Sympathy for the Butterfly

May 16, 2017:

Jessica Jones goes to see Azalea Kingston at last. Her attempts to carefully gather some information lead to another tense encounter with the Obsidian Butterfly.

Stark Industries

Now with cozier prisons.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Trish Walker, T'challa, Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Matt Murdock

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Things have changed since Jessica was last here, some subtle, others obvious. The room itself is still grey and dour and filled with a sense of utilitarian hopelessness, along with the double glass cylinder that serves as a prison. But Trish had gone through the trouble of making sure Azalea had a real bed, and on one of the grey walls outside of the prison, a big screen TV hangs, and there's a chair outside the not-glass facing it, along with one inside, facing out.

At least once or twice, they'd had movie night, it seems, and there's even a signs that Trish spent the night outside, close but so far away as time ticked by and the days turned into something longer. But no matter who visited, or what things Trish brought and decorated with, one thing remained crystal clear.

This was still a prison.

In the middle of the circular cell is Azalea's curled up form, legs to her chest, raw concrete leeching the heat from her body, she seems especially tiny in this place meant for something much larger, much more dangerous. She is not dressed like a danger, wearing Stark branded sweatpants and a tank top. On the transparent barrier her heartrate shows, as does her temperature. 120 bpm. 101 degrees Fahrenheit . It might be alarming at first, but this is how she always reads, a body infused with a spiritual adrenaline that allows her to operate on overdrive. And right now, she's tapped into the mainline of it.

She will not move until Jessica speaks, mired in her own thoughts and frustrations that radiate from her in palpable waves.


Jessica Jones's own heart rate and blood pressure are up, and it's not spiritual adrenaline that's doing it.

No, this would be just plain old, run-of-the-mill, normal adrenaline, adrenaline she's trying to ignore. She cares about Azalea Kingston like family, though the exact shape of what that relationship is certainly changes depending on who is doing the talking. Sister or foster child or ward or whatever. Some things need no definition.

She fears Xihunel.

Which is why she arrives in full "armor," perhaps, the leather jacket and scarf and jeans and fingerless gloves a bit much for the spring weather, though of course the days still dip into the 40s more often than not. It's why she had to try to meditate all the way down, on the train, in the elevator. Singing bowls, pools of water. Showing fear in this room, feeling fear in this room, is dangerous. And part of her wanted to flee before she ever got here.

But fear doesn't often stop Jessica Jones. It's an old and constant friend, really, a known quantity, a friend that's joined at her hip, which never shuts up. Which is why she ultimately winds up putting one gloved hand against the glass of the prison she insisted on. She lets her head fall forward a little, her black hair sweeping across her face in a curtain, shadowing it, hiding it.

Guilt is an old known quality, too.

"Hey, Az," she says at length, when she finds her voice. It takes her several minutes to do so, several minutes of imagining Trish and Az here in a series of grim sleepovers, both of them trying to make the best of a situation that is pure 100-proof shit.


There's barely any movement at first, the slow draw of reality swirling around a single word. Her name and not her name. But it's a beacon, a way out of her haze of mental destruction that has grown worse. The nightmares are what she knows best, things she used to fend off by offering Xiuhnel a treat here and there. But inside this prison, she has nothing at all to offer him. All she has is her own reflection, barely visible in the glass across from her as she finds the sensation of concrete at her side, and slowly leans up so that she might tilt her head and peer at the glass.

She smells the fear first, languishing around Jessica in a spiritual haze.

Then, she rises and teeters once, the clatter of teeth echoing against the walls as her new necklace comes into view. Long enough to be worn around her waist, she has it wrapped twice around her own neck, and still it hangs free in two layers, every incisor showing it's age and signs of wear.

This is the Litany of Kings lost, and now she carries it's burden as she walks towards Jessica, her hand pressing to the glass with a slow exhale as her expression finally breaches light.

She looks like misery incarnate, a haunted, hallow person on the very edge of existence, exhausted by sleep instead of rejuvenated by it. Still, there's some sense of hope there. Some sense of need and longing, perhaps only just to not be alone again, or perhaps she hopes Jessica has figured it out. Perhaps she hopes Jessica might save her.

"You didn't drink anything, right?"

The last bits of her humanity well forth, and she asks because she has to know she didn't ruin Jessica the way so many things have. Her other hand comes up, presses to glass. Her eyes fall shut when her forehead presses against it with a dull thud.

Of all the things Jessica imagined Az might say to her first, that one wasn't it. It startles her, jerks her head up a little.

Parents lie all the time. When the children are young, parents lie about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Sometimes they lie and say the clock is broken to get the children to bed earlier. Sometimes a particularly annoying toy that has simply run out of batteries becomes inevitably broken. Sometimes they lie about how safe the world is, lie about how impregnable the house is.

Lying is part of Jessica's business. She routinely becomes a fantastic cast of colorful characters to get things done during the course of her job. FCC officials, sweepstakes administrators, long lost sorority girlfriends, efficiency consultants. She makes these personas up on the fly, and plays them to the hilt, bringing whatever props, voices, and clothes might support them.

She does not lie to people she cares about, as a rule.

She weighs the good and the ill of lying now, but ultimately decides of all the wrongs she's going to commit, lying when confronted with this bald, direct question might be a bit too much. "A little," she says. "Not enough to get me drunk. And then got right back off. I can get my thirty day token back next week."

This makes Az the first person who has heard about her tumble off the wagon.

She takes a big, deep breath. "T'challa give you that? The necklace? I heard he paid you a visit."


Her fingertips leave prints as they smear sidelong and she presses her back to the glass, falling in slow motion to a seated position with her prison as a backrest. The slight shake of her head is not disappointment, but a vile anger that wells with tears in her eyes. They go away when she closes them, squeezes them shut. She knows Jessica didn't come here to wallow in Azalea's misery. And so when her head tips back and echos against the not-glass, it's punctuated by her voice again.

Something mundane. Something easier.

"How was your tr-?"

Her voice wavers on the last word, and it's clear she's struggling with every fiber of her being to retain some semblance of herself that does not involve breaking down, or lashing out. Violence stirs in her soul. Lust for things that He wants, and that she does not. After all this time, so much of it alone, she only wants to go back to movie night. She only wants to sit around the apartment flicking pieces of paper at Cindy until she agrees to do the dishes.

Then Jessica mentions T'Challa.

"The King of the Cradle." It focuses her, thinking of that, thinking of him and the history they share. "He came to make me afraid. He did not understand." Her jaw sets. Her. Afraid. The last time was the night she became The Dark Devil. The last time was before Him, because He doesn't fear anything. But then, he does not know danger the way people do. Does not know consequence. Perhaps he could fear, but has never been put to task.

Azalea somehow doubted it.

"I don't know why he left this, but it.. it helps. It makes me think of Him, so long ago. The other one like me. He died, thinking he could kill Xiuhnel while he was inside him. While he struggled to stay himself against the wave of his horror. He failed to stop Xiuhnel forever, but saved his people."


She can see that Az blames herself, but Jessica gives a hard shake of her head, as if to negate the idea that it is Az's fault.

But she doesn't go there anymore; Az is effectively distracted by questions about T'challa. "How did he save his people?"

It's an intriguing possibility, the idea that Xihunel could be killed while still inside of Az. But this other person's soul wasn't fragmented and merged and snarled with Xihunel's soul, and he obviously didn't get to the answer. Still, Jessica scents something on the wind here, her investigator's mind picking up on the faintest measure of a trail, something that could lead to an answer that she has not yet given up on finding.

She can't talk to Zee and Constantine about answers anymore, lest she rouse the ire of Iztpapalotl; they will have to pursue such things on their own without her prodding, or not at all. She has passed on Itzpapalotl's message, as she had known that she must. And in truth, all this tampering with souls makes her uneasy anyway…picking them up out of people, sticking them in various machines, trading them around, tying them together.

Maybe there are other answers. Maybe not. But the sudden, renewed spark in Jessica's eye says that this faint hint of a trail has told her that there are places to keep looking, and so long as she meets something other than dead ends in this nasty labyrinth, she will continue to walk it, sniffing them out like the bulldog she has been compared to so very often.


It's hard not to look back at her, but it's for the better. She only remembers the taste of her skin when she does, and right now she can't think about that. Can't let him have even a piece of ground, or she'll lose herself in his outrage. There's a long slow exhale as she steadies herself, and focuses on the question.

In her mind the ocean sings, and the rocks call. In her mind she is dying, but dying never felt so very good. Success. Victory. Metal burned to skin. Nearly blind. Her head taps against the glass, as she remembers falling.

"Xiuhnel came for Wakanda over and over. Different bodies. One time it was not just a different body. It was like the rooftop. Like.." When I almost killed you, Jessica. A hard swallow, and her hands ball into fists. "He had power. He was himself. No one else was inside. I don't know how. I can't..fucking remember. But I know that She came. Bubasti. She who watches over the Cradle. She who stopped him, but could not destroy him."

Her head bows and her hair falls forward again, touching the tops of knees pulled ot her chest. "She needed someone to take him away. Her Panther, the King of his People, had been maimed by Xiuhnel and could die and go to her lands. Instead he chose to live and carry Xiuhnel out of Wakanda. Across a whole continent. To an ocean where he might throw his body on rocks. He didn't understand. Xiuhnel just wanted out. Just wanted someone he could really join with. Not someone who cared about people."

Not someone like her.

And even know, Xiuhnel wants to throw himself against the rocks, but their are none. Just cage, with no way to die, nothing to fuck, and nothing to fight.

Maybe this is what hell is like.


It's an epic tale that she's hearing, something that would make a good book or folktale. "What was Xihunel's beef with Wakanda? Africa is a Hell of a long way away from South America," Jessica says thoughtfully, taking out a notebook and a pencil, jotting it all down. This ritual is comforting. She's not trying to treat Azalea like just another witness to be sure. She is, however, trying to get the facts straight, trying to strengthen the scent she smells on the wind. Xihunel was desperate to get out of someone who cared, desperate to be free of someone like Azalea. But only so he could go on his campaign of terror. And now he is chained to someone like Azalea.

There's something in this. Something she's not seeing. But she looks up at Azalea directly now, no longer hiding behind the dark curtain of her hair, fear forgotten for the time being. It's still lingering somewhere in the back of her psyche, something beyond her ability to help or to stop, but she is, at the very least, capable of ignoring it long enough to try to chase this down. It's better this way, maybe, focusing on things like this, rather than trying to dance around awkward conversation, to try to talk about Germany, which is its own clusterfuck, to try to make apologies for measures that they both know are beyond necessary.


In her mind's eye, it's the battle again. Xiuhnel's men fall, one by one, and he does not care. They were useful, but he could always get more. More to revel in the aftermath. More to rape, pillage, and plunder alongside him. He would not weep for them. He could not. Not here in this place, this place that….

"…it was impenetrable. No one had ever conquered it. But he would. He almost did. Where civilization began. The First City. The First Country. Tribes banded together like no other humans had. It would be his for th-"

It was far from South America.

"No.. The People came later. With Her."

When her head rolls back, her eyes find Jessica's, and in that brief moment they look an eerie, dangerous gold. Maybe just a trick of the light? As Jessica looks at her, she'll see only confusion, and crystal blue staring back.


There is a hand over Azalea's throat, skin the color of caramel contrasting against stark white. It does not last. In a moment, The Obsidian Butterfly tosses The Dark Devil across her prison to smash into the far wall of it with a resounding thud. The rebound sends her onto the bed Trish brought her, and then tumbling in a still heap to the floor.

There are no words to describe the anger that meets Jessica Jones on the other side of that glass, the alien tilt of Itzpapalotl's head cutting through her apparent humanity, and her shimmering robe of black glints like volcanic glass in the light.

"Maybe she'll serve me better in a coma, since you can't take a hint. Maybe you need another lesson in humility, since one was not enough." She takes a step back.

A step back and towards Azalea's defenseless form.


That brief moment of golden eyes causes Jessica to tense, causes the wave of cold fear to come back over her. Xihunel and Kilgrave now vie for nightmare space in the recesses of her mind. She swallows against a mouth gone dry until Azalea's confused eyes go blue once more. Then she relaxes a little.

The panic attack is coming though, and when it arrives it's going to be epic, because she's holding it at bay with will and a stick for now.

Then…Sudden Itzpapalotl. Jessica leaps back in a combat crouch, startled and even more afraid, panting. "Whoa," she says, holding up her hands. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. I was just asking questions. I wasn't doing anything," she says. "All I was doing was talking, asking about what she and T'challa talked about. I relayed your message, Itzpaplotl. I told the wizards to back off. I was just visiting her."

There's an air of desparation in her tone. Not again, oh shit, not again. Talking and taking notes, okay, but still just talking.


"You're never just doing anything, Jessica Jones." The waves of power that roil through this place almost hurt to stand in as she stalks towards Azalea, and as she looms, perhaps ready to strike a blow that would send her into a sleep so deep Jessica would never speak to her again, Azalea looks up and speaks a single word.


In that moment another tale spins in only the way Itzpapalotl looks down at Azalea. The pain that shows in her eyes is every bit the same as Jessica's when she looks at Matt Murdock and knows the truth.

She cannot have him.

The Obsidian Butterfly's lips part, and then teeth clench along with a single fist at her side. "Every time you pry into the past you cut into her mind. Stirring a whirlwind that you placed in a bottle. You're…"

Killing her.

She cannot say it, but the glare she cuts to Jessica shows the nerve struck: She feels for Xiuhnel. Feels something that requires this to continue, but that pains her to see Xiuhnel, and perhaps even Azalea this way.

There are tears in her eyes, even as she begins to shimmer. Even as she begins to fade away.


"Wait, please…"

Jessica probably shouldn't say anything to the goddess, but…

God, how she knows that pain.

It cuts into her so very deeply in that moment. She blinks back a few tears. It wasn't only Xihunel's attack that sent her to drinking, nor her blowout with Bucky. It was her, sitting in a diner in Berlin, staring at Matt's picture like a fucking idiot. The reasons that helped her cope with that lost love were all but blown away on that fateful night, and it has taken every ounce of her ability to compartmentalize to deal with that too.

So perhaps that's why she does something unexpected, and this time, she's just doing it.

She holds out her arms.

To Itzpapalotl.

Offering solace. Offering a moment where two women in love, two mothers trapped in a hopeles situation, can just hold on to one another. Six months ago she would have sneered at the idea that she would ever do anything like this, but everything and everyone around her has transformed her into someone she barely recognizes anymore. For better or for worse.

Someone who will, for a moment, recognize that this is shitty for the goddess too.

Someone who will, for the moment, try to offer comfort. To a goddess.

But goddesses have feelings too, apparently.

Whether Itzpapalotl takes her up on it or not, she says simply, "I'm sorry."


The gesture does not go unrecognized, but there are some things Itzpapalotl is not ready for. Still, she feeds on Jessica's good intentions, carries them with her to a place far away, and a single tear impacts the floor before she's gone.


Azalea stirs, but seems not to notice what happened to her, that one arm hangs limp, dislodged from it's socket. A few heavy breaths and she finally looks down, looks back to Jess…and charges.

The way she hits the glass sends her careening back to the ground, but the resounding pop of her arm finding it's place back in it's socket is oddly satisfying. She groans, holding that arm with her free hand, her breath quickening with a shake of her head.

"I want to go home.

It sounds meek. There is nothing about it that Xiuhnel has a stake in, the strength he often lends to her voice so very far away. "I don't want to be here anymore."


Jessica drops her arms, feeling strange and stupid, disoriented in a world that's so much bigger than she is.

Azalea charges the glass and she jumps a little. She wets her lips, then comes back to it. She thumps her forehead against the glass.

"I want you to go home too," she says quietly. "It's not the same without you around."

But they both know it's not possible.

No more digging into her memories, no more killing Azalea. She had no idea. But there is certainly someone else she can talk to. Someone else who will know. But will he give her the time of day when they're not talking about an active case?

She doesn't know.

She has to try.

"Just a little while longer, okay?"

Just a little while that could possibly be forever. It might be kinder to induce Az into a coma at that, to sedate her or gas her or freeze her in the figurative carbonite. Might be kinder to let her sleep. Or it might just trap her in a nightmare unending, and there might be nothing left of Az to preserve.

No wonder Itzpapalotl gets so pissed off when I look for answers. She's been looking for an answer for 10,000 years, hasn't she? She isn't ponying up the goods because she wants to keep them hidden. She won't pony them up because she doesn't -know-. She's already used the only solution she has.


Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK.

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