Muddied Motivations

February 05, 2017:

Jessica Jones stakes out Matt Murdock's apartment in the name of protecting him, but questions her own motivations when she's confronted by a mysterious man in black.

Hell's Kitchen, NY


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Jessica Jones is pretty sure that Zee has gotten Matt his wards by now. But that doesn't stop her from worrying. Nobody knows better than her that wards are not finite. Nobody knows better than her that running sometimes isn't even enough. So while she's staying away from him in a face-to-face capacity, she still feels compelled to look out for him.

She can't be there all the time. There are things to do. She's only human. Sometimes she needs to fall into a pizza coma on a friend's couch and sleep through the night there, which is what she did last night after attending the first party she'd willingly attended since probably her 14th birthday party, well before the accident. But she can be there tonight.

She's on a rooftop looking directly down at Matt's apartment building. She's just sitting there, still, heartbeat steady, the scent of hot, black coffee mingling with vanilla and leather. And of course, whiskey.

(Three shots of Wild Turkey, 5 days ago, a reduction for her on one hand, a backslide on the other. A really modest three sips four days ago. She was around beer as early as last night, but did not partake.)

His watchful and perhaps unwanted completely fucked up guardian angel, intent on living up to her promise no matter how irrational it is. There are hundreds of hours of the day that she just can't do this. But if the one night that she could of was the night he gets attacked…that's something she just cannot live with. So here she is.

The worst part for Jessica Jones might be, if only she knew it, that she is guarding a man who isn't even there. He'd slipped out of his apartment via rooftop sometime just before six, when dusk was slowly draping his city in darkness. It has been two full weeks since he has donned the mask; a period of time dominated by his catastrophic injury and a recovery that, however miraculous, still left him sore and shaken enough to forbear for at least a few days. It was only a matter of time before he went out again, though; these strangest of nights on the town have already become an itch he must scratch.

And so he does.

Just a few minutes of gargoyling from a roof's ledge brought him his first sign of trouble for the night — how much suffering must there be in this city, Matt wonders, if he can pick up on someone in danger within moments of listening for it? — and subsequently his first scuffle since his incapacitation. He's worried that something about the trauma and the sorcery has dulled his edge. The worry is misplaced. The mugger — this time an actual mugger — has a wickedly long knife and a quick arm, but Matt discards the first and breaks the second in short and brutal order. The young couple is shocked, grateful, a little roughed up but no worse off for it.

It's reconn then; scouting out the Russians' familiar haunts to make sure they're still fresh and in use; a few mental notes taken about who comes in and out of that decrepit looking warehouse that seems to be their main depot. And then… home? An early night, maybe. He's proven to himself that he's still got it, but he can't deny the early onset of fatigue. One step and one night at a time, Matt tells himself before vaulting between rooftops towards—

Towards her.

He's familiar enough with the bouquet of vanilla, leather, and whiskey that accompanies her everywhere to tell she's there on the other side of the building he's just landed on with a clean kneeling crouch. He pauses before approaching her, considers the pros and the cons. He could remain another of the city's manifold and unformed shadows, just melting away to find another avenue of approach. His interactions with others in this getup have been sensibly limited. But curiosity has always been one of his weak spots, and it (in part) drives him to approach her.

"Watching for an alien invasion?" the man in black says from behind her.

Her adrenaline shoots up far out of normal proportions for being snuck up on, almost from the moment she hears his voice. Her heart thunders and roars in her ears. For a moment she stiffens, a hair's breadth away from leaping up to defend herself. It's only some faint remembrance of the voice of the Man in Black that forestalls her. It's not like in her own apartment, where anger shifts the balance and demands the attack. The sudden panic is out of the ordinary even for someone sitting on a rooftop, someone living the life she apparently leads.

But as usual, her voice doesn't match her reactions. It's controlled, casual, when she can finally speak again, spoiled only by the fact that her heart continues its visit with her throat. She's whipped her head around by that point, and eyes which had all but been blinded themselves by panic clear and take him in.

"The Polite Ninja," she says, and if he didn't know better it would sound more like friendly greeting, tinged with respect, than the sheer relief that it really is. She's also apparently continuing her unconscious quest to help him come up with a superhero name.

"I— no. I'm just…a ah…a friend of mine lives down there. Someone hurt him. I just want to make sure they don't come back. God damn it. I didn't even think about the aliens. They might show up for him too."

A pause. "I thought you were maybe one of Gotham's."

The appellation she gives him would have won a full-on smile from the man in the light of day; from the man in the mask it garners just a twitch at the corners of his lips. The Polite Ninja doesn't seem likely to set fear in the hearts of his enemies. Strike two, Jessica.

Her startlement is regrettable yet inevitable; there's literally no way a masked man in black can introduce himself in the dark of night and avoid it. But she's recovering quickly enough, and he does his best to loosen the stalking, predatory frame of body he adopts in his evening patrols for something less immediately threatening. "Yeah, I thought the same of you," he says of being one of Gotham's. "But birds and bats aren't really my thing." That's only half-true. It's hard to imagine that Matt ever would have set himself on this path had he not read article after article about the rise of the Batman as a child, and dreamed. "This is my neighborhood," he adds for further clarity.

Hard to say whether she should know of him; after all, he doesn't even have a name. But he's been making life difficult for bad men in this neighborhood since December, whether it was upsetting a massive drug deal off of 61st street to rescuing half a dozen women smuggled in from Eastern Europe at the docks. Small time stuff, but word of Hell's Kitchen's own masked vigilante has been very slowly trickling upward.

"If you don't mind my saying," the masked man offers dryly, "your friend's kind of an asshole to be keeping you out here in the cold for guard duty."

For most of December she'd been locked in a dimension which shifted, changed, and became consistently worse in response to her own nightmares; life has been nuts since then. She hasn't kept up, but she seems to accept his explanation, not prying further into what brought him into the city that day. Not her business; ungrateful to ask. The mask and mien and his involvement in her rescue tell the story more or less anyway.

"Then I lucked out that day. I honestly don't remember if I said thank you, but…thank you." She'd been scrambled, in pain, pissed off and disoriented. Those shock lances were about 10 times stronger than a normal taser, a second hit with one might well have put her down. Maybe a third. She remembers mostly a sea of faces, a name here and there, more than what she said.

She returns her gaze to his apartment.

"He'd never be an asshole," she says, compelled to defend him even in speech, her own softening measurably, though she doesn't appear to notice she's letting her feelings bleed through to her voice. But then, why would she? The Man in Black isn't the one she has to protect from those emotions. She reserves the iron control for being face to face with Matt Murdock.

"Ever. He just doesn't know I'm here."

She grimaces. Now she sounds like…"I'm not a stalker," she hastens to assure him. "Really. He specifically got attacked because he was connected to me before. I don't want to invite more trouble, ruin his life more; I've been keeping my distance. Publicly. But that doesn't mean I'm just going to abandon him either."

It might be futile. Zatanna's planning on paying him a retainer, after all. But it's not a completely rational decision on her part, to lurk over his rooftop instead of, say, knocking on his door, the thing the greater part of her really wants to do.

"I'm Jessica," she says, perhaps deciding a subject change is in order. "What should I call you?"

"No need to thank me," the masked man says with a subtle shake of his head, barely discernible in the dark. He's not inured or immune to gratitude, but it's never been his animating force. "You're a tough customer."

'He'd never be an asshole.'

Jess, my dear, if you only knew.

He listens as she talks to him about… him… and not for the first time inwardly chastises himself for the theater and hypocrisy of his double life. That is not an his animating force either — far from it. But he's made a series of choices — each of them defensible, logical — that in his mind make the web of deceit all but inevitable, a seemingly necessary evil. It doesn't stop him from feeling like shit about it.

"Jessica," the man repeats in his quiet, gruff voice, before turning to her question. "Haven't decided on a name yet. Or if I really need one. I don't plan on doing a lot of grandstanding, and I don't need a fancy signal in the sky."

A pause. "These people you're protecting your friend from. They're causing trouble in the neighborhood?"

Read: My neighborhood?

"Plus all the good names are taken," Jessica says with the faintest hint of a smile. She's familiar with that struggle.

She'll have to find something to call him though. A problem for another time.

But his question causes her to turn to face him fully, studying him. "Yes," she says, simply. "Not exclusively, but yes. They attacked Sal, too. You know Sal? The guy who makes the best sandwiches."

In sharp contrast to how she speaks to his other self, she now grows business-like; this is someone who can handle it. "The key with those guys is to get the drop on them. If it's the other way around, or face to face, they can take anyone down. They bring the shadows to life around you. Or they utter a few words and you're asleep, unconscious, electrocuted, freezing, burning. You've got to move fast, hit hard, knock them out in one blow if you can. They're hard to spot. They save the robes for their temples; it's suits all the way when they're operating. Bringing them to justice is a tough proposition; they strain credulity and they usually have some sort of contingency that recalls them to wherever they're operating the moment you take them down. But they're also cowards, and if they don't see a clear path to a win they screw off."

She delivers it all like a briefing, adding, "You gotta be careful about your DNA too. Hair, blood." She'd actually gone back to the alley with gallons of bottled water rather than seeing him to the hospital that night. She'd scoured it for his blood, getting rid of every last drop she could find. "They can use it. To track you or to kill you from afar. And if they get that, identifying you is child's play. Because they aren't comparing it to a database. They're using mystic bullshit."

She respects the masks, though she's studying his now. She'd teased Trish by turning the "Jewel" mask around until it had covered her eyes, displaying how easy it was to incapacitate someone. This guy just goes right ahead and pulls the mask over the entire top half of his face. Maybe it has mesh in there, like a Chucky Cheese costume.

"I know Sal was taken in," says the man in the mask, arms folded across his chest as he tilts his profile to the side at the stray blare of a siren in the distance, like a man who keeps his metaphorical ear to the ground. "Heard he fainted," he adds, a touch wryly. But then she's taking a deep dive into the bastards who put him away, in clearer and more pragmatic terms than Zatara had in mind. His masked features are as opaque as you'd expect, but something in his body language suggests active attention; he's hanging on every single word. The scrying powers she lays out alone is enough to make the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. How close had he been to giving them what they needed? And even if he meets them in his suit, ready for combat, how easy will it be for them to take some bits off of him, divine precisely who he is, and give up the whole game? There's only one thing to do with them, and he says it: "So go in hard and fast. Don't leave them conscious. Got it. Thanks."

A beat. "Killer aliens and evil wizards," the man in black says appraisingly. "That's some rogues gallery you're building. All I've gotten so far are some Russians."

"Sleep spell," Jessica explains. "I think. We haven't even covered the Nazi secret society of brainwashing assholes," Jessica says, sounding both rueful and tired. But straight up. Serious.

Not lying.

Not joking.

Probably not delusional. Instead, her adrenaline kicks up a notch. This time in anger.

If she's pissed at the Cold Flame people, the Nazi secret society has really hit her hot buttons.

None of it shows in her voice, yet again, which retains mostly a sort of self-deprecating tired humor. "Though I think they're going to go dormant for awhile. Trust me, I'm working way above my own pay-grade these days. I think the aliens are mostly going to stay in Gotham. That's where the good aliens have set up shop."

Also serious.

Her life is weird.


Because this is her neighborhood too. Of course, three months ago she was in an alcohol induced haze, not caring to give a damn, but everything has changed, and now…now there are people to look out for. So her next question is, "Anything you need an assist with?" She offers it readily, curiosity in her tone. Because apparently working above her pay-grade and building this rogue's gallery has not turned her into a snob. Or she just knows the value of having backup sometimes.

Her inquiry and offer of help meet with a long pause. It's a quirk that people with masks on can somehow communicate so much through the little subtleties of bearing and carriage. However impressive an echelon she's either running with or punching up against as the case may be, he's somehow wary, and even skeptical, of her involvement in his street-level affairs. "They're pushing out heroin from an in-city supplier I haven't tracked down yet," he says at last, matter of factly. "Some human trafficking, too— mostly girls from Eastern Europe brought in supply cans. These guys are bad news, and run a tighter ship than you'd expect."

Another pause, a little jut to the angular cut of his jaw that is his most visible, prominent feature. "But no, thanks, I've got them covered for now. I need a hand, though, I'll let you know. You need any help with your— uh— Nazi Gandalfs?"

She takes no offense to his skepticism, though she certainly sees it. Not even to his enhanced ability to read her emotions, as if she's more used to facing skepticism than anything else. There's a flicker of anger when he says human trafficking, and he'll at least get the feeling she's going to keep an eye out for that. But she also has a lot on her plate.

Nevertheless, she takes out one of her cards, something she never offered him before because hey, she saw a blind dude before. She's settled on 'mesh' as her explanation for his sock.

The words "Here to help" are emblazoned on the card under her contact information, under Alias' name. "If you want back-up. Otherwise I'll stay out of your way," she promises quietly. "You never know." Going it alone has not ended well for her lately, after all.

"As for Nazi-Gandalfs…Sure. If you run across one, feel free to beat the shit out of him. Everything else is just in a holding pattern at the moment." She had told him as a professional courtesy, apparently. He ought to know what's running around. They might end up on his rouge's gallery. She drains her coffee. The conversation has hit an awkward point.

Of course it has. Listen to the shit that just came out of her mouth. Her mouth quirks. "Or throw the card away, because I sound insane."

She hates that, sounding crazy, the idea that she hasn't been believed. That twists her gut for a moment, but she keeps a slight smile on her face.

"Except for him." She jerks her head at Matt's apartment. "So how about it, Dark Dude?" This is what she's settled on! Better, right?! "Would you do a girl a solid and keep an eye on him? He helps people too."

He'll reach out— the way he never would for anything in daylight, card or no— to take what she offers. His thumb quickly scans it; even gloved he can read it's imprint clearly enough. "Thanks, Jones," he says, gruffly but not unkindly. He has just had a dizzying introduction to how ill-equipped he is to dealing with some threats, but she's far ahead of him. He hasn't hit anything like the bottom he'll need to reach before he decides he needs help to do this part of his job. "I see any of your marks, I'll let you know." A heartbeat, and then: "…after I beat the shit out of them."

And then she's nodding over to the building behind him— his building. He puffs out a breath of exasperated humor. "Well, I did just say someone would have to be an asshole to keep you out in the cold like this, didn't I? Yeah… I'll take point here on the lawyer tonight, while I think on a badass name for myself." How does she know, he might ask? He preempts the matter with: "That Bugle story got a lot of eyes."

She chuffs a laugh that takes some of the sting out of feeling so moronic as he promises to beat the shit out of them.

She also smirks as he says he's thinking of a badass name. "What? You don't like Dark Dude? Look, I gotta call you something. Nameless Ninja isn't working for me."

She had been turning to go away, one hand in her pocket, the other holding on to her coffee cup. Of course, going away means she's walking to the other side of the building, the one facing the alley instead of the street.

He'd said tonight; she'd meant in general. It hits her she really shouldn't be here, that maybe her reasons for doing so don't make as much sense as she thought they did when her coffee was hot. There's an undercurrent of embarrassment about her now that she can't quite contain.

His last bit stops her short, though. She hadn't said he was a lawyer, had she. But he'd known about Sal. But he can feel it, the moment where that bit of information gives her pause, as she tries to decide whether this is just more Nameless Badass ear to the ground stuff. The moment where her step just stills. There's no emotional reaction, but she gives an air of focus, of thinking.

She can't help but notice details, and she noticed that one. Fortunately the comment about the Bugle story distracts her.

"What Bugle story?" She's not the type of person who reads the daily news unless doing so relates directly to the job she's doing. Her state settles briefly into one of confusion, looking over her shoulder as she frowns at him.

If he's jarred by her sudden and unmistakable wariness, he doesn't show it. And perhaps he isn't at all, given what follows: "The story about the blind lawyer, Matthew Murdock, who was stabbed by persons unknown while coming home from church a week ago," the masked man says with a puff of breath fairly well suffused with a kind of grim, gallows humor. "And whose attack caught the attention of financiers all ready to curb Hell's Kitchen's crime wave. 'St. Matthew', they're calling him in the streets." And then a finally knowing addition: "Including on this one, where he lives, and supposedly just returned home to."

A beat, a cock of his the half-obscured features. "You could write a letter to the editor and correct the record, I guess."

"I'm a shitty writer," Jessica says flippantly. "The record will just have to stay uncorrected."

She smirks. St. Matthew. Considering how often he says what a dick he is, she wonders how he'll react to that one. Still, he's answered her question, the discrepancy met to her mind. She drops her cup over the edge of the alley, watching as it falls neatly into the dumpster below, mostly cause the wind is quiet today. She takes a few steps across the edge of the building.

"But yeah. That's him. A very kind man who walked into the wrong sandwich shop and met the wrong PI." She rubs the back of her neck. Sure, he'd said it wasn't her fault, but to deny that she's standing at the center of a tornado of whackadoo would be irresponsible in the extreme. "If they're convinced of that as well, he should be able to get back to work with no further incidents."

She exhales. "They've probably forgotten about him already. This is dumb, I'm sorry. Me being here is dumb. Me asking you is dumb…You've got all kinds of things to do, forget I asked." Now her heartrate and words are in total congruence: embarrassed, disgusted with herself. She'd had no idea she could hit a new low, a new record on deceiving herself and coming up with truly dumb-ass ideas. Not asking him, but just being here, at all, right here, right now.

"He'll probably be fine."

"He will be fine," the man in the mask agrees with a shrug of one muscle-shirted shoulder, tone direct but with a note of understated sympathy. "But I get the follow up after someone's been attacked. Even after I've helped, I've been that guy across the street, just making sure." And so he's nimbly lowering himself down to a seat, his cargo pant clad legs hanging over the ledge of the roof from which her sandwich just descended. "And while I met my quota today, I'm sure as hell not sleeping, so I don't mind being that guy again."

He rolls his head lazily left to right, right to left, crick-cracking along the way before setting his entirely obscured gaze towards the apartment building where large windows loom, reflecting the glaring light of the billboards adjacent to the pair of would-be heroes. "You seem like you could use a little. Sleep, that is. So go get some, will you, Jones? I'll have a name for you next time. Promise."

His reassurances that he's done the same thing helps to soothe some of her doubts, soothes twisting stomach and chases the tightness out of her airways.

So good. That's good. As long as she doesn't do this again, she's not crazy. This is normal. This is a hero thing. Good to know. She's basically a novice at the hero thing, so that's good to know.

"Just don't forget I owe you two, then," she says. "Not that you seem the type to trade favors," words she's used before, "but you know what I mean. Thanks."

She tilts a finger at him as he promises that he's going to have a name for her. "And see that you do," she says, for a moment her tone going rich and warm with humor that has wiped away all but the very faintest traces of her uneasiness with her own actions and motivations. "Sleep sounds good." Very good, as a matter of fact. "Good night."

And then? She just jumps off the side of the building. She lands heavily, feet thudding hard into the street. The street reverberates with the force, but it doesn't crack or anything. She's walking off soon after that, her foots melding into the general ebb and flow of humanity.

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