Bones of the Forgotten King

August 29, 2017:

Jessica Jones calls Azalea Kingston to explain why she won't be at the final battle in Tamoachan. The detective gets considerably more than she bargained for.



NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, T'Challa, Sizani, John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara, Luke Cage

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Jessica Jones is not normally one for video calls. Voice is fine 99% of the time.

But sometimes seeing someone else’s face is useful. Like when you need to look into their eyes and tell them something you don’t feel good about saying. Or when you need to look into their eyes, and verify you’re talking to the person you mean to speak to, rather than the insane god who lives inside her noggin.

Either way, the video chat request that pops onto Azalea’s phone might come as something of a surprise.

The call comes in around 5 PM NYC local time, which means it’s around 11 in Wakanda. Not an ungodly hour, really, for either participant, especially given Jessica Jones’ preferences, preferences which usually have her sleeping until nearly noon and going to bed around nearly 3 in the morning. Most PI work does not, as it happens, take place first thing in the morning, though she’s roused herself often enough on the rare occasion when it does.

Her phone was taken from her as of late. You see, she had done something bad. Or at least her dark passenger had, and several tons worth of Iron Man suits surrounding her new, temporary holding area would attest to her misbehaving. Still, she can receive the call, it just comes through on a holo display, rousing Azalea from beneath a blanket and several bits of clothing that were not her own, she pulls on a too-big shirt and leans into frame of the holo-sensor, which immediately renders her disheveled image. Slowly a bottle rises into view, Jack Daniels used as the best mouthwash in the world before she refocuses her blue gaze and picks up the sensor to take it with her back to her mattress. She cradles it so that she might look down at the face of her friend, brows lifting and head tilting.

"Jess? What day is it?"

Jarvis chimes in with an answer, the ever present voyeur, and Azalea scowls up at the ceiling.

Since Jarvis has gone right ahead and given the answer, Jessica Jones declines to. The Jack Daniels produces a wan half of a smile. No judgment there. No envy, either. She may have beaten herself up for the occasional light beer obtained here in Wakanda, but the desire for hard liquor hasn’t been plaguing her as often as late. Nevertheless, she understands someone else’s need for it, especially Azalea’s, with all the woman is going through.

She wonders, after this mad plan is done, whose eyes will be looking out at her. Azalea’s? Xihunel’s? Or some new person’s?

It doesn’t matter. Today Azalea is the one that’s there, her gaze clear and blue and bright. The one she has to talk to. “Hey, Az,” she says. The lines on her face, the shadows beneath her eyes, are not the lines and shadows of someone dying, but someone caught in a perpetual state of worry, coupled with someone who has no fucks to give about her appearance right now.

She looks down. “I have to tell you something,” she says. She goes right to business, because she can’t think of anything more purely inane to say right now than how are you feeling.

Only the blue eyes that Jessica had become so familiar with stare back, and they appear to hold only the beleaguered mind of her friend, cast through the last few days in a holding pattern that Xiuhnel started and she finished. Never would she be proud of the things she'd done, either while under the Murdered God's direct control or under his punishing, vile instinct. But she could not ignore how invigorated she felt in the wake of Xiuhnel's pre-battle celebration.

"Are you pregnant? Pretty sure it's not mine."

The mad cackle that comes after almost sounds like her darker side, but when she sets the bottle down beside her makeshift bed and props the little mobile sensor up, it's clear it's just Azalea's dark sense of humor. Where that comes from, the girl or the monster, is anyone's guess, really. One hand comes up to run through her hair, pulling it from it's messy state and out of her eyes. At least she seems in better spirits than when they last met. When Azalea was all tuned up to smack Jessica in the face and tell her to leave her be.

She looks, for all the world, renewed. And all it took was a long conversation held at the level of her soul. And, well. Lots of other, unmentionable things.

Jessica Jones laughs too. It’s funny— even though there’s an undercurrent of uneasiness to it. Jokes like that flash her back to a rooftop on Hell’s Kitchen on an April night, a place where she was paralyzed and helpless and hearing about her probable fate to come. She hopes that however-many-miles of distance and a phone screen mostly serve to keep that uneasiness out of her awareness.

She does look better, and sound better, and Jess hopes it lasts. She hopes it lasts forever. She hopes the girl keeps getting better. She doesn’t ask after the reasons though.

Instead she says, “Zatanna paid me a visit earlier. She said that she and John are gearing up to go to Tamoachan soon. Asked me to come.”

The guilt lines settle a hint deeper into her face. “Az. I am calling because I had to turn her down. And I felt like you deserved an explanation for why I won’t be there at the proverbial Final Countdown.”

"You fuck."

The words cut across time and space, and echo as if Azalea were standing there next to her. As if she might reach out and take her by her throat. As if she might cast spittle in her face with those vile words. But they are not vile, they do not carry the weight of condemnation or the realization of some betrayal. There is all the glee of Azalea Kingston when she's running a rooftop, giving chase to someone who did not believe in the Devil, played across her face like a message from God. Her fingers tighten around the device that brings her face to Jessica's eyes half way around the world and brings it close.

"I don't deserve anything. You don't owe me anything. You were my mother when I needed one. Sister when I needed one. You gave me shelter, gave me a family, and a new job. New kills. All of it. I met Trish because of you. Smiled and laughed and cried and fucked all that up, but I never would have gotten to do any of it if not for you. You're a hero, you stupid cunt." Her smile curls around the word, and if she could reach out to hug her, she would.

"If you can't come save me, you must be out saving someone else. I'll always be alright with that. And if we fix this, and you're still out there, I'll come join you."

The image flickers for a moment, but returns, stuttering one of Az's words the barest of moments.

Jessica Jones certainly knows the difference between vile words said out of cruelty and— well. A friendly ‘you fuck.’ What Azalea says brings tears to her eyes. They don’t shed. They don’t fall. But they’re there. And a smile to her face. A genuine one.

There is no part of Jessica Jones that will tire of being called a hero. She is past trying to reject it. She drinks down every little confirmation that maybe, just maybe, she’s doing something right like she’s a thirsty plant in a desert climate. If that inner desert is mostly in bloom these days because of the support of, well, everyone, it nevertheless has not tired of new infusions of water.

And to be understood, so brilliantly understood before she even has to explain, is a rare thing. Especially for a soul as lonely as hers. To feel like someone gets her is a great gift.

“I am,” she admits. “Trying to, anyway. Bucky Barnes. I’m in Wakanda, trying to clear his name before T’Challa executes him. And we sure could use the help. This thing is a tough nut to crack.”

That’s how they started, wasn’t it? That’s how they began. That’s how they came together, really. On a strange battlefield, seeking to bring one James Buchanan Barnes in from the cold. Fitting that they might come together to bring him out of the heat, too.

Eyes widen against the admission of Jessica's mission, her lips parting just so as she considers it all. She knows T'Challa like no one else, not personally, but historically. She knows The Panther, and what the Panther will require of Bucky and Jessica and everyone else. Her breath quickens and her mind spins backwards. If not for certain arrangements, she'd never have such a clarity of mind. A hand shifts sidelong until it finds a necklace, long and made of panther teeth, a gift of one King of Wakanda to the shadow of another.

"I can…" But she cannot leave, cannot help. Not like this. "There is a cave. It would be in Somalia now. You can see three islands from it's entrance. It hasz…h—ha-z"

The image flickers again, and Azalea's escalating tone and gesticulation fades to frazzled oblivion. But the voice behind Jessica is oh so clear. Never has it held malice, not for Jessica, even when she wished to show Jessica pain. For The Obsidian Butterfly, it was always about teaching a lesson. Now it is about something else.

"Maybe you can still save her. Even from here. You'll forgive me for not stopping by sooner. Your hedge mage friends played a trick and thought to keep me out. But they don't know. Such naive creatures, blessed with such short, vibrant lives. They've only begun to scratch the surface of what the connection I have with my beloved Xiuhnel. They couldn't possibly expect that I see everything Xiuhnel sees. Hear everything he hears. Feel, everything he feels. Every pain. Every thing he might align against me to do me harm, his act of revenge, carried out nightly. But it has kept my realm alive. I know they are coming for me, and I am going to destroy them, like every other mortal who thought they might stand before a being who bent a black hole to her will and formed it into a new world."

If Jessica turns, she will see her, dressed as she was on that day in the elevator. Warm eyes, dark skin, a life to her that is unmatched on this world. "You'll never find the cave in time. Never know what to look for.. unless I help you." Her smile curls, because she knows how impossible it must be. But then, she has helped in the past. Annette Anders lives only because of her.

Jessica whirls around, hand flying to her pocket…

But the gris-gris meant to ward Itzpapalotl away is not on her. Where the Hell is it? In her bedside table at the hotel in Birnan Zana, because she was rapidly doing laundry the other night. Under the protection of the panther goddess as she assumed all of Wakanda to be, exhausted as she is, she’d simply set it aside without being as vigilant as she normally was, caught a couple of hours of shut-eye and…came back down here to get back to her work at the SHORO Investigation Deck, leaving it behind without even so much as remembering to throw it in her phone.

Damn it.

This sounds like a devil’s bargain. You can save Bucky, but not Az, Itz seems to be saying. A new devil’s bargain. This is how she led in last time too. With honey— Annette Anders— and a stick— Xihunel himself. Jones feels the memory of that awful night creeping up on her. And at least one of the lessons. Being rude to Goddesses is a bad idea.

Cold fear trickles up and down her spine. Itzpapalotl here, in the room with her. She has admitted to being terrified of Xihunel, but the god’s darkling lover is pretty worthy of terror too, and in her heart of hearts Jessica Jones might well admit that she’s had enough of the Aztec pantheon in general for any four lifetimes.

Damn it!

She wipes sweaty palms hastily on her jeans and backs slowly away until she’s right up against the wall of the room, adrenaline coursing through her veins.

At least this time she has less of a hold on me than she used to, right? If love or some…twisted approximation thereof is her purview. I’m not in love anymore. I think. That answer is actually somewhat more complicated than the black and white truth Jessica is desperately trying to get to, now not quite true, not quite a lie.

And then there’s the matter of Somalia.

They have avoided leaving the country, even to pursue a lead in Armenia, because leaving the country might mean not being able to get back in. A small problem with Zee’s teleportation, and having made contact with the girl Jessica is now sure she could contact her for a harmless ferry back and forth.

The threats sort of roll off her. That Itzpapalotl will try to kill everyone who goes pretty much strikes Jessica as a given. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t in danger, and alone, right now.

I wish Luke Cage were here.

And that? Is the most hilarious thought she’s had all evening. Almost enough to make her laugh hysterically. It’s an insane thought, because Luke’s desire to defend her, of all people, the murder weapon for his wife’s demise, is equally insane.

She takes 30 seconds to indulge in a series of meditative breaths. Three in all. Five seconds in. Five seconds out. She’s not a woman of great courage, but she’d best scrape up some approximation of it from somewhere.

Keep your cool. Survive. And be a detective. Be a detective, and -not- a smart-ass.

“What’s important about this cave?”

A single step forward might as well be a lunge, but she does not revel in the fear of the woman before her. Itzpapalotl tilts her head just so, and then her hands clasp in front of her. "A bargaining chip. An act of good will. A gift no one else can give. You see, one very unfortunate summer, ages ago by your measure, The Sky Serpent walked the Earth unpaired, in a body, without a soul to join with. I showed you his power, unbound. It was far worse when he walked into Wakanda, and tore their defenders apart with his bare hands. Far worse, when some fool bound me from keeping him in check, and thought to tear him asunder. How wrong they were. If not for Bast herself interceding, and asking the King of Wakanda to carry Xiuhnel away from their land, she would have been worshiped only by a mass grave where Wakanda used to be. Instead this man walked barefoot, hundreds of miles, to a place where he thought Xiuhnel might be far enough away from his people before he died."

Her head tilts, alien in it's own right, putting her facade of humanity in jeopardy. "Azalea wants you to retrieve the bones of the Forgotten King, a man who sacrificed his very soul for the sake of his country. If you bring him home to rest, perhaps you will appeal to a greater sense of Wakandan justice. After all, as I am certain you are coming to understand, they do not see things the way most mortals do. And I could take you there, Jessica. This instant. Take you, show you, bring you back. And all I want from you is your silence. To know that I know your friends are walking into a trap. All I want is your word, bound by oath, that you will mire in this unique understanding and do nothing to protect them."

Bound by oath. There may not be trickery to be had here, if it is magic she means to inflict upon Jessica. Her eyes tick down to the floor, and her smile eases up a the corners.

"Or you could say no. Warn them all, for all the good it will do them, and crush Azalea's hope to save her friend."

Agreeing to be an agent of Wakanda, of T’Challa, was a deeply dangerous bargain. Those who really know about it have all expressed some level of skepticism or concern. Really, it’s knowing Sizani, knowing T’Challa, that makes Jessica less afraid of the bargain than she might be. There’s plenty of ambivalent feelings to be had, anger, if she’d allow herself to indulge in it, that T’Challa took Bucky and threatened him, but nothing in life is simple.

This decision, though, is.

Wakandans do not see things as others see them, it is true.

But she imagines staring into the eyes of the panther goddess and admitting that she made a bargain like this out of fear, or even laziness. Fear that she couldn’t do this, laziness, maybe: get these bones, bring them to the King, everyone goes home.

She does not think it is an offering Bast will accept. Not for this.

This is a great service and you’ve done a good duty as a Wakandan agent. We’re still eating Barnes’ heart out. That’s what she expects to happen.

Meanwhile, the others are here. Fighting, risking, sacrificing. Risking death, risking their careers, risking their finances. They’re all working their asses off. To do this would be a violation of their good faith.

The emotional manipulation doesn’t escape her either.

Az said Jessica had been a mother to her when she needed one. Mothers sometimes have to disappoint their children. If Azalea Kingston is meant to help Bucky Barnes, it will be in person, after she’s well. And if she’s not, well, she won’t have much time to be disappointed, because Jessica rather things the next step will be planning the girl’s funeral.

She will seek the bones on her own time, later, after Bucky is home safe, perhaps with Azalea’s information, perhaps through other means. Presenting them— eventually— may balance the scales of honor. Balance the fact that Sizani has given her so much and asked so little in return. Balance that she has not been able to make both commitments equally important in her heart. Saving Bucky is all she cares about; serving Wakanda has been a distant second, but she gave her word that she’d do the latter, and this might be a good start.

But it’s not worth selling some part of her soul for. Not worth bargaining away loyalty, and friendship, and trust. Not John’s, not Zee’s, not Tony’s.

“No, thank you,” she says. And that’s all she says out loud, whatever Itzpapalotl might read in her face— blank, grim, determined— or the mystic currents of her emotions. No thank you only, just as she’d promised herself, almost tongue-in-cheek, because she never imagined, even for a moment, that Itzpapalotl might actually try to offer her a second deal.

The moment stretches on as a Goddess takes in the measure of Jessica Jones, her lips parting ever so slightly as she observes. What does she wonder, or hope from Jessica? Nothing reflects in those warm eyes that would tell the truth of her, but before long Jessica will know that her play, whatever it is, has come to an end. The world does not bend or shake or shift. The Obsidian Butterfly simply ceases to exist, gone as if an image projected at a wall had been turned off. It will leave Jessica to the task to deciphering the purpose of the visit, leaving her with all the power, all the decisions. Pursue her lead to the Forgotten King? Tell the others of this visit, that she knows their plan?

It's all up to Jessica now. Certainly, Jessica will make the right decision. She has a good track record for that sort of thing. Right?


The very best.


But this decision is easy. The call with Az has ended, but the purpose of it has too.

She group texts John and Zee. She makes it pretty succinct.

Be careful. Itzpapalotl knows you’re coming.

Really, she feels like they probably already know that. But…just in case they don’t, Jessica Jones is not going to be the one to deprive them of a bit of information that might save their life, especially since the Obsidian Butterfly tried to bargain something valuable to keep her from having it.

As for Somalia, it will wait. It’s not relevant to the case, not really. She’s not out to buy Bucky’s freedom.

She’s out to clear him. Once and for all.

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