Just Mistletoe

December 26, 2017:

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones exchange gifts. And take halting steps forward in the painstaking dance they seem to be executing.

Luke's Bar

It's the happenin' place to be.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Owen Mercer, Matt Murdock, Kinsey Sheridan

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

There is a general up tick in the entertainment industry right after Christmas, people who are still on vacation grow tired of their families and need some time well spent around strangers. And booze. Booze always helps. Thus the bar's neon beacons where switched off a little later than normal and tonight Luke is left on his own to clean up the aftermath. He's finished the last of the dishes, but is still finding beer bottles in the weirdest places: behind the jukebox, on top of a urinal, and of course littered around the base of tables and chairs. The big man will be happy once the holidays are over.

It might be creepy, the way Jessica Jones arrives 5 minutes after the shift ends and not before. A throwback to her stalker days.

In reality she just showed up, was trying to politely wait till Luke was off work, was trying not to drink booze herself, and was across the street having a coffee. Nothing creepy or mysterious about it.

She arrives with a package under her arm. The way it's wrapped speaks of a uniquely Jessica frustration. Well, not uniquely; there's nothing unique about it, but certainly iconically. Two styles of wrapping paper, held together with duct tape. Bows? Forget about it. She keeps shifting it to try to present the better wrapped side to the general view, but the problem is there's no better wrapped side to be had. It really is just all kind of a big mess.

"Hey," she says, going for casual.

"Oh hey." Luke glances up, his resting brooding face immediately warming up when he realizes the intrusion isn't from anyone he has to run out of here. Sometimes all he needs is to glare, and the tourist types just turn right around and flee. He dumps an armful of bottles into the trash in a cacophony of clinking glass and then he runs a large palm down the front of his plain, un-customized Luke's Bar t-shirt. It's then his eyes fall to the package she's toting in all its glory. "Murdock do your wrapping this year?"

Matt, Jessica thinks ruefully, would totally do a better job than me.

She looks down at her package and looks up with a grimace. "Trish always already knows what I'm getting her," she mutters. "I've never wrapped a package in my life until this year."

She suddenly thrusts it out to him. "This isn't a great gift or anything," she warns. "You might not like it. But I have the receipt. If you don't. So anyway. Merry Christmas. It still is you know. Till January 6th. The Kings haven't shown up yet."

Because she's just going to shield any blows of not doing a good job with this shopping shit by virtue of downplaying everything. Which is pretty much what she's done when she's had to directly address any of her friends with these packages, versus just dropping them off. Fortunately, so far, she's gotten to do a lot of dropping off. But with Luke?

With Luke it actually felt weirder. To just do a drop off.

Luke takes the duck taped present in the grip of one hand with no more strain than had she just handed him an empty one. The fool has the audacity to smile right through her explanation about just how great it isn't, "Wouldn't dream of it." Returning it, that is. "You got a second, right?" Rhetorical as he's moving past to the door and twisting the lock to prevent anymore wayward visitors. "Come on in the back." It's not like it's a huge room to navigate, so he's disappearing into the back hall in short order, presumably to the office unless he means to sojourn in the ladies' room.

She thrusts her hands in her pockets and follows.

Worth noting?

She's not wearing jeans. It becomes apparent when she starts moving to the back.

Oh, she's got her leather jacket on. But it's over a crimson sweater dress that falls just short of her knees. Black tights and black boots which stretch to just under her knees complete the look. She tries to play that nonchalant too. Like ho hum, here I am, just wearing this dress-thing, don't mind me. More make-up than usual too, her hair brushed to a gleaming shine, whatever, it's Christmas, fuck off.

Of course, she's remarkably quiet as she follows him to the office, as if even more mute about the whole small talk thing than usual.

The office is more of a catchall for the rest of the bar. It's just a large room full of clutter, part store room and shelves and a desk shoved in there for good measure piled with old receipts and order forms despite Owen's best efforts thus far to turn it into a stream lined business. Some habits die hard. Setting the gift down in an empty slice of table top, he then moves to a wire rack and gingerly pulls down a glittery gift box with a red velvet bow. Holding it out to her with both hands a bit sheepishly, he bends to her cheek and gives it a quick kiss. "Merry Christmas, Jessica Jones. Sorry, but you're forced to like it, no returns on this."

"That's pretty. Clearly I should get my wrapping help from you," Jessica compliments. That quick kiss to her cheek is received with a bashful, quick, awkward grin at the ground, but not, it's worth noting, with some cutting remark, or a step away from him, or anything like that. His commentary about how she's forced to like it produces a smirk; the contrast between his opener and hers almost a bookend of their personality differences.

"Thanks, Luke," she says softly, touched, and then tears into it. This should not be much of a surprise; if she is not the type who can carefully wrap a package she's hardly going to be one of those individuals who ever so carefully disassembles the wrap job to preserve the paper.

Probably best not to mention that Luke suckered a bar fly into wrapping it for him. He's not the sharpest crayon in the box, but he knows when it's best just to take a compliment and shut your trap. While she's busy opening her gift, Luke moves to clean off another chair so she can sit if she wants, dropping a stack full of ledgers to the floor before he drops down into his office chair that someone has scratched 'Bossman' into the back of at one point.

Duck tape is no match for Luke Cage, and he's set into opening his own. Once the bow and box top are removed from the one he gave Jessica, inside a layer of tissue paper is an old fashioned camera with a billow lens that takes cartridges of film instead of rolls, a few of which are tucked in there for good measure and a voucher for getting them developed at some trendy little place down in SoHo. The note inside reads: 'For when you need to get back to the basics - Luke'.

It is sometimes both warming and a little scary, the moments when Luke just seems to have insights into one Jessica Jones.

This gift, which elicits a genuine lighting-up of eyes and an opening of the box it comes in so she can run her fingers along the sleek, black surface, definitely speaks to one of those moments. It's a thing of beauty in its own right. But it's useful. Practical. It links into her job, and will take photos ten, fifteen, twenty times better than her phone could. But it also awakens an impulse in her that she's never felt before. A sort of creative expression impulse. With this she could take cool photos that have nothing to do with work, and to her very great shock she finds she wants to.

"Luke," she says softly. "This is perfect. Thank you."

A real smile, one that sticks around this time, transforming her face. They're really sunny, on the rare occasions when she just lets loose with those smiles of hers.

But then a hint of anxiety as he opens his.

"I, uh…" Luke is just shy of scuffing his boot into the floor all bashful like, "Did a little security work for a pawn shop and saw it and thought…" Well. Of her. A shrug tries to dismiss it, make little of it. Last thing he wants to do is scare her off with a gift, which is why he's held onto it for so long.

He's finally through the layers of mismatched paper and tape, sticking some of it to his jeans as he pulls out the afghan and shakes it out of its fold. The first thing he does is curl it to his cheek, just grinning at something that he shortly reveals with, "It smells like you."

"Shit. Sorry. I kind of. Rubbed my face into it," Jessica says, turning bright red. "It was soft. I mean. I had to check that it was soft enough didn't I? Wouldn't have been any good if it wasn't soft."

That sounds like one of the most ridiculous things she's ever said ever. She grimaces. And then, to cover her fluster, she goes about getting the camera set up so she can snap a picture of one Luke Cage, grinning as he shakes his afghan out.

She did specifically go for one big enough to wrap up a Man Mountain. Difficult to do maybe, but not impossible. And more important, arguably, than whether or not it was soft enough.

"No, its perfect. Jessica funk and all." It really is a great size, because it's pooling at his feet even though he's holding the edge up by his shoulders. The photo she captures will be him looking down at fistfuls of afghan almost reverently and slightly misty eyed even though he'll deny even photographic evidence later. Which of course means he has to crack a joke before it becomes TOO MANY FEELS. "It's soft and squishy just like you." He mock flinches.

Jessica carefully puts the camera back into its case then, sets it aside, almost like she's afraid she'll break it in seconds. She approaches and smirks up at him. "You can say I'm soft and squishy. You can even know I'm soft and squishy. But you only get to do these things in private. You can't go around telling people or anything. I have a rep to maintain, Mr. Cage, and I'll be very pissy if you go and blow it for me."

Because. Oh yeah. That rep is just in super duper great shape isn't it? She will maintain this idea that she has a rep probably until the day she dies though. She doesn't want to contemplate the extent to which she's gone and blown holes in it herself.

But with uncharacteristic shyness she says, "I'm glad you like it."

"Mmm." Luke rumbles, his eyes slit down to those little slivers of incredulity that it isn't already widely known. And on a t-shirt, no less. "Your secret is safe with me." He assures as he holds the blanket to one side, and then throws it around Jessica and uses it to pull her in to the wide expanse of his lap. "This is the perfect Luke Cage sized version of the Shitty Quilt."

To her own surprise, she not only lets him pull her there, but finds she wants to be there. She snuggles in and grins.

He got it. She's inordinately pleased.

She winds a steadying arm around his shoulders, remarkably comfortable there. The other half of the stuff she'd love people not to know about is maybe the extent to which she responds to, and values, feeling safe. An oxymoron, really, for someone who spends her entire life throwing herself headlong into various dangers, who does this as her job and even likes it, but there it is. Right about now, she feels safe.

Maybe to her own shock.

She looks up over there head. To where there's nothing but ceiling.

"You sentimentalist. Hanging mistletoe."

Then she tries to kiss him.

With Jessica snuggled in his lap, Luke drapes the afghan around the both of them and hugs her tight to his chest. "It's just right for wall staring." Or ceiling gazing, as Jessica's case may be. He's just about to glance up and blame any such mistletoe on the two miscreants on his payroll when he's met with soft lips against his own. It's impossible not to let his toy into the kiss for a moment, but then his forehead leans into hers so they part. "It wasn't that great of a camera."

"Mistletoe," Jessica says firmly. That's her story and she's sticking to it.

Well, for half a moment, anyway. She sighs and leaves her forehead against his. She's a mess still. She knows she's a mess still. Having gone that far she's just kind of frozen, her defenses are trying to slam back up, and she has no idea what to do from there. So she says, "Mistletoe," again, as if that encompasses just worlds of explanation as she closes her eyes, fights against her own uncertainty. Kinsey had counseled her just to tell Luke everything she'd just said to her, but the thing is Jess already had indulged in telling Luke some of it.

Probably no surprise, really, that 'talking things through' doesn't necessarily untangle her tangles, straighten her snarls. Let alone the tangles and snarls of both of them. So she says it a third time, and adds the word 'just.' "Just mistletoe." Just mistletoe, not obligation on his part on hers, just mistletoe, this is as much as she can do right now, just mistletoe, she's probably not up to talking about it or explaining it right now, just non-existent mistletoe, an invisible, imaginary excuse.

If she could be less complicated, easier, she would. She would definitely choose to be those things.

"I happen to like mistletoe." Luke just finally says, after looking down at those big expressive eyes of hers for a long moment. He palms her cheek and just tucks her head back against his shoulder so he can nuzzle his jaw against her crown of hair. "It's the exact amount of cheesy I need in my life." A beat, and then. "Are you wearing a dress?"

"No. It's a really long shirt," Jessica says, with even more firmness. Not that she hasn't worn dresses. She's worn them when she has had to for work. She's worn them when she's gone swing dancing. Dresses have happened in her life. But right now she just sort of denies the entire notion. "See? These are pants." Leggings are pants in only the most generous sense of the word, but she sticks to that story too.

She does rest her head on his shoulder though, her own relaxing. Her whole body relaxes, even as she defends her wardrobe choices, as if these are things she has to defend. Her jacket is still zipped up even, out of habit, she hadn't really gotten around to thinking about it yet. The leather bit may not make her quite as cuddly, but she makes no move to take it off either.

There is that rumble of noise in Luke's chest again, amusement that hasn't quite bubbled into laughter as she justifies her choice in outfit. "Well it looks nice. It'd look better on my floor though." He's standing with a scooping gesture, hauling Jessica, blanket and all up as he stands. "And by that I mean we should go curl up on my couch and watch dumb Christmas movies until we fall asleep. I'm sure I have a sweatshirt you'd positively drown in." A sigh, "And that was the most self restraint I'll ever show in my life time, because if you don't think I don't want to make some really bad decisions on top of my desk right now, you've got another think coming, Jessica Jones."

She smirks. "We do both love us some bad decisions."

Part of her is pretty tempted. She is. But there's some internal part of her shoves her foot down on the brakes so hard she gets internal whiplash. It really wasn't that long ago that she was curled up in the back of her damned car because she got so screwed up. "But I appreciate the restraint." She sighs. "There's part of me that wants to but…I—"

She looks down. This is ridiculous. She did bad decisions! Recently!

They just. Didn't end so well.

"I'll get there."

She hopes.

Maybe for her it's better not to go rushing into anything. It'll make her less prone to freaking out and flinging herself out the window thirty seconds after they're done for no other reason than her brain decides to explode.

But it's telling. She doesn't protest being hauled up or scooped up or any of that. "Dumb Christmas movies sound good," she says, completely frustrated with herself, but not so much that she doesn't see the appeal of the alternative.

"Christmas movies." Luke says sternly, like he's pounding that fact into his head, reminding himself that is the only reason he's taking Jessica upstairs, carrying her like a new bride wrapped up in the best afghan of all times. "Maybe hot cocoa, if you're good. But I draw the line at mini marshmallows. Five. You can have five mini marshmallows. But that's it, Jones." It's easy enough to maneuver her and opening doors and shutting off lights and locking up before walking around the building to the door to his walk up.

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