Temptation, Clarity, and Faith

April 17, 2017:

Blaming herself for Xihunel's attack, Jessica Jones tries both to apologize to Matt Murdock, and to explain the latest supernatural mess he's found himself embroiled within. He is sorely tempted when she reveals the depths she's willing to go to in order to protect his secrets.

Hell's Kitchen, NYC

This place just keeps getting weirder by the day.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Azalea Kingston, Cindy Moon, Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Tony Stark, Trish Walker, Spider Man, Red Robin

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

There's no such thing as silence for Matt Murdock, perhaps, but it's certainly quieter when he wakes up with any and all injuries healed. Certainly it's more serene than in comparison to the sound and the fury of a God's rage.

He'll hear the breathing of one unconscious girl, a girl now in truth, though with some sort of coiled monster now chained in her soul, reeking of magic and out cold.

The witch is gone, citing a magical disaster. The sirens are still below, distantly, the clean-up crews still hard at work trying to take care of the mess that entropic energy has left behind.

Sitting nearby, waiting for Matt to wake from his mage-scrambled sleep, is the newly healed Jessica Jones. She breathes as if she's no longer in physical pain. She smells of blood still, there's no helping that; blood, and vanilla, and night air. Periodically bits of glass hit the ground (plink, plink) as she plucks them from her hair and clothes. She sits so she has a good view of both the people she's watching over.

In the world on fire her posture is hunched, her knees near her chin; physiological signs point to roiling guilt and quiet misery along with silent watchfulness.


Waking for most of the human race is like the clearing of a fog, a blur sharpened slowly into clarity. For Matt, at least since the age of ten, it's been like a distant, reverberating echo slowly clarifying itself into discernable sound(s). Wakefulness comes slower than usual here, as if all the amped-up energy he received courtesy of John Constantine's pinch was sapped out of him by either that ethereal wave or the struggles that led up to it. Either way, he feels boneless and drugged. Sightless though he may be, it's the fluttering open of his eyes that give Jessica the first sign that he's counted among the waking again.

Fragrance is here, as it so often is elsewhere, the catalyst for the memories that suddenly flood him. The drift of ozone, the distinctive smell of Jessica Jones' blood. It snaps him out of his haze and leaves him suddenly gasping for breath he didn't even know he lacked. He reaches up to grab at his ruined helmet — ruined already — and lets out an exhale contains worlds of emotion he couldn't begin to puzzle out himself, though weariness and defeat rules over all.

"The — ah, girl," he says, seemingly speaking to the night air from his still-prone position. "She's alright?"

Yes, that would be Matt inquiring about the woman he was just wailing on with metal batons. He can tell her heart is beating, and that she's sleeping. But what that means? In this context? He has no earthly idea.


Jessica snaps to attention as soon as she can tell he's awake; hearing that exhale. He asks after the girl, and it clears some of her own emotions, at least allows her to push them to the side. She's subdued and quiet and weary herself, and her voice is pained, reverberating with sadness and empathy when she speaks.

"Physically she's fine," she reports. "She didn't even have any injuries for Zatanna to heal. And I trust that Xihunel is contained for now, though…I think I'm going to have to do something a bit more drastic than bringing her back to my apartment to sleep it off in her bunk bed. Mentally— well. She doesn't get to forget what happens, and this is the worst it's ever been. She was a prisoner, a passenger, for the whole thing, watching her hands, hearing her voice. She begged Zatanna to kill her. It's not the first time she's begged for death."

Her exhale doesn't exactly mirror his, but it carries similar sentiments. It's long and slow as she looks down at his ruined helmet. She hadn't noticed how bad off it was when she'd tried to stick it back on his head. Or had it gotten messed up after that? It's blurry, now, those moments, though certain things do stick out all over the place.

"How about you? You alright?"

Alright is an inadequate word for anything. "I mean I know you're okay physically. But you know. Going all incredible legendary bad-ass warrior on an ancient god is kind of…A Night."


"Yeah, a night," he murmurs absently.

She doesn't forget what happens, Jessica Jones tells him. He thinks at once how horrible that must be for her, to be trapped inside a being that malevolent and cruel. And also, inevitably, about how this poor, possessed girl, who goes through patches where she simply cannot control what she does or what she says, will remember every millisecond of their desperate fight. Further, how she — and whatever she carries with her — will remember his face.

He is suddenly compelled to stop laying about, but blood rushes to his head as he brings himself to an upright seat just a little too fast. He brings a gloved hand to his temple, surrounded by the rubble and debris from the contest. "I'll — be fine," he murmurs. Which is likely mostly the truth, but which he thinks in the moment is a out-and-out lie.

"Where's Zatanna?" he asks, as if he could see she wasn't around. Then he pulls the remnants of the mask off without formality — like a band-aid given a sharp, stinging yank. It leaves his hair a disheveled mess.

In the daytime hours, with the aid of his lenses, he presents a mask nearly as impenetrable as the one that lays discarded at his side. Here, at night, without his props, his features are open and vulnerable. But oddly, the effect is almost the same. His countenance is so awash with conflicting sentiments that it's hard to pull out just one, much less say which one predominates.


Jessica watches him and winces, a rush of guilt stinging to the forefront of her own emotions as he yanks off his mask, the physiology singing at him.

"She made sure you were okay, made sure Az was asleep, healed me, and left. She said there was a magical disaster. That could mean anything from more of that Primordial Darkness bullshit to— John was really really pissed off that she came leaping into this situation without him, or in lieu of him. Your guess is as good as mine."

She looks at him for a long moment, just looks at him, memorizing his face, before looking away. Her voice drops, still audible, but quiet, filled with remorse. "I'm sorry, Matt. She knows who you are now too. She will never say a word. I think she knows who Red and Spidey are too for that matter; but I don't even think she's told John either one of their names. And— I hope you know that I'd never say a word either. Az doesn't know your name, but…I don't know how good a protection that will be when she has your face. Still, I think guilt will keep her silent. I think talking about tonight is the last thing she'll ever want to do. She's a good kid. She—" Jessica swallows, and a faint, pained, ironic smile enters her voice. "All she wants is to be a hero."

A pause, a beat. "You got dragged into all of this tonight because I mishandled…everything." There's an unspoken as usual there, but she leaves it unspoken. "Azalea herself, I guess, but more immediately, getting Shanghai'd by Itzpapalotl about ten minutes before all this went down. I was just…way too…me at her, so she decided to teach me a lesson. This time I can't hide behind Zatanna's problems. This time, the link is pretty direct. Obviously it was nothing I intended. Or. I hope. That it's obvious. But it still happened, I still screwed up, and I've still left you with a mess. Your identity out to two, maybe three people. Not to mention nearly getting you killed while you saved my sorry useless ass. I really wouldn't blame you if…" Here she swallows, because this is really hard for her to say. It makes everything in her constrict, but she forces the words out anyway. "If you wanted me out of both of your lives entirely at this point."


Jessica explains in her roundabout way who knows what and how all this happens, and somewhere along the way Matt brings his forefinger and thumb to the bridge of his nose and closes his brown eyes. It's a gesture of rare and profound weariness — even defeat. "Last thing she'll ever want to do," he says softly but pointedly on the matter of Azalea, and that's all he says.

She's asked how he was, and he hasn't returned the favor. In part that's because he already knows. The regular heartbeat, the way the blood on her smells old, oxidized already after even this brief exposure to the outside air. But in part it's because he can't summon the usual powers of empathy that come easily to him. He's relieved, certainly; the pain and anger he felt while Azalea assaulted, threatened, and later nearly killed Jessica was all too real and spoke to something beyond the feelings of a vigilante for the faceless masses in need. But he can't bring himself to reassure her that all is well, that none of this is her fault, that she should stop beating herself up. He can't even bring himself to accept her heartfelt apology. Not yet.

Instead he says ruefully, "Sorry… you kind of lost me at the itsy-bitzy-godling."


He is good at that— comforting her— but right now she's hardly expecting it. She's bracing herself to be told that yep, he wants her and her big freaking messes gone for good. She's messy physically, messy emotionally, she excels, it seems, at drawing him into the periphery of situations where he gets the unenviable position of coming in 'in medias res', with very little context or time to adjust.

She only exhales in silent agreement when he points out that Azalea might be trusted, but Xihunel can't.

But in a way, his going to— well, a joke?

In a way that works just as well, uncoiling her twisted up heart just a little bit, even as she still holds herself in tension. There's even a brief, incredulous chuff of a laugh.

She can't help but broadcast everything she's feeling to his senses, and she doesn't even realize that— she thinks he's somehow doing this with amazing hearing and maybe something else. This isn't the time, after all, to start quizzing him on how a blind man kicks so much ass. If that time ever comes. It's enough that he does, and demonstrably so. She doesn't doubt that he is blind.

"Ahh, well, I can give you the long-winded explanation if you want. Or the shortest ones I can manage. You're owed any answers you want, just say the word." she replies. She knows that when she sometimes gets going, launching into a flood of information, that she's prone to becoming rambly, even overwhelming at times, following her trains of thought to whatever conclusion they go to. 'Debriefing' is kind of what she does for a living, after all, though sometimes the explanation ('yep, she's boinking him, bruh') is as simple as the case. She hasn't been so lucky lately.

But…humor has always done pretty well between them, especially when she can't discern what he is feeling, so she tries inserting a little joke of her own. If there are undercurrents of uncharacteristic shyness and tentativeness when she says these next words, there are also overcurrents of something more akin to the regular tone she uses when she starts giving him shit. "Or. You know. We can talk about the tiny, adorable devil horns, which are just tripping real dangerously right out of Diet Soda territory and into Vitamin Water Land."


"What? There were horns?" Matt asks, his tone all deadpan gallows humor before he rolls his eyes skyward and allows himself the release of a smile, however faint it might be. "Wasn't exactly my idea, is what I'll say."

It can't last. While he is not, actually, in the mood for anything like a digression into the origins and mythology around the deranged figure that threatened their lives and so many others just now, he does need to give this surreal evening some sort of context. He needs a handle over what he's dealing with; what he has by accident or providence become inextricably linked to. "Why don't you give me the brass tacks to start?" he recommends as he pushes himself up to a stand and makes his way over to one of the batons to scoop it deftly into one hand and holster it at his thigh. Then it's off to scour for the other one sans any kind of visible scanning of the terrain — he just breaks for its direction some six feet away and scoops it up in kind, without the slightest bit of explanation or excuse.


Jessica even gives a little snort at his return joke, and a ghost of a smile that he can't see touches her lips, though he can feel the softening of her shitty mood yet again.

She watches him scoop up his batons, and offering a soft, rueful breath through her nose. She tries to order her thoughts, tries to pick out what exactly constitutes 'brass tacks' in this situation.

"Aztec little-g gods. Xihunel, the Sky Serpant. Itzpapalotl, the Obsidian Butterfly. She cut out his heart 10,000 years ago. As she tells it, it was because he wished to walk the world and the simple act of walking could have destroyed all of humanity. I'm…not sure I don't believe her either, after tonight."

She hesitates again, trying to keep it simple. There's a sea of details, of incidents. "This did something to him. Basically he's spent all 10,000 years leaping in and out of people, going on a campaign of terror, murder— r— Well. You heard him."

She fights back the dark and greasy feelings that descend on her. Refocuses. This is just work. Just giving the information.

"Azalea is the latest host. But whereas all the other hosts might have had an exorcism or something, even if that meant eventually just letting him find a new host, she can't. She got too close to a magic book— I honestly forget the name of the damn thing right this very second—" Hilarious considering how much effort they went to in order to keep it out of the hands of Nazi Wizards. "They're fused now. An exorcism would just kill her."

She hasn't really moved from her spot, but she's shifted her attention to Az. She hasn't moved any closer to the girl, unable to bring herself to do so, though eventually she'll have to pick her up, bring her somewhere.

"John and Zatanna have begun working on a solution. Until now she's had episodes. He flits in and out of her memories. Sometimes she's more her, sometimes she's more him, but it's still just…an evil shit in a girl's body with a girl's strength. He lends her some combat knowledge but that's all he can usually do from in there. But she's getting worse, getting less her, more him."

Pause. "I'm sorry, I really am trying to keep it brief. There's just a lot going on here."

She hesitates and says, "Anyway. Itzpapalotl showed up to convince me tonight to leave well enough alone. Her solution is that I continue to 'shepherd' her as she puts it, continue to try to turn her dark energy towards heroic ends while she continues to grow worse and worse. She saved and brought me a baby orphaned by this murder case I'm working— baby's fine, she's with Cindy— as a, well, I thought hostage but maybe peace offering? I don't know. She even tried to bribe me. I said no and kept pushing her to tell me how we might save Azalea somehow. She eventually lost patience and just bound Azalea's soul, took me off the non-existent 300th floor of my building where she had me trapped with her, and dropped me back off in time for Xihunel to leap out the window after you."


"Little-g," Matt repeats quietly, wondering — and not for the first time — at what a strange world they live in. Standing there on the rooftop, face angled just above the shadowy silhouettes of the far-off Pallisades across the Hudson River, he might actually be mistaken for star gazing. Not that one can really star-gaze in the City, with so much ambient light from below blinding New Yorkers to the constellations above.

There are questions attendant to the rest of her explanation, obvious and implicit in the very telling of the tale, but he makes no further follow-up. Maybe he already knows the answer to some of them, maybe he doesn't want to or doesn't feel ready to know. Either way, he's done inquiring about Aztec deities and their strange feuds that have spilled over into thoroughly mortal matters. He knows, roughly, and absent interventions from the Jersey magicians Jessica consorts with, the only real play with Azalea at this point. He'll play it in his own time.

Which leaves nothing but: "Look, Jess," he begins, the cords along his throat tightening as he speaks. "I — when I started all this last year, I didn't know what it would turn into. Not really. But now I'm up against some ugly, awful people. If they had an inkling of who I was, they'd go after Foggy and — everyone I care for, really. My experience is that when two people know a secret, it's not a secret for long. Whatever you can do to help me make this one last a while longer, at least? I'd appreciate it."


She knows of his faith, and now she knows the man in black— the man in red now— has had ample cause to have it shaken again and again. Primordial Darkness, Aztec Dieties, Heaven and Hell, the existence of magic at all. He'd been going after scumbags. Human traffickers— a worthy and big enough cause in its own right. Sometimes Jessica wishes she'd started that simple and kept it that simple.

Even so, everything happens for a reason. That much, she's come to have faith in.

Unaware that he might be considering his own solution to Azalea's dire dillema, she focuses on the one he lays before her. She can see the tension at his throat, all coupled with the signs of rightful exhaustion he's given all evening long. What can she do to help him keep it a secret, besides keep her mouth shut?

Tread into a morally black area.

"I— "

She thinks about asking Zatanna, but realizes she needs someone more powerful. Her hand dips to her pocket and she brings out a crumpled note. She stares at it for a moment.

"Itzpapalotl. I can ask her to make sure that Azalea and Xihunel cannot remember your face anymore. I think she can do it, is powerful enough to even take his memories. Hell, I think she could slip right past the psychic and magical protections I've got on my own brain to make me forget too, if…that's what you want. She's left me a d- a note after all this, and took it upon herself to do me a f—" that was about to be the word 'fucking' but Jess is trying to be careful not to antagonize the goddess who may still be listening. "A favor as she saw it that indicates she can mess with my brain if she wants." Fear slams into her, but she doggedly ignores it. For him, she will do this thing, make this ask, even if it means inviting the goddess herself to screw with her head. She keeps her tone just extra uber matter-of-fact, like it's nothing, but all the flight instinct is right there for him to read.

"I just can't, won't, ask her to do that to Zatanna. It would be wrong." It's wrong to do it to Az too, but then…considering Az's list of options is growing increasingly limited and increasingly final, Jessica can't help but see that as…minor, compared to the shitty promises she's already made. "But again, she'd never tell. You'd…have to do your own negotiations with her, from there, to see what she can do to protect your secret, other than…be one of the world's most powerful people, on your side."

She has to stand, has to walk away, feeling a bit cold. She doesn't want the goddess in her head, and she doesn't want to give up knowing who Matt really is, watching him scoop up his own stuff by whatever means he does it, watching him be himself around her. But she has no right. No right to his secrets. No right to anything about him.

Still, she has to offer a counter measure. "Barring those measures, then keeping my mouth shut, acting like nothing has changed, and swearing to be right there next to you— or there when you can't be— to gracelessly kick the shit out of anyone who bothers Nelson or your lady or anyone else you care about is certainly…well. Something I'd have done anyway, so. If you have something else in mind, then…just…tell me what you need."


Whatever Matt intended when he began this line of conversation, she sidelines when she offers her suggestion for keeping his secret truly secret. He's just beginning to wrap his mind around the scope of what's possible when you're dealing with wizards and gods, and the scenario she presents him is both disturbing and — deep in his core, he will perhaps admit, tantalizing.

How easy would it be to just erase this night, or at least the worst liabilities that come along with it? Avoid the complications — fairly well forced on him for reasons having nothing to do with him — and continue on his crusade as before. There's a good case to be made that stealing these memories is no violation of Azalea at all; that rather it was the mad venture that drove her here, as a prisoner of her own body, that served as the true violation which a clean slate might wipe away. And that Jessica Jones, who he has a well-founded feeling has been through a world of shit in her own life, probably doesn't need one more burden to carry or secret to keep. And that Zatanna can be managed, or else this Aztec can be cajoled into including her, whatever Jessica thinks or wants.

After all, she won't know the difference, will she?

He makes his best lawyer's argument to himself and comes up against a solid wall of revulsion. There's no unbiting the apple, or closing Pandora's Box. Free will, now that we have it, is fairly well inviolable to his Catholic mind. And so it is that he says, quietly, doing his best to wipe any trace of regret from his voice: "You… don't need to do that. If that Aztec spirit is what made this mess, I won't trust her to fix it. Just — keep me in the loop if she looks to be faltering. She's my problem now too, and not just because of my shit." After all, he saw what she could have done, and almost did had it not been for Zatanna's intervention. "And," he adds with a faint, tired quirk of his lips, "thanks for the offer on helping push back if things go sideways. I may call you up on it someday."

That choice made, clarity achieved, he heaves out a breath that's colored with relief and resignation at once. He's not at peace with his choice, not by a long shot, but he's more peaceful for having made it.


She had held her breath, waiting for the answer. In truth it probably would not have done to erase the whole night, but she'd have been willing to erase this conversation, and the memory of seeing his face.

He can't know, he doesn't know, what it means for her to offer to allow someone, anyone to touch her mind for any reason, even a memory wipe.

He doesn't know, and yet he spares her that anyway. Is willing to trust her, despite any missteps she may have made tonight that caused him trouble.

Gratitude floods her, warmth. It can't chase away the sadness inside of her. The truth is she's devastated right now. She turns to face him, her voice shaking with that same emotion. "Thank you. For trusting me. And I will. Keep you in the loop."

She looks down for a long moment though. Finally, softly: "The next step is getting her contained. I made a commitment months ago to see this Nazi Wizard thing through, that means leaving the country for a few days. I can't watch her. I— can't do shit about her if she loses her shit again anyway, can I? But…"

She hesitates over how much to tell him. Client confidentiality is a thing in her business too. But she just promised to keep him in the loop, and she knows his biggest secret. He can know who this client is, especially if knowing reassures him any. It's not like Iron Man didn't just land on the roof of her building like a dumbass.

"Tony Stark is one of my clients now. For the murder case, in fact. He offered his help for whatever else I was doing, and while I think he meant he thought he was going to get to look 'cool' while zooming around in that suit of his, well. I demanded full access to his entire operation before I accepted the case. I know he has facilities that may be able to hold her, experimental crap that might be able to keep her contained for now. I'm telling you this only so you know it's not just some half-baked thing I'm doing that leaves you in a bad position. If he won't, or can't, well. I have a contact in SHIELD too that I can beg for help. I don't want to put her in an actual prison, but…that's what I'll do if I have to. Then it will be time for a frank discussion with Constantine about whether he really can help her. So…she won't really be seeing too many people. I'm going to have Trish watch her. They were fucking dating. She might do a better job keeping Azalea human than I would right now."

Jessica does not approve at all of the dating, but she'll use it.

Jessica looks away from him then. "I'm not sure she wasn't right you know. After that display, I'm not sure the Obsidian Butterfly wasn't right that there's no magical solution safe enough. And if that's the case…"

Grief pierces her voice, and she wraps her arms around herself. "I'm not sure she has any options left, Matt."


Obnoxious billionaire playboy Tony Stark hired Jessica Jones? His long-time secret celebrity crush dates women? And, in particular, a woman possessed by an Aztec demon? The things one learns while taking a late-night parkour on the New York City skyline.

Matt manages to place those fascinating tidbits aside — along with his own weariness and sense of weathered-down defeat — and focus on what Jessica is telling him about the newest person of interest in his life. He rakes a hand through his hair, throwing it even further askew. "So you're going to try to have Stark keep her safe while you… handle Nazi wizards abroad…" he's offering slowly, tentatively. "And you're going to see if there isn't some alternative to exorcism that gets your friend right in her head again and keeps the devil way down in the hole." That crinkles at the corner of his useless eyes don't signal skepticism so much as speculation, puzzling through possibilities. "We'll find one," he says of options, finally, quietly, and leaning on the 'we.' Azalea's own suggestion is ruled right out, even now, no matter how much of a relief the woman she was might find it.



"Yeah," Jessica says wearily. "Heh. You're way better at the succinct thing than I am."

She actually used to be ridiculously succint. Then she learned about this thing called opening up. She adds, "Both the wizards are spearheading that. They'd tell me if they knew anything new, so…they don't have anything yet. They know how important this is. Stark will call me if there's a problem, and I'll call you, but I'm going to tell her to keep her sedated. Zatanna's binding more or less kept the problem managable for months, and she repeated it when she showed up— I think you went down for the count then? I don't think we're going to see this again. Itzpapalotl wanted to show me that tampering with her soul is bad, that it could doom the world. I intend to convey the message just like she wants so she doesn't get fiesty again."

But there is a definite surge of warmth again when he emphasizes the 'we'. She takes a deep breath, and for the moment gets pulled from the edge of the terrible options she'd been contemplating. "You know, when you say it like that, 'we'll find a solution'— Gives me some faith. Maybe you'll realize something none of the rest of us can."

Jessica realizes she's holding the note, still, and shoves it back in her pocket. "Anyway. If she shows up again, I'm going to just…beg her for mercy or something so she doesn't feel the need for round two."

She pauses, considering Matt's bare face, mind working on a second problem. At some point, he's going to have to parkour home and his mask is trashed. She steps well away from him. "Here. Um. I'm not trying to get cute, just— "

With this she buttons her outer shirt all the way up and begins a rather gymnastic affair which involves pulling her arms inside of the flannel so she can get at the black bulletproof t-shirt beneath, pulling it off and through the neck of the outer without actually dislodging the covering of the first. She walks to the edge of the building and shakes it out six or seven times, runs her fingers over every inch to make sure there's not so much as a sliver of glass, then approaches and holds it out to him. "Mask," she explains. "But you might want to check it for glass again. It's bulletproof but um. Don't get shot at tonight on top of every thing else, please."


Matt manages a wry, closed-mouth smile when Jessica compliments him on his pithiness — and that is all. She may have learned how to open up, but he's not remotely there yet. Everything about this is alien terrain, and he hasn't the slightest idea how to navigate it properly. "I like manageable. Manageable sounds good," he says of Zatanna's efforts, though cautiously, at least in part because he doesn't know the slightest thing about spells or whether they weaken or falter when their casters go off chasing Nazi wizards half-way around the world.

The idea of Matt Murdock, son of a middling boxer from Hell's Kitchen, arriving at a way to to banish an ancient would-be god is laughable to him, but it's not to say that he doesn't appreciate the vote of confidence — much less what comes next. She carefully extricates herself from her clothing and offers it as a gift. He's confused, slightly flummoxed right up until she extends the shirt towards him, but when realization dawns he flashes a smile, even if it's little more than a glimpse of weary white. "Thanks," he says as he shakes it out and then begins tying it into a makeshift bandana and wrapping it around the top of his head, catching vanilla and soap and her singular fragrance in the doing, as unmistakable as a fingerprint.

"Should have kept the sock on me just in case, huh?" the once-again cowled man says archly. There's another quiet, cleansing exhale before he adds: "See you around, Jones."

And then, without further ado, he's plucking one of the batons from the holster at his thigh, casting a grappling hook to far-flung point on the building next door. It finds its mark, whirling around the rung of a fire-escape with uncanny accuracy. Then it's a run, a leap, a dizzying swing through the Manhattan skyways.

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