The Hunt

January 21, 2017:

Takes place directly before Napasti and shortly after Saudade. A new job puts Jessica Jones on the trail of one Azalea Kingston.

A club in Gotham City.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, The Winter Soldier, Batman

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Mr. and Mrs. Kingston are, decidedly, a piece of work. It was only after they had concluded for themselves that their beloved daughter Azalea had fallen in with a 'bad crowd' and it was 'not her fault' that they'd come crawling to Gotham to have someone local try to track her down.

After all, she'd left her apartment when her parents stopped paying, and did not leave a way for them to find her. She'd left it to rot, in fact, unpaid bills everywhere, an old mattress in one corner of one room, and not a god damn thing of value left in the place. It looks like some place a heroine addict might have lived, but without all those telltale signs.

Whatever Jessica Jones might think of her holier than thou parents, who were certain 'the gays' had gotten ahold of their little girl for conversion, she would know just by looking around the old apartment that whoever had lived here was in crisis. It wasn't drugs. Drug addicts don't pretend to be waiters at Gala Auctions. In the end, a single business card with an IR code would give away Azalea's game, but it would take a few nights before Jess would spot her again - this time not dressed as a waiter.

This time she was dressed to kill. Tight leather pants, the same boots she smashes into the skulls of criminals, and button down blouse that was a shocking bit of color on someone so drab. Don't get to excited - it was dark purple, and she's wearing lipstick (something she almost never does) to match. Really, it's pretty tame, and when she disappears into the side entrance of building, an X marked above the door, she'll know she has her in a public, approachable place.

Jess won't have any trouble getting inside, she looks every bit the part of a wayward soul who needs a little company, and while it might almost seem to be rave - dark music, dark lights and a BDSM bent will greet her. But there's that slash of purple, moving through the crowd, cutting through bodies, slicing like a predator.

Jessica had held them in contempt like a pair of cockroaches sitting across from her at the Starbucks (she sure as hell has no office). She'd only recently added "Gotham City" to the list of cities she worked in on her website. Partly as a fuck-you to Batman and his orders, actually, and partly cause she's there pretty constantly. And partly because she's got to step up her game if Alias Investigations is going to survive Steinschnieder, The Cult of the Cold Flame, and HYDRA.

But when she'd seen the photo she'd changed her mind. She charged them a triple advance and a higher hourly rate, plus expenses. She's earning $300 an hour for this little jaunt, and she intends to collect. Besides, she's concerned about the woman herself, and curious. Anyone who has been at the gala has sparked that curiosity.

She's glad she didn't have to dress up though. She's done Club Slut for cases before, but she hates it every time. Especially in a place like this, which makes her skin crawl just a little bit.

Jessica tries to follow her through the crowd. She doesn't want to alarm her; wants to find her at a place where she can reach out and talk to her, because she's on Kingston's side, not her parent's side.

The deeper Jess goes, the more this place will unveil it's layers. Part performance art, part rave, part… something else. Maybe it was the mystical ties of this place that let The Dark Devil find it the first time around. All she really knows is that it was some place the rest of her urges could come out and play without complication, without judgement. Once upon a time she would have found this place disgusting.

Now, it was a means to a specific end. Just like beating on the criminals of Gotham. She's turned that last bit into something positive. A force for good. Fuck, what could she do about this? The way she eats people up with her eyes, deciding they were a challenger or someone to conquer, depending on the shape they came in.

It was nothing to think about right now, and as she meanders through the crowd, eyes meeting, disengaging, searching and sweeping, she feels something else. The hackles of an odd sensation.

She is not used to being hunted.

It isn't something she can pick up on in any way but instinctual, but she ducks behind a pillar to wait it out, crystal blues watching and waiting for someone to pass by. Maybe this was all part of tonight's game - maybe turning the tables was what they were into.

They had better hope they were the right shape.

Shit. The crowd shifts and suddenly Azalea Kingston is not there. Jessica Jones steps into a spotlight without meaning to, blue and purple and white playing across her face in a migraine inducing way as she does a slow scan of the room, highlighting the rich, dark fall of her hair. She isn't as cute in a white tank top, leather jacket, ripped jeans, boots, and some kind of necklace shoved into her shirt as she was in the little waiter uniform, but she definitely looks more herself.

There are things about her that might sing to the darkness in Azalea Kingston's soul, too. This is a woman who has /many/ sins, both real and perceived, locked up in her consciousness, a thousand dark demons scrabbling like rats at the edges of her soul.

Well, she'd better keep moving if she's going to avoid notice. She starts towards the ladies room, thinking maybe Kingston went that way.

Before Jessica can get to far, there's a hand sliding around her front from behind, the kind of grip that's meant to slow or stop, and worse, there's another touch to - insistent and possessive as it presses between her legs. The best case scenario is that whoever this is mistook her for someone they know very, very well. But how many best case scenarios find Jessica Jones in the dark?

A tickle at her ear - comically, Azalea has to lean up to speak to her, she's about four whole inches shorter, but when she does she clarifies her intent. "Mm, you're /tall/. I bet you thought I was the morsel, tiny and helpless, just waiting for a bite. That moment when little red riding hood turns out to be the wolf."

That's her twisted version of 'I was Hydra the whole time', or something to that effect. Captain America would be really upset about it. Really, she's thinks Jess is here to find someone to go home with, to play games of who can be on top, and she doesn't know the lines she's set to cross, or the shame that's waiting for her in the winds. For her, this is just another Saturday night.

Her reaction is immediate and dramatic.

She stiffens. A real shudder runs down her spine. She goes paler, and something sickly crawls up her spine. She has to restrain herself from a violent reaction. The taste of it is on the air, the way she tenses as if ready to throw the woman through the nearest wall, rippling strength in the muscles that says she just might have what it takes.

Instead, Jessica takes a deep breath and forces herself to take a higher road. "I'm just here to talk," she says. "I'm going to ask you, once, politely, to take your hands off me. I don't like being touched. Besides, we've met before. Maybe you remember it. We wore red, and we were schlepping champagne and cheeses ten seconds before it all went to Hell in handbasket."

Her voice only shakes a little bit. Every second she lets Azalea continue to touch her, a stranger, someone she doesn't know, an intimate touch, a touch she did not ask for or solicit, makes panic start to grow and pulse in her system, begs for a reaction, strong enough inside her to threaten to spill her sins out for Azalea to read, as if the withered hand of an ancient crone had made runes of them and cast them on the floor.

Once, a very long time ago, Xiuhnel, the Sky Serpent, was a benevolent, even stoic creature. Right up until the betrayal, the cut of a dagger, and the moment his heart was /pulled/ free. And ever since what was left of him, jumping from body to body, had inflicted revenge upon women. Reveled in their fear, the way they might resist. It wasn't just about sex, it was about inflicting pain, physical and mental, and while Xiuhnel was little more than a ball of urges these days, it's memory and drive fractured beyond real repair, it could still enjoy the little things.

Deep inside Azalea Kingston, the creature savored the tension in Jessica's body. /Yes, just like that./ It's why she came to places like this, where she could find a girl who /wanted/ that kind of attention, and that's exactly what Azalea thinks she's found. At first.

When Jessica lays it out, draws her mind back to the night that her twin souls burned together and bonded just a little more around the edges, her jaw sets and her teeth grind, both hands pulling away and balling into fists. It is fortunate she disengaged, or the hunger of the beast might have pulled at her soul, might have shown Azalea everything Jessica was and every horrible thing she and /he/ did together. But then, they wouldn't get to have a pleasent conversation.

"Who the /fuck/ are you?"

There's not much of a bedroom to her voice anymore, the taunt of it, never sultry but certainly /certain/, is gone, replaced by a trepidation of a creature who is used to facing adversity, but only with violence. She wishes she could say she remembers Jessica, but that entire night was a terrible blur of violence, of Batman growling orders in her ear, and a very tortured girl with a blight on her soul trying, somehow, to redeem a few thousand years of carnage by jump kicking a crazy German sorcerer.

Things did not quite go as planned.

Jessica Jones responds by opening her hands and keeping them where Azalea can see them. "My name is Jessica Jones. I'm a private investigator," she says. "I've been deeply wrapped up in several cases that you seem to be on the edges of as well. That's not entirely why I'm here…your parents hired me to find you, but I think they're fucktards and am happy to talk to you on their dime. Though I'd love to get paid, so if you can just write them a fuck-off and die letter or something I can deliver it and say hey, I found you, write me the check. Still, we can talk on their dime, and wouldn't that just be a nice fuck-you to them, too?"

No longer molested, Jessica relaxes…but only fractionally. Her face is still pale as death, her eyes tight about the edges, a peculiar set of the mouth saying that her stomach is still a clenched ball of nauseated ice. But she bulls ahead anyway, asking, "Is there somewhere a little less…intense…we could talk? I promise I'm not here to screw up your life or harm you in any way."

There's no doubt that Jessica Jones got the worst end of this particular deal. There's a reason Azalea goes to places where her behavior, while overt, even disgusting in it's aggression, is essentially the norm. But it's all a stark reminder to her, that just like with the violence she dishes out in Gotham's darkest corners, there are accidents waiting to happen in all of the urges she feels forced to explore by her darker nature.

The shame she shows the other woman, a slant of her eyes sidelong, a measure of self loathing she keeps at bay, usually, until the morning shows through. There's the ringing of fingers through her long hair, and then she rubs a hand down over her face before turning to wave Jess along behind her.

They'll end up back outside, and the roiling anger of a night of escapism interrupted scatters the hangers on just outside. She can't carry herself any bigger than her tiny frame allows, but it's like a palpable miasma of rage that the weakest of humanity knows to avoid.

"You can take a selfie of us together. My middle finger can let them know exactly how I feel about their Christian Rock lifestyle and all the bullshit that comes with it. As for everything else.. I don't know what cases you mean, but I…" God, she's supposed to be laying low. Keep an secret identity, or something, right? Fuck it.

"I work with Batman. Kindof. Maybe. It's complicated. So spill it - what do you need? Were you after Bucky, too?" It was an accident that she fought Muller, really. Bucky had been her reason for being there, perhaps a real way to find some redemption for everything Xiuhnel had done.

Shame. An emotion Jessica knows well. It resonates with her, softens her, reminds her something is going on with this kid.

She follows Azalea out, noting the rage. That's something she's no stranger to either.

She smirks and says, "That'll work."

"I work with Zatanna Zatara," she explains. "I don't know if you know that name, but Zee didn't send me on this one." It's the mention of Sargent Barnes that lifts her eyebrows. "No. I didn't know Sargent Barnes would be there. We were there to do damage control on a gambit we knew Gottfried Muller was going to pull." Her brows furrow in concern. "Does Batman have plans to harm Sargent Barnes? Because he should back off, if so. Whatever it looks like, he's innocent."

Zatanna's name rocks her as certainly as any blow, and she even takes a step back. The humanity drains back in. I'm not ready. Not for that. She can almost feel that radiance again, trickle in her mind's eye. It's the hunger of The Beast that snaps her back to reality with a blink. "She's my friend." There's a hard swallow there. A little while ago, it was more complicated. But maybe that was just for her part, and that's what happens when you don't have any idea where you end and a monster begins.

She wants to ask about the Gambit - she didn't know, she just reacted. Batman seemed to know more, but she hadn't had a chance to talk to him. Where had he been?! The mention of Barnes and his innocence draws those feral blues upwards, searching Jessica's eyes for some truth. Holy shit. She didn't know anyone else knew.

"I don't know what his plans are, but he doesn't kill people. I know about him. Everything. What they do to him. He's recycled, broken down, restarted. Then he goes out and kills. They made him into a fucking Terminator, and I won't let whoever brings him in pass judgement that will see him fucked over and locked away in some other prison that's only a little less cold than the one he usually lives in. What gambit are you talking about? Who the fuck is Muller, anyway? Batman told me about him, said he wanted to track him down. But no one else would ever tell me what the fuck was going on. A few days before that catastrophe at the auction, I saw Zee and her arm was lit up like a Christmas tree. When we touch, usually there's…"

She trails off, one hand rising to her forehead. How does she even explain this? It's clear this isn't some restrained longing she's talking about, but rather something that lingers on the edge of the mysticism Zee embraces every day.

For awhile, Jessica just listens to what Azalea Kingston has to say. She leans against the wall and she really listens, giving the girl her full, undivided attention. What Kingston will see in her eyes is nothing but truth and determination, and a deep knowing that can't be faked.

She carefully decides which of the flood of words to pick out first. Usually she conceals, but…she can't imagine bringing someone in on a case and not telling them everything. It lowers her opinion of the Batman another dozen notches.

"Gottfried Muller is an alias, but he's an immortal Nazi sorcerer. Here's where the worlds collide, I think. He used to work for the group that took Barnes and brainwashed him. The two were not on good terms. Muller was after a book at the auction; he also made our mutual friend a target. The book is now in safekeeping. Steinschnieder…that's his real name…has fled to Germany. Barnes helped me and others defeat some of his cultists the other day. He looked like he was breaking through the conditioning, but…they've kicked it up a notch since then." It was just last night, the fateful mission that had let her hear every detail of what they did, and why. "They've taken someone else, a scientist named Jane Foster."

But now that she's laid out the Cliff's Notes Briefing for Azalea, she fixes her dark eyes on the woman and says, "What's going on with you? You imploded your life months ago. Something went on between you and that book at the auction, too, something that probably wouldn't have happened to me if I had picked it up." The thing is, chaos or not, Jessica picked up, cataloged, and remembered details even in chaos; it was part of what made her the investigator she was. She didn't see everything, but here and there she had noticed a few of the players at key moments, sometimes seconds before a tentacle or a mind controlled gala guest swung something at her head. She hadn't really /remembered/ seeing it until now, but as Azalea talks, as she puts her hand to her head and talks about what it's like to touch Zee, it comes back to Jessica in a quick flash, a reminder from her subconscious that something important had taken place.

A slow exhale. She takes in the information, scours it for meaning and context in the events that had come before. Whatever part of her had tried to respect what Zatanna was keeping from her, whatever part had been afraid to reach out to her as days stretched into weeks with only a few texts in between, suddenly drowns in guilt.

Azalea wants to ask more questions, but a well of emotion, of worry, pours in and she is thankful for Jessica's inquiring mind. It's just not easy to explain, and as her gaze shifts to the far end of the alley, fixated on some tiny, skulking creature in the night - a cat or rat - she thinks back to the night she changed.

"Zatanna knows more than I do, about what I am. I think. We didn't really sit down and talk about it. There's something in me. Old. Evil. I know that's a word that gets tossed around a lot, but I mean evil. It makes every bad part of humanity worse, every urge, every desire, twists and…" She shakes her head and looks back to Jessica.

"All I really know is it usually likes to make local warlords, generals, and serial killers into a glove it can shove itself inside. Join up. Bond with them. Give them all it's knowledge, all it's know-how. Tell them all the bad things are the right things, and enjoy every murder, rape, and genocide they commit. A win-win scenario for the Devil in the Dark. Except, you know. Not this time, right? Fuck me, right? It's fucked up. I mean, not 'it's fucked up', as in bad. It's certainly that, but it's broken or something. What you saw happen was that idiot tried to soul drain me. He done messed with the wrong fucking evil spirit, because whatever this fucking thing is decided to pull on him as much as it pulled on me. It burned. I used to.. get flashes. Little glimpses of what it knows, usually in a fight. It's how I can fight at all, really. Now it's different. I can see everything about how someone moves, anticipate, redirect. I still don't know the moves, but they come to me more easily."

She turns and kicks some piece of refuse down the alley, letting the echo of it scare away the skulking creature she was looking at. "Look I know it sounds mostly like bullshit, but Zee can tell you. She found me in a dumpster, put me back together. It's when we found out that.. whatever lets her do what she does? It's like fucking heroin for this thing inside me. Ten minutes with her hands on my shoulders, and it rolls over and I can think again. She's my only fucking friend." She sounds cut up, because she didn't know about the danger - still doesn't know how ongoing it is. After all, that guy fucked off back to Germany, right? "Anyway. I don't know who this Jane person is, but if it's all tied together, we should find Zee. She can search for people. With magic. She could find her, and Bucky, and then we can get SHIELD to help us bring them all in."

As Jessica Jones listens it occurs to her that Azalea Kingston is also part of the World's Shittiest Club in a way. Something has her on the inside, not on the outside, and it's more influence than control, but she's still wrestling for control of her own body and soul. "Zee might need a few days. This other organization tried to take her soul away from her, almost all of it. We got it back, just last night, but it hurt her to pull it all back. They'd used it, twisted it up in some god-awful ways. I don't think it would be good to be around what's inside you right this second, to be around something else that wants the heroin hit. But…we're already in contact with SHIELD, and with Captain America. And if you're a friend of Zee's, you're a friend of mine."

Zee would want her to take care of this person who she cannot personally take care of. Jessica knows it for herself. She doesn't even need Zee to tell her. And there are good reasons to do it anyway.

It sounds like good old Rat-Man is not Azalea's friend, either.

But she can be.

The idea isn't scary anymore. "Come back to New York with me," she suggests. "My life is a mess right now, I'm getting evicted in like a few days unless I can stop it, but it looks like you're being left to twist in the wind here. I don't know what the next move is, not yet, but if you want to help, well, I don't see why you shouldn't be allowed to. I'm sure there will be many people to coordinate with when it comes to Sargent Barnes, and I don't even think I'm up there on the list of decision makers, but…I'm committed to helping he and Dr. Foster come in from the cold, no matter what large or small part I have to play in that. And while I won't spill other people's secrets, I won't leave you out of the loop, either. Everything else…we can figure out."

Oh God.

Oh God.

Azalea knows what Zatanna's soul is capable of - she explained her power, her gift and responsibility. She also knows that everything Jessica just told her, every bit of the struggle and complication, every terrible circumstance might have been Zatanna's end.

And she didn't know anything about it.

Tears sting her eyes, and her jaw sets as the fury comes. She looks healthier for a moment - her cheeks a little darker than normal, as blood rushes to them, as surely a realization rushes to her mind. It's the stark reminder that Zee's friendship was never a normal one, and it sends every emotion she has spiraling to the gutter.

Was it really friendship? Was Zatanna just tending the cage of a monster? Another threat against the world? Or maybe that night, when they kissed, and Zee saw something. Maybe that's when she understood what danger she had pinned to the floor.

In the end, her hands find her face, and she covers it, trying to compose herself because she simply does not know where her thoughts come from. Does the monster twist her mind? She can't even ask Zatanna to know the truth. It's too dangerous.

Azalea is too dangerous.

"I took a train last time. We should take a car. I don't have any fucking money."

Her shoulders droop, and she looks more than shaken. But sure, New York. She'll go. But for none of the reasons Jessica had put forth. She'll go because that's where Zatanna's text last said she'd be.

Dangerous or not, she can't leave well enough alone.

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