Delicate Dance

November 11, 2017:

After the trouble at the hospital Jessica Jones wakes up in her own apartment to find Michael Carter there with her. He gets to navigate the process of dealing with a cranky, somewhat sick, and wholly embarrassed PI.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, NY

It emphatically does not look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Daredevil, Six, Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, Peggy Carter, Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It probably would have been helpful to everyone involved if Jessica had woken up and moved under her own power the moment Danny Rand hurt himself trying to burn various poisons out of her system.

That's not what happened though. She was still hypothermic and the process itself did some damage in different ways. Her body needed time to warm up and adjust. Meanwhile, Luke Cage carried her home, depositing her on her own couch at Alias Investigations and calling Michael Carter with what is a typical level of grudging grace and Cage nobility. Irritated but doing the right thing.

There are plenty of blankets floating around Alias, at least, which can be pressed into service in the interests of getting Jessica Jones warm again. At least she wasn't experiencing any of the other symptoms of anesthetic overdose. No seizures, no choking on her own vomit. Her enhanced physiology offered some protection.

She has no idea where she's waking up or what she's waking up to. She became aware of pain at some point, horrific pain that just surged through her entire system but that she couldn't quite swim up out of unconsciousness to address. And now she's aware she's laying somewhere, under some blankets.

That does not mean she's in friendly territory though. Sure, she deliberately hit that conference app and the command that would get it to the last few people she called, but she couldn't remember who those people were, and she has no idea if they answered, or were able to help, or were willing to. A woman who is used to relying on herself, she welcomes the help and has even progressed to a point where she asks for it, but she won't ever depend on it, not really.

Which is why, when she wakes up feeling like she's been bruised and beaten in a hundred different places thanks to Rand's unpracticed weild of his chi, she comes up with a grit toothed, "Son of a bitch!"

She comes up swinging, too, full force, before she even gets her eyes open, ready to hit whatever asshole might be looming over her. It's clumsy, but it sure would be dangerous for certain people to stand near. "You wanna fucking drug me? I'll have your asses!"

*

Michael deals with a lot of emotions when he gets the call from Cage. He's not used to feeling the bottom drop out of his stomach for anyone other than his sister. It's not that he's cold so much as deeply pragmatic and used to not making those close connections for fear of provoking emotional rather than logical responses. Sort of like the one he's having right now. Fear, for her safety. Worry, about long-term effects. Anger at whoever did this to her. But that all gets wrapped up in a sort of steely calm for his and her benefit.

The blankets were his doing. Thanks to needing to work autonomously, he does have some first aid knowledge. He's nearby when she comes out of it. To her, he's an indistinct blur at first, one that takes the brunt of her full-force blow with the side of his arm. His skin mesh tightens to that marble-like consistency. But it still hurts and jostles him back a bit. He grunts softly in response to the impact. "Jessica, Jessica. Calm down. Relax…" he reaches to grip her wrists firmly but gently. "You're home. It's Michael."

*

It is good that he says her name and starts trying to calm her before he grips her wrists, or she'd fight all the harder. For a moment she's all panting rage, her eyes unfocused, her mouth twisted into a snarl. Her brain labors to catch up even as she freezes for a second. Finally vision clears, and she sees that she is indeed safe. She exhales with relief and the tension leaves her body. There's some incredulity when she asks: "That bullshit with the phone actually worked?"

She hadn't been sure that it would. Really and truly.

And then her mind catches up with the fact that she actually connected, and her eyes widen. "Shit, did I—"

Sure, he says she can't hurt him, but she's not so sure. She downplays her strength a great deal, for the most part, has really used it to its fullest capacity only on a very few occasions. She can't know for sure if he's aware of just how much force she really can bring to bear when he tells her things like that.

*

"Apparently so," says Michael in a tone of voice that is deliberately calming. He squeezes her wrists again, then releases them when he's sure she's calmed. He wasn't seriously injured by the strike, but the skin beneath the mesh is probably bruised a little. And yes, he has assured her that she can't hurt him, but he meant more accidentally. She could quite handily take him down if she was actively trying.

He sets the back of his hand against her forehead to check her temperature. It is a clinical thing, but it lingers a little more than it needs to. He also presses his hand against her cheek and looks at her with concern that doesn't move into 'fussy' or 'overprotective.' "How are you feeling?"

*

Awake, she's still running a bit low-grade temperature-wise, but she's warming up. He asks how she's feeling, and her response is probably predictable.

"Pissed off. But also glad to be home, glad you're here." She gives him a quick smile; she is not, after all, angry at him. It might take awhile for the anger to fade from her system though, it roars through in surges of adrenaline that have no target.

She does turn her cheek into his hand a little bit, accepting this level of physical comfort that she is so unused to receiving. But then. They're both pretty not-used to every tentative step they're taking together, so she doesn't feel as bad about her own awkwardness. It's nice, though. She leans forward to kiss him, then pushes the blankets right off, moving to stand up for whatever reason seems good to her to stand up.

*

It really is hard to get used to, but at least they're adjusting together. Michael gives away some of his worry with the way he returns that kiss, but he doesn't express it in so many words. When she moves to stand up, rather than call out 'be careful' or 'you shouldn't get up yet,' he's just nearby to steady her if she should lose her balance. "You should drink some water. Whatever that was did a number on your system."

*

"Yeah, that's what I was going for," Jessica agrees. She might have asked him for it, but she's already had more than enough help; whether it was Michael himself who showed up or a host of others. She takes the steadying though, because her balance is slightly off. She closes her eyes and shakes her head as a slight wave of nausea takes her. "I heard them say it was like four different fucking drugs," she grumbles. "Before I passed out."

With his help, she gets to the fridge. She pulls out a bottle of water, uncaps it, and sucks it down. She's very thirsty, dry mouthed from the drugs. She throws that bottle away and goes for the next one without even stopping to close the door. She sucks that one down too. She looks rumpled, still in her work-a-day uniform down to the fingerless gloves, all helping to keep her warmed up. She pauses to touch the necklace at her throat, to verify it's still there. She might have twisted that too, for help, but she wasn't sure anyone from that quarter was close enough at the time. She had thirty seconds to make a decision, and she did.

Finally, "Thanks," with a quick smile, which is for his steadying. And maybe for his presence, too.

Doesn't stop a cranky grumble of: "Fuck, I'm cold. Is the heat on in here? Jesus Christ."

*

Michael picks up the bottle of water he had ready at her side and walks over to hand it to her. It's already uncapped, though room temperature. It's been out awhile. She's been out awhile.

He steps up behind her, and unless she resists, he'll fold his arms around her, hands squeezing hers. He's offering his body heat, but obviously more than that. "The drugs dangerously lowered your body temperature. It will take a little bit for your core to warm." Then, "I should get you some soup. Wonton, maybe, from that place nearby. Minus the wontons for the moment in case your stomach revolts."

*

She takes the bottle, but more than that she takes his embrace. She slides into it, wrapping her arms around him in turn. There's no resistence. She takes a moment to just rest her head against his chest, to try to relax her own shaking adrenaline-fueled reactions. Hunger is the last thing she's feeling, but she sees the value of the soup; she nods into his shirt and takes a deep breath. The water bottle presses into his back, a bit, still curled into her hand.

"They called me with a case," she explains, figuring it might be good to tell him what she knows about what went on tonight. "This Doctor, um, Parker. Shane Parker. Usually I check out every client I get, but I mean he was calling on behalf of Metro-General, right? Nothing to check, really. Can't really help with Jane right now unless Bucky puts out a 'I need back-up call' from somewhere in upstate New York, figured I might as well help out. Supposedly a bunch of stolen drugs, right? Asked him why he called me and not the cops. Liability, insurance concerns…all made plenty of sense to me."

*

"If we were at my flat, I could give you some of the stock in my freezer. I go on these little blitzes where I cook and freeze things so I've always got a stock of food." Michael rubs his hands up and down her arms in a slow motion.

"They knew how to bait you. Or rather, they knew how to bait a savvy PI. They made sure to avoid your alarm bells." He takes a deep breath, then says, "Do you know what they wanted from you? Why they were trying to take you?"

*

Jessica actually has a warm smile for this commentary about cooking and freezing, a series of things it has never in her life occurred to her to do. That this dangerous MI6 agent does something her Mom used to do strikes her as immediately endearing, softening brown eyes.

But then he asks the $64,000 question, and she shakes her head.

"No, not really. They took me down to a storage room, I was looking at a damaged drug cabinet, and while I bent down to take a photo they stuck me right in the back of the neck. I could tell I had about 30 seconds to figure out what the fuck to do about it, so I hit that app, made sure the phone got too far under the cabinet for them to wanna mess with and pretty much passed out after that. Did you end up on that line? I hit the star-star function, it was supposed to call I think…the last four? People I called last? But damned if I even remember who that was right this second. I made a bunch of calls yesterday, mostly business."

*

"No, you didn't call me," says Michael. He manages to make that sound not like an accusation. He knows it wasn't intentional, but the fact that he couldn't be the one to help her makes him more uncomfortable than he'd like to admit.

"Cage dropped you off, but he left fairly quickly after I arrived. So you called him. He didn't give me other details. Though…" He nods towards a table. "Your mobile is there. The log should show you who you called."

*

Her mouth twists. Cage came and helped her? Fantastic. And dropped her off with her new boyfriend? Double fantastic. That's not awkward at all.

"Someone got it," Jessica says, with as much relief as she might have, almost, for someone getting her. The very real weakness of her dependence on the STUFF app is that if she loses that phone all her worldly possessions are gone with it. She could get the data on her files back from the back-ups, but that magic works on the phone, and she's not sure Zatanna could recover any of it.

She flips through the log with a scroll of her finger. "Daredevil, Six, Rand, Cage," she says. "I bet they all came. I'll have to call them and thank them."

She's not quite emotionally ready to do that just yet for a variety of reasons, but it is nothing she'll leave for long, either.

*

"For now, you should take care of yourself. You are incredibly tough, Jessica. But you must still have a lot of shit in your system." Michael goes to pick up his own phone. He looks around for a menu he saw somewhere and places an order. Wonton soup, but also some fried rice and a few other things for when she's feeling better.

He hangs up the phone, then looks to her. "How's your stomach feeling?"

*

She settles back on the couch. She's still feeling tired, woozy, beat up. Vulnerable. Michael's swearing gets her attention, he must be more upset than he's letting on. Or her terrible language is rubbing off on him. "Thanks," she says, when he orders the soup. He asks how her stomach is feeling, she shakes her head; it feels gross, she feels gross, but she doesn't want to complain about it either. It's a measure of how bad she is feeling that she finally wraps all the blankets right back around herself, a bundle o' Jess in the comfy corner of her couch.

She rubs, absently, at the livid purple puncture mark on the back and side of her neck; it itches and it hurts. "I'll be okay," is what she finally settles on. She was already a damsel, she's not going to be a damned wimp, too.

But even so, she's not trying to slam the walls back on Michael himself. Save face, maybe, but not slam up the defenses. "I'm really glad you're here," she confesses. She's really glad, right now, that it's just him; on one hand she might have thanked her friends in person then and there, but on the other hand she's feeling really weirdly exposed. Having a little breathing room to deal with that doesn't entirely go amiss. She doesn't do 'helpless' well, even when she didn't really experience more than a moment of it.

*

And Michael's still navigating how to comfort without being overbearing, and how to support without making her feel weak. It's a difficult dance, especially when coupled with his own difficulties with all of those things, both receiving and giving.

"When you've tried to eat something, we can go back to my place." There's a few reasons for that offer. One of which is that she won't have anyone drop in on her there. She can lick her wounds in peace.

*

It's a good offer. She's certainly started hanging out there quite often, enjoying his company, the chance to sleep in a bed, the fact that he cooks her breakfast. Enjoying, too, the feeling of increased security. She hadn't noticed how much she's really on high alert at her own place at all times lately, between Deadpool's arrival and Elektra's reminding her it's not always friends who come traipising in there B&E style. Sleeping with one eye open is not that restful.

"Sounds good," she says softly, with a quick smile. "You're going to get sick of me being there," she adds wryly, which is maybe more her being concerned she's overstaying her welcome than anything else. She sure doesn't hang towels straight, for example, when she hangs them at all. She probably makes the place feel more 'lived in' as much because she's a bit messy and sprawly as out of any conscious effort to make changes to decor. But she still wants to go.

*

Nothing Michael ordered was out of the ordinary, and the place is quite close. So it isn't long before there's a rap on the door. He pays for the food and brings in the bag, which he sets on the counter. He searches around for a bowl or a mug to pour the wonton broth into.

"I doubt I'll get sick of it," he says wryly, with a little smile. "It's…strange, but I've been partnered on long-term missions before. I've certainly had messier companions than you. And I'm not precious about my space." Partially because it doesn't really feel like his space. Just like a hotel room is a place you're just staying in rather than a home.

*

There are bowls, and cups. All her cups have snarky sayings on them. The bowls are a deep blue, a little chipped, as if she's not too careful about tossing them in the sink or banging them around when she goes to wash them. The picture of a domestic goddess, she isn't. But she at least has dishes.

Jessica eyes the food dubiously; just a little broth without a wonton in sight is starting to sound kind of perfect.

She gives him a quick smile at his reassurances, some of her vulnerability fading away just a bit, reassured that she's not just being kind of a dragging pain in his ass. She may have earned herself some confidence in Wakanda, but 'some' confidence is still a lot less confidence than she might otherwise have; raging insecurities still boil beneath her surface, especially at moments like these.

"Good," she says softly. "You're kind of the perfect pillow, you know." A light tease, but one that contains worlds of truth beneath the surface. Curled up against him in sleep, the night terrors that sometimes still plague her despite her medications and the strides she's made in putting so many things to rest don't phase her at all.

*

"Oh yes?" asks Michael with a quirk of his brow and a slightly amused twist of his lips. He hands her a mug of broth with 'I Don't Give A Fuck' in beautiful calligraphy written on it. "I wouldn't think my rock hard bod would be all that comfortable." And he doesn't mean his physique so much that his body actually does feel like rock when hit with sufficient force.

*

Both of these things— his choice of cup for her and his comment on his rock hard bod— produce a grin. "Shows what you know," she says. She's hardly hitting it with sufficient force when she settles her head on his chest at night, after all. "I like your rock hard bod." But she takes the cup and takes a tentative sip. She grimaces, not because she dislikes the soup— it's fine— but because she can feel the heat rolling all the way down, because it hits her stomach so uneasily. She decides she'd best take this soup-eating exercise rather slowly. She rarely gets sick (though, like drugs, a never-encountered virus can certainly stop her in her tracks). This is the closest she's been in awhile. And the last time it happened she had ditched Trish and gone to live utterly alone.

Michael really is walking just about the right balance on making her feel taken care of without making her feel less for it. It's a trick he shares with his sister Peggy, really; though what Peggy dealt with was a mental breakdown or two.

*

The Carter siblings are more alike than either of them would readily admit. Especially Peggy to being like Michael. Especially these days. But it is true. They both share a talent for pragmatism without being cold, along with a natural talent for diplomacy.

He watches her for a moment, then very carefully says, "There is a function on our phones that allows for an emergency contact. It usually sends to the authorities, but I can change it so we can contact each other with one keystroke. Would you object to setting that up?"

*

Jessica hears the note of caution in his voice, and she gives a quick smile. She knows she's a bear; she's trying to tone it down, but she knows. She reaches a hand towards him, trying to take his. "I wouldn't mind," she says.

She can well imagine how it feels for him to know others ran to her rescue. She'd feel like it's her responsibility taken on by others; it's not too big a stretch to deduce he might be feeling something similar. "I think it's a great idea," she adds. Not to mention the very pragmatic bit that hitting one button is a lot better than hitting button, star, star, which is what she had to do before. And if she gets in shit again, he can decide who, if anyone, to rally from there.

The fact that he might contact her in turn goes a long way towards making it easier for her to agree. It's not like she hasn't accepted a number of other panic button type things from people too, but in this case she used what was already in her hand rather than trying to fumble for something else.

*

Michael takes her hand and covers it with his other, folding it over both as a comfort thing and to warm up her fingers if they're still chilly. "Because the reality of our lives is that is probably not the last time you'll need a panic button. Nor mine." And he accepts that as truth rather than fretting over it. It comes with the territory.

He looks at the mug of broth. "How's that feeling? If your stomach feels like it might revolt, perhaps we ought to tie your hair back." He smiles as he delivers that gentle tease.

*

They are still chilly, though they're getting better. Especially sandwiched between his hands. It pleases her, really, that he can take that in stride. The nuttiness and danger of her life. Because his is just as bad, of course, but there are those who live lives just as bad who would freak out over the woman in their lives being in constant peril. Putting herself in constant peril, truth be told.

"Probably not," she agrees. "Thanks for taking it so well. If you were freaking out right now…" She'd probably be throwing him out of her apartment. But she lets the subject move on to her sour stomach.

"It's okay, I don't think you'll have to hold my hair just yet," she says with a smirk. But she's also only going to drink about half of it before she sets it aside with a wince. "I think a long soak in that tub of yours is about to be in order, though. With water about as hot as I can stand it."

*

"To be honest, I suppressed my 'freaking out' instinct a long time ago," says Michael. Clearly those two words taste a bit foreign in his mouth. It is true. It would be a problem if she wanted a partner who would react with visible fear and worry at her peril. He needs someone who knows he cares in spite of a lack of visible fretting as much as she needs him not to fret.

"Why don't we pack you a bag, hmm? Then you can have a nice long bath," in his impeccably clean tub. "And then you can rest." He pulls her hand up to his mouth to kiss gently.

*

She smiles at that gallant kiss, warmed really. It's true, she does know. The little things tell her. The soup, the blankets, the steadying arm without racing around to make her sit down. She plucks up her phone though, a teasing light in her own eyes as she turns it back and forth in her fingers. She knows how much he just loves that STUFF app. "Bag packed," she says. "We can go right now. I'm like the ultimate girlscout, always prepared. Except for the part where I'm not much of one."

She fishes her keys out of said app and offers them to him on one finger. "Wanna drive us? I want to sit in a subway full of people or walk through the crowds like I want a hole in my head. Traffic sucks, but at least it sucks with us not having to deal directly with others." And it's not like she's going to suggest they take a rooftop dash, as it's not compatable for him and not good for her right now.

*

"I was going to suggest a cab," says Michael dryly and with a touch of good humour. He eyes her phone. Yeah. He's a logical guy, so magic does not comfort him. He tends to just pretend he doesn't see things like that and move on. Sort of like he does right now.

He takes the keys, then goes to pack up the Chinese food. Might as well take it with. "Come on, then, Jones. A hot bubble bath awaits."

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