Fields of Broken Glass

January 21, 2017:

Takes place directly after The Hunt. After asking Azalea a few probing questions, Jessica Jones makes her decision to take the girl under her own wing.

Northbound Interstate Route, Gotham to NYC


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Batman, Spoiler, Red Robin, Tony Stark


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Once they're settled back in the car Jessica starts dabbing at the wound on her head with her scarf. It's not that it's particularly bothering her; she just doesn't want to bleed all over the rental. As they pull out she says, "You've got good investigative instincts. You had your hand on that camera before I did. Was that working with Batman?"

Whatever else, she won't disparage the man's investigative acumen. If she herself ever became world famous, she could talk shit about other people's ability in that area. For now, she's going to assume he earned that. Credit where credit was due, and certainly Bird was damned good, though it had become quite clear they worked entirely different ways. Still, from what Az had told her, Jessica had to wonder how much he'd really done in the hands on teaching department.

"Just a child of a age of digital degeneracy I suppose. I only really had one mission with him. Well, two if you count the auction. Which I guess I should. He's just… I don't know. I guess he's been busy doing Bat-Shit. He told one of his many Robins to train me. Her name's Spoiler."

Az gives a meek shrug as she drives, careful not to move much more than that - she has a few cracked ribs for sure. But that's nothing new. That's her life now. Her gloves and mask sit beside her, between them, but otherwise she still looks like half-flattened vigilante.

"Anyway, he hasn't really shown me anything about investigation. I think a camera would count as Bat-gear, of which he is not a fan of me having. In any case, if he's happy to not take an active role, I'm happy to not give a fuck about whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing. Bucky's gone from on the edge of nightmare to 'actual teleporting demon', and I don't think Bats is going to be able to help with that."

The Dark Devil sounds, perhaps, surprisingly calm. Maybe the violence before sated whatever urges she'd tried to play off before leaving Gotham. Or maybe she's focusing on the road - she's speeding, she can't help it - she needs to make sure they get there in time to rest before talking with Carter and Rogers.

If she can make that happen. With Bucky gone full Rambo, who knows what the fuck they're up to.

"How have you been making your living?" Jessica asks, doing some fast deductions in her head. She'd said she didn't have any money, but 'not having any money' means different things to different people.

Jessica, sadly, does not spot Az's hurts; perhaps assuming if Az is driving and speaking normally she's probably fine. Or assuming she's more than durable enough to take it, one of the two. Either way she doesn't start nattering about medical attention, which may or may not be a relief to the young woman behind the wheel.

She keeps her tone casual, not wanting to seem like she's conducting an interrogation. But the fight did something for her, too. Granted, there were some upsetting moments, but it had given her a chance to work off the edge, the need to hit something, that had been triggered in that club. Now she can focus a little better, ask some better questions, get a better handle on things.

"I haven't. My parents used to pay for everything."

There's a moment of silent after that, on which hangs something else, some truth to it all, and she eases backwards with a grit of her teeth and finally slows down enough that she can concentrate on the conversation. "I was a student. Music major. I floated the apartment I had until they were literally going to throw me out. Mostly I eat Ramen, and a couple times a week I hit up a place I used to waitress at on the weekend. Manager's a friend. She's cool, hooks me up with something to take home, too. Most everything else I get from playing the guitar and singing out in front of Hannigan's on Old Oak."

She can't make much doing some glorified panhandling, but it must be a way to get by. "Zatanna set me up with a place to live after.. stuff happened." Given what she did to Jess tonight, and how what she did to Zatanna was not all that different, she thinks it's best not to talk about it, her mind still wallowed with self doubt about every time she ever spoke with the magician. There's a pain in her last few words, but she blinks them away. There's no time for it.

"Anyway. It's fine. Spoiler said she could help me by video taping me and putting me on the internet."

Wait, what?!

Wait, what, indeed.

Jessica scowls. A zillion negative rejoinders about being Internet Famous dance on her tongue, zingers just waiting to be delivered at this Spoiler's expense.

Jessica holds back, reminding herself to tread lightly. "You sound damn resourceful," is what she says instead, and it's something she means. Not everyone can live off nothing without crumpling, not everyone can keep moving, keep making the most of the tools they have. Most people in her situation would have had every right to say that survival was their only priority, devil inside or not, not becoming a hero. And yet here Az is, beating herself up on battlefields all the same, focused on the other goal.

"Where'd she set you up?" Not Shadowcrest, or they'd have met already. But the important part of that seems to Jess to have already fallen from Az's lips. The Bat can afford expensive gear to pass to all the favored children, but allows this newest student to subsist on ramen, busking, and the kindness of friends. Of course, he might not have had a lot of resources if he was sinking all his money into the damned equipment, but it still rams up against something fundamental in Jess.

Once you claim someone as your own, you damn sure see to them. Take care of them as best you can when they need it.

To hear Azalea laugh is to hear two beings in conflict, the musical subtext of her voice that craters into something malicious. But it isn't directed at Jessica, just herself. "St. Lawrence Cathedral. I guess the priest there is pretty cool. He seems to not give a shit that I'm possessed, lets me bum a sandwich from the kitchen every once and awhile, and lets me pay rent by sweeping up. For now. But, really. I'm not resourceful."

The mirth leaves her, and her grip tightens on the wheel. "Resourceful people get shit done on their own. I wouldn't be here if my parents hadn't hired you to come find me. I'd be sitting in Gotham while Bucky goes buck, oblivious to the fact that someone has been targeting my only fucking friend in the world. I literally forced my way into SHIELD last week, because I didn't know what else to do. I tried to see Steve Rogers and they tried to cock-block me at the door, and my most resourceful answer was to sucker punch a dude, headbutt another, and make a break for it. Thank fucking God for Peggy Carter, otherwise I'd be rotting in their jail in perma-taser mode. Fuck, as soon as Batman finds out about that shit he'll have the fucking costume off my back, guaranteed."

Well, she did leave out that bit - he did give her a polyweave bodysuit to wear under her other gear.

This is a song she's sung too many times before. The litany of fuck-ups, real and perceived.

Her fingers twitch. She wants something again, something to take the edge off. She digs around in her jacket pocket and voila, there are two crumpled cigarettes. That, she'd actually successfully quit, mostly, unlike the booze, because nicotine didn't do it for her like booze did and she didn't want to fuck it all up. The smoking charge will just have to go on Mummy and Daddy's dime too, boo hoo for them. She lights them in the dashboard lighter, and offers one to Az. If Az doesn't want it she'll flick it out the window; nobody needs two burning cigarettes.

She takes a long drag of the one she's chosen for herself. She closes her eyes, exhaling, feeling tension relax between her shoulder blades.

"So. Messy methods, but you know what I'm hearing? I'm hearing you didn't fucking quit, and that's the definition of being resourceful. Ok, it ain't perfect. But you kept moving. Kept striving."

She blows out smoke, opens a bit of the window, flicks ash.

"Let me tell you something about doing it all on your own. It's bullshit. It's a lie insecure people tell you and themselves. I know, cause I have spent a metric lifetime telling myself that bullshit. And you know what? It wasn't till I found decent people to pick my ass off the floor when I'd fallen flat on my fucking face that I started to really accomplish jack shit that mattered. And you know what? I found I had a talent for picking them up too."

She inhales another long drag. GOD these are good. She had forgotten how good they were. Marlboro Reds, the perfect thing for keeping a flat face while idiots spun their sob story, the perfect thing for staying sober but not entirely un-medicated. People reacted badly to them, she wasn't sure how her physiology reacted to them, but once every blue fucking moon…fuck it, she was going to keep a pack for emergencies like this one.

"Not trying to sound like an ABC special. Just telling you how it's been. But fuck all that too for a minute, cause I gotta ask. You ever thought about being a private investigator?"

Someone else might have waited, might have thrown out tests or trials or demanded Az earn her trust. But Jessica Jones has been dragged through a very similar field of broken glass. On some level she remains aware that the being inside of Az could be picking up on the exact things that would press all of Jessica's buttons, make her want to extend a hand, manipulating her.

If that was the case, she was probably going to get kicked in the teeth in more ways than one.

But if there was even a 10% chance that what she was hearing was genuine, well…then she'd risk it.

She punctuates this with an: "Also, fuck Batman. According to the law he claims to be the one and only champion of, once someone gives you something it becomes your property. Unless he specifically issued it to you as a loaner, or as a rental, he can't have it back unless you agree to give it back."

Oh she'll take the cigarette, but she doesn't smoke it, holding it between two fingers as she passes between cars. It'll be there waiting for Jess once she's finished her first. Of all the vices the creature inside wants her to engage in, she mostly kept herself clear of the terrible things it wanted to smoke, drink, or ingest. A little Jack Daniels put it off it's game, though. A back up plan, for when a blizzard rolls through and even the bad guys stay home.

Jessica's story, her advice, rolls in and crushes back her wave of self doubt. To a degree, at least. There's still Zatanna. Very simply, she does not understand why she didn't ask for her help. It crawls at her, on the inside, plants doubt deep in her soul. Was it the way she looked at her, before Zatanna made the limits of their relationship clear? Was it that she had nothing to offer? No skill with magic or.. whatever this was? It drags on her, personally, professionally. She can let the rest go. Batman is what she'll become if she's both lucky and cursed all at once, barely straddling humanity, but without the capacity for anything more.

But maybe, Jessica's question brings another path. "If you're asking because I so expertly investigated your privates, color me flattered."

She should not have said that. It's not something she should joke about, but sex and violence are not the only thing the Murdered God presses on. "Honestly, I'm not sure I'd be any good at it. Probably beats making internet videos though."

Is she saying yes? Did Jess ask her to be a partner in the first place? The dance they play is the dance of broken souls, and honestly, Az is just trying not to run them off the road.

Az's quip just makes Jessica chuff a laugh. "Yeah no. That would indicate a talent for prostitution work, not PI work, but I don't recommend that." The zinger pushes away any of the sick feelings the Murdered God might hope to bring to the surface.

So far they're on the road, because Jess says, "So here's how I think this should work, if you decide to give it a go. PI class takes 2 days. I'm going to charge it to your parents as an expense. That gets you your license. We'll get you licensed in New York and Jersey so you can work both places. Next time I pick up a simple process service, I'm going to pass it on to you. PI work pays $200 an hour plus expenses. You do the whole job yourself, I'll pay you 90% of that. 10% goes to keep the shop's lights on, I pay into that too. I need to give you a nudge or help you out, work hours on it myself, I'll pay you 85%. You're a 1099 contractor, which means you'll have fun filled adventures in filing self-employment taxes, but I can show you how to avoid getting screwed. You can stay in my office - slash - apartment till you're on your feet, though I need new furniture. Save up some money, get on your feet. You wanna keep at it after that, great. I'm letting jobs fall to the wayside right now, not a lot, but enough I don't want to leave them on the table. If you don't, well, you'll at least have cash in your pocket for your next steps. But for someone who wants to use your talents the way you wanna use them, having your own schedule that uses skills you need anyway kind of can't be beat." She flicks the butt of the cigarette out the window; she'd smoked it fast and it was old. "Don't gotta answer today. But I think you've got what it takes to earn your way. There's stuff you'll need to learn along the way, but this is the kind of thing you learn by doing after you get the basics, and I won't give you anything I don't think you're ready for."

It's a good offer. It's a better talk. Confidence is not something she lacks, but it comes from all the wrong places. This, somehow, feels more real. More human. She swallows, the action hidden behind the motion of passing the half-burned cigarette she never did touch over to her new friend.

Jess seemed like she could use a little more.

"Later, when I have time to think, to decompress, I need to tell you thank you a few more times. And maybe you can tell me how you got so strong, and how you got into this business. You know, later, when the bruises settle in."

The signs loom ahead, New York isn't that much farther away. Az can almost feel the questionable couch that's waiting for her, a sirens call to aching bones. "Really though… I know I said I was sorry, about the club and all that shit. I know you said you were over it. I know it wasn't that easy. I can feel those things, when skin crawls. I feel them because it makes me feel good, and then later I realize how fucking awful that is, you know? I appreciate you just.. giving me a chance to not be a monster. I didn't know it at the time but you could have snapped me in half."

"When the bruises settle." Jessica agrees. She takes the cigarette and takes a long drag. Because she has a feeling that this girl will need her to be real with her, and that means once again delving into things she does not want to talk about, or think about, even after spending two weeks facing that demon again and again.

But sometimes, to help someone, you gotta bleed from more than the veins running beneath the skin.

"It wasn't as hard as it seems. Giving you that chance. You have a monster. You're fighting a monster. Maybe you're even making the best of a bad situation and making that son of a bitch work for you as best you can."

Another deep inhale of that stale cigarette. "You are not a monster. I've met monsters. Monsters don't give a damn about being monsters. They will instead tell you all the way they're victims, how they're so wronged, and how that justifies every shitty fucking thing they ever wanted to do to anything."

She tumps more ashes out the window. "That ain't the person I'm lookin' at right now. But I bet that thing inside you wants you to believe it is, cause if he can make you believe…he can try to push you to that point where you think 'fuck it, why try?' So every time he plays that fucking tape? You just remember that it's bullshit."

"Probably good for me that it's all fucked up and broken. Otherwise.. yeah." She just means her fate probably would be sealed. Maybe the one part of herself she has no confidence in is her ability to contain it. Failure has been her moniker, save for one place.

The Dark Devil has not killed.

"You ever thought about putting on a costume and just doing this full time? I mean if detective work gels with hero work, the opposite should be true, right? We just need a sponsor. Some rich mother fucker who we could smile at - OH SHIT. We could get Bruce Wayne to do it. He's Zatanna's friend, and doesn't seem too bright. I mean, for a playboy.. whatever he is. Business-dude. Or maybe Tony Stark. I bet he'd give me some Devil Armor if I wrote him a theme song he could play when he first arrives on the field of battle."

It's probably not a good thing that Jess can see her face, but it's a good thing Az can't see her reaction, so focused on the rod. She looks positively out of her mind with glee. "Even without hero sponsors, maybe we can find someone to fund your investigative ventures. Get some ..uh.. whats it called. Retainers."

The reaction isn't as terrible as it might have been before Jessica Jones stared into another world and saw the best version of herself. She reaches down to a silver necklace around her neck. It's a three-D silver diamond, flattened a bit on the back but full of texture and detail on the front, like a little grey jewel. She lets the remainder of the cigarette dangle from her lips as she rubs her thumb over it.

"The thing about being beholden to people who fund your venture is that puts you on their agenda. Right now I help who I want, who I think is worthy. Right now, street level people know they can come to me and ask for help. Stark? Wayne? Unapproachable. Right now I can charge people whose causes are shitty and let them pay for the people who deserve their help for free."

She smirks. "I wouldn't say no to body armor, as long as it didn't give me a god damn camel toe and it doesn't come with any masks. But I've made a commitment. I'm working to do the hero thing. But I'll do it with my face bare. In part cause I could never find a name and a schtick that really fit me. And in part because there are advantages. I'm not a vigilante. For the most part, unless I'm dealing with fucking Nazi wizards and shit, I operate within the bounds of my license, the law, the fucking Constitution even. I can testify against shitheads in court, and have done. Well, insurance fraudsters, but it applies to others. That's part of the job. My failures are mine, my successes are mine, out there to be seen and evaluated; I can be held accountable for them. I understand why people put on masks, but I don't want to be any kind of a symbol. Maybe some people need help from people who are a little bit closer to being a little bit more like them too."

She smirks faintly. "Also by the time I got my shit together and started trying to act like a hero again…because I gave up for a really long time…I'd fallen full in as Jessica Jones. My name is known, my face is known, and it's a little too late to try to create a special identity. For me, it works. You, you'll have to make your own decisions. Because there are advantages to the mask too. Lots of them. It's just not me."

Of course, Azalea has no real world experience about how that works. She just figures she's no more beholden to anyone after accepting help than anyone else, why wouldn't it be the same with those rich fucks? But she doesn't understand. Doesn't know what those powerful people could really do.

It doesn't make her argue, but proves a good point, even if it's one that mostly escapes her for now: She needs someone with this kind of experience in her life, or she's going to open herself up to a world of pain.

When she glances to Jess she notices the stone, but thinks it's best to wait to ask about it. Maybe when those bruises have settled in. Maybe when they've both had some sleep. Besides, she's going to need some help from Jess right now.

She just entered New York city, and last time she came by bus.

She has no idea where she's going.

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