Before the Mountain Crumbles

January 11, 2018:

Luke Cage shows up at Jessica Jones' door in the aftermath of the blaze at his bar.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, New York

A place of refuge, for some.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Matt Murdock, Kinsey Sheridan, Zatanna Zatara, Azalea Kingston, Owen Mercer, Bart Allen

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The first time Luke woke up after collapsing at Jessica's door he was on the couch instead of in the hallway, with a wide awake Jones curled up on him much like a cat.

Suggestions they watch a freaking movie were met with two things.

1. A scowl.

2. An insistent Bad Decision.

If he tried to talk about it directly after?

"For the love of god, Cage, shut your yap and get some sleep, you look like shit."

The second time Luke wakes up, she's obviously been out and come back, because there are three layers of giant afghans piled over them both. Black, white, grey, they're all soft. And the Shitty Quilt atop that. She also got some black leather square ottomons which march around the outer rim of the giant comfy couch, basically extending it so she can slip in as the little spoon without having to prove her skills as a balancing sleep ballerina. Now she can do that quite comfortably. She is also now in soft sweats and a tank-top of soft t-shirt fabric, by the feel of her.

It should be noted she's not awake when he is. She is curled up against him but buried and burrowed. A single exclamation point of dark hair juts up from beneath the covers, just sticking straight up towards his nose, but other than that she is hidden beneath the entire pile, blankets covering her from head to toe.

Easy to tell she's still asleep too. Because she snores. Not little delicate snores either. She snores like she stomps. They're big and they're bold and they're completely unapologetic. Like a motorboat rolling down a Mississippi causeway.


To say he slept the second time around is an understatement. The making of Bad Decisions with Jessica Jones was enough to quiet his raging mind and put the final seal on his bone weary body. When he wakes again, it's too an earthquake. The apartment is crumbling around them. Fisk, Fisk found him and now he's targeting Jessica. Every muscle in his body tenses as he rolls over on the sleeping woman to cage his frame around her waiting for the sky to fall.

That's when he realizes the rumble he felt? Was from her. Snoring. He slumps back off her, still dazed with his heart thudding in his throat and sweat springing to his forehead, gasping for air.


Having a Man Mountain roll atop her has her waking up. She lifts her eyebrows under the covers, opens her mouth like she's going to say something. There are a dozen little snarks she could make, but by the time she decides on one he's off, she can feel the sweat and the roar of his heart, and she decides (wonder of wonders) to leave them unvoiced.

Instead she rolls over, wraps her arms around him, and murmurs, "It's fine. You're fine. I'm here. It's okay."

Because she knows all about waking up in a panic, she knows all about thinking something is happening that is not happening, she knows all about feeling like the danger hasn't passed, will never pass, will always be there. She knows all about what it feels like to have the foundations of your life ripped away from you, crumpled up like an aluminum can, to have the remains tossed back at one's feet like so much garbage.


Luke tries to speak, but only a croak emerges. His throat is much better than it was immediately following the fire, but it's still sore with a thousand little pin pricks of anger when it attempts to vibrate with words. His eyes swim, but eventually manage to focus again on the pale of Jessica's face. A big hand spiderwebs her cheek and he presses and urgent kiss hard to her lips as if to confirm that she is, in fact, there. His muscles relax, if only a hint. "I shouldn't have come here."


She snorts.

"Bullshit," she says. "This is exactly where you should be. Stop being a dumbass. Stay there."

She slides out from under the covers and pads to her kitchen, which she stares at critically. She finally swipes up bottled water and one of those little honey things that come in the squeezable bears. "Take a shot of this," she says, thrusting the honey at him. "Then take a sip of this. You sound like shit, too."

Despite the curtness of the words her tone is more concerned than anything else, as are her eyes. Her stance? Says she's not going to brook any argument.


Reproached, Luke puddles back into the couch wearing his serious face. It's the one that knits everything up in his jaw and sharpens the lines of his cheeks like he has a few not so pleasant things to say, but knows better to keep his mouth shut. On the way back from the kitchen, she'll see he's moved on from his momentary ire to lift the blankets and stare curiously down his form which never got redressed past boxers. "Sweet Christmas." The quilts quickly flop back down as she comes back thrusting things at him. "Thought I dreamt that part." Is that a smile? It's tenuous.


She sits down next to him. She looks at him with serious eyes. Vulnerable, too. She can't figure out what to say to that, so she leans over and kisses first his forehead, then his lips.

"Honey," she says, and she's not calling him honey, she's pushing it at him again. Her big step tonight was doing the thing. She absolutely refuses to do the thing where they talk about the thing. Do they have to talk about the thing anyway?

Instead: "Luke, what the Hell happened? Mercer texted, said there was a fire, and I could have guessed that by the way you smelled when you arrived. I bought you fresh clothes by the way. They're in the bags in the bathroom. Toiletries and stuff too."


The quirk of his lips cracks and dies away when she gives him a bit of a kiss, it brings it all back down some how. Dutifully he takes the plastic bear and aims the yellow nozzle at his mouth, turning it upright and getting a healthy dollop on his tongue before he swallows with a grimace. Gimme fingers are made for the water so he can wash it down. "The bar's gone, the building. Everything." He sits up a little, hard to talk about it and not just because of his throat. His eyes roam, as if he'll find the words on her wall that he can just recite.


She goes and puts the honey away, but leaves the water with him. "Accidental or were you targeted?"

What comes next is a washcloth; he may not be ready for the shower, but getting some of the muck off his face might help. She folds it up and runs it under hot water, brings it over steaming, offers it out to him. Material comfort is always easier for her than Talk Comfort; she never knows what to say or how to say it, isn't a verbal mechanic who can reach under the hood of people's cars and tune them back up on the force of empathy alone.

On the other hand, this is a whole damn transmission repair, really, and there's just nothing that can be said that's going to help anyway.


Luke looks dumbly at the washcloth a moment before he start brutally scrubbing at his face and neck, like he can slough off the evening like a bad dream. "Fisk." He clips the word like he'd rather spit it, his teeth even bearing slightly as he forms it. "There were people in there, Jess. Good people. Innocent people. It was excruciating being forced to stay there as everything crumbled, answering questions. Giving statements. I checked on my people and went to the hospital to check on the others. Then to Pop's …he threatened Pop. I didn't have time to shower. I thought I'd just…keep watch outside your door."


He didn't come for comfort. He came to guard her. Jessica's emotions see-saw and mingle between warmth and sheer exasperation. He lost everything, he was exhausted, he came to guard her.

"Not as squishy as Pop, but thanks."

She doesn't even know Pop, he could be even less squishy than Man Mountain, but she takes a wild guess here.

She notes the asshole who did it and her jaw tightens; that son of a bitch, it says. She's squaring her shoulders, gearing for a fight, but at the moment it's a fight without a target, a need to act without a concrete or helpful action to take.

So she takes his hand. Maybe he can just tell it at his own pace. Maybe on some level that will help. Or maybe he won't want to tell anymore. She has no idea. She's playing this by ear here, winging the crap out of it.


Sure, he meant to stand guard, but what kind of guard falls asleep at his post? It's just one of the various things haunting his eyes. "It felt like hanging around him only painted the target bigger." Luke looks down to her hand curled into his, his thumb following the ridges of her knuckles like a mallet sliding along a xylophone. "Murdock was there with his girlfriend. My guys. Some other woman that to know you …she threw me." The last added like he's just now remembering to be irate about that fact.


Jessica starts at the knowledge that Murdock and Kinsey were there. "Are they okay?" she asks urgently, eyes widening. They're a pair of her best friends in the whole world, and she'd be devastated if anything happened to them. Pale skin gets paler.

Some other woman that she knows…who would have mentioned her, and who threw her? "That's probably Azalea. She lives here, actually, she just rarely takes advantage of it. Sharp blue eyes, mouth fouler than mine, dark hair, nose ring, sometimes carries herself with the bearing of a prince, sometimes acts like a street thug? She's family. My family. I mean. Adopted but family. She was just trying to help."

That's not that important right now, she knows, but sometimes she rambles in awkward fashion.

She snaps her mouth shut. "Owen and the kiddo? Are they okay? Jesus Christ. Patrons?"

She keeps ahold of his hand. Her knuckles are bony, her skin cool to the touch. She squeezes his hand a little bit.


Luke's eyes go to the bedroom door when Jess says Azalea lives here, but they return to Jess quickly with a reassuring squeeze of his own fingers. "Alive." Which seems to serve as an answer to all her separate inquiries, lumping them all together in a quick concise way to ease fears before he elaborates. "I stopped by the hospital, but some of the patrons were still in the ICU. Murdock and Kinsey weren't there, so I guess they were okay enough and weren't transported. I'll check on them today, but lost them in the aftermath. Owen and Bart are unemployed now, but fine. They saved a lot of people."


Or they just stubbornly refused to go for a whole host of reasons, but 'alive' reassures Jess. For one thing, Matt has the direct line to a far better health plan than Metro General has to offer in the form of one Zatanna Zatara. She makes a mental note to check on them, to ask after them. She evidently knows Az's capabilities because she had far less concern there. "Good," is what she says, placing her other cool hand atop both of theirs. She folds her legs up under her on the ottoman and says, "You can stay here. If you want. I won't be mad if you don't, but you're welcome if you want to." Because she knows darn well his apartment is also long gone.

"They're also not unemployed unless you don't want to rebuild. There's no way you don't have insurance, you couldn't have kept your liquor license without it, right? You've got grounds for a claim."


Luke gives a startled little laugh at the mention of rebuilding, like he hadn't even considered it yet or the mere thought of that undertaking is ludicrous. "I can't just call up my lawyer and ask about the details of the estate, now can I? Not until I at least send him some balloons and a 'Sorry I nearly got your ass blown up' card. Does Hallmark make those?" His bald head shakes and he looks down to the washrag wadded up in his hand.


"He'll probably call you," Jessica says with a faint chuff. "He's the king of 'I'm fine,' and he is Hell bent on taking care of his clients. I'm not saying be insensitive about it, obviously let him have a few days to recover, but there's no way you don't have an insurance policy. Or at least, whatever entity held the property."

Seeing his gaze fall on the washrag, she takes it gently away from him. Then she takes it back to dump it in her hamper. But she realizes she might be piling too much on him in trying to reassure him. She really does suck at this shit.

Helplessly: "Are you hungry?"


When she goes for the hamper, Luke throws back the covers and nudges an ottoman out of the way so he can get to his feet. His dirty clothes are pooled up against the wall - he doesn't even remember throwing them that far - and he seems tempted just to go and grab the singed and sooty pants and throw them on. Instead, he hangs a hand on the back of his neck, asking quietly. "Clothes?" Guess that's a no to being hungry, as he seems antsy all of a sudden.


“Bathroom," she reminds him. "Take a shower, get cleaned up."

When he gets in there he'll find she bought him seven days worth, all folded and stacked with uncharacteristic neatness. She got his size correct, and got everything down to the boxers and the socks. He'll find shaving cream, a razor, toothpaste, deoderant. New shoes. It all smells brand new, all the tags are still on, and it's all simple stuff. Simple t-shirts, simple jeans, straightforward colors.

She didn't think to get him any soap she doesn't already use, so he'll have to use the vanilla bodywash-shampoo-conditioner-all-in-one stuff she has; she didn't think much about Manly Scents or anything when she set out to get him oufitted.


It was a kind gesture. A thoughtful gesture. He should be grateful to step into the hot water and let the final bit of last night get flushed down the drain. And still it's a long time before the tap is finally cranked on for the shower and even longer still before it turns back off. At least now he'll smell like a vanilla scented charred stick of wood. Small improvements. He might look more human when he reemerges, even if he still feels like the shell of one. His eyes seem a little hollow, like he just went through the motions because she directed him to, otherwise he might have just ambled around aimlessly. "I should go." He finally tells her, with hands thrust deep into his pockets and his gaze directed at the grey toe of his brand new pair of socks.


She's not sure how to interpret his behavior.

If he's just upset about the fire, then she ought to settle him in. If he's upset about Something Else, she needs to let him go.

She tilts her head, narrows her eyes at him, thinks about…what. Walls. Thinks about her own urge to slam them up, sometimes. She's not feeling it now. But maybe he is.

He loved Reva, she killed Reva. He loved Reva, Reva betrayed him. And the last bits of his wife and the life he had with her just went up in smoke. Maybe he distrusts her motives. She's not sure if she can even sort it all out, and finally just decides she's not going to push.

At last, she folds up his afghans, grabs the rest of his clothes and things, bags them in one of her gym bags, and holds them out to him, eyebrows lifted. "You can come back tonight. If you don't? At least let me know you landed somewhere safely."


Luke stands there for those awkward moments as she tidies, finally moving to put his dirty boots back on and futzing with the zipper to the hoodie she provided. That leaves them face to face, with her handing him a duffel bag and an invitation. Wordlessly he just steps forward and bands his free arm around her shoulders in what would be a crushing hug for most but Jess is made of sterner stuff.


Ok. Just overwhelmed maybe, just needing some space maybe, just not sure what to do maybe. Jessica wraps her arms tightly around him in turn, banishing all the overthinking. She buries her face in his chest, inhaling deeply, but she's focusing on trying to…what? Make him feel as safe as he makes her feel? Something like that. Hard to do when she's so tiny in comparison to him, but she does try. She holds him tight, not gently at all, because she can give him what would be a rib crushing hug for anyone else.

What she says is an echo of what she said earlier, but with a slightly different meaning, a new host of connotations.

Two words. "I'm here."


Luke turns his head quickly, impulsively, giving a quick kiss to her dark head of hair before he over thinks it - or worse - lingers. He gently pushes himself out of the embrace and turns to stalk to the door at a brisk clip, treating the knob a little unkindly in his haste.

Because maybe, just maybe, he just doesn't want her to see what happens when a Man Mountain crumbles.

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