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Better Late Than . . .

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Claire Temple rarely went out drinking with friends after work – her shifts were long and tiring, and the siren call of her couch, with Netflix or a good book and takeout after work was often too hard to resist. (Except when a certain someone needed patching up . . . again.) But Theresa was leaving for a quieter job in a pretty town upstate somewhere, and Theresa was a good friend and an amazing nurse so . . . here she was.
Someone in the group had had the brilliant idea to order margaritas for everyone, and one of the few doctors to join them decided he ought to buy the second round, and now Claire found herself being urged to finish her drink so the group could move on to a third round.
I used to party with the best of them, Claire thought. That seems so long ago. She considered for a moment longer. It really wasn’t that long ago. Life does that to you. She downed the drink, and nodded to her friends to go ahead, order another for her too, and then excused herself for a moment.
On the way to the ladies, she saw a familiar figure hunched over a double whiskey and a small fleet of empties. “Jessica?” she asked.
The slender brunette looked at her blearily, warily, until it clicked. “Claire? Oh god, I never called to thank you . . . “
“No problem,” Claire said. “I was glad to help. How’s the patient doing?”
Jessica Jones lost focus again. “Haven’t heard from him.”
Without thinking, Claire reached out to touch Jessica’s arm in a comforting manner, but the other woman flinched. What was I thinking, she checked herself angrily. I had no right to intrude on her like that. She pulled back. “I’m so sorry. About Luke. And about . . . I didn’t mean to intrude.
“No problem.” Jessica gestured to the empty barstool next to her. Claire noticed that, despite the crowded bar, and Jessica’s obvious attractiveness, that the crowd seemed to give her space. “Have a drink?”
Claire rolled her eyes. “I think there’s another frozen strawberry margarita waiting for me with my friends, back over there.”
“Fuck that shit!” Jessica snorted. “Have a real drink.” She gestured to the bartender, and momentarily, Claire had a whiskey in front of her, and Jessica another double.
They gestured towards clinking their glasses, but not quite.
“Tell ya a secret,” Jessica said.
Claire nodded. She downed her whiskey quickly, and the bartender set her up again, without being asked. The margaritas and the whiskey were definitely combining to form some kind of chemical reaction in her bloodstream. “That mean we’re friends?”
“Think so. You saved someone’s life in my bedroom, I think that already made us friends. Now we’re getting drunk together, that’s what friends do. Yeah, Claire, I think we’re friends. That means I have three . . . kinda a record for me.”
“Yeah, Trish and Malcolm . . . and now you.”
Malcolm was the neighbor who’d helped Claire keep watch over Luke. “Trish?”
“Oh, yeah, Trish, you know. She’s got that talk radio show. She’s like . . . blonde. And actually pretty cool. Don’t tell her I said so, if you ever meet her.”
Claire’s eyes widened. “The one that used to be a child star?”
Jessica snorted drunkenly. “Yeah, that’s the one. We kinda grew up together.”
Claire nodded. “Well, I’m honored to be in that company.” She pushed down her impulse to sing “It’s Patsy!”
“And I think you need another drink.” One appeared, as if by magic.
Somehow, as Claire got drunker, they seemed to be leaning closer together. Claire found that she was now speaking slowly and emphatically, just as Jessica had been doing all along. She tossed back the drink and said, “I think I need to stop here. I’m nice and drunk and don’t want to ruin it by getting sick or anything.”
“I admire a woman who knows her limits. I wish mine were . . . well, you know how I am? You said you had a friend who was like us, Luke and me. So . . . it’s not actually that easy for me to get drunk. Gotta work at it.”
“And you put an impressive amount of work into it.”
“Damn straight.”
Straight? Somehow that word had them looking at each other.
“Are you?” Claire finally asked.
Jessica considered. “Dunno, really. I mean, I’ve only been with guys. I really hoped with Luke . . . well, I hoped it wasn’t all Kilgrave. But . . . there were other problems. I . . . was the one that killed his wife. Under Kilgrave’s direction, but I can see why he wouldn’t make a distinction.”
Claire stared at Jessica. “You’re not a killer.”
“I killed her . . . I killed Reva. His wife. And I killed him . . . not Luke, Kilgrave.”
“But you didn’t enjoy it,” Claire looked steadily at her. “My . . . friend, the one I told you about, he felt that darkness inside him. He felt that he . . . enjoyed it. You don’t. It's obvious.”
Dark eyes widened. “God, no. I hated killing him. I hated killing Reva so much that it made me break free of his control. Even before I knew Luke, even before I knew how much I’d hurt him.”
“So you aren’t dark at all.”
“Whoaa!” Jessica actually laughed.
“Listen to me,” Claire said, with drunken urgency. “You drink because you hate these feelings. You drink because you can’t bear what you did. My friend, he admitted that he enjoyed it. He liked the things he had to do.”
“I hated every minute,” said Jessica. She considered something on the top shelf of the bar for a moment. “This friend, were you and he involved?”
“We almost were, but I could feel the darkness, and I pulled away. Maybe that’s why you feel so different, so . . . “ Claire stopped herself. “Look, maybe this is presumptious, but . . . I . . . I don’t only like men. That way, I mean. To me, it’s the person.”
Jessica looked at her. “I’ve never been close to a woman except Trish, and she’s like my sister. So I’ve never really thought about it.” She looked into Claire’s eyes for a moment, her gaze softening. “Look, I think you’re pretty amazing. But you’re drunk.” She snorted. “I mean, I’m pretty much always drunk. But I’m guessing you, not so much. I don’t want you to make a mistake.”
“Believe me, it doesn’t stop me from knowing a good thing when I see it in front of me.” Claire put out her hand again, to stroke Jessica’s arm, and this time the other woman didn’t shrink away. Instead, she leaned into it, like a cat being petted. Claire laughed. “I’ve always been . . . well, I’ve always liked girls and boys both. Enough to know that most of them, most of both, they can be pretty awful. But you--you’re rude, you’re drunk, you’ve got more darkness around you than, like, all of Mordor. But you’re a good soul, Jessica Jones. You are one of the realest people I’ve ever met.”
“Right back atcha, Claire Temple.” Jessica leaned forward, and in a moment, the two were kissing, passionately, desperately, as though something was going to try to tear them apart.
After a moment, they themselves did pull apart, both taking a deep breath.
“I need to say goodbye to my friends. And you need to meet me outside, in about five minutes.”
“Ashamed of me?” asked Jessica.
“Not even close. I just pulled the hottest woman in this bar.” Claire winked. “I just need to say goodbye to Theresa, my friend who’s getting outta this hellhole.” They kissed again. "I was here for her party."
Goodbyes said, Claire exited the bar. For a moment, she thought Jessica hadn’t waited, but then she saw her a few steps away, half in shadow.
“I wasn’t sure you were coming,” Jessica said quietly. “Things like this, they tend not to work out for me.”
Claire looked at her. “Jessica Jones, your luck has changed.” And she kissed her again. “My place?”
“Sounds good.”
“Yours has too many memories. Also a certain lack of . . . walls?”
“Those are back. Mostly. But yeah, your place sounds good.”
And arm in arm, they made their way through Hell’s Kitchen.