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When All The Stars Are Dead

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            The mark appears after the accident. A strip of words along the inside of her right thigh, written – like all the marks – by the invisible hand of her soulmate stretching back through time to give her the first words of their life together. The letters are the a bloody red colour. Small, carefully constructed with thin, precise lines: a practiced hand, but Jessica senses a recklessness to them. They charge into each other, each one a little more eager than the next to make that final leap into the milky white of her skin.

            “Jessica Jones, stop talking,” Trish reads aloud. Her brow furrows with curiosity, eager to plunge into a new mystery.

            Jessica tugs the leg of her pyjamas down over her thigh. She doesn’t like games where she’s a piece instead of a player, doesn’t like mysteries where she’s the evidence. “How romantic.”

            “Hey, those are just their words to you,” Trish reminds her. “Who knows what your first words to your soulmate will be?”

            “I do: fuck you, asshole.”

            Trish laughs. Her face glows pink. She never gets tired of hearing Jessica curse. “Maybe it’s a teacher.”

            “Ew.” Jessica cringes.

            “Like a professor? Someone when you’re older?”

            “Still ew, Trish.”

            “What about a cop? Jessica Jones, stop talking? You have the right to remain silent?”

            “Great. My soulmate’s a cop, and we meet when I’m getting booked.” Jessica sighs and comes to sit next to Trish on the bed. “Guess it’s good I got a head’s up. Now I’ve got time to think of a comeback.”

            Trish doesn’t have to: “You’re going to punch them?”

            Jessica nods. “I’m gonna punch them.”       


             She waits for the day. All through her teens and into her twenties. High school sees her scanning classmate’s penmanship for that distinctive scrawl marking her leg. Later, she tries a new trick of running her mouth all the more in the hopes of baiting someone, anyone, into a soulmate showdown.

            Sometimes she catches herself picking through a crowd about who she’d like it to be: dark hair, dark eyes, decent smile. Can’t be too neat or too messy. Tough guy but not macho. Distant but dependable.

            Trish always brings her back to reality with some musing about the Big Moment. How, “Jessica Jones, stop talking,” will devolve into an epic melee wherein Jessica soulmate is revealed to be just as strong as she is, and the two will fall into superhero love and make superhero babies and start a superhero dynasty…

            Jessica stops looking after that. She takes to practicing, conditioning herself to respond with violence.

            “Jessica Jones, stop talking,” she tells her reflection. When that doesn’t get her adrenaline pumping, she tries again, angrier, “Jessica Jones, stop talking,” followed instinctively with a tilt of her head and a pointed, “Fuck you.”

            The problem is the name. Plenty of people start conversations with her using variations of, “Stop talking.” Jessica gets, “Shut your fucking face,” and, “Why don’t you use that mouth for what it’s good for-“ but not a one of them know her. And the ones that do get close, the ones who open with things other than, “Shut the fuck up,” they’re almost all disappointed, at least a little, when they get her pants off and discover it’s not their line on her inner thigh.

            Jessica isn’t. If there’s a bright side to this soulmate business, it’s knowing everyone’s meaningless. There’s one person out there waiting to jump into conversation with fighting words, and Jessica can’t wait to fight back.


             “Jessica Jones, stop talking. Jessica Jones, stop talking…”

            She can’t say it aloud so she thinks it. Every time the words leave his mouth - fuck you, Kilgrave. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.

            He nips at her neck while smoothing a hand over the mark on her leg. “Tell me it was the first thing I said to you.”

            Jessica ignores the voice bubbling out of her mouth. She isn’t the one speaking. She occupies herself with remembering the first thing he actually said to her. There was clapping? A compliment?

            “It was the first thing you said to me.”

            He grips her mark hard, stealing the letters out of her skin, taking them for himself. “Tell me again. Tell me they were the first words out of my mouth.”

            Tremendous. He called her tremendous.

            Her mouth moves again at his command: “It was the first thing you said to me. They were the first words out of your mouth.”

            “Ugh! Like you mean it, Jessica.”

            She hates the sincerity in her voice, the way her whole being bends towards him despite every fibre of her screaming inside. “It was the first thing you said to me,” she murmurs huskily (tremendous. He called her tremendous and applauded her). “They were the first words that came out of your mouth.”

            Kilgrave releases the mark and dives onto her neck again. His hand moves up her leg as he whispers in her ear. “That’s right. That’s right. Because you’re made for me, all right, Jessica? You’re mine. So those words have to be mine. The first thing I said to you: Jessica Jones, stop talking.”

            He stares into her eyes, and Jessica tries to make sure he sees the real her in there. She screams and claws and tears behind her pupils, letting every ounce of her hate shine through.

            Kilgrave’s smile fades. Punishment comes in the form of another command: “That’s how you remember it anyways.”

            And for a very long time, that’s exactly how Jessica remembers it.


             She’s free and sitting on the edge of the bathtub in her shitty apartment. Pants at her ankles. A mostly-empty whiskey bottle in her lap. Kilgrave’s voice in her head (where the hell would it be?) oscillating between crystal clear and unintelligible thanks to the booze.

            Jessica Jones, stop talking.

            Jessica Jones, stop talking.

            The tears run hot against her cheeks. Jessica takes another drink. She forces herself out of memory into the bathroom. To the damp tile under her feet, the bottle getting lighter in her lap, the twenty-dollar curling wand heating up on the bathroom counter.

            Jessica Jones, stop talking.

            She finishes the last of the whiskey in three long, slow glugs. Plants the bottle on the floor next to her.

            Then she grabs the wand, and with whiskey still in her mouth, she presses the barrel against her inner thigh. She holds in there through the hissing and the popping and the burning, until she’s seeing spots and thinks she might die but it has to be gone. She wants it gone. Fuck soulmates. Fuck belonging to someone. Fuck fate, fuck destiny, fuck everything. The next person who says, “Jessica Jones, stop talking,” is going to get their jaw ripped off.

            …but it was him, wasn’t it? Kilgrave was the one who said it first?

            The wand clatters to the floor. Jessica pukes. She slumps backwards, sinking into the tub muttering a series of, “Fuck you-s.” God damn it, she can’t remember. She can’t remember the first words Kilgrave said to her, only his clapping. His joy at having found her, at having found someone else like him. The way one soul greets a mate.

            She looks down towards her leg, to the stripe where her mark used to be. Those reckless letters, that practiced hand running up her thigh, now nothing more than a strip of steaming meat.


             “Jessica Jones, stop talking.”

            Jessica’s guts tie themselves in knots at the lawyer’s words. Fury overwhelms her nausea.

            “Who the hell are you?” she snaps, waiting for a response. He said hers, so she must have said his, right? That’s how this soulmate thing is supposed to work?

            The lawyer doesn’t react. He delivers his name and his profession and ushers the detective from the room. His brusque demeanour gives Jessica a chance to cool her heels. She recites street names in silence. And when the lawyer sits down across from her, he doesn’t open with anything along the lines of, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you.” He starts right in about the dead guy in her apartment. 

            Jessica glowers at him so hard he must feel it. Jesus, he’s blind; maybe he hasn’t seen his mark, and even if he has, Jessica’s penmanship blows. He’s probably got, “Who the hell are you?” as a scribbly clusterfuck of a tramp stamp or emblazoned on his ass. If he’s really hers, that’s where the mark’ll be.

            Dark hair, dark eyes, decent smile.

            Stop.

            Neither too neat nor too messy.

            Stop.

            He’s pretty ripped under that shirt of his.

            Jessica folds her arms across her chest. Her pants to pull against the scar tissue on her inner thigh, and she thinks about how reckless for a blind guy to throw himself into an interrogation room, to have read her file and start with a command.

            But the more Murdock talks, the more apparent it becomes this is any other meeting between any other lawyer and any other suspicious person. Even when his voice shifts into secretive, Murdock’s inquiring about the strange shit in her apartment, not confessing his relief at finding The One. To add insult to injury, he isn’t even going to give Jessica the fight she’s been craving. He isn’t going to give Jessica anything at all.

            Jessica’s panic recedes, replaced by her familiar apathy. Those words do not define her. Murdock does not define her. Kilgrave does not define her. Fuck soulmates. They don’t exist.  


             “Just like me.”

            Kilgrave liked to say that. Her specialness marked them as meant-to-be in a way first words never could.

            Jessica thinks it’s bullshit. Being special doesn’t entitle a person to someone else’s time or energy or body. Besides, the metrics on special are largely subjective. She was special to Kilgrave because of her powers. She’s special to Matt because everybody’s special to Matt. He really does have a thing for lost causes.

            The confession about Elektra doesn’t help alleviate Jessica’s confusion. Murdock’s dedication to lost causes makes the whole world seem like his soulmate, but Elektra is special. Fuck, Jessica thinks, maybe she got him and Murdock got Elektra, and they’re all destined to be miserable.

            She thinks about asking him every time they’re together: what the hell does your mark say? Do you even have a mark? Have you seen it? But every time they’re together the nausea comes back. Kilgrave’s touch on her leg, his insistence that they were his words all along, just like she was his all along. Fate and destiny aren’t comforting; they’re confining. For her and for Murdock. She can’t make herself his problem even if the universe branded her with his handwriting when she was a girl.

            Besides, Murdock still hasn’t said anything. That’s gotta be a sign.  

            The thought makes Jessica feel lighter for some reason, like a weight’s been lifted. But then the lightness tips into dizzying and the dizziness is terrifying. Whatever she was carrying gave her some sense of wholeness; now, she’s hollowed out, empty.  

            Kilgrave starts to come back to her, “Jessica Jones-“ but suddenly, his voice morphs into Murdock, “- stop talking,” and then it’s all Murdock all the time on an endless loop. The menace drains from the words. There’s a warmth in the way Murdock told her to stop talking that speaks of protection. He’s protecting her. And he keeps on protecting her through their time together, negotiating her faultlines with those devil reflexes of his. Intervening when she needs him, but confident that she can fight her own battles.

            Jessica doesn’t know what the hell to do with that.


            “I’m glad we found each other,” Murdock says. The sincerity in his voice tips the scales on his costume yet again from badass to dopey. He’s such a fucking marshmallow.

            That he says it to both her and Luke is enough to make Jessica beat the dopey costume off him to see his mark. Just what the hell does it say, asshole?

            If she’d have known it was the last time they’d have the chance, she would have.


             She’s sitting on the edge of the tub in her shitty apartment pounding back a bottle of rye as quickly as she can. Hot water thunders into the basin behind her. Pants and socks stare up at her from the floor. Her skin is thick with ash and dust and concrete. She would take a shower, but she doesn’t have the strength to stand.

            Fucking fate. Fucking useless, stupid fate. To give her something that could be so easily abused, so easily broken - by Kilgrave, by fucking post-modern architecture – then tell her it’s sacrosanct. That her soul will be made whole when she hears the words, “Jessica Jones, stop talking.”

            Jessica sinks back into the tub with her t-shirt on, rye clutched to her bruised chest. Legs hanging out over the ledge. She makes no effort to turn, no effort to lie properly. The world is wrong, and she lets herself be wrong right along with it.

            Under the water, her scar looks smoother, glossier. As meant to be as the words she cleared away. God damn, is that why it happened? Because she burned his words from her skin? Or did the universe know, from the very beginning, every step they would take towards each other: that Jessica would fight fate with every fibre of her being, that Murdock would sacrifice himself. So when Jessica went to carve the mark out of her thigh, the universe let her, knowing full well Murdock wasn’t long for her world. Knowing full well that those words - Matt's words - were as doomed as he was. 


            Murdock being alive and well doesn’t surprise Jessica nearly as much as him being in her apartment, standing there like he hasn’t been declared dead for the past six months.

            She chucks her bottle at him; he dodges. She throws a punch; he deflects. She grabs him by the hair and whips his face onto her desktop; he spits his mouthful of blood beside her open laptop instead of on it.

            Jessica isn’t finished there. She fights through his endless barrage of defences and evasive manoeuvres. She fights until she feels him bruise under her fists. She fights until he’s got her under his hands, until they’re so close their chests are pounding into each other with every breath.

            She tears at him then, unwrapping him. She discards piece after piece of his second-hand clothing. The taped sunglasses and the musty coat and unraveling scarf: she wants to know it’s still him under there, that whatever happened to his ex- isn’t what happened to him. More than that she wants to know, she has to know, if she’s the one who’s written on his skin.

            So help him, he came here for just another lost cause. She is his lost cause, and he’s hers, and the universe if going to have to pry them out of each other's cold dead hands.

            Murdock tries to take her hands, to slow her down. “Jessica, Jessica, just…” but she nudges him back into the bedroom with a, “Shut the fuck up, Murdock. Just shut the fuck up.” He acquiesces, but when she’s close enough, he kisses her forehead. His characteristic sweet recklessness inspires a great swell of rage inside her chest because the letters aren’t there anymore. And she doesn’t remember what his words look like on her skin. She doesn’t remember what it was like to be young and hopeful, scanning classmate’s papers for that handwriting or waiting for a fight that wasn’t coming. Instead, as Jessica kisses him on the lips – hard, angry, bitter - she remembers nausea in an interrogation room, fucking PTSD flashbacks to a psycho rapist whose voice still coils through her head: Jessica Jones, stop talking; Jessica Jones, stop talking.

            She breaks from Murdock. Struggles to catch her breath amidst an intricate dance of their hands as he reaches and she flinches and she touches and he recoils. The two of them an equal and opposite reaction to the other’s actions. Eventually, the fight swells inside Jessica again, and she goes to toss him on the bed, but Murdock takes her with him, pulls her back into the fall. Jessica lands with her legs around his waist and pins him down only to find Murdock’s gripping her legs, holding her to him.

            And that’s when the kissing starts up again. When Murdock’s hands start to unravel her.

            Jessica stops him at her belt buckle. This isn’t going any further until she knows. “Where is it?” she demands. “Where’s your mark?”

            Murdock breaks into a bloody smirk, eyes gleaming. Such an asshole. “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine.”

            “God damn it, Murdock – you’ve been dead for six months! Show me your soulmark or I’m throwing your zombie ass out of my apartment!”

            “Not a zombie,” he replies. As if that’s the point.

            She needs to see it. Why the hell else would he be here? “Show. Me.”

            The sass drains out of him. He reaches towards the hem of his jeans. He unbuckles the belt, unzips his fly, and opens his pants.

            He hooks a thumb under the elastic of his briefs on the right side, revealing a scratch of navy blue on his hip.

            Jessica can barely make out the words. Between tears and her own shitty handwriting, she struggles to parse together what she knows is written on Murdock’s hip.

            Thank goodness he narrates, “Who the hell are you?” He releases the hem of his briefs, but Jessica holds the sight of those words in her head, the softness in his voice. The relief of it being her.

            The heart Jessica so assiduously denies that she has sinks all the way into the floor. “You never said anything.”

            “Neither did you.”

            “You didn’t even flinch when I said it.”

            Murdock – Matt – laughs. “I dress up like a devil and beat up strangers in alleyways. Lots of people have asked me, ‘Who the hell are you?’ I got tired of worrying whether the next guy I beat up was my soulmate.”

            Jessica can’t help herself. She knows the truth, but she still has to try and prove fate wrong. “How do you know it’s me? I could just be lucky asshole number 857 who asked Matt Murdock who the hell he was.”

            He doesn’t know how he knows. Murdock takes it on faith like everything else. “What does yours say?”

            The question throws Jessica’s reality into sharp focus. She’s holding on and being held onto. She extricates herself from Matt’s grasp, rolling over on the bed to take a seat against the headboard.

            God, she can just tell him what the mark said; not like Murdock can see it at all.

            But eventually his hand’s going to find its way onto that patch of scar tissue, and eventually he’s going to ask where it’s from. Matt Murdock, all sweet sincerity and tenderness, protector of lost causes, is going to need to know who hurt her, and Jessica won’t be able to lie to him. The truth will tumble out of her, because he’s hers and she’s his and fucking fate. Fucking stupid fate. Giving them to someone who understands hurt and injustice and just wants to help so badly.

            Someone who Jessica reminds had a good father, a father who loved him.

            Someone who reminds Jessica of who she was before Kilgrave, who she could still be after Kilgrave.

            She reaches for him as Matt reaches for her, and his hands stay away from her pants but she lets them go everywhere else. Across her shoulders, through her hair, down her chest; all the way into those dark, empty places where Kilgrave’s voice still echoes. Then Jessica undoes her pants and pushes them down, and Matt takes the invitation to gently pull them off.

            Jessica stops him from starting at her ankles. She takes his hand and slips it between her legs, letting those stupid sensitive fingers of his find her scar. The ravaged skin of his first words, her soulmark, their bond now a mangled patch of pink on her leg. Jessica opens her mouth to tell him. The words are all lined up and ready to go. But her mouth gives out at the last second, throat closing; Kilgrave’s phantom fist inching up through her trachea until she tastes his knuckles on her tongue.

            Matt’s tentative. For his sake? No, never. For hers. He runs his hands over the scar, and his face twists into that expression of pinched curiosity Jessica hates and loves so freaking much. There are worse fates than being Matt Murdock’s mystery.

            He lays his hand over the entirety of the brand. Heat from his palm is muted through the scar tissue, but the way it radiates gives Jessica the illusion that he’s debriding the old wound. The way recognition dawns on him does nothing to spare her the delusion of being reborn, and for once, Jessica lets it stand, that comfortable lie between them. He can’t fix her; she can’t fix him. But maybe that’s not the point of the marks or this whole soulmate thing. Neither of them would be here if that was the case.

            Matt hooks a hand under her thigh and lifts. Jessica slips down on the bed. Worst posture ever for self-defence, but Jessica doesn’t feel the least bit like defending herself. Not even as Matt moves his face between her legs, nuzzling his cheek against the scar on her inner thigh. His tender effort to crawl back under her skin where he belongs.  


 

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