Dropping Bombs

June 30, 2018:

Finally returning to Rand's the morning after the explosions in Hell's Kitchen, Luke has to tell Jess what happened.

Danny Rand's House

More luxury than any of them feel they deserve.

Characters

NPCs: Kennis Papsworth

Mentions: Danny Rand, Claire Temple, Foggy Nelson, Matt Murdock, Azalea, Emery

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

*

The night felt longer than humanly possible, yet passed in a blur for Luke. He can't even remember the faces of those he carried draped in his two arms past the fourth or fifth hour, around the time he had make himself numb to their visages in order to go on. Stubborn to a fault, he was able to carry on long after most given his enhanced nature, but even the mighty must take a break eventually. It came once, briefly, when his body relented to its growing unease, and he retched in an alleyway before trying to text Jess. It's a luxury he did not give into again even when the dead of night turned into morning.

On the steps of Jess' smoldering building, he rested again, this time trying to gather energy to make his way to Gramercy when Owen made his appearance. Together, the two of them made the seemingly long trek back to Danny's where Luke had to dust off his palm twice before the lock would read it. Then they were home. As home as one can be when you're relying on the kindness of a friend to put you up. Twice now, he's had to live through this destruction. Only this time it wasn't just his bar, but all of the Kitchen. That sort of thing takes its toll, even on a Mountain.

Even after Owen slinks off to shower and rest, Luke stands there in the foyer clutching the tattered and soot covered blanket like he's forgotten what to do next.

*

It's hard to stay in while your neighborhood burns. Jess could help. She could lift rubble. She has the same endurance Luke does, writ slightly smaller. Her ability to fly could help her get to places others can't go yet. She could do a lot of good.

Or she could have gotten in the way. Complicated matters. Added an extra person where one did not need to be. Created more chaos where chaos already abounded. And then there was Kennis Papsworth.

Jessica Jones would desperately like to know if Kennis' father is alive. And is contemplating her next steps if he isn't. He needs to be. He has to be. But if he's not…

Well, where her heart is on the matter of if he's not may be apparent from the view from the foyer to the living room, where she is sound asleep on the couch, not in Luke's bed, with a bowl of popcorn in her lap. Kennis is asleep on the other side of the couch. They are both wearing tiaras and fairy wings and there are Lego towers all over the place. The soft playing music of a DVD on repeat suggests they were watching My Little Pony. Not, say, CNN. And this distraction, and special-treat stuff after bath and bedtime, was offered because Kennis is not a stupid child. There was a PA sobbing in Danny's office, a bunch of phones going wild, a grocery run Daddy suddenly didn't come back from. She knows something's up, so it fell to 'Lady Sir Jessica Jones' to play with her and keep her at ease.

*

It's a moment before Luke wills his limbs to move again, his boots a heavy shuffle the first few steps before he remembers to pick up his feet lest he just trip ass over teakettle. It's very surreal to come back to the mostly quiet house. A house that is intact with all its walls, windows and ceilings. When he turns into the living room, dirty footprints in his wake, and sees Jess curled up on the couch with Kennis it's just too much.

Luke Cage stops in his tracks, feeling for a moment he might be dropped to his knees by the sudden tightness in his chest, like the cold hands of death are squeezing around his heart and compressing his lungs to the point where he can't breath.

Jessica is safe.

The swallow reminds him of the soreness of his throat and he fights to suppress a cough that threatens, not wanting to wake them. Now conscience of the sound of his movements, he eases into the living room to crouch at the side of the sofa and gently touch the woman's shoulder. "Babe."

*

Normally Jess sleeps hard and wakes slow. Never violently, as some might fear, though often grumpily. Now she opens her eyes swiftly, focusing in on Luke's presence.

She has her hands to either side of his face in a heartbeat. Her lips on his, her eyes closing, the popcorn bowl allowed to fall. It's just odds and ends, unpopped pieces, pieces too pathetic to get eaten. "I was worried sick about you," she says roughly, when this kiss, that lands her on her knees in front of him, ends. As of yet, the cheater-system texts from friends who can manipulate satellites and magic haven't made it through yet. So she's heard nothing, from nobody…

And she's having much the same reaction.

Luke is alive.

For a moment that's all that occupies her consciousness, so much so that she forgets to be worried about the fact that this man seems to have, in true Man Mountain fashion, found his way into so much of her consciousness' real estate.

*

His clothes are tattered, torn and burnt and he smells like a bonfire, yet Jess looks right past that into a kiss born of her relief to see him. Likewise, Luke doesn't process the fairy wings and tiara, though no doubt that knowledge will settle into the back of his mind and make a cozy nest so when life returns to normal he can properly rib her about it. Now's not the time to even comprehend playful mocking.

Now his hand accidentally paws the plastic bauble askew on her head as he's busy dragging his hands over her hair and face and shoulders, like he's adding up all the parts to make sure it's a whole.

Instead of reassuring her that he's here, he's fine, everything is just fine, he just drags a thumb around the apple of her cheek. "I got your blanket." He says, the bulk of it wedged between them. Because he doesn't want to lie. Everything is most assuredly Not Fine.

*

She just takes it off, and shrugs out of the wings, putting them aside with no embarrassment.

Something happens on her face and in her eyes when she slowly takes the Shitty Quilt into her hands. She runs her fingers along the well worn paths of stitched squares, able to still pick out color here and there. In other places it's just black or grey or gone. She clutches it gently to her chest and closes her eyes for a moment, touched beyond reason that he stopped to do that, heartwrenched over the state of it, twisted in other directions because the state of it tells her all she needs to know about the state of her home. And yet she's luckier than most, with almost all her worldly possessions in her phone. A few irreplacable items would have been left to burn, this was one, and here it is.

She rests her head on his shoulder a moment and says, "You remembered," softly. Of them all, this was the one, Alisa' Jones' painstaking work on her daughter's behalf. The work of a pianist and brilliant mathemetician who tried it once in an act of love, succeeded, and never picked up a needle again.

Her throat closes up, and she sits there with it a second, then whispers, "Where's Emery? He was with you."

*

Luke turns his nose into her hair when her head is on his shoulder, breathing in a deep breath of the scent of it. The nice clean scent that wars against the smell of charred homes and bodies. It does more to churn his stomach than slugging through firehose soaked hallways. The teary glaze to his eyes is blinked away before she raises her head again.

Instead of an immediate answer, he leans and snags the corner of a blanket flopped over the back of the couch, pulling it until it settles on the sleeping girl. Driven by the innocent sight of the sleeping babe, he touches the curl of her little fist. "We don't want to wake her." He rumbles quietly, pushing out of his crouch to scoop the little doll off the cushions and tote her back to the rooms behind the kitchen.

*

No, they do not. Jess is all too glad to leave putting Kennis to bed to Luke while she surveys the living room. She turns off the television. Puts the DVD away. She scoops up popcorn and throws it back in the bowl, trying to get all of it. The Lego towers are left to stand, she hasn't the heart to take them down. The one she killed with the remote was in fact painstakingly restored.

And if Luke's non-answer makes her own stomach twist, she nevertheless agrees that no good can come of him spilling whatever these beans are in her hearing. She wipes butter-stained hands on her hips and then carefully folds the quilt. It's too fragile to drape. She slips it carefully into her phone. It can't provide its comfort today. Maybe some expert can restore it, in time.

*

It doesn't take Luke long to tuck the girl away, who blissfully didn't wake up in transit or when he slipped her onto the bed, leaving the afghan from the couch tucked around her and stuffed animals piled on both sides. He pulls a strand of hair out of Kennis' face, tucking it around the curve of her ear. It's not until after he closes her door that the coughing fit starts in, detouring into the kitchen instead of returning to Jess so he can crank on the faucet and stick his head under the tap to drink greedily from the flow. By the time he's walking back to the living room, he's shedding the last remains of his hoodie, tugging down a zipper that seems rather superfluous at the moment. "We were loading up when the explosions started. He was fine the last I saw of him, standing on a car and shouting directions but as the night went on we lost track of each other. I saw Matt, too. Briefly." Before they started rushing /into/ buildings instead of away from them.

*

"Good," Jessica says, shoulders sagging. She's never made any secret out of the fact that Matt and Six are just as important to her world as Bucky and Jane are, after all. And Matt leaves the Kitchen so rarely. But there are others. "Foggy? Claire? Azalea?" He hasn't met some of her neighbors, to know. "Hell, anyone. Who do you know for sure is alive? And how bad is it out there? I just saw…I saw five minutes of footage, tops before we turned it off for Kennis' sake. I have no idea what's going on. My phone won't cough up the Internet any better than it's coughing up cell service. Shit, sit down, here."

She beckons him towards the kitchen even though he just sat down. "You've got to be starving."

It is one of the rare occasions where she has decided she's going to cook for him. The last time was when his bar blew up. Yes, that's right ladies and gentlemen, if you want to get Jess into the kitchen some manner of incendiary device may be required.

*

Luke lumbers obediently into the kitchen, dropping heavily into one of the counter height chairs at the island like his knees gave out at the last second and could no longer bear his weight. "Not hungry. Just some water." Which should display the gravity of the situation because a) normally he'd just let her cook out of politeness and b) he's always hungry and c) he'd normally get a kick out of convincing her to wear an apron.

He props his elbows onto the fancy countertop, cradling his head into a web of fingers. "Maybe, I don't know. I…Matt took a tumble he's going to be rough. Maybe Az? I brought Owen home with me." He's honestly trying to remember, but it's hard given the blur of circumstance that surrounded the chaos. He coughs coarsely again, too tired to bother trying to cover it. "It's gone, Jess. It's all gone."

*

She eyes him, but pours him a huge glass of water from the fancy water thing, and slides it across the counter at him. Her dark brows draw down into a frown of concern, but she supposes after smelling burnt corpse all day and all night she wouldn't be too hungry either. And might even feel like she'd never be hungry again.

It's all gone.

Words that twist at her stomach again, but she wasn't out there, so she doesn't get to freak out. She decides this.

She rubs a hand over his back, with no idea what to say.

*

The touch sets him off, the cage of his ribs shuddering so hard it shakes loose tears he didn't want to fall. They fall in thick droplets to the granite, absurd rain coming from the downward angle of his face, Luke obscuring his features with a shift of his hands to shield it. He didn't let her see him break down after the bar exploded, hiding away for weeks, but this time he can't hold it back to save her the shared misery. "So many people. Just so many. By the end we weren't pulling out survivors, we were pulling out bodies. Laying them on the sidewalks, covering up their faces with whatever we could find." He can't remember the faces. But he can remember the eyes. So many sets of eyes staring off for eternity.

*

She slides her arms around him and just holds him. She runs her hand over his bald head and just lets him cry. Just this unimaginable horror, right in the heart of the place she called home. And he was there. Digging out bodies.

"I've got you," she murmurs. "I've got you." And she does. Her voice is steady.

He's always her rock. Today she'll try to be his. She shuts up, then, to let him say anything else he needs to say…or just to let him cry.

*

And cry he does.

It only lasts a quiet moment or two longer, no loud sobs, just a quiet shed of tears and the occasional shudder and hiss of breath until he can rein it in. It ends when he grinds the heels of his palms into his reddened eyes and takes a deep breath. His throat is even more raw after the display, reaching with fingers shaking from exhaustion to grab the glass of water and pull it to his lips. Luke leaves it empty by the time he sets it back on the counter and swivels his chair to face her and cuff a hip with his fingers. "I'm glad you didn't go."

*

She isn't sure how to engage with that. With him being glad she didn't go. Her sense of duty and responsibility says she's an asshole for staying in this most luxurious of apartments playing dolls with Kennis while Luke dragged the bodies of people she probably knows out of the rubble. But she doesn't want to sit here and complain about feeling like an asshole, when that shifts angst rather to the wrong focus area.

Instead she decides not to address it at all.

"You need a shower," she says. "And you need to lie down. You need sleep."

When in doubt, mother hen, apparently.

*

"You're not hearing me, Jess." Luke reaches for her with his other hand now, to hold her with both and try to remain in her line of view, even if he has to change his position to do so. His face is stone cold serious, an intensity to his red cracked eyes like he's on the verge of losing his shit in more ways than just crying. "I'm asking you. I'm…begging you. Don't go back. Not for a few days a least. I want you to promise me, you won't step foot in Hell's Kitchen. Not for a few days. Promise me."

*

And Jessica's face twists a little bit. "Luke, I can help," she says. "I can see for myself that it's nasty but I should help. There aren't a lot of super powered women wandering around. Shouldn't I do something? There are going to be little old ladies passing out sandwiches and shit, and I'm just…gonna sit on the couch at Danny Rand's with my thumb up my ass?"

She modulates her tone, trying to anyway; he's had a long rough day and she's not trying to initiate a fight. At the same time, her mouth twists, and she says, "I feel like a total shit as it is."

*

Luke's hands lift to her elbows, tracking the line of her arms downward until he can envelop her hands with a hold of his own, "It's not nasty, Jessica. It's catastrophic. It's …" He can't find the right words, to try to convince her. Shaking his head, it's as if he's hoping a few will rattle lose. "These are your neighbors. The guy at the corner bodega you get your cigarettes from. The old man you wave to when he's walking his dog. Just. Just gimme a few days. A few days to spare you from the bulk of it. Then you can help."

He's visibly remembering to pull his strength back so the squeeze to her hands is firm, not malicious. "I've seen the toll your cases take on you. When you lost people on your cases. I can't…I can't shield you from that. But this? I'd rather you sit here and feel like shit and blame me, then go out there and risk breaking. Please, just. Jess. I need to save you from this. Let me save you."

*

"I won't blame you," Jessica says with a sigh, her shoulders sagging.

With such a plea she can't say no. She can't charge out there. He wants to save her, and the truth is, what's going to happen? What's going to happen when she finds Sal or Elinor or any number of kids she's brought safely home in the rubble? Or any kid? She'll be drunk in an hour and she knows it. "A few days," she says. "To let them find more bodies. Then I go pick up neutral rubble and shit, at the least." It occurs to her that seeing mutants out there visibly being mutants (or whatever she is) on the clean up effort might be helpful for other reasons.

But she's no longer so sure of any of her other courses of actions either. And he's right.

She takes every case hard.

And gets around to this: "Goddamn it, I should have asked Mercer way more questions."

*

The tension eases from Luke's shoulders when she agrees. "That's all I'm asking." Just a few days for the bodies with their roughshod shrouds lining the sidewalk to be removed. A few days until it becomes a clean up effort, and the recovery of bodies takes a dive in average numbers pulled from the rubble. A few days for the sake of her sobriety and her sanity, and no doubt a little bit of both for Luke too.

But it's amazing how quickly that tension pops back up at the mention of Owen. "About Mercer, there's something I have to tell you." And it doesn't sound like Good News either, even though Luke said the man was back here and safe under Rand's roof.

*

Jessica rubs a hand over her face.

Oh boy. All the signs of something that might stretch her ability to remain sober are right there in Luke's reaction.

"What did he do?" she asks. Because if he's safe, and if Luke's tense, then what did he do is all that's left. The man is trying to get his shit together, trying not to be a criminal and an addict anymore, which means of course that he's going to make hundreds of terrible decisions along the way. As a past master of that journey, a veteran to its slings and arrows, she already knows she's going to hear something that will tax her to some degree.

*

Luke is reaching for her hand again, gently trying to take it from her face to hold her again. Maybe this time it's so she doesn't go bust down the door to the room Owen's in and drag him out by the short and curlies to face a firing squad. "He fucked up, Jess." That's not a word that Luke uses often in mixed, but lately it's been creeping more and more into his vocabulary. He's going to have to take a Swear Jar loan out form Danny at this point. "He didn't realize how much until after. After it happened." Cage lets those words set in before he continues.

*

"What did he know?" Jessica asks grimly, but there is little judgement or heat. She knew too, cause he tipped her off. And she decided to fuck off and have herself a mini vacation rather than pursuing it, because it was 'just' some gangsters shooting at each other. She didn't think about gangsters shooting innocents while they shot at each other, for example. She could have gone in, verified, worked the rumor networks, found out more. Been a goddamn detective. Instead she thought 'there's enough on my plate already and there is always talk of that sort of shit.' And did nothing.

"I believe he didn't know an entire neighborhood was about to get roasted. He's not evil."

*

Luke nods in agreement with Jess. He's not evil. Hopefully, they can hold onto that opinion of Owen when this is all said and done. He lifts one of her hands and kisses her knuckles, as if some small token of appreciation at those words for his bro. "The tip came from a dealer when Owen was high as a kite on some new drug. And the tip mentioned Fisk, specifically." Before she can react, he quickly adds in a rush of words, "He wanted to keep us safe."

*

"Damnit."

But Jessica just sounds weary.

"Was it a tip about a bomb? Or a mass bomb? Or was it the same bullshit he spun to us? Do you know?"

But despite his rush of words, she just looks tired. She lets him kiss her knuckle, then squeezes his hand, but just braces for the information. He wanted to keep them safe, but did he know what he wanted to keep them safe from? These are important questions.

High as a kite, though, just produces a twitch of a grimace at the left lip. Understanding, at least, on that front.

*

Luke shakes his head in answer, "Just that Fisk had something was going down in the Kitchen, I think Owen wrote it off as the dealer trying to name drop to earn some street cred, but he texted us just in case. He feels like shit for not saying, just in case. But this kinda thing. On this scale. Do you have any doubts it was actually him? There was something else, too. The girl …her name was some Disney princess…the mermaid one. She called Fisk Kingpin, and the name Kingpin seemed to scare up some sort of bad taste in Owen's mouth from his Gotham days."

He exhales through his nose, the rims of his nostrils still showing rings of soot around their edge. "But there's not a damn thing I can do about it today. I'm dead on my feet, babe. Shove me in the direction of the shower." And man, does he want a drink, but at times like this it won't be in front of Jess.

*

Jessica Jones does not really troll the deep underworld as a rule. The name Kingpin means nothing to her, but…it might to Matt. It might be one more piece in a puzzle that ends this problem for good.

"The road back from being a criminal is a hard one," she says, and leaves it at that, with all of a grim bit of knowing-too-well in her tone. "As is the road back from being an addict."

She tugs him up and says, "C'mon, big guy. Time to get you under that fancy rainfall thing."

The stuff in this apartment bears so little resemblance to showers as Jess knows them that it might as well be magic.

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