Straight Chat

January 04, 2018:

Disavowed and depressed, Michael Carter takes his first struggling steps into his new life. His ill-fated November fling might not exactly be the right person to help him through that, but Jessica Jones gives it the old college try anyway.

SHIELD's Hospital in NYC

If they spent less money on all those logos and more on sturdier carts…!

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Peggy Carter, Thor, Bucky Barnes

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's really too early for Michael to be checking out. Only three days ago, he was in a medically-induced coma. He's only been on his feet (in short bursts) the last twenty four hours. Still, SHIELD isn't about to force him to stay. His presence is an inter-agency incident waiting to happen, and he wants to leave. Besides, his systems self-repair to a large extent, and the imperfect supersoldier serum takes care of the rest. What damage is left isn't really something they can help with without cooperation of MI-6.

He hasn't physically left the hospital yet. There's a small rucksack with some basic clothing and toiletries provided by SHIELD on the hospital bed. He's leaning over the sink in the far corner of the room, struggling with slightly shaking hand to insert a contact lense over the silver of his dead optical implant. He blinks after inserting it and resists the urge to rub, then examines his reflection. One eye looks dark brown, while the other is clear blue. He's got two brown ones, but the nature of the lenses means they're going to be slightly mismatched no matter what. Might as well make it obvious.

He doesn't look great. Aside from being paler and whiter than usual, his hair is long and tied back in a haphazard ponytail. He's trimmed up his beard, but not to the meticulous standard he's known for. The plain gray t-shirt he's wearing reveals the Frankenstein mess of scars, skin grafts and cybernetic filaments across both his arms and up his neck. Fainter scars and fiber optics can be seen splaying out from his right eye. There's a small container of cosmetics sitting on the sink, but he hasn't given that a try yet to reduce the look of the scars. He stares at his own reflection as he leans heavily against the sink.

"Jesus fuck, don't wear make-up. You kind of look like crap, but it's that rugged, I survived shit that should have killed anybody else, crap. It'll up your badass quotient in a week or two, when you feel less like crap. Own it."

There's Jessica Jones, smirking in his doorframe, arms crossed. "Though if you do? You gotta take it all the way."

Her hand cuts across the air. "Full on guyliner, no excuses. Just straight on till morning. Commit or go home. I mean. I guess you are going home, but you know how it is."

This is her brand of comfort. It really is. It sounds like she's being a jerk, but…

Michael had no idea they'd called Jessica. In his early hours of consciousness, he was told she was involved in his rescue, but the details were fuzzy. He hasn't had a chance to look over the report as of yet. So he looks over in surprise when he hears her voice. "I did live through the 70s in London, you know," he says to the guyliner comment. It's a comment that would be said with more wit in previous encounters. As it is, it sounds a bit forced.

"Oh? Did they do guyliner in the 70s in London? I thought it was all weird hair and bell-bottoms." She catches the forced nature of the tone, and lets her own surface levity drift away.

And now things are awkward. Shit.

She looks down for a moment, arms still crossed. "All joking aside, I'm glad you made it. Looked pretty freaking dicey there for a hot minute."

For all that the two women bullied and badgered his unconscious form, it was really just a coping mechanism, too.

"Oh, that as well. But also, the Sex Pistols. The Clash." Normally, Michael might banter further and make some joke about his age, but his heart isn't in it. He looks down at the ground, which is an unusual thing for him. He's not been someone who shies away from eye contact.

"I suppose so. It was…difficult for me to foresee. I was hunted, specifically. I'm not certain how he knew I'd be on this mission. No doubt that's part of what MI-6 is trying to determine now. Not that I'm likely to ever know the outcome." Those last words are licked with bitterness.

"Well, that's Occam's Razor." Oh god for the love of god yes, let her detective. She can do this.

"If nobody was supposed to know, and someone did, one plus one equals you were betrayed. So I guess it's more they're trying to determine who, not what, because I mean. Someone didn't just stare into a crystal ball and make that determination."

Wait.

"Well okay, maybe they did, that's not really outside the realm of possibility, but still, the most likely possibility is someone screwed you."

She narrows her eyes. "So that's it? They're just— cutting you the unemployment check now?"

Michael lets out a soft, humourless laugh. "Disavowed means they pretend I never existed. So there is no unemployment cheque. SHIELD may be able to help me to some extent, but they have to tread carefully. They are, after all, allies with MI-6. It was a rather large risk to help me at all. By the terms set down in various agreements, they should have turned me away. I suspect that the only reason they were allowed to was in recognition of my years," decades, "of service. And the money invested in my body that would be lost if I died."

He lifts a shoulder. He doesn't look particularly motivated to go detecting anything. But then, he's still recovering. It might just be more than that, though. Without his mesh camouflaging his old injuries, he looks the most he ever has like the old, tired soldier he is. "I have no doubt that British Intelligence is currently reviewing the mission and investigating who attacked me. There is a possibility that they may bring me back into the fold at some point. But that might come with another decade in stasis until they're certain the heat from that job has died away." He talks like that's happened before.

"Okay, well, that's balls, what old battle axe do I have to go talk to so you get treated right?" Jessica asks, bristling. In some ways she's very much a civilian, isn't she? She may play in the grown-up pool a lot more than most, because of who and what she is, because of luck or fate or fortune or just her knack for tackling things that rightfully ought to be above her paygrade.

But at the end of the day she still thinks like a civilian. Sometimes it may even help her spy friends, give them that long-forgotten perspective…

But probably not so much today. She doesn't just fail to understand how it works. She fails to understand why it works the way it works.

Michael turns and steps towards her. He's limping a little. He stands in front of her, then reaches up to squeeze her shoulders. "You don't. You can't find these 'old battle axes.' Even if you did, there's no way they'd see you. And even less likely that you'd convince them of a bloody thing. I'm sorry, Jessica. You are talented and persistent, but this is the sort of thing they were talking about when they came up with the phrase, 'you can't fight city hall.'" His hands are shaking a little even as he tries to grip her shoulders.

She lets him, and sighs. She realizes he's probably right. She reaches up to pat his hand, to squeeze it. "In that case," she grouses, but not at him, "Let's get you home. I brought my car. You don't want to walk around or wait for a taxi out there. I don't know if you've been watching the weather, but there are now drifts larger than a pyramid of acrobats out there. The roads are shit, but nobody's on them, so there's that."

On to more practical concerns: "Do you um. Are you going to be broke in three months or anything like that?" What she'll do about it if he isn't not immediately clear, but…clearly she thinks she can do things?

"Home? The flat in Chelsea?" Michael's eyebrows lift. "I am quite positive that is no longer mine." Which means his collection of suits - the only thing he ever put his own money into - are not there, either. "Most of my assets have been frozen with the disavowment order. I may be able to negotiate access to some of those accounts in time, depending on their assessment of the mission and whether I was at fault. As it is, I've been left with a modest account that was somehow 'overlooked.'" Small kindnesses. Very small. MI-6 let SHIELD help him, and they didn't take every penny he has. How kind.

"So you're. Basically Michael Westen in Burn Notice?" Jessica says. She exhales. "Alright. Well. Are you staying with Peggy or do you need a place to stay a few days? Let's get the immediate problem solved. You need somewhere to go, you need some clothes, we'll get you situated. Unless Peggy's already done all this."

Jessica Jones is shit at talking.

What she's good at is practicalities. Solving material problems. Offering material support. Providing. These things she can do. Acts of service, really, are an easier way for her to show she cares than attempting to discuss…anything.

"Fortunately for me, disavowal means they pretend I never existed. A burn notice requires them to acknowledge me and label me as unreliable or dangerous. I say fortunately, because one of these two situations could potentially be reversed. It is easier to acknowledge someone exists again than to repair a torched reputation." Though something about the way he says that suggests that Michael doesn't hold out hope.

"No doubt Peggy would take me in if she knew I had lost my flat. But no, I have enough to get myself into a hotel for awhile. And then I can sort out what to do for there. I must be careful as well. It is possible that Felix knows I'm not dead if he knew where to find me in the first place."

He knows that Jessica is grasping for the pragmatic, the concrete. But he has trouble giving her that to grab onto - mostly because he's too British and too used to being autonomous to easily accept any kind of help.

"Why the fuck didn't you tell her? She's your family, who else are— she lets Thor freaking sleep in her apartment, she'd let you do it." She steps into the hall anyway. She is going to drive him. We'll start there.

"Fortunately I have my family. Trish hasn't given up her New York apartment. I'm going to call her and ask if you can use it. It's very purple, but guess what it's not? A shit hotel room where some dude can shoot your ass. It's actually a fortress, truth be told. And don't tell me you couldn't possibly or whatever, because that would be dumb. Did I mention it's a fortress, with so much security it shits sensors?" She shoves her hands into the pockets of her hotel.

"I haven't had a chance. We…had an argument when she came to see me." Which is a little difficult to imagine given how much the two Carters bottle things up. "I sent her a message that I was leaving today but I don't want her to…" fuss? Go to any trouble? Michael realizes that it sounds sort of weak to worry about imposing on your own family. But when you're both So Very British and used to relying only on yourself, it's difficult to lean on anyone at all. He sighs, and when he speaks again, he can't quite hide the irritation and frustration. "I may look like utter shit, but I am still capable of taking care of myself."

His fists clench, which sends a spark of reactions along his bared skin as what's left of the skin mesh flares to life. He grits his jaw to an almost painful degree and stares at the floor as if it did something to terribly offend him.

Jessica reaches a hand out to steady his elbow.

She lets him ride that out.

And then she gives him some straight chat.

"Michael," she says gently. "We'll get the pot and kettle discussion out of the way but— look, accepting help, or even needing it, okay, it doesn't mean you're not capable of taking care of yourself. Having people to help out? It's part of taking care of yourself. I know, I'm a hypocrite, but I guess I've had some cause to learn it the hard way recently. Okay? If you've got some people in your life, that's part of you being capable. Because you were capable of forging a friendship and maintaining a relationship. Sometimes people want to help. Can you honestly tell me you'd think less of Peggy if she were in your shoes? Can you honestly tell me you wouldn't want to help every way you could?"

Quietly: "You've had the rug dragged out from under you. I get it. But you're kind of…growing the problem larger than it has to be. If you're gonna. Impose that. On yourself. Yeah?"

Jessica's words and steadying hand don't seem to be doing much to calm Michael. But then, he's raw in more ways than one right now. He tries to take deep, steadying breaths to slow his heartbeat, but whatever he's doing it doesn't seem to be working.

Despite his agitated state, what happens next is still likely to startle Jessica, given how even he has always been. With a burst of rage, he suddenly reaches out and flips over the medical cart sitting nearby, toppling a plastic tray with remnants of food and a pile of medical instruments. It clatters loudly to the floor and the force of the toss bends the metal frame. He might not be at his best, but he's still very strong. He kicks the cart for good measure, bending it further and sending it shooting across the room to bang against the wall. He looks like he wants to scream, but manages to hold that back. He's so pale that the blood rushing to his face is apparent in a sudden flush of red.

"Do you know…" he says through gritted teeth, "…how badly I want to yell right now that I can't fathom how it all comes to this? How much I want to scream that I gave them my life and I'm tossed aside after a single mistake that might not have been a mistake? But I can't." He laughs. It a bit of a fractured sound. "Do you know why? Because I understand it perfectly. I know exactly why they did it and what they're doing right now. I would have stood behind their actions if it was someone else in my position. Hell, I would have been working to implement the order. I've done it before. Live long enough and it's eventually your turn to get fucked."

Jess doesn't jump. She steps aside and lets him have his moment to rampage. "There are different kinds of yelling," she points out, nodding to the cart.

"You're allowed to have feelings. Your whole life has been tanked. Everything you've devoted yourself to. And whatever you think about what you would have done, you know, you gave them everything, nearly a century, you let them carve into your body and experiment on you, you let them put you to sleep and wake you up, you let them use you as an appliance almost, you let them take every aspect of your personal life until you don't even know what the fuck that is, and then they dump you. So…yeah."

Jessica leans against the wall and shrugs.

"Be pissed. Yell, scream. You do have a right. You have all the right in the world. And even if you don't?"

She shrugs again. "Feelings don't much obey our brains. If they did they wouldn't be feelings, they'd just be thoughts. Your feelings don't have to make sense. You just get to have them."

"I knew what I was getting into," says Michael. There's a painful mirth to his words. He shakes his head and starts to pace, kicking aside downed implements. "I knew it. Maybe not all the details, but I was not recruited to any program under false pretenses. I knew the risks and the price of failure for every step. And it isn't even that I thought it would never happen to me. I wasn't that arrogant. I knew I could fail. It came so close to happening a dozen times or more. Hell, once or twice, in my darkest moments, I nearly let it happen."

He starts to pull himself together, or at least try to, but he can't quite tug it back in without the facade of proper Britishness to hide behind. He's lost all his suits, and all they covered is laid bare. He crumples to sit on the foot of the hospital bed. It dips with the weight of man and cybernetics. "The man who shot me was a friend. My partner at one time. He was disavowed after a mission and I didn't fight for him. Because I was a good soldier. And now he's repayed the favour."

Jessica pulls a chair around and straddles it. She just listens, dark eyes attentive, like a pitt bull who is being present.

She kicks the front legs forward, leans on them for a moment, frowns thoughtfully.

At last she says, "Look, Michael— I don't know about any of this, how you must feel. Not exactly. I kind of sort of know what it's like to have one life ripped away and to have to make sense of another. It sucks. But it's going to be okay. You're going to be okay. There's a lot they can't take away from you."

She ticks the points off on her fingers.

"Your skills. Your lifetime of knowledge. Your abilities. Who you are at your core. You could have nothing but a pair of boxers and a penny and you could still rebuild with that. And you've got a little more than that. Even in the darkest shit there are opportunities, things you get out of it that will matter later. Every string has been cut. I know this scares the shit out of you, but for the time being? Whatever happens, moving forward? That's yours to forge. 100% yours. You don't have to give any shits what London wants. You just gotta worry about what you want, within the bounds of what you can have. You can't have your old job back. But you can still have a lot."

"I was nineteen when they recruited me. I am coming up to my hundred and thirteenth birthday. I think you overestimate my capacity for change." Michael's voice has gone quiet as the moment of rage slides away and he regains at least something like control.

"I'm sorry for the outburst. And I'm sorry for laying this on you. From what I know about your life and what you've usually got going on, I don't imagine you need all of this right now." He sits there, leaning forward. He stares off at something. Maybe it's the bent cart, maybe he's catching an eddy of a memory.

"Stop."

Jessica says. "Just stop, okay? First of all, every human can change, regardless of age. You're not even really that old, you didn't live all those years. Grandmas go get their law degrees now, okay? At like 92. So that's a bullshit excuse. Drop it. You can change, you're just scared to, because you've put so much of your identity into this, and who the Hell are you if you don't do that? You know how I know?"

She shrugs. "Booze. Sometimes I'm tempted to go back to it not cause I'm in pain or anything like that. I'm tempted to go back to it because I was Jessica Jones, alcoholic, since I was 17 years old, and I sometimes don't even know who the fuck I am without some rum in my mouth. And there, now you've gotten my first ever AA speech." Cause she has never stood in front of the crowd, that's for damn sure.

"I will also tell you when we're getting past what I can handle."

"How many people in your life have you given a pep speech to, Jessica?" Michael doesn't say that in a mean way. In fact, there's almost a note of admiration there. "How much of other peoples' shit have you taken on?" He looks over at her. "I don't know how you handle it. My own baggage takes enough of my mental energy, to say nothing of others." He takes a long breath inwards. "The entire truth? I've been fighting profound fatigue for decades. But I can't retire. I can't be…normal. So there's nothing else to do but to keep moving forward until there's no more road."

Jessica shrugs a shoulder as he asks the question. "I whine plenty. Least I can do is return the favor."

She frowns as she tries to figure out how to explain. "I handle it because being able to forge my shit into a shovel to help other people dig their way out of theirs gives my shit some meaning."

She frowns. She has no idea if this is going to help, but he did ask.

"The Kilgrave thing— I mean it still knocks me right on my ass sometimes. Obviously. You were the casualty of that so you know. But the reason I'm not just…this pathetic bundle of snappish, drunk, mostly-useless self-pity anymore— and that was me, no commentary on you at all— was I met Buck."

She shrugs her shoulder. "I know. You guys have a nasty history. But I met Bucky Barnes. And here's this guy. Right. 72 years of going through basically what I went through for 8 months. Some things are different, obviously, not all the traumas line up nicely, but basically, there's a common denominator. And here he is. He's got it worse, right? Way fucking worse. And I start to meet others. Met this kid who was basically put through the same shit from the time she could walk. Others. And I realize I can't do much, but I can help them feel less alone, I can help them feel…valuable, right? Like they matter, whatever they need, sometimes it's different things. And no, I'm not making you or them into a project or anything, it's not that."

She thumps the chair back down. "But anyway, I mean…even before all that, I was able to tell the right people hey, this is mind control, all the signs are there. I was able to help testify at his trial to that effect. All because I went through this 8-month Hell. And so that Hell, now. It had meaning. Has meaning. I wouldn't have chosen it. I didn't ask for it. I sure didn't like it. But it gave me this whole suite of tools to help people, uniquely help people in a situation that's similar to, but not the same as, and fundamentally more shitty than, mine. And mostly I find whenever terrible shit happens, that I find something like that is true."

She shrugs. "Your truth might be different. Dunno. But I am starting to believe that Someone or Something mostly asks us to go through shit so we can help others through their shit, but only if we're strong enough to do it. Kilgrave was going to take someone. It could have either been me, who could break free and eventually make a life, however fragile, or…someone else, who might have broken under the strain. I don't know, I'm wandering way off topic, none of this is probably helpful to you right now."

"Jessica Jones: Caseworker for the Chronically Fucked Up," says Michael with a soft whuff of breath. He's quiet for a few minutes as he listens to and considers her words. "This is going to sound terribly nihilistic, but what I lack is a reason to fight. With my work, I had Queen and Country. I had a mission. I had clear parameters. Even when I felt the fatigue seep into me, I had purpose."

He looks down at his own scar-marked hands. He flexes his fingers together. "There's no possibility for anything like a normal life for me. We both know we were living a brief fantasy." They had to get to this eventually. "If you hadn't spooked, then I would have. So," he grimaces. "What does that leave, ay? A better relationship with Peggy? Yes. But we'll always both be fighting to reclaim something that was lost a long time ago. And I'll always be fighting to make amends for a decision I can't undo and would likely make again if I had the chance to go back."

"Well, it probably would have gone better if you hadn't chosen the Queen of Fucked-up. I'm not a caseworker, Michael. It's more like…being in a foxhole of fucked up and lending a shoulder or…something, I don't fucking know, I don't fucking metaphor, okay?"

She shakes her head. "Don't have something? Find something. Create something. Make something. And you know what else? Actually? No. Okay? Look."

She jabs a finger at him. "You can do shit nobody else can do. You have power nobody else has. And you wanna talk about purpose? Well. There are a million hurting people in this city alone. So go do something about it. I don't care if you beat up a mugger or go work at a mother-fucking soup kitchen, but they need your help more than your Queen or Country did. People, Michael. You start doing that, and you see how fast your life lines up. There is no shortage of ways and places for you to roll up your sleeves and get your god damn hands dirty. Spies aren't the only ones that make a difference. Go be a firefighter, I don't even care, but get off your ass. That's the cure for what ails you."

"You may possibly be right," says Michael. "But I am not going to turn into a giving citizen or a first responder quite yet." He hauls himself to his feet, unsteady and even more tired than before. "I am going to wallow in self-pity for awhile, and perhaps break a few more pieces of furniture. This is technically the first vacation I've ever had, and I intend to spend it indulging my worst impulses. I've heard it can be good for the soul." There's a touch of levity in his voice but he doesn't seem to be joking. "Perhaps I'll take up your offer of your sister's place if I'm ready to do some good."

Jessica Jones snarfs a laugh.

"Well yeah, of course, smash all you want. I destroyed my own apartment once. I go box with a car at the junkyard when I have the urge. Go nuts, I didn't say you had to be a saint. And what, you think you gotta earn some security? Nuh uh. You look like shit, so don't mess with me. I will haul you up to the Palace of Purple myself. Come on, Michael. It's a fucking empty apartment, I'm not— I don't even know what. Offering you the world on a platter."

"I can't break things in your sister's apartment. I'd feel terrible if I smashed her china cabinet. I wouldn't feel as bad about putting my fist through the clapboard table of a cheap motel." And Michael is very bad at taking help that doesn't come from his agency. Though both things are true. "Security isn't as much of a concern as you'd think. If Felix wanted to kill me, I would be dead. But he wanted to bring me near death and to suffer the indignance of excommunication. And in that, he wholly succeeded."

"My sister can probably afford it better than hotel guy," Jessica says dryly. "But alright, Michael. When you're done smashing shit you'll let me get you put up. Alright? Seriously. I mean Christ, she has a full martial arts room, you could just hit the punching bag and not you know. Pay money for damages out of that little account."

Logic is fun. "Not to mention you know. Criminal charges." Having a lawyer for a close friend really does color how Jess sees the world. "Vandalism. Maybe not a good foot to start out on. Go to the junkyard, for that matter, hit some shit, then go sleep at the cozy apartment. That would be logic."

"I am English, Jessica. Do you realize how fundamentally uncomfortable it is for me to imagine staying in the home of someone I never met while they're not there? Honestly, I have no idea how AirBnB is even a thing in Britain," says Michael with a trace of that old wryness, but it's far more forced than it had been in the past.

Jessica just gives him an unimpressed look. It's flat and it says that the 'English' thing is really just the most silly thing she's ever heard. "No destroying the hotel then," she says. "Vandalism. Money. Criminal charges. And when you've settled down, we'll talk about how I can help you with the money bit. I won't be trying to give you any, I just have some ideas for you. Deal?"

Black eyebrows lift. She really might just bodily haul him there at this rate, given the slight look of exasperation on her face.

"Mhmmm," says Michael. It's not a tacit agreement, but he's not arguing either. He's gone back to looking so very tired. "What do you think of the eyes, by the way? Can I pull off the heterochromia? The two brown in looks even stranger than just one for some reason."

"I think you sound like a 16 year old trying to pick lipstick for your prom date. You look fine either way," Jessica says, standing up. "C'mon. You ready to get out of this hospital or what? Or do you need to hurl the bed out the window first? This is probably your freebie place for destroying furniture because top secret classified classified mumbly mumbly cloak and dagger deep throating."

"I don't know if you've noticed, Jones, but I do have a streak of vanity," says Michael. He hauls himself up but it's with great effort. "Do you know what I absolutely do not recommend? Being shot thrice in the chest with hollow point bullets and then being left for dead in Norway in December."

He eyes the bed, then looks to her. "Maybe another time. Somehow I feel like upending the bed wouldn't be as satisfying. Too soft."

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