How We Lose It

November 21, 2017:

Matt Murdock asks Jessica Jones to stop by his office so he can deliver some news. When she gets there, he realizes she has gone spiraling out of control.

Nelson & Murdock, Hell's Kitchen, New York

They'll leave the light on for ya.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster, Red Robin, Elektra Natchios, Spider-Gwen, Foggy Nelson

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The law office of Nelson & Murdock is technically closed — and indeed will be through the holiday and into the weekend — but a view from the streets would find those third-floor lights still on. Someone is up there, and that someone is Matt Murdock, burning a little midnight oil in continuing penance for his sudden six-week vacation. Take the week, he'd told Foggy. Go see your family. I'll hold down the fort.

Not that he needs midnight oil, or the lamplight by which he works. It's more a signal flare for an expected friend. He'd reached out to Jessica Jones earlier in the day, checking-in after her latest near-death experience, there in the abandoned subway tunnels below Metro General. And now he waits for her while pouring over some motion or another, fingertips skimming quietly along little constellations of braillage.

The text from Matt had prompted Jessica to make an internal barometer check.

First, she'd had to sort of feel out where she was at on actually being around close friends in general and him in particular. She is unsurprised to find that connection unseared, healed. It had been seared. All of them were, even, that first morning after her first encounter with the bear, even Trish's. It was nothing she would have been able to explain to anyone, except that when she'd think of being around certain people she'd see and feel a line inside of her running from her to them, and it would briefly flash with a burning sensation that she felt physically. Then she'd shy away from that, and find she couldn't deal.

She is pretty sure nobody else is having this problem or any problem like it, not that she's talked to them about it. They all seem fine, and moreover she tends to believe they're all stronger than she is anyway, at least mentally. And maybe, you know, she shouldn't have gone racing to someone else's rescue just 8 hours after being poisoned and rendered unconscious in a way that required friends to come get her. It was possible. Maybe. Just a bit. That she pushed herself too far, too fast, in her haste to get to Jane, in her lack of willingness to just admit that she was rattled by that experience of being nearly spirited away to get carved up by mad scientists.

The second barometer check comes with some weighing and measuring. She knows damn well Matt is going to smell that she's been imbibing more booze than she'd even been indulging in the day they'd met. After all, by the time they had, Red Robin had completed his act of jaw-dropping kindness, prompting her to at least try to give alcohol up. She'd been drinking, but not on the daily. In the past week she's moved rapidly from Vodka (which he'd have smelled anyway, but nobody else would have), to hard whiskey, very much on the daily, with a few forays into beer. It causes her to hesitate on the reply in a way she never has before.

But after a few short minutes she decides that while she can't hide much from Matt, she has also never needed to. So she'd sent a simple, 'On my way.'

Besides. If she's going to face her neighborhood again he's probably the person who will make her feel safest doing that. Maybe she can work herself all the way up to staring at her building or something, later.

Bah. Pathetic. Just pathetic.

And so it is that hard booted feet and Jessica's own heartbeat come stomp-clomp-clopping up to the third floor. She knocks, of course she does, but since she knows the light is for her and that he called her here she just passes right in about 20 seconds after doing so. "Hey, Matt," she says, maybe a little subdued, maybe a little embarrassed, and, by the twist of her stomach and the over-abundance of adrenaline and cortisol almost overriding the smells of whiskey, leather, and vanilla, hard-ridden by more anxieties than she's been prone to in some time.

The truth is that the smell of booze hits him from the first floor. It's so strong that at first he isn't at all sure it's actually her, and maintains his skepticism right until the familiar thrum of her heartbeat makes itself known when the elevator doors slide open. He's known her to backslide from time to time, but rarely for long and never to this degree. The surprise of it all has him standing by the time she's approached the frosted-glass window of their office front door, making his way to the doorframe of his own room by the time she enters the foyer.He looks mostly himself in his lawyer's fare: a few scratches on his fair features the only sign of recent scuffles.

His poker face holds. He even musters a slight, close-lipped smile when the door opens. Because as concerned as he is for her, and as protective and self-righteous as he can be in general, Matthew Murdock has always taken people as they come. "Hey, Jess," he says quietly, nodding her inside. "Come on in. Want water? Coffee?"

"Coffee would be great, thanks," Jessica says. She pushes a hunk of very messy hair out of her face, and makes her way in, closing the door behind her. She feels a stab of relief that he maintains his equinamity in the face of her fall. But then, this quality of his— taking people as they come— is part and parcel of why she didn't feel she had to hide from him, why she didn't demure, say she was on a stakeout, and offer to talk by phone.

"I can get it," she adds, feeling weird about him doing so all of the sudden. Last time he sent her after it anyway, so she crosses to the little kitchenette and gets busy with pouring it. Maybe she just needs something for her hands to do. She doesn't take off her gloves, or her scarf, or her jacket as she crosses inside. Her hand shakes a bit as she pours the coffee, but…not enough to slop it.

She clears her throat. "Sorry about that weird text the other day," she says. "Elektra broke into my apartment, and I wasn't sure what she was watching or paying attention to or whatever else. Like she didn't hurt me, that wasn't the issue."

He lets her claim the coffee and busy her hands, while he regards her, trying his best to silently suss out what could have possibly driven her to this. Could it have been the gurney? The drugs? Old, bad memories of her time following the accident. Could it have been the fact that the men who took her were the men who'd also taken Kilgrave? Did she even have any actual sense of that?

But his internal monologue is interrupted when she brings up that weeks-old text. It's a moment before he answers her, because suddenly he's back in the strange dreamscape he was thrust into nights ago, fighting his phantom ex-girlfriend to the death. "Elektra?" Matt says softly, as if there were a one in a million chance his hypersensitive ears hadn't heard her right. He walks slowly over to the front desk and sits on its edge, hands planted on either side of him. Another long beat. "That… sounds like something I should be apologizing to you over, Jess." Not that he hasn't apologized to her in the past, there by her sickbed in Wakanda while she was recovering from a sai-wound to the stomach. "What'd she say? What'd she want?"

"I don't see why you'd apologize for it, it's not your fault," she points out.

She takes her chair at the client side of the desk, turning it around to straddle it as she so often does. Of course, there's nothing exactly that tells him what has knocked her so far off the wagon her own head is spinning, smell and proprioception and hearing don't offer clues on that end. But she doesn't seem any more or less rattled talking about this.

"She wanted to talk about you, of course. Just to talk, and I mean— I guess I should have tried to apprehend her or whatever but just— I mean— I wasn't sure how you'd feel about it so I just kept the peace and talked. She was digging for info. I played dumb. Tried to act like I never knew anything about you outside of the mask."

She takes a gulp of coffee. "She didn't buy it, Matt. I don't know if it's because she's good at reading people, or if I accidentally dropped some inconsistency in the narrative I was building that tipped her off, but I think she knows damn well I know who you are under that mask. She didn't make an issue of it though. I just. I dunno. Didn't think confirming it for her was smart, which is why I told you to steer clear of Alias for a bit. Figured she might watch the place for awhile or something. Probably ridiculous, that notion that she'd spend any time watching my apartment just to see if you showed up, but I just— wasn't sure."

She hesitates, and then, "But she did say some very creepy shit. About how you weren't living up to your potential, or something."

Matt listens, and listens, and listens. If he had a gaze to cast, it would be directed down towards some indiscriminate point on the carpet. At one point he offers a smile: brief, tired, and wan. "She's got a good bullshit detector," he offers, rueful and knowing, after she says Elektra didn't buy the ruse. He lets out a long, quiet sigh and closes his eyes to listen to the rest.

"She came to you because of me," he says at the last, after she's done. "And I was the one who negotiated the deal that let her off the hook in Wakanda, even knowing what she was capable of, and what she'd do with her freedom. That's on me." He squints, scrunches his face, and rakes a hand through his reddish-brown hair. "Sounds like you did everything right, Jessica. There's nothing to apprehend her for right now. She hasn't committed any crimes in the states that we're aware of, so there's nothing to hold her on. She…"

He grimaces. "She knows where to find me," he says with grim resignation. "And I'm sure she will, when she decides its time. Thanks for the head's up, though."

A short beat, and then a quiet: "Do you want to talk about it?" And by 'it', one assumes, he doesn't mean Elektra.

He points out legal angles she hadn't even considered, but they do serve as a sort of relief. She didn't do anything wrong by not trying to tackle her onto the fire escape or something. In fact, she would have been the assailant under those circumstances. Brilliant. Well, good thing she prefers to use her words. "Just…watch your ass, okay? Nobody wants to see The Winter Murdock or some shit."

But then he drops that question, and she swallows and looks down. He does it well, the sudden shift, done in a way that doesn't confront her and yet lets her know that yes, he knows she's a big fucking mess right now. The fact that she hesitates is not because she wants to keep it from him exactly, but because he's…always picking up her pieces, it seems, and it shouldn't be his job to do that. She should pick up her own.

Nevertheless, his offer brings a touch of saline to her eyes. The second swallow is around a lump in her throat.

She exhales. "It's so lame," she mutters, dropping her head so she's staring at the floor. She snorts. "Gonna lose my status as the toughest person you know."

That compliment of his had meant a lot to her; it had gone into the box of positives she usually has to fight against this stuff. But the bear seemed to kick that thing hard, left those bits and bobs scattered until they hardly seem like they happened to her at all. "The bear, what he showed me, it— " A shudder of revulsion runs over her, her stomach roils, and she quickly puts her coffee aside on the off chance that she might have to make a beeline to his bathroom. She doesn't; it settles after a moment.

"It's fucking ridiculous," she mutters. "Everyone who dealt with it had to deal with bad shit. Nobody else is losing it."

Matt's shoulders shake in the briefest intimation of a chuckle when she says she'll lose her toughness cred with him. "Jess, everyone loses it," he offers dismissively with another subtle shrug. "We all just lose it in different ways. You have some Johnnie Walker, and I dress up like a devil, or strap a sock on my head, and go beat people up. Tomato, tomah-to. Right?"

She's narrowed the universe of triggers for her collapse with her answer. He confronted his own demons in a similar setup recently, and from that personal experience has at least some idea of what the strange entity that orchestrated it liked to hone in on. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the rest.

He moves, slowly and with deliberate care, to crouch in front of the chair-back she's pressed against. "Listen to me, Jess," he murmurs, tone gentle even as his unfocused eyes are all-too-intent. "The assholes who abducted you? We got their leader, and he gave us a line on Kilgrave's location. On the place where they're making all those pills. We're going to get him, and make sure neither he, nor anyone else, can do what was done to you again." He brings up a finger and thumb. "We're this close. I'm putting a team together, and I'm going to handle it."

She's grateful she doesn't have to go into every last detail. As it is, it kind of touches on things that might be awkward to discuss with him, of all people. As it is, she is totally sure if she recited that vision to anyone they'd be baffled as to how or why it produced the kind of reaction it did.

The slow, deliberate movements are helpful, as are his words, his raw dismissiveness that her reaction is anything unusual. But even then, it's hard to let him close; her inability to be around anyone she cares about may be starting to heal, but proximity is still rough. Her toes curl inside of her shoes, her fingers tighten, very like someone grabbing the arms of an airplane seat on takeoff because they're bracing.

Not that all her reactions are quite so intense. There's even a touch of humor, very distantly felt, mostly at the mention of the sock. Because even though she knows the devil suit is more practical and safer for him, she's really got some fondness for 'the Man in Black' outfit. She's not sure why, but there it is. It had been one of the few truths she'd told Elektra, that she'd kind of missed it.

But by the time he's there, crouching in front of her chair, she's managed to exhale, to get her beating heart out of her throat, to stop the creep of filth, more or less, across her skin. This is Matt, and he would never, ever, harm her. Quite the opposite, really. And if she has to remind herself of that with his every step, she nevertheless doesn't flinch from him either.

And then there's what he has to say.

There's a sharp inhale of breath, her heart stops for just a moment. For that moment she's just frozen there, her eyes on his even as unfocused as his are. "I knew you'd find him," is what she says, in a shaky voice, layered with relief and gratitude.

Her heart lurches then as a few fears spring up. She wishes she could stop the flood of panicky anxiety; he's going to handle it and she wants to let him, but a flood of terrors assault her. Ones she's had before, but now they sure seem real goddamn present in a way they didn't when she was still thinking this shit couldn't hurt her anymore.

"Wh— what if he just sits bolt upright in bed and starts— what if this is all some trick or manipulation of his, he could get all of you, maybe I should— " Nausea rises up in her again. "Or they might, with the pills, oh Jesus, I'm sorry, this is great news, I don't know what's…" She rakes her fingers through her hair, knowing she's not making any sense. Her breathing is, for a moment, so off that she may well be dizzy.

But with effort, she takes a breath. Five seconds in. Five seconds out. Meditation. When she manages that she's more stable.

"I'm sorry. I'm not doubting you. You've got this, I know you do. You're going to do this and it's going to be over." And when she thinks of that, some of what has her in its grip eases its fingers from around her throat.

From his vantage point just inches away, Matt's registers every spiking heartbeat, surge of cortisol, and shaky, dizzy breath from Jessica Jones as she responds to the bomb he dropped on her. It pains him to register it all, to see her caught up in a maelstrom of anxiety and self-recrimination — to have a sense of what her life must have been like initially in Kilgrave's wake. The truth is he wants to reach out and squeeze her shoulder — even to fold her in an embrace. But he's also acutely aware of how his slow approach sent shock-waves through her, and decides it would do more harm than good.

Instead, he tries to keep address her concerns forthrightly, with his mild, even-keeled, Murdock-the-lawyer tone. "We'll do our due diligence on the property before moving in," he answers, keeping his tone as even-keeled as he can. "Though we do have to move quickly to make sure the man in charge doesn't change things up with his scientist gone."

Three heartbeats, and then a more grudging: "There's more. I saw him. The man in charge. At the Stark Expo. I got a name for him — and it's one I heard before. The… spider-girl. The one who webbed me back in the spring. She named him, and —" a baffled quirk of his lips — "she said I worked for him."

The tone helps too. Due diligence, he says, and that's a concept she's all about, as she often runs down leads she privately doesn't think will go anywhere because she doesn't want to get bitten by the one time she's wrong. It ratchets the anxiety down, takes her heartbeat from somewhere around Mach 5 to something a bit closer to reasonable speed.

Matt's a good tactician, she knows he is, and he certainly will be able to hear if there's a nasty British man wandering around in there issuing orders well before he enters the building, will know if Kilgrave is about to wake up, might just have his fist in his face before the evil son-of-a-bitch can even open his mouth. But then he's dropping this other surprise.

"No kidding? Huh."

She remembers the name and every detail of that day just fine. But if Kilgrave holds all the fear in the world for her, this other guy holds none at all. It's enough for her to get out of her own bullshit for a moment, to refocus on him for a second, to think on how that remembered exchange might be impacting him, what kinds of concerns it might stir up.

So when she follows that up, she sounds quite a bit more like herself. "In a universe of infinite possibilities and timelines," she points out, "we probably all have some dimensional twins who do stuff we'd never condone, including working for some asshole. I don't think anyone should be held responsible or feel guilty for what their alter-selves pull. We've all got enough on our plates worrying about this timeline, you know?"

She quips about how he can't apologize for the actions of alternate-Matt-Murdocks, and he ducks his head and swallows a smile. "Yeah, leave it to the Catholic kid to blame himself for the acts of his evil alternate self," the lawyer banters back. He lets that joke hang in the air a moment before he adds more seriously: "Point taken, at any rate. But it's not really about blame, Jess. It's more about the fact that there's some version of me out there that could do it. A few things turn out differently, and I'm suddenly some kind of mob lawyer? Creeps me out, I'm not gonna lie."

He pushes himself up to a rise, takes a step back. "There's also the fact that this spider-girl may know things about this man that might be useful — even if it's an alternate version of him. You ever cross paths with her after that run-in on the street?"

"No, I never saw her again after that," Jessica says, with some regret, tilting her head now to look up at him instead of down, now that he's standing.

"I wonder if that means she made it home. I can try to dig her up for you though. If she is still here, maybe she's been here long enough where she won't be freaked out by me or you, because she's had time to note the differences. If she's still doing the super-hero schtick in any capacity someone will have spotted her, and all it takes is one to start the trail."

But this, too, is something she needed. She sounds really on an even keel now, turning her attention to doing the thing she does best. Working the problem, thinking it through, trying to decide on an an approach that might get Matt the answers he needs to keep pursuing these asshats straight up the food chain. Her adrenaline levels are dropping to something much lower than they were when she first walked in; there's still a faint burn of it in her veins and some faint uneasiness in her stomach, but he may well have managed to set that broken emotional bone so that she can begin pulling herself back together again.

He's certainly done enough that she can offer a second dry quip: "Though if she will only talk to me when I have pink hair and a goddamn cape, we might be out of luck."

"Oh my god, I'd forgotten about that," Matt says with a brief but audible laugh when she talks about her alter-reality's pink hair. As hard as it is for him to imagine himself a soulless attorney to the likes of this shadowy Wilson Fisk, it's harder still to imagine the woman before her as "Jewel," soaring over the Manhattan skyline in her bright pink hair and god-knows-what-color cape. "I'd never ask you to do that for me, I promise."

A beat. "But the rest?" he adds with a cock of his head. "Yeah, if you wouldn't mind putting your ear to the ground and trying to track the girl down — if she's even still around — that'd be great." Especially since it will advance the thread while giving Jessica something tangible and only tangentially connected to either Kilgrave or his oversized keeper. He smiles a little, fondly. "And look — as for the rest? I'm always here if you need me. And always willing to take a step back, if that's what you need. Just — consider me on call. OK?"

Jess enjoys making Matt laugh; there's a brief chuff that follows his that says there's a bit of one happening from her as well. Poking fun at herself to generate one is no problem at all. When he says he'd never ask her to do that he himself gets an appreciative audible one, it's fast but definitely there.

"You got it," she says, eager to do something helpful. Indeed, it's the first time she can remember when he was willing to let her do something for him that didn't involve her punching someone because they were right in the thick of things together.

The rest, though, warms her. It's like the sun peeking out behind storm clouds. She stands herself.

Then, two gloved fingers dart out to try to touch the back of his hand, much as she did in Wakanda. The contact, if he allows it, is almost as quick as a nervous butterfly's jaunt to a child's nose, there, gone, but given everything, significant. Even the attempt is significant. "You got it," she says, in an entirely different tone. "And…same to you."

Then she steps back, gathering herself towards a leavetaking.

Same to you, she says back at him, after that brush against his hand. And in return he offers her one of his customary smiles: faint but fond, appreciative of the distance she's covered in a short conversation. "Understood," he says as he steps backward towards his office. "I'll let you know what moves forward on my end. You— you just take care of yourself. Alright? Or —" he adds wryly with a spread of his open-palmed hands, " —maybe even let someone take a crack at taking care of you for a change."

A pivot on his heels and he's walking back into his room, straight-backed and surer of his bearings than any ostensibly blind man has reason to be. "Catch you later, Jess."

"Someone just did," she points out, in tones that carry all the thanks in the world.

Then her heartbeat is moving through the building. And though he won't have anyway of knowing, precisely, how big the next thing is, or maybe, depending on how much he hears, even that she's doing it…

She starts running, picks up speed, executes one of her power leaps, and vaults one of the buildings separating the line between her block and his.

Going home.

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