Taking Stock

July 03, 2018:

Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock take a moment to take stock after the Hell's Kitchen bombing.

Danny Rand's Apartment

They really, really don't live like the rest of us.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Emery Papsworth, Owen Mercer, Wanda Maximoff, Pietro Maximoff, Trish Walker, Kinsey Sheridan

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

After everyone was ushered to whatever rest they could be coaxed to take, Jessica retreated to one of the window seats at Danny's opulent manor home. She'd taken out her earbud and had dialed up to her police scanner app. She's listening to the cops and to emergency services rather than to the news, figuring that will give her a clearer picture of what's going on out there.

It's just the one earbud. The other ear is tuned towards the house. She's the one who is not tired, or hacking up lungs, or injured, so if someone needs something she figures she ought to be on point. Danny could too, she supposes, but she has no idea if he stuck around after passing Kennis on to Emery.

The window seat is at one of the windows facing Hell's Kitchen, of course, but there are too many buildings in the way to really see anything at all. She could go back out on the roof, but then she couldn't hear anyone. And she doesn't really want to watch the mess and the devastation anyway.

It's a shower and a change of clothes Matt asked for, and he gets it. An absurdly luxurious, multidirectional, voice controlled shower — because it's Danny Rand's apartment. He takes his time with it, allowing the hot water to scald his sensitive skin and wipe the film of dirt and ash and other matter that had he'd felt clinging to his skin for days now.

When he emerges it's in one of the house's bleach-white t-shirts, perhaps a size too small, and a clean pair of jeans that are maybe just a little long. There's no doing anything about the pallor of his features or the circles under his eyes until he actually rests, but he's not yet at a place where exhaustion can claim him from the worries and memories that kick around in the basement of his brain.

He walks into the mostly empty room, hands in his pockets. His lips press together into something short of smile, or even a half-smile. The fond, rueful cast to his aimless hazel eyes will have to do the greeting instead.

"Hey," he says to his one-time neighbor, sometime partner, and longtime friend. It's such a simple word to carry with it such a subtle but complex cocktail of emotions: fondness and relief, grief and gratitude, and weariness overlaying all of it. "Glad you're alright, Jessica Jones."

She plucks the earbud out of her ear, and stands to offer (though not impose) a quick hug. "Hey yourself," she says. "I'm glad you're alive, Matt Murdock." She figures 'alright' isn't anywhere near his universe right now. Regardless of whether he accepts the contact she soon drifts back to the window seat and studies him.

It's done him good, that shower. And if he's not right back in the Devil costume, he must be taking a moment more yet.

By now some of the check-ins from their friends have arrived, something she's grateful for, but having at least some of those she was worried about here in the flesh is comforting in ways a quick text can't be.

"How's your apartment? Your office?"

It is, as Claire had observed, a rather gruesome question, and yet…it's one of those questions that must be asked as anyone tries to make sense out of their home going up in flames. What's there, what isn't, who survived, who didn't.

He’ll return the embrace, smiling a little into it before he steps back and runs a hand through the disheveled hair behind his head.

She wants to take stock. It’s only natural. He was playing the same game with Foggy, outside the ruins of their favorite watering hole. “Uh, the office is fine,” Matt says as he walks backwards with uncanny accuracy into a seat near the window. “The apartment is —” his eyebrows lift and drop. “We’re in the same boat there.”

He leans back in the chair, takes a breath, and rides on a short wave of grief. “It’s — it’s bad over there, Jess,” he says with a swallow that bobs his Adam’s Apple. He can tell she hasn’t been over; he could smell the ash and pulverized brick and concrete and God knows what else on her if she had. “Josie’s is gone. Josie is gone. Sal.” His jaw juts, a vein in his forehead stands out. “Father Lantom’s alive… but not really,” he adds quietly of the parish priest who had heard a year and a half of very strange confessions. “I wonder if the Church will let the doctors let him go. I doubt it.”

"Oh, Jesus," Jessica says softly, swallowing.

Josie's had been one of her many watering holes, and she remembers well the big take-no-shit woman. She hasn't seen her in months, of course, for obvious reasons, but all the same, it's a face and a name.

Sal hurts, and for a moment whatever neurochemical output is associated with being really disoriented sweeps over her, because it feels like yesterday that they were frantically calling an ambulance for the jovial, AC/DC-loving sandwich slinger, even as he struggled to understand what the Hell had just happened and she'd struggled to explain.

Then there's Matt's confessor, who she hadn't met at all, but understands right away is a huge blow, coupled with all the questions of faith and medical ethics that are wrapped up in it.

Grasping the enormity of all just defies comprehension.

She shakes her head. "What a fucking mess," she says, in sad summary.

What a fucking mess.

“Yeah,” Matt answers softly, absently, attention turned briefly towards the window he can’t see out of but must surely sense something beyond. “That’s a word for it.”

It would take a lifetime to properly mourn each and every individual who perished in the fires that consumed Hell’s Kitchen. The neighborhood they shared has become a mass grave; the people they knew reduced to statistics. They deserved so much more, he thinks.

But what he says is, and with mild incredulity: “What’s — whats the deal with Danny Rand’s Irish butler?”

Jessica chuffs out a faint laugh at the question. It jumps a track, pulls her thoughts in another direction.

"I'd be lying if I said I understood a quarter of it," she says. A quick internal check to make sure the rundown she's about to give Matt doesn't step in any of Emery's secrets, but she thinks what she intends to say is circumspect enough.

"Emery's a meta with a shady past and a lot of people after him. Or, worse, they don't want him at all, they want his kid, because his kid could help them breed more of him."'

There is no understating the brief burst of anger and protectiveness that last statement brings up.

"He…makes food to die for, was the one who helped me figure out Bucky and Jane were soulless, back when they were, is relentlessly cultured and keeps Danny from walking off cliffs. He's deadly in the field and knows how to make laundry super fresh. Apparently he has legit had some sort of formal…Butler training? Like there are schools for this. Because when you're rolling in dough, apparently, just having your laundry folded like anyone else won't do."

Matt tips his head back in his seat, neck craning as he nods speculatively when Jessica describes the vague contours of Emery Papsworth’s life. Hazel eyes slim when she talks about his daughter — the one Foggy apparently met — and what the people who are after her want her for. She’s fiercely protective of her, he can tell, and he gets both the sentiment and her particular whys of it.

“Seems like a character,” is all Matt offers of the man, and her appraisal of him, for the moment.

He brings two fingers to the bridge of his nose, where a headache is quietly building. Too much junk in his lungs, too little water, not enough sleep. Now I know how Kinsey feels, he thinks.

“Anything you hearing on there?” he adds with a lift of his chin towards the earphones she’s discarded. “Are they — anyplace on this?” It’s probably too much to hope for, but he’ll ask.

"Sort of," Jessica says. "I don't think they're going to find their way to the source, but…listening to the fire investigation units has proven a little fruitful. Lots of chatter that indicates they weren't all the same types of bombs. Just from preliminary findings. They'd have to get some of it to labs, I'm sure."

She frowns and adds, "I'm getting some addresses. Every now and then. A lot of what I've heard is residential, and older."

She shakes her head thoughtfully.

"Beyond that, lots of speculation about whether the Brotherhood did it or not. Trish says emphatically they didn't though. She has eyewitness reports that say they were out there helping people, brought some baby back from the brink of death." With some cynicism, "But why look at evidence when they can pin things on such a convenient scapegoat? Heaven forbid they deal with the real problem."

Some of that chatter Matt has picked up just by virtue of wandering his neighborhood and listening in on the patrols and the bomb squads that have made Hell’s Kitchen their second home. But there are nuances there, patterns. “Residential,” he repeats searchingly. “Older. We — we need to make a list of every building that had a bomb under it.” That’s distinct entirely from every building consumed by a fire — collateral damage.

When she talks about speculation of the Brotherhood, Matt sits up in his chair and rolls his sightless eyes. “You and I both know it wasn’t the twins,” he says, and is there some pointedness in the way he says it? A challenge, even?

“Real threat,” Matt repeats, lacing his hands together over his stomach. “You make Fisk for this?” he asks. It’s an honest question.

"I could have done without the 'but maybe we would if we felt like it' in the denial," Jessica says wearily. She hears the challenge. She has alternatively felt weary, guilty, angry, and strange over her weird relationship with them, which she did not bring up with Matt while he was struggling with his own concerns, but…

"But yeah. It wasn't the twins. We can talk about that, if you want." With a hint of apology. Obviously he knows she's wrapped up with them now, however he found out.

"Luke likes Fisk for it, via Owen, who apparently got some unspecified chatter from the Underworld that didn't make a lot of sense. Probably because he's using again. For me, third party hearsay, no evidence given. But some sort of…I dunno. Gangster codename shook out. They don't know him by Fisk. They know him as the Kingpin."

A pause.

"I can go work on the list. Luke can't keep me out of there forever."

We can talk about that, if you want, Jessica says of the Maximoff twins and… whatever she’s doing with them. Matt puts up a brief staying hand. “We don’t need to talk about it right now,” he says lowly. “Too many people are talking about them already.”

But then she’s going on, and saying all sorts of things they really should — at least in Matt’s mind — be talking about. He sits up again in his seat, arms moving to the too-cushy rests and tightening on their corners. “Kingpin,” he repeats carefully.

There’s a long stretch of silence. “Where’s Owen now?” Matt asks. “I’d like to get the details myself. Even if it’s third-hand.”

"I don't know," Jessica says. "Luke brought him back from the Kitchen the night it happened. He apparently took off again directly after. Luke was real pissed about it. He came back in briefly while Emery was out to help out with Kennis, and because I couldn't exactly question him in front of a 5-year old I didn't get shit before he was gone again. I know he told Luke…"

A sharp exhale of breath. Jessica draws one knee up and rests her chin on it.

"Shit, what did he tell Luke? It's all such a goddamn blur. He warned me off being at home via text days before the attack, made it sound like I was primed to get caught up in that mass shooting shit that went down at the Shamrock. Since I'm in the middle of an investigation on that and because I was pissed off about it, I thought sure, a night sleeping where I might have been sleeping anyway wouldn't hurt. Can't investigate much in the crossfire of a gang gunfight, sometimes laying low is the better part of valor."

Guilt. Lots of guilt. But she presses on.

"He swore to Luke he only knew something was going down, not mass bombing, and I believe that. He's a dumbass, and an addict, but he wouldn't go that far."

She lays a lot on him in a few sentences. Jessica Jones might have died in a fiery conflagration, had it not been for a text message from one junkie bartender Owen Mercer. Said junkie bartender Owen Mercer sent her the text because he knew ‘something’ was going down in Hell’s Kitchen, and it was enough to tip Jessica Jones off about it.

These two revelations briefly pull him in opposite directions, and some of that conflict is visible on his features, despite the off-brand sunglasses. He wrestles with the facts laid out before him, and then, finally, nods.

First thing’s first, he says with an intent forward lean and the planting of elbows on his knees: “I saw what happened to your building. If you’d been in there, there was nothing you could have done for anyone. You’re not like Luke, Jess.”

It’s after that brief assuagement that he circles back to Owen. He spreads his hands. “And I believe it. Owen’s a good guy. He saved Kinsey’s life. But you said he hasn’t been questioned, and I just — don’t want to leave any stone unturned, you know? He might have some details that matter.”

And at the end of it all? A shrug. “So let me know if you see him around. Shoot me a text.” No big deal.

"I will. I'm kind of glad I haven't questioned him. I'll leave that to you and Luke. He trusts me, and if he's ever going to crawl out of this hole he needs someone who can just…"

Jessica sighs. He's got conflicted features, she's got a conflicted tone, and a conflicted body language. Finally: "That kid was me, his age," she mutters. "I mean I never did fucking smack, but…he can be someone else. If he keeps trying, he can."

She's not sure why she finds herself saying this right now, other than she has a feeling Owen did something way stupider than Luke's brief report let on, something that would put everyone in their rights to nail the kid right to the wall.

She scrubs her fingers through her hair, muttering, "Granted I'm a God damn soft touch for everyone these fucking days, to the point where I don't have any sense, so, take with a grain of salt I guess. How's Kins? Other than her rigging that text…I was hoping she was all tucked in at Stark's when it happened."

“We’ve all got to keep trying, Jess,” Matt says of her point about Owen Mercer, before abandoning that forward lean to slide back against the plush upholstery that seems to support and massage muscles taxed to their limits by three days of grueling labor.

God, where do they make this stuff? These people don’t live remotely like the rest of us.

How is Kins, Jessica asks. If he were in prime form he’d be able to pass it off. The truth is he’s anything but: he’s battered and grief-stricken and worn down to the bone. And so he knows there’s no hope at all she didn’t see the flinch on his features when he heard the name. She’s a P.I. Noticing is what she does best.

“She’s alright,” he says first, softly, because that’s the most important part. “She came out to help when it all went sideways, but she’s alright. Beyond that —” He brings his palms up to slide down his features once and then give them a vigorous scrub. “I —” A swallow. “I fucked it up. When — everything else was happening. Pushed her away. So we haven’t — I —”

Whatever was going to say never passes through his lips. He dips his head back, prone there on the sofa chair, and lets out a quiet breath that sounds like a death rattle.

Jessica watches him, and though he can't see it, her eyes soften.

On top of all this, worrying about his relationship. "You know, when she texted me weeks ago about you, it was all worry about you. Never heard shit about problems between you."

She gives his shoulder a sisterly nudge. It is all sisterly these days, despite her tumultuous fixation on him of the early days of their association.

"Everyone fucks up. You're all still putting up with me, right? Here's what you do. Go get cake. She gets to eat that. You get to eat crow. You'll know things are better when she says you can have some cake, too. It'll be okay, Matt. The people who care about you, really love you? They'll deal with the fuck-ups cause it means they get all the good stuff. And let's face it, she really loves cake. Chocolate-on-chocolate-with a side of-death-by-chocolate would be my recommendation."

You’re still putting up with me, Jessica tells him. She nudges his shoulder, and this time his chuckle is audible — though it’s one of the vaguely delirious variety that balances on the edge of a sob.

“Putting up with you?” he asks, quiet but incredulous. “You saved me, Jess. I know it sounded like I was blowing you off —” A beat, and then a wry: “Well, I really was blowing you off. But everything you said — it stuck. It was true, and I knew it.”

His lips twitch at their corners. “Like I always say. You’re my hero.”

Matt brings his fingers up to scratch the thick stubble along his beard. “I tried to — to eat crow — yesterday. But it was to soon, or too late. I can’t tell which.” His eyebrows lift and drop in a shrug before he adds a sidelong: “…though I guess didn’t have cake.”

Jessica's cheeks color just a little bit at what he says, and she says, "It was just things I need people to tell me sometimes." She doesn't sound displeased— quite the opposite— despite the hints of embarrassment that flow over her. "I'm glad it helped."

He already tried, he says, and she contemplates that.

"Gotta have the cake," she says. "I mean look, I don't pretend to know the whole ins and outs of everything with you two by a long shot, or what you said. Or even to Relationship well, but…Which route did you take? Lots of apologies or telling her exactly how you feel about her? Or both?"

She has her guesses, but…she'll let him speak for himself there.

Jessica Jones is giving him relationship advice on Kinsey Sheridan. Tell him this a year ago, and he would have blanched. And even now he recognizes the irony of it, the strangeness — but in the past months he’s moved beyond virtually all limitations and constraints and conventions. Why not this one, too? Embrace the weirdness.

“I got as far as apologizing,” Matt murmurs, “before she made it pretty clear that avenue of conversation was closed for now. We said we’d talk later, though. I don’t think she — “

He asks himself: What can he discern from Kinsey, not having actually had anything like a full conversation? And what can he root his judgment in besides his own fears, and doubts, and fixations? What does he know based on those senses of his?

“I think she’s scared,” he says carefully. “I just don’t of what.”

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