Good Ones

January 13, 2017:

Continued from "The Cold Flame Burns." Jessica tells Matt a little more about what he's stumbled into. He offers comfort when her guilt threatens to spiral out of control.

Salvatore's Deli

A fantastic hole-in-the-wall deli in the heart of Hell's Kitchen.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

"This is totally insane, you know," Matt had asked. "What the hell are you mixed up in?"

He can't see her look of chagrin, or the sudden realization that not everyone in the world deals with crazy shit as a matter of course. He can hear the click as she reaches over to shut off the grill, removing the now charred and congealing egg from the burner. He can hear the long pause though as she strips off the wool coat and bundles her scarf and gloves inside of it, folding it up to tuck under Sal's head.

Then she steps around him to pick the industrial meat slicer up off the floor. She does so very quietly, and sets it down equally quietly, assuming the blind man is completely unaware of the spectacle of the tiny woman doing this as effortlessly as replacing a lamp. She replaces her woolen gloves with plastic gloves from a dispenser. There's meat all over the floor, and she aims to clean it up. Like it or not, he's involved in this now, and he deserves some kind of answer.

Her heartbeat remains steady as she says, "Those guys were meta-humans whose powers are very versatile. They understand it as magic, they call it magic, and for all intents and purposes it works that way so…there you go." The garbage bag rustles as fallen cold cuts go inside, one by one.

"They want to rip the soul out of the body of my 19 year old client. She has similar abilities, but she doesn't get them the same way. They make dark deals with powers I didn't even think existed, but do. Hers are just hers. Do you believe in demons, Matt? They do, and they may even be right. They want to feed her soul to one, to increase their own power, or meet some obligation for some pact they signed, or whatever."

Steady heartbeat all the while as she says ruefully, "Up until November all my cases were insurance fraud, process service, infidelity cases—god, so many infidelity cases, child support cases, the occasional deeper job for a plaintiff's lawyer. But. There you go. That's what I'm mixed up in."

Her heart does constrict, and her breathing grows more shallow. This is not a liar's bodily response. This is someone who grapples with depression suddenly dealing with an attack of her own internal demons, the far more intangible and pervasive type than the type she was just talking about. "I am sorry you got caught up in it." Her tone is thick with guilt. "And Sal."

She's answering as she picks up the room; he's listening as he slowly straightens himself. Glasses are affixed, the tie is adjusted, and carriage is turned once more upright. The answers she gives, stranger and stranger, would drive most listeners into deeper shock or incredulity. Matt, for his part, seems headed in the opposite direction as he digests the Bizarro. He's starting to level out and reassert that image of the calm, composed gentleman who breezed through the door just half an hour ago. Though her last remark, with all its heartache, sees him shake his head firmly. "Hey, no, look, I'm sorry for snapping," he says. His tone has lost all of its former edge, restored once more to its gentle, even keel. "That was me right there, being a dick."

"And you're not the one who should be apologizing, Jessica," he goes on, heading towards her voice without the benefit of his walking stick — hands subbing in to feel the space around him for the inevitable obstacles between here and there. "These… magical assholes who did this are. Sal'll be fine; they're on their way and he'll get the help he needs." That last part he's not precisely sure of. He has no idea whatsoever what the assailant did to Sal, and a breath and a pulse are promising but hardly definitive signs that the shop-owner truly will be back to slicing capicola anytime soon. But he does feel like she needs to hear it.

She chuffs an unhappy laugh and says, "I'm kind of terrible to people all the time, it's only fair if someone's a dick to me every now and then."

She has apparently found all the meat. Sal's bodily signs are consistent with sleep, but he did take quite a knock on the head. She looks down at him again and asks softly, "Why the hell does it take so fucking long for the paramedics to get here in this town anyway?"

But she knows that answer, and she looks away from him, snatching up the egg pan and taking it over to the sink, grabbing a spatula to scrub the egg down the garbage disposal. Not really where it belongs, but she's trying. "The thing is," she says softly, "I mean I know they're the ones who did the shitty thing, but it was my mis-step that brought them here. I asked Sal if we could have the place after hours. I just needed to meet with my client and her protector, to pass on the information I'd found about the guy who is in charge of all this. I was—paranoid." She can't get the egg off, and she suddenly just drops the pan. "Shit."

She tries again, heartrate changing, anger and unhappiness doing a dance in her stomach and chest. He's easy to talk to, Matt is, his demeanor and the comfort he's offering and perhaps his own skills as a lawyer and detective making him someone that people just naturally confide in, and in her current state of stress, well…she's no exception.

"I was /afraid/," she corrects, contempt for her own words rolling and dripping off the tongue. "The guy in charge threw me into this other dimension for two weeks, this place where your worst nightmares come to life and find new ways to fuck with you. I didn't want to just send what I'd found by e-mail because I wasn't sure if it was like all those legends about getting evil's attention by saying its name, I was afraid it might get intercepted, I was afraid he might get tipped off, and I was afraid that he'd do something I couldn't stop before I got the information to them, because a lot of it was meaningless without their knowledge. As it was I carried it around in sealed envelopes and moved all over the place…all over the city, all over Gotham, where her house is and where I've been staying because she has all sorts of wards and things and I'm too /scared/ to sleep in my own stupid apartment. I thought 15 minutes, in, out. They have this spell they're doing on her remotely whenever she pokes her head out. It was regular. Steady. She was even timing it. So I didn't think anyone was actively trying to track her location when they could get to her anywhere."

She crosses back over to him. "Well. They're apparently sick of waiting, because they stepped up their spell, suddenly all her personal protections are just burning off her like a fuse, we have to race her to safety, and yep. Yep, they absolutely did know she sat in here for a little while. Whatever he did to Sal was non-lethal probably because they were going to interrogate us both. I don't even know why the guy would have disappeared before at least grabbing Sal or without putting you down too, but these guys are crazy."

Embarrassment raises her body temperature a few degrees, flooding her cheeks, her neck, and her upper arms; a change that's easy to note because she was wearing a tank top under the woolen coat. "I'm—I sound like an ass. You don't need all this crap from me." With genuine respect. "Look at you, you're cool as a cucumber, or are at least faking it damn well."

He's fumbling his way around the counter towards the sink where she stands, but she meets him halfway before he even makes his halting way there. He's listening, and listening, silent and receptive. Yes, certainly his empathy comes in handy when collecting information, and he's been guilty of misusing that quality. But in the /moment/, it's still genuine; that's part of what makes it effective and, consequently, dangerous.

"I'm a /lawyer/," Matt finally says, this to her compliment, half-smile wry and appreciative. "Of course I'm a good fake." With someone else he might make a joke about being Irish, and therefore having a bottle of Jameson ready for him when he got to the office, but he smells the faded waft of booze and thinks better of it.

A crease of concern bisects the man's brow as he reaches out, tentatively, and tries to find a shoulder there to lay a palm on. "But I'm also a good Catholic boy, Jessica. So… yeah, I believe in demons. And in Hell. And from the sound of it, you've been there and back in the space of a couple weeks. So I'll offer you advice that I, as a good Catholic boy, have never been able to take myself: try not to beat yourself up too much."

"Anyway, I don't know why he left, or why he left me halfway standing," Matt adds quietly, before rolling one of his own shoulders into a shrug. "He tried to choke me, scare me into answering questions I didn't know the answer to. I tried to get away, fight back, even hit him a few times. And then he was just /gone/. Maybe he sensed what you did to the other one?" A brief, slight, apologetic smile. "I don't know. I've handled stick-up cases before, but I'm a little out of my depth on this one."

Sirens he heard five minutes ago begin to make themselves known, followed by horns of the cars in front of the ambulance, a whole pack of bumper-to-bumper cars spurring each other noisily and haphazardly forward to make way.

Normally she's so leery about being touched, but not this time; she lets that hand fall on her shoulder without a flinch. She listens to him now, and though he can't see it her lips curve into the half-smile which is usually the best she has for anybody. The other signs that he's getting through to her are there though. The intense heat fades from her head and shoulders; the muscles of the one he'd touched subtly relax, though not completely—tension carried there is habitual. It's like it goes from a 10 back down to a 6 or so, but…still a net positive.

The tension ticks up again, just a little, when she hears he was choked, and then a corresponding flash of anger and a quick look at the door that says she's adding that damage to the tally of things she wants to see them pay for. But she leaves that one (she thinks) to herself. "Or the little prick could dish it out but couldn't take it when you fought back. I'm glad you did. Should we have the paramedics look at you too?"

Apparently this news has made her forget her initial response was: let's just lie to them because we can't explain what happened. His being hurt supersedes that, or at least makes her ready to start quickly thinking about how she can spin another story that gets him the treatment he needs.

But they're /finally/ there, the paramedics, and she breathes a sigh of relief. "Final-fucking-ly," she growls, sounding far more like herself.

He finds that her relief, even if qualified, brings him a measure of the same. /She's a good one/, he thinks to himself. /A few kinds of fucked up, sure, but then who are YOU kidding?/

"No," Matt answers emphatically to her suggestion, never having felt /less/ scuffed up after a fight in his short life as a vigilante. The hand on her shoulder falls off to his side. "I'm fine, I promise. Let's stick to the script and keep them focused on Sal." A brief beat, a faint smile. "Though… I'd love it if you found my walking stick. I dropped it on the floor somewhere along the way."

"So… look," he's tacking on quietly, getting it in before the medics storm in with their gurneys and their oxygen and their questions. "I know I just said I was out of my depth, but I kind of think you're in the same boat. Maybe there's some way I can help with this stuff; at least as a sounding board. Keep me in the loop?"

"Oh. Jesus. Yeah. Of course." This for the request of the walking stick. His words about sticking to the script bring warmth to the surface of her skin. She moves quickly for it, picking it up as the paramedics unload outside. The wheels of their gurney clack hard onto the street; their radios buzz with information not entirely relevant to them at this moment.

Jessica comes back. She gently touches the handle of the walking stick against the back of his hand so he can find it. "Got it?" she asks quietly.

As for the rest…

He might feel her studying him, really intently for a moment. Then a gentle intake of breath that many give when they offer a smile. "I will," she promises quietly. "I'll be following up on a lead soon. I'll let you know how it goes. And…keep my number close if you need me too. If someone bothers you or just, you know, if I can help you out in some way." This is sincere, not a throwaway like it would be for many people.

Then they're in, and there is indeed a flurry of questions. A male paramedic, black by the accent, large, does the bulk of the question asking. His partner, a staccato-voiced female, asks if they know if Sal has a history of narcolepsy. The doctors will have to confirm, but that's what it looks like, with maybe a light concussion and a lot of bruising caused by the fall. Jessica asks what hospital; Metro-General is the answer. They're efficient and apparently by their words and actions not the most concerned…maybe he really /will/ be back to making eggs and cheeses on rolls sooner rather than later.

"Got it," Matt answers softly as he opens his palm and clasps the handle, smile slight but genuinely appreciative, and not just for the fetching. "Thanks, Jessica."

He'd say more, but then they're no longer alone, and the questions are coming. No, I don't know if he had narcolepsy, Matt says pretty convincingly for a man who'd silently balked at the prospect of lying to the authorities just a few minutes ago. He's just my client and my the guy who makes my breakfast sandwiches. But that's awful, really. Thanks so much for taking care of him. And then it's done.

Matt watches in his own singular way as the paramedics load Sal onto the gurney and roll him out of the deli, hands clasped on the handle of the downward pointed walking stick. "Sounds like he'll be alright," Matt offers as he turns to his partner in crime of the moment, still quietly intent on bolstering what he suspects is a kindred spirit struggling under the weight of guilt and responsibility. "All of us, really, which is kind of a minor miracle if we had two real-life magicians out to get us. Good luck — with your lead. And stay in touch, right?"

"Sounds like. And no, Matt. Thank /you./" Jessica says quietly, her tone serious. "For everything, Matt. And I will. I promise." The band of tightness around her chest that had constricted her heartbeat and her breathing seems to have eased down to no worse than it was when all this started, a dull, barely noticeable thing that allows her to function and handle herself. She very briefly and quite tentatively touches his arm with just a couple of fingers, there and gone. She doesn't at all suspect the things they have in common. She's made no connections between him and the man who helped pull her fat out of the fire in Gotham not so very long ago.

But that doesn't stop her from recognizing one of the good ones herself, when she meets one. There aren't many people who would have just…believed her…and that's more valuable than he can possibly imagine. There aren't many who would have handled it so well, or been able to put her at ease enough to offer comfort she so desperately needed. Real comfort, not comfort at the bottom of a bottle, which is where she might have headed without it, as hard as she's been fighting to stop.

When she speaks again, there's a friendly smirk in her voice, even as she starts to walk away. The moment seems to call for walking away, after all, getting out about their respective businesses. She walks backwards, facing him as she leaves, saying, "I guess it /was/ a minor miracle. Maybe someone up there thinks you're doing something right, Catholic-boy. I guess I agree with whoever it is, too."

Then she spins around with another one of those little chuffs, the warmer version, audible to his ears even as she slips back into the symphony of cacophony, the song of their shared streets.

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