She watched the cab pull up at the hotel, smoothing down the dress, even as she heard the buzz of her phone in her clutch. It really was a good thing that Trish and she were the same size. Admittedly, their colourings were different, but dark red was a colour they could both rock.
Matt looked oddly disoriented as he exited the cab. Probably wondering where she was.
“I’ll be right there,” she murmured. It was low enough that someone standing ten feet from her would have trouble with it, but Matt just quirked his lips.
She slipped off the heels, and walked to the edge of the roof, jumping, and landing in a crouch.
(“I’m gonna need to be able to move in this, you realise,” she’d said to Trish, an hour before.”
Trish had just smiled at her. “Won’t be a problem. Trust me.”)
I should have known better than to doubt Trish, she thought, slipping back into the shoes, and crossing the street to join Matt.
He looked damn good in the warm lights of the hotel. The tuxedo fit him well, and the bowtie actually looked good, which she’d thought wasn’t really possible on men.
“Hey,” she said, reaching for his arm. She was taller than him in the heels, she realized, her mouth quirking at the thought.
“Hey yourself,” he said, cocking his ear to the side, hand wrapping around her elbow gently. “Dress sounds nice.”
She huffed a laugh. “Can you tell what fabric it is?” she asked, curiously, adjusting the handbag at her shoulder.
He smirked. “Oh, that’s easy. Silk. The handbag’s leather. Not your usual style, I’m guessing you borrowed it from Trish.” There was a pause, before he asked, in a soft voice, “What colour is the dress?”
There was something in his body language – an intensity, a focus – that, along with the aching softness in his voice, made it hard to breathe all of a sudden.
“Red,” she managed, around the constriction in her lungs.
His smile was slow and warm, and she felt her pulse spike.
“We should go inside,” she said.
“Lead the way,” he said. A quiet challenge in it, almost.
Jessica took a deep breath, and walked to the besuited bouncer, who stood there with a list open beside him.
Oh, it was a dumb idea, and if it ever got back to Trish, she’d be in for so. Much. Teasing.
She glanced at Matt, dapper in his tuxedo, and looked down at her dress. Lady in red, Trish had teased as Jess left her apartment.
What the hell.
“Jones, Jessica Jones,” she said, dropping her voice a register, lifting her chin, making sure she got the cadence just right.
The look of delight on Matt’s face was entirely worth the you’ve-gotta-be-shitting-me look from the bouncer.
“Please tell me that makes me your Bond girl,” Matt whispered in her ear. Her pulse spiked, and she took in a single, calming breath, before she responded.
“Tell anyone, and I kick your ass.”
Matt hummed. “Duly noted, Jones.”
“So, the guy we’re looking for is about your height, one hundred and ninety pounds, in his forties – wait, can you tell–”
“Ages? Approximately,” Matt murmured, with a shrug. “Depends on how good a listen I get at their joints.”
“You’re still weird. He’s possibly with a woman about half his age, leggy, thin, five feet seven. The wife wears j’adore, he wears Hugo Boss, because he’s an idiot who likes puns, and apparently she wears either some kind of sandalwood, or Chanel N°5,” Jessica whispered back.
“It’s cute how you think super-senses mean I can identify every kind of perfume in New York City,” Matt retorted under his breath, even as he inhaled.
To his right, Jessica. The smell of bourbon, lighter than normal, lingering leather, and jasmine. Three feet to his right, cologne and Chanel, and a different cologne and another kind of perfume that was similar but not quite the same – less gardenia, more citrus – right beside him, talking to him. Way too much cologne on the guy. Ten feet to his right, a different kind of cologne, and a strong scent of vanilla. Six feet straight ahead, a woman was wearing essence of peppermint, and why the hell would you do that? The muted scent of champagne in the room, circulating in a distinctive pattern if only he could make it out…
Ah, shit, he thought, as the pressure began to build in his skull.
Her hand squeezed his forearm. “Matt?” her voice was low and almost gentle, his name was in her mouth, and he closed his eyes behind his glasses.
Get it together, Murdock, he told himself, harshly.
“Hard to tell. Everyone’s wearing something or other. It’s a recipe for a migraine. You’ll have to take point,” he told her.
The soft wish of her hair that meant she was nodding.
Most of the time, he didn’t dwell on losing his sight. Not when there was so much he could do with his senses. But some nights–
What had she done with her hair? It wasn’t sweeping across her shoulders in its usual waterfall. Did her lipstick match her dress, or was it a few shades lighter or darker? What shape was her face, and did it seem at odds or like it fit with her voice?
Hell, what colour was her skin? Her hair? Her eyes?
Matt exhaled, letting the questions, the yearning, the desire rush through his body, and then, very deliberately, letting go of it.
He could do this.
“You can dance, right?” Jess asked him, her nose wrinkling from distaste at the fruity tones of the champagne.
“Some,” Matt agreed, sipping from his own flute, “but if we’re maintaining my cover, you’ll have to lead.”
Jess’ teeth sunk into the corner of her mouth, the way it did when she was suppressing a smile. “Well, lucky for you, I had lessons,” she said. “My adoptive mom was a bitch with a hell of a curriculum.”
He felt her turning towards him, wrapping her fingers around his, as she plucked the glass from him. Her fingers were surprisingly soft. Without the Braille callouses on his fingertips, without his thickened knuckles from where they had punched and broken and healed.
How many guys held your hand, and thought that you were soft just because it was? he couldn’t help but wonder.
“May I?” the mirth was almost bubbling in her voice, and Matt bit down hard on his grin. One of these days, he would hear what it sounded for her to laugh outright, and he would find some way to immortalise the moment it finally happened, and keep it in his lockbox, right there with his memories of his Dad, and Elektra, and his 3D photo of Foggy and Karen, and everything else that was beyond precious to him.
His eyes widened at the thought behind his glasses.
…oh, he was so beyond fucked.
“Lead on,” was all he said. He forced a chuckle as she pulled him onto the dance floor. “You’re taller than me in those heels anyway.”
“Does that bother you?” her tone was arch as she continued to lead him onto the floor.
“’Course not. Why would it?” he asked, too baffled by the idea to continue contemplating his doom.
She shrugged, as she settled his hand on her shoulder, and her hand curled around his bicep. “I dunno. It bothers some guys. Something about their masculinity being compromised,” she said, stepping back.
Matt snorted, following. “I’ve been seen as weak for a variety of reasons throughout my life. Never because of my height.” He shrugged. “It’s just not on my list of insecurities. There’s a lot of stuff there. But height? Not really.”
She hummed. “Our guy is on the other end of the dance floor. He’s not dancing with his secretary, though, who’s his wife’s chief suspect. Some other woman. Her face is familiar, but I can’t place it. Can you filter through?”
“I’ll step on your toes, if I’m not concentrating,” he warned her, as they stepped back out of another couple’s path.
She snorted. “I’ll live. Focus, Mephistopheles. We’re not both running blind here.”
He would deny till the end of his days that he giggled at the quip as he obeyed her order.
“Bruno, surely you understand that there have been some delays, but that doesn’t mean–”
“Mariah, cut the bullshit,” the man’s voice was almost fond, and there was a sound of movement. “Bottom line is, I need those funds by end of tomorrow’s day.”
“We’re having some unexpected difficulties with our cash flow at present–” a woman’s voice, low, like water over stones, a cultured hint to her accent, but with the same edge he remembered from talking to Elektra, like it was one of many masks that could be switched between at a moment’s notice. All of them real, for a certain value of that word.
“Yeah, yeah, the street traffic’s down because Luke Cage got out of Seagate, and he still hates guns,” the man said, a note of exasperation to it. “Whatever, but I need the details and those funds transferred to me within forty-eight hours. Grease for zoning doesn’t come out of the ether, y’know.”
There was a hard note to the woman’s voice as she replied.
“Consider who you’re talking to, before you break out the patronising card.”
A beat of silence, then a chuckle from the man. Matt barely registered Jessica twirling him.
“Well-played, Mariah. Well-played.”
“Matt?” she murmured, as she turned him. For all his talk about stepping on her toes, he was very good at following her lead. Then again, he’d had a lifetime of following tactile rather than visual cues.
“He’s not here for an affair,” he said, leaning in.
We’re trying to be subtle here, man.
She spun him out, abruptly enough that if he didn’t have the reflexes of an honest-to-God ninja, he would have been thrown on his back, and tugged him back in. She slid her arm around his back, drawing him into a close hold. His hand was warm over the strap of her dress, and she forced her mind away from that thought, as the song came to an end.
On the plus side, he learns quick, she thought, as he leaned his forehead against hers. She could see the lenses of his glasses fogging from their mingled breathing. “Jess. Was it just me, or– the last time we went to Claire and Luke’s, did they mention a woman named Mariah?”
“Yeah, she’s a Councilwoman. Reportedly involved in some shady shit, but it’s hard to connect her,” she said. She closed her eyes. If she watched his mouth move at this distance, she could kiss her friendship goodbye. “He mention her?”
“No. He was dancing with her. Jess, is he a politician?”
His breath was ghosting against her lips. She snaked her hand up his back to rest against the nape of his neck, unable to resist the urge to play with the short hair there, and shit, she had not been expecting it to feel that soft against her fingertips, or for him to bite down on his lip when she did.
She closed her eyes again.
Fucking focus, Jones. You’re working.
“No, civil bureaucrat. Mayor’s chief of staff.”
She was pretty proud of how her voice had stayed level, even if her pulse was going through the roof.
“He’s dirty. Taking kickbacks from her, money that he knows is from arms trafficking,” Matt said. He hesitated. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. “Okay. So we call Luke and Misty?”
Matt nodded. “We can do more than that, though,” he whispered. “At the very least, we should tail the guy.”
She huffed, felt her breath warm the air between their mouths. “We came here for a case, Matt,” and shit, she and Matt were friends, they were friends, so why did something as fucking prosaic as saying his name feel so–
Intimate. Not even sexual. Just intimate, like somehow, by speaking it aloud, she had wrapped himself around her, and herself around him. Like the sound had twined them together.
“And we will get the evidence for your client,” he said, “but Jess, we can’t do nothing with this information.”
“Calling Luke and Misty isn’t nothing,” Jessica argued. They needed to move off the dance floor; at this rate, people would be remembering them as the obnoxious couple who’d stood on the periphery of the floor and hadn’t even danced for an entire song.
“But we could give them more. Jess, please?”
She sighed. “No heroics,” she said. “You follow my lead. If I say it’s time to go, we’re going. My case. Understood?”
The asshole was smiling, like he was trying to contain his delight, like it was the best offer he’d had all day. Bastard.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, cheerful and cheeky and cocky. It shouldn’t have made her want to smile, and the way his thumb rubbed over her knuckles as she led him off the floor shouldn’t have sent her pulse spiking again.
Jesus, I should just see a cardiologist. All the ramen and fast food from college, it’s leading me to an early heart attack.
She snorted. Fuck. Even for her, that was a particularly weak attempt at self-deception.
“C’mon, then,” she said, “time to mingle and bear it.”
Jessica Jones was an absolute genius at bullshit, Matt thought, fighting a smirk as she laughed at a truly terrible joke. The sound was obviously fake, to anyone who had heard her speak as herself for more than a minute. But the genius of it was that everyone had at least vaguely heard of her name and story, but no-one, except her clients, knew her personality. Which meant she could be about five different people in the space of ten minutes.
Well. Almost no-one knew her.
“Ms Jones, what a surprise. Did the back-alleys run out of interesting adulterers?” came a slick voice. It reminded Matt of overspills of cooking oil in the frying pan.
Jessica’s body went stiff, and she half-pivoted to face the intruder. Matt’s head snapped to the side.
“Mr Jameson,” she said, coolly. “It’s been a while. New York run out of people for you to vilify?”
Oh, not this dude. Matt stifled a groan, and put on his best confused expression.
“The word is “cover” and as long as you stay in business, I imagine I will too,” the man replied, and Matt didn’t need sight to know that he was smirking at the way Jessica’s jaw clenched. “How’s Patty?”
“Trish is none of your damn business,” Jessica said, her voice low and flat. “If you’ll excuse us.”
“What, you managed to bring a da– oh. He’s blind,” the man said, in the delighted tone Matt normally associated with Foggy finding a reason to sue an asshole. “Well, that makes sense.”
The world went quiet. There was no sound except Jessica’s breathing, harsh and ragged in his ears, and his own pulse spiking.
“If you’ll excuse us,” Matt said, Devil-soft and low. The man’s stance twisted: surprise.
What, did you think I was deaf, too?
It took a little finagling to swipe his cane that far out of its normal path, and pretending to be left-handed. But Jameson’s yelp as his feet were swept out from under him was quite satisfying.
“You didn’t have to,” Jess murmured.
Matt considered the various ways to respond to that. Anything along the lines of “but I wanted to” would be the truth, but would probably not go over too well.
“Sure I did,” he replied. “What’s the point in being nicknamed the Devil if you can’t have a little fun?”
That won a soft, almost appreciative sound from her, and his breath hitched, as he realized that she was laughing.
He focussed on the sound: it fit her, in a strange way, it fit her armour of leather and alcohol, and the heart she fought so hard to protect beneath it. That’s what you keep hidden.
And either it had been unintentional, or she was permitting him to find it.
“Well, all the same. Thanks,” she said, a moment later.
He squeezed the crook of her bicep lightly. “My pleasure.”
Her pulse spiked again, and he frowned. It had been going on all night, and he wasn’t particularly sure how to read that rhythm. Was she scared?
Nothing to do but wait and find out, he decided.
“So, uh, where to next?” he asked.
“Time to play find and follow, he’s leaving early,” Jessica said. “C’mon, Asmodeus.”
“Pretty sure I’m Cinderella for the night,” Matt retorted, smiling at the quip.
God, you’re beautiful.
“Ugh. Hell no. That’d make me Prince Charming by default, and I don’t have time for that BS. Let’s go.”
He tried not to smile too hard as she wrapped his fingers around hers; ignored the way his gut churned at the feeling.
Let’s see where the night leads, he decided, zeroing in on the man’s conversation.
“Geoffrey, bring the car around. We’re going to Samantha’s.”
He relayed it to Jessica. She snorted and brought out her phone.
“Alright. Give me ten minutes.”
“You can find out where someone lives in ten minutes?”
“No, I can do that in five, as well as call Luke and Misty. The other five is for you to collect our coats and eavesdrop,” she said, patting him on the shoulder. “I’ll be right there, honey.”
He bit down on the impulse to chuckle.
“I’ll meet you by the desk, then, sweetheart.”
He didn’t need sight to sense her smirk.
“So, Misty says that if we do anything remotely ‘vigilanteish to put this goddamn case at risk,’ she will hide our bodies in the East River,” Jess narrated to him, as she held the door open for him. She gave the cabbie the address.
“Thank you. Tell her I said hi,” Matt requested, sliding in.
Her bare leg brushed his as she got into the cab beside him, and he strained his hearing. It was a slit in her dress, brushing against her calf, until it closed at her hip. Oh.
His mouth went dry, and he forced himself to take a deep breath.
“Uh–” he cleared his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Pull the other one, Murdock,” she said, dropping her volume a note. “Pact.”
Well, she’s got you there, said a sarcastic voice in his head that sounded a lot like Foggy.
“Just–” he sighed, pushing his glasses up. “You’re beautiful tonight.” He felt heat race up his neck as the words fell from his mouth. “Not that you’re not – I mean, you’re always – just – shit, it’s like I’m a freshman tripping over my tongue all over again,” he grumbled, kneading his forehead.
Jessica didn’t say anything. His tongue loosened by panic, he continued. “And I know we’re here for a case, and I swear, the last thing I wanted was to make this awkward–”
“Why would it be awkward?” there was definitely amusement in her voice as she cut him off. “Seriously. We’re both adults. And I can think of worse things to happen tonight than to learn that you find me attractive.”
There was a note to her voice that was almost…satisfied.
Why? Are you playing with me?
But no, that wasn’t her. Jessica lied and manipulated like moving: easily, confidently, but always with a purpose. She didn’t toy with people for the hell of it.
So given her history, saying that almost certainly meant…
The ray of hope struck him like the warmth of a sunrise.
I might just have a chance, he realized. At what exactly, well, that was a mystery. But a chance that whatever he felt wasn’t totally unrequited at least.
“I’m glad to know I rank better on the list of fates than the Black Death,” he said, allowing a hint of his delight to enter his voice.
“Your spot is right above ‘waking up in the morning and not having a hangover’,” Jessica said.
The tension in the air shattered, and Matt smirked.
“Jessica Jones, was that a compliment?”
“I plead the 5th.”
“Oh my God, it was. Alert the media, somebody. No, seriously, I should text Karen.”
“Text anyone and I kick your ass.”
“You’d have to land a punch first.”
“That a challenge? You know how I love those.”
“Bullshit. You like to wave at challenges as they pass by. On the occasions the challenge finds you, you punch it, make a sarcastic comment, and drink from your flask.”
“God. You do know me.”
“I try,” he smiled at her. “So how are we getting in?”
“We’re not. We’re going people-watching,” she said, her ‘don’t-fight-me-on-this-or-I-will-hand-you-your-head’ threat in her voice. “Because we are not on police payroll, and this is not my case.”
He sighed. “Fair,” he admitted, reaching for her hand, and squeezing it gently. “I’m sorry. I’m just antsy. It’s an…adjustment.”
Her head tilted to the side. “What is?” she prompted him.
“Learning to share responsibility,” he said, dryly. “Turns out, Claire was right. I do have a Messiah complex.”
She chuckled. “Well, congratulations on recognising your shit.” The tone was almost sincere, so he wasn’t really surprised when it was immediately followed with: “You want a cookie for that, or something?”
“You tellin’ me you bake, Jones?”
“No,” she denied, but her pulse was accelerating again, lie, lie, and he suppressed a smile.
“We could swap recipes sometimes,” he offered. “I can bake a mean batch of chocolate chip.”
“Do I look like I bake?”
He smirked. Three, two, one.
She groaned. “I bet you think I did that on purpose.”
“Didn’t you?” he asked, innocently.
The cab came to a halt.
“Okay, we’re here,” she said, opening up the door of the car. “And…perfect.”
“What’s perfect?” he asked, fingers scrabbling for her elbow.
“The rooftop,” she said, a note of satisfaction in her voice. “It gives me an excellent line of sight to their window, and I’m guessing your eavesdropping skills can extend to past the rooftop.”
Matt breathed in the night air, and frowned. “There’s no fire escapes, it might take me a little while–”
“Or we could continue with the general theme of the night, and I could carry you,” Jessica pointed out, amusement back in her voice.
And oh, he was screwed. “Um. Are you sure?”
“You seriously can’t be doubting whether I can do it,” she said, her tone a bit flatter now.
“No, no, that’s not it. I just – I mean – fine, sure, whatever,” he sighed, yanking one hand through his hair in frustration. What is it about this woman that reduces me to a stuttering sixteen-year old?
Jessica chuckled, and he closed his eyes. Low, and soft, unguarded, and happy, and Jesus, he was utterly doomed.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were scared,” she teased, and he opened his eyes again.
“Oh, I don’t know. I think there are worse fates in the world than you,” he said.
…that had come out much more flirtatious than it had sounded in his head.
But from the way she stepped towards him and her hands settled onto his hips briefly, she didn’t think it was an entirely bad thing.
There was no moment for her to take a breath, just her hands casually lifting him, before her grip resettled, one hand under his knees and the other under his back, in a goddamn princess carry.
He could hear the pull of her muscles; she was smiling, the expression almost certainly what Foggy called a shit-eating grin. He was cradled against her chest, and he’d never realized how slight she was before. But strong, so strong, because her breathing had barely changed through the whole process of pulling him into her arms. Her smell surrounded him. Coffee and whiskey. Jasmine from her shampoo, the lingering citrus of Trish’s perfume, the strange fruitiness of the champagne. Jessica.
“You trust me, right?” she asked, and her voice was teasing and light.
Well, there was only one answer to that question. He leaned in, resting his head against her shoulder.
“Of course I do, Jess,” he said.
You might as well ask me if dogs bark when someone comes to the door, he thought. Of course he trusted her.
Her breath hitched, and he smelled salt.
“Hold on tight, then,” she said, and she flew.
Five words. Five words, and the world had gone white, her brain unable to focus on anything else.
He felt right in her arms. Light as a feather. His head tucked against her chest, his nose pressing into her neck. This close, she could smell his cologne. He didn’t feel tense; he was relaxed, limp. Completely and totally trusting.
Of course I do, Jess.
Like he thought she was reliable. Like he thought she was steady, sane, good.
How could he see her, how could he know so much of her story, and think that she was trustworthy?
They landed on the roof-top, the dress shifting with her, and God bless Trish for finding something that had a sufficiently loose skirt to let her move.
“Well, not much.”
She blinked. “Come again?”
“You asked me, and I quote, ‘what the hell do I see.’ At this point, you’re just trying to get cute with the blind jokes.”
Oh, shit, she’d said that aloud.
“That a bad thing?” she asked, trying to keep her voice level.
He chuckled. “Not really. I like not being treated like I’m breakable.” The words were muffled against her collarbone. “That said, you can definitely do better.”
Her mind was still on “not breakable.”
But you are, you jackass, she felt like screaming. You’re not unbreakable, you’re human, you’re just one man, and you’re not invincible, Matt.
“Are you alright?” he asked her, his body suddenly tensing in her arms. “Your blood pressure’s spiking.”
He made a noise in the back of his throat. She was well-acquainted with it. “Bullshit.”
She sighed. “Should never have agreed to that pact.”
“Jess, please. I just want to know, so I can stop doing whatever it is that’s stressing you.”
She lowered him to his feet. “It’s nothing that you’re doing, Murdock. It’s just a stressful night. Not your fault.”
But damn him, because his head cocked to the side. “Why don’t I quite believe you?” he asked.
She huffed. “I don’t know. That’s on you.”
Matt’s jaw clenched, before he took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “Promise me you’ll tell me, if I’m upsetting you. Please.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“You know perfectly well that this is exactly the kind of shit I struggle with,” she snapped, “and that’s in the pact as well.”
“I’m aware. Which is why I want to be here for you. I don’t care how long it takes to find the words. You get to take your time. But you don’t have to do this alone. You can choose to, sure, but you don’t have to.”
The same offer he’d always extended to her, over the long nights of drinking and brawling and time spent curled up on the couch in his apartment.
She closed her eyes. Think rationally. You were the sober one. You went and got that pact notarised for a reason, Jones. This is Matt. Has he ever run from anything you’ve thrown at him?
Beside her, Matt winced.
“What is it?”
“You’re gonna want to get your camera out,” he said. “They’re, uh…starting.”
She spun around, and yeah, sure enough, the man was in the middle of some intense kissing. She took out the phone, focussed the lens and started photographing, glancing at Matt. There was a slight flush creeping up his neck, and she bit her lip to stifle a smile.
“Can you always hear it when your neighbours are getting it on?” she asked.
“I can normally filter it out,” he responded. “I had seven years of living on a college campus. I learned to filter it out really fast.”
She scoffed. “Right. Because you were never busy getting it on yourself.”
He shrugged. “Nowhere near as often as people seemed to think. I flirt a lot, yeah, but I think I spent around 80% of my undergrad being dragged out of my room by Kylie and Amy. Until I met Elektra, anyway.” There was a brief expression of…not longing, not really. More like a quiet wistfulness, before he exhaled. “And after that came law school, and there wasn’t a lot of time.”
“True, but between Elektra, Karen, that chick from the 99–”
“I told you, it was never like that with Santiago.”
“What? No. The other chick. Rosa.”
And he was absolutely blushing now. She felt her heart-rate slow at the sight. If Saint Matthew was being shy, then things were still vaguely in the range of “normal” for their relationship. “Great, discussing my entire sexual history. Definitely how I thought the night was gonna go.”
“We haven’t even gotten to the part where both our ‘sort-of-but-not-quite’ exes are now dating each other,” she said.
Matt’s laugh was a little louder now. “They’re good for each other, I think.”
She nodded. “Yeah, they are.”
…damn. When had she become okay with Claire and Luke? She’d always thought intellectually that it would be a good thing for Luke, but there had been a knot of yearning in the pit of her stomach, for weeks after Midland Circle when she spent time with them.
When had that changed? she wondered, snapping another photo.
She exhaled slowly, as the answer occurred to her.
There was no defining moment. But somewhere along the way, it had stopped being the thing that she yearned for. She still cared about Luke, and would always remember him as the first man who had ever convinced her there might still be goodness in humanity, with his gentle hands and kind eyes.
But Matt Murdock had wriggled in under her skin, and refused to budge, matching her snark with a smile and an equal measure of the same. Had matched her, BS for BS; had somehow sensed her fault lines, and negotiated them, while pushing her to work on them. All without even flinching once, no matter what she threw at him.
He had made her laugh, she realized, with a sharp inhale at the thought. Twice, now, in one night, he had made her laugh. Not hard and bitter laughter, but soft, genuinely happy laughter. That hadn’t happened since…
Since before Kilgrave.
He knew her, he knew her in a way she couldn’t remember anyone – except maybe Trish – knowing her for a long, long time.
Of course I do, Jess.
She snapped the last photo, and turned to him. She wasn’t sure which part of her body language gave it away, but his head tilted back a little.
“It’s just,” she began. It felt like reaching down into her chest in order to drag the words up. She took a breath; steeled herself. Make yourself goddamn clear, Jones. He deserves that much. “I just. You trust me?”
“Yeah,” the word was soft, almost fond. “Yeah, I do.”
When she could breathe again, she said, “But you know me.”
“Kinda the reason why I trust you, Jess,” he said, his lips quirking in a smile. Surprised, with a side of confusion. Why the hell is he the confused one?
She felt a bolt of anger at the sight of the smile. Goddammit, you smiley-faced idiot!
“How? Don’t you get it? I’m a fuck-up with a trauma history as long as you are tall! I don’t know how to be a functioning member of society. Hell, even before I was an alcoholic, I managed to get my entire family killed!”
She fought to keep her voice down, even as she heard it tremble, with the force of the emotion shaking her. He hesitated, an awful look of confusion on his face, before he breathed in, held it for three seconds, and then exhaled. His meditative breathing.
He stepped forward, and moving with an aching slowness, wrapped one of her hands in his, rubbing his thumbs over the knuckles.
“Jessica. Is that really how you see yourself?”
She flinched. She hadn’t expected him to sound so calm, so dispassionate about it. She wasn’t sure what she had expected, but she didn’t think it was that.
“You know it is,” she said, keeping her tone flat.
The horns, blaring in the street below. The argument of the neighbours below her. The yelling of a drunk man, stumbling as he walked along the sidewalk.
Of course everyone in New York City would start talking after that, she thought, closing her eyes.
But it didn’t fit. Matt Murdock was the patron saint of Hell’s Kitchen and lost causes. And if ever there was a lost cause in human skin, it was Jessica Jones.
“Not gonna say anything?”
Both of his hands were wrapped around hers now, rubbing slow circles into her wrists. It was a comforting pressure, almost.
He raised his eyebrows. “Would you honestly listen without bolting if I told you how I see you?”
She would. She really, really would, even if it felt like every instinct was screaming at her to run, run away, and never come back. Because somewhere along the way, Matt’s good opinion had become so damn important to her, that she thought there was very little she wouldn’t do to have it, even though she was certain she never would.
“Alright. Then listen.” Gently, he slid the glasses off.
Oh, you fucking cliché, she thought.
“Jessica Jones,” he began, and why was his voice so gentle when he said her name? “I’m blind. But I’m pretty good at reading people. And this is how I see you. I see a woman who lets few people in, but who will go to hell and back for the sake of those she does. I see a woman who’s been through hell, and who cares for people anyway. I see a woman who will let nobody dictate her destiny to her. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t admire that.” He held up a hand as she opened her mouth.
“No. I’m nowhere near finished. Please, let me.”
Throat closing up, she gave a tiny, shaking nod. So tiny that someone sighted probably wouldn’t have seen it.
“Jess, you are brilliant and beautiful, talented and strong. So loving that you will stare down a horde of fighters, for the sake of the people you care about. So strong that you keep going, despite the shit you’ve been put through, despite your demons. Believe me, I know what kind of strength that takes. And so intelligent that you saw through me in about ten minutes.”
His thumbs were still rubbing over her knuckles, in that gentle, comforting rhythm.
“That’s how I see you. And I don’t expect you to believe me. Not now. But…promise me you’ll think about it? That you’ll try?”
Another long silence, as her brain tried to process the flood of impossible information he’d just given her.
“I–” her voice broke. “I’ll try,” she whispered. “I guess it’s fair.”
His laugh was soft and warm. Comforting like…she smiled, at a very faint memory; hot chocolate and scratchy wool blankets with her mother on rainy afternoons.
She took a deep breath, stepped forward, and wrapped her arms around him, leaning her chin on his shoulder. Slowly – giving her an out, because of course Saint Matthew would – his hands came up and settled on her upper back.
After a few seconds, she realized he was matching his breathing to hers, so their chests rose to meet each other in tandem. Is that normal?
She wasn’t sure. Neither Trish or she went in for hugs much. Trish wasn’t a big fan of physical touch – and still, all these years later, Jessica could cheerfully murder Dorothy for that – and Jessica, even before everything, had never been the demonstrative sort.
He showed no signs of wanting to move away, after a few seconds, which was how long most of the hugs she’d seen had lasted. Instead, when she tentatively shifted more of her weight into his hold, he tightened one arm around her back, increasing the pressure slightly.
She leaned her chin on his shoulder; felt his breath whisper through the tendrils of her up-do.
“Is there a normal time-limit on these things? I don’t really know how this shit works,” she mumbled.
Matt, freakishly enhanced-sense dork that he was, caught it anyway. “It works however you want it to, Jess,” he said, and oh. How had she not heard that in his voice before? It was tender, and sweet: the same expression she’d seen on a thousand people’s faces, wrapped in sonic form.
How the hell did I end up here? she wondered. She shifted her weight onto her heels, and almost immediately, Matt’s arms were slipping from her waist. She took a single step back, catching his hands in hers before they could return to his side.
His head tilted to the side. He was studying her, she knew that gesture.
She swallowed. “If I said I wanted to kiss you right now…”
An almost sheepish expression crossing his face, as his lips parted, and oh, looking at them too closely was a bad idea.
“I’d say I’ve been wanting the same thing all night,” he said, but her mouth was on his before he finished the sentence.
She’d be lying if she said she hadn’t thought of this before. She’d put it down to a long dry spell, and too much alcohol, to one degree or another, but none of the half-finished daydreams had prepared her for his fingers, fluttering up her jaw, stroking it softly, his calluses rough against her skin. Hadn’t prepared her for the way one hand slid around her neck, fingers teasing at the strands of her hair coming loose from its up-do. The way he tasted like mint and too-sweet champagne, and she could feel the split in his lower lip as she nipped at it, making him gasp.
More than anything, she hadn’t anticipated how comfortable it felt, how right. His hold around her, his soft lips against hers, it felt like…
His forehead rested against hers as he drew back, and their breaths mingled.
“Sonuvabitch,” she managed.
Matt feels like home.
Matt, the bastard, smirked, and chuckled, the sound low, and pleased with himself in a way that sent a coil of heat through her belly.
“I’m choosing to take that as a compliment, based on your pulse.”
“You’re still weird,” she told him.
He chuckled again, smile radiant. “So, should we talk about that?”
She exhaled slowly. Birch Street. Higgins Drive. Cobalt Lane. No, I fucking don’t want to talk about it. You feel like home, and safe, and I screw up everything I touch, and I’m terrified, you asshole.
He frowned, leaning back slightly. “‘No’ is an option.”
“Yeah, it’s an option. Doesn’t mean it would be fair to you, though.”
His expression went carefully blank, before smoothing itself back into its frown, as he opened his mouth.
“Yeah, I thought so,” she sighed, because she knew what was coming: It doesn't matter whether it's fair to me. But she had promised herself that she would not lose her friend to his martyr complex, and that wasn't changing because she was brainless enough to kiss him. “I’ve never really…done this before. A…relationship.”
“Ever?” he asked, tilting his head to one side.
She shrugged. “Dated maybe a couple of guys in college. I was a loner in high school, and I’ve never been great at the whole ‘emotions’ thing.”
He smirked. “I can relate.”
She snorted. “And then, of course, Kilgrave fucking happened, and. Well. There were a few moments with Luke. But what all of that adds up to is I’m twenty-eight, and I have no fucking clue how a relationship works.”
“I’m twenty eight. I successfully imploded two relationships before they even had a chance to start, and the one relationship that lasted longer than two months turned out to be half-built on lies, equivocation, and carefully selected truth.” His thumbs rubbed over her knuckles, and she shivered at the touch. Fucking focus, Jones.
“I – think I need time. To process it,” she said.
He nodded, not looking at all surprised.
She scowled at him. “The mind-reading gets a little old, you know.”
He snorted. “As if I need telepathy. I’d be surprised if you didn’t need time to think about it.”
Her scowl deepened. “You’re really not upset?”
He shook his head. “Why would I be?”
“Oh, why would you be upset? Maybe because I think you want something like a relationship, and I’m giving you mixed signals?”
“You’re not giving me mixed signals, Jess. You’re giving me very clear signals of, I like you, but I need time to think.” He paused. “Wait, do I need to go get Foggy to make me one of those ‘check yes if you like me’ cards he told me about once?”
“No, I spend time with you, drink with you, invited you along tonight, and kissed you because I detest you with the might of the Atlantic Ocean,” Jessica said, unable to keep some annoyance out of her tone.
Matt’s grin was filled with cheerful mischief. Her stomach flipped at the sight. “Well, that’d fit. You’re kind of a jerk.”
God, it would be just easy, so incredibly easy, to just grab him by that stupid bowtie and kiss him again. So easy.
“I’ll call you,” she offered, dragging the words out of her brain slowly. It felt harder than holding the elevator had been.
He shrugged. “No pressure. Just text me so I know you’re alive, alright?”
She smirked. “Saint Matthew, you really think you get to stipulate that?”
“I have no right to do so whatsoever,” he agreed, snapping on his glasses, and flashing another grin at her. “But I don’t play fair. Good luck with the case, Jess.”
“Hey.” She stepped into his path as he made to leave the roof. “Where are you going? No fire escape on this building.”
He sighed. “Shit.”
She smirked at him, and opened her arms. “C’mon, buttercup. I got us up here, you think I can’t get us down?”
“You’re not wearing the right colour to be Wesley,” he grumbled at her, but he stepped closer anyway.
She scoffed to cover a giggle, because she had not been expecting that. “The Princess Bride is in Braille?” she asked, putting the shoes in the handbag.
“Audiobook,” he said, wrapping his arms around her neck, as she pulled him into another bridal carry, walking them to the edge of the roof. “Foggy gave it to me in law school.”
The exhilaration of falling never got old, no matter how many times she did it, she thought, as she landed with bent knees. The concrete shifted beneath her and she grimaced.
She looked down at him, and couldn’t help a smile.
He was still utterly and totally relaxed in her hold; in fact, he seemed to be curving into it more than he had when they went up to the roof. Like he could telegraph with his body all the things he thought she wouldn’t want to hear: I trust you. I know you. I’m safe with you. I care about you. You matter to me.
She closed her eyes, and pressed a quick kiss to his lips.
“I’ll see you soon, Matt,” she said, setting him on his feet. And she would. Because the pact went two ways.
He hesitated, and then kissed her temple quickly. “Text me if you need anything,” he said, before walking away.
“I will,” she said, watching his shoulders straighten slightly as the sound carried to him.
She let out a long breath, watching him walk away.
I sure know how to pick ‘em, she thought, leaning against the wall of the building.
She still needed to transfer the photos from phone to laptop, print them, log the hours for her client.
But first, she needed a drink.
Her fingers were already dialling.
“Hey, Trish. It’s me. Can I come over? I need to–” she grimaced –“talk. And probably shots.”
Even though Matt was at the other end of the block right now, she could fucking see him smirking in victory.