I Leave None For Myself

February 07, 2017:

Jessica Jones receives another visit from the Red Robin, who bears gifts of information and perspective.

Alias Investigations, NYC

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, Matthew Murdock, Constantine, Silk, Batman, Dark Devil, Ribbon

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Thanks to Red, Jessica's apartment looks pretty damned great. New paint job, all the drywall fixed, new sink, and she's gotten furniture. It's pretty clean, because Jessica has been way more self-conscious about keeping it nice. Right now she's not hard to find, as she's basically lying on her couch with her computer open, devouring a book on a Kindle app, one of her few non-drinking, non-working pleasures. Given their lives lately it may be no surprise that The New View from Atlantis, a book all about ley lines, is her choice. Is it anything the real practitioners would pick up? No. But she has found that being willing to read even the bottom shelf stuff has made it easier for her to at least wrap her mind around things when Zee or John explains them to her. Once every blue moon, she even has enough context to be right.

And the theories in the book are pretty interesting anyway.

The door is unlocked; not that locks are much of an obstacle to the likes of Red. There haven't been a lot of leads for her to follow, so she's been focusing on two things: paying work, and seeing to the people in her life. Now, for just a little while, she's focusing on not-work, or as close as she ever gets. Addictive personalities are addictive personalities, whether it's booze, work, or people. It's mostly about channeling it all in productive directions.

Truthfully, Red Robin hadn't expected to be back in New York City again so soon… But that's the nature of the life he leads, where you never know when you might need to go running off to another city.

Probably, he could've just sent the information he had by email, but there were times when you wanted to make sure that important intel got there with your own hands, and those times included when there were secret evil wizard societies hunting around for perhaps exactly the information you had.

He doesn't know if they can intercept emails, or if they would even know to want to… But a little extra care never hurt anything, except for his sleep schedule.

The cowled vigilante knows exactly where he's going, knows exactly how to get there as quickly as possible. It's nice to not have to search for someone or track them down, since even if Jessica isn't at her office he can just lay in wait for her to come back.

The door isn't locked, but it's true that even if it was locked that might not present much of an impediment to someone like him. But that unlocked front door remains undisturbed, even when Jessica hears a knocking, the sound of gloved knuckles rapping on glass.

He's at her window.

Of course.

There's a half smile as Jessica Jones hears a knock at the window. Apparently, she's getting all these alternate-entry people trained. That's all to the good.

But when she sees who it is he actually gets a warm, full smile. She hastens to put down her computer and open it up for him. This time, there's no immenent attack…

But she is going to try to hug him, surprising this may be from a woman who is infamously anything but demonstrative. She's slow about it and gentle, conscious from her own experiences that not everyone enjoys being touched. But she can't help it. The upswell of emotion is spontaneous and intense.

"Nobody," she says intently, whether he allows it or not, "has ever done for me anything like what you did for me, Red. Thank you." She swallows around a sudden lump in her throat. She has no idea what she did to deserve all these good people in her life, but…here they are. "Thank you so much."

They're starting to feel like…like family.

This was not what he had expected would happen.

Red Robin knew that Jessica was something of a… Cranky person. He didn't know the specifics, beyond what he'd learned by accident thanks to HYDRA's utopia machine, but he knew enough to guess that she had some very good reasons for being how she generally was. There was a shadow of something, the sort of thing that affects your entire life afterwards. So when he sees he smile like that, Red Robin is a bit bewildered. Knowing that they've had to deal with people who can influence others' minds, he immediately starts wondering if that's happened to the PI, now.

And then she opens the window.

And then she's hugging him.

The costume isn't very huggable, with the armor plating, the bandoliers, and the whole leather-and-ballistic-weave nature of the suit, and behind the largely expression-obscuring cowl the young man's dark blue eyes are bewildered… But he doesn't stop her from doing it. He doesn't pull away.

She thanks him, which understandably isn't a thing that happens very often when you're a mysterious vigilante who tends to disappear into the darkness after rescuing people. Still, it's… Nice.

Nice enough that he feels a stab of guilt, knowing that he didn't just do it for her. That while doing something altruistic for a woman who he's sure hasn't been given many helping hands in life was nice, the inciting motivation was for someone else's sake. He'd decided, once she'd said she wouldn't accept Zatanna's money; he knew the gothic magician would be upset if Jessica suffered because she refused payment, so he just… Solved the problem himself.

"You're welcome, Miss Jones," he says, that electronic modulation that blurs his voice hiding any conflicted emotions. "It's nice to see you smiling."

"Sorry," Jessica says, immediately a little embarrassed, not sure what to do with the fact. "I mean, thank you." This time for saying it was nice to see her smile.

But…she supposes it's not like he doesn't know she has it in her. He's seen what she would have been like without those shadows in her life. Idealistic. Warm, even. Principled. Maybe it's no surprise that his kindness brought it out of her, even for a moment, and no surprise that their working relationship, on top of that, has basically blunted the crankiness. She can be kind to people who she likes and trusts. The fact that he's in a suit, at least, that's not exactly huggable doesn't seem to bug her at all.

"Come on in," she adds, though he's already in. She gently closes the window behind him, adding, almost shyly, "I want you to know I haven't wasted that. I went to— I got to my first meeting. The other day. My adopted sister took me. I just— You deserved to know. That if I kick this thing you'll be one of the people that helped me get there." He's the first one she ever admitted it to, that's for sure.

She exhales. "You probably didn't come here to hear— " Flustered for the moment, suddenly awash in emotions she routinely represses and ignores, she clears her throat. "Hey." Hands in her pockets, as if she hadn't just said all that. "What's up?"

Probably he's just lucky she didn't assume that the costume means he also has some kind of superpowers. It would be really embarrassing if his cause of death was 'superstrength hug in some woman's apartment in Hell's Kitchen'.

With the cowl, the white lenses covering his eyes, it's difficult to judge much about what Red Robin is thinking, as he watches this happier Jessica Jones shut the window, as she admits with something dangerously close to shyness that she was indeed getting the help that she needed.

The visible mouth below the young man's black cowl pulls into a tight, but genuine smile, at that. This is the real reason he puts on the costume all the time, isn't it? To try and make people's lives better, even if it's only in small ways. To stop further tragedies from occurring.

"It was my pleasure," he tells her. "Just remember… It's a process, and it might not be a straight path to recovery. But I believe in you."

There are, after all, other ways to help people than just beating up goons in alleyways.

That smile turns briefly to one of rueful amusement as Jessica flusters, as she tries to start fresh in the conversation. One arm shifts, reaching into one of the numerous pouches on his utility belt, before he produces a USB thumb drive.

"This contains the records Steinschneider has been keeping about his family and descendants for the last several decades. It seems he's been observing them from the shadows, Miss Jones. It also includes his last will and testament, which was never actually given to the court. The Cult of the Cold Flame was staking out his old suite at the Excelsior Hotel, perhaps looking for this, or maybe just hoping he'd come back for it so they could catch him… But I was able to get this out of there without too much trouble, with some help from Miss Zatara."

The hug had been, indeed, almost featherlight gentle, though that might have been hard to tell with the armor. There's part of Jessica that's actually really afraid of hurting the undeserving with her powers. Or hurting the deserving too much.

When he tells her what he's brought there's a long moment of silence. Finally she reaches for the drive. "In his suite at the Excelsior? I missed something?"

"Fuck." Well, that's more like the Jessica he knows. The fact that her pride has been hit is clear; already she wasn't feeling great about walking in there and getting herself trapped and captured. To find out she did all that and didn't even find the most important things in there…

She gives a sharp shape of her head. "Well. This is why cops work in teams, and that's why it's better when we all work together too." There. She has grasped for, and found, a mature reaction. "Great work, thinking to go back there. My reaction to finding out they were looking would have been 'great luck, suckers, I've been in and out already.'"

She goes to plug the USB drive into the computer, firing it up to have an immediate look. "Weird behavior on his part, keeping dossiers on his family. Most people either go full no contact and cease to give a shit what their family does, or they stay involved. And if he brought it with him and it's years of records, that means he normally carried it with him everywhere he went, which means he really is seriously licking some wounds or…he's gotten what he needs out of them at last."

Her own disappointment in her performance can't stop her from thinking about the new information, anyway, from pushing forward and making her contributions.

"If it makes you feel any better, I didn't know you'd already been there," Red Robin informs Jessica. "Another contact of mine had… Taken it on themselves to investigate the unusual activities around Gotham after I told her what was going on. She ended up shadowing some of those Cold Flame guys to various places around the city, including the tannery where I rescued Miss Zatara from the serial killer who'd been planning to sacrifice her to Mammon, and Arkham, where he was killed in supposed suicidal pipe bomb explosion. They were also keeping an eye on the Excelsior, and an occult bookstore."

Few people would, of course, be able to make all of the connections, and even Red Robin hadn't at first, having only learned when Spoiler decided to tell him what she'd learned in her independent followup that Steinschneider had been saying at the Excelsior in the first place. But, nobody can know everything.

"My theory is that they're currently after two targets. Steinschneider, and Miss Zatara. Mammon still wants her soul, and whatever deal Steinschneider had with the Cult of the Cold Flame, I get the feeling he skipped town without fulfilling the bargain. Generally frowned upon by the mob, whether they're wizards or wiseguys."

The USB drive is full of scanned images, pages and pages of notes. Much of it is in German, especially the will itself… But it seems someone has gone to the effort of attaching translations. Probably the someone standing in Jessica's apartment in a cape and cowl, since she knows he can speak the language.

"There's definitely something going on that we don't know about, with regards to Steinschneider and his family. He has two surviving descendants, one is a woman who married into the family, so not a blood relation. The other is his great-grandson, Reiner Steinschneider. I was on the wrong track before, he's not a priest… He's a concert pianist and a bartender. From what Miss Zatara says it doesn't seem like he's inherited his great-grandfather's clairvoyant abilities, though it's possible he's just been hiding them."

"But that's not the only strange thing. Like I said, the will was never filed, so his assets were intestate, they passed directly to his next of kin. But in his intended /will/, dated a few months before his assassination, Steinschneider left virtually everything to a woman named Greta Muller."

Jessica arches an eyebrow. "And he took Muller as an alias? Well. That's no mystery. That must have been the side-chick he was porking back in the day."

Way too much of her living is made watching people pork people they shouldn't pork; she goes straight to this conclusion. "Husbands leave shit to their mistresses all the time. Usually they end up liking their mistresses better than their wives. Smart mistresses make no demands, because that's all the wife does, become the best friend, and yet manage to make him feel like their big bad protector so they shell out."

The cynicism is thick in her voice as she reads the thoughtful translations. She adds, "Hey, did you manage to keep copies of your research into those chips? Dr. Foster said she'd like something to do, and would also like to have a look at them. I don't know that she'll find anything you didn't, but there's no harm keeping her mind occupied on productive things."

She's not changing the subject— she's still scouring the documents, but it's occurred to her and she does not want to forget.

There's a quiet chuff of air from the cowled vigilante at Jessica's conclusion.

It might almost be a laugh.

"That was roughly my conclusion as well," Red Robin says, nodding once. "I've got a search running, cross-checking with various international and historical databases, though. It's difficult, since 'Greta Muller' isn't exactly an uncommon name, and a lot of German records at the time were lost in the fall of Berlin. But I'm not writing off other possibilities. Perhaps a married sister, though she isn't included anywhere in his other research about his blood relations. Or a favoured student."

Plenty of possible answers, but it's sensible to bank on the simplest one… And a sad truth of the world is that one seldom goes wrong by counting on the worst and most base impulses of humanity.

The other topic that Jessica brings up isn't really expected, and Red Robin watches the PI silently for a few seconds after she asks him about it, while she's engrossed in the documents and the provided translations.

"I have all of that backed up, yeah," he confirms, cautiously. "But I'm not sure that would be the healthiest thing for her to be studying. Doctor Foster only barely avoided having one of those chips implanted in herself, after all, and she seemed rather traumatised as it was."

Jessica puts the computer aside and shakes her head in disagreement. "It's exactly the healthiest thing for her to be doing," she says, her voice shadowed but displaying very little in the way of actual emotion. She's meticulously matter-of-fact as she speaks.

"Every ounce of control was taken from her. Every last bit. She needs to regain control. She needs autonomy, agency. Her weapon is her brain. It's a target for her, a way for her to fight. She needs that, Red. You can do a little recouperating by laying around in sweats and cuddling with people you care about, but that is only what builds up your strength for the next bit. The next bit is putting yourself back together. You do that through useful action. Especially when you didn't get out of something like that through any of your own efforts. Nothing hands back pieces of yourself by using what you've got to help others in turn, especially those who have been through things you've gone through, things you relate to."

She closes the computer; she can't do anything Red isn't doing right now, at least without being in Germany, and maybe not even then. Or if she can, it hasn't occurred to her yet.

So instead she focuses on convincing him. She fixes him with her intent brown gaze, though the effect is rather dampened by looking into his lenses instead of into actual eyes.

The costume, the cowl, the cape… It's all designed not just to hide the identity of the person in the suit, but to hide their /humanity/. To make them seem like something else, something other.

The stillness with which Red Robin stands there, shrouded by the black memory-material cape, only heightens that effect. Like a shard of shadow standing in the middle of Jessica's apartment. The only thing human about him at all is his lower face, his mouth and chin, the only bits of bared skin the costume reveals at all.

And he stands there, in stillness and silence, as Jessica makes her case. As she speaks in a carefully matter-of-fact tone of voice, as she looks at him with the intent dark gaze of a woman who has only survived as long as she has through sheer stubborn determination. It's one of the qualities that lets her function as a PI too, in his estimation: Once she gets her teeth into something, she won't be shaken from it.

"You're speaking from personal experience," the vigilante says, finally. But he doesn't press. He doesn't ask. Instead he lets out a slow exhalation through his nose, his shoulders hitching. "All right. I'll provide her with the information, if you think it'll help her."

Her mouth tightens as he makes his guess, the only sign she gives that his deduction has hit home. Her gaze drops contact with his, and she stands up to start aimlessly straightening things up around the office. She doesn't respond at all until he promises, and then she relaxes a little. "Thanks, Red, I appreciate that."

And then she moves right off that subject. "Alright, so let's play this out. If they retrace his steps they go from there to the gala, and from the gala pretty much to the airport. So about half of them eff off to Germany. We could buy some time and give the Tri-State area a break from them if we make it look like Zatanna has already left for Germany." She turns to face him again, having hit on her idea.

"Does your computer expertise extend to faking tickets and passenger manifests? Zatanna has a reputation for running off alone, globehopping. Her decision to actually let people help her is pretty new."

Pot, kettle.

"They might believe that. We might even split their efforts so they're a bit scattered by the time we get there. Make it look like she went to Switzerland, like she doesn't know where Muller is either."

He still has reservations about it, of course… But well, Red Robin's never been tortured and brainwashed himself, and his only brushes with losing control over himself like that might be a few unfortunate incidents involving Poison Ivy, quickly over with.

Under the circumstances, he'll defer to someone who has more experience with the matter.

"I hope it does help give her some closure," he says to Jessica's thanks; he imagines the woman is already being observed anyway, by SHIELD, so he doesn't add any suggestion that the PI keep an eye on her once she's been given this data. He can only keep so many plates spinning at once, and that applies to Jessica as surely as it does him.

"It could work," Red Robin agrees. "My only concern is that they seem disdainful of mundane matters. Those files I found, for example, were just hidden in a vent without any magical protection at all. The Cold Flame mages only bothered to search for things that were warded… So they might not even notice a false trail like the one you're proposing."

He frowns, pensively. He weighs the pros and cons.

"Still, it can't hurt. I can take care of the tickets and other electronic paperwork, and Miss Zatara might be able to provide the means to give the trail a little arcane credibility, too."

"If Jane starts getting too obsessive I'll just distract her," Jessica says fondly. "I have a few tricks up my sleeves."

But again, she seems happy to sort of ease past the topics of Jane and mind-control, he's already skirted too uncomfortably close to truth for her to want to stay there for long.

So, Jessica leans against her wall thoughtfully. "If her magical signature is all over the airport they might buy it. They might conceive that she'd teleport there right before boarding, then get on the plane because teleporting straight to Switzerland has got to take more power than teleporting across town. They might surmise that she didn't want to draw too much attention. If we leave a trail with both they might go. The trick will be…well we'd have to stake out the airport, wouldn't we? And see who stayed, and maybe take them out. I don't want to keep Zee sequestered again, that shit drove her crazy. And it would all be for nothing if someone spotted her after that. And if they don't fall for it we'd know. And we could still maybe follow them back to their hide outs and kick their asses. Maybe John can toss them directly into Purgatory or something, since we appear to be short one Azkaban."

She suddenly chuffs. "We're probably the least equipped to build this plan. We're going to bring it to them…50/50 chance they say 'sorry guys, it doesn't work that way.'"

Red Robin lets the subject drop.

Though he is a detective by training and inclination, he knows there are times when just because you want to know everything, to solve every mystery, it doesn't mean that you should go prying into people's secrets. There was a time when he wouldn't have felt that restraint, when he would've started investigating everything that he could find about Jessica Jones the instant he was away from her. But he's older now, wiser. At least, relatively speaking. Jessica has more than a decade on him, after all.

"It's worth suggesting it at least," the masked man says. "There's plenty of reasons why it might not work, but it might not hurt to try. You're right though, putting Miss Zatara on lockdown should be a last resort. They haven't come after her again to my knowledge, and its possible that they need to work… Indirectly? The previous attempt with her blood seemed to have been done through intermediaries."

He knows full well, since Tim Drake was there. Attacked by something invisible, Zatanna moving to protect him. Getting hurt, getting bled. Even when they'd left the scene to get her medical attention, that had fixed in his head: That they were leaving DNA evidence behind at the site of a mysterious attack. The right concern, the wrong reason.

"In any case, we're going to have to follow this thread to Germany. The Cold Flame and Steinschneider will almost certainly end up converging there, where his great-grandson is. Hopefully I can figure out who Greta Muller is before we get there. I have a hunch she might be part of the key to all of this."

"They came after a friend of mine, tortured him, because they thought I might have told him something about her," Jessica says grimly. "That was on the 23rd. We hadn't taken the Hydra base yet, but they don't give a shit about Hydra. It's uncertain whether they even realize that someone else got to their prize before they did. If they know that much, they know we got it back. First moment I began to envy the rest of you the whole mask thing."

Not that it's going to change how she does business now. There are still good reasons to do what she does.

"I think the attempt you describe was done through intermediaries because they're cowards. When they attacked my friend there were three. The moment I put one down they threw a cursory spell at him to make sure I'd cover him, and then escaped. I think they like it when they can get what they want without risking themselves, no more, no less. I don't think they're following any mystic rules on that count."

"I think you're right about Greta though," Jessica agrees, pacing. "And yeah, we've been talking about going to Germany since we knew he left. Actually, here. I have to write this down from memory, hang on."

She pulls out a legal pad and writes down the same information she gave to John and Zee at Sal's Deli, quite a few fateful nights ago. "I had reasons to ditch my electronic copies." She has a great memory, though, like they both do, and writes it all without a hitch. She leaves out the bit about family members; she'd had a huge list of ones she now knows, from Tim's most recent findings, are mostly dead, save for Reiner and Adelaide Weir. "You've probably heard most of this but…in the interest of keeping our files clean, and in the event you see things in this stuff I didn't."

She frowns. "We should really set up some sort of password protected database for everyone of us who work together regularly, so we can update one another quickly."

He already knows what Jessica is going to tell him. Not because of any psychic abilities, as handy as something like that might be in his line of work: He knows because Tim Drake knows, because Zatanna was sitting on his couch when she got the text from Jessica that she needed the magician to come to the hospital where Matthew Murdock was. He can remember that moment as clearly as when it happened, the concern in the gothic beauty's voice, the way she'd hesitated before telling him the specifics.

But Red Robin can't say he knows that. The polite way he refers to 'Miss Zatara' is a deliberate attempt to create the illusion of distance, to deny any possible connection between the masked vigilante and Zatanna's college friend.

The grim tone in Jessica's voice, her obvious anger when she talks about the attack on her friend, speak as loudly as the words themselves. Though given the other thing Zatanna told him about Jessica and the lawyer, it's not much of a surprise.

"Better duplicate information than missing information," Red Robin agrees as Jessica starts copying things out from memory. "And you're right, criminals like that are usually cowards. Though it's curious that they're so fanatically willing to offer up their lives to the head of their cult, and so cautious with them otherwise…" In his experience, fanatics are usually willing to throw their lives away under any circumstances to advance the goals of the group. Why would a wizard cult be all that different?

"That's not a bad idea," he adds, on the subject of an independent database. "I'll see what I can scrounge up."

She gives him another quick smile when he says he'll see what he can scrounge up. Despite the fact that she's pretty sure he's younger than her— just something in his bearing —she's also seen ample evidence that his intelligence far exceeds her own. So it's always a little flattering when she hits on an idea he agrees with.

She would also be a little mortified if she realized how badly she was broadcasting her feelings, or how quickly the subject of those feelings, was swirling around their very small circle; she's mostly trying to pretend she does not have them while simultaneously stumbling around doing all sorts of very stupid things in response to those feelings.

Feeling any stronger about a man than 'thanks, now get out' after a hookup is a little foreign to her.

Thankfully, Red Robin is fantastic at playing his cards close to his chest, sparing her from embarrassment, at least for today. Meanwhile, she turns her own mind to the problem of their inconsistencies. She speaks slowly, trying to put it together. "So let me try to think like them a moment, and see if this makes sense to you…"

She closes her eyes. "I have a cause. I believe in that cause. I'd die for that cause. But…I actually want to see the cause come to fruition. I'm not stupid. Nobody who does magic can be stupid, I don't think; the stupid ones don't last long enough to come into any real power. So I understand that my life is an asset. An asset to be spent, ultimately, but…I won't spend it at a hot dog stand when I could use it to buy an entire god damn hot dog factory."

She is also completely unaware of how bad her analogies are.

That he's good at playing his cards close to his chest also spares Red Robin himself from embarrassment: Jessica Jones is, after all, hardly the only one with a personally awkward romantic interest in someone, or who tried to pretend that interest didn't exist for a variety of reasons, until they simply couldn't anymore.

And given the other circumstances surrounding that, the cowled young man would hardly be in any position to give her a hard time about it. At least she isn't infatuated with someone who's in love with someone else.

At least he has cases to throw himself into instead. At least he has the Work.

"You might be right," Red Robin allows, no matter how bad Jessica's analogy is. Maybe she's hungry? "There's a lot about this sort of thing that's just… Out of my frame of reference. Still, a bit insulting to your friend to just be a hotdog stand," he notes.

/Now/ she's embarrassed. She flusters. Visibly. She tries to hide it but all that does is make her look like she just bit into a lemon. "I…well of course he's not a hot dog stand, I just…Jesus fuck, I mean I just needed a small thing and a big thing, Christ." Yep, way more hot under the collar about accidentally comparing Matt to a hot-dog stand than any sane person ought to be. He found a way to embarrass her after all, it seems. She scowls fiercely, not quite at him. "Diamond versus jewelry mine," she tries again. "I mean…diamond mine." Because there's no such thing. As a jewelry mine. But that reveals too much, doesn't it?

"Chocolate bar versus Hershey factory?" she tries again.

And then she just growls. "Whatever, you get what I mean, god damn."

Another food analogy might indeed mean she's hungry, but she's ignoring her hunger all the same as she grumps back to settle on the couch, glowering at her feet.

Red Robin isn't surprised: Zatanna is an excellent reader of people, after all, perhaps even better than the cowled young man himself. It's an important part of her work as a performer and an illusionist, knowing how to understand someone as quickly as possible so she can keep them in the show, in the illusion.

Besides, Jessica isn't exactly being subtle, either. At least Red Robin had years of practice hiding everything about himself when necessary, keeping his interest from the canny magician until he couldn't bear to not admit it, furious and terrified that she might die, that he might never get the chance.

It was too late either way, but maybe not for Jessica Jones.

The costumed vigilante doesn't show his amusement outwardly, because Jessica is /extremely/ strong and he doesn't really want to accidentally provoke her if she thinks he's laughing at her awkwardness - especially since he's in no position to do so - and instead he sort of weathers her flustering, her babbling attempts to fix her bad analogy. He doesn't even let himself smile, though he kind of wants to.

But she stops, and she growls and glowers at her feet as she sits on the couch.

"I more meant it was the Cold Flame being insulting, treating your friend like such a small fry," Red Robin explains, his voice mild despite the electronic modulation that masks it. "But… If you'll permit me to offer a bit of advice, Miss Jones, you should ask him out. We're going into the belly of the beast soon, and who knows what might happen? Better to not have any regrets."

Subtle is indeed not an appelation most people attach to the PI. Not only for this. For dozens of things. She lets herself into things by breaking the doors, after all.

But then Red corrects himself.

"Oh."

"Well. Right. Screw them."

And then Red suggests she asks him out.

You get one shot.

Jessica slumps on the couch and closes her eyes. She sighs and doesn't bother denying it. "Oh, Red," she says, rather miserably. "He's a blind lawyer," she says softly. "He's badass, in his own way. He managed to smile and find ways to make me feel better after not one, but two attacks. But…Look at me. Look at the life I lead. I'm already a mess. And then there's wizards and Nazis and …" Perhaps more telling, perhaps the greater bulk of the problem… "I really don't know how he feels, anyway." She scoffs. "Jesus Christ. What I need to do is to get over myself and stop thinking about him and let him have a life." She scrubs her sweating hands on her jeans. "I need my fucking emotions to fucking let me work. Sorry. I must sound like an 8 year old. At a slumber party."

How, Red Robin wonders to himself, did he end up on this side of a conversation like this?

The strange, awful part is hearing sentiments he himself has expressed said by someone else. It twists up his guts all over again, remembering every bit of self-recrimination he's heaped on himself over the past few weeks, the past few months, since a certain magical goth girl sauntered her way into his life. He'd known, even from their earliest conversations, that she was still hung up on a former lover, an older man, but her openness, her kindness, her caring had drawn him in inexorably, like gravity.

He'd fought to not feel anything, a battle lost by inches. Worked to not show anything, to keep the aloof distance that he thought he needed, because what could he, of all people, offer someone else? And in the end, he'd seen her fading away, and he couldn't help himself but tell her everything. Took off the cowl, said the words.

Too late, though. Too late.

It was better this way, had become his mantra, as he tried to convince himself that he really meant it. The right people got what they wanted. He got what he deserved, for being foolish, childish, selfish. Hurt, rejected, alone.

But maybe the Batman was right, about entanglements and complications. Maybe he was better off too.

"I know something of what you're feeling, Miss Jones," he says. Modulated voice betraying nothing. "I… Was interested in someone that I thought I shouldn't be. And because I thought that, I did nothing, I tried to hide from it, tried to stop feeling that way, until I had no choice but to tell her the truth. By then it was too late. She had someone else. I responded by working myself nearly to death… And my line of work doesn't need any help killing me."

That should be safe, he thinks. He's already been incautious once with information around Jessica, and he was lucky it only led to the few complications it did.

"I can't tell you what to do, Miss Jones. You don't need to listen to me. But… You should at least talk to him, I think. You should at least try. The more you try to 'get over yourself', the more you try to push it out of your thoughts, the more it's going to intrude. The more of a distraction it'll be. Besides… Good things happen too, Miss Jones. You deserve to be happy, too."

She probably suspects, but there's no chance she'd do anything but hold this conversation in deepest confidence. If, back then, he'd told her that he had no way of knowing she'd have gotten the information about Zee's condition, she would have arranged to 'find out' about Zatanna's condition, rather than calling John in a panic. It had been innocent, the way she'd basically outed him, but she hadn't heard anything else from it. She suspects that Zee probably told the man beneath the mask, but her own respect for other people's choices would have made her inclined to help him hide the truth rather than to help blow it wide open. Even knowing how little Zee would have appreciated that. There are, in her opinion, rules.

But perhaps that worked out for the best.

She opens her eyes, listening to him, compassion flickering across her face. "For what it's worth, Red," she says, not bothering to try to pull her own mask back on, the one that says she's a hard-bitten, surly woman with no feelings, "She'd have been lucky to have you." Hell, if she weren't really sure he was really young in comparison to her, that brain of his, coupled with his own obvious compassion and strength, might have had her at least eyeing him appreciatively at some point. He shares all the qualities that she admires in Matt Murdock. But since she is not, in fact, a creepy cougar she simply wishes, and fervently, that someone will come into his life who can be his partner and his equal, someone who will appreciate him. He deserves it, more than she does by far.

"You know," she says, a faint smile flickering across her face, "those words of yours— good things happen too— they've gotten me through. They're some of the words I just take out when I feel myself slipping into the abyss again. So back atcha. I'm rooting for you to find your happiness, too. Granted, you've got more of an uphill battle. Supergenius ninja girls or those with comparable skill sets being in short supply and all. And I guess…it isn't really honoring him to try to take the choice away from him. And I mean what's the worst he can say? I don't feel the same way about you?" You know. The bit that really scares her. But…he's making damned good points.

"You don't make as much ink," she adds, "but damned if you aren't as inspiring as Captain America." And he knows very well how much she reveres the Man with the Star-Spangled Plan.

'She'd have been lucky to have you.'

Red Robin is extremely glad he's wearing a cowl. It makes it easier to hide his expression, to keep the portion of his face that the mask reveals schooled to stillness; the domino mask he wore of old would've betrayed more, when Jessica's well-meant sentiment hits him in the gut like a full-force punch. The idea that he was in the wrong to feel the way he did, that it was better that things turned out the way they had - better for everyone, in a sense - was one of the things that has helped him hold it together. To hear someone, even someone ignorant of the specifics, suggest otherwise…

"I don't know about that," he says, schooling himself to mildness with control hard-earned over years of brutal on the job training. "I think she's probably better off, Miss Jones."

He hopes so, anyway.

Doesn't he?

He manages a bit of rueful amusement when Jessica describes his situation as an uphill battle - and she doesn't know the half of it, as most supergenius ninja girls he's ever met were evil - but he nods, in what he hopes is an encouraging way, when Jessica starts to come around to his suggestions as far as Matt Murdock go.

And then she lumps him in with Captain America when it comes to being inspirational.

"I had good teachers," is what Red Robin says, trying to avoid actually dealing with that degree of compliment head on. "And they taught me that… It's not enough to be a symbol of fear to evil men. Anyone can do that. Anyone can be a vigilante out on the street, bashing in heads. You have to give people hope, too."

Even if it means leaving none for yourself.

Jessica Jones can't imagine herself giving anyone else hope the way some of the others in her life have. They have 'it', whatever that mysterious thing is that lets them serve as an example to others. She knows she does not have it; it's yet another reason why she's bare faced and letting the world beat on her under her own name.

If she knew the hurt she'd caused by trying to be encouraging, she might have demurred. As it is it felt weird. She was rooting for Zatanna and John; John was in many ways her best friend, Zatanna the little sister she never had. She's certainly not trying to encourage him to get in the middle of it. But at the same time, she can nevertheless see what Red would have brought to the table, had John not been there for the younger woman. Well. More or less. Cause he still has the whole mask and emphysema thing going on.

"Though I do have one staying here," she says. "A ninja spider girl with eidetic memory. I could introduce you? There's also this one young lady who saved me from aliens with these glowing rope things."

She's smirking a little, pretty sure he's going to say no, but turn about is fair play.

"Silk's been in some sort of solitary confinement via weirdo for about four years, complete with conspiracy, cover-up, and secrets, leaving me to try to solve her case by coaching her through it, which at least means she could use a competent masked Detective."

Red Robin would naturally never want Jessica to know if she'd caused him hurt with her encouragement; it wouldn't fit with the whole mysterious and aloof manner he tries to project in costume, for one thing… And he wouldn't want her to feel guilty. He already feels guilty enough as it is, the simple and innocent sentiment the PI expressed having been an accidental precision hit to something still raw and hurting. Something liable to be that way for a long time, because of his refusal to put distance between himself and Zatanna even after the rejection.

She was still his friend, after all. And the idea of her not being around was… Intolerable.

At least he can find some solace in feeling that he's successfully hidden his hurt from Jessica. In feeling that he was vague enough that it could've been anyone, that it could've happened any time, even years ago. Surely, she'd never be able to figure out he meant Zatanna.

Surely.

"No, thank you," is the flat response from Red Robin, his mouth pressed in a firm line in response to Jessica's smirk. He's pretty sure she didn't actually mean it anyway, and was just trying to mess with him.

What's curious though is that the young women she's referring to /actually exist/, and that this 'Silk' is in a bit of a weird situation. The cowled head tilts slightly to one side the mask, the white lenses hiding the dubious look that the young man underneath is wearing.

"If you need any help, feel free to contact me. This is your turf though, Miss Jones, you've doubtlessly got better contacts around here than I do."

Of course, if he looks in her bedroom he will see green and pink webbing all over the walls, and two twin beds. She's clearly been sleeping on that couch, given the blankets and pillows. "Yeah, well, lemme know if you change your mind. I think you'd find her cute. She carried a flip phone and got really freaked out by the touch screen."

"I've basically done all I can for her. She's afraid poking at it will bust open someone else's super-identity. I have policies about that sort of thing. I try not to out people, or pry." A round-about apology, in case she basically did this to him. The last she'd heard was Zee was going to 'talk to Red Robin' about knowing, and then nothing.

Regardless of what she's guessed and hasn't guessed, she says, "You'd be surprised how little my previous work prepared me for any of this. This business was 90% infidelity cases and process service until November. And we'll both be equally contact-less in Germany. You'll be of somewhat more use, in fact, knowing the language. I am quite proud that I can now find my way to a bathroom without assistance from either you or Zee, and beg someone to speak English to me without accidentally cursing them out. Though I can do that on purpose, cause I've got all the swear words now too."

Surely the most important part of learning the language. Or now she's making jokes at her own expense in the hopes of making up for possibly being a jerk by teasing him with the existence of Silk and Ribbon.

"I have a similar policy," Red Robin says. "Doesn't always work, though."

But it sounds like this young woman genuinely needs help, and that Jessica feels that she's done everything she can under the circumstances. Red Robin knows he's got quite enough on his plate as it is, that he should avoid messing with anything else, but…

"I'll tell you what. Once I get that server set up, you can upload whatever you've got on her situation to it, and I'll see what I can do," the masked young man says, unable to keep himself from adding more work, in the end. At least it'll make for a further distraction, something else to bury himself in and hide from feeling miserable and guilty and foolish. Maybe eventually he'll dig himself out from under a mound of work, and he'll be over it.

Or maybe he'll take on too much and end up dead in an alley somewhere. Could go either way.

"It's a good language for cursing people out in," Red Robin says on the subject of German. "Very angry-sounding. But really… The basics of the job apply everywhere. Investigation is investigation, down in the muck and the dirt and going through endless tedious records." At least he's got extremely advanced computers to do some of the really tedious work. Not as good as the Bat-computer itself, and not a patch on the Justice League's alien computer system, but still more than equal to the tasks he has for it.

"In any case, I ought to get going, Miss Jones. There's still work to be done."

It's in the nature of their business that they will always have too much on their plates. There are always more people needing help than people to help them. There are always more evil or indifferent folks than people who are willing to make a difference, however imperfectly.

"Okay, well, fair's fair, Red. You know you can come to me for shit other than Zatanna-related-things. I know you have a whole family of Batpeople who are also very good at it, but we seem to work well together, and I probably have a perspective they don't have." She wonders if Batman has even noticed Az is here with her yet, but she decides she does not care. If he wants to take it up with her, he can just be the next person to sneak up on her.

"But thanks for stopping by and keeping me in the loop. It means a lot." She pushes up and goes to open the window for him, just as if she were showing him the door politely.

"Miss Zatara does have her way of ending up in the middle of things, though," Red Robin notes. It seems like every situation he's had to deal with in the past few months was connected to her in one way or another, which had only damned him to deeper entanglement. "But I'll keep that in mind, Miss Jones. I already know who to ask the next time I need to steal another corpse."

In truth, since his change in costumed identity, he's been more… Aloof from the rest of the so-called Batfamily. Working out of his own base of operations, rather than the Batcave. Even Spoiler had commented on it.

Another complication, there. But maybe she was right.

Once Jessica opens the window for him, the caped and cowled vigilante slips through, until he's all but hanging on to the side of the building and the fire escape. From beneath his cape, he produces a grapple gun, hefting it with one hand.

"You're welcome, Miss Jones. And good luck," he adds. "I hope your friend knows how lucky he'd be to have you."

There's a faint, almost inaudible *paff* of air as the grapple gun fires, the line catching somewhere above, somewhere distant… And then Red Robin is gone, vanishing into the night, just another shadow.

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