A.K.A. Wizards are Easy

February 07, 2017:

Matthew Murdock rushes to Jessica Jones' defense when he realizes she's been arrested in the aftermath of the Stilt-Man attack. In the aftermath that follows, neither of them get what they want.

Hell's Kitchen, New York

A place where stuff rarely goes right anyway.

Characters

NPCs: Brett Mahoney, Blake Tower

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

"Mahoney. Mahoney. Mahoney," says Siri, helpfully, in the near-dinner hour. Mahoney has apparently chosen Matt's cell over the office phone at Nelson and Murdock. Maybe he's scared the latter won't be in service.

Mahoney sounds really grouchy.

"We've got a woman in custody," is his greeting for Matt, from the moment he picks out. "She will not talk to us. The only thing she will say is that she is a client of Nelson and Murdock, LLC, and that she wants her lawyer, Matt Murdock. So. Miss Jessica Jones is waiting for you in Interrogation Room #3. Is she really one of yours? Do you want her to be? Cause I can do you a solid and just pretend we couldn't reach you and she has to pick someone else."

Ask anyone who knows him— though they're few enough— and they'll tell you Matt Murdock keeps odd hours. Late to the office, late to leave it. So when that phone calls out Sgt. Mahoney's name like some sort of atonal, medieval herald, he's at his desk. Foggy's gone home, gone out; the dark space is quiet save for Siri's voice. Alone here, the hand that reaches out for the phone is deft, nimble. A neat swipe of the thumb and the officer's on speaker. "Sargent Mahoney," Matt says by way of greeting, courteous in the face of surliness.

But then the officer is laying out the grim facts, and Matt can hear, feel, his own heart rate pick up. "She's one of mi — ours," the lawyer says, quietly. "Give me ten minutes. I'll be right over."

Bold words for a blind man, but he is, through the miracle of Lyft (because, seriously, fuck Uber) or what have you. He's dark-suited, scruffy, and walking with more urgency than is strictly advisable given the walking stick — which seems to be making its tapping arcs on overdrive. "My client's here," he's saying to the front desk as he arrives. "Jessica Jones."

The woman buzzes him through. "You can go on back, she's in three."

Mahoney of course greets him first. "Destruction of property," he says, almost as if continuing the conversation from early. "Misdemeanor theft. Assault. Endangering a metric fuck-ton of people." Not really a formal charge, that one, though there's probably legal language of some sort to cover it. He is furious.

Another cop weighs in. "I would really lay most of that more at the feet of the weird stilt guy, Brett."

"Fuck the stilt guy, and fuck her too," he scowls. Then he looks back at Matt. "Sorry, Matt. Here." He opens the door for the lawyer.

Jessica is sitting hunched and handcuffed to the table, illusionary as her restraints really are. They don't appear to make Mahoney feel better either, as his heart rate picks up. He's afraid of her, which may be a reason for all the anger.

The smell of tears and a lot of running mascara hit Matt's nose, though she's not crying now. Her head snaps up as Matt appears. She bites back the urge to apologize to him for involving him in her very messed up life yet again, for endangering him yet again. The inhalation in her throat says she's trying to cover up the fact that she's been in here crying, sniffling it all back before Matt can hear. "Matt," she says, and then stops, as her throat closes up again. He can hear it: the twisting and churning in her stomach. Her body temperature is much lower than usual. She's not scared, like most people would be when arrested. She feels nothing but sinking, crushing, deep, dark, guilt.

He's quiet as he walks alongside the sergeant, features schooled to careful neutrality as he quietly absorbs the charges and their weight, but then they're inside the interrogation room with her. It takes all of a split second for him to assess the situation, and his client, before Matt Murdock is immersed in a cold fury. Even without super-senses you could hear the clink of the chains, and so he has no compunction whatsoever about the sharp words that follow: "Gentlemen, the handcuffs? Either she's a hundred and twenty pound woman who you've nothing at all to fear from, or those chains couldn't begin to hold her. Either way, they need to come off now."

She calls for him, but he doesn't answer, except to turn his profile to the officers and deliver steely: "I need five minutes alone with my client. Now."

Mahoney's heart rate picks up, and he lets out a growling exhalation of air. "Fine," he says. He steps over, perhaps to prove he can, and he unlocks the cuffs. Jessica is stock still while he does it, not even really breathing. He backs off, cuffs dangling from his fingertips. The Sargent can hear Matt's anger for himself, and he sighs, perhaps feeling a little shamed when the lawyer points out the obvious.

"Just…take as much time as you want," he says, perhaps a little gruffly. "Nobody died, so it's not like she's a murderer or anything."

Then he stomps out, leaving Jessica to breathe again, slowly flexing and rubbing her wrists. They couldn't begin to hold her, but holding her hands like that for as long as she did wasn't exactly comfortable either. She looks down, another wave of nauseated shame slamming through her, making her muscles contract and her ears roar.

The door slams and Matt is feeling for the back of his appointed metal chair, circling around it and taking a seat. A hand, rougher and more calloused than you'd expect for a white-collar twenty-something, searches across the table for hers in clear invitation. "Hey," he says quietly, all the edge gone from his voice in an instant as he brings the weight of his formidable focus entirely to bear on her. "Hey, you're alright, and it sounds like everyone else is too. OK?"

He lets out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding and adopts the careful, quiet tone he prefers in his professional hours: "Jessica, I've been following the news, at least a little — and I heard the commotion. But can you tell me a little about what's been happening?"

She reaches for his hand like she's reaching for a lifeline. She's in no shape to play it cool right now. As with the other few times she's touched him, her grip is feather light. She's scared to hurt anyone by accident. It fits comfortably in his though, that hand, and a little warmth returns to her in spite of everything else she's feeling, though she still stares shame-facedly down at the table. Still, he's such a calming presence that her throat unknots. The quiet tone, the gentle words. The things that really got her in the first place, made it impossible for her to stop thinking about him.

Even more than his smile.

"I was an idiot," she whispers.

When she'd given her 'briefing' to the Man in Black she'd been so confident, so professional. At that moment she'd been feeling on top of things, at least until it had occurred to her how fucked up it was for her to be up there at all.

There's none of that now. She talks about how she just sort of turned a corner and this weirdo was there, how the money drifted down literally on her head. "I wasn't going to steal it. Well okay I mean sure I was tempted, a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks, but I only kept it to give it back, I swear. I figured if I just let it hit the streets it would hit the pockets of someone who wouldn't. Give it back." And her heart rate does say she's telling the truth…and ashamed of being tempted. But that is not the real source of her shame.

"At first…I was trying to just be careful. Find a battery pack, anything, so he wouldn't hurt someone by falling; I didn't want what happened to happen. And then it was all happening at once. He went to step on this one dude, and then he said something that pissed me off. I thought okay, I'll just leap, punch him out through the face plate. I've got really good control…" he obviously knows about her powers, and her policy of 'I don't hide, but I don't advertise' holds. "If I didn't I'd have flattened this chair just by sitting in it, you know? But maybe he lost his balance," she wasn't really looking at Luke lifting the guy's leg at that point, "or I just miscalculated how it would go with him on stilts, because he c-crashed into an a-partment." She wipes her eyes with her free hand, shivering. "I was so scared a baby had gotten hit with a brick, anyone really but a baby was what I kept imagining. Some kids nearly were crushed, but they got back away from the hole in time." She's whispering by now, her voice so thick with horror she can hardly speak.

But she manages.

"I entered the apartment to try to find people, evacuate them, get them out. I pulled a fire alarm too, it was the quickest way, but I think that is a legitimate use…they're all going to be homeless, Matt, I've taken their homes. I should have left it alone, but the police were firing at him and getting nowhere and I was trying to give this hero thing another go and what kind of hero just lets someone run around town in something like that stepping on people and things?"

He's probably used to not-chronological tellings of things.

"I tried to do it properly too. I told him I was a licensed PI, that it was a citizen's arrest." Citizens arrests are, after all, covered on the exam, when it counts, when it doesn't, what you can do, what you can't. "I deserve to be in jail," she whispers. "But I can't be here. I made promises, people need me…"

Matt listens, and listens, and listens to her unreliable narration. He's receptive, attentive; a blank slate on which to cast all of her worry. Now and then, when she's riding on a particularly high crest of self-loathing, the hand that holds hers gives it a squeeze, seemingly unconcerned with the prospect of reciprocity. He's feels her pain more deeply than she realizes; that prospect of collateral damage and unintended consequences. And, of course, she at least has the guts to fly her flag openly and assume the consequences for whatever harm she causes. She's wounded— how, he doesn't fully know— but he does know that despite the damage done to her, she's brave enough to reject a mask. That's more than he can say.

"Jessica," he begins, "you're—"

A beat. He stops himself because a question has formed, and he thanks God for his powers in this moment, since he doesn't have to actually say the words. All he has to do is take in a quiet inhale to satisfy his grim query: Have you been drinking?

"You're not going to jail," he finishes in that precise hush of his, satisfied with whatever he's found. "And you don't deserve to be there, either. You saved people's lives, and cost no one theirs. If you hadn't acted, that man might have died. And don't tell me you wouldn't have seen him in your dreams for the rest of your life. You'd have come up with a face and a life for him — built out a whole imaginary family wracked in perpetual grief."

He lets out a quiet sigh, giving her hand another brief, comforting squeeze. "Having to live with the consequences of choices where there are no good calls— that's the price of having power. I'm told it royally sucks, and I'm sorry about that. But you carry it better than a lot of other people I can think of."

A beat. "Jess; can you let me call them back in here, and get you out of this? I really want to."

She had indeed stayed off the booze, had gone home and gone to sleep, much as he'd ordered her to in his other guise. Though she'd woken up in the night, (true story) and had said to her dark living room in sudden incredulity, "Wait. If it takes a possible asshole to leave someone in the cold on guard duty, doesn't that make me an asshole to Dark Dude? Shit!"

Very philosophical stuff, that.

She was sober for this, thank all that was holy.

She looks up a little as he starts offering his comfort to her, until she's finally looking into his face. Those squeezes give her strength; he can feel it every time he does it. It's in the rise in her temperature, more the warming of someone taking steadying sips of hot chocolate than the more visceral reaction she's had to him in the past, because she's way too distressed for the latter right now. It's in the way her stomach unclenches just a little more, in how she relaxes. His words rebuild her as they've done before, brick by brick, little by little. By the time he's done, her foundation is shaky but back in place.

"Please do," she says, chuffing a little laugh. "'That's what I asked them to go get you for, wasn't it? So you could get in there and be my hero this time." She oh so carefully squeezes his hand back and gives him a watery smile she knows he can't see, but…it's there in her voice.

Not so long ago, several hours before this incredible debacle, a certain masked Detective had stopped by her apartment to give her information on their shared case; and had ended up flustering her so badly with a joke that he'd finally just told her that trying to deny what she felt was really, really fruitless and she should quit that shit.

Perhaps that's what gives her the courage to briefly put her other hand on his arm, too, shaking though it is. "Go get 'em, tiger."

Dark Dude? Getting warmer.

If Matt is building her up, then he's succeeding in his aim. He's acutely aware of the fortitude it takes survive any brush of any kind with the justice system; even for metas that might in theory be beyond its reach. He needs her strong, and he doesn't even need to lie to bolster that strength.

Besides, the simple truth is that it wrecks him ten ways to Sunday to see her like this. She puts a shaking hand on his arm, implores him, encourages him. And to all of that?

"You got it," he says quietly before summoning his breath and his wits, letting go of her hand, and pushing himself towards a rise. His hand grazes the corner of the table to establish his bearings, and then he's making a straightening tug at the bottom of his suit jacket, pivoting, and reaching for the doorknob. "Gentlemen," he says at he opens it, his game face on, "come on in."

Jessica lets him go, trusting him, breathing slowly, facing these men with a poker face now, her earlier self-castigation reduced merely to a faint, dull ache that is more exhaustion and emotion, now, than anything else. She's got his words to cling to, and cling she does. She radiates total trust in his ability to fix this, and he can feel her attention tracking him, rather than the other two that enter the room.

By now the DA's office has had a little time to take an interest, or they already had and Mr. Blake Tower was on the way already. He steps inside, along with Mahoney, and offers a hand. "Mr. Murdock," he says, professional. He, too, is eyeing Jessica with some suspicion; his heart rate climbs, but he stays outwardly cool. He takes the offensive immediately as Mahoney takes a seat opposite Jessica Jones.

"We have video recording the incident," he says. "But I'm in a magnanamous mood, so I'm prepared to offer a plea bargain. Your client pleads guilty to reckless endangerment and second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, we drop the theft charge and she does four years with the possibility of parole."

He clearly expects Matt to be impressed with how even-handed he's being.

"Mr. Tower," Matthew says affably, as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. He even offers a quirk of a smile, slight. "That's quite the offer — but I'm afraid I'm going to have to decline."

"I know you have video, because the whole world does too," he goes on, before reaching for the phone in his pocket and speaking into it. "Siri, how many views does the 'Stilt-man Takes Manhattan' video have on Youtube?" the blind man asks?

"1,327,324 views," the phone answers, and Matt winces.

"See, that's a problem for you," Matt goes on, with something like mock sympathy. "Because that's over a million people — potential jurors, mind you — who just watched a giant metal man traipse through Manhattan with impunity. No snipers, no helicopters, no swat teams, no armored vehicles — no DEO or SHIELD swooping in to save the day. He was literally prepared to stomp on anyone in his way, and there was no one to stop him except a few brave souls of courage and ability, including my client."

The lawyer spreads his palms. "See, my client saw the -actual- perpetrator about to squash a man with his giant metal foot. That gives her an ironclad defense of others bar to the assault charge. And as for reckless endangerment? Give me one solitary path towards debilitating that monster before it went on a killing spree that would have been less risky."

He glances back towards her, and then towards the ADA, lowering his voice below even its usual quiet clip. "This is a loser of a case for you. The jurors might whisper about metas under their breath, but just look at her." He gestures back towards her, and even says it without any apparent irony. "No one's going to put this woman away for trying to stop a robbery. Nor is anyone going to believe that she committed theft by grabbing that bill, putting it in her pocket, and then rushing back to the scene of the crime and the brunt of the authorities to subdue the real thief instead of going out and spending it on— whatever?”

"You have your man, counselor, " he says quietly to Tower, all reason. "And mine will be another eye-witness that helps you put him away. Let her do that, and then let her go home.”

And then, even more quietly: "Or I promise, today’s embarrassments will only get worse."

When Matt had started Jessica was already looking at him with total trust.

Halfway through, she starts smiling, looking down at her hands still, but smiling. He'll feel the painful places in her ease entirely, feel another brick of her self esteem click into place as he defends her so gracefully and effortlessly. By the time he's done she's trying not to grin, and all the coldness in her has been replaced by the same raging bonfire across her skin that she'd been feeling by the time she'd excused herself from his hospital room.

Mahoney looks up at the sky, quite a bit less pleased. He's not angry, but neither is he pleased. He'll forgive Matt; he is always all growl and grump and bark about things like this, but right now he's still in that phase. Still he…has no arguments to raise.

The ADA's temperature turns icy cold, even as his heart-rate leaps in anger and defensiveness. There's this long, long silence. Matt might get the sense that he's staring at this tear-stained woman anew. He turns full on towards Matt, opening his mouth. Perhaps he's about to try to tell him all about how he'd have done differently.

He can't.

Matthew Murdock has now gained his full attention as an adversary worthy of the name.

His voice is clipped, stiff, as he rises. "The District Attorney's office has chosen not to press charges."

He turns on his heel and walks out.

Mahoney stares at Jessica. He does the thing people do. It pings, leaves red-hot trails across Matt's world on fire, as he uses two of his own fingers to point at his eyes, then points them at Jessica Jones, then points them back at himself. It's his final 'grr' before he says, "Looks like Miss Jones is free to go."

His teeth might be grinding as he walks out too. Just a little.

Inward euphoria greets the victory, selfish and selfless at once. To say Matt cares about the woman behind him is, if anything, an understatement, and he exults at having repaid her even a little for the assists she's given him. But there's also a part of him that just likes to win. Any day where those warring parts of Matt's psyche can align is a good one. "Thanks, sergeant," he says cordially as the officer walks out, the surge of elation he might feel running deep below the placid surface.

Then he's turning towards her. He can feel her flush, which may have many origins, but not her smile. "You alright, Jessica? Ready to get out of here?"

"Abso-freaking-lutely," Jessica says. It had taken him speaking to make her bound to her feet, as if she'd been bound by invisible shackles stronger than the ones Matt had demanded they take off of her. In a way, she was. Though it isn't always possible for her, either practically or psychologically, like him, she shares a certain respect for the law. She'd heard everything, but it took his confirmation to shake her loose all the same.

"That was…you were…you're fucking phenomenal," she says, and this time? This time she no more bothers to disguise the warmth and admiration in her tone than she had the guilt and unhappiness earlier.

She starts a battle with herself, one that she loses by the time they get to the hall. But she waits to acknowledge her defeat until they're outside the police station, cold February wind whipping wildly about their faces. "I could seriously hug you right now." The heartbeat sort of wavers, pinging half-truth on 'hug'; she could do a lot more than that right now. "May I?"

It may seem odd, that she requests. A lot of women would just do it, right then and there. And were he sighted she might move in for it, slow enough to give him the chance to stop her. But sensitive as she is to being touched without permission, she is loathe to do it to others (times when they're bleeding out in an alley and she's not so conscientious about such things notwithstanding).

He was phenomenal, she says. Fucking phenomenal, even. He looks askance, skeptical, all false humility, even if his lips quirk bashfully at their edges. "Just doing my job, ma'am," Matt says as they walk out of the police station and into the wintry air, wryly. The refrain of every hero he watched on film or television right up until he didn't watch anymore.

She asks to hug him. It's not inappropriate to ask, necessarily; in most of his hours he carries himself with a reserve and distance that keeps many away. When she does, he dips his head, puffs out a humored breath, and shrugs helplessly. "Yeah, yeah. Of course." And even opens his arms, one free and one clutching his walking stick. "I'm sorry this even happened to you."

Him being bashful only makes her smile. His wry joke doesn't hurt either. His distance? She is so used to putting distance between herself and other people that his own reserve doesn't strike her necessarily as being a wall for the most part, though it's succeeded in leaving her completely off-balance, too sure he feels nothing for her, an uncertainty that steals her courage away at crucial moments, to leave her lurking in his shadows instead of approaching him directly.

Giant robot men are easy. Wizards are easy. This is hard.

She's very gentle with him, feather light, only slowly increasing pressure into a normal-person hug. She's familiar now with people thinking she's going to hurt them. She's seen even friends tiptoe around her, fearing to make her truly angry, fearing she'll lash right out and cause harm. It's made her even more self-conscious of her strength than she already was. She doesn't ever want to see that wariness on Matt's face. Never.

She tilts her face into his shoulder, taking a long moment to just enjoy this thing she's wanted to do for days now. Her heart is in her throat again, blood is in her ears, every marker of intense physical attraction registers on his senses.

She closes her eyes and holds on just a little longer than is strictly necessary.

She is losing this battle. She's losing it even as she pulls free again.

Her heart pounds. She puts proper distance between them again, putting her hands in her pockets. She swallows. She opens her mouth. He can hear the nervous intake of breath.

Proper distance, but she knows now.

She's not going to be able to stay away, so she should just…get this over with. Give him the chance to make his own decisions.

It should be easy. 'Let's have coffee.' 'We should go talk some time.'

/Not/ 'wanna come back to my place.' She's said that to one too many throwaways.

He's not the only one that's been kind of a dog.

Something flirtatious about how the hero is supposed to get the girl after his saying aw shucks line? That would be a good one, clever, it might make him laugh.

What comes out of her mouth instead?

None of the above.

"Silver linings. I got to see you kicking ass and taking names. More than that, you— "She looks down, smiling. "You were kind. Whatever you have to say for yourself, you've always been kind to me, Matt Murdock."

She takes another deep breath. "Thank you." Had she said that already? She can't remember. Well, fuck it. Saying it again can't hurt.

He folds her in his arms. His frame is larger, true, but at this point he is fully aware of how much stronger she is than he, and just how much she must be holding back in the embrace. He returns it steadily; they're a rare enough event for him that he takes in nearly as much comfort as he gives. All those physical markers — previously doled out over frantic hours of fight, flight, and convalescence — communicate their unmistakable signals and cause his own breath to catch. Outwardly he's smiling, all muted and wry; inwardly he's… well. Fairly well reduced to the ruin the magicians made of him two weeks ago.

"You're easy to be kind to," Matt murmurs after they've separated, and she's done flattering him. An odd thing to say about the famously prickly Jessica Jones, perhaps, but in his experience it's true. "And you're welcome."

A beat, a pause. Most of his life is spent playing dumb, pretending to miss every detail when he catches more details than most. But doing so here would be a profound disservice. "Jess, look," Matt begins. However gentle the tone may be, it's hardly the most confidence inspiring of openings. "I think you're amazing. But you should know that I—"

Will hurt you.

Will die on you.

Will betray you.

Will get you killed.

Will lose you some other way.

Will be unworthy of you.

Will be honest with you in ways I've never been with anyone, because you're a 'freak' like me, and strong enough to bear the risks of loving a vigilante, and that actually terrifies me, because it means the potential for an intimacy my fucked up life has never taught me how to manage and a happiness I don't begin to deserve.

"—I'm kind of seeing someone right now," he selects for his reply in place of the litany of reasons above, only some of which he has actually admitted to himself. Then he lets out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding.

And just like that, he frees her from having to pretend, all while making her heart clench until it aches, her body temperature dropping almost as low as it had been when he first found her shackled up in the interrogation room.

Figures. All that stress and fear and agonizing and wondering at falling in love for really the first time ever and…he's not available.

She stands in silence for a moment, stricken, feeling like the world's biggest fool. The irony is that if she knew what was going on behind his inscrutable smile she would relate in a hundred thousand ways. But she has no idea at all.

She can't bring herself to pretend. As she's started to emerge from the shadows she's found that honesty more or less is in her, wielded like a blade as it is when she's angry, but something she's capable of offering to good intent as well. And now that the thing she feared most, if she was honest with herself, has happened. Not that she wouldn't be able to protect him, though of course it had been a concern, but that he wouldn't want her.

She's put herself out there, however halfass, and she's been shot down.

It hurts. But pain is something she can handle. Right? So why does she feel like she can't breathe?

She wipes her hands on her jeans and tries to gather the suddenly shattered remains of her dignity. "Then I'll back off," she says. "I didn't know. But…I don't get in the way of good things. I'm honored to just be your friend." She's proud of herself for getting her voice steady. Or so she thinks. It's not, really, it's deeply unhappy and disappointed, with a thin icing of trying to be noble, trying to be calm, trying to do the right thing. "I appreciate your honesty. She's…she's a very lucky lady. I wish you both well."

Each telltale sign of a breaking heart he detects through those noxious, ridiculous senses of his seems to stoop his shoulders a little. He remembers dimly the elation she felt when he called her his hero, seeing the way it built her up, and his jaw juts in self-directed anger at the perceived botching of it all. Meanwhile, she rises above and even extends a metaphorical hand. She appreciates his honesty, she says, and he feels like the biggest piece of shit walking. He brings up a hand to run over the underside of his features, dark with five-o-clock shadow.

"Jessica, look, I'm really —" he begins

— and then suddenly stops himself from offering that apology, sensing, perhaps, that the last thing she would want or need from him is his pity. Instead he murmurs, "I really value your friendship, too, Jessica. I care about you, and I'll be there whenever and wherever you need me. Please believe that."

"You've always done me the courtesy of believing me," Jessica says, voice breaking. There's something about that, about being believed, that is really important to her; it shows in those trembling words. "So…I'll do the same for you. I care about you too. I just— I just want you to be happy, okay?" Shit. The first hot tear is running down her cheek. She's been nothing but weak today, crying left and right. She dashes it away angrily. It probably is best that he stops himself short, because pity would indeed be too much.

She takes a step back. "I…I've got to go." She stumbles, fumbles for a smoother explanation. "I'll um…I'll see you around, okay?"

Then, she turns on her heel and she flees. She can't take it another minute. She goes tearing down the street, feet pounding as she pushes herself to the full extent of her ridiculous four minute mile, unable to hold herself together in front of him a minute longer. She doesn't have another scrap of mature adulthood to give him.

About the only thing that can be said for her flight is she does not shove people out of her way in her path, opting to just dodge them instead.

Her whispered words float back to him though, fierce in their hurt, her breath sharp and short in her lungs, each word punctuated by a footfall. "God damn it."

"You're a fucking idiot, Jessica Jones."

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