage, apparently still fine with the walk and talk method. She is apparently done with the hang dog, tentative displays she made over their shared past in both Wakanda and at his bar. Her boots clop clop across the floor as she digs out a set of car keys.

Ding. Luke rolls out after Jessica, easily keeping up with her pace when his legs are just that much longer. "Yeah, waking up to find out the girl you just decided to throw all in with decided to cut you out of some major event who then doubles down with 'by the way I was stalking you after the whole Reva thing' can really put a damper on things. Makes a man think. Makes a man need a goddamn second to put his pieces back together." He doesn't get riled often, but this happens to be one of those moments, not realizing he's put himself between her and the driver's side door of her car until he's blocking it with a slap of his helmet against it.

He blocks her access to her car, and Jessica favors him with a dark, flat stare.

"Yeah. Luke. I tried to atone, while seriously fucked up, by finding Reva's people. I had plans to help out from the shadows. Reva's people happened to be you. Just you. I'd just come off 8 months of imprisonment and daily rape. Oh and not being believed by anyone who ought to have helped me, that was super fun. Sorry if I wasn't in my right mind. Sorry if I was basically a whole other god damn person back then. And you didn't take a goddamn second. You took a goddamn month. And I don't think 'throwing all in with me' is at all an accurate description of what went on there, but whatever."

She exhales, nostrils flaring. The edge of irritation smooths out of her tone as she steps back and looks at him. Really looks at him. "It's for the best. You can't plant a tree in poisoned ground and expect anything healthy to grow, Luke. And our ground? Is pretty fucking poisoned."

Luke shifts his helmet, tucking it underneath the arm still toting food that is growing cold by the moment. It's to free a hand to reach behind him and yank open the door to her car. It's a bit harder then he intends, making it groan on the frame but the plus side is he doesn't yank it completely from the vehicle. "You're the only COMPLICATION I've even considered since her." He leans into the car, depositing the take out on the passenger side seat. "Make sure you eat something. If it's not my shitty peace offering at least … something." He grumbles.

"Yeah. We have good chemistry, and if we'd met under decent circumstances we'd have been okay. I like you. You've got plenty going for you. But you see this? This thing you're doing? Where you ignore my boundaries and my clear wishes and block my access to my own car instead of getting into the passenger seat I actually offered? That's the whole metaphor for the part of this you got wrong. Right there. Iconic, in fact, of several moments that tell me we can't manage to— "

She just leaves it, though. Jessica shakes her head and crosses her arms. Finally her temper runs out of steam. Her sigh is kinder and a little quieter as she says, "Look, Luke. I— don't know what you expected. That I sat here for weeks and pined after you, wondering when you'd get back and bring me a shitty peace offering? You're a day late and a dollar short, man. I'm seeing someone else. You and me, maybe there's room to be friends. Like I said, there's plenty about you I like and even admire. But we don't bring out the best in each other. Not by a long shot. You deserve something healthy."

She tilts her head to one side, and says something she probably never would have said, or even believed, as early as two months ago.

"And so do I."

Luke reaches out his now empty hand, a vague attempt to smooth the hair down against her scalp as she explains she's seeing someone now. He didn't know what to expect in coming here, in trying, but the thought that whatever it is would be 'too little too late' wasn't it. "Yes." He says simply in that deep rumble of his. "You do." His hand drops away from the touch, whether or not it ever landed.

"So." He says simply, rolling off his lean against the car. "Need help?"

She doesn't draw back from him as he smooths down her hair. It's a mess, as it always is. Tangled whirls and flips. The shorter haircut just makes it stick out more, half the time, if she doesn't style it. Which most of the time, she does not. She closes her eyes. Hurting people is never really fun. It tears into the empathy that is really at her core, the stuff she tries to hide with swagger, snap, and swearing. Or protect, maybe.

If she could, Jessica Jones would fight like hell to see everyone in her life happy, but that's not always in the cards.

So after a moment she steps back. He offers another sort of peace offering. An offer of help. A tacit acknowledgement of the friendship she had offered.

She's reminded of a cold, rainy afternoon last February, where someone else had said similar words to her. The context, the emotional content, it had all been different. Reminded of how she doesn't regret for a moment that she and the person she felt so strongly about at the time pushed through the awkwardness, forged a strong and lasting friendship.

So she doesn't push him away now. He's being cool about it, just as, once, she had to be cool about it.

"Yeah," she says. "Might do." She jerks her head to the shotgun side.

"Maybe get me an eggroll too. I can eat it on the way. Maybe I'm a little hungry."

"If you're anything like me, you're always hungry." Maybe it's a Meta thing. Or maybe Luke just assumed it's a meta thing. Not like he's had a lot of experience with dealing with others that are like him. He peels around the car to the passenger side, folding his large frame into the seat as he starts to dig through the plastic bag and it's various contents to search for such an egg roll. "Now the real question is, Jones, do you eat it with orange sauce or not." Cool about it. He can be cool about it. He was never supposed to be hot about it in the first place, but he can damn himself for that error in judgment later. "So. Which friend went missing this time?"

"I try not to add sauce or anything," Jessica says, sliding into the car and buckling her seatbelt. "I like to take things like they are."

She pulls out of the parking garage and out into traffic. It's not ideal, but she didn't want to take the subway and she didn't want to try to run 50 blocks. For once, taking the car sounded like the faster option to her, and, well, it probably gives them space to navigate these strange, tentative steps. She's a safe driver, almost to a comical degree, given her general disregard for most rules. She follows every traffic law, sure enough. The car is a silver sedan, not a car most probably would have assumed of her either.

"Jane Foster. Cause. That's just what those two needed after four months of Hell."

Most seatbelt don't fit around Luke comfortably, so he tends to forgo them. Therefore it's rather a good thing that she's cognizant of the traffic laws, because one ticket would just lead to another. As it is in the sedan, Luke's knees are pressed up against the dashboard but it's not as if he's afraid of car accidents or the need for an airbag. One golden fried roll is offered over. "Face value ain't what it used to be." Luke says simply. "So who is he?" Because they made it five whole minutes trying to dodge awkward.

Jessica takes the eggroll and takes a moment to just take a bite out of that. Because she's hungry? Because he's gone straight into awkward? Maybe a little from column A, a little from column B. She keeps her eyes on the road, grateful for the excuse.

No need, though, for her to keep it a state secret. "Michael Carter," she says. "For about a week."

She isn't entirely sure if they ever met directly in Wakanda; a lot was going on and people were moving to and fro all over the entire country, but she knows he's at least heard the name of the MI6 agent who also went to that nation, in part, because of her. She casts about for a question to ask in turn. Something to change the subject with, something that won't be awkward. She, past mistress of asking the well-timed question though she may be, comes up blank.

There is a bit of a chuckle from Luke, one of those low things that barely registers on the human ears but can be seen the shake of his shoulders as he looks out the window. "That's about right." He says of Michael, now watching the shapes of the buildings as they pass them, not touching the Chinese food which seemed to be more of Jessica's benefit than his own. He'll remind her to lock her door or eat, but doesn't practice as much as he preaches. "You forgot Puerto Rican Pride Day as days off. Even I close my bar on Puerto Rican Pride Day."

About right? Jessica shoots him a weird look, not knowing at all what he means by that. She soon has her eyes back on the road, slowly making the ascent from 46th street to the 100s. "Puerto Rican Pride Day, yeah, of course." She exhales a little bit. It was easier when she was full of ire, piss, and vinegar, but now it's not easy at all. Typical.

She finishes the egg roll and wipes her hands on her jeans, then puts the free hand back at the ten position, joining her other one at the two. "How is the bar, anyway?" She's so shit at small talk. So. So shit at small talk.

"Still standing." Luke says of his bar, even though he'll easily call it a hole in the wall to Stark, it's still with pride. "Stark helped me fix the boiler in the building and left a hefty check for my time in Wakanda, so it'll be an easy winter. No body sits on your stool any more." Maybe because the bartender doesn't let them. "Hey, did you hear they're opening a community center in the neighborhood?" Why is small talk that much harder all of a sudden?

Jesus, I have a stool he doesn't let anyone sit on? Jessica Jones doesn't know what to make of that one at all. She just decides to…slide right on past that. "I'm glad Tony helped out. He's pretty down-to-earth for a bazillionaire. Glad you took the help, too."

She makes her turn off, getting closer.

"I didn't hear that though, no. That's good though! When will it be open? Are you involved with the project?" It seems like the sort of project Luke might be involved in.

It was, for Jessica, always hard. But he's carrying the conversation well enough for now. And the last thing she wants is for this car ride to descend into awkward silence.

"Wakandan consolation prize." Luke says of the community center with a twist of his head in her direction and the brief slant of a smile, but leaves it at that despite her other questions. The fact that he doesn't fill her in on anything else about it should be answer enough. It's clear he's happy about it's existence but not about the circumstances surrounding it. "He's intent on making me a phone I won't accidentally break all the time, jamming my thumb too hard on that little fingerprint recognition thingie." Stark, presumably.

"Wakandans pay their debts," Jessica says, a faint smile touching her lips. Her admiration for that nation and their people is undiminished by her time there. Indeed, she's probably the only one of her friends who didn't walk away with a sour taste in her mouth about the place, but she felt a kinship with it she can't even begin to explain. She made friends there, against all probability. And it's probably a damn good thing, because she took oaths. Eventually, she's going to have to go speak to T'Challa about that, take some initiative on fulfilling them, for in many ways she has gotten far more than she's given, and that bothers her. "King T'Challa most of all," she adds.

As for Tony, she smiles fondly. "Yeah, sounds like Tony. He'll tell you he's a giant asshole all day long, and then gives freely to nearly everyone he meets. You should take him up on it, they're real good phones."

"I already have a man crush on the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, don't get me toting one for Stark too." Luke jokes as well as he can given the situation, shifting in the seat he suddenly finds a bit too confining. "How much longer?" He offered help, he'll stay for duty's sake, but as the time ticks on in the sedan with Jessica it becomes apparent just how bad of an idea this was. He looks like he has a million questions he wants to pepper her with, and keeping them all locked in is just making him tense.

That makes Jessica laugh. "A man-crush on DHK, huh?"

But she can see the tension. "Five minutes," she says. Traffic has been decent today, against all odds. "You don't have to stay if you don't want to, Luke. You can if you want, you don't have to if you don't want to. The situation is seven kinds of weird. You also don't have to bottle shit up. I can take whatever you need to say, just like you basically take whatever I have to say."

She shrugs and says, "I lied when we first met, but that's not really who I am. Not my thing at all. I mean I pretext, for work, but that's more like acting. It's different. I was afraid you'd kill me, and I was afraid if you did Bucky might get hung out to dry because I didn't have my hands in there with everyone else. Doesn't make it right, but point is…just…I'm not afraid of real, I guess."

"Have you seen him?" Luke jokes right back about Daredevil, "Kids like me from the Burroughs grew up on stories of heroes like him. He's a man of the city. Not to knock the Starks of the world, but…" The big man shrugs, taking the distraction for what it is, and using it to eat up the remaining time they have. He makes no comment about backing down from his offer. He wouldn't have made it had he had no wherewithal to follow through. "DHK has grit in his teeth, man. He knows what it's like, to take matters into his own hands when the police are too busy having their hands tied."

If there is one thing they can agree on it is very much the merits of the Daredevil. "Yeah, he's pretty awesome," Jess says fondly. But she won't say too much about him for all kinds of other reasons.

"He doesn't bite, Cage. He doesn't much ask for help, but if you want him to come in on something you've got going on, just find him and ask. He'll probably help. He won't think you're a dumbass or anything. We've been working together off and on for the past year. If he can put up with me he'll surely be fine working with you."

An absolutely more comfortable topic, to be sure.

Now they're pretty close, and there's a free parking space. She slips into it while the slipping is good.

"The only thing I've made a mess of handling lately is you, and I'm not about to bring a brother in on that." Luke says frankly as they pull into the spot and the car is put into park. "You going to eat your fortune cookie?" The said 'dessert' of Chinese food is being flicked up between two fingers, offered with a simultaneous raise of dark eyebrows pushing up towards Cage's bald head.

Jessica tries to imagine what that conversation would look like. Luke Cage going to Daredevil for advice about her, or whatever about her. She tries to even imagine it. Especially in the Daredevil guise. She can't quite get the picture fixed in her mind, of what he would say or how he would handle that. Probably because this is a scenario that would never happen, thank all that is good sweet and holy in the world.

She takes the fortune cookie instead, pops it open. "Your energy will return, and you will get things done," she reads.

"Well, shit, these things know me, that's fucking creepy." She pops the cookie into her mouth.

Then she unbuckles her seatbelt. "Thanks for trying to get me fed, Luke. I shouldn't be in any danger or anything. I'm just going to see who I can't beg, borrow, or bribe some video footage from."

"…in bed." Luke adds the token phrase to the end of Jessica's fortune as he pops open the door, happy to kick out his legs and straighten them into the street. "Nothing that the presence of a big black dude can't help grease the wheels of." He ducks out of the car, blinking up into the sky as if expecting snow to dot his face. "So we good?"

Jessica rolls her eyes skyward as he adds 'in bed.' "We're good," she says dryly.

And yeah, a big black dude does grease the wheels. In short order she's found a pawn shop that offers the right footage: Jane, dropping from a fire escape and then running while talking on her cellphone. After a few seconds the feed gets jittery and scrambled, but flashes of a hulking, heavily shadowed animal are apparent on the footage. Like a bear, shifting and twisting. She finally moves beyond the camera angles.

"Ooookay," Jessica says slowly. "My friend is missing because she's being stalked by a magical bear. Yep. This is…this is just…well, it's typical. It's fucking god damn typical. A god damn bear. Thing. A bear-thing."

"You mean it's a typical Tuesday?" Luke says rather dispassionately, because since meeting Jessica Jones the truth of the matter is? He's seen stranger things. His big paw of a hand drops on her shoulder. "Drive me back to my bike. I gotta see a man about a bear." Pause. "Thing."

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