The first time I saw her she was someone else, and I wanted to punch her. She was posing as a senator’s aide named Henry Gyrich, complete with smug smile and condescending airs, and I felt like throwing up in my mouth a little when he called me “dear Miss Jones”.
Mystique, as I later found out, was really good at what she did.
Me, I was slightly about average. There are better P.I.s, but those usually come with fancy offices and a way higher salary. I’m affordable, and I get the job done, so I can make a living out of it. Of course that also means having to put up with the occasional douchebag who thinks he’s original when bringing up my resumé, which is what I thought this Gyrich guy was trying to be.
“You have of course heard of the Mutant Registration Act.”
“Nope,” I said. “I watched some jerks waving papers and yelling about it in hearings. Read some badly spelled bullshit, too. But heard? Can’t say I have.”
For a second, I thought Gyrich’s eyes were flashing, and I do mean literally, as in changing their colour, but then he looked at me disdainfully again and said: “Dear Miss Jones, one could call you biased due to your, um, backstory.”
“No shit, Sherlock. Look, is there anything you actually want to pay me for? If not, stop wasting my time and go back to your Senator.”
“Given the complete lack of clients in the waiting room,” he said smoothly, “I don’t think I’m wasting your time at all.”
Well, there was that. I was going through something of a dry spell that month, and my last client hadn’t paid me yet, either. Possibly because I broke his nose, but I did what he had hired me for first. He got all the photos of his wife cheating on him. Didn’t take it well and started giving me bullshit, and guess what, he didn’t hire me to be his punching bag. Anyway, the severe lack of cash was why I didn’t kick the supposed Senator’s aide out but glared at him and waited for why he was in my office to begin with. I guessed it wasn’t to ask me for my signature on a Kelly-For-President campaign list.
“Ms. Jones,” he said, “according to our files you spent some time as a vigilante...”
“I’m not giving autographs.”
“...named Jewel”, he finished, unimpressed. You wouldn’t be impressed, either, if you had my brief career of posing in my underwear as a superhero on file. I beat up a few bad guys, saved a few people from fires and the like, wasn’t attacked by the Daily Bugle once and then got captured by a third rate supervillain who didn’t even want to take over the country, let alone the world. He was just into fucking up people thoroughly, which he did. No, I still don’t want to talk about it. Didn’t want to then, either, when Gyrich who wasn’t really Gyrich was prancing about in my office, so I cut him off right there.
“And you probably spent time posing as a human being before you went into politics, so why don’t we cut the crap, and you tell me what you want?”
To my surprise, he actually did what I asked. I should have known then he wasn’t really a politician. “How did you get your superpowers? You weren’t born with them. According to our files, you were completely normal until a few years ago, and you don’t have the X-gene.”
“Freak radiation accident,” I said sourly. He looked intrigued.
“There was nothing in your physiology before that incident that predisposed you in any way for superpowers? It all came via radiation?”
“I guess. Hey, here’s a thought: radiate Congress, and have everyone there duke out the next budget meeting in tights and at high speed”, I said, feeling momentarily less annoyed by the thought of Kelly and Gyrich in spandex. Then I decided that enough was enough. “Look, if you want a feelgood story, why don’t you go bother the Fantastic Four?”
“And you still have those powers?” he insisted, ignoring my question. Go figure, I thought. The Fantastic Four have government funding. No wonder they don’t have to put up with the Inquisition. I also thought I knew why Gyrich was here to begin with, and that was the only reason why I didn’t reply it wasn’t any of his business what powers I did or didn’t have. (Strength and flight, if you have to know. Yes, flying is nifty. No, I haven’t done it in a while. Being drunk and nearly crashing into a helicopter takes the joy right out of it.) It’s a kneejerk reflex with me, but when someone asked me what my take on gay marriage was, I snogged the hell out of the next woman available and willing, and if you were asked whether you consider yourself Caucasian, you’d wave the black pride flag, right? So when Mr. My Senator Wants All Those Freaks With Superpowers To Register asked me, I didn’t just say, hell, yes, I put my shoulders around him, pulled him out of the chair in which he was lounging, and carried him out of my office.
He didn’t struggle. That was my next tip off that Henry Gyrich wasn’t quite what he seemed. The genuine article would have yelled at me to put him down and tried to defend his manly honour. After I had dumped him on my doorstep, by which I mean the dirty 32nd floor where I had my office because the rent wasn’t astronomical, even for New York, he got up, straightened himself and said, “See you around, Jessica Jones.”
Except I didn’t. But six months later I saw the reports about how “mutant terrorist leader Magneto” had tried to change the world’s leaders into mutants. With what, you ask? A machine using radiation. Elsewhere in the news, the body of senatorial aide Henry Gyrich was discovered. Turns out he was mauled by a bear or something like that. More than half a year ago.
Now like I said, I’m done with the superhero business. Which wasn’t a business at all; that’s another thing, I expect to be paid these days, and I’m not volunteering to right anyone’s wrongs. But. I don’t like being fucked with. In any way. So whether or not that little visit not!Gyrich paid me had given Magneto the idea he could change non-mutants into mutants, or whether he just needed additional confirmation, he and whoever he had posing as Gyrich had played me. Also? “Mauled by a bear”, my ass. The real Henry Gyrich probably had been a jerk, given who he worked for, but even jerks have a right to live, plus I had the bad feeling that if someone else investigated his death they’d find he had paid me a visit. You know, to the superstrong woman with the bad temper and the worse track record in dealing with self important snots. Call me paranoid, but better paranoid than framed, because I’m not letting anyone lock me up again, ever. So I got to work.
Henry Gyrich’s life history as far as one could document it didn’t reveal anything interesting, but his former boss, Robert Edward Kelly, US Senator and prominent chief voice pushing the Mutant Registration Act, was currently doing a Hyde into Jekyll kind of thing. By which I mean that he changed his mind about mutants in, oh, 180° degrees. He sold it as a religious revelation and some of his clientele bought that, but most were furious, and everyone predicted he’d lose his seat in the next elections. Did that sway Senator Kelly back to his original stand, or at least to keeping his mouth shut on mutant issues? It did not. We had a newfound champion for mutant equality around, unafraid of the costs to himself. If you buy into politicians like that, I can sell you a nice little home for the holidays on the moon, too.
At this point, I could have added two and two even when I was still young and dumb enough to believe I could change the world a little myself. Magneto himself was locked up in prison, but one of his sidekicks undoubtedly was a shapechanger, who’d first played Gyrich for me and then played Kelly for everyone. Given good old Henry’s date with a bear, I doubted the real Kelly was still alive, either. I went home with a bottle of Scotch, trying to figure out whether I cared. Every bit of footage of Kelly before his big revelation proved he wasn’t just the kind of guy I loathed, but the kind of guy who can be fucking dangerous for a great many people because people listen to him. Now if his widow had hired me then I would have a reason to prove he was murdered, because that would have been my job, but why the hell should I get involved just because another asshole had croaked it?
Two thirds into the bottle I stopped believing I wouldn’t be involved. Because I was still afraid the shapeshifter was intending to frame me and use me as scapegoat if someone figured out the glaringly obvious, like I had done. Because it had been a mistake to think about Kelly’s widow, because he was actually married, which meant his wife was currently sleeping with either his killer or someone who had been involved in his murder. How fucked up was that? It reminded me of – forget it, it just was fucked up, and nobody deserves going through something like that.
I had a headache the next morning, but it didn’t make me stupid enough to just waltz into Kelly’s office, ask for an audience and then open with “I know you killed the real Kelly, so be a good shapeshifter and turn yourself over to the cops and join your pal Magneto in prison”. Being superstrong doesn’t make you immune to bullets, plus I hadn’t been in a fight with someone who had other than human skills for years. And the last time I had been, I hadn’t won. So I started to prepare some life insurance. There is this guy I used to go to school with, Peter Parker. He works for the Daily Bugle now, as a photographer. I had a really embarrassing crush on him for a while and of course he never noticed, but that meant I knew where his aunt lived, and I mailed my material on Gyrich and Kelly to her, the old fashioned, non-computer way. Next I called the one mutant I actually knew even though I had hoped I’d never have to talk to her again. She was the doctor who had pulled me out of the coma and the craziness my life as Jewel had left me in, which she could do because she was a telepath. Her voice on the phone made me feel sick. Not her fault. She had saved me, like I said. But you can’t be someone’s saviour without reminding her just why she needed to be saved, can you?
“Jessica?” she said, sounding surprised and delighted, and wanted to know how I was doing. I cut the social chit chat short and asked her whether she’d be willing to go to Washington with me. That turned out to be something of a conversation stopper.
“Why?” she asked cautiously.
“Come on, Dr. Grey,” I said. “You were there recently, to testify at the Senate Hearing. I saw you on TV.”
“Well, yes,” she replied slowly, “but fortunately, it looks like the Mutant Registration Act has lost a few key supporters, so...”
I stopped listening for a moment, because I felt absurdly disappointed. She knows, I thought. Of course she does. And she’s willing to cover it up, the murders and what that means to Mary Kelly, fucking a stranger against her will or knowledge right now.
Then I told myself not to be more of a paranoid bitch than necessary. Immediately assuming that all mutants were part of a gigantic conspiracy, wasn’t that the kind of reaction the original Kelly and Gyrich would have shown? How did I expect Jean Grey to react? Not be glad Kelly changed his tune?
“About that,” I said, testing and glad she was in Westchester and not in New York City, so she couldn’t read my mind. “Great shape Kelly’s been in lately, huh?”
There was a moment of silence. “I don’t think you should go to Washington, Jessica,” she said, her voice a study of neutrality. “It could be dangerous.”
Fuck. There it was again, that taste of disappointment, like cheap liquor someone stretched with sugar and water. I should just stop expecting heroes, but the woman had saved what was left of my life and sanity.
“Well, I couldn’t afford to on my own anyway,” I said as lightly as possible. “Gotta go. Client.”
I hung up.
You bet I went to Washington. Actually, I flew. Wearing Jeans at 200 miles an hour is a bitch, but I figured that if Jean Grey was warning me off, she might also call the current Senator Kelly to tell him about our little chat, and if there is one thing bureaucrats are really good at, it’s making trouble for you at the airports. Plus my budget really was tight that month. It was weird flying again, in a good way. You have to focus and balancing the air and speed just right doesn’t leave you room for much else.
I had looked up where Kelly’s DC residence was, but I didn’t go there first. I went to the charity function his wife was attending that afternoon, some child hospice center, and watched her from a distance. She looked sad, but that might have been due to circumstances. It did occur to me that maybe I hadn’t been paranoid enough. For all I knew the wife had hated Kelly’s guts, had immediately spotted something was wrong and welcomed the shapeshifter with open arms. Maybe she had even helped with organizing Kelly’s death. I just had no way of knowing. Kelly’s press said his marriage was a happy one, but then, it would, wouldn’t it? He was a politician.
I hung around, still feeling like I was a thawing icicle after that flight, and caught snatches of her conversations. Mostly about the dying children and how the nurses were to be admired for having the strength to work with them, but she mentioned her husband two or three times, in a “Robert and I always believed that...” manner. Then someone asked her whether the Senator truly thought it was God’s will that mutants, even the most dangerous ones, could walk among defenseless people without warning, and a slightly hurt frown crossed Mary Kelly’s face, but she nodded.
“Is that what you believe as well, Mrs. Kelly?”
“I believe you should pray for all of us, especially these children, and support them in deeds as well as words,” the Senator’s wife said firmly and thus brought the conversation back to the hospice and the need for contributors. It didn’t make it clear to me whether she was more in tune with her supposed husband’s old or current stand on mutants, but it did give me the impression that she had no idea he was dead. When the time came to donate checks in white envelopes, I thought at first I’d leave a note, but the problem with that was that “your husband is really a shapeshifter” is the kind of thing you should be told in person. Plus, let’s face it, “mutant terrorist kills Senator, impersonates him to change law” would mean the Mutant Registration Act would be passed without another second of hesitation. I didn’t want that, not least because they were bound to go after the rest of us superpowered types next as well, and like I said – I’m not getting locked up again. In any way.
So what I did instead was to approach her and gush about how her husband was my sick little daughter’s hero and could I have an autograph for her, I had the envelope with the address with me.
“Certainly,” Mary Kelly said graciously. “What’s your daughter’s name?”
“Jessica. Jessica Jones.”
To give credit where it’s due, she didn’t bother to pretend when she showed up at the address I had given Mary Kelly. That she was a “she” was somewhat unexpected, granted; because both Gyrich and Kelly were men, I guess I had automatically assumed I was dealing with a male shapeshifter instead of a female stunner in blue who moved with a fluid elegance that made me feel clumsy and self-conscious of every additional pound. Well, Scotch isn’t exactly a diet, you know, and like I said – no superhero workouts these last few years.
“Jessica Jones,” she said, and her own voice was neither taunting nor anxious. Amused if anything. “Is this your new office?”
It wasn’t. But if you’re going to confront a killer, you better do so on territory you’re familiar with and she’s not. I knew every inch of this fucking apartment. I should. I had spent the better part of eight months here, and I knew the owner would not come back any time soon, which was the only good thing about it. It made me sweat like a pig just to be here, which she could take as fear of her if she wanted to, but in that fucked up way that is my life, it was also my safe place. Because there was really nothing that could happen to me here that hadn’t already, nothing worse.
“I like you better in blue,” I said. “But you shouldn’t have fucked with me. I’m not your patsy. And you know what? Call me old fashioned, but I think killers and rapists should go to jail.”
The amusement vanished from her face and voice.
“I thought you had quit the superhero business,” she said archly. “And I’m not a rapist.”
“Then I guess you told Mrs. Kelly all about whom she’s in bed with.”
“The Senator and his wife don’t have exactly the most vivid sex life,” she said, but she sounded uneasy, or maybe irritated. I don’t know. “What business is it of yours anyway? You’re not stupid. If you had wanted to out me, you would have done that already without risking a confrontation. So what is this supposed to be, blackmail?”
If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention that if I died, my Senator-Kelly-is-a-shapeshifter-theory complete with photos would hit the media – why the hell should I have? That’s how you get innocent bystanders killed. When I said that package I delivered to Peter Parker’s Aunt May with instructions was my insurance, I meant that it was my insurance Madame Shapeshifter here wouldn’t continue to fuck people’s lives up if I croaked it.
“You’re not stupid, either,” I said. “But maybe you’re deaf. I already told you what this is about. You’re a murderer, and unless ‘not exactly the most vivid’ means no sex life at all, you did rape that woman in Washington. Either way, she deserves to know her husband is dead. She doesn’t deserve having to serve his killer breakfast.”
“You want to talk about who deserves what?” she exploded. “That woman’s husband was getting off on preaching hate, and she was right at his side while he was doing it, for years. We’re in a war, a war they started. He was a prime mover in that war, so he was a target, and she’s a collaborator. It’s as simple as that.”
“Well, that makes it all right then,” I said. “Yay for war crimes!”
I had her on video tape confessing now, in her own shape and voice. Killgrave had installed cameras everywhere in this apartment, and he had made me film him with whomever he brought here, so I knew exactly how to use them. I just wasn’t sure yet what to do with this material. My t-shirt was drenched by now. At least it was my own sweat I smelled, not his. You love me, he said in my memory, that purple bastard with the ability to control people’s minds, you love me more than anyone else on this planet. And because he used his powers on me, I loved him. No, he didn’t rape me. He made me watch and help him while he raped other people and told me I loved him and if I was really good and begged long enough, one day he’d lower himself to touch me.
We’re a fucked up species anyway, but sometimes I think the existence of superpowers managed to make everything even worse. So when Mystique started again about how this was a war, about how some had to be sacrificed for the greater good of mutantkind so that future mutants wouldn’t have to live in fear like she had done and I didn’t understand because I’d grown up as mundane, I lost it.
“Fuck that,” I yelled, jumped up and slammed her against the wall. I’m fast, but given the shape she was in, she was bound to be faster, so when I thought about it later, I was surprised she let me do that. At the time I wasn’t. The only thing I felt was rage. “Fuck the mutant cause and the registration act and any cause and Kelly’s bullshit and yours. You don’t take someone’s life, you don’t take someone’s consent away. Not ever!”
She looked at me then with her yellow eyes and said: “You are so young.”
She didn’t look much older as far as you could tell, but then, she was a shapeshifter. For all I knew, she could have been in her 60s. At any rate, it was beside the point. I was so sick of it all. I let her go and told her to kill me already if that was what she was planning to do, so there would not be any more condescending ideological bullshit.
“Well, that would be one option,” she said matter-of-factly, “but let’s just say that before I left Washington, I was contacted by a mutual acquaintance. If something happens to you, Senator Kelly’s use is over anyway, and we can’t have that, not yet.” She regarded me thoughtfully. “And I was young once, too. You’ll learn. You should have the opportunity to.”
I could have pointed out that whatever deal she had struck with Jean Grey -, and the mutual acquaintance had to be Dr. Grey -, it didn’t bind me, but I wasn’t suicidal enough. Not even here, in this room. “Yay war crimes,” I said again, bitterly.
“Senator Kelly will file for divorce,” she said abruptly. “His career is over anyway. He’ll tell his wife as soon as he gets back, and she’ll get a good settlement. Don’t ask for more.”
It was something. It also showed there was something in her that wasn’t all rhetoric about the war and the cause and all that bullshit. I figured I could still use the video with her confession, but – well, it wouldn’t improve the situation for Mrs. Kelly, and it would make things worse for everyone else.
It would be justice, though.
When they locked Killgrave up, it didn’t even make headlines. Third page news. I kept the article for a while and then I burned it one night when I was more drunk than usual. Sometimes I wish he died and sometimes the idea that he’s in prison with neural inhibitors stopping him from playing mind games with anyone feels better, because that was all he ever lived for. He didn’t care about anything or anyone else. This woman in front of me did, or she believed she did. Did that make what she’d done better? I don’t know.
I’ll give her eight months, I thought. That’s what he gave me. If she’s still Kelly then, I’ll put that confession online.
“You could tell me your name, though,” I said out loud, because what use is a confession without a name? She took the question differently. Of course she did.
“Mystique,” she replied, with a little smile, and sauntered to the door, changing shape as she did so. Not into Kelly, by the way. It probably wouldn’t do him good being seen in a New York apartment with another woman just before he filed for divorce. No, she turned into a blonde I had never seen before, and just before she closed the door behind her, she looked back and said:
“You were wrong about one thing, Jessica. I never fucked with you. Doesn’t mean I never will.”
With that, she was gone, and of course I wanted to punch her again.