One Step Back

January 19, 2017:

30 seconds and one photograph. That's all that takes to unravel Jessica Jones' hard won progress and awaken every one of her self-destructive impulses.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, NY

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Matt Murdock, Steve Rogers

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jess had left her visit with Zatanna feeling…good, despite the situation. It had been a good night. She even felt to her very bedrock that things would turn out, that they’d fix this, that Zatanna would be fine in the end. Zee wasn’t going to die. They’d make this right.

Tucked under her arm was the manila envelope that would end that, a ticking paper time bomb just waiting for her return to her office.

The notes on the Tarnhelm.

She settled at her desk upon entering the apartment, opened up the file, and began to read. Powers, teleportation, reality bending, host needs to feed it or it will kill the host. Great. So, he’s probably sipping on people all over wherever he’s holed up. Fantastic.

And his ridiculous ranting about how eating Zatanna’s soul would do just so much good for the world.

“So would shoving a block of C4 down your throat, you don’t see any of us doing that, do you, douchebag? Actually, you know what? I think that might still be on the table…”
She still hadn’t killed anybody under her own will, but this…this made her angry enough to consider it. And she’d kind of been a party to some. She hadn’t raised objections when the Winter Soldier had begun firing grenades into cultists.

But her anger found an entirely new target when she flipped to the next page and saw the photo of the Tarnhelm, a photo that made her freeze where she sat.

“No.”

She felt the world begin to loosen its grip around her. It tilted crazily. Sound became distorted, vision became distorted. She fell out of her chair in the grip of a full on panic attack, the paper tearing in her too-tight hands.

She now knew the Tarnhelm for what it was.

How?

She’d ruined it. She’d crumpled it into uselessness. She’d thought it was just some expensive antique, enchanted for a moment. She hadn’t known it was important, hadn’t known it was mystical. As far as she’d known only the book had been worth worrying about, among all the artifacts at that auction.

Ruined it and stuck it into a potted plant so she wouldn’t get sent a $2.5 million dollar bill.
Where it had obviously been picked up by the worst sorts of people and repaired.
Her own stupidity had led directly to Zatanna’s impending demise.

Her fault. Hers.

The ruthless internal voices that had gone mostly silent since Captain America had praised her start screaming at her again, denied too long. They’d been losing their fight to destroy her, but now there was a weakness, a good one; she was staggering, and they came in for the kill.

You worthless. Piece. Of. Garbage. You walking shit stain. All you had to do was ask some god damn questions. It was directly responsible for mind control, and you just stuck it behind a plant?

I didn’t know. How could I know?

I don’t know, detective, how could you possibly know? The seething tone was mocking, unforgiving.

Jessica Jones had no answer for it.

It pressed its advantage, adopting a sickly sweet sound. I love you too, Zee. Sorry I am the one that KILLED YOU.

She was breathing too fast, breathing too hard. She’d pass out like this. There was a tight band around her chest, squeezing, squeezing until she could barely breathe, until every movement was pain. Not just emotional pain, not just a morass of guilt and depression and horror, but physical pain as well, every freakish muscle aching as if she’d taxed herself to the very limit. She wanted to vomit, she wanted to howl.

There was no alcohol in the apartment. She was burning for it, on fire for it, for the only thing that ever made her better.

Her better self grasped at straws, frantic, trying to make her see reason, to halt the train in its tracks, to catch her before she could undo every scrap of hard-won good that she’d done for herself.

Talk to Matt. He said he’d be a sounding board.

Relentless. What, so you can kill him, too? He’s blind. He’s a god damn civilian.

Cap then. Talk to Cap. He gave you that phone to talk to him.

Sure. He’ll be real impressed when he knows what you did, won’t he?

She had no conscious memory of bolting out of the door. The next thing she knew she was at the ATM, withdrawing every last dime she had.

Confess to John. Confess to Zatanna, the better voice inside of her pleaded. You owe them that, and –

The demons in her head responded by ripping a sob from her throat, unleashing the dam of tears that had been threatening to break ever since she’d walked in to see Zee in that state.

She had no conscious memory of racing down the street. She could do a mile in 4 minutes; there was a really good all-night store open less than a mile away, which meant she was there in three.

$382.51 would buy quite a bit of booze. Whiskey. Tequila. Vodka. A little of everything. An assortment. She bought a basket too, just to bring the bottles all home. Too heavy for anyone but her. That’s what her strength was really good for, bringing half a liquor cabinet back to her apartment.

Stumbling back through the door. It rebounded, wide open to the hallway. She didn’t notice as she ripped the top off the first bottle and guzzled it down. It was gone as if by magic in minutes; the alcohol hit her bloodstream but did little to stem the tide of misery. She coughed, because she’d taken it all in too fast, but she was already reaching for the next. And the next.

And the next.

She didn’t remember when she started screaming and throwing things.

It had started with the bottles. She was sure of that much. They shattered in satisfying blasts, raining tinkling bells down to the hardwood floors. The paint cans were next. She picked them up and flung them; they shattered and splattered paint all over the walls, all over the floor, all over herself. The furniture was the next unfortunate victim, and finally the sink, which she just threw down and smashed to powder.

Her landlady, standing in the gaping doorway, screaming at her in Spanish. “Nunca pagas el alquiler a tiempo! Usted destruye mi propiedad! Mi propiedad! Siempre estas borracho!”

Jess stared at her in blank incomprehension, and slowly reached for another bottle. “Sorry, Mrs. Alviraz,” she slurred. “Lo…Lo siesta.”

Mrs. Alviraz stalked forward and yanked the bottle away from her, shaking it in her face. “You no live here no more! 7 days notice! I give you 7 days notice! Pack up or I lock you out! I charge you for fix damage, you lucky I no take to court!”

Shit.

Jessica felt one small moment of remorse before the rage and pain rose up to push her to another low. “Get OUT. Get the FUCK out! It’s still mine for 7 days so get the fuck out of here!”

Mrs. Alviraz shot her a look of pure contempt, and stalked out. She slammed the door hard behind her. The shiny glass Alias Investigations window trembled dangerously in its frame.

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