Mountains to Climb

January 28, 2017:

Takes place directly after Pamyat' o Padenii. Jessica Jones reaches out to Azalea after her outburst.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, NY


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Captain America, Peggy Carter, Zatanna Zatara, The Winter Soldier, Matt Murdock


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

After the two American icons have left the apartment, Jessica crosses to the bathroom.

She takes a moment to try to remember what it was like to be a surly, angry teenager with a boatload of problems and issues.

Then she sits down on her side of the bathroom door with her back to it, and knocks backwards. "Hey. Az. I know I said something that pissed you off back there, but I don't know what it was. Wanna tell me?"

She knows it's not necessarily about her, but…she was the one that said the words that set Az off. And while she may have her suspicions, she's approaching this carefully, like an investigation, in which assumptions can be dangerous, sometimes even deadly.

Though Azalea has escaped her time as a teenager by just a few years, there's no better way to describe the conflicted volatility that boils inside her. Because that is what Xiuhnel is now - A God-thing turned raw nerve, it feeds on anger, angst, pleasure and pain. It does not reason in it's fractured state, and as it wraps itself around Azalea's heart and pulls, she sits quietly and tries with a hollow desperation to not think of her.

She'd only left because she didn't want to cry in front of Captain America. Something about him made her feel like she'd be soaking up her sorrow in the American flag itself if she let that happen, and though she'd be fine with leaving the confines of the bathroom she slumps down on the other side of the door when Jess asks her question.

"It's Zatanna. I haven't seen her in almost a month. I've been doing this whole.. hero thing for maybe a year and a half. Small time stuff. It wasn't until recently that I'd met Batman. Fought him, a little. He was testing me."

There's a pause as she tries to steady herself, recounting recent events so Jess understands it all. "Then I met Bucky. Except I didn't know it was him. He was trying to kill a guy, and I stopped him. That's when I touched his mind - It was an accident. He got so mad at me. Confused. I broke through, I think. And so he broke me. He threw me through a wall, and I landed in a dumpster. I would have died there, that night, if Zatanna Zatara hadn't decided to follow her instincts, find the evil, churning creature on her magic-radar. She healed me. Didn't seem to care I might be this horrible thing. When I told her what I was doing, she seemed awed. She thought I was like Batman. It made me so proud."

Her minds reaches back, and she tries to think of the turning point, when things changed. It had always been a dance - complicated because of Azalea's condition, and Zatanna's effect on her. "One night I found this thing. I don't know what it was, some tech or.. something. It was this blue light that seemed to bring everything to the surface. But it had an effect on me. I had asked Zatanna to come over, have a look. But just seeing her like that, cast in her most true form, I kissed her. We tumbled, and she tried to talk to the thing inside me. I said horrible things to her, Jess. Terrible things, but she wrapped the thing inside me in magic, and laid with me until the morning so I could sleep it off. She still didn't give up on me. I guess that's where I started to cross a line of looking at her the way this thing in me looks at every pretty girl. More than the hunger for her soul, and the way it makes me feel. I could feel how alone she felt, how she felt so empty sometimes, just like me, and I just kept reaching and finally she told me she didn't want that. She wasn't ready, and wouldn't be for weeks or months or maybe years. We could be friends, she had said. That was before the auction, and when I asked about the magic I could feel bristling on her arm, she wouldn't tell me. Like an idiot I dropped it. And after the night of the auction, after Batman carried me off and I woke up in his cave feeling /lethal/, reborn, I asked her for help figuring out what the fuck that Muller guy had done to me."

Azalea finally takes a breath in her rambling story of the last month, and caps it with the bookend that will start to make it all salient. "I haven't seen her since."

Jessica listens without a word, sorting through it. The pain, the confusion, the rejection, the love. Zatanna inspires people to love her as effortlessly as breathing, but love can be painful too.

Jessica turns these thoughts over in her mind, once again trying to choose her words. "Some of this, I can explain," she says quietly. "Not all, because I'm not her. But even at the gala she was under attack. Someone got some of her blood. They were trying to kill her with it, from afar. She had wards, but every time she stepped out of her hiding place they'd burn away another layer. She was locked down in a bunker."

"Now…of course she could have called. But…Zee's not much of one for calling when she's in trouble. Until very recently she'd just hare off by herself and do what she thought needed to be done, without so much as asking for someone to watch her back. I found out second hand, and late, and you wouldn't be the first person who cared about her to find out after the fact. I think if I hadn't called her in to drop important information on her, if she hadn't initially hired me to find her Dad she'd have kept me in the dark. Constantine was the one that rallied the troops to go take her blood out of the hands of the cultists."

"I was out cold for days, almost a week. When I woke up they'd taken her soul, and you know how I found out? Second hand, again. Constantine knew again, cause he'd rescued her, kept them from taking the whole thing. And she told a friend, someone whom I suspect she told because she thought he couldn't do a damned thing about it. So when the team came together to solve that problem…well, she was doing well just to try to work with us to discuss how it would go, to accept the help. And again, most of her friends didn't know. She hates being a burden on others. She wants to be the hands that heal, that help. It scares her to let it happen the other way around."

She hesitates and says, "I don't know how your passenger complicates things, nor your feelings for her. But I don't think she hates you, I don't think she thinks you're not up to the challenge, and I imagine whatever she's done she's done because she imagines it will make life easier for you. I'm speculating…but I think after we go to Ozone Park you should try calling her. See what she has to say. Hash it out. She might tell you that it's just too uncomfortable, that she needs you to leave her be, and if she does that will hurt, but at least you'll know. She might tell you everything I'm telling you, and you'll get your shot to tell her what you'd want her to do different. John is probably a better bet than Zatanna for helping to figure you out, in my opinion. He's got the experience in addition to the power, and experience is the one thing she lacks. And dealing with your devil inside, that's a problem his more level headed, logical approach is better suited for. And since he told me he walked right to you in that bar, you're not going to fall off his radar. If he didn't intend to help you, he never would have said a word to you."

The silence from the other side of the door is part of digestion, eating words, seeking meaning. Let to her own devices, Azalea would assume the worst. That she was a monster, another threat against the world to be contained and locked away. Not in a cage of bars, but the overtures of friendship. How often had Zatanna talked about herself? How often had she included her in her life? Fingers traced along her skull, as if trying to find purchase, a way to dig in and stab at the paranoia of her monster, while letting in the reason of Jessica Jones.

It's working to, until she mentions someone named Constantine. John Constantine. She still has his card, and still remembers his poker face when she said the name of her magical friend.

That fuck!

He could have told her he knew Zatanna. Could have told her she was okay, that she was in trouble but he was helping. Instead he just sniffed at her soul and told her how interesting it was.

There's a sound from the other side of the door, an indication that she's moving. Then the sound of a fist denting drywall.

At least the bathroom's already a lost cause, right?

The silence that follows her outburst is followed by a rustle at the door, of it opening, and Jess will have to move for her to come out. What little makeup she wears, the last vestige of who she once was, is smeared and drowned around her eyes and across her cheeks, and she looks like a pale reflection of the person who was telling Steve Rogers that THEY needed to plan.

"I could have helped. She was my only friend, I'm trying to be a hero, and she wouldn't let me help. Wouldn't even tell me she was in trouble."

At the core of it is not some romantic dream she might have, or base desire. It's how useless she has always felt in their friendship, always taking, never able to give. But this time, it's different. She could have helped, but Zatanna would not let her, and if she had died, Azalea would not have known about it but for the obituary.

The drywallers will come later, courtesy of the Red Robin, though Jessica doesn't know that yet. For now, she certainly shrugs off another hole, another scar on her apartment. Sometimes you just need to hit something.

It reminds her to invest in a punching bag or something though.

Move she does, standing up. She listens to Azalea's words, and she says quietly, "Every one of us has our mountains to climb. Zatanna Zatara's is learning to let people help her. That's one of them at least. I'm telling you, Az, it wasn't personal to you."

She reaches out to put a hand, briefly, on her shoulder. "But you're helping me. I didn't send you after Nelson on a lark. Cultists perforated his partner's internal organs. He could still die. They could still go after Nelson. And I needed that break, needed to see him protected, needed to fulfill that promise, and could only send someone who could kick their asses if they emerged from the woodwork. You did that for me." Foggy's safe enough now, in court. He mostly seems to make a circuit between court, the hospital, and home for brief showers and changes of clothes these days, with a few stop offs at the tiny Nelson and Murdock offices. "And you're helping when we all go tomorrow."

A pause. "As far as I'm concerned, you're already a hero, Azalea. Everything else is just refinement."

When Jessica reaches out, it quells her Devil's stoked paranoia. It soothes the sharp edges. Whenever someone touches her now a days, it's usually a bridge to an abyss. A challenge from an enemy. An invitation from a one night stand. Even casual contact draws lust or ire, but not right now. All this does is remind her how human she is, and her eyes fall shut before she steps close and lean-slumps against the person that has become only her second real friend since the transformation.

It's only been a few days, but Jessica has become her rock. She ignores the echoes that bounce off of the other woman's tortured soul, the wisps of something purple, and that name ringing as a taunt. 'Jesssssicaaaa'

There's a slow blink, some hesitation, and she curls her fists at the side before she lets out a long breath. "One day, if I'm ever not a mess, I'll thank you. I'll fix your wall. And.. other stuff. Somehow. Also that Foggy guy is fucking weird. Carries a baseball bat everywhere."

Jessica lets Azalea lean-slump, putting an arm around her. The wisps of purple torment that Azalea can hear whispering around inside her made touch anything but a comfort for a long time, as she saw in the club. But she can understand it's ability to heal as well as hurt. She's experienced it herself in these two strange months, and she finds herself able to give back. She lets the girl soak it up. She's met her parents. She has a feeling Azalea Kingston didn't get much comfort even before the transformation. Or if she did it was spiked and barbed with religion and judgment.

She chuckles. "Well, poor Foggy knows absolutely zero. Matt called him and said 'get to safety, I got hurt on a case.' Then the newspaper article comes out, and he finds out just how hurt. He's got spirit, I'll give him that. Nothing's going to keep him from his friend, and to hell with whether or not it's too big for him to take. As for the wall…you did see the missing sink, right? We'll figure it out. And I think you just did thank me."

She pats Azalea's shoulders. "Want a peanut butter sandwich? I'll go get groceries later, better stuff." Sometimes food, especially non-ramen food, helped to soothe a soul as well.

The taste of her mother's eggs, hot on her tongue, warm and real in her stomach even after she stepped out of a portal. For one moment it's not strains of painful purple and blue hissing around Jessica's soul. It's just a vast void of aching loss. But none of it shows on her face, or in her voice. "We should talk a little more about tomorrow, but no reason to do that on an empty stomach."

It's an aching memory of the tension she felt in Jess before that draws her back - she only just remembers how startled she was. How pained. But she doesn't make a show of it, slow-nodding to Jessica before she steps past her and picks up the overturned chair that she'd left in her wake.

"I hope I didn't shake The Star-Spangled Man's confidence. I wonder if we can get him to sing that war bond song before we go into battle tomorrow. I saw it in the exhibit. That thing is a classic." Anything to not talk about her woes and the conflict that, for now, Jessica has helped lay to rest. Eventually she'd sit down with Zatanna and pick through it all.

Eventually she'd find a way to help Zatanna up her mountain - it's the least she could do, given what the magician had done for Azalea. "I also wonder if maybe you'd be better watching his back. I know Bucky. I know the way he moves, some of how he thinks. I can anticipate him a little, I think. In the whole world, filled up with people who don't care to know me, other than Zee and You, I can't say I have much in the way of friends. Bucky might actually be third in line if he'd stop trying to dumpster me."

Jessica has opened the fridge; she takes out peanut butter and jelly. She runs warm water over the Jif to loosen it up. She smirks at the war bond song quip, but doesn't answer it, again just giving the younger woman the benefit of listening to her. To hear Azalea make the suggestion she was going to make causes a flicker of surprise, however.

But there's something else to address first. "You'll find more," she says, absolutely confident of that. "As for Captain Rogers…I don't think he's the type to judge. He looked concerned, but for you. Not about you."

Back to tactics and plans. She takes out a spreader and keeps her gaze on the sandwich. The last thing she wants to do is shake the girl's confidence by agreeing too quickly. "Knowing how he moves would be perfection itself, and I'd forward you over me, if the end game were to win a battle with him," Jessica says at last. "But the end game is to bring him in from the cold. If both of us go, then the heavy-hitting team is weaker, loses a member. I'd wondered if you had some other ability I didn't know about that could help reach him, get through to him, though. I'm still learning all you're capable of, after all."

And this is only truth. Azalea Kingston might indeed have some hidden edge that could tip the balance. But if there wasn't, well, if Azalea herself comes to the decision to support Thor and Quill, that's no bad thing.

"I don't really know how it works. But sometimes when I touch people, I see things. I used to think it was just terrible things they did. The first time, it was when I brushed up against some dude who had been raping his kid whenever his wife was to drunk to care. It took every ounce of my being not to just push that fucker in front of the train we were both waiting for, and I sure as fuck didn't leave him a tooth in his head or a working testicle when I caught up with him later."

She doesn't even sound horrified, because she's thrilled. It was how she learned her first trick - turning The Devil Inside's awful notions into something useful, even positive. She'd suffer the judgement of enjoying her work a little to much, of the looks she threw out at people she held in contempt for little more than their posture, or the longing she had for curves that reminded her of some debauchery from another life. If only she could bend this thing, push it in the right direction.

When she looks back at Jess, it's with that gaze that promises an experience beyond her years. "I don't know if I can get it to work when I want it to. It worked on Bucky because I thought I was going to die. It worked on Peggy because I was desperate. Maybe it could work again if i got close, if Steve can't outmaneuver him. I just don't know." Her shrug is lame and weak and meek and all the things she is not, and as she waits for her peanut butter sandwich, she reaches out to sip some cold, black coffee from a lingering cup. "Ever since I connected with him, each time, I've tried to do something to bring the real him back. Sometimes it worked. We actually had a conversation, in the church I stayed at. I thought he might have come to kill me, but we just talked. Whatever the combined efforts of the people who care about him have brought, it got us that far. The reason I suggested you is because, well.. you're stronger. You might be able to just overpower him. I'm just - Batman showed me how important it is to be a team player. I care very much about bringing him in. I literally know his pain. But if it is better for everyone that I'm not in his face, I'll back off, help some other way."

Well, it doesn't take a monster to be thrilled a child rapist got his ass handed to him. Jessica sets the completed sandwich down in front of Azlaea, and pours herself a cup of coffee that's still warm. She'll offer to top off Az's silently, by the simple expedient of raising both the pot and an eyebrow.

"If it makes you feel better, he handed my ass to me the one and only time we fought too. I'm strong, but he's trained, and I also brought fists to the gun party. And I suppose if necessary, yes, grabbing him and getting him to safety is a thing. But if disabling the chip and talking to him gets it done…that would be my first choice."

She sips the coffee, thinking about it. "It sounds like you got through him too. And we're both on the same page there. Helping those two is priority 1, and who cares who does what."

She looks out the window, which mostly stares onto another building. This is not an apartment with a view by any stretch of the imagination. But it gives her a moment to think. "My real qualifications for my plan aren't even based in my abilities. I just have some idea what he's going through." Not 'I've seen it before,' which is what she's told the others. She'd promised herself she'd be real with Azalea, and while she has no intention of delving into every gory detail, feeling physically sick at the notion of doing so, she'll let that past the wall. Her time in the nightmare realm lessened the hold that chapter of her life had on her mind and soul, perversely making it possible for her to make all the positive strides she'd been making. But that doesn't mean that sometimes, like now, that spectre doesn't rise up, make her stomach clench in dread until that same emotion crawled along her every vein, painful and burning beneath the skin.

Then she speaks again, and it's more honesty, because suddenly she /isn't/ as sure. "I don't know which is better," she admits. "You've had more conversations with him than I have, and that could count for a lot too."

"Probably won't count for much." She admits, accepting the top off for her drink before scooting it aside, along with the sandwich. Azalea will eat, but just not right now. Right now she leans forward and crosses her arms, her cheek resting against them. As her eyes close she lets her mind drift backwards, to some of what she told Jess, to some of what she told Steve. "It's important to understand it, and it sounds like you do. Like you were controlled once. Made into something else. Made to enjoy it."

She's not talking about Jess right now, but she might as fucking well be, painting a picture of Bucky Barnes as not the man who fell, but the Winter Soldier that rose in his place. "Not every action. Not the killing. But the purpose. Wake him up. Give him the medicine, the words, shock him until it's clear. He's ready again. He's done great things for the world. They tell him, here and there, so he knows. It gives solidarity to his fractured memory, some semblance of sacrifice for a greater good. But he's not just a robot. Not just dead inside."

When her eyes open again, she's staring across the table at Jessica with the steel-pin haunt of crystal blue. "He wants out. He misses Steve. He wants out. When we get there tomorrow, we'll play it by ear. If he's going to be a killer without pause, they're going to need you to be a brute. You're going to have to hit him as hard as you can, from every angle he doesn't expect. Don't worry about killing him. He can take it. Just fuck him up. Beat him down. I am telling you right now, after that fight in the forest and his new bag of tricks, if you give him an inch, it'll be the one he puts a bullet in. At least until we get him right."

And Azalea just says it. 'Like you were controlled once.'

Damn it. No. She's not going to cry, but hearing it just laid out by someone else makes all sorts of uncomfortable feelings well up.

'Made to enjoy it.'

She puts her coffee aside carefully, not wanting to slop it, feeling cold all over. But…she opened that door, didn't she? With that one little revelation?

It takes her a moment to realize they're talking about Sargent Barnes, not herself. Her emotions slowly ratchet back, one, two, three, in time with street names whispered in the distant recesses of her consciousness.

Then she can listen, listen to Azalea tell her other details, filling in blanks the Hydra recording couldn't give her. Brown eyes clear, focus, meet crystal blue ones.

She's telling her not to pull punches if she can't afford to. Jessica feels sick at that thought too, of beating the man, hurting him, for no fault of his own. But there's really no help for it is there?

And what would she have wanted? If an Azalea Kingston or a Captain America or anyone could have shown up and beat her to a pulp to stop her from killing Reva Connors? What would she have wanted?

She'd have taken the most epic beat down in history to keep that blood off her hands. She'd have welcomed it, relished it with every fiber of her being. Her blood would have sung for it. They could have killed her and nothing but gratitude would have been in her eyes.

She lowers her head. "Okay," she says quietly. It's a quiet assent, an acknowledgement of the advice, a promise given simply.

Then, in a different tone: "Okay." There are so many meanings that might be packed into that simple word. This one is moving on, moving forward, squaring shoulders, putting away misgivings, squashing internal suffering. "The plan /is/ probably going to fall apart anyway, but for the time being…I'll stay close to Captain Rogers. You stay close to Thor. And if either of us sees an opportunity to do what needs to be done, we'll just take it."

It all clicks as she watches Jessica churn through the agony of emotion, and it lets her verify that when she says 'okay', she means it. That when it comes time, she'll punch Bucky with bone breaking force and never think twice about it. It's the only way she'd agree. It's the only way they can bring him back.

Finally Azalea leans back, looking down at her coffee, and then her sandwich, which she takes and rolls up as if she were eating a burrito, before dipping the mess of it in her coffee. She moves to take a bite, but then stops, her brow furrowing as the mess drips onto the table.

She looks incredulous.

"What the fuck is a Thor?"

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