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Proxemics

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Getting what you want really makes no difference.

It's a hard lesson to learn. Kilgrave’s been dead for weeks, neck twisted as if he were a particularly ugly owl. No more demands and threadbare justifications. Just silence, and the certainty that he’ll never be in her head again. She should be celebrating.

She's not. She may have been immune in the end, but he still left his mark on her, like a dog’s pee stain on the upholstery. You can yell at the dog, but you can never get rid of the smell. At least this particular dog isn’t going to pee on any armchairs ever again. That’s what Jess tries to take solace in when the panic attacks render her a sobbing, shaking heap on the floor of her bedroom.

She hasn’t had one in twelve hours. That’s respectable, given her recent track record.

Her streak is almost ruined when she stumbles home from staking out a cheating wife and sees a shadow moving as she enters her apartment. Her heart jumps into her throat, her chest seizes up, and she falls into a fighting stance. “Who’s there?!”

“Jesus, Jess.” The lights come on, way too bright—she’s both drunk and hungover, her least favorite state of alcoholism—and Trish’s judgmental stare hits her from across the room. Times like this, Trish looks a lot like her mother.

Jessica immediately hates herself for that thought.

“What’re you doing here?” Oh-so-casually, she shuffles over to her desk to dump the camera into its accustomed drawer.

“Waiting for you. We had dinner plans, remember?”

Shit. “I forgot.”

“Clearly.”

Her jacket ends up crumpled on the couch, and she heads into the kitchen, back turned to avoid Trish’s stare. She’s pretty sure it’s lethal. If anyone’s got laser eyes, it’s Trish.

“Jess, we’re not doing this again.” Trish steps behind her as she grabs a bottle of something-or-other from the cabinet. Her neck muscles tense as she expects a hand to land on her shoulder, but of course Trish knows better than to touch her from behind. “I know you’re having a hard time dealing with everything, but I’m not going to wait six months this time until you finally climb onto my balcony and ask me for money. We dealt with Kilgrave together. Why can’t we deal with the aftermath together?”

“This is my problem, Trish.” Dishes clatter as she rifles through the assortment on her counter for a clean glass. “My trauma, my fucked-up brain.” She gives up the search and grabs a mug with brown-green coffee rings at the bottom, then turns around as she pours. “How do you think you’re going to help? You get a degree in trauma therapy while I wasn’t looking?”

Trish looks radiant, as always, in a tight three-quarter-sleeve top with a turtleneck collar circling her throat like a ribbon. The dark purple color makes her hair and eyes pop. Nice, clean, attractive, put-together. Trish Walker at your service.

Her face is doing that thing where she looks concerned and irritated at the same time, and that, too, is very in character. “I could fund your trauma therapy if you ever agreed to get any,” she says. “Or I could simply—go to dinner with you. Be your friend. Ask you about your day. Try to make things normal for two or three hours. You need a friend right now, Jess. You’re disintegrating.”

“I’m not disintegrating.” Jess hides behind a deep gulp from the coffee-whiskey mug.

“You look like crap. It’s been ages since your place got trashed, and you haven’t done shit to fix it up. It’s still got a giant hole in the wall, I almost cut my hand on your door when I came in—”

“You don’t have to grab the frame to open it. Just use the handle.”

“—and I’m pretty sure there’s a hazardous materials law against hoarding this many empty liquor bottles.” Trish kicks one of the bottles that litter the floor, and the clattering of glass on tile rings in Jess’ ears and makes her head throb. She pulls a grimace, then jumps a little when Trish’s hand lands on her wrist. “Let me help, Jessica. Stop isolating yourself. You don’t have to do this alone.”

“Don’t call me Jessica.” It’s new, the aversion against her full name, but anytime she hears it, the echo in her head has a British twang and makes her skin crawl. “Just—let it go, Trish, all right? I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”

The silence that follows lasts long enough for Jess to chance a glance at Trish’s face after all. She wishes she hadn’t. She’s not sure she can handle the pain she sees there.

“You’d better be,” Trish says finally, gathering her coat up from the back of a chair as she retreats into the office. “Shut me out all you like, but I’ll be checking in on you. First sign you can’t go this alone, I’m intervening. You got me?”

“Yes, mom.” She’s still in the kitchen, so she doesn’t have to see the expression on Trish’s face at that jab. She can hear the harsh scoff, though, as Trish makes her way to the door.

“You owe me dinner! Friday, 8PM, I’m picking you up. Don’t stand me up again.”

“I’ll be here.”

Probably. Dinner doesn’t fix jack shit when your day consists of fighting your own brain for every scrap of sanity you have left, so she’ll have to see on Friday what Friday brings. She takes another swig of whiskey, then grabs the bottle and makes her way to the bedroom as she hears the apartment door shut with a rattle of broken glass.

~*~

“You don’t want to do this.” Her hands are up in front of her, palms out, trying to communicate to her opponent in body language as well as speech that he needs to back off. She doesn’t think he’s listening. Big surprise there.

“She strung me along!” He’s human garbage dressed up as a 20-something hipster boy, and he’s waving a fucking bayonet, of all things. “Four fucking months! And when I ask her to finally make up her mind, she disappears!”

“You were scaring me!” The girl behind Jess is shaking; Jess can feel it against her back where Rebecca is pressed against her, hiding from her wannabe boyfriend. Her voice is thick with tears and fear. “I was scared you were going to hurt me!”

Jess should’ve known that this was going to go bad the moment Human Garbage burst into her office and demanded that she deal with his case first of all. She could smell the conceited entitlement pouring from his pores when he spun his tale about a missing girlfriend. He knew that they were meant for each other, knew it the moment he laid eyes on her in the NYU cafeteria, except the love of his life had disappeared, and please, Jessica Jones, please find her. He’ll pay anything to find her.

Human Garbage smelled of money as much as he did of entitlement, so she took the case. Rebecca was easy enough to find, just follow the credit card trail. Not being completely stupid, Jess came up to the cozy Hartford bed-and-breakfast to see what’s what before handing Rebecca’s location over to her client.

She doesn’t know how Human Garbage found them. She’d like to think it impossible that he followed her, and it is—paranoia is a great asset when it comes to making sure you’re not being followed—but she did polish off an entire thermos of Jack on the train. Maybe the little fucker actually put a tracker on her.

“Hurt you!” Human Garbage is blubbering, snot gathering on his upper lip. “I could never hurt you, Rebecca. You’re the love of my life!”

“Bullshit,” Jess snaps. “If you’re not planning to hurt her, who’s the knife for?”

“She stood me up!” The blade is trembling in his hand. He’s more likely to stab someone by accident than on purpose. “She said she’d be there, and then she stood me up! I bought a ring!”

Rebecca wails behind Jess, and Jess’ fingers clench to fists. “We’re done here. Put the knife down, or I will make you, asshole.”

“You can’t tell me what to do.” The snot-covered lip curls into a sneer. “You’re just a drunk, fucked-up girl P. I. from Hell’s Ki—“

Her knuckles connect to his jaw. There’s no fight in this hemp-clad bag of pretentious attitude. His balance disintegrates on impact, arms flailing like windmill blades, one of them razor-sharp. The fall is more theatrical than expected, and Jess dodges a second too late. Hot pain slices up her side. “Motherfucker!”

“Oh my God!” Rebecca screams. “Oh my God, did he stab you, oh my God, Kyle, are you all right?”

“He’s fine! Fuck!” Her side is soaked, blood seeping into her shirt. She yanks her jacket off; last thing she needs is a fucking bloody mess all over the lining. It hurts. Shit.

“That’s assault!” Human Garbage has found his voice, if not his feet. “You assaulted me, I was defending myself, I didn’t—“

“Shut up!” Frustration tears at her throat. “Shut the fuck up, you piece of shit!” One quick grasp, and she’s got his knife hand pinned at the wrist; a twist, and the bayonet clatters to the floor. The cut in her side burns like hell as she drags him over to the window. The curtain cable’s beaded plastic. Jess yanks it off, ties Human Garbage’s wrists behind his back, then loops the cable around the radiator.

“You’re going to stay here.” She steps around him. “You’re going to wait for the cops. Even if she won’t press charges—“ She turns around to face Rebecca, who’s got her back pressed against the wall next to the door, purse clutched to her chest. “Which, really, you should, because this jackass is nothing but a plain old stalker—“ Back to Human Garbage. “Well, I definitely will. Talk about assault, asshole. Oh, and by the way? Every second of this is going on your bill, and my rate’s just doubled. See you later, jerkface.”

She calls it in anonymously. Hartford PD, there was an altercation in the bed and breakfast on Jefferson and Main, no, she didn’t see anything, but it sounded violent. You guys should check it out. Please call her never for more details. Her civil conscience protests as she hangs up, but with everything that’s happened recently, she doesn’t want to deal with the police and the courts and the system. She’s had more than enough of them.

She’s had enough of Rebecca, too. She keeps it together long enough to speak some comforting words, give her the name of a self-help group and the number of a detective friend, and put her in a cab back to the city. Then she finds a set of concrete steps in front of a strip mall and collapses.

Breathing hurts, searing pain burning along her side every time her chest expands. Her shirt is soaked, but the blood isn’t dripping down, so the cut can’t be too deep. She’s flung her jacket back over her shoulders, lining be damned, to ward off the cold, but the adrenaline crash does its part. Before long, she’s shivering like a junkie on his second day in rehab.

And of course, as always, there’s the added fun of PTSD.

“Main Street,” she whispers. “Birch Street. Higgins Drive. Cobalt Lane.”

The street names don’t work as well anymore, not since Kilgrave made those memories unsafe by turning her parents’ house into a shrine to his ignorance. Right now, though, they ward off the gaunt digits of panic scratching on her mind. You’re in control, Jess, she reminds herself. He can’t hurt you.

“He can’t hurt me,” she insists under her breath, words belied by the burning in her side and the pounding in her head. “Fuck.” She’d give anything for a drink. Or five.

After some time, she’s pulled herself together enough to register the cars passing by. Not long after that, she’s flagged down a cab. She just wants to go to the station, catch the train back to Grand Central and hit the free clinic on 57th and 10th—and the liquor store right next to it—but by the time they come up to Hartford’s cozy little train terminal, moving is out of the question. “Changed my mind,” she tells the cabbie. “Take me into the city. Hell’s Kitchen.”

“Long cab ride,” the cabbie says, gum crossing from left to right in his mouth as he gives her a flat stare in the mirror. “You got money?”

“Yeah, I got money. Fuck.” She doesn’t. “Fine, 90th and 2nd. Can we go?”

“Someone better pay up when we get there.” He’s munching on that gum like a cow on a patch of grass.

“It’s Upper East Side, jackass. Someone will pay. Now shut up and drive.”

~*~

The trip back is a haze, and she doesn’t remember getting from the backseat of the cab onto Trish’s couch. The soft cushions are familiar, though, and so is the smell of polished wood and comfort and Trish Walker’s apartment. She’d know that smell anywhere.

Trish shoves a glass of water and two white pills into her hands.

“Let me take you to a hospital, Jess.” Insistent, reasonable. “It’s not deep, thank God, but you don’t want it to get infected.”

“No.” She shakes her head. “Hospitals suck, Trish. Can you get me a drink?”

“Take the meds first.”

“Mixing booze and medication.” A chuckle dies in her throat as she palms the pills. “It’s like it’s ten years ago or something.”

“It’s Advil. You’ll be fine. Also, don’t be a jerk.”

“Sorry.”

The drink’s in her hand not much later, soothing bronze liquid that burns in her throat. Trish makes her lean forward and cuts the shirt right off of her body. Her clenched teeth ache by the time Trish is done cleaning and dressing the wound. Then there’s a hand between her shoulder blades, rubbing small circles over knotted, rock-hard muscles.

“Oh, Jess.” Trish’s voice is quiet and close to her ear. There’s pain in it. Seems like any time she’s around Trish these days, all she does is hurt her. “What am I supposed to do with you?”

The burning in her throat migrates up into her eyes. She tucks her chin against her shoulder, trying to hide from Trish’s concern. Here they are, successful radio talk show host in a tasteful suit-style set of satin PJs and a smelly, half-naked, half-drunk mess of a woman, boobs hanging out and blood seeping all over the expensive couch. Her mere presence is probably reducing the market price of Trish’s apartment worse than the housing crash of 2008 did.

“Just cut me loose,” she rasps, choked tears getting revenge on her voice and almost silencing it. “This is never going to change, Trish. I’m always going to be a mess on your couch. At some point you’ll grow tired of it, as you should. Cut me loose. Better sooner than later.”

The silence that follows isn’t real silence. You don’t get that kind of thing in New York City. The clanging and banging of one and a half million people living on top of each other on a tiny island make the lack of spoken words all the more suffocating. Eventually, Trish pulls away. “I’m going to blame the state you’re in for you spouting this kind of bullshit,” she says. “But make no mistake, Jess, I’m done playing a game of emotional chicken with you. We’re in this together, we’ve always been in this together. You’re my best friend, and I need you. So we’re going to get you through this. It’s not up for debate.”

No sound comes out when she opens her mouth, but Trish doesn’t even need to hear her protest.

“It’s not up for debate, Jess.” She plucks the empty glass from her hand and puts it on the couch table. “Get your feet up.”

Her socks slide off right along with her boots when Trish pulls them off. Jess winces in sympathy for Trish’s nose. The blanket covering her is soft and warm, and just before she passes out, she hears Trish’s voice one more time.

“You’re stronger than him, Jess.”

~*~

Jess doesn’t do vacations. Especially not the kind where you go on the road to someplace remote and enjoy the relaxing countryside full of bugs and swamps and rednecks and stores closing at 6 PM. Jess likes the city, and she likes to keep busy. Vacations are not her thing.

Trish apparently didn’t get that memo. When Jess came around mid-morning, her bags were packed, and Trish had scheduled two weeks of Trish Talk reruns starting that day. Heedless of Jess’ objections, Trish herded her into the car and promised a rest stop breakfast once they were clear of the city. At least she provided a bottle of Cutty Sark, which Jess found herself clutching like a baby all the way through the tunnel and down I-95.

“Why Chincoteague, of all places?” Newark Airport is looming to their right, and Jess silently concedes that she’s lucky Trish didn’t strong-arm her onto a plane. Cars are bad, but she’s pretty sure planes were invented by the Marquis de Sade himself.

Trish is aggressively cheerful as ever, dressed for the occasion in slacks and a loose white blouse, with a pair of sunglasses perched on her head that probably cost more than Jess’ entire outfit. “It’s close. It’s beautiful. It’s as different as any place could be from New York. And it’s got wild ponies!”

“You sound way too excited about that.”

“Come on, you can’t tell me you didn’t have a pony phase at some point growing up.”

“Actually, I didn’t. I was more a Jurassic Park kinda girl.”

“Of course you were.” The eye roll is audible. “Maybe we’ll find some velociraptors for you. Got to keep the pony population down somehow, right?”

Jess snorts and settles in for the trip. Outside, the city gradually turns into countryside. New Jersey’s ugly as sin and more boring than ESPN at midnight, but once they cross the river into Delaware, the road leads them along the bay and presents a vast expanse of ocean bleeding into blue skies speckled with white clouds. Golden reeds line the shore, and seagulls caw overhead, chasing gusts of wind to sail out over the waters, wings glinting in the September sun.

Chincoteague is connected to the mainland by a causeway, a long stretch of road with narrow shoulders and a knee-high barrier dropping off into shallow waters and patches of rocks, reeds and bushes. A run-down billboard advertises a sea food restaurant, soft blues and yellows bleached by the sun and flaking to expose rough chipboard underneath.

The bridge to the island is guarded by a small tower, and then they’re driving through a picturesque little town, wooden houses squatting by the side of the road as if they’d grown there naturally. The smell of sea salt hangs in the air, and the bottle of Cutty Sark sits tucked next to the gear console, mostly full and (for now) forgotten.

“We’re staying at the Seaside Inn,” Trish tells her as her phone navigates them off of Main Street and past a row of mobile homes.

“Sounds quaint.” Jess shifts and winces. She took some painkillers when they stopped for lunch—OTC only, but that's fine; if she wants something to cloud her mind, she'll stick with the whiskey—and right now the pain in her side is just a dull throbbing memory. The rest of her body isn’t much better off, though. Muscle tension in her neck is radiating up into her skull and down along her spine, and she can’t find a comfortable position to sit in. Road trips suck. “Are we there yet?”

“Should be right about—here.” The car turns into an unpaved driveway and the Seaside Inn comes into view. Poised on the northeastern shore, garage, main house and gables center around a squat tower peaking up above the rest. The wood-slatted front is painted white, and the bushes and flowers lining the way to the front door are colorful and welcoming.

Trish clatters her rolling carry-on over the natural stone path with Jess’ duffle bag perched on top. The owners of the Seaside Inn are two middle-aged ladies who welcome Trish and Jess with genuine warmth and little fuss. The room is all the way up on the second floor, and even though she’d never admit it, Jess’ throbbing side is grateful that Trish insists on carrying her bag.

It’s only when Jess takes in the décor of their room that she realizes Trish has brought them to a romantic bed and breakfast.

“Are you putting the moves on me, Trish Walker?” Jess lets out a groan as she plops down on the king-sized bed in the center of the room. The walls are painted a muted grey-green, complemented by white window frames and flowery curtains. A squishy couch at the foot of the bed faces an open fireplace, and she’s pretty sure the corner tub she can spot through the bathroom door features Jacuzzi jets.

“You wish,” Trish calls out of the small walk-in closet. She’s already unpacking. “It’s either bed-and-breakfasts or tourist beehives on this island, and I wasn’t feeling the latter. I figured you wouldn’t mind sharing.”

Not an unreasonable assumption, considering they’ve shared a bed more than once over the course of their friendship. Not since Kilgrave, though. PTSD makes a sucky mattress neighbor of you. Doesn’t matter. If worse comes to worst, there’s the couch. “It’s fine.”

The art on the wall is a step above the non-descript paintings of impressionist flowers usually found in hotels and motels. A row of framed photographs shows an identical view of a coastal landscape in four different seasons: wind-swept seas and snow drifts piling up against clumps of reeds in winter, Canadian geese splaying their wings against a crisp spring sky, a setting sun painting the shore bright reds in summer, shades of grey seeping into the saturated earth tones in the fall picture. As Jess steps over to the French door that leads out onto the balcony, she realizes the photos depict the view from the room.

As reluctant as she’s feeling about this vacation, Trish sure picked a beautiful destination.

“Do you own anything that’s not a tank top?”

“I got a few jeans. Are you unpacking my shit?” She peers around the closet door to see Trish trying to wrangle a tank top onto a hanger.

“How do you hang these?”

“You don’t.” Jess snatches the top from her hands. “These are drawer clothes, Trish. Like underpants, except you wear them as a top layer.”

She pulls out one of the drawers behind the door to chuck the shirt in. She’s barely opened it when there’s an inhuman sound, like a saw cutting through bone. The drawer flies open and a furious ball of rags lunges at her. She stumbles back into Trish as sharp claws slam into her chest, flailing to keep her balance as she finds herself face to face with the angriest cat she’s ever seen.

“Jesus Christ!”

Trish shoves a hand between Jess’ shoulder blades to push her back to her feet. “What the f—oh my God.”

Jess’ eyes are on the cat, her heart beating in her throat. The animal’s black fur is standing on end, tail thick and back curved as it edges towards them, hissing and spitting and looking like a demon incarnate. Albeit a small one.

Trish’s hand is frantically tapping her shoulder; Jess tries to shrug her off. “What?”

“Look!”

Trish’s outstretched finger is pointing at the drawer. In a nest of shredded pillow filling, two tiny furballs are cozied up together. Clumsy paws pat at nothing, blind eyes searching as toothless mouths open to emit the tiniest of mewls. The kittens are barely audible over the racket their mother is making.

“Shit. She’s got her babies in there. We got to—“ Jess grabs Trish by the arm and edges them past the protective mother cat, who loses interest in them as soon as they clear the way between her and her babies. Claws clack on wood as she climbs back into her makeshift birthing lair. Jess gently pulls the door shut. “We can’t go in there.”

“All my clothes are in there!”

At Jess’ glare, Trish holds up her hands. “No, of course. Got to leave her be. But—“ She laughs. “I can’t believe the owners didn’t realize she was there. We’ll have to change rooms.”

“No.” Jess sits back down on the bed, eyes on the closet door. She’s left it ajar by a small gap, just enough for the mother cat to get out and find food. The scrabbling and shuffling in the small space has stopped. She can still hear the tiny mewling, though; almost inaudible, but now that she knows what to listen for, it’s unmistakable. “We’ll go back in later, get the clothes out. We can just leave them in the bags. I don’t want to change rooms.”

Trish doesn’t question her, which is good, because Jess would have no idea what to say. When they head out for dinner, they tell the owners that they’d like to keep the room despite the unexpected co-inhabitants. It knocks ten percent off their rate, which is unexpected but pleasant. They also learn that the cat’s name is Maggie Thatcher.

Well, nobody’s perfect.