Chapter 1: AKA King of the World
Kilgrave's voice, commanding but not too harsh, echoed through every room of his penthouse. It wasn't even a command, not technically, but it had been uttered so many times with the same context that it carried one specific meaning: come here.
And so come Jessica did, all the way from the bedroom, her hands hanging helplessly at her side over her floral-print dress.
"I'm here," Jessica said quietly, stone-faced.
Kilgrave looked briefly over his shoulder, arms crossed, before turning back to the window.
"Look at this," he commanded, pressing his hand against the glass and staring off dramatically into the distance. "It's really something, this view. Liberating, isn't it? Did you ever see Titanic?"
"Yeah," Jessica replied flatly, eyes fixed over New York's skyline.
"Terrible movie. Complete drivel," he snickered, shaking his head dismissively. "Still. 'King of the world'. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
"Oh, never mind you."
He stood at the window in silence for another few moments, Jessica watching him from behind.
She could feel her fingers twitching, like they were grasping for a knife that wasn't there. It was so familiar, that twitching, almost like second nature. But that was as far as she could get before something stopped her, some kind of magnetic force that couldn't be overcome. The distance between the two of them was like an endless chasm that Jessica couldn't force herself across.
"Is this all you wanted me for?" Jessica asked.
Kilgrave seemed startled for a moment, as though he had forgotten she was there, and glanced over his shoulder again. "Hm? Oh, sorry. Come here."
The chasm disappeared, and Jessica walked toward him, stopping short at his side just before the window. Kilgrave wrapped his arm over her bare shoulders, the fabric on his suit coarse and scratchy.
"Just like old times, isn't it, Jessica?" Kilgrave murmured nostalgically, fingers rapping against her upper arm like needles.
"Yes. Almost exactly," Jessica replied.
"Oh, if only I could stay here forever… honestly, I should move that- actually, Jessica?"
"Hm," Jessica said, almost inaudibly.
"My armchair. Bring it over."
Jessica turned her back to him for the first time, wandering over to the slick brown armchair and gripping it with one hand.
The upholstery was leather and very expensive, a few thousand dollars at least. The penthouse's previous owner was some piece-of-shit stockbroker named Devon, and everything he'd furnished the place with reeked with pretentious overkill. Similar tastes to Kilgrave, actually.
Devon ended up in pieces at the bottom of a river. She knew because she had carved him up herself. Jessica thought of Trish for a moment, her whole head foggy.
"Oh, what- Jessica!" Kilgrave cried out suddenly.
She winced at her own name and looked at her feet. She had torn the rug dragging the chair over, having been completely lost in thought.
"For fuck's sake, Jessica, you've got the strength of an Olympian and you can't be bothered to pick up the damned armchair?"
She stared at the tear in the rug for a long while. "You didn't tell me to."
"Well- Christ- I'm telling you to now! Pick it up!"
She wrapped both arms around it and hoisted it cautiously off the ground, even though such care seemed unnecessary given that it weighed virtually nothing to her.
"Now set the damn thing down over here. Facing the window."
The chair clattered inelegantly onto the floor in front of the window. Steaming, Kilgrave slumped into it and rested his arms along its sides, still staring out the window.
"Well?" he spat. "Cover up the damn tear in the rug! Jessica!"
With a sigh, she crossed the room again, grabbing the side table that had formerly been positioned next to the armchair and moving it five feet to the right. The whole décor of the room was messed up afterward, not that the space was particularly homely to begin with.
Her task completed, Jessica hovered awkwardly around the table, not sure what to do next. Kilgrave took a few minutes just to stare out the window, his anger subsiding.
And then the doorbell rang, a gentle chime that only barely echoed past the penthouse's entrance.
"Oh, that'll be dinner," said Kilgrave, thrusting himself out of the chair. "Have a seat at the table; I'll join you in a moment."
Jessica walked obediently into the dining room and sat down at the far end of the intimately small table, the same place she sat for every meal. Kilgrave answered the door.
The waiter at the door gave a broad smile upon seeing him, doing his best to be courteous. "Good evening, sir."
"Yeah, hi, come in." Kilgrave waved him in with one hand, leading him to the dining room as he wheeled in the food on a cart.
The waiter flashed Jessica the same smile as he entered the room, lifting the large silver platter from the cart and setting it down in the center of the table. "Ma'am. How are you this evening?"
"Fine, thanks," Jessica said with a smile.
The waiter pulled a bowl from the cart, serving salad on china plateware.
"It's a lovely night for dining in, when you have a view like this," he said charmingly, pulling the lid from the platter. "The Margaux… and the duck…"
Kilgrave nodded slightly, waving his hand to move the process along, and so the waiter hurried to carve out the meat and pour wine for the two of them.
"Shall I leave the cheesecake for you, then?" he asked, taking a step away from the table to leave them to it.
"Yes, leave it," Kilgrave replied quietly.
"And for the matter of billing, would you like-"
The waiter was silent immediately.
"Take the cart and spend the next ten minutes putting distance between yourself and this building," Kilgrave said firmly, digging his fork into his salad. "Then find a knife and put it through your temple."
With a dignified nod, the waiter stepped away and removed the cart from the room, bumbling absentmindedly down the hall outside.
Kilgrave returned to his dinner, and Jessica stared at him with distress.
"…Why did you do that?" she shouted eventually, her disgust just barely winning out over her desire not to upset him.
"He knows where we live. I told you, Jessica; I'm trying to keep a low profile for the time being." Kilgrave shrugged, not pausing to stop his eating.
"So you had to murder him?"
"Oh, for the love of- stop posturing. I swear, you're just trying to be inflammatory." Kilgrave stopped talking for a few seconds to chew. "He's a nobody. Just forget about him."
Jessica winced from physical pain. His words were like a railroad spike in her brain, as she tried helplessly to obey an impossible command. His powers were stronger than they had ever been, and being unable to do as he said was downright excruciating.
"Relax, Jessica; you're killing the mood. Smile a little."
Jessica smiled, and the command to relax actually did ease her mind, however slightly. The one and only benefit of his growing stronger, Jessica had noticed, was that his commands could burrow their way into a deeper part of the brain. He had perfect command over actions, sure, but he was growing control over feelings, too. He wasn't always just making pure compulsions anymore, but real feelings. And sometimes, just for a few fleeting moments, he really could kill the pain with a command, if he wanted to. Maybe, eventually, he really would be able to make her forget- she longed for that, and she hated herself for it.
She dug into the salad, which was delicious and perfectly dressed. Kilgrave always seemed to appreciate the food he ordered less than she did, though.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, the only noise being the clanking of their silverware.
"Have you heard about Luke Cage?" Kilgrave asked eventually, taking a sip of wine. "Your old 'boyfriend', remember him?"
Whatever comfort Jessica had almost found was ripped away from her in an instant.
"Of course I remember him," she replied through gritted teeth.
Kilgrave narrowed his eyes at that. "Yes, well, have you watched the news lately? He's been a popular subject. Quite interesting, really."
Jessica sighed, having nowhere near the energy to start an argument. "I've seen a little, yeah."
"They're sending him to prison for something or other, after the whole vigilantism streak. I never would have seen it coming. Strong, silent type like him? Never really took him for the type to go gallivanting around performing super-heroics. But then, I could say the same thing about you, couldn't I?" He laughed wryly to himself, pointing his fork unthreateningly at Jessica before waving his hand and returning to his food. "Either way, it's long past due, far as I'm concerned. Someone has to put an end to an ego trip like that."
"I think you're wrong. He was doing something good for people."
"What, stopping bad guys and all that?" Kilgrave chuckled.
"Well." She downed her drink in one go- not exactly the most dignified way to drink $700 wine. "Yeah."
"And you really think that's why he was doing it?"
"Ugh." He tapped on the duck with his fork, thinking. "I shouldn't have brought it up; I- obviously you wouldn't see eye-to-eye with me on this."
"I'm sorry if I made you defensive, alright? I don't mean to generalize. I know you didn't do it for your ego. You aren't that kind of person."
"No, I'm not."
"…Jessica, tell me the truth now. Do you wish you were still out there?" Kilgrave gestured broadly to the window behind the dining table.
"Still out there?" Jessica snickered. "Still out where?"
"You know. Out on the streets." Kilgrave put up his fists with a joking smile. "Like our friend Mr. Cage."
"Oh. Right," she sighed, shrugging.
He watched her carefully for a few moments before throwing up his hands. "It wasn't a rhetorical question."
"I don't know the answer," Jessica replied impassively.
"It's alright. You don't really need to. I know the answer." Kilgrave shrugged, chuckling quietly to himself. "I have to admit, it was satisfying, back when we did it together. Even if I'm no good at it. Why don't we go out tomorrow; have a go at it again? That should cheer you up."
"I thought you said you wanted to keep a low profile," said Jessica.
"I can still go out; it'll just be a bit trickier than normal. But I'll be damned if I'm going to let that stop me. What do you say?"
"I don't know."
"Jessica, I'm trying to accommodate you here."
She picked at her food reluctantly, brokenhearted by his insistence on rehashing her past. If there was a part of her that still wanted to help people, it was long buried, along with Luke and Trish and everyone else. But of course, there was no way to stop him from doing what he wanted either way.
With a loud groan, Kilgrave dropped his fork against his plate, throwing up his hands with blatant exasperation. "For God's sake, Jessica," he declared, "I'm really going out on a limb for you here. Honestly, considering the circumstances, what more could I possibly do to make you happy? What do you want?"
Jessica narrowed her eyes, compelled as usual to be honest. "I want to die."
"Jesus, so melodramatic…" He pressed two fingers against his forehead, exasperated. "You want to die now. Isn't that just fucking typical?"
Her throat tightened, making her voice almost raspy. "Yes."
Chapter 2: Puzzle Pieces
The front entrance of Hogarth, Chao and Benowitz was walled off from end to end by metal detectors and security guards, closer resembling an airport than an office building. The whole display left Karen Page standing with bewilderment in the entrance for a long time, a briefcase in one hand and a plastic bag in the other.
Two guards met her at the first metal detector, and one of them began sifting through her briefcase as soon as she set it down on the table to pass through it.
"Hey, it's just a briefcase, alright?" Karen said sharply, suspiciously watching as the guard flipped through her papers. "Nothing that you need to be reading."
"Just being thorough," the guard replied without looking up.
Karen put one foot past the metal detector before the other guard threw his hand up.
He tugged impatiently on his earlobe, raising an eyebrow at her. "Ma'am, earrings?"
With a sigh, she removed them, setting them on the table alongside the briefcase.
"You need metal detectors and armed guards for your law firm?" Karen asked impatiently, snatching away her belongings after stepping through.
The guard lowered his head slightly. "It's just a temporary measure, ma'am. For recent security concerns."
Off-put, Karen tucked her briefcase under one arm and looped the other through the handle of the plastic bag, reattaching her earrings with her free hand as she walked across the lobby to the secretary's desk.
"Good afternoon, ma'am," said the secretary without looking up from her computer. According to the flowery nametag just above her computer, her name was Amanda, although her demeanor did not seem very cheery to match.
Karen leaned into the desk, trying to get her attention. "Hi. Karen Page, here to see Fo- uh, Franklin Nelson?"
"He's in a meeting," Amanda replied dully.
"I- what? No, he's not!" Karen laughed incredulously. "I just spoke with him this morning! He's expecting me."
"Did you make an appointment?"
"No, I didn't make an appointment. I don't need an appointment. I'm not even a client; it's a personal matter."
Amanda rolled back in her chair and set a hand down on the desk, looking up at Karen for the first time. "Karen Page. You're press, right? You wrote the-"
"Yes, I am a journalist," Karen interrupted, unimpressed. "But it is none of your business what I do, because I am not a client. This is a personal matter."
Amanda stared her down for a few moments, then turned back to the computer. "He's in a meeting."
"I can't believe this," Karen scoffed, stricken with disbelief. "…Where's his office? Third floor, right?"
"Uh, ma'am, you're not allowed- ma'am!" Amanda stood to stop Karen as she marched past the desk into the stairwell, but ran out of energy shortly after and slumped back into her chair, resigned.
Shaking her head, Karen climbed the stairwell and marched straight for the office at the end of the third floor, tastefully emblazoned with "Franklin P. Nelson, Esq."
The door swung open, and without a word Karen stepped inside, placing her briefcase and bag on the floor in front of the desk and taking a seat. With a loud creak, the chair behind the desk swiveled around to reveal Foggy, hunched over and clasping his hands together.
"Welcome to my lair," he declared menacingly.
Karen snickered, glancing over her shoulder. "Helpful secretary you have here."
"Well, what can I say? Good secretaries are in short supply these days." Foggy put his hands in a square, fixing them on Karen as though looking at her through a frame. "'Karen Page, of the New York Bulletin'."
"Franklin P. Nelson, Esquire," she replied with widened eyes.
"Yeah, do you like that? They couldn't fit 'Attorney at Law' on the sign."
"Sure; it's very, uh… professional?" Karen laughed out loud, relaxing into her chair. "I'm so happy for you, Foggy."
"No, don't! Don't be happy for me!" Foggy protested, waving his hand around. "I mean, look at you! You've made such a name for yourself! Who am I, now? Just some nobody tucked away on the third floor."
"Pft, yeah, some nobody with an office three times the size of mine."
"Yeah, I know, right? Look at me! I'm King of the Douchebags! This is my throne room!" Foggy raised his hands dramatically, gesturing to the giant window behind his desk. "Just wait'll you see my consultation fee- and fair warning, I don't give discounts for friends. And I am hourly."
Karen leaned down to grab the plastic bag next to the desk, presenting it with one hand. "How about I just give you a meatball sub and we call it even?"
"That sounds like a fair compromise."
With a light laugh, Karen reached into the bag and dug out lunch for both of them, placing Foggy's sandwich in the center of his desk. He unwrapped it enthusiastically, and Karen watched him with a bit of nostalgia.
"So I talked to Matt," she said quietly.
Foggy looked up, briefly hesitant, and spoke with his mouth full. "…And how is he?"
"Oh, you know… he's self-righteous, he'll barely talk to me, and he won't acknowledge that his life is imploding."
"Yeah… that sounds like him."
"I get the impression he has barely been leaving his apartment." Karen rapped her fingers along her still-wrapped food, appetite waning. "I don't want to just leave him, but Jesus. I don't know what I can do to help."
Foggy shook his head, a little resigned. "I get it, Karen. And I'm sorry. But it's his choice. There's nothing we can do about it." With a sigh, he raised his food to his lips, but hesitated upon coming up with a new question. "Has he been out… you know, in the horns?"
"If he has, I haven't heard about it from any sources," Karen replied with a shrug. "I think he's giving it a break."
"Well… that's good news! Right?" Foggy shrugged, off-put by Karen's ambivalent frown. "Karen?"
"I don't know. At least then he was out there doing something to help people.
"Yeah. And putting his life in danger," Foggy added with a raised eyebrow.
They exchanged a glance, and Karen sighed and slumped into her chair.
"…Listen, Foggy, I wanted to talk to you about something else. Work related." She looked up at him pleadingly.
"You're not in legal trouble, are you?" asked Foggy with a sudden sense of urgency.
"No! No, nothing like that. I just… I've been looking into your law firm." Karen bit her lip, hesitant to continue. "I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Jeri Hogarth."
"Hogarth? I'm sorry, Karen, but I can't help you. She died before I was ever recruited. I'm really not the best person to ask. I don't know-"
"-but you can ask around yourself, right?" Karen interrupted bluntly, leaning into her seat. "You can get information that I can't."
"Karen, what is this about?"
The question gave her pause, and she crossed her legs as she considered it. "Her death has been raising questions. I don't think they're unfair ones. That's all."
Foggy laid out his hands on his desk, frowning apologetically. "The police did a thorough investigation. It was suicide. That's all there is to it."
"Really? You really believe that?" Karen scoffed, almost instinctively. "This coming from the man who helped uncover that half of our entire police precinct was corrupt?"
"There's nothing to disbelieve! She put a gun to her own head and pulled the trigger! That'swhat happened!" He shook his head sympathetically. "Look, I thought it was creepy, too. I looked into it when I got recruited by the senior partners. I even got Brett to show me the autopsy report. There's just nothing to uncover here."
Foggy narrowed his eyes as she bit her thumb and looked away from him. "…Is this about the mind-controller?"
Clearly caught by surprise, Karen shrugged slightly, a little irked. "I'm not ruling anything out."
"Karen, that's a conspiracy theory. You know how convenient that is."
"Yeah, I do. To be honest, it's a little too convenient."
"Hogarth was going through a divorce! Her girlfriend was under investigation for murdering her ex! That kind of thing would drive anyone-"
"Foggy, do you listen to public radio?"
"Do I- what?"
"Patricia Walker. 'Trish Talk', have you heard of it? On air, she made comments about this mind-controller guy, then a few days later walks them back with a creepy apology. You can look this up; it's all over the internet. Now she is mysteriously missing."
"Karen, that's not-"
"-Jessica Jones! Private investigator! She did work for your law firm, she was a known associate of Hogarth, and she was a purported victim of this guy. Now she's missing, too."
Foggy pressed his fingers against his temple, clearly a little at a loss for words.
With a sigh, Karen relaxed a little, uncrossing her legs and sitting forward. "Hogarth was being very public about this Kilgrave guy. There are a lot of puzzle pieces here, and it really seems like they are starting to fit together. There are even eyewitnesses."
"I'm a lawyer, Karen. You know what I'm going to tell you about how reliable eyewitnesses are," Foggy replied regretfully. "Do you realize what you are suggesting? We don't have explanations for any disappearances. But we do have honest-to-God proof that Hogarth's death was a suicide. I mean, we can't just jump to the most fantastical explanation."
"Really? After everything we have seen in this city, this is a fantastical explanation? The Incident, and a bulletproof man walking around in Harlem… and Matt… and this is too much for you?"
"Point taken. But if you really want to investigate something so hard to prove, why come to me for information? Why not go to the partners here that actually knew Hogarth?"
Karen let out a long sigh. "Because I tried that, and they threatened to sue me. That's why I told your secretary I'm here for personal reasons."
"…Oh my God. I'm sorry."
"-And I don't know about you, but I wouldn't expect anyone to get that defensive unless they had something to hide." She turned slightly to point behind her, toward the door. "And I know they wouldn't be keeping goddamned armed guards at the entrance to the building unless they thought they had something to worry about."
"I guess I can't argue with that," Foggy sighed. "But there's nothing I can really do to help you anyway."
"I don't need you to work any miracles. Just look into Hogarth's history with this Kilgrave story, and see if there's anything it seems like they're trying to keep quiet."
"I'm sorry, Karen, but I would be risking my job- hell, my career- by talking to you about this. And if it's you writing the article about it, God knows I'd be the first person they'd look to."
"People could be getting hurt, Foggy. Seriously hurt."
"I understand that, but-" Foggy stopped short, visibly torn. "You obviously have a lot to go on so far! You are a great journalist. You can figure this out without me."
"I'm working on it, but I can't take anything to print as long as everything I have is circumstantial. If there is anything out there that could serve as proof- serious proof, that I could print, and that people would really listen to- it's being buried, or- or covered up. And I'm sure it's here, at Hogarth, Chao and Benowitz."
"You're asking me to work against my own firm, Karen." Foggy threw up his hands, disappointed. "I just got this job. It's all I have right now. I just can't help you. I'm sorry."
She stared at him for a long time, saddened and kind of shocked, before looking at the ground. "…Okay."
With nothing left to talk about, Karen picked up her briefcase, sliding her chair back a little.
"Karen," Foggy said abruptly, getting her attention. "If you really believe this mind-controller stuff… I mean, if this is really what you want to investigate… you could really be putting yourself in danger."
"It's what I signed up for," she replied frankly.
"I just hope you'll take care of yourself," said Foggy. "I mean… if you… got attacked, or something…"
Karen waited at the door for a long while before opening it and stepping through, glancing back only once. "It wouldn't be the first time."
The door shut behind her with a thud.
Chapter 3: AKA What You Wanted
Jessica could barely recognize herself in the mirror.
With her hands clenched together, she stretched her arms over her head, and her leather jacket crinkled roughly against her shirt. She hadn't worn it in months, and it felt alien.
The door opened behind her, and she jumped slightly at the noise without turning around.
"I still don't understand why you feel the need to wear that. It makes you look stocky," Kilgrave said quietly, walking up and observing her from behind.
Jessica looked at him from over her shoulder, her revulsion at that statement thoroughly suppressed. "I can't fight in a dress."
That got a small nod out of him, at least. "Okay, okay, fair enough, but I still don't think it's very threatening. Don't you want to wear a costume or something?"
They exchanged a brief glance, and she narrowed her eyes at the question.
"…Alright, point taken," he added, shrugging.
With a sigh, Kilgrave closed the distance between them and kissed her lightly on the cheek. She was all too conscious of her inability to recoil from it.
"Coming, Jessica? We're not exactly going to fight crime on the top floor, you know."
She followed him into the parlor, where he stopped short against the counter so he could turn around and face her.
"Here's the story: a pair of dastardly rogues rob a pawn shop at gunpoint and flee the scene- by the time the police arrive, they are nowhere to be seen. They nearly get away with it, but what do you know? Out of the blue, they are stopped by two plucky, intrepid superheroes, who apprehend them on the spot and turn them over to the police." He gesticulated wildly as he spoke, like the he found the idea exciting.
Jessica thought about it for a little while before responding. "You mean the police were contacted about this already?"
"I mean, I got the news from a police scanner, so of course they've heard about it." Disappointed with Jessica's lack of enthusiasm, he pouted at her before continuing. "But they aren't being pursued. The police lost them at the crime scene. So now the two of them are on the run."
"Sounds like we will just be getting in the way of an investigation."
"Well, that's the whole point, isn't it? We don't need all the red tape and bureaucracy of the police. All we need is our wits and our will!"
She watched him suspiciously for a while, off-put. He had said he wanted to do this because she wanted to, but the more he spoke the more it seemed he was genuinely looking forward to it.
Then again, it's not as though he would have ever agreed to do it if he didn't want to.
"And how are we supposed to find a pair of criminals if they fled the scene?" Jessica asked sharply, arms crossed.
"I dunno, I was thinking I would just… ask," he replied, grinning cheekily.
He opened the door as he spoke, gesturing for Jessica to follow him into the hall and out to the elevator. She trailed a little behind, and as such Kilgrave was already waiting with the elevator door open when a voice stopped her short.
"Jessica! Morning!" It was their neighbor, Jordan. He and his wife were the only other people rich enough to live on the top floor of the building, and they both wanted to be much closer friends than Jessica did.
"Morning!" Kilgrave called out, stopping the elevator door with one hand.
…He, on the other hand, seemed eager to have actual neighbors. He always entertained them, for some reason. Probably to help the husband and wife fantasy…
"Zeb! Caught you both, did I?" Jordan asked with a booming laugh.
Zeb, short for Zebediah. Talk about inconspicuous. Kilgrave thought he was the only one who needed an alias, which bothered Jessica a little for a reason she couldn't quite explain.
Kilgrave threw up his hands guiltily, smiling. "Yes, well, we're actually headed out; in a bit of a rush, to be honest… right, sweetheart?"
Jessica froze for a moment, then shrugged a little in Jordan's direction. "Yeah, well, you know. Stores close so damn early…"
"Right, right… I don't mean to keep you, of course. I just saw you headed out and figured I should say hello."
"As you well should," Kilgrave replied lightly. "It does get a bit tiresome, just the two of us, isolated in that little apartment." He tugged on his sleeve a little, thoughtful. "We're still on for dinner this weekend?"
"Of course. I've been looking forward to it."
"Excellent, so have we…" Trailing off as he remembered the time-sensitive nature of their trip, Kilgrave stepped forward a bit to look Jordan eye-to-eye. "Okay, leave. We'll see you later."
Jessica shuffled into the elevator next to him as he tapped on the button to take them to the ground floor. From outside, Jordan paused momentarily as though wanting to say something, but before he got a chance, he turned on his heel and returned to his apartment without another word.
Funny how people always seem to forget about those little interactions, Jessica thought.
"He's really quite nice, isn't he?" Kilgrave murmured absentmindedly.
The pawn shop that got robbed was only a few blocks away from Kilgrave's apartment, and the small park nearby seemed like the most likely place to search. Even if it was just some small part of her, Jessica still knew the right places to look for people that didn't want to be found.
The crowd grew sparse as Jessica and Kilgrave cut through, with Kilgrave tossing out throwaway questions to anyone who would listen. Anyone that didn't immediately confess to a robbery was brushed aside… if only investigations were always so easy.
Catching sight of a pair that fit Kilgrave's description, Jessica tapped on his arm, and the two of them tailed their master thieves as far from the road as possible, just to clear out the majority of the bystanders. With the foot traffic now sparse enough for a confrontation, Kilgrave held out a hand to let Jessica step forward first.
And, finally, Jessica did. She eyed them up for a moment before saying anything- it was just a couple of scrawny guys in hoodies and blue jeans. The one in front had a shopping bag full of stolen goods, like they didn't even know they were supposed to hide it. Amateurs, obviously.
"Jesus, you serious? You're just gonna tote it around? You realize you're robbers, right?" Jessica approached with crossed arms, Kilgrave watching with amusement from behind.
The pair, bewildered and a little amused, exchanged a glance before turning to Jessica.
"Yeah? What's it to you?" asked the one in front, tilting his head.
"Doesn't make a difference. Hand over the bag, dude. The cops are already looking for you."
"You called the cops? You really have no clue, do you?"
"As a matter of fact, I didn't call the cops; I assume the shop owner did when your stupid ass didn't think to cover your face before getting caught on security footage."
"Who is this bitch-?"
Shocked at Jessica's forwardness, the guy in front glanced to the one in the back and threw up his hand, and he immediately pulled a gun out of his coat.
…Oh, yeah. Armed robbery. Jessica was taken off-guard for a half-second, though she knew better than to let that be known.
Throwing up both hands in front of him to aim, the armed thief took a step forward, scowling in some strained attempt to look intimidating. "Back up, lady, you don't know what-"
"Drop it," Kilgrave called out lazily from the back, looking at his fingernails.
He did, immediately releasing the gun so that it clattered harmlessly to the ground.
The other one- the younger guy in front- flipped around, now staring with disbelief. "Dude, what the fuck? Are you serious? You didn't actually have to-"
"Hey. Jackass," Jessica snickered. "I'm still here, you know."
These two were just a couple of morons. Young twenty-something jackass kids, tattered clothes… the kinds of hapless ne'er-do-well that are probably just out doing this because they ran out of weed money.
"You have got to be kidding me," said the one in front, setting down the bag at his feet. "Look, I don't want to hurt you, lady."
"Yeah, y'know, I really wasn't too worried about that."
Clearly tired of arguing, he lunged forward and hit Jessica squarely in the chest, forcing her back a single step. He was clearly pissed and trying to hurt her, but she barely even felt it. Superhumans, these guys were not. From behind her, she heard Kilgrave snicker at the sheer audacity of the attack.
Smirking very slightly, she cracked her neck, crossing her arms like a disappointed parent. "Alright, got that out of your system?"
"Wh- how the hell did you…?"
"I eat my spinach. Don't worry about it." Taking a half-step forward, Jessica thrust her wrist casually into his chest, sending him flying into his buddy behind him. It was a pretty weak blow, but it still left the two of them floundering on the ground like morons.
And Jessica had to admit, it did feel a little satisfying. A few of the passerby even stopped to watch out of admiration.
"Christ-!" exclaimed the one Jessica hit, crawling on all fours off of his buddy and clutching his chest. "You're- Christ, this can't be happening…"
"Dude, shut up," groaned the other one. "Just… shut up…"
"God damn it."
Jessica glanced at Kilgrave briefly, who nodded at her with approval. He could have stopped them much more easily himself, but she knew that in his mind this was supposed to be her treat…
Pulling aside one of the spectators, Jessica held out a hand, speaking quietly. "Call the police and let them know we caught these guys. Don't give names." She let that thought hang for a moment before turning to the rest of the crowd. "Alright, people. Move it along. Nothing else to see."
The rest of the spectators, by now mostly losing interest anyway, returned to the footpath, leaving Jessica and Kilgrave alone with the two thugs they just stopped.
…Well, mostly alone.
"Jessica Jones?" cried out a shrill voice.
One of the spectators- the last to leave- took a few steps closer to examine Jessica's face. It was a familiar-looking middle aged woman, but Jessica couldn't place her.
"Wh- what?" murmured Jessica.
"Jessica Jones?" the woman repeated. "…That's you, right?"
She glanced over her shoulder at Kilgrave, who seemed stunned. This was… not expected, to say the least. Not exactly keeping a low profile, as Kilgrave had wanted.
"Sorry," Jessica replied hurriedly, "you're thinking of someone else."
"No, no! It's definitely you. From Alias Investigations!" The woman nodded in affirmation, tilting her head as she studied Jessica. "Don't worry, I want to thank you-! You helped me; I mean, you found that whore that my husband was-"
"Listen, lady," Jessica snapped automatically. The interruption gave her a moment of pause, like it was just occurring to her exactly why she needed to turn this woman away.
And there, just for one moment, Jessica had a little bit of freedom. A totally independent thought.
She had to save this woman's life.
"You're wrong," Jessica said fiercely. "We haven't met. Don't make a scene out of this."
"I'm… sorry…?" the woman responded, obviously confused. "I'm not trying to make a scene, I just wanted to-"
"Shut up!" Jessica barked. "Get out of here! We don't know each other."
"O- okay… I mean, I don't know what I…"
The woman trailed off as she switched her gaze from Jessica to Kilgrave. She seemed confused, almost suspicious… but if she would just leave, maybe…
"Ah, shit," said Kilgrave.
Whatever little bit of freedom Jessica was feeling snuffed out at the sound of Kilgrave's voice.
"Don't move. Don't speak," Kilgrave commanded to the woman, before he turned away from her entirely. "For God's sake… I didn't want this; really, I did not want this." Pressing two fingers into his temple, Kilgrave paced around the sidewalk for a while, the woman staring speechless at him the whole time. "Alright… alright, to hell with it. Jessica…?" He twirled his hand a little as he called out Jessica's name.
Jessica stared at the woman for a little while, Kilgrave's words lingering on her mind. That wasn't a command; it shouldn't matter that he spoke, but then why… would he…?
Time slowed down. Kilgrave's voice echoed around inside her head. He wanted to keep a low profile; that was what he said earlier… it was the last thing that Jessica wanted. She wondered if anyone even knew that she was alive. For a second, she thought about Malcolm, and Ruben, and Robyn… and Trish.
…And by the time she realized what was going on, she was already murdering the woman on the sidewalk in cold blood.
Moving like an automaton, she watched her fist plow into the woman's face, over and over. She died from the first punch. Her skull fractured from the second. Before long, there was nothing left but a smear of brain and shattered bone, a gallon of blood draining from her neck hole and running into the storm drain.
Jessica kept throwing her fist down, shattering the concrete where the woman's head used to be. Her face and jacket became spattered a little bit with the woman's blood and the former contents of her head, and then a bit more, and a bit more. The blows kept coming, kicking up grey dust and dirt and little bits of stone from the sidewalk that now contained numerous fist-sized dents. Eventually Jessica shut her eyes to protect herself from the debris.
Kilgrave said "Stop," and she froze halfway in the middle of the motion, before she could even register the words. After a second, she slumped down onto her knees in front of the corpse, breathing heavily.
"Good Lord, Jessica, what are you doing…?" Kilgrave asked in a hushed murmur, running a hand through Jessica's hair as he looked over the bloodied spot on the sidewalk. Jessica didn't know how to answer his question.
"Sorry," she said quietly.
"Why in the world did you do this…?"
"You just- I thought you…" Jessica whispered, more to herself than to him. "She recognized me, and you wanted to lie low, and…"
"God, you made this mess of her just to protect me…?"
"You- that was what you wanted, so…"
Jessica's voice grew softer the longer she spoke, tears welling up a little as she looked over the body of the woman she just murdered. She was red with blood, which ran off the ends of her coat and dripped onto her jeans.
"God, Jessica… poor thing…" hummed Kilgrave, voice obviously full of pity. "Go on, stand up…"
Jessica stood, and he wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
"It's alright, Jessica. It's done with now."
Kilgrave murmured to himself as he thought to himself, keeping Jessica close to his side and running his hands over her arms and through her hair.
"I'm really speechless, Jessica," he continued slowly. "It's been slow between us, but… you really have gone to such lengths to protect me…"
"That was what you wanted," Jessica repeated, hollow.
"I love you, Jessica."
Having run out of words, Kilgrave placed a hand to turn Jessica's head toward him, and pressed his lips against hers. The blood on her face transferred to his, in what had to be some kind of twisted romantic gesture.
Jessica returned the kiss passionately, her eyes firmly shut and still stinging with tears.
The two of them, eventually, broke apart, and Kilgrave placed a hand against Jessica's back to lead her away from the scene. She got a head start on him, but Kilgrave hung back for just a moment.
The two thugs from earlier cowered together on the ground, both absolutely speechless. Kilgrave clasped his hands together as he leaned over them, his face bloodstained.
He took a breath, then spoke as firmly as ever. "Don't you tell a soul what you saw here. Not 'till the day you die."
Chapter 4: ALONGWAYTOGO
tic tic tic tic tic
The quiet tapping of a cane filled echoed off the narrow metal walls in Seagate Prison. Declining to be led by the arm, Matt Murdock trailed behind a security guard, headed for the visiting room at the far end of the hall.
It was hardly a social call, but Matt was happy to be doing it. Just to ease his conscience a little. After all, what kind of Catholic would he be without a little extra guilt?
"I'll be right here when you're finished, counselor," said the guard, tipping his hat and then fixing it awkwardly upon remembering that Matt wouldn't see it.
"Thank you for the accommodation. I'll try not to take up too much of your time." Matt flashed a handsome smile before stepping inside.
The door shut behind him, and he took a seat at the table in the visitation room without missing a beat, expertly folding his cane with one hand and laying down a folder on the table with the other.
"Mr. Lucas? Or… maybe you'd prefer Mr. Cage?" Matt stuck his hand out a little off-center from the table with a smile.
The man on the other side of the table hesitated for a moment before reaching out his hands (both handcuffed and chained to the table) to shake it.
"I go by Luke," he replied gruffly.
"Mr. Cage, then." Setting his folded-up cane by the leg of the table, Matt took a seat, folding his hands on the desk and smiling. "My name is Matthew Murdock. I'm an attorney. I was directed to you by a mutual friend of ours. Claire Temple?"
Luke half-nodded, pulling his hands back to rest on the surface of the table. "She told me about you. How do you know Claire?"
"I- well, heh, I was familiar with her work back at Metro General." Matt gave a self-deprecating laugh, tilting his head down toward the table. "Me and my partner, back before I became a solo practitioner… we developed something of a reputation for being… well, 'ambulance chasers'. So Claire and I became pretty well acquainted. I definitely owe her a favor."
"Must be some favor, to get you to come all the way from New York to take a client pro-bono."
"Call it a few favors." Matt straightened himself out, though still smiling lightheartedly. "You should be glad to have her looking out for you, Mr. Cage. Apparently your freedom is very important to her."
Frowning grimly, Luke leaned back, settling into his chair. Taking his silence as a hint, Matt smiled and opened the folder on the table, running his hands over the braille.
"As I understand, Mr. Cage," Matt said slowly, "those handcuffs they've got you in can't do much to hold you here, isn't that right?"
"It doesn't matter. I'm not running."
"Well, I'm glad you have that attitude. Good behavior is going to make things easier on you. But I'm sure you understand that." Matt pushed the folder forward and cupped his hands on the table, head tilted slightly downward. "I've heard plenty about you, even aside from Miss Temple. You made headlines in New York more than once."
"Well, I've heard about you, too. Claire told me you're one of those lawyers from Hell's Kitchen everyone was talking about. You took down Wilson Fisk." Luke spoke slowly and surely, not changing his expression much. "That's a good thing you did. I can't think of many lawyers that would put their hides on the line like that just to help people."
Matt nodded slightly, smile faltering a little. "Hm. Then if I can ask, Mr. Cage, what is it about me that you still don't seem to be comfortable with?"
Luke narrowed his eyes at that- he hadn't been expecting to be called out so directly. But there was nothing to be gained from being euphemistic, and in a way, Luke respected his straightforwardness.
"You defended Frank Castle," he replied flatly. "Serial killer."
"I've defended a lot of clients. I am concerned with making sure people are treated fairly by the law regardless of their individual circumstances, and if you followed the trial, I'm sure you realize that Mr. Castle was fraught with-"
"Is that what you think I am? Just some mentally ill vigilante? Some kind of legal charity case?"
Matt froze for a moment- it was a fair question, though not one he had given much thought to. It wasn't exactly the first time a client had confronted him about his more unpopular clientele.
"…Without getting into semantics, Mr. Cage, you're not in prison for being a vigilante."
"Doesn't answer my question," Luke countered sharply.
Matt laughed to himself at Luke's boldness. There was not much room to beat around the bush here. "Claire told me that you are a good person at heart. That you help people who can't help themselves, because you feel like it's your responsibility. That's a feeling I can sympathize with." He clasped his hands together again. "If she thinks you are worth helping, that's good enough for me. I trust you are of good conscience."
He smiled in anticipation, and Luke let him sweat for a minute before answering.
"…Wow, Claire's really in your head, huh?"
Matt shrugged. "She's insightful."
Luke let out a chuckle as Matt awkwardly collected himself, rearranging the files in the folder in front of him.
"I want to be upfront with you, Mr. Cage. I wouldn't have taken the bus ride down here if I didn't have something concrete to work with." Matt tapped on his folder with two fingers. "I was approached by a friend of yours named Bobby Fish while I was putting together your file. He thinks he has enough to put together a case for your release. Can you tell me anything about that?"
"Sure. He's right."
"I'm glad to hear that…" Matt hesitated for a half-second. "But the problem I'm having is how to account for your disappearance. You were a fugitive from the law for some time. Carl Lucas disappeared, and then one day Luke Cage just appeared to take his place. Innocent or not, you still escaped from prison, and I need to be able to account for that time."
"What's there to account for?"
"More than you might expect," said Matt briskly, running a hand over his notes. "You made yourself known publicly in Harlem. Before that, there are no records that even indicate where you were in New York to begin with. Police reports are practically the only information I have to go on."
Luke watched the swift-talking lawyer with suspicion, suddenly responding more slowly and cautiously than before. "Then what do you need to know?"
"Well…" Matt continued, "…you were employed some time ago as a dishwasher for Cornell Stokes, right?"
"For a few months. When I came to Harlem."
"Right, when you first arrived in Harlem. The thing is, before you showed up, there aren't any outstanding records of where you were or what you were up to. For all intents and purposes, you were a ghost."
"I was just trying to keep my head down."
"Then help me fill in the blanks, Mr. Cage, so the judge won't have to just take my word for it."
Matt straightened his glasses and turned his head straight up, now face-to-face with Luke.
Luke just grimaced. As much as he wanted bygones to just be bygones, this guy was clearly not going to stop pushing him. "I owned a bar."
"Where?" replied Matt with a single, brisk nod.
"Hell's Kitchen, like you're from. Named it after myself- Luke's. Maybe you stopped by."
"We usually drank at Josie's."
"Josie's? Tsch. Now there's no way we can work together."
They both snickered at the joke, even despite the relative tension.
After a moment to collect his thoughts, Matt continued, sifting through his notes again. "So you owned your own business. That sounds a lot more lucrative than dishwashing. What happened to the bar?"
"It went up in flames. I couldn't run it under my name, so when it was destroyed, I got no insurance for it. It's as simple as that."
"It burned down? What, in an accident?"
"It's a long story."
"I have plenty of time."
Luke steeled himself. "Look, there are parts of my past I am trying to move on from. That bar was my lifeblood. When I lost it, well… I had nothing left. Going back to Harlem was a fresh start for me. I don't want to turn over everything from my life before then."
"But you have to understand that wanting to keep your past a secret doesn't reflect well on someone who wants to prove their innocence."
"And that means you don't trust me either, right?" Luke spoke harshly, almost accusatory. "If you can trust Claire that I'm 'of good conscience', maybe you should try taking me at my word."
There was a brief moment of silence as Luke stared Matt down, the two of them at an awkward impasse.
Matt knew better than to drop his suspicions when pushed, but at the same time… maybe Luke had a point. After all, sometimes it's better to hear the truth straight from the horse's mouth.
"You're familiar with attorney-client privilege, correct, Mr. Cage?" asked Matt after a beat.
Luke rolled his eyes. "What are you getting at?"
"I understand your concerns. And I respect your desire to move forward with your life." Matt drummed his fingers on the table, frowning lightly. "But if we are going to work together successfully, I need you to be completely open with me. That's how we establish trust. And right now, that means you can tell me right here and now. For the crime you're imprisoned for right now." Matt hesitated again. "…Are you innocent?"
Luke closed his eyes and took a breath.
Leaning his head ever-so-slightly in, Matt focused himself, filtering out all the other noise in the room- the jingling chains on the handcuffs, the buzzing neon lights, the tapping of the guard's foot outside…
A calm heartbeat. Rhythmic and constant.
That was all Matt needed to hear.
"Okay. I believe you, Mr. Cage."
Luke studied Matt's face closely for a few moments. "Bobby Fish can prove it."
"Even if he can, you still have a sentence to serve for escaping in the first place." Matt smiled slightly, tucking his papers neatly into their folder. "The good news is, if we can prove your innocence, I can probably get a judge to look the other way if there's enough public outcry. As far as Harlem is concerned, you're already practically a celebrity, so that's probably something we can count on."
"Then what does that mean I should do?"
"If you want my professional opinion? Just don't stop being Luke Cage." Matt opened his hands with a slight shrug, doing his best as always to look charming. "You can count on me to take care of the rest."
Luke smirked at that. "Then it sounds like we're in business, Mr. Murdock."
Chapter 5: Off
The floor of the 15th precinct bustled with activity in the middle of the afternoon- and at the center of it, Brett Mahoney. Reading over a case file with one hand, Brett straightened out his brown coat and cut through the lobby, heading for the hall that led to his office. He stopped briefly at the front desk to reorganize his papers, but jerked back instinctively at the sound of another, familiar voice.
"Excuse me! Excuse me! Sergeant Mahoney?"
Karen Page. He rolled his eyes.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me…" Brett turned and leaned back against the desk, flattening his hand against the folder on the desk. "That's Detective Sergeant to you. What do you want from me? I have actual police work to be doing, you know."
"I know, I know… I'm sorry to bother you." Karen, dressed up in a grey blouse and a skirt, hurried to the desk to meet him, clutching a brown paper bag and a notebook. "It's just… my editor won't take what I have to print yet. I need something more concrete."
"Well, you can't get it from me. You know I'm not gonna help you speculate on the record. Making an enemy out of HCB is a can of worms I do not need to be responsible for opening."
"I'm not asking you to speak on the record. I just need to know that I'm looking in the right places. I need the right questions to ask. Just a little of your time is all I ask."
Brett thought on that for a few moments and crossed his arms, gesturing slightly to Karen's hands. "What's in the bag?"
Karen shrugged slightly. "Oh, it's for Bess…" She handed it over with a guilty smile.
"Soon as I shake Foggy, you start showing up instead." Brett opened the bag and peered at the fancy box of cigars inside, groaning loudly. "Dammit, why do all you people have a death wish for my mom?"
"…I appreciate your help, Brett."
"You've got no integrity, Page." With a sigh, Brett tucked his case file under his arm, carrying the bag in the same hand. "Alright, we'll talk in my office, but only because I have something to tell you. Try to make it quick."
With a wave of his hand, Brett led Karen down the hall into one of the spacious offices at the end. Murmuring to himself, he set down the case file he was carrying on the desk and tucked the bag of cigars underneath. Karen took a seat on the opposite side of the desk.
"I don't know how much new information I can give you, but after what you told me, I looked into some of those disappearances… and I have to say, it gets weird. Real weird." Brett slumped into his seat and clasped his hands together, frowning slightly.
"That's what I've been saying." Karen settled into her seat, hands folded neatly over the notebook in her arms. "What have you found out?"
"Where do I start?" Brett reached into his desk, pulling out a second file from a drawer and opening it in front of him. "Malcolm Ducasse, and Jones, and the twins, Ruben and Robyn. All four of them lived in the same building, which is weird enough. But there's another thread to follow."
"Another thread? What do you mean?"
Brett clicked his tongue thoughtfully. "Hope Schlottman."
"From Trish Talk?"
"The very same. Now, I don't know if you knew this, but three of them were both present when she died. Left some vague statements on her death. Supposedly she killed herself in front of them."
"They all left statements like that?"
"All three of them, plus two more witnesses. Forensics backed up the story, too. Stabbed herself in the throat with a wine glass; no signs of a struggle."
"But if it weren't up to her…"
Brett thought for a moment before continuing. "And it's like you said, she made a statement on the air, too, talking about this mystery man. Kilgrave. Invited on by Patricia Walker, who's also missing now." He sighed and looked briefly out the window over his shoulder, as though hesitant to even discuss it. "It's a big trail of bodies to be connected all by coincidence."
"So why is nobody looking into this? Why isn't this getting released?"
"Well, that might be the weirdest part." Brett leaned in slightly. "I don't know. Most of the investigations for the disappearances were opened and then dropped a few days later, just like that. It just never got looked into. Like someone just made an executive decision to close all the investigations."
The two of them exchanged a glance, their expressions dark. Karen thought to speak up, but closed her mouth, not able to find the right words.
Brett shook his head. "But it's all just speculation."
She pursed her lips. "But you think it's possible?"
"The hell do I know about what's possible?" Brett replied sharply, snickering. "Look, I've seen Daredevil in action with my own two eyes. To tell you the truth, Karen, as far as I'm concerned, stranger things have happened."
Karen nodded slowly, scribbling in the notebook. "Thank you for telling me this. It feels like everywhere I go, people don't want me looking into this."
With a raised eyebrow, Brett slid forward into his desk, watching Karen write with suspicion. "This is all off the record?"
"So what are you going to do next? If you want something you can take to print…"
"I don't know yet." She tapped her pen against the open notebook, biting her lip hesitantly. "I don't know…"
Brett let out a loud groan, frustrated with himself for taking pity.
"Alright, well, listen," he said slowly, pulling the first file back in front of him. "I can't offer you anything else about the disappearances, but there's something else you may be interested in taking a look at."
Karen shut her notebook hurriedly. "Oh? What is it?"
He stared at the contents of the open file for a moment. "Have you eaten yet?"
Sighing, Brett picked up the folder and passed it across the desk for Karen to take a look at. She winced at the sight: laid out in the front were crime scene photos, a headless body strewn against a sidewalk beneath a splatter of blood and brain matter.
"Jesus!" Karen sifted through the photos with an appalled frown.
"Jane Doe came in last week. Mid-40s. Named Miranda Pritchett. We had to ID her from fingerprints; she had no wallet and the face was completely unrecognizable. Head was taken clean off, along with the majority of the sidewalk."
"Do you know who did it?"
Brett gritted his teeth at the question. "Yeah… well. Supposedly. But there's something off about it."
Karen pulled one of the photos out of the file, holding it up to the light. "How so?"
"The suspects are a couple of young guys we were tracking down for an armed robbery two blocks away. One of them had a pistol, but nothing high caliber… and that's all. No blunt weapons."
"So, if they did that kind of damage to the body, I have no goddamn idea how. My first thought was a shotgun blast, but as it turns out, there's no gunshot residue. No guns fired at all as far as we can tell. And there's nothing else nearby."
Karen furrowed her brow with surprise. "So they bashed her head in with something."
"Must have. But I don't know what. They were found right at the crime scene by themselves. My best guess… some jacked-up dude with a sledgehammer? We really don't know. But I don't think they could have done it alone. There's got to be someone else. Someone who fled the scene."
Nodding to herself, Karen tucked the photos back into the file, reading a page of officers' notes. "But what does this have to do with me?"
"Well, all we know is that the two of them were there. So we have opportunity, but we don't have means, and we don't have motive." Brett took a long breath. "So I looked into the victim. No connection to either of the suspects whatsoever. The others were saying she must have stopped them while they were fleeing the scene of the robbery, but I found something else. Another connection. And you're gonna want to brace yourself for this one." Brett shot Karen a look. "What I did find is that this woman, Pritchett, was a former client of Jessica Jones."
Karen scoffed. "Shit…"
"Hired Jones to investigate her husband less than two months before the Hope Schlottman case opened up."
"Did you ask the suspects about any of this this?"
"Sure. But they haven't said shit." Brett threw up his hands. "That's the other weird thing. They won't make a peep about what happened. Normally we see this kind of shit with gangsters, that kind of thing. Don't want to snitch. But these guys are a couple of nobodies with spotty records. They aren't gangbangers or anything. They were more than willing to fess up to the armed robbery charge. So if they won't cooperate with the murder investigation, I'm thinking someone's got something over them."
"Someone? What do you mean someone?" Interest suddenly piqued, Karen gave him a sharp look, concerned.
"Impossible to tell. At least with what we have now." Brett shrugged. "They were already arraigned. Both plead not guilty, both insisted they didn't do it, but it's not like they're saying they don't know who did. They just won't tell us. They won't describe what happened even a little. Won't even come up with a bullshit lie. We sweated them out for twelve hours each before the D.A. showed up, and neither one of them would budge even an inch that whole time. How do two cowards that are desperate for a plea hold out for that long? Either they're worried about what will happen to them if they talk… or maybe they can't talk in the first place."
"…Can't talk?" Karen repeated.
"It's just conjecture. Mind control isn't exactly something you can prove." Brett tapped on the folder. "But if you want to try, I would start with Pritchett. Might lead you somewhere."
Karen stared at the papers in her hands, mind racing.
"You're lucky you came when you did," Brett continued, leaning back in his chair. "They're in holding now; we're just waiting for the guys from the Department of Corrections to show up. Then they'll be out of my hair, and Tower will be the one that has to worry about them. But if you spread the news around before they get to trial… hell, maybe you'll buy them a hung jury."
"Thank you for the information, Brett." Karen set the folder back down on the desk and returned to her notebook. "Thank you…"
He watched as she scribbled down notes, which she did vigorously. It was the first real headway Karen had made in ages- the more people tried to get her to drop the story, the more inspired she'd gotten to follow through on it.
A heavy-handed knock on the door startled both of them out of their silence after a few minutes, and Karen jolted up from her scribbling with a start.
"Hello? Excuse me?" called a voice through the door.
Brett sat up and gestured to Karen. "Could you…?"
"Oh, yeah, of course…" Karen replied hurriedly, turning to get out of her seat and open the door.
"Hi, sorry to interrupt," said the man on the other side of the door, stepping boldly past Karen and facing Brett with a huff. "You're Mahoney, yeah? You got promoted since I saw you last?" he asked roughly, self-importance seeping in his British accent.
"Detective Sergeant Mahoney," Brett replied, laying his hands flat on his desk. "I'm sorry, sir, can I help you with something…?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact you can." The British man fixed his cuffs absentmindedly, looking back over his shoulder at the open door. "You've got something of mine. Two men in holding. Go let them out and sign for their release. They are free to go."
Brett blinked once and stood. Karen stepped awkwardly to the side, staring with disbelief as he walked out of the office and down to the holding cells to do as the man instructed.
The man in the suit took a step toward the door and then turned to Karen, who flinched instinctively in response.
He looked her up and down briefly, eyes settling on the notebook in her hands. "Well… and who might you be?"
Chapter 6: Relapse
Blaring sirens. Two blocks away, a rush of traffic.
Smoke trailing along the walk… someone chain smoking three buildings down.
Lingering smell of meat and salt. Someone dropped their dinner on the ground and didn't bother to clean it up.
Matt scrunched his nose under his mask- it was almost too much to take in all at once. Even when he wasn't out of practice, pinpointing a single target could be a challenge if he didn't have a place to start.
Nostrils flared, his head darted back and forth as he focused his senses. Raising his head with a strained expression, he kneeled on the edge of the rooftop he was perched upon, scanning the area for conversation.
"-that's what I told her! And she had the audacity to tell me-"
"-because you're absolutely impossible to talk to-"
"-the number you have dialed has been-"
"-don't usually do this kind of thing on the first date-"
"-really need to try and lay low for the time being, at least until-"
-There. A place to start.
Matt moved along the rooftop in silence, honed in on a pair of passerby as they walked by on the sidewalk below. If they were who Matt thought they were, they were in exactly the right place.
"You ask too many questions. Sometimes you need to just count your blessings, man. We were lookin' at five years even before any of that other shit went down."
"Five years's nothing. I'm worried about my safety and shit. We never shoulda gotten tangled up in any of this-"
"Not like we asked for it. Streets are a goddamn jungle these days."
"And we didn't even make off with enough in that haul to clear one grand."
"It's in lockup, bro. We're not 'clearing' jack shit. Like I said, you should just be happy we're not locked up, too."
"Man… why'd I even let you talk me into this in the first place?"
Their footsteps pounded on the pavement beneath them. Two of them, one clearly younger than the other, and more anxious, too. It was them, alright.
After a long breath, Matt sprinted to the edge of the rooftop and vaulted over, leaping from a fire escape into the alley below.
Pounding on the door.
"Matt, c'mon! It's me!"
Foggy's voice echoed through the apartment, rousing Matt from his awkward resting spot on the couch.
"Matt, we both know you can hear me, so there's no point in pretending!"
With a groan, Matt pulled himself from the couch and lurched to the hallway at the entrance to his apartment, not bothering with his cane.
Foggy rolled his eyes at Matt's tired expression as the door swung open for him, leaning on the door frame with one hand. "Hey, Matt."
Matt scratched his chin, looking tired. "…Hi, Foggy."
"Can I come in?"
Matt took a sharp breath, hesitating before responding. "Yeah. Yeah, please do."
"Thanks." Straightening himself out, Foggy stepped past Matt to make his way into the living room. "So where the hell have you been all week?"
"Uh." Matt followed behind him slowly. "Georgia."
Foggy slumped down onto the couch and rested his arms behind him, his face illuminated pink by the flashing billboard outside Matt's window. "Georgia? The hell were you doing in Georgia?"
"Work. I- uh, I took on a new client."
"I owed Claire a favor."
Foggy groaned quietly. "Yeah, right. With the… mending broken limbs and tweezing bullets out of you and everything."
"…Yeah, more or less."
Foggy shot him a look and then leaned his head back, staring at the ceiling with a blank expression.
Hands cusped together, Matt circled the couch, frowning uncertainly. "…Can I get you a drink or something?"
"God, yes, please. Get some alcohol into me."
Already walking to the refrigerator, Matt snickered, reaching for the coldest can in the back of the fridge and tossing it across the room. Foggy shook his head incredulously as he popped the tab, painfully aware of the fact that his blind best friend had better aim than he did.
Matt grabbed a second can for himself and took a few steps back into the living room, leaning back against the kitchen counter. "Long week, huh, Foggy?"
"Pft." Matt leaned his head back and sipped beer out of his can. "You seem to have embraced HCB well enough. Smells like you've got an entire tub of product in your hair."
"Wha-? Oh, come on, I washed it out before I even came here."
"Try more conditioner."
They shared a quiet laugh, and Foggy leaned forward, groaning into his hands.
"I take it this isn't a social call," Matt noted with a frown.
Foggy took a long pause to answer that, collecting himself and running a hand through his hair. "…I need your help, Matt."
Matt raised an eyebrow at the proposition, rapping his fingers on his beer can. "Foggy, you have the resources of a multi-million dollar law firm at your disposal. You really feel like you need my advice? My biggest client right now is pro-bono."
"No, no. Shit. Ugh…" Foggy made a small shrug and turned back, shooting Matt a look. "I didn't say I needed a lawyer."
Two hands flew out of the darkened alley, grabbing the taller of the two men by the collar and pulling him inside. Shocked, the shorter man leapt at the interruption and then cried out, hurrying in after his friend. His eyes fell on the horned silhouette standing inside, dimly lit by lamplight from the adjoining road, and he froze in place.
Matt tilted his head down. He could sense the man's fear- his trembling hands, his rapidly increasing heart rate, his shortened breaths. It was exactly where Matt wanted him.
In an instant, Matt turned back to back to the taller man and beat him across the face, breaking his nose with a loud crack as he slid down the wall behind him. Almost smiling, Matt kneeled and landed another three punches directly in his face with his right hand, knocking him out cold.
"Jesus Christ, it- it's you!" the shorter man exclaimed with wide eyes, staring at Matt in disbelief. "Y- you're… I thought you… they said you disappeared…"
Matt stood and half-turned, facing toward him with a menacing scowl. "You had bad info."
"W- well, look, I don't know what the hell we did to piss you off, but- ngh!"
Matt cut him off by grabbing his collar and thrusting him into the wall, pressing his forearm into the man's throat and tilting his head down. "You've kept silent to the police. There's someone you're trying to protect. But I'm not as forgiving as they are, and I'm not going to let you."
He leaned back a little, loosening his arm against the man's throat just enough to let him breathe.
"I don't know what you- agh, fuck!"
The man's knee splintered as Matt drove his foot into it, face unflinching. "You and your friend robbed a pawn shop a few weeks ago."
"Fuck, you had to break my leg because we stole a couple hundred bucks worth of shit? Not like we hurt anybody. Most of that shit wasn't even worth what it was listed for; if anything we just helped out the general publ- gck!"
Matt's hand gripped his throat to silence him. The man's heart rate spiked from pain, but stayed steady when he spoke, like he was telling the truth… but there was definitely something he wasn't saying.
"A woman was murdered. You were there. If you didn't kill her yourselves, you saw who did. And you're protecting them." He loosened his hand slightly. "I want a name. Think carefully before you answer."
The man trembled helplessly, and took a long time to come up with a response. "N- no… no name…"
At that, Matt pressed his foot into the man's already broken knee, grinding it against the wall behind the two of them with a loud crack. "Try again."
"No- no! Shit, man!" The man threw his head back against the wall, biting into his lip nearly hard enough to draw blood. "I can't! I can't!"
Matt's lowered his foot to the ground, interest piqued. He leaned in, loosening up a little. "I promise, whatever they are threatening to do to you, I can do it worse."
"No, you fucking- god- no threats… no threats…" The man let out a strained laugh, wincing from the splitting pain in his knee."Can't talk… can't… not… not about… that…"
"I can't, Foggy. Not now."
"Now's the only time I would ever ask you." Foggy leaned forward on the couch, resting his forearms on his legs with a tired sigh. "Jesus, you have to know I wouldn't be asking you this if it wasn't my absolute last resort."
"I don't understand why you would ask me this at all. I've been trying to move past that part of my life, and you were the first person to encourage me to do that in the first place."
Foggy set down his can and stood, turning to fully face Matt from in front of the couch. "And I still think you should- as a rule- but… it's really important this time, and-"
Matt scoffed, speaking harshly and walking slowly forward. "It's always been important, Foggy, and I know you've never understood that, and I don't see how in spite of that you think you suddenly have the discretion to make judgments about-"
"-Matt, it's Karen."
Foggy's brief interjection silenced Matt, and the two of them stood across from each other for a minute as he took it in.
"I don't- what happened to her?" Matt shook his head, disturbed.
"I'm not sure. Not exactly. But… I don't know, I think it's bad." Foggy groaned and pressed two fingers to his temple, realizing quickly that it would be hard to explain himself. "I got a call from her, and it really didn't sit well with me. I… looked into it."
"A call? What kind of call?"
"Oh, nothing too big. Just 'oh, hey, Foggy, how's work, by the way turns out that story I was investigating had nothing to it and also I'm quitting my job at the Bulletin for unrelated reasons and also don't worry about me or ask any questions because this is totally normal'."
"What? Quitting her job?" Matt leaned back against the counter again, confused. "I don't understand; is she in danger?"
"I honestly can't say for certain."
"Then why do you-?"
"-She reached out to me for a story she was putting together. Have you paid any attention to tabloid news? The guy called Kilgrave who was mind-controlling people on the side of the road?"
Matt pursed his lips. "That story was discredited by the NYPD."
"Yeah, well, Karen didn't buy it. She approached me for help with the story, and I turned her away. So she went to see Brett at the precinct."
"How do you know all this?" Matt tilted his head slightly, speaking quietly as he hung on to Foggy's words.
"I… looked into it."
"You looked into it. Okay."
Foggy rolled his eyes at that. "…I went to Ellison at the Bulletin. Karen's editor. He told me to talk to Brett."
"So you went behind her back-"
"She freaked me out, Matt!" Foggy threw up his hands, incredulous. "For God's sake, I thought something might have happened to her! You're really going to tell me you wouldn't do the exact same thing?"
Matt, stricken, was quiet for a moment before nodding slowly. "Then what happened at the precinct?"
"There were these two guys. They had them in holding for witnessing a murder after robbing a pawn shop. Possibly were responsible for a murder. Brett said he told Karen that they might be connected to the story she was investigating."
"And were they?"
"Who knows? Supposedly it's impossible to tell. Karen was the only one looking into it. And the day after she hears about it is the day she calls me and tells me she's quitting her job at the Bulletin. She told me to forget about the talk we had, when she came to me to ask about the story. And those two guys? The ones that may or may not have murdered a woman? They walked. They were arraigned, they were charged, they couldn't afford to post bail, and then they walked. Now, I'm not a cop, but I don't think that's protocol."
"Well, did Brett explain why?"
"According to him? The guys at the precinct realized the charges were 'faulty'. As far as I know that decision was never run by a judge."
Pacing in front of the counter, Matt nodded, affirming to himself what Foggy was telling him- not something he ever would have expected. "So what you're saying is, you think this 'Kilgrave' guy might have the cops in his pocket."
"Maybe! You telling me it doesn't sound to you like something shady is going on here?"
"I don't know, Foggy." Matt spoke quietly, face dark. "Guys at the fifteenth have broken 'protocol' before on my watch, and it hardly took mind control to get them to do it."
"So what? Does it actually make a difference who's responsible? If Wilson Fisk was behind this, you wouldn't find that just as troubling?" Foggy raised an eyebrow. "Look, Matt, I could be completely wrong, and even then, those guys still got away with murder. Possibly literally! And, I mean, isn't punishing people that the law won't… kind of your thing?"
His words came down hard- there was something bleak, almost fearful in his voice. Matt felt sick to his stomach, his attention starting to creep toward the nighttime commotion just outside the apartment building.
"I know it's crazy, Matt. I know it is." Foggy let his hands fall to his sides. "…But what if it's not?"
"Kilgrave," spat Matt, releasing the man and taking a step further into the alley. "Does that name mean anything to you?"
"Wh- what?" The shorter man pressed his back against the building behind him, spluttering as he tried to recover from being choked. "No…!"
The man's heart rate spiked, letting on the truth completely by accident. A gloved fist flew across his face, sending him stumbling back against the wall.
"Don't try to waste my time." Matt massaged his fist with his other hand, now pacing in the alley.
"Wh- what do you want me to say?" Bruised, the man staggered to his feet, still supporting his back with the wall. "I can't. I can't… I swear on my life, I just… can't…"
The man's heart was pounding out of his chest, and he winced like a cornered animal.
Matt clenched his fists. There had to be something more than that. "Then what can you tell me?"
"I don't… I don't know…"
"Figure it out."
The two of them stood in silence for a moment, and the man against the wall tried to straighten himself out, collecting his breathing.
Matt thought for a moment, then took a step closer, scowling. "You had a court date set. Start with that. Why aren't you in a jail cell right now?"
The man groaned weakly. "They let me out, man… I dunno…"
"Did you pay someone off?"
"Kilgrave got them to let you out?"
"God damn it!"
"Close enough to a yes for me." In one swift motion, Matt shot out his arm and grabbed hold of the man's wrist, twisting it unnaturally. "The woman that was murdered. Did you know her?"
The man groaned in pain, opening and closing his mouth but unable to find words.
Matt nodded slowly to himself, contemplative. "But the pawn shop that was robbed. That was you?"
Surprised to have the opening to confess, the man's eyes shot open and he nodded his head furiously. "Yes! Yes! But we didn't want anyone to get hurt…!"
"It doesn't matter. Someone did. He's the one I'm looking for. You want to protect him? Fine. Stay quiet. See where that gets you." Matt clutched the man's arm firmly, arm steady. "But if you really don't want anyone to get hurt, you'll tell me what you can. And quickly."
Head grinding against the wall behind him, the man's face drooped with discomfort. "Just… want to get out of this shitshow…"
"You're not the only one." Matt's hand flicked to the side, and the man's wrist popped loudly. "Think fast and you just might."
"I don't… I can't… there's nothing…" Heart still pounding, the man pressed his free hand to his wrist, too weak to pry Matt off of him. "Agh, fuck, wait! Devon! Devon Campbell!"
Immediately, Matt released the man's wrist, taking a step back. "Who?"
"There's… there's this complex down the block from the pawn shop. Full of these rich assholes with overpriced apartments." Frantic, the man looked down at his unconscious partner. "It's a name we… heard. It will tell you more than I can… where you'll find… what you're looking for."
"Campbell… he was working for Kilgrave, too?" Matt asked cautiously.
"God…" The man shook his head weakly. "You don't have a fucking clue…"
Grimacing, Matt started off across the room, heading for the armoire near the entrance to his bedroom. Foggy followed closely behind, distraught.
"Matt, I just… I didn't know what else to do. I…"
"You felt helpless, right? I get it, Foggy."
Matt raised his head slightly, only half his face visible to Foggy in the dim light.
"We both know this city is dangerous," Foggy said bluntly, equally grim. "And the shit we've gotten involved with- both of us- it's not making that any easier. But you go after it, headfirst. Putting your life in danger. Constantly. And it's stupid, and it's reckless, and it's selfish, and…"
"You don't get to have it both ways, Foggy," Matt scolded, opening the armoire. "You came here to ask for help. I don't care if you think this is the one time it's okay. It doesn't matter if you don't approve. I'm not having this discussion with you again."
"Wait. Let me finish." Foggy clenched his fists, clearly exhausted. "For as goddamn stupid as it is… you can protect yourself. You stay prepared. Even when you throw yourself at danger, at least you have the sense to wear that body armor." Foggy's fists opened up, and he sighed. "But Karen is like you. She's the kind of person that would give her life just because she thinks it would have the slightest chance of saving someone else's. And as much as I want to tell you you can never justify going out in that mask again… god damn it, the fact is, Karen- or anyone else as stupid as you- they don't have body armor."
Kneeling in order to reach into the bottom of the armoire, Matt pulled out a box of his father's boxing memorabilia. The mask rattled around at the bottom.
Matt let out a quiet sigh, setting the box down in front of him. "Well, we both know I can't promise you I'm not going to get hurt."
"Yeah. I know."
"But if someone has to." Matt took a long, deep breath. "…Then maybe it was a mistake for me not to do this sooner."
Foggy looked over Matt's shoulder as he dug out an old pair of boxing gloves, a hesitant frown plastered across his face. "Then… what happens next?"
Chapter 7: Kilgrave and the Devil
An elevator rattled to a stop at the top floor of a ritzy apartment building, and out of it stepped Daredevil, full costumed.
Head raised slightly, he meandered to the end of the hallway, stopping in front of a set of two doors on either end. In the penthouse on his right, a man and a woman spoke quietly to each other about something trivial, both relaxed. In the penthouse on his left, nothing. Dead silence.
Matt pressed a hand against the ornately designed door of the silent penthouse. This was where the trail ended. It would be easy to break in, but doing so discreetly would be another matter.
Behind him, footsteps grew gradually louder, approaching the door on the other side of the hall. He turned slightly, already prepared for the encounter. The moment after it opened, a set of keys clattered to the floor, the penthouse's male resident frozen above them in shock.
"Don't worry," Matt said quietly, voice gritty. "I'm not going to hurt you."
The man raised his shaking hands to his mouth, staring in disbelief. "Wh- who…?"
"I'm looking for someone else." He hesitated for a moment, turning the rest of the way around to face the man. "Who are you?"
"Jordan! Jordan Hunt!" the man shouted suddenly, throwing up his hands and taking a step backward. "I'm just a regular guy; I swear, you won't get any trouble from me! My wife lives here- please, if you want something, just take it; we won't give you any-"
Matt raised a hand to silence him. "Like I said, I'm not going to hurt you."
"Honey? Are you alright? What's going on- aiiee!" At Jordan's outburst, his wife hurried to the door, letting out a shriek at the sight of Matt in his costume.
Jordan held out an arm protectively in front of her, facing Matt down with some façade of courage despite his obvious fear.
Matt sighed quietly, gesturing to the door behind him. "Devon Campbell lives here?"
Jordan shook his head slightly, clearly trembling. "H- he used to. A while ago. He moved out; we have new neighbors now…"
Matt nodded once at that. "Who?"
"Zebediah. And his girlfriend, Jessica. I don't- I don't know their last names offhand, I'm sorry…"
"How long have they been living here?"
Jordan exchanged a glance with the woman behind him, and she shrugged uncertainly at him.
"I'm not sure… a few months, at least," Jordan mumbled. "They showed up unexpectedly; apparently they had bought the property from Devon without us knowing…"
"I don't think your neighbors are who they say they are, Jordan." Matt paused for a moment, choosing his words carefully. "There's been a string of killings. I think Devon was one of the victims. And I think that man, Zebediah, is behind them."
"I don't- I don't think-"
"They seem like a perfectly normal couple to me," Jordan's wife replied quietly, hand against Jordan's shoulder. "We've had dinner with them a few times… they have never seemed like they had anything to hide."
"Some people are just good at hiding."
She went silent, and Jordan looked back at her again, panicked.
"The longer he walks free, the more people get hurt. You can help me stop it," said Matt, taking a step down the hallway toward the elevator. "They aren't home. Do you know where they are?"
Jordan held fast, standing firmly in front of his wife. "…Why in God's name would we trust you?" He gritted his teeth, watching Matt carefully.
Matt steeled himself, gesturing behind Jordan. "Because your wife has already dialed 911 on her cell phone and has her finger hovering over the call button, and I haven't stopped her."
Startled, the woman let out a quiet squeal and took a step backward. Jordan stared at her with his mouth half-open, then turned back to Matt. "If we get a single reason to think we're wrong about you… I will call the police in an instant."
"And you should." Matt gestured to the door with his hand. "You should keep your door locked. If you think you might be in danger, call the police. The person we are dealing with… he's dangerous."
"What are you going to do to him?"
"I'm going to get him somewhere he can't hurt anybody. Find out who he is involved with."
"Are you going to… kill him…?"
"I don't do that."
Jordan grimaced, tapping his fingers together uncertainly. Matt turned to return to the elevator, nodding.
"He took his girlfriend to dinner. The brand-new Italian place on 23rd Street. They've been out for an hour or so."
"Thank you." Now armed with a destination, Matt stopped himself just short of the elevator to utter one more warning. "If anyone ends up coming back here tonight… don't come to the door."
It was easy enough to track down a man going the name 'Zebediah', as conspicuous as it was. The hostess at the restaurant addressed both him and his girlfriend Jessica by name as they left.
Matt followed their footsteps closely, tailing them from the rooftops. Even though it was past sundown, it was still early in the evening, and the foot traffic was heavy. It took nearly ten minutes before they made their way onto a side road where there were few enough people for him to find an opening not to be spotted.
Kilgrave and his girlfriend moved arm-in-arm down the sidewalk as Matt descended the building into an alley, emerging just behind the two of them.
Matt tilted his head, taking in his mental image of his surroundings. Clutching a baton in one hand, he registered the arc of the weapon in his head, finding the perfect moment to throw it, and then…
The baton ricocheted perfectly off of Kilgrave's chin, and he reeled back, propping himself against the side of the building in shock. His girlfriend took a step away, disoriented- and heart pounding. Matt caught the baton in his left hand as it bounced off of the nearest building and tucked it away.
Two drops of blood from Kilgrave's spattered on the sidewalk.
The nearest streetlight buzzed over 10 feet away. Cover of darkness. Matt sucked in his breath.
Like a blur, he came out of the shadows, driving his foot straight into the side of Kilgrave's leg- instantly bringing him to his knees against the wall. A right hook floored him afterward, and Matt could hear his nose snap at the bridge like a splintering piece of wood.
Kilgrave whimpered, like a child. Unbelievable.
Another punch beat him against the sidewalk, spattering blood against the wall to their side. Matt didn't let up, his instincts kicking in as he focused intently on his target. Even as pathetic as this man seemed, Matt wasn't stupid, and he knew that if he let up for a moment-
It wasn't Kilgrave- he was much too battered to speak- but Jessica, whom Matt had barely even paid any mind to since he moved in to attack. She was probably just a civilian, and he'd assumed she would just run.
Which was why he didn't even notice her reaching out to grab him from behind until her fist was already ramming into his face, sending Matt flying a dozen feet back and skidding harshly into the concrete.
Head spinning, Matt sat up and ran his fingers over his mask where he'd been punched. The plating had split down the middle on the outside.
Unbelievable. There was no way a woman of that size, with that little muscle, could possibly have hit hard enough to hurt his armor that much. Mike Tyson couldn't have done that.
And yet, here he was, on the ground. He certainly hadn't counted on that.
Jessica helped Kilgrave up as he grumbled to himself, touching his newly sensitive fractured nose and cursing under his breath. As soon as he got to his feet, he shook the woman off of his arm and pointed a finger harshly in Matt's direction. "Christ, kill him, Jessica."
And just like that, she set off toward him. And she was fast, too. Matt barely had time to kip up onto his feet before she reached him and threw another punch, which he only narrowly ducked under.
He landed two punches on her stomach to take the wind out of her, but Jessica did little more than grunt and step back. It was like hitting a sandbag; she barely even gave way to the blows.
…At least he didn't have to worry about hurting a civilian.
The hem of her dress rustled in the air as she moved her leg up, thrusting forward into an inelegant kick, which Matt easily sidestepped.
Sloppy… and completely telegraphed. Matt ducked her next hook and threw a punch at her shoulder to throw her off balance, ducking around to her side to drive his knee into her stomach.
She stumbled back with a quiet groan, not letting up. As soon as Matt approached, she threw another kick- and capitalizing on the opportunity, he dropped down and swept her leg, dropping her to the sidewalk. He grabbed the collar of her dress and landed a few punches with his free hand, finally stunning her at least enough to give him a comfortable opening- and then he hesitated.
Kilgrave had already collected himself and taken a few steps toward the two of them, but he hadn't said anything yet. But wasn't he supposed to be-?
A kick to the chest yanked Matt back to reality as he soared off of Jessica, slamming hard into the side of the nearby building and sliding down onto his feet. The body armor soaked up some of it, but still, the pain was tremendous- a broken rib or two, minimum. Matt lolled his head back against the wall just to take a moment to catch his breath, and in the interim Jessica struggled to her feet and closed the distance between them again.
Matt barely brushed out of the way of another punch, and the brick and mortar cracked behind his head as her fist collided with the wall. No doubt it would have broken through his already damaged face plate- a second slower, and the inside of his head would have been painted on the wall.
Gritting his teeth, Matt took a few steps away and reached a hand to his belt, pulling out his baton and swinging it into Jessica's head from behind. It reeled her back at least enough to buy a few seconds, but just barely.
Matt sighed audibly. He had been trying to play it safe to avoid giving her any lasting damage, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and it was starting to seem like his punches may not cut it.
Jessica thrust her elbow toward him, and Matt rolled with the attack, grabbing her arm and spinning behind her to beat her over the head with the baton again.
"Dammit- shit!" Jessica grunted as she fell to her knees, swinging an arm behind her.
Gripping the baton with both hands, Matt whacked her again, and she finally gave out, falling face-first into the sidewalk. She growled to herself, digging her hands into the ground and turning over to face him. Matt couldn't help but be impressed just by her sheer resilience.
But he still had a job to do. Lifting his baton over his head, he swung his arm down-
"Alright, stop! Stop, stop, stop. Both of you."
-and froze halfway through the strike, his baton now hovering in front of Jessica's face.
"Get up, get up. C'mon now," Kilgrave said curtly, resting one hand against his bruised face as he approached.
Matt tucked his baton back into his belt and stood, grunting with pain and leaving Jessica beaten on the ground.
"I can't even- tsch." Kilgrave laughed out loud as he looked Matt over, shaking his head. "Take off your mask."
Of course, Matt would never do such a thing in a million years, which is exactly what was running through his head as he reached behind his head and undid the straps to drop his helmet into his hands.
With a snicker, Kilgrave rapped his fingers on his sleeve, studying Matt's face. "You're, what, the… er, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, yeah? What in God's name could I have possibly done to get you after me?"
Stone-faced, Matt stayed frozen in place, dull eyes drifting off in no particular direction. "You went after Karen Page."
"Karen Page?" Kilgrave scoffed. "You've got to be kidding. That little blonde tart of a reporter? That's why you had to nearly give me a concussion? Christ, I barely even did anything to her!"
"I thought she was in danger," said Matt coldly.
Kilgrave sniggered, stricken with disbelief. "…What's your name?"
"Matthew Murdock," replied Matt automatically, filled with a sudden panic but unable to turn and run.
"Matthew Murdock? I dunno, sounds familiar." Kilgrave thought on it for a few moments, then shrugged. "Tell me something, Matthew. How in the world did you learn to do that?"
"I was trained by a blind master named Stick when I was a child. And I've had a lot of practice since then."
Stunned by his own words, Matt shuffled around where he stood, willing himself with every muscle in his body to attack, or run, or something, but…
"Un-bloody-believable. Truly. I never in a million years would have expected some whack job like you to be able to one-up Jessica of all people. You know she's a superhero?"
He gestured to Jessica, who was still lying on the ground and groaning to herself.
"I figured something like that," Matt replied quietly.
"Well, I'll tell you what." Kilgrave crossed his arms and paced around in a small circle, speaking slowly as he thought to himself. "Someone like you… may just be nice to keep around."
"You're crazy if you think you-"
Matt shut his mouth, scowling.
"Jessica, get up. Are you alright?" asked Kilgrave, watching over his girlfriend with something resembling concern.
She sat up and groaned before getting all the way to her feet. "I'll be fine."
"Well, that makes one of us."
He rubbed his nose again, wincing slightly. Gaze shifting back and forth between Matt and Jessica, he nodded to himself, leaning back against the building. "I need a bit of time to think this through. I'll tell you what: the two of you go back to the apartment and stay there. Wait for me to come back, and don't contact anybody else. I need to get myself mended up. When I get back… I think I'll know what to do with Mr. Murdock."
Jessica frowned at him and turned her attention to the costumed man, still holding his fractured mask in his hands. His gaze was unfocused and imprecise, which made her raise an eyebrow.
Kilgrave took a step away from her, jabbing a finger in their direction. "Well? What are you waiting for? Get going, both of you. I'll be back later."
At that, Kilgrave took off down the road in the direction he came, moving with a slight limp on the leg Matt had driven his foot into.
Matt set off the opposite way, immediately wincing and stumbling forward from pain. Maybe it was more than just a rib or two that was broken.
Jessica put her arm around him, her expression dreary. "Are you alright?"
Matt clutched his mask tightly, visibly disoriented by what just happened to him. "I… I don't… this wasn't supposed to happen…"
"Yeah. I know." She helped him walk slowly down the road, setting her eyes forward. "…Trust me. I know."
Chapter 8: AKA Last Woman That Told Me That
"So… I guess, sorry about trying to kill you, and all."
Jessica released the man at her side to fish out her key to the penthouse.
Matt let out a wry laugh and pressed his back against the wall next to the door, wincing in pain and clutching his mask to his chest with both hands. His armored suit ended at his neck, leaving his slightly bruised face totally exposed.
"It's alright," he groaned. "It's… it's not my first time."
"Yeah. Mine either." Jessica swung the door open and glanced over her shoulder, watching the door to Jordan's apartment with caution. "So, I don't want to alarm you or anything, but your face… er, your eyes… are kind of… off… I mean, I did punch you in the face, so I may have-"
"Don't worry. The mask has armored plating layered in the front; it soaked the damage. I'm just… well, blind."
He hesitated after saying that, then shook his head, resigned. It was a little late for keeping secrets, after all.
"…What?" She hung in the door for a moment, examining his off-kilter gaze with disbelief. "Blind? Did I hear that right?"
Stumbling forward in an attempt to walk on his own, Matt pushed past her to enter the apartment. He hurried to the counter of the penthouse's kitchenette to steady himself, dropping his mask on top of it. "Yeah. It's a long story."
"I've got nothing but time," scoffed Jessica.
She shut the door behind herself and locked it, following Matt into the kitchenette with her hands at her hips.
"My other senses are stronger than normal. I can hear things, and smell things, and taste things in the air, and… I can tell where things are. I just can't see them." He waved his hand in front of him, gesturing to the open space in the apartment. "I was in an accident as a kid."
Jessica opened her mouth to speak, but stopped herself.
"I know how it sounds," Matt added with pained laugh, pressing one hand to his ribcage.
"I don't think you do. You're telling me I got outmaneuvered in a fight by a blind man?"
"It wasn't really fair. I have training. I've been doing this for-"
"That's not my point. How good must those goddamn senses of yours be for that to work?"
He thought for a moment. "Uh, better than yours."
"Better how? You get why this is ridiculous, right? What, you can tell what I look like from how I smell?"
"Well, no, actually, that's what I can't tell. What I can tell that your dress is expensive cotton. And that you shower with grapefruit-scented shampoo. And that the bottle of wine on the top shelf of the cabinet behind me is aged at least ten years." His nostrils flared briefly, and he tilted his head up. "I think Burgundy. I don't really drink much wine, though I have been to plenty of ritzy parties."
She blinked. "…Okay, so, this is the weirdest thing I have ever heard."
"You're an unarmed hundred-and-twenty pound woman that nearly killed me with two blows. You really want to talk to me about weird?"
"…Fair enough," Jessica replied with a shrug. "…I was in an accident as a kid, too."
Matt tilted his head with slight surprise- Jessica's loud breaths shortened at the very mention of it.
"Hard memory?" he asked quietly.
She narrowed her eyes at him with some irritation. "I've had easier."
Matt frowned sympathetically, which quickly turned to a pained grimace as he pressed two fingers into his chest to feel out his injury.
Wincing just from watching him, Jessica took a step toward the counter, looking him up and down. "Are you sure you're alright? You seem pretty hurt."
"I'll be okay. I've dealt with worse."
"You can barely walk."
"Last woman that told me that pulled me out of a dumpster."
She stared at him as he limped out of the kitchenette, struggling to summon enough sarcasm to comment on that.
"I just need to lie down," Matt groaned, stumbling into the main living space and focusing to make out the contents of the other rooms in the apartment. "Can I use your bed?"
"Seriously? No, I was going to make you lie down on the carpet." She followed him into the living room with crossed arms, shaking her head. "Do what you have to do, man."
Moving forward with harsh breaths, Matt threw open the door to the bedroom and pressed one hand into the mattress, hesitating for a moment before taking a seat and taking his gloves off. With another loud groan, he reached behind him and began to undo the straps holding on his chest piece. The bulky suit fell to the floor piece-by-piece as Matt removed it above his belt.
"Tsch, buy me a drink first," quipped Jessica, stepping inside and briefly covering her eyes with one hand.
"Alright, save it." Matt pressed a hand to his bare chest, feeling around his fractured ribs with a sickly expression. "Do you have gauze?"
"Uh, I don't-"
"Never mind. You have bandages in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Get those. Ngh." He winced, removing his hand from his chest and setting it on his knee. "A bag of ice, too."
He spoke with complete confidence, and Jessica had to double take just to make sure he was serious before heading to the bathroom to retrieve the bandages.
Returning to the bedroom with Matt's supplies, she dropped them in his lap and pulled a chair to the foot of the bed to sit across from him. He winced as he pressed the ice pack to his chest, wrapping the bandages around it to hold it in place against the bruised area.
"Agh, thanks," he mumbled, focused.
"Yeah… no problem…" Jessica replied slowly, eyebrow raised. "I, uh, guess you don't need any help…?"
Matt chuckled at that. "No, I think I can do this myself, thanks."
She leaned back in her chair and watched him, blown away by the ease with which he felt out his own wounds.
"So…" Matt added after a few minutes, fixing the bandages in place and setting his hands on his knees. "…I… uh, I can't help but notice there's only one bedroom in the apartment."
She scoffed incredulously. "Yeah, not exactly my first goddamn choice!"
He nodded twice, suspicions confirmed, as bleak as they were. "I'm so sorry that-"
"-Nope. Don't. Just don't."
She closed her eyes and let out a long sigh, letting her black hair fall over the sides of her face. He nearly continued, but stopped himself, trying to be sensitive.
After a pause, he simply placed both hands in his hair, lying face-up on the bed. "I… showed him my face. I had no idea he would be this powerful."
"No one ever does."
"So how do we beat him?"
"Shit, you just had to…" Jessica stared at the floor, already exhausted by the conversation. "…We don't."
He lifted his head from the bed with a sigh. "Jessica-"
"I'm sorry, but that's not how this shit works. You don't beat him. You just don't. What you do is not fight him in the first place." She poked one of the pieces of Matt's armor with her foot. "But I guess it's a little late for you to be hearing that."
"Yeah, well, refusing to even try doesn't accomplish anything." He slumped his head back down onto the mattress, exasperated. "Look, I'll figure it out even if I have to do it myself, but-"
"Oh, don't give me that sanctimonious bullshit!" Matt jumped as Jessica slid forward in her seat, shooting him a sudden, poisonous glare. "You have any idea how hard I tried to fight back against him? You haven't seen one goddamn percent of what he is capable of. He made you show him your face, big fucking deal. The things he has made me do…" She trailed off at the end and quieted down a little, sliding back in her seat. "He ruined my life. He dug into my brain with both hands and scrambled it until I couldn't tell which way was up. He targeted everyone I cared about. I had my chance to fight him, and every single thing I tried only made it worse. A hundred times worse. And it ended, and I lost, and he got away with it. And now all I can do is wait for him to die, so I can finally kill myself."
Matt's mouth hung open slightly, and he froze, completely at a loss for words.
Worked up, Jessica leaned her head back over the back of the chair, her hair falling back behind her. It had been months since she had spoken to even a single person without Kilgrave next to her. Her head felt thick, foggy…
"Main Street. Birch Street…"
Matt tilted his head toward her, instantly picking up on her murmuring under her breath. "…Jessica?"
"It's Matt, right?" she replied immediately. After a moment without a response, she continued. "Look, Matt, you obviously have people you care about. So here's some advice. If they ever contact you again, if you ever have the chance to talk to them again, don't take it. That's how you can protect them. That's what you can still do."
Hands pressed into the ends of the mattress, Matt pulled himself up, wincing as the ice pack shifted against his chest. "I'm sorry about what happened to you. But I can't do that. If he walks free, more innocent people are just going to end up getting hurt."
"Yeah? Is that it? You're worried about innocent people?"
"Of course I am."
"Well, guess what? He's going to make you kill them. Innocent people. A lot of them. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. You're gonna have to make peace with that." Jessica looked at her hands as she spoke. "Why did you say you went after Kilgrave? Karen Page? Look, I'm sorry he got to her. Really, I am. But you should have just let him have her."
Expression blank, Matt scratched his face, thinking on it. The two of them sat in silence for some time.
When he eventually spoke, it was practically to the floor. "…Are you religious, Jessica?"
He shrugged. "It may not be soon. Maybe not even in this life. But… you have to believe that sometime, somewhere, at the end of this, he's going to get what's coming to him."
She nodded slowly, barely reacting. "…That supposed to make me feel better?"
Matt hesitated again. "Maybe just me."
Jessica rolled her eyes at him, and he slumped his shoulders down, unable to come up with anything better.
After a moment, his head shot up with surprise, and he nearly stood from the bed as he tilted his head toward the entrance of the bedroom.
"What is it?" Jessica asked, immediately reminded of how puzzled she was by him.
He raised a hand in front of him. "Footsteps. Five men, heavily armed. Coming straight for this apartment. That can't be Kilgrave, can it?"
"I don't see why it would be…"
"Then who…?" Matt stopped short, his head shooting up suddenly in realization. "…Jordan!"
"Jordan? The neighbor? How do you know-?"
Something heavy pounded against the front door. Matt clutched his bandaged chest with a grimace, and Jessica stood to cover him.
She straightened out her dress, one eyebrow raised. "The hell is-?"
The front door burst open with the force of a thunderclap, and all five of the armed men swarmed into the entrance with weapons raised, quickly spreading into the rest of the apartment.
The barrel of an assault rifle poked through the bedroom door, quickly followed by a police officer with clenched teeth.
A bit confused, he adjusted the gun in his arms, pointing it squarely at Jessica's chest. "Police! On your knees!"
Matt placed a hand on Jessica's forearm to stand, and she clenched her fist at the officer, Kilgrave swirling around in her brain.
"I'm not going to say it again!" shouted the officer. "Get on your knees!"
Jessica shut her eyes and opened them, suddenly a little disoriented. Behind her, Matt stood.
"Don't make any sudden-"
Without another thought, she rushed forward toward the door. On instinct, the officer pulled the trigger, and gunfire rang out in through the bedroom door.
Matt winced, the sound of Jessica hitting the floor ringing in his ears.
Chapter 9: Blood On Your Hands
A man's voice, loud and piercing, rang in Matt's ears as he turned over on his cot, half-conscious. His bare hand traced the floor underneath him- cold tile, sterile.
"Mr. Murdock, we need to-"
With a start, Matt snapped awake, and his whole upper body flung upward, his nostrils flaring wildly. He pressed a hand to his chest, covered by a white t-shirt in front of a layer of bandages. His face was uncovered- but he still wore the red armored leggings from the costume.
He shot his head to the side, registering the man standing a few feet in front of him- no, not in front of him… in front of a wall of bars. A cell door. Past him, men and women wandered around absentmindedly through a set of hallways and a lobby. Someone behind a desk answered a corded telephone.
It was the fifteenth precinct, a building he had been in plenty of times before. Just never a police holding cell.
Matt's mind raced, and he stood from the cot, grunting from the still-splitting pain in his ribs. He shot his head in the direction of the uniformed man behind the cell door with a panicked expression.
"What- what happened? How did this…?"
"I intend to ask the questions tonight, Mr. Murdock. We are well aware of who you are. You and your partner Mr. Nelson have brought a fair amount of attention to our precinct." The officer tapped on a notepad with a pen, eyebrows furrowed. "We received an anonymous tip about a hostage situation and found you at the scene. Found that uniform. Goddamn Daredevil. Do you have any idea how long we have been-"
"No!" Matt threw up a hand defensively, licking his lips with apprehension. "No, no, it's not- it's not what it-"
"It's not what it looks like? Then what the hell is it? Let me tell you something, Murdock. I was gonna call this in with D.A. Tower the goddamn second they found you at the scene, but our detective sergeant stood up for you."
"That's right. He said we should hear your side of the story before we made any calls. He's the only reason you're being given this much damn leniency. You better pray you can make the most of it." Pressing the tip of the pen to his paper, he looked partially up at Matt through the bars. "So let's start with this. Are you Daredevil?"
Matt scratched his chin uncertainly, his heart pounding in his chest. "I… I don't know if I can…"
The officer watched as he trailed off. "Aren't you supposed to be blind?"
"I am, I just…" Slumping back down against the cot, Matt ran a bare hand through his hair, resigned. "…I… I… want a lawyer…"
"Yeah, yeah. Figured." With narrowed eyes, looked Matt up and down again. "Fine. I'll tell you what. I call you a lawyer, you cooperate with our investigation, and I will wait to call the D.A."
Matt nodded shakily, trembling. "Yes… yes…"
"You got a name? Or do you want a PD?"
"No PD." Matt spoke fiercely, his teeth clenched. "Nelson. Franklin Nelson. He will represent me."
"You want me to ask him if-?"
"He'll represent me. Just call him."
The officer paused for a moment, then nodded slowly and tucked his notepad away. "Yeah… alright. Nelson. I'll call him."
The two of them faced off for a few moments before the officer reached into his coat to retrieve his cell phone- but as soon as he did, Matt shouted again with surprise. One other pair of footsteps drew his attention from the other end of the hallway.
The officer hesitated for a moment, hand wrapped around his phone in his pocket. "What-?"
"Not you. It's not- it's him again. It's him…"
The footsteps pounded against the tiled floor with each step, and Matt's head shot in their direction. His nostrils flared: a wool suit, over-applied cologne, a very slight limp, and a rapid heartbeat. It was Kilgrave, and he was not happy. The officer barely had a moment to shoot Matt a look of confusion before he was interrupted by the shout of a British man, who marched directly up to him without a moment's hesitation.
"You there!" Kilgrave spat, putting himself face-to-face with the officer.
Releasing the phone in his pocket, the officer scoffed in Kilgrave's face, turning. "Who the hell are-?"
"Quiet." Kilgrave silenced him with a word, pointing toward the officer's pocket on the opposite side. "Give me his cell key. Quickly!"
Without another word, the officer placed a small key in Kilgrave's hand, which he tucked into his jacket. Kilgrave nodded slightly and gestured behind him, down the hallway. "Go to the lobby."
Matt braced himself as Kilgrave replaced the officer's position, just a few feet from the bars. In his free hand was the red Daredevil mask, hanging lazily at his side.
"Eight bullet wounds, Matthew. She's getting intensive surgery now. The only reason she'll even live is because she heals faster than you or I do." Kilgrave raised a hand and opened it, and the mask fell to the floor at his feet. It was already splitting down the middle from the earlier blow it had taken, and it broke in half the moment it clattered to the floor. "You know, it's the funniest thing. I spoke to the neighbors, and they told me they called the police because they were threatened by a masked man."
Matt scrambled from his seat, hurrying to the bars of the cell and gripping one with one hand. "I told them to do it. It's my fault. Please." He winced again from the pain in his chest, hand clenched against the bar.
"Oh, I know it's your fault! Don't worry! No ambiguity there!" Kilgrave pinched the bridge of his nose- currently bandaged with medical tape- in frustration. "You have been making my life very difficult. You nearly got Jessica killed. You have been trying to expose me. And you broke my nose…"
Hesitant to say anything too rash, Matt stepped away from the bars, head tilted toward the floor.
Watching him cautiously, Kilgrave continued- as soon as it became clear he wouldn't get any response. "They were out there saying you attacked a police officer."
"I- I didn't have a choice," Matt snapped, turning suddenly with frustration. "He was trying to remove me from the apartment. I- you told us not to leave. I didn't have a choice…" Matt touched the bruise on his face, where the police officer in question had beaten him with the butt of a rifle. Any other day he could have cleared the whole squad on his own, but with his injuries he simply wasn't fast enough…
Kilgrave allowed himself another few moments to watch Matt as he hovered around in the cell. Eventually, he opened his coat and dug into his pocket, pulling out the key that the officer had handed to him.
"Well, he's not the only one you've implicated into this." Kilgrave inserted the key into Matt's cell door, swinging it open and throwing up his hands as Matt turned toward him. "Come along now. Don't touch me, obviously."
A wave of tension washed over Matt in an instant, and he clenched his bare fists tightly- unable to use them. His legs moved one after the other like a toy soldier, following Kilgrave down the hall and into the larger waiting area- and then he froze in place, hands falling weakly at his sides.
There were well over a dozen heartbeats clustered in the room, all of the people that Matt had heard bustling around in the precinct. As Kilgrave clasped his hands together and made his way to the center of the room, he realized that only a handful of them belonged to cops from the precinct. Every person in the room- many of them not even uniformed- stood in a straight line from wall to wall, shifting slightly in place and breathing shakily. And making special effort not to make too much noise.
Matt immediately panicked, his instinct to attack quelled by some unseen force. He felt his hands shaking at his sides. He couldn't remember the last time he felt so helpless.
"You're blind, right? That's what the boys at the station here told me. Must be more to the story, given the… athletics." Kilgrave snickered with incredulity, lifting a hand to gesture to the row of silent innocents in front of the two of them. "Do you recognize them?"
"Some of them," Matt replied hoarsely. "The officers who came into the apartment. And the officers who were already here when I arrived."
Matt's head twisted as he listened to their pounding heartbeats. Brett stood among the other cops from the fifteenth, his uniform different to connote his rank. He took anxious, quiet breaths, just like all of the other innocent cops under Kilgrave's control.
Shaking, Matt leaned his head toward the floor as he spoke. "Brett… I'm sorry…"
"That's right," Kilgrave said as he gestured away from the cops to the civilians on the other end of the room. "And my neighbors- you remember Jordan, right? Plus the four innocent paramedics that rushed Jessica to the hospital. Have a count yet? That's eighteen people, all told, Matthew."
Matt's head jolted to the side, and he murmured quietly to himself as he counted out the heartbeats to himself. All eighteen people had some kind of weapon on them- knives, and scissors, and scalpels. Kilgrave would have to have armed them himself…
"What are you going to do to them?" Matt choked out, voice dripping with fear that he couldn't hold back.
Kilgrave scoffed at that. "No. Not what I'm going to do. What you have done. Don't try to high-road me; you are the one that recklessly endangered these people. All of them. You went out of your way to hunt me down, and you dragged innocent people into it in the process."
"That's bullshit; I didn't want anybody else to-!"
"Oh, shut up." He clicked his tongue, pacing slightly in front of the crowd. "I've gone to the trouble, now, of protecting you, and I want you to be aware of the costs of that. Everyone here, all eighteen of them, knows who you are now. I'm the one that had to round them all up. I'm the one that's having them shred their records. I'm the one that's having them delete their security footage. I am cleaning up after you, Murdock."
Matt gritted his teeth as Kilgrave spoke, the heartbeats of those in the crowd accelerating the more he rambled on.
Kilgrave waved one hand in front of him. "Weapons ready!"
The room filled with the sound of clacking metal and plastic as eighteen blades were drawn simultaneously, each person in the room pressing one to their own throat.
"Don't do this…" Matt said with a quiet whimper, mouth gaping slightly.
"I don't want to! Trust me, I don't want to." Kilgrave jabbed a finger in Matt's direction, frustrated. "I take no pleasure in this. None at all. You forced my hand. Understand that."
Matt winced at the impossible command.
Kilgrave sighed, shifting toward the crowd again. He nodded once, sucking in his breath. "Do it."
Matt jumped at the sound, of blades cutting into flesh and spilling the contents. In the span of moments, bodies dropped the floor in an enormous clump, soaking every inch of the tile in blood. It trailed across the floor in a wave, like molasses, soaking the bottoms of Kilgrave's polished loafers. Brett's body slammed down nearest to Kilgrave, who pushed him back with one foot, leaving a bloody footprint on the top of his head.
"And just like that, Daredevil's big secret is… well, a secret again." Kilgrave took a step toward Matt, who recoiled from shock. Blood dripped from the bottoms of his shoes as he lifted them off the ground. "This is blood on your hands. I wanted to make that clear first and foremost. This is because of what you've done."
The blood rolled down over Matt's boots, staining the bottoms of them. He tried to speak, but lost the words. Kilgrave approached him without a second thought.
"Tsch. I would have used guns if they weren't so loud. What a mess." Kilgrave straightened his suit, perturbed by Matt's blank expression. "I really don't try to be theatrical like this. But you have to understand; sometimes it's the only way to get someone's attention. Someone like you, anyway."
Matt opened and closed his mouth, barely able to speak. "That's psychotic."
"No, you know what's psychotic? Dressing up like the Devil and running around assaulting people. That is psychotic. What I'm doing is very logical. The unfortunate consequences of some very ill-informed decisions. Your decisions," Kilgrave said pointedly, straightening his suit jacket.
"I didn't want anyone to get hurt."
"Now who's talking bullshit? You broke my sodding nose!" Glowering, Kilgrave touched a finger to his bandaged nose again. "Didn't want anyone to get hurt… Christ's sake…"
"Innocent people." Matt picked up a boot, and the blood rolled off of it into a pool beneath him. "I didn't… want innocent people to get hurt…"
"Oh, for the love of- didn't I already tell you to shut up?"
Matt furrowed his brow confusedly.
"There will be more," Kilgrave continued. "Four more, to be specific. The doctors in the ER tending Jessica right now. Lucky enough to be working nights at Metro General. Twenty-two bodies… I'm going to be up all night covering my tracks after this one." He pressed two fingers to his temple. "I don't want you ever speaking to Jessica again. You understand me? You're bad for her."
Matt grimaced at him. If he weren't so disgusted already, he thought, he would be laughing.
"What? Nothing else to say? Oh, I suppose I told you to shut up." Kilgrave took a few steps forward to put him face-to-face with Matt, feet splashing in the blood on the floor. "Go on. Tell me you understand."
Matt tensed up. "I understand."
"Tell me you won't speak to Jessica again."
"I won't speak to Jessica again."
The two of them stood firmly across from each other, Kilgrave watching him appraisingly. Matt held fast.
"She doesn't love you," he said, unflinching.
Kilgrave shot him a look, then turned away. He scratched his chin, pensive. "I know that. But… she will. Eventually. As long as she lives long enough…" Taking another few steps forward, Kilgrave stood over Brett's lifeless body, poking it with the tip of his bloodied shoe. "I'm done arguing with you, Matthew. Pull yourself together. You have some cleaning-up to do."
Chapter 10: AKA Call Me
Light poured in through the parted curtains of a dusty apartment, shining on a head of scraggly black hair. Clenching her fists around an ocean of blankets, Jessica turned over and pressed her face into the pillows, covering herself again.
Somewhere in the other room, the creaking of floorboards and clattering of something on a counter roused her from her uneasy sleep. Footsteps came down on a hardwood floor, growing louder as they approached the door.
With a start, Jessica sat up straight in her bed and threw some covers off of her, eyes wide. A man approached the bed, and she drove her palms into the mattress as she looked up at him.
Kilgrave, put-together and smiling slightly, took a step away from her as she shot him a wild-eyed glance.
Not Malcolm. Of course not…
"Whoa. Easy, now," Kilgrave said gently, raising a hand.
She narrowed her eyes at him for a moment, then relaxed back into the bed with a sigh, fully awake. "Shit. Sorry. Surprised me."
Sitting up, Jessica winced with pain and touched a hand to her chest, covered only by a lacy bra and a heavy wrapping of white bandages. A stabbing pain shot through her torso in a few places, like pin pricks.
Kilgrave nodded once at her and approached the bed again, taking a seat and placing his hand over hers over the covers. "How are you feeling?"
She groaned slightly and leaned back against the bed frame, pulling her hand out from under his. "Like I got shot in the chest." With a sigh, she looked around the bedroom, pouting slightly. "I don't recognize this place. Where are we?"
"Oh, just a quaint little apartment in the heart of Hell's Kitchen. Courtesy of our friend Matthew Murdock." He grinned, despite Jessica's sudden alarmed frown. "Apparently he keeps the rent paid with an attorney's salary; who'd have thought? Runs around committing felony assault at night and upholding the law during the day. There's some irony for you." Kilgrave looked at the wall curiously. "Never really much considered it, but I suppose we've all got to have a day job, hm?"
She briefly considered pointing out his own lack of a day job, but decided against it with a sigh after a few moments of contemplation. "Sure. I guess," Jessica mumbled.
Her eyes drifted down toward the white sheets, contemplative. Apparently troubled by her expression, he slid toward her on the bed, crossing one leg over the other. He placed a hand on her upper arm, stroking it gently, and her eyes glossed over with distaste.
Jessica's neck craned up to look at him, expression hardened. "So if this is Matt's apartment, what did you do with him?"
"Oh, I just relocated him. Quiet little place on the other side of town. He'll be out of the way; no need to worry about him."
"…You didn't kill him?"
A little off-put by the remark, he exchanged a glance with her and gave a small pout, rapping his fingers along her forearm. "Kill him? No, no, I… I kept him around. I haven't decided what I'm going to do with him yet, but…" He took his hand from her arm and ran it through his hair, uncertain. "I mean, I'd have thought you'd be a little more concerned about yourself, considering the hell you must have been through, going through surgery and all. I suppose you don't remember too well; you've been really on and off…"
She steeled herself, refusing to change the subject. "Why bother keeping him alive? You're going to use him as your muscle, or something?"
"Oh, I don't know." He shrugged halfheartedly. "Yeah, I mean… I thought maybe I'd keep him around as a bodyguard or something. I was just thinking that I don't like having you do that for me. Hell, I should be protecting you, not the other way around…"
Kilgrave clasped his hands together at the thought, examining her up and down. Jessica's blankets lay at her waist, leaving her exposed to him, and she gave him a blank stare, her thoughts murky.
He slid forward on the bed to get closer to her, and her eyes followed him as he closed the distance. Frowning at her expression, he murmured, "Come on, now. Don't be so stern, Jessica. Smile."
Jessica froze for a half-second, and the ends of her lips curved into an old, familiar smile. He smiled back out of satisfaction with her and set his hand on her leg over the covers, turning his head to press his lips to hers. She returned the kiss hungrily, and as he pulled away, she crawled forward on the bed to follow him, allowing the rest of the covers to fall away from her from the waist down. Kilgrave stood and straightened out his jacket, looking down at Jessica as she knelt beneath him on all fours.
"You know, you really gave me a scare, injured like that. I didn't know what I was going to do, if you…"
"Died," said Jessica softly, still looking up at him.
He puffed out his cheeks, reaching a hand down to stroke Jessica's hair. She held still as he did, still perched on the bed.
After a moment, a loud buzz shook the bedside table off to the side of them, and Jessica jumped with surprise at the noise.
A computerized female voice chirped from the tabletop. "Foggy. Foggy. Foggy. Fog-"
With one hand, Kilgrave reached for the table and pressed a button on Matt's cell phone, which was apparently left behind after his eviction. Kilgrave snickered quietly, looking at the phone in his hand for a moment before setting it down again and turning back to Jessica.
"Just the phone. It talks! Since he's- tsch- since he's blind, and all." He shrugged with both hands, smirking. "I love that! Don't judge a book by its cover and all, right?"
Jessica didn't say anything, eyes fixed on the phone as it lay still on the table. 'Foggy' had to be a nickname- affectionate, so probably a friend's name…
Kilgrave appeared in front of her, and she blinked once, distracted. Her smile remained plastered on her face.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking," he said quietly, to no response.
Jessica sank into the mattress, absentminded. Kilgrave leaned over the bed to watch her.
He spoke again. "Are you hungry?"
Her eyes trailed back to him. "No."
"I'd like to do something for you." He bit his bottom lip slightly, evidently a little frustrated. "I just- alright. Tell me, Jessica. If I could get you anything right now- anything in the world- what would it be?"
She closed her eyes, her mouth hanging open a little bit. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she thought about her job, staying up all night digging up dirt on somebody over the internet. She had hated it at the time, but there was something peaceful about having the whole evening to spend in the company of herself- the only time she had when her upstairs neighbors would actually quiet down.
"Coffee." Jessica opened her eyes again. "There was a little coffeehouse down the block from my old apartment."
"Coffee? From that specific shop?" Kilgrave scrunched his face with distaste.
"Yes," Jessica said flatly. "Black."
"I- yeah, fine. Fine!" He shrugged slightly. "Definitely not the first thing I would have asked for if the offer was made to me, but. Coffee, fine. I'll make sure it's perfect for you, then."
Jessica gazed up at him, still smiling.
For a few moments, she thought about how, as teenagers, she and Trish both drank a lot of coffee. Jessica would drink it black to seem more mature. Trish would drink it black because their mother would never allow her to put sugar in it. Something they bonded over, maybe. Maybe not.
Jessica bit her lip, and Kilgrave wandered toward the bedroom door, sliding it open again.
"I'll be back in a little while," he said softly, eyeing her up a final time. "Don't go anywhere, Jessica."
"I won't," she replied.
And the door shut. A few moments later, she heard the front door open and then shut, too.
And Jessica was all alone.
She fell back into the bed, her absentminded smile finally fading into a grimace as the pains in her chest shot up again. The sheets were remarkably smooth and soft, as nice as any Kilgrave would have picked out for himself. Murdock had surprising tastes, Jessica thought…
She stared at a cupboard off the side of the bed, vision partially obscured by the pillow that her head had sunk into. Briefly, she thought about getting out of bed and covering herself, just so she wouldn't need to talk to Kilgrave in her underwear, but it would be a lost cause anyway. And she didn't want to stuff herself into a flowery dress, besides. Waste of time…
Her gaze trailed back down to the bedside table, where the screen gently flashed a notification for a recent voicemail message. Foggy.
Don't go anywhere, Jessica.
But not 'Don't talk to anyone'.
Jessica grabbed the phone with one hand and pulled it toward her. Staring at the notification, her mind wandered to Malcolm again.
Wherever Matt was right now, he was miserable for sure. Miserable… and completely beyond helping.
She tapped on the notification, raising the phone to her ear. A moment later, a man's voice played- clearly distressed.
"God damn it, Matt," said the voice on the message, crackling with phone static. "God damn it, I can't- just. Matt. Pick up your goddamn phone. I can't deal with radio silence." He paused and shuffled around on the other end of the line for a few moments, his voice hoarse. "You missed the wake for the police. Brett's wake. A dozen cops died, Matt. Karen has been screening my calls, and even she bothered to show up for it. I thought at first that you may… know something about it." Another brief pause, and more shuffling. "I don't know what's going on with you. I don't know if I put you in danger. I don't… I just don't know. Maybe you're just being an asshole. I really, really hope that's what you're doing. Last time we spoke, you told me you were going to take care of things. I didn't expect to stop hearing from you afterward. I can't help but think- but worry about what I might have…" He took a long pause, and sighed into the receiver. "Look. I don't know what I'm going to do. Just… please… call me. Please, Matt. Please."
"Foggy. 11:31 AM. No unheard messages."
Jessica lifted the phone from her ear, staring blankly at the now black phone screen. Her face reflected on the screen, frowning dejectedly. She closed her eyes.
Someone else was getting themselves tied up in this, she thought, and for what? Matt was lost. But not Foggy.
She drummed her fingers against the phone, smudging the screen a little.
Not Foggy- at least not yet…
Jessica sucked in her breath and turned the phone back on, tapping on it with her thumb.
Don't go anywhere, Jessica.
Foggy's name and number sat at the top of recent calls. Jessica tapped on it, and the screen faded out.
The phone began to ring as she put it to her ear again, and her stomach went up in knots as each ring sounded. The needling feeling that she was somehow violating a command slowly creeped its way up the back of her neck- even though she knew Kilgrave had never said anything about making calls. Jessica shivered.
After the fifth ring, the same voice from the message appeared on the other end, frantic. "Matt? Oh, thank God."
"Uh." Jessica closed her eyes and sighed, collecting herself. "Sorry, is this… Foggy?"
"Huh?" The man's voice suddenly turned nervous, clearly surprised not to hear Matt on the other end. "I- er, yes! Franklin Nelson. Um. 'Esquire'. Can I ask who this is?"
"Evie. Evie Sheppard. I'm one of… Mr. Murdock's… clients. Sorry, I found his phone, and I thought maybe a friend from his contacts could tell me if there's another number he uses, or something… he's not at his apartment, so…"
"Sorry, um. Miss… Sheppard?" said Foggy uncertainly. "You said you're one of his clients. And you… found his phone…? How did that happen? You weren't meeting at his office?"
"Oh, well. We. Uh, we met for coffee. He couldn't pencil me in at the office, so."
"So you found his phone and went to his apartment? Why would he give you his home address?" Clearly skeptical, Foggy spoke firmly- though he sounded almost nervous. "I'm sorry, what case of yours did Matt take, exactly?"
Jessica hesitated- he was the clearly the inquisitive type. "Okay." Change of plans. "Busted. We're sleeping together."
"Ah! Figures." Obviously relieved, Foggy lightened up significantly, voice crackling through the receiver. "Don't worry. Matt keeps so many secrets, he can hardly be mad at you for spoiling just one."
"You're telling me." Jessica bit her lip. "Uh. I was hoping I could get in touch with him, though. Maybe he has a cell for work or something."
"You can't just go see him at his office?"
"He's not at his office. Or his apartment, like I said. He up and vanished, and didn't tell me a thing about it." Energized- and a little nostalgic- Jessica sat up in bed and leaned against the frame, brushing hair out of her face. "So I got lucky, and I stopped by his office on Friday night, and Katy tells me he went on some business trip out of state without telling anyone. The hell is that about?"
"Katy? Who's Katy?"
"You don't know Katy? She cleans the office. Comes in every other week, I think?"
"Damn! He hired a cleaner? He never wanted to do that when I had to share that office with him!"
Jessica blinked. So… they worked together.
"Yeah. Well, you know." Jessica shrugged absentmindedly as she spoke. "I guess, with his lack of vision and all, he wanted to make sure he had someone around to keep things looking nice…?"
Foggy hesitated. "Yeah. I guess that makes sense."
Jessica sighed quietly. "Point is, he up and goes on a business trip, and he leaves his damn cell phone here. So I'm thinking he has to have a work cell, too, that he would have brought with him. Assuming he ison a business trip…"
"A business trip." Something clattered on the other end as Foggy fidgeted with the phone, taking a long pause. "God. Of course. Out of state. I know where he is."
"Huh?" Jessica widened her eyes. "Uh, I mean, where…?"
"Georgia. Savannah, Georgia. He told me about it. Took a big client there. Luke Cage- that bulletproof guy from Harlem? Matt took his case."
Jessica froze, phone trembling in her hand. Luke… of course, it just had to be Luke…
Unsure of how to respond, Jessica simply held the phone against her ear, waiting tensely.
After a few seconds, Foggy sighed loudly on the other end. "Damn it. Of course that's where he is. Vanishes for weeks at a time, taking trips out of the city, doesn't tell anybody… and he went to Georgia! I was worrying my ass off, here."
Jessica frowned. "Yeah. You're not the only one."
So many people getting involved. Foggy… a friend… was saved, at least.
But Luke…? There was no way he could get involved in this again. She was nowhere near strong enough for that.
"So I take it you don't know the number for his work cell," Jessica added meagerly, realizing after a few seconds that she still hadn't responded to him.
"Damn it, I wish I did," Foggy replied. "Sorry, what did you say your name was again? Evie?"
"Well, Evie, I have to say, I appreciate the call… but with Matt, you may just be out of luck." He paused for a moment. "He vanishes. He lies. He keeps secrets. That's who Matt is. That's what he does. And if you get close to him…" Foggy cut himself off with a wry laugh, clicking his tongue. "Sorry. I guess I'm being a little too personal."
"No. It's fine." Jessica narrowed her eyes. "He's… he's an asshole. I got it. I've gotten into bed with worse. Least now I know what I'm dealing with. Thanks."
"Hm," Foggy mumbled, apparently uncomfortable. "I. Yeah. Sorry. You, uh- uh, have a good one."
Jessica hung up, and her arm swung back over the bed to the table, dropping the phone on top. Her head remained firmly pressed against her pillow.
It just had to be Luke. And there was nothing else she could do.
Jessica's head buzzed with memories. Ruining her bed frame with Luke- well worth it. Malcolm rooting around in her cupboards at 4 in the morning. A restless night in the office, drinking coffee.
Something stuck in Jessica's throat, and she looked at the phone on the table. She shouldn't have done that… he didn't tell her, but she shouldn't have done that…
She didn't want to upset him- or, she didn't want to go against his wishes… or…
Don't go anywhere, Jessica.
The bedroom door slid open with no warning, and Jessica nearly jumped out of bed with surprise, hair falling over her face. With a laugh, Kilgrave walked in, two paper cups in hand. He held out one to Jessica, who cupped her hands over it nervously. He kissed her on the forehead.
"Long line this morning," he said with a bemused smile. "Makes you feel for the poor sods who wait in line for coffee."
Eyes narrow, Jessica took a sip. Too bitter. Not like she remembered. Or maybe it was all just nostalgia.
"How are you?" Kilgrave asked gently.
"I don't know," said Jessica.
"Well, I'm glad I could bring you what you wanted, anyway… I'd like to put a smile on your face."
Jessica looked down at her coffee cup, frowning.
"I wanted to do something- Jessica, I… I've been doing a lot of thinking." Kilgrave set down his coffee cup on the table and sat down on the bed, reaching under the covers to rest his hand on Jessica's bare leg. "You know something? When you abandoned me, that night with Reva… I thought I hated you, really. And we met again, and… oh. Smile, Jessica."
Jessica's lips curled obediently upward, pressed lightly against the edge of her coffee cup.
"I didn't just hate you," he continued. "I wanted you dead… really wanted it, desperately. All that ugliness with Reva, and the bar, and Patsy, and… just all of it. I didn't think we would ever come back from that. And yet through it all, I couldn't escape my utter infatuation with you. It's so very animalistic; I can hardly even describe it. I wanted you, and I couldn't have you, and it drove me up the wall." Kilgrave pressed two fingers to his temple, frustrating himself as he tried to find the words. "I have you now. And all that hatred… all that ugliness between us… just thinking about it now makes me sick. It's all behind us. I have you. The one thing I couldn't have, and yet I have you. It just makes all the ugliness we went through seem so… avoidable. Like… I've always been telling myself there has to be something out of my reach, like I have to have limits. But looking at you now…" He leaned in, eyes crawling slowly up from Jessica's chest to her chin, which he placed a finger underneath. "It's all so… arbitrary, isn't it? My own limitations… it's not really a limit to my power, is it? It's a limit to my ambition. It's been that way all along. It's like I keep things deliberately out of my own reach. It's practically neurotic. It's not right." He stood, wandering to the still-open bedroom door. "With power like mine, limiting myself… it's a waste, isn't it?"
Jessica touched a hand to her chest, still smiling. Kilgrave looked back at her and chuckled.
"Set down that cup and come over here, Jessica," he commanded.
Jessica set the cup on the table, next to the phone. Her bare feet pressed against the cold wood on the floor, and she shivered. Her legs moved almost mechanically.
Now no longer covered by the blankets, the only thing between Jessica and the cold air of the apartment was a loose-fitting layer of bandages and her thin black lingerie. It felt horribly cold, at least to her.
Kilgrave scratched his chin and made his way into the living room of the apartment. Jessica followed closely behind him.
"I feel like we're in this… this lull," said Kilgrave, running both hands through his hair with apparent exasperation. "Like we aren't making any progress. D'you know what I mean?"
She nodded slightly. "I know what you mean…"
"I'm tired of wasting my time, Jessica," he said, almost groaning. "I'm tired of being limited. I'm tired of going around in circles. It's all so arbitrary. It's exhausting." He stared out the window of the apartment, the view of which was blocked by an enormous billboard. "Awful little apartment, isn't it? I'll get our home back. Just a matter of time. But I'm tired of running into these sorts of problems." He looked at Jessica again. "This is what I get for trying to hide! We shouldn't be hiding. We shouldn't have to. I just need a little more… range of influence, that's all…" He pressed one hand to the glass. "Just a little more influence."
Jessica sidled up next to him, arms hanging limply at her sides. She thought about Luke, and that sick needling feeling creeped up the back of her neck again.
All of a sudden, Kilgrave put his hands on her, running them down her sides over her bandages. His fingers stopped just above the edge of her panties, and they trembled on her lower back, giving Jessica goosebumps.
He leaned in to kiss her, and she preempted him, almost forgetting to breathe as she pressed her lips to his.
Kilgrave placed a hand on her shoulder, forcing her away from him after a long few seconds.
He looked her directly in the eyes. "Love me, Jessica."
Her eyelids fluttered. "…I love you."
They looked into each other's eyes, Jessica poring over his face with an adoring smile.
"No…" Kilgrave grimaced, stepping away from her to look out through the window again. "You don't…"
Jessica's smile didn't falter. Her hands trembled at her sides, and she pressed herself up next to him, still shivering. His sleeve brushed against her side.
"You'll come around, Jessica," he said quietly. "We're going to make it work. I'm going to make it work. I'm done going around in circles. And- ugh- and I'm done putting the both of us at risk- constantly hiding, putting ourselves at the mercy of everyone else…"
Kilgrave placed one hand against the glass. "I'm going to make it work. Just a matter of time."
Chapter 11: Purple
Under the glow of eerie florescent lights, a short mustachioed man straightened his belt and held his head up high, like he was pretending to be a cowboy. Behind him followed Luke Cage, clad from head to toe in a bright orange jumpsuit. His face didn't even twitch.
The mustachioed man met another guard at the far end of the hall, passing off Luke to him with a nod before brushing past the inmate and marching back down the hall the opposite way. Luke narrowed his eyes at him but said nothing.
"You again?" said the other guard, leaning back against the wall next to the phone.
Luke nodded slowly. "I have a call to make."
"Yeah. You always do. Every day. Same time. Have they ever picked up?"
"Don't see what business it is of yours."
With eyes narrowed, Luke typed an all-too-familiar number into the keypad on the prison phone.
Nobody picked up.
"You've reached the office of Matthew Murdock. Unfortunately, I'm not available to take your call right now, but if you would like to schedule a meeting or consultation-"
Luke's fingers gently pressed the phone's switch hook, canceling the call.
"No response. Shocking," chuckled the guard.
Luke looked at the floor. "I'll try again tomorrow."
"Of course you will." The guard rolled his eyes as he stood from the wall, grabbing Luke's forearm with one hand to pull him away. "Alright. Enough fooling around. Time to go."
"Wait. I have another call to make today."
"You made your call. You can't monopolize the phone; other inmates need to use it-"
"Do you see any other inmates?"
Luke threw up his hand, gesturing to the otherwise empty room behind him.
The guard rolled his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall, and waved one hand. "Fine. Be quick about it."
The guard leaned his head back against the wall, and Luke raised his hand to the keypad again, phone raised to his ear with anticipation.
This time, though, the phone barely had time to ring before someone picked up.
It was a woman's voice, fraught with concern. "Luke? Is that you?"
"Claire." Luke took a long sigh, closing his eyes as he pressed the phone to his ear. "God, it's good to hear your voice…"
Claire let out a breathy laugh. "Yeah. Same. How are you holding up?"
"I'm okay. Getting by…" The guard shot a look at him, and Luke groaned quietly. "I got your letter; saw that you wanted me to call. I'm sorry that I haven't called much otherwise; I just-"
"No, Luke, please. I don't want to see them gouge you for phone money any more than you do. It's just- I needed to talk to you about something."
"What is it?"
"I. Uh. Yeesh…" Claire tapped a finger against the phone on the other end. "I thought this was something you needed to hear. I got a call from Ellie- uh, an old friend at Metro General. Someone was rushed into the ER in critical condition. Multiple gunshot wounds. White, female, mid-thirties…" Claire sighed quietly into the receiver. "…Apparently, it was the woman that brought you in to Metro General for treatment however many months ago. Jessica Jones."
Luke's hand trembled against the phone. "I- Jessica…?"
"You know. Black hair? Pretty face? Shot you in the head? Funny, I thought you would remember. I barely knew her, and I sure as hell do."
"Trust me, I remember." Luke rubbed two fingers to his temple, eyes closed. "You're sure it was her?"
"Did you say gunshot wounds? What… happened to her?"
"It's not clear. I think it was some kind of police disturbance. From the way it sounded, I doubt anybody else could have healed from the wounds she took, but…"
"But she's tough."
"No kidding. But, it's- it… gets worse." She paused for a moment before continuing. "The paramedics that brought her in- four people. They were all found dead, and… I think it's getting covered up. Same kind of shit they tried to pull back at Metro General when Louisa was murdered."
Luke looked over his shoulder, grimacing at the raised eyebrow of the guard watching him. "Four people? Christmas."
"There's something going on here, Luke. I've seen this kind of shit before. The hospital put out a statement claiming they all died in an ambulance crash, but as far as I can tell, there are no records of a crash like that anywhere in the past month. Doesn't look like they're even down an ambulance."
"What, then? You think their deaths are connected to whatever happened to Jessica?"
"They've got to be, right? She's- what, a private investigator, right? I'm sure she's got enemies."
"Sure. But I don't think murdering paramedics is the kind of thing you would expect from a client angry about a cheating spouse."
"Exactly," Claire said pointedly. "…Luke, I'm worried this has something to do with you."
"What- you think Mariah and Shades have their hands in this?"
"It's not above them to kill innocent people to cover their tracks. If they found out about the relationship you had with her… they could be trying to get under your skin. Drag the life you had before you came to Harlem into the spotlight."
"Maybe. Maybe not." Luke pursed his lips, quiet for a moment as he considered it. "As far as I'm concerned, Mariah has me right where she wants me. Locked up, out of her way, not making headlines. If she and Shades started things up with me again, they'd just be drawing attention to themselves."
"You think Jessica might have gotten herself caught up in something big?"
"I think she already was caught up in something big."
Luke bowed his head with a solemn frown.
On the other line, Claire groaned quietly. "You're talking about the mind controlling dude. Kill-face."
"Kilgrave. And yes. I am."
"Luke, there's just no way. I know how dangerous this guy was, but he was already taken care of. The police found his body-"
"-Were you at the docks?"
"Were you at the docks? Did you see a body?"
"Well, no, I didn't see the crime scene, but it's what they were reporting to the bystanders there…"
"They would have reported whatever he told them to report. That's what he does. He could have covered it up," said Luke, his voice firm enough to surprise Claire into silence. After a moment, he added, "Who brought in Jessica?"
"Uh. Ellie didn't say much." Obviously hesitant to respond, Claire paused, groaning again. "There was… uh… a guy in a suit. I think he was tall? He tried to follow the doctors into the operating room."
"He's not allowed to do that, right?"
"No. Hell no."
"Well, did they let him?"
"I, uh… I'm not sure." Another pause. "…She told me she didn't see them kick him out."
"Luke. We can't jump to conclusions. Don't let this get to you."
Breathing slowly, Luke gripped the phone tightly, careful not to accidentally crush it in his hand. "I know, I know. But he's dangerous. Too dangerous to be out on the loose. If that's what this is… if there's anychance…" The guard leaned forward on the wall next to the phone, and Luke narrowed his eyes at him. "…Claire, he's the one that killed Reva."
"I know, Luke. And I know how worrying it must be. But even if you're right, there's nothing you could do about it from where you are," she explained quietly. "You can't let this eat away at you. I just wanted you to be prepared in case it meant you could be in danger-"
"Me?" Luke snickered wryly, eyes closed. "Claire, I'm the last person we need to be worried about being in danger. I think Jessica may need help." He took a deep breath. "…I need to get out of here."
"At least we can agree on that."
The two of them chuckled, though the thought was really anything but funny, Luke thought.
"I might be close, if your lawyer friend hadn't up and ghosted on me."
"What, Matt? You mean you haven't heard from him?"
"He hasn't returned my calls in weeks." Luke shook his head. "Have to say, he's not what I expected, considering all the praise you seemed to have for him."
"I'm sorry. That's not like him," Claire said slowly, trailing off a bit. "…Well, actually, maybe it is. But I really thought he could help."
"I'm thinking it's time for new counsel."
"I'll see what I can do. He's not the one we needed," Claire groaned. "Bobby Fish has what we need. You're innocent. That's all that matters."
"Yeah. I know."
Luke chuckled again as Claire hummed into the receiver.
"Hang in there, tough guy," she said with amusement. "We'll get you out of there yet."
"Let's just hope it's soon enough," Luke replied, flashing a tiny smile to nobody in particular. "Take care of yourself, baby."
"Yeah. Try taking your own advice." She sighed, amused with herself. "See you soon."
Luke hung up the phone and returned it to his side, mind racing. He'd barely been at Seagate for any time at all compared to his first stay, and yet he'd never felt so desperate to get out…
"Alright, I've been plenty lenient with you, inmate," said the guard, brushing past him and taking hold of his arm again.
Luke turned around, allowing himself to be led. "Fine, then. 'Till tomorrow."
Matt's eyes sagged under his shades as he pushed through a busy New York crowd, white cane tapping in front of him for appearances. The cool air cut across his face like daggers, and it did little to improve his exhausted frown.
An ocean of sounds and scents assaulted his senses as he sifted through the crowd, and he tilted his head down to pinpoint his target among the passerby. Stopping short at a small collection of tables, Matt folded up his cane and tucked it away, walking firmly toward the back corner.
Draped with a fine, expensive coat, Kilgrave crossed his legs at his seat, fingers drumming against a piping hot cup of coffee. Matt slipped wordlessly into the seat across from him and folded his hands on the tabletop, face stern and threatening. Kilgrave snickered at him.
"Well, good morning, Matthew!" Kilgrave covered his mouth as he let out a yawn, looking the other man over curiously. "You certainly look unpleasant today."
"Yeah, I've had better mornings." Matt chuckled humorlessly, making no effort to hide his biting tone- though it had no effect on Kilgrave.
"Ooh, so stern. Careful, now; you keep that tone so sharp, you'll cut yourself." Kilgrave took a sip of coffee with both eyebrows raised, bemused.
Matt slumped back in his seat. "What do you want?"
"I want you to be patient and listen, thank you. But I'm not going to command it. I'd rather we develop a… cooperative relationship."
Kilgrave stared for a few seconds, then rolled his eyes, throwing up his free hand. "Alright, fine then; I will command it. Be patient and listen to me." He rested his hand on the table. "I'm working on making a change in my life, Matthew. There's a lot of moving parts that I need to make sure aren't getting in the way of each other. I'm sure you can understand that; balancing a double life and everything."
Matt grimaced at the comment but said nothing.
After a few seconds, Kilgrave gave a small shrug and took another sip of coffee, taking the opportunity to continue. "Tell me; what's the story with your suit?"
"It's coming along," Matt replied obediently. "It's almost finished. It would have been finished a week ago if you hadn't forced Melvin to work on yours first-"
"-I just need the facts, thank you, not your personal commentary." Kilgrave straightened out his jacket with a small smirk. "And the jacket is quite comfortable. I have to say, that friend of yours did a bang-up job with it, even if he is a-"
"-Kilgrave," Matt interrupted with a scoff. "What do you want from me?"
"Alright, alright. Jesus." He rubbed his temples. "I'll tell you what I want. I want what I can't have. I want loyalty that doesn't wear off after a few days. I want protection that can keep me safe year-round. What I want is a network."
Matt sighed, knowing that he would regret asking. "And how could you possibly get that from me?"
"I couldn't. Not from you. Not directly, anyhow. But you're going to be my in," he explained, leaning in. "You're the one familiar with the… the… criminal element, as it were."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, come on, Matthew." Kilgrave waved his hand dismissively, swirling his coffee in his other hand. "I watch the news like everybody else. That- what's his name? Wilson Fisk? Man had half the city under his thumb, and yet nobody even knew his name." He shrugged slightly. "We both know, if there was ever a man that deserved that kind of power, it's me."
"You know Fisk is in a federal prison right now, right?" Matt replied without flinching.
"And wouldn't you know it, I'm having coffee with the man that put him there, aren't I?" said Kilgrave, gesturing in front of him. "You know what kinds of people I need to connect with better than anybody."
"You think butting in on organized crime is going to make you safer?"
He scoffed. "Well, I can hardly expect to curry much favor with the bloody NYPD, can I?"
Matt thought for a moment, slumping back in his seat. "…Fair enough."
"So what can you tell me?"
"Not much," replied Matt with clenched teeth. "The Russians are long gone. Chinese have nearly vanished. Dogs of Hell and the Kitchen Irish were wiped out. Cartel's influence has died down tenfold in the past few months. The Japanese…" –Matt tilted his head down with a grimace- "…I don't even know what's going on with them." He shrugged. "As far as I know, things are as disorganized in New York as they've ever been. People are still running guns and drugs, the usual stuff, but every time one person tries to step up someone takes them down."
"Subtlety isn't your strong suit, is it?"
"Speak for yourself."
"Tsch." Kilgrave smirked. "Well, it sounds to me like I should have plenty of opportunity to establish myself. What if I wanted to step in on someone's business? Who would I talk to?"
"They don't exactly leave fliers on telephone poles."
"Alright. Say you wanted to… I dunno, bust some criminals. Deliver some good old-fashioned vigilante justice. Presumably you have some kind of method of getting information. Tell me what you would do."
Matt cleared his throat, head bowed. "I'd… probably go after someone low-level. Beat information out of them. Dates and places. Some people have just been around the block enough times to know that kind of thing."
"Names and dates?" Kilgrave asked, resting an elbow on the table.
"Yes. For… a meeting. A sale. A trade. Something like that."
"Meeting? What, like a… like a criminal soirée?" Kilgrave laughed out loud. "So, hypothetically, if there were something like that I wanted to be made aware of, you could go out and knock some heads and get ahold of that kind of information?"
"And when will your suit be ready, again?"
Matt shook his head, hands shaking as he reluctantly responded. "…In… a few days…"
"And you remember what I told you about working for me?"
"Then I think you just got plans for this weekend." Kilgrave yawned, looking Matt up and down from across the table. "Go out as soon as your suit is ready. And get back to me when you have information I can use."
"I don't-" Matt paused for a moment. "I don't know how long it might take."
"Then do what you have to do to be quick about it," Kilgrave commanded sharply. "You haven't built up a reputation for nothing, right? Let people know whose business it is." He sipped on his coffee again. "Daredevil is back."
"I'm telling you. This is the best offer you are going to get on a weapon like this, period."
A man in a black coat stood at the end of a table, holding a pistol in his hands in front of a crowd of half a dozen others. Brandishing the gun in one hand, he glanced to one of the men still seated across from him, flashing a toothy grin.
".357 caliber. Fits in a handgun. Inconspicuous. And yet… it can punch through solid steel." The man in the coat admired the gun in his hands as he spoke.
"That supposed to impress me?" scoffed the man at the other end, kicking his feet up on the table. "I've already got offers lined up on some of the gear they picked up from Toomes's crew before he got locked up. Blows your peashooter out of the water, big time. Like you wouldn't believe."
The man in the jacket rolled his eyes. "Christ's sake. Look, man. You wanna fight space aliens, fine; go drop 800 G's on some Star Trek shit in Staten Island. But if you want something practical, I'm the guy you want to talk to. I'm telling you, man. This shit goes through body armor like nothing. Perfect for any of our needs. But not too flashy." He aimed the pistol in front of him with both hands, smirking. "Diamondback almost killed Luke Cage with this shit."
"Yeah, before he got his ass beat."
"He got his ass beat because he got cocky. And you know what? He didn't show up to that fight with a gun. If he had, he'd be the one pitching this to you right now, not me. Guaranteed."
"Or maybe he just knew better than to trust the shit he was pushing on everybody else."
A heavy crash from outside the door attracted everyone's attention at once.
"What the hell was that…?" The man in front shot his gaze up straight to the steel double-doors, raising his gun.
The others quickly followed suit with weapons of their own.
"Got to tell you, for a man with such a great weapon in your hands, you sure look close to pissing yourself," said the man across the table, dropping his feet to the floor as he reached for his holster.
"Man, shut the fuck up."
"Fuck! What is that, feds? You said this spot was secure! Who could have-"
"It is secure! You saw the guards! This place is airtight fucking secure! Nobody is getting in here unless-"
The doors shook as something crashed into them, only staying shut because of the steel crossbar securing them in place. Something heavy clattered to the floor on the other side of the door, as the men around the table held their weapons steady.
With one final crash, the heavy metal doors burst open, splitting the crossbar clean in half. Through the doorway flew a man in body armor, who landed on the center of the table with a loud crash and slid to the opposite end, collapsing on the floor.
The three men closest to the door approached with their weapons raised, while the man in the black coat stared at the unconscious guard on the floor in front of him with disbelief.
Then an arm poked through the door. "Nobody shoot! Nobody move. We're here to negotiate, gentlemen!"
The men holding weapons froze, and the man entered the room in proper, dressed up in a long overcoat over a purple jacket. Behind him followed a black haired woman, wearing leather. The men around the table stared in disbelief, lowering their weapons as Kilgrave and Jessica approached the table, their movements completely in tandem.
"We'll hold off on my name for now," said Kilgrave. "But this is Jessica, and she would be happy to introduce herself to any of you. Say hi, Jessica." He raised a hand to gesture to the woman at his side.
Jessica gave a broad smile. "Hi, Jessica."
"Tsch." With a snicker, Kilgrave turned to the men still standing at the open door, gesturing for them to return. "Come on, come on. Everyone gather around. I'd like to properly introduce-"
"What the fuck do you think this is, show and tell?" interrupted one of the men with sudden anger. "You can't just barge in here and-"
"Shut up. –And you-" - Kilgrave gestured to the man behind him- "Shoot him," he said, pointing to the one that interrupted him.
All the others in the room remained dead silent as the man dropped dead to the floor, blood flowing in red streaks from the fresh bullet wound in his face.
"Now, as you may have picked up," said Kilgrave, slowly trailing around the table to get everyone's attention, "I am not like the rest of you. You're all gifted at… I dunno, killing each other, kidnapping people, selling stolen weapons, whatever. I, on the other hand, am gifted at… influencing people. Something I'm sure everyone here has figured out by now." He clasped his hands together. "Nobody here will tell anybody about me. But if by some mistake someone did… or perhaps if they did something I was a little less specifically clear on instructing them about… I could just as easily have them end up like Mr. Closed-Casket-Funeral on the floor there. So maybe apply a little bit of common sense. Are we all clear on that?"
The room filled with the sound of clothes shuffling as everyone nodded at him, frantic.
"Jessica here is special, too, just… a bit more hands-on about it. But more than special enough for the pathetic excuses for security guards you had surrounding the place, yeah?" Kilgrave poked the unconscious guard on the floor with his foot, glancing up at Jessica briefly. "Jessica, tell them what you can do to them if they try anything."
Jessica rolled her eyes. "I can remove your colon and choke you to death with it."
"Ooh. Nasty stuff," Kilgrave replied with a smirk. "Okay, so… with the pleasantries out of the way, I'll get right down to business. Specifically, your business. I have it on very good authority that you seven-" –he hesitated for a moment- "-er… you six… are some of the most involved members of the black market in Hell's Kitchen. Is that source to be trusted?"
Nobody said a word, as each person around the table glanced around at the others.
Kilgrave threw up his hands. "…Oh, for the love of- answer me, somebody. Obviously."
Instantly, the room erupted in affirmation, everyone talking over each other.
"I'm not familiar with your kind of business. I've never needed to get involved with your kind of people. But let me tell you what we have in common," Kilgrave hummed. "We're all trying to get on with our lives in peace. We're all trying to avoid butting heads with the police. We all… could use a little more security. So I'm going to make an offer, and it's going to work to our mutual benefit. I use my resources… and my considerable power… and I help you get what you want. And in exchange… all of you answer to me. Along with everyone that works for you." He exchanged a glance with Jessica, who smiled dully at him. "How does that sound?"
The men surrounding the table murmured uncertainly to each other, and Kilgrave rolled his eyes, gesturing for the man in the black coat- now positioned across the table from him- to speak.
"I- I mean- h- how could any of us- I mean, how could anyone- say no?" the man stammered, glancing helplessly at his gun on the table. "But… I mean… what are you planning to do here, man? What's your play? 'Cause you are talking about some upper-level, French revolution, coup d'état-type shit, and I don't know if you really know what you're-"
"-Know what I'm getting into?" spat Kilgrave. "Is that it? What, are you questioning if I have the balls for it? Do I need to paint another man's brains all over the floor before you-?"
"No, man, no! Jesus! It's just-" The man set his hands down on the table, taking a heavy breath. "…I mean, we get by selling arms and shit, yeah, doing deals out on the pier and all that. You can get in on that shit all you want, man. No trouble. But… I mean… if you're talking about everything we're into… the heroin and shit… I mean, look, we do the best we can dealing that stuff out here, but you're not exactly talking to Wilson Fisk here, you know what I'm saying? That shit is so goddamn high above my pay grade, I don't even know how to begin to describe it…"
"Alright then!" Kilgrave rested his hands on the table, glowering up at the man with a furrowed brow. "How about this? Try. Try to describe it. Because I want to deal with whoever's at the top."
The man frowned, face wrought with fear. He glanced hopefully at Jessica, who just scoffed at him.
"Okay, man. I mean… we're talking about a business that stretches way outside of just Hell's Kitchen."
Kilgrave kept his face completely steady. As the man across from him spoke, everyone else watched without moving a muscle, keeping the room nearly silent. Jessica took long, heavy breaths, barely emoting.
"Alright, man. Alright…" The man in the coat sighed heavily, struggling to come up with a good response. "I guess I'll start with the shit that goes right to the top…"
Kilgrave nodded slowly, curiosity flickering in his eye.
And Jessica trembled as she watched.
Two bare feet touched down on the hot pavement by a bus stop, a crowd passerby moving along the sidewalk in both directions. Ambitious and optimistic, a scraggly-haired Danny Rand set off walking among them, ears ringing with 15-year-old hip-hop and eyes fixed above the crowd at the New York skyline.
Among the buildings stood a giant grey skyscraper, and Danny's eyes traced its exterior with curiosity and awe.
With a childlike smile, he gestured to a man nearby a newsstand, pointing upward. "That's my building."
The man rolled his eyes. "You should sell it and buy some shoes."
Danny chuckled at the remark and marched forward, cutting through the crowd to make his way to the building's sleek entrance, "Rand" emblazoned on the wall through the glass doors.
Tucking his iPod into the tote bag around his shoulder, he approached the reception desk and flashed a smile at the receptionist, who narrowed her eyes at him.
"Hi! I'm guessing June doesn't work here anymore?" Danny grinned as the receptionist struggled to formulate a response. "Doesn't matter… uh, I'm here to see Harold Meachum?"
The receptionist hesitated for a second, confused by the bizarre request.
"…I'm sorry… that's not possible…" she said with a waning smile.
Danny shot her a look and shook his head, trying to clarify. "I'm Danny Rand. The son of Wendell Rand? I've, uh, been away a long time."
"And you're here to see Harold Meachum…?"
They exchanged perplexed glances, and she nodded once, leaning down to her computer again. "One minute, please."
"Okay." Danny grinned again, turning around and resting his elbows on the reception desk. He looked up and down the lobby, nostalgic. "I used to ride my skateboard around in here…"
After a moment at her computer, the receptionist raised a hand to get his attention again. "Someone will be right out to see you!"
Satisfied, Danny took a step away from the desk and looked down the lobby again, eyes settling on a computer screen built into a stand near the entrance.
A recorded voice chirped out a pleasant message from the stand. "Welcome to Rand Enterprises. Touch the interactive screen to access the company directory."
"Whoa. This is new."
Danny wandered toward the screen, bare feet cold against the tiled floor. He rested his arms on the sides of the stand, watching the computer screen as it played an idle animation- aeronautics, engineering, medicine and all the other fields Rand had dabbled in over the years. Danny's mouth hung open as he watched a clip of his father shaking hands with Harold on the screen.
It was the first time he'd seen his father's face in fifteen years. Stepping inside the Rand building again was a moment he had dreamed about for years, but now that he was there, it was as though he'd never left…
"…Let's go! You don't belong here."
A hand fell on his shoulder suddenly, ripping Danny out of his reverie. Two security guards closed in on either side of him, pulling him away from the screen by his arms.
Danny threw up his hands with surprise. "Uh, wait, I- I'm Danny Rand!"
The guard on his left pushed him toward the door. "Now!"
"C'mon, guys; just call Harold! I-"
"You're out of here!"
Thrust out through the entrance, Danny stumbled outside again and turned around. The guards shut the doors in his face.
Danny sucked in his breath. As the guards returned to their posts, he pulled open the doors again and marched straight through, hands pressed against his sides as he darted past the reception desk.
Two guards grabbed him by the shoulders again, pushing him back, and he groaned.
"Whoa! Hold him."
Danny rolled his eyes and glanced to the side, exasperated. "Guys, I just want to talk to Harold. Come on."
The guard on his left shoved him by the shoulder again, and Danny sighed… just wanting to get through.
Instincts kicking in, Danny threw out one hand and dispatched the guard on his left with a strike, throwing off the other one. Shocked, the other guard gathered himself and threw an easily-telegraphed punch, which Danny turned around on him. The second guard slammed into the glass wall by the entrance, leaving him lying beaten on a cushioned bench. Biting his lip, Danny marched past, moving toward the elevators.
Two more guards piled in from the interior hall, the one in front brandishing a baton. He swung in an arc toward Danny's head, but Danny brushed out of the way of the strike and grabbed hold of his arm instead. The second guard charged forward with his baton as well, but Danny wielded the first's to block the strike, flipping both of them behind him and knocking the two of them to the floor in a pile with a single kick. Shutting the door to the hallway, a third guard ambushed him, and he ducked out of the way of several strikes before flipping the guard around him and slamming him against the glass doors.
Eyebrows raised, Danny thrust out a foot to press the button on the elevator, the guard completely at his mercy. With a sigh, Danny threw the final guard through the double doors and shut him out, jamming them with his baton. The guard got to his feet and rushed to the doors, and Danny flashed him an apologetic look as the elevator opened behind him.
Several floors up, a woman stepped into the elevator beside Danny and scanned her card against the elevator's control panel, paying him no mind as she selected her floor. With a shifty glance, Danny reached one hand to her purse and pressed her card to the panel again, entering his own floor with one finger. As the woman stepped out of the elevator, Danny folded his hands in front of him, riding the lift all the way to the top floor.
The elevator doors opened at Danny's stop, and he stepped out, taking in the view of the conference room and entrance hall of Harold's floor, which he knew like the back of his hand from his childhood.
"Excuse me!" The receptionist at the front desk shot him a look as she spotted him step outside.
Danny ignored her, wandering past the front desk to make his way into the offices at the end of the hall.
"Excuse me!" called the receptionist again, giving chase.
Determined now, Danny brushed straight through the hall and made his way into the entrance of the central office. As the receptionist caught up behind him, Danny slowed to a stop, feet digging into the scratchy carpeting beneath him. The massive wall of glass behind a desk showed a view of a parallel skyscraper across the street, just as he remembered, but behind the desk… someone else. A well-dressed man with slicked-back brown hair, sifting through documents on his desk.
Danny shot him a perplexed look. "Who are you? Where's Harold?"
The man narrowed his eyes, briefly glancing at the secretary behind Danny before meeting his eyes. "Excuse me? Who are you?"
The two of them stared each other down for a few moments before the clacking of high-heeled shoes interrupted them, and a brown-haired woman in a black-and-white blouse stepped into the office from the side door.
She frowned at the visitor. "Oh…?"
Seeing the two of them standing side-by-side, Danny shook his head in disbelief, realizing his own mistake and stepping forward. "…Ward? Joy?" Suddenly excited, he approached the woman with his hands to his chest, grinning again. "I- it's Danny! Danny Rand."
Threatened, Joy took a defensive step behind the desk, and Ward rose to stand beside her, shooting Danny an accusatory look. "How did you get up here?"
Danny nodded with a slight smile, pointing behind him. "The elevator… I, uh… I came to see your father!"
Ward opened his hands, speaking cautiously. "Look, I think you're in the wrong place."
"No, this is definitely the right place…" Danny shook his head as he glanced around the office.
"I'm sorry, but I'm calling security. They can help you."
"Wait, no! It's me!" Danny threw up a hand to stop Ward as he dialed on the phone on his desk. "Look, I know it sounds crazy, but let me just talk to your dad, okay? Then I can leave you guys alone."
Joy stepped forward with a frown. "I'm afraid Harold Meachum is dead."
"What?" Crestfallen, Danny glanced between Ward and Joy, struggling. "I… I didn't know. W- when?"
Still fiddling with the phone, Ward threw up his hands at the secretary standing in the door, his face contorted with irritation. "Why isn't anyone picking up? Can you get security up here?"
The secretary gave a rushed nod and stepped away from the door, as Danny and Joy exchanged a confused glance.
"He… died of cancer," Joy explained, disbelieving. "Twelve years ago…"
Danny thought on that for a long time. "I'm… sorry to hear that. All our parents are gone now…"
"…Okay. Well, thanks for dropping by. I'm gonna show you out…"
"What? No, no, no; I guess I need to talk to you, then!"
Danny stepped away from Joy as she approached him, dropping his backpack to the ground and taking a seat in the chair in front of the desk.
Ward grimaced, looking down on Danny with a threatening frown. "What you need is to get out of my office."
"Look." Danny straightened himself out, trying to look serious. "It's me. Seriously. Why don't we just all walk over to the Stage Deli? We can have a cup of tea. We can talk about this."
Joy rolled her eyes. "Stage Deli's been closed for years."
"I- it- it doesn't matter where we go, okay? I just want to talk…"
Desperate, Danny looked up at Ward with his hands at his lap. Ward scoffed incredulously, but just before he got the chance to speak, he was cut off by another voice, and a man in a deep purple jacket stepped through the side door to the office.
"Okay! I'm here," the man declared with a harsh British accent, brushing past Joy to examine Danny himself. After a moment, he turned to Ward, frowning. "What the hell is going on here? I was busy; now I'm hearing we had some kind of disturbance in the lobby?"
Ward rolled his eyes at the man and thrust a hand in Danny's direction, visibly frustrated. "This homeless nutjob marched in here demanding to see Harold Meachum. Apparently something happened to security downstairs. He is claiming to be Danny Rand, who has been dead for years. I don't know what the hell is going on."
"We- we didn't mean for you to have to get involved-!" Joy interrupted hurriedly, shooting the man a concerned glance.
"Well, too late," said the British man with a sidelong glance, turning back to Danny. "You there. Tell me. Who are you?"
Danny's eyes glossed over for a moment, and he spoke quickly and suddenly. "I am the Immortal Iron Fist. Defender of K'un-Lun. Enemy of-"
"…No, moron." Staring incredulously at him, the British man waved his hand in front of him, thoroughly confused. "Your name. Tell me your name."
Danny blinked. "Danny Rand! Like I said!"
"Danny Rand? Child of Wendell Rand, Danny Rand?"
"Yes! That's what I've been saying!"
Mildly surprised, the British man straightened his coat and turned back to Ward and joy, shrugging. "Well, there you have it, I suppose."
Joy took a step back in shock, looking Danny up and down. Mouth agape, Ward slammed a hand down on the desk, narrowing his eyes. "Danny Rand is dead! Just because he believes it doesn't mean-"
"I'm not dead, Ward; I'm standing right here!" Danny spoke loudly, pointing a finger at Ward. "I survived the plane crash. I know it sounds strange, but-"
"Alright, alright, no bickering. I have enough on my plate as it is." The British man straightened out his jacket again and leaned against the desk, eyes widened at Ward. "Obviously he's not lying, so we have to assume it's at least possible that he's the real deal, don't we?"
Ward froze for a moment. "Well, I don't- I mean-"
"Just assume. If he is the real Danny Rand, what does that mean for us?"
"Well." Ward shot Danny another glance, clasping his hands together uncertainly. "I- well, I mean, theoretically, he would have inherited 51% of the company, so…"
"Alright, well, that's easy enough to solve, isn't it? He signs away whatever stock in the company he has, and then we don't have to worry about him either way, yeah?"
"I mean… yes, that's true, but…"
"Great." The British man pointed a finger at Danny harshly. "You there. Danny. Stay seated right where you are." He looked over his shoulder. "How long would it take us to draft something up for him to sign?"
Ward shrugged. "I don't know. You get the legal staff on it, and I'd be willing to bet we could have a document ready in an hour. If there's nothing to negotiate."
"Don't worry. There's nothing to negotiate."
The British man patted his knees thoughtfully and stood again, stepping to leave the office and shooting Danny one final glance.
"Sit tight, Mr. Rand. I and all the rest of us will be out of your hair soon. I've… got business elsewhere…"
Wide-eyed, Danny ran a hand through his hair, sitting obediently in place. Past Ward, the sun poured in through the glass, forcing him to squint from the light. He had been in that office more times than he could count as a child, knowing that it would be his one day.
Danny blinked, his thoughts cloudy. One hand closed into a fist, which trembled uselessly.
Chapter 12: Fierce Tiger Speeds Through Valley
Child, touched by fire.
Danny's hand clutched a pen with a vice grip. Every word that the British man spoke to him bored into his skull, and he obeyed without question. And his ears rang…
Danny looked up from the desk as he signed. The man in the purple coat stood directly over him, a lawyer on either side.
At the command of the British man, Ward and Joy had left him alone in the room, stranded on a couch with his bare feet digging into the carpet.
Fifteen years away from home, and this was his grand return.
Handing over his birthright to a stranger. For no reason.
"And- last one- at the bottom here."
The pen snapped in his hand, spurting ink onto his fingers. Danny clutched his fist furiously, but no energy flowed through it. Danny grimaced. He was too… unfocused… head too clouded…
The power of Shou-Lao is a gift.
One of the lawyers stepped forward, tapping his index finger on the contract at the top of the stack of papers Danny had signed. "The following entitles Ward Meachum to any residual holdings in Rand Enterprises. From this point forward you shall have no position or role in the company and no property rights. Rand also asks that you refrain from using the name Daniel Rand on legal documentation." He shifts papers around to point to another sheet lower in the stack. "…As we have specified here."
Danny grimaced at the paper, eyes shooting up to meet the lawyers. "You won't let me use my own name?"
"On legal documentation. That's correct."
"This is ridiculous." Danny slid back on the couch, looking up at the three men with a scowl. "You can't just force me out. I've come all this way; you have no right-"
"Oh, stop whining!" commanded the British man, instantly forcing Danny to go silent. "Jesus, you're like a little yapping Pomeranian, aren't you? You've done what you needed to do. Now get up and leave. Don't come back here, and don't tell anyone what you've done here. I'm finished with you."
Straightening his coat, the British man took his exit, waving for the two lawyers to follow him out. Before long, Danny was alone in the office, sitting over a stack of papers. Ink dripped from his fingertips.
Pressing both hands into the couch, he stood and turned to leave, taking one last nostalgic look at the office before stepping through the doors.
The receptionist shot him a worried look as he returned to the elevator.
But beyond that, it is an identity all its own.
Danny's bare feet touched down on the concrete outside the Rand building. A few steps out, a man in a fine suit brushed past him, shooting Danny a distasteful frown.
Fists closing at his sides, Danny looked back over his shoulder at the tall glass windows. The receptionist gawked at him from inside.
His feet carried him down the steps, back onto the sidewalk. Waves of people brushed past him in either direction, and he disappeared into the crowd again.
Danny shook, visions of snow in his mind.
No home in K'un-Lun.
No home here.
No home here…
To earn this power is to undertake a monumental duty.
The late afternoon sun beat down on the old Rand homestead, nearly the same as Danny remembered it. As he hovered uncertainly in front of the entrance, his sleeves hung over his hands, and he scratched his beard, deep in thought.
He needed to see the inside. Even just once.
Planting his feet on the step in front of the door, Danny rang the doorbell, hands folded behind him. Nobody responded right away.
He ran his hand over the top of the door, the place his family used to hide the spare key- but as he did, the door opened suddenly, and Danny's hand snapped back to him.
Joy's face appeared in the half-opened door, frantic.
"Joy." Danny raised his hand passively, frowning slightly. "I'm sorry. I know how strange it sounds- I know- but you have to believe-"
Danny blinked once. "I- what?"
"Get in!" Joy opened the door the rest of the way, waving him in with one hand. "Come on! Quickly!"
Taken aback, Danny widened his eyes and hurried inside. Joy shut the door behind the two of them.
Guardian of the gate.
"I never would have believed it was you. Never, in a million years… hell, even still, Ward is convinced you're just some lunatic…" Joy tapped two fingers together as Danny followed her into the lobby, turning to face him a concerned look on her face. "But that man, he seemed to think it was really you… and you can't lie to him…"
Danny ran a hand through his hair. "Who… who is he?"
"I-" Joy stopped herself. "I can't- I'm not allowed to tell you very much about him. At least, not whatever you don't already know…"
"Does he work for Rand?"
"I guess he does. Now he does. He just showed up, not too long ago… Ward and I, we've been…"
"He's been controlling you somehow…"
She looked up at him with muted desperation, their eyes meeting for the first time. "I don't… I don't know how he does it… he has some kind of… power… over people… I never would have believed…"
"I've seen a lot of things I never would have believed over these past fifteen years…" Danny murmured ominously, scratching his beard again.
"What, you mean… the Incident?"
"What incident?" Danny narrowed his eyes for a moment, then shook his head with realization. "Oh, yeah; uh… aliens, or something? Sorry, that's new to me…"
Joy stared at him with disbelief, obviously at a loss for words. "Danny, what happened to you…? Where have you been all this time…?"
"I don't know if you would believe me even if I could begin to describe it."
Joy scoffed, resting one hand on the center table. Danny wandered around her, taking the opportunity to look around the foyer.
"I'm sorry that you had to come back to this, Danny. Things are…" Joy trailed off quietly. "Well. You've seen. I just wish I could have warned you…"
"It's okay." Danny opened and closed his eyes, taking a breath. "Maybe… maybe I can help you."
"Help me? No!" Suddenly alarmed, she clasped her hands together, shooting him an urgent look. "Danny, I'm sorry, but that's the last thing-! I just found out you're alive, and now you're telling me you want to get involved in this? Do you have any idea how dangerous-?"
"I can handle dangerous, Joy." Danny put a hand to his chest, directly over the mark of Shou-Lao. "I can definitely handle dangerous."
"Are you talking about- like, what you did to the security guards in the lobby?" She shot him a confused look. "…Martial arts, or something? What is the deal with that?"
This is who you are.
"I've been training," Danny explained dubiously. "It's how I've survived this long in the first place."
Joy scoffed again. "Well, I'm sorry, Danny, but this isn't something that you can train for! And it's not just that one man, either-! Ever since he showed up, things have been completely out of control. There's something deeper going on; something shady… he's had us move funds around, and cover up these secret transactions, and… serious stuff. Criminal stuff."
"He's using Rand." Danny grimaced, anger boiling within him again. "He's using Rand for personal gain… to use people, and hurt people…?"
"I think so."
"I can't let him get away with it."
"What choice do you have, Danny?" Joy threw up her hands. "He told you, you can't come back. You don't have any place in Rand anymore. Be glad that's all he did to you-!"
"Glad? Glad? How could you say that?" Danny stared down at her furiously. "This is my home! Rand was my father's company! That's my name on the building! He took that from me!"
"And it could have been your life."
"At least then it would have been an honorable loss."
"The work that man made you do. These… 'secret transactions'. What can you tell me about them?" Danny brusquely changed the subject, speaking forcefully.
"Not much. Just lots of money being moved around." Joy shrugged. "Meetings in old lots and abandoned properties that Rand owns."
"But you know where?"
"Danny, what are you planning to do?"
This is all you are.
"I'll take care of it," Danny said firmly.
Joy groaned. "How?"
"Does it matter? If I can try, shouldn't I?" Doing his best to center himself, Danny placed his hands over hers, smiling a little. "Joy, I know it's worrying. I know. I just got you and Ward back in my life, too. But you have to let me try. I promise… I know what I'm doing."
They stood together quietly for a moment, taking in the sheer bizarreness of it.
Joy bit her lip. "Alright. Alright. I trust you… but you have to promise me you'll be careful, Danny."
She took a long sigh. "There are documents. I can go through them with you. And maybe you can tell me a little about what happened to you."
"In the meantime. Ugh…" Joy ran a hand through her hair, looking at the staircase. "I guess you'll have to stay here. You know we have a guest bedroom. But you can't tell anybody you're staying here. And we definitely can't be seen leaving the house together. If that man were to find out…"
"No. No, of course." Danny nodded slowly, standing next to her. "I won't tell a soul."
"And please. Danny." Joy scrunched her nose as she looked over at him, reaching into her purse and pulling out two hundred-dollar bills, which she tucked into his hand. "Buy some new clothes. And shoes."
He took a step back, appalled. "Joy, I don't want your charity!"
"So you'd rather walk around barefoot?" She rolled her eyes with a sigh. "Danny, please."
Danny looked down at the money in his hand, frowning. "Fine, fine… but just for now."
And even as conflict rages on the outside…
A figure dressed in black approached an old warehouse in the dead of night. One door led him straight to the wide room at the center, where four tough-looking men stood around a table.
Danny pulled up his hood and shook out his arms, slamming the door behind him and getting the attention of all four at once.
He took a long breath. Head still cloudy, but… this felt natural…
Things seemed to make sense for a moment.
…the Iron Fist fights the war of K'un-Lun.
One of the men at the table spoke up almost immediately. "Who in the hell…?"
Danny tilted his head, face contorted into a violent grimace. "Two weeks ago you made an off-the-books sale to Rand employees. What is your business with them?"
A man in the back scoffed. "Someone take care of this idiot!"
With a nod, the man nearest the table drew a knife from his belt, hurling it at Danny's face. And he finally found his focus.
Without missing a beat, Danny's hand whipped in front of him, smacking the knife out of the air and sending it clattering to the floor next to him.
"I asked you a question," Danny growled.
A second man drew his pistol and shoved past the one that threw the knife, firing toward Danny. Dropping to the floor for half a second, Danny leapt up and pounced toward him, vaulting off the floor and flipping into the air. The handgun clattered out of the man's hand as Danny's foot collided with it, and Danny hit the ground with just enough time to spin around and sweep his leg. As he fell, the back of his head slammed into the table, and he collapsed unconscious at Danny's feet.
Danny threw up his hands and stepped into a cat stance, glare quickly alternating back and forth between the remaining three men.
The war against the Hand.
"Come on! Come on!" Danny shouted, brow furrowed.
A punch flew from one side, and Danny swiveled to the side to deflect it, landing a kick on his attacker's knee to stagger him. A second man came at him from the other side, narrowly missing an elbow as Danny ducked underneath him. Crouched down, Danny threw fists in both directions, landing a strike on each man's face, then stood to face the standing one, delivering a palm strike to his collarbone and a second to his sternum.
As he collapsed on the ground, the one behind Danny stood again, charging forward with a jab, which Danny narrowly slipped to the side of. Grabbing his wrist with one hand, Danny twisted the man's arm and then drove his elbow into the joint, snapping it with a loud crack. Releasing him, Danny got into position again and then snapped up his leg to kick him- one, in the gut. Two, in the chest. Three, in the face.
Weak and bleeding, the man stumbled backward, raising his good arm in fear. "W- wait! Wait!"
Danny took a long breath. With his eyes closed, he spun around, delivering a roundhouse kick to the man's ribs.
The third man collapsed onto the table, shaking with pain for a moment before sliding into a heap on the ground.
Drive all other thoughts out of your mind except this.
A loud clang drew Danny's attention from the far side of the room. A garage door had slammed shut- the fourth one had run away in the chaos.
Danny scowled. Vaulting over the table, he sprinted the rest of the way across the room to the heavy door, pressing one hand against it with frustration.
"Damn it… damn it!"
He closed his eyes and took a breath, almost shaking. He just needed a moment to center himself… to make things clear…
Energy surged through his chest, then his arms…
…Then his fist.
Like unto a thing of iron.
You are a living weapon.
The crumpled hunk of metal that was the garage door clattered loudly to the concrete, and Danny stepped over it, his fist opening as it returned to its original pale color.
The warehouse opened up into a quiet parking lot, dark under the night sky.
"Oh my God…"
Danny's eyes shot straight up at the sound of a voice, across the lot to the man that had fled.
Visibly frightened, the man lowered a hand to a holster on his waist, aiming a pistol at Danny.
Danny shook his head. "Drop it."
"I- I…" Hands shaking, the man lowered his gun, unsure of how to respond. "Alright… alright… take it easy…"
"Don't test me."
Danny marched across the lot, shoes tapping loudly against the asphalt. Coming face-to-face with the man, he slapped the pistol out of his hand, grabbing him by the collar and staring him down.
This is your purpose.
"Two weeks ago," said Danny, "you made an off-the-books sale to Rand employees. What is your business with them?" Danny shoved the man away from him with one hand. "What is your business with Rand?"
"Oh, God. Oh my God…" the man mumbled, straightening his clothes uncertainly. "You- you don't understand. There's a system. I can't talk. They'll kill-"
"I'll kill you! Do you understand that?" Danny raised a fist threateningly, which surged a golden color again.
"Okay! Okay! Okay!" The man stumbled backward, raising a hand in surrender. "It's called 'Steel Serpent'. It's- it's some special kind of heroin. I mean, I've never used it, but… Rand's had us distributing it…" Nervously fishing through the pocket of his jacket, he pulled out a small white packet with a snakelike design. "Ever since the Blacksmith got taken down, it's been like open season on this stuff… the distributors that sell through us work within Rand; I swear that's all I know…"
Danny snatched the packet out of his hand and glared at it, brow furrowing.
He recognized it instantly. A symbol plastered all over K'un-Lun- Shou-Lao- but missing its wings.
"…That symbol…" he mumbled. "What… what is this?"
The man shrugged helplessly, throwing up his hands. "I don't know, man… honest…"
"But your suppliers. In Rand." Danny dropped the heroin packet on the ground, looking up menacingly. "You can tell me who they are."
"I can! Yeah! Fine!" the man blustered. "I've got contacts! We all do! Here!" He pulled out his phone, swiping through it for a moment before shoving it in Danny's face. "These guys. They call me up when they want to set a meeting. They pick the place and time."
Danny studied the names for a moment before grabbing the phone, tucking it into his hoodie.
"Oh, come on, man, you really need to-" At Danny's scowl, the man cut himself off, hands raised above his head. "-Fine, take the phone, but… what are you gonna do?" He clenched his teeth nervously. "I- I mean… what do you want with me, man?"
Destroy the H-
With a loud grunt, Danny struck the man in the face, knocking him out and sending his body clattering to the ground.
Danny knelt to pick up the pack of heroin, inspecting the bastardized Shou-Lao symbol.
"I just want what's mine," he mumbled.
Chapter 13: Narrow Definition
A bell rang as Foggy Nelson stepped the door of a Harlem bistro, hair slicked back and tie meticulously straightened.
A manicured hand shot up at a table at the other end of the restaurant, and Foggy raised a hand in greeting at the sight of the woman there- Claire Temple. She sat over a bowl of soup, a manila folder positioned at the edge of the table next to her.
Foggy pulled out a chair and took a seat across from her, folding his hands over the table with a smile. "Sorry I'm late. Traffic."
Claire nodded once. "Thanks for meeting with me. I appreciate you taking the time."
"Ah. It's nothing." Foggy waved her off. "I need to take more long unannounced breaks anyway, if I'm ever gonna make it into the self-important douchebag big leagues." Claire chuckled at him, and he smirked in turn. "How are things working out for you this side of 110th?"
"Eh. You know," Claire replied with a shrug. "People still need stitching up, and talking down. Same as always. It's not glamorous, but someone's gotta do it."
"And it's gotta be you, right?"
"Doesn't it always?" she snickered, leaning down to blow on her soup. "…So, I've got a favor to ask of you."
"Involving our mutual friend."
He froze for a moment, taken a little off-guard. "…Oh."
"It's, uh." She threw up one hand. "Sorry. I went to him first. I figured he owed me a favor."
"Is this about Luke Cage?"
Claire raised an eyebrow at him, and he shrugged, leaning back in his seat.
"Matt told me you asked him to represent Luke Cage. I take it you two are close?"
"Ha." She bit her bottom lip, considering. "Yeah. You could say that. Things… got cut a little short between us."
"Yeah. Life likes to screw you over just to make sure things never get too comfortable."
"Oh my God; you're telling me."
They shared a laugh, and Foggy cupped his hands on the table.
"So, what's up? Do you not think Matt's doing a good job with the case?"
"Try: he's not doing any job. Trust me; I wasn't eager about calling you for help. But Luke told me he hasn't been able to get ahold of Matt in weeks."
"…Weeks? No. Matt may not have his priorities straight, but he wouldn't just vanish. He was just down in Georgia working."
"If he was, he never bothered to tell Luke about it."
"He should have met with Luke in person during the trip, there's no way he would have…"
"I don't know what to tell you. Luke never heard from him."
"That doesn't make any sense. He…" Foggy trailed off, running through possibilities in his head, before settling on one and slumping back in his seat. "…Agh. Oh, my God. Evie goddamn Sheppard… I'm such an idiot…"
"It doesn't matter," Foggy replied sharply. "I… think Matt might be in danger."
Claire raised an eyebrow. "You mean, more than usual?"
"Yeah. More than usual."
"What do you think happened to him?"
"It's a long story." Foggy looked down at the table, drumming his fingers along it anxiously. "Uh… there were rumors about this… guy. The police denied them, but, uh…" He shrugged. "Mind control. I know how it sounds."
He looked up, making eye contact with her, and she shook her head with disbelief, allowing herself a loud scoff.
"You have got to be kidding me," Claire said matter-of-factly.
"I wish I was."
"No. I mean." She sighed loudly. "You're talking about Kilgrave."
"I- what?" Foggy found himself at a loss for words for a moment. "You mean you know about him?"
"Oh, I know about him alright. He's real. Luke had an encounter with him. We had thought he was dead…"
"…But if he exists, he could have manipulated the story."
"Dammit, you sound just like Luke."
Foggy furrowed his brow. "I'd like to know what happened to Luke."
"I'd like to know what happened to Matt!" Claire exclaimed, sitting straight up. "You think Kilgrave got ahold of him somehow? How did that happen?"
Put-off, Foggy put a hand to his forehead and shook his head, trying to figure out how to begin. "If he's real, then-"
Foggy looked straight up. "I told Matt to go after him. I was worried about a friend."
"And then he disappeared."
"Yeah. And just recently someone called me up to try and convince me that everything was alright with him. That he was working on Luke's case."
Claire closed her eyes, taking a long breath. "…Luke and I just spoke about him. Kilgrave. Luke is convinced now that he's still alive."
Foggy hesitated. "…And what did you tell him?"
"I told him that the best thing for us to do right now is to focus on the problems that we are able to solve."
She peered down the table at him with a grimly serious expression.
Contemplative, Foggy nodded once. "What can I do to help?"
"Luke needs help with his legal situation."
Foggy narrowed his eyes. "Isn't he, um… serving time for…?"
"He's innocent, Foggy. But I can do better than that." She pushed the folder at her side forward with one hand, allowing Foggy to open it and skim through. "It's undeniable. These documents can get his sentence overturned; Matt already acknowledged that when he was handling Luke's case."
"I mean… I can't make any promises." Foggy raised a hand from the open folder, frowning. "I'd need to take the time review his case file for myself, and put together an appeal…"
"But you'll do it?"
"I- I'll see what I can do."
"What's your rate?"
"Oh, trust me, a lot more than I am willing to impose on you." Foggy gave a light smile. "I can take the case pro-bono. HCB gives me a lot of freedom with my clients. One extra little bit of paperwork won't hurt anybody. Except me. But late nights and not getting paid were like my lifeblood back at Nelson and Murdock."
Impressed, she smiled at him, eyes lowering. "Well… you're doing the right thing."
"I'm trying to."
Foggy gave a bleak smile, which Claire pursed her lips at.
"Listen," she explained. "Kilgrave is Luke's top concern right now, whether I like it or not. Trust me. When he gets out of prison… there aren't many people you'd rather have in your corner."
"I appreciate that, but I don't need to put anyone else in danger," Foggy mumbled, reading through the folder in front of him.
"Trust me; what's dangerous to you and me is a lot less dangerous to Luke. And he's going to go after Kilgrave regardless," she added with a shrug.
"It could be a long time before Luke is out on the streets again. Getting a murder charge overturned isn't exactly something you do overnight."
"What, then? You're gonna hunt down Kilgrave yourself in the meantime? Are you bulletproof, too?" He looked her straight in the eye, and she shot him a sharp glare, one she was particularly practiced at giving. "Look. Sometimes you need to know where you're needed most. Where you can really make a difference." She patted two fingers on the folder of evidence. "For you, this is it. You are a kickass lawyer, Foggy. I've seen you in action myself. If we are going to get Kilgrave, this is how you help us do it. Not by rushing in headfirst and picking a fight you can't possibly win."
She widened her eyes at him expectantly, and he thought for a few moments about how to respond.
Eventually, he conceded. "…Okay. You're right."
"I always am!" Claire exclaimed, throwing up both hands. "So many problems could be avoided if more people realized that."
"I guess too many people want to be the hero."
"I think too many people have too narrow a definition of that word."
With one final smirk and a nod, Foggy closed the folder and tucked it under his arm, pulling his seat out.
Claire gestured to the table in front of her. "That's it? What, you're not going to eat?"
"Sorry. I had some early dinner plans." He stood from his chair. "I'll review Luke's file in the office tomorrow. He can contact me from prison. Can you give him my office number?"
"Great. Then we'll be in touch. Deal?"
"Yeah. Deal." Amused, she rolled her eyes, swirling her spoon around in her soup. "See you around, counselor."
He patted the folder under his arm with a deep breath. "Stay safe."
"You've reached Hogarth, Chao and Benowitz. This is Amanda. How can I help you?"
Foggy leaned over his dashboard as he turned a corner, speaking into the Bluetooth speakerphone in his car.
"Hi, Amanda, this is Foggy. Could you-?"
He chuckled, rolling his eyes. "…Yeah. Marci."
"I'll try to be diplomatic."
The other line clicked as Marci picked up, after a few brief moments on hold. "Foggy Bear! What a pleasant surprise."
"Hey, that almost didn't sound sarcastic."
"What can I say?" replied Marci, amused with herself. "Maybe you're growing on me."
"My heart just skipped a beat."
"How have you been? Did you meet with that nurse you mentioned?"
"Yeah, Claire. She, uh, she got me a new client. Sort of."
"How do you 'sort of' get a new client?"
"I kinda took the case pro-bono."
"Wow. Wooow." Marci snickered affectionately at him. "Bloodthirsty shark, you are not, my friend."
"Bah! I can be a shark. Maybe not so rough around the edges." He smacked his lips. "Dolphin?"
His car slowed to a stop next to the sidewalk, and he disconnected his cell phone from the car's speaker to speak through the receiver.
"I'm looking forward to seeing you," Marci said cheerfully. "I'll be out of work as soon as I can. Then I just need to change into something a little skimpier."
"…Yeah. About that."
Cradling his phone against his shoulder, Foggy shut his car door and stepped out onto the sidewalk, looking up at the apartment in front of him.
Marci scoffed at him as he stepped inside the building. "You're kidding me."
Foggy groaned quietly. "Something came up."
"Something comes up half the time we have a date scheduled. You are not that busy, Foggy; I have the same amount of clients that you do, and I find the time."
"I'm sorry, Marci. Really, I am. I'll make it up to you. But it's important."
She sighed loudly on the other end. "You owe me one."
"And I don't doubt that you'll cash in on that."
"Yeah. You shouldn't."
He chuckled. "Good night, Marci."
"See you tomorrow."
Hanging up, Foggy tucked his phone into his suit pocket, running a hand through his hair with a sigh.
In front of him stood the door to Matt's apartment, like a barricade in front of an impenetrable fortress.
"Okay. Aaand we're doing this again," Foggy muttered to himself.
With a sigh, he marched up to the door, knocking twice. "Matt? It's Foggy." He pounded his fist against the door. "For God's sake, come to the door. Matt!"
"God damn it." He pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing loudly. "Alright! I'm coming in. Not waiting around! You hear me? If you're in there, you can't say I didn't warn you!"
He tried the front door- locked, as expected. He headed up to the roof access to try the upper door instead.
A minute later, he reappeared at the top of the stairs to the roof, descending with a crestfallen expression. Wringing his hands, he paced in front of the front door, muttering under his breath.
"Agh…" Eyes closed, he pressed his forehead against the door, fed up. "Why. Why do you do these things…?" He slammed his shoulder into the door, which shook from the blow without budging. "Oh, yeah, don't call 911, Foggy, he might get arrested… don't tell Karen, Foggy, she's just the only person as close to him as you are…" He slammed into the door again, stumbling backward as it stayed firmly shut. "Agh! Shit…"
"What's going on out here?"
Foggy jumped at the sudden voice, throwing up his hands and peering down the hall the one who called out to him. It was an old woman, one of the other inhabitants of the penthouse.
"Ahh… uh…" Foggy trailed off, weakly raising one hand in greeting. "Uh… hi, Fran."
"What are you doing?" she asked with a harsh glare.
"I, uh. It's not what it looks like. I'm just…" He looked back at the door. "Uh… trying to… break into my friend's apartment."
"That is what it looks like."
"Yeah. Fair enough." He scratched behind his head. "I'm sorry. I'm worried about him. I swear it's-"
"You're going to break your arm doing that," she interrupted. "And please. I've seen you here a million times. I know you're friends. I haven't seen him around in a long time. If you're worried, I'm sure you have a good reason to be. I don't need to know more than that." Half-rolling her eyes, Fran opened one hand, revealing a house key in her palm. "Here. He gave me a spare key not all that long ago. In case of emergencies."
"Oh, man. You are a lifesaver." Foggy scurried over to Fran's door, taking the key from her hand. "…Not literally. I hope."
"Please. Keep that. You need it way more than I do." She hesitated for a moment, turning to return to her apartment. "And I don't need the trouble…"
"Thank you! Love ya, Fran!"
Fran shut her apartment door, and Foggy chuckled to himself, returning to Matt's front door with the spare key in hand.
After fiddling with the lock for a few moments, the door creaked open, and Foggy stepped into the dark empty hall, tucking the key into his spare pocket. Ominously quiet…
"Matt…?" He peered around the wall before stepping into the living room, arms hanging at his sides. "Where…?"
The apartment was in perfect condition, to his relief. Furniture totally in order… but all the blinds were down. Foggy opened them, letting in the obnoxious purple light from the billboard across the street.
Foggy ran a hand through his slicked-back hair, leaning against the window and glancing around the room a second time. His eyes settled on the bedroom door, which was shut.
"C'mon, Matt… don't be dead…" He stepped away from the windows, clasping his hands together. "Please don't be dead…"
His hand, shaking slightly, settled on the bedroom door, and he slid it open, wincing in anticipation of the sight.
…This room was empty, too. He let out a deep breath and stepped inside, taking a look around.
The bed was unmade, and the sheets were strewn about like they usually were the night after Matt had a woman over. Foggy narrowed his eyes, turning away.
A drawer on Matt's dresser hung open, almost pulled out. Foggy knelt to take a look- totally empty. Pulling open the other drawers, he found that they were all empty too- cleared out. Like someone had left in a hurry.
"What…?" He shut the drawers and stood, mouth slowly curving into a frown. "What are you up to, Matt…?"
He tucked his hands into his pockets, wandering back out of the bedroom, and his eyes trailed along the walls until they settled on the armoire. He approached with slow steps, reaching hesitantly out of his pockets to open it.
The box at the bottom of Matt's armoire lay flat, shut tight. Foggy rattled it quietly before opening it, looking over the emblazoned boxing gear on top with a grimace. Digging through it with one hand, he moved the boxing gloves out of the way, setting them aside.
There was nothing else inside. The Daredevil suit was gone.
Foggy closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. "Damn it… god damn it…" He slumped the rest of the way onto the floor, turning to rest his back against the open armoire. "Matt… where the hell are you…?"
Some of Foggy's hair fell over his face, the sweat on his forehead mussing up his hairstyle.
Eyes closed, he rested his head against the wall behind him, waiting for Karen to come to the door. He was in yet another apartment, spoiling his dinner plans.
"Who is it?" shouted Karen's voice through the door, filled with concern- almost more like paranoia.
Foggy jumped at the noise and stepped away from the wall, positioning himself in front of the door to make himself visible in the peephole.
The door opened only a crack at the sight of him, and Karen's face appeared in the doorway.
"Hey, is this a bad time?" Foggy cleared his throat. "I, uh… I could come back later."
Karen narrowed her eyes at him. "What are you doing here, Foggy?"
"I thought I'd stop by. See how you're doing." He shrugged. "Like I said, if it's a bad time, I'll go."
Her eyes lingered on him for a moment, lowering to the plastic in his hands. "…What's in the bag?"
"Oh. I, uh, I got takeout." Foggy raised the bag in his hand to show her. "Peanut chicken, and, uh, shrimp chow fun. Have you eaten yet?"
"Well, then it works out. Mind if I come in?"
"Why? To see how I'm doing?" Karen scoffed. "I don't need you to protect me, Foggy, so you can stop-"
"I didn't say you did."
"Then why are we having this conversation?"
Foggy took a long sigh, scratching his nose. "Because you're my friend, Karen! We've barely been speaking. I can't just look out for a friend?"
She scoffed quietly and studied him for a while, brow furrowed.
He threw up his hands. "It's free food! If nothing else. C'mon. You can't make me eat all this myself. You know I'd do it, and then think how sick I'd feel tomorrow morning." He flashed her an optimistic smile.
Karen shut the door in his face, and he groaned, putting a hand to his forehead.
As he turned to leave, the deadbolt clacked on the other side of the door, and it swung all the way open.
Karen waved him inside. "Alright. Come in."
Foggy sighed with relief, stepping past her through the door. "Thanks, Karen."
He closed the door quietly behind him as she led him into the apartment. Most of the lights were either off or oppressively dim, giving the whole place an eerie grim feel.
He set the bag of food down on the counter of her kitchenette, and she took a seat at her kitchen table, not taking her eyes off of him for a moment.
"Uh… how are you holding up?" Foggy asked after a minute, digging the plastic containers of food out of the bag and laying them out.
Karen looked at the floor. "Um. Fine. You?"
"How are things at the, uh… the big firm? HCB?"
"Oh. Different. Different clientele." Foggy glanced into one of her cabinets to find a couple of plates. "I still feel like I'm doing good for people."
"That's good to hear."
Foggy scooped rice onto two plates, opening up the rest of the containers. "Chicken or shrimp?"
"Shrimp it is."
She leaned in close to smell the plate of food as Foggy served it to her, laying down some for each of them as he took a seat next to her at the table.
"What have you been up to? I mean, after leaving the Bulletin?" Foggy asked quietly, digging into his food. "You sounded like you had something else lined up."
"No, I just…" Karen trailed off, brushing a little bit of hair behind her ear. "I've been, uh, working as a secretary. Nothing big. Pay's alright…"
They exchanged a glance. Seeing Foggy eat, Karen dug a fork into her own food, still visibly anxious. They ate in silence for a few minutes, and Foggy watched his friend with obvious concern.
"So…" Foggy sat up a little, clearing his throat. "I just came from Matt's apartment."
Karen widened her eyes, lifting her head from her plate. "Oh? Did you speak with him?"
"He wasn't there," he replied bluntly. "In, fact, it seems like he's not even living there at the moment. All his clothes are missing, like he packed up and left in a hurry. Apparently nobody has seen him in weeks. I know I haven't."
"I haven't spoken to him either."
"I don't…" Karen swallowed once, shaking her head. "…I mean… maybe he took a vacation or something…?"
"I don't think so." Foggy grimaced, hesitant to continue. "…Wherever he went, he took the suit with him."
"Yeah. The one with the horns."
"Agh." Karen gave a depressed nod. "…I, uh. I got an email. From Ellison- he's been trying to get me to come back to the newspaper. He's sent me a few stories that he thought I'd, uh…" She shook her head. "Anyway, there were these gangbangers. Drug dealers, peddling heroin or something. Three of them were found dead at the scene, but two others were badly beaten but still alive. They're under police protection now. And they- both of them- swear on their lives that it was Daredevil that was the killer. They say they saw it happen."
Foggy looked right at her. "…Do you believe it? That it was Matt?"
"It couldn't be. He isn't… he's never been a killer. You remember how much he clashed with Frank Castle. He wouldn't do something like that…"
"Maybe he would."
Karen stared with disbelief. "Foggy…"
He groaned, looking away from her. "After you came to me about that article you were working on, about Kilgrave-"
"-Foggy, I don't want to get into-"
"-After I refused to help you, and you looked into it on your own, I thought about what you said, about how people might get hurt. I was feeling guilty. And then you called me up, left me the weirdest message… that you were abandoning the job with the Bulletin that you'd worked so hard for, just like that-"
"That was my decision, Foggy."
"Was it?" He set down his fork firmly on his plate, turning his chair to face her. "Ellison told me you went to the police. Brett told me there were strange things going on with the suspects you were looking into for your story."
"You were spying on me?" Karen scoffed loudly, turning likewise to face him. "You went behind my back to look into what I was doing? You had no right-"
"-I panicked. I thought it was my fault." Foggy closed his eyes, trembling a little. "…I went to Matt."
"I went to Matt. I told him to look into the Kilgrave story himself." Foggy raised his fingers to his head, making horns. "In the horns. I asked him to do it again. And I haven't seen him since. Nobody has seen him since. He's vanished."
Karen blinked, at a loss for words. "I… I'm not sure what to…"
"You can't talk about him, can you? Kilgrave? He's… somehow he's stopped you from…"
She shot him a sharp glare, opening and closing her mouth but saying nothing.
"If Kilgrave did run into Matt… do you think that could be what happened to the dead drug dealers? You think… Kilgrave could be using him somehow?" Foggy bit his lip. "Using Daredevil, I mean…?"
She blinked, but said nothing.
Foggy continued. "And. You leaving the Bulletin. Abandoning the story. That was all…"
She furrowed her brow at him, but said nothing.
"Karen. Kilgrave came to the police station. So…" Foggy looked at the floor, resigned. "Those cops from the fifteenth that got killed. All their deaths… do you think… that could be what happened to them?" Foggy tugged at his collar uncomfortably. "Do you think… that's… what happened to Brett?"
They exchanged a brief glance.
And Karen burst into tears, covering her mouth with both hands.
Foggy was nearly on the verge of tears himself, and sucked in his breath as he pulled her in for a hug. She wrapped her arms around his neck, eyes tightly shut as she sobbed- unable to speak.
He patted her gently on the back, breathing heavily with a dark frown. "Karen… what are we going to do…?"
She rested against his shoulder for a long time, and neither of them said anything.
Eventually, after what felt like ages, she pulled away from him, and the two of them looked each other in the eye.
"W- we… we need to keep our distance from each other," Karen said shakily. "We just need to." She looked him in the eye, frowning seriously. "…You need to. I mean it, Foggy… you don't need to… get tied up in…"
She struggled to find the right words, eventually trailing off and covering her mouth again.
Foggy scratched behind his head, leaning back in his chair and looking up at the ceiling.
Unable to properly speak to each other, the two of them simply sat across from each other for a long time, the lights in the apartment dim and foreboding.
Chapter 14: Tight Ship
Lights flickered in a dilapidated apartment building, and the voices of people making chitchat in adjacent rooms echoed quietly through closed doors.
A black gloved hand trailed down a concrete wall, feeling out the chips and cracks. Turning a corner, Daredevil stepped into a narrow hall, facing down an elevator at the opposite end. Next to it sat a guard leaning back in a wooden chair, struggling to read a book in the bad lighting.
He took several heavy steps down the hall before the guard noticed him.
"Oh, sh-" –the guard fumbled to get out of his chair and draw a handgun- "Shit- oh, shit…"
The vigilante didn't back off. His head tilted only slightly upward, keeping his face darkened over his mask.
"Get out of here, man." The guard's hand trembled over his gun, and he took one anxious step forward. "Seriously, I'll shoot… you don't want this to get ack-!"
In one motion, Daredevil cleared the distance, swatting the pistol out of his hand. A punch to the throat sent him stumbling backward, shortly followed by a front kick that knocked him the rest of the way to the floor. Digging a hand into the ground, the man struggled to stand, and a heavy boot shattered his nose as it slammed into his face, knocking him flat on his back.
A hand gripped his throat, and before he could even open his eyes, he was pulled to his feet and thrust against the wall, Daredevil casting a horned shadow over him in the pale artificial light.
"Saturday night. 10 PM. Pier two blocks from here."
"Yeah! Yeah! I was there! I was there…!"
The guard rubbed his bleeding face with one hand, eyes narrowed and diverted toward the floor.
Daredevil's grip tightened around his throat. "Someone came after you for information. Cleared five men by himself. Who was it?"
"I dunno, man-"
The guard groaned as his head slammed into the wall again, arms slumping at his sides.
"Who was it?" Daredevil growled again, raising a fist.
"I don't know, I don't know!" He whimpered as he spoke, both hands wrapping weakly around Daredevil's wrist for a moment before sliding off. "J- just some skinny white kid! Curly hair! Dressed in black. Some of the guys thought he was, y'know, ripping off of you. But shit, after seeing him fight, I was wondering if maybe he was you… maybe you'd ditched the costume or something…"
"What did he want?"
"I don't know, man! Honest! I- I turned and ran the second he started whooping ass, seriously… why the hell do you think they put me out here on guard duty? I'm on thin ice, man…"
The man's heartbeat pounded, but remained steady as he tripped over his words trying to explain himself.
Daredevil cocked his head and removed his hand from the man's throat, leaving it hovering at his side. "Yes. You are." He smacked his lips. "But I'm not after you. I'm after Grunter. Peter Grunter. Your boss? He stayed behind when you ran."
"Yeah, yeah… Hogman. Real ambitious, power-mongering type. He was in charge of that whole operation before we got-"
"What operation? You mean your deal at the pier?"
"Yeah, uh… hang on…" Slowly, the man lowered his hands and fished through the inner pockets of his coat, pulling out a small packet and raising it in front of him. "Here. This shit. It's like half our income these days."
"Nothing gets by you, huh…?"
Daredevil swiped the packet from his hand, kneading it between two fingers. It was the same stuff he'd encountered plenty of times before- Madame Gao's handiwork. Still operating in New York… but not his concern for the time being.
He tucked the packet into his belt and socked the guard in the gut, who lost his footing and stumbled to the ground with his back still up against the wall.
With a deep breath, Daredevil knelt to put them face-to-face. "I want to talk to Hogman. He's here?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. He's, uh." Face contorted with pain, the guard lolled his head back against the wall, wiping blood from under his nose. "Third floor. Second door on the left. He's got protection."
"He'll need it."
Daredevil set one hand on the floor, feeling around for a second before finding the pistol he had knocked away from the guard. He clutched it tightly, raising it to point it under the man's jaw.
"Agh…" The guard shut his eyes sadly, too weakened to fight back. "Please, man… please… I gave you everything you wanted… I didn't lie about shit… you already beat the hell out of me… you don't have to kill me."
"Liability either way."
Daredevil grimaced, cocking the gun.
"Wait! Wait! God! Wait! You don't want to-!" The guard pressed his back into the wall, eyes shut tight. "Listen. You fire that thing in here, everyone is gonna hear. Shooting me will just mean more trouble for you. That is a liability…!" He wiped his forehead anxiously.
His movement a blur, Daredevil pistol-whipped him in the face, knocking him unconscious. His fingers drumming on the gun uncertainly, he flipped it around in his hand, gripping onto the barrel.
He let out a long sigh, grip tight around the gun. After a long, hesitant pause, he bludgeoned the man in the head with the handle of the gun, beating him ruthlessly to the ground and spattering blood against the wall behind them. He listened with a frown as the man's skull cracked open, spurting blood from a tear in his scalp in a heavy stream. He didn't let up for another six blows.
The guard's lifeless body slumped over into a pool of blood, soaking his clothes. Teeth gritted, Daredevil stood, dropping the gun at his side.
Marching the rest of the way down the hall, he tapped on the elevator button with two fingers. He stepped inside as soon as it arrived, selecting the third floor and cracking his knuckles as it carried it away from the crime scene.
With a cheery ring, the elevator rattled to a stop at the third floor, and he stepped out into a near-identical hallway. Pressing a hand to the wall again, he took a few moments to sense the interiors of each room, focusing on the second room on the left.
Four men. Three armed. One overweight man on a couch in the center, unarmed- surely Hogman. TV audio played in the background, meaning they weren't prepared for a fight. And a single neon light on the ceiling.
His back against the wall to the side of the door, he reached one hand over and quietly opened the door, drawing a baton from his belt with his other hand. Nobody reacted at first.
With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the baton into room, aiming for the light on the ceiling. Broken glass rained down onto the floor as it shattered, obscuring the room in sudden darkness. As the guards inside leapt into action, Daredevil stormed inside and caught the nearest one in a chokehold, stealing his gun and pressing it to his head.
The couch in the center of the room fumbled as Hogman stood from it to face the intruder, and guards on both sides of him drew pistols, hesitating to shoot at the human shield. They stood in the dark, but the TV still flickered off to the side- probably the only light they could see with, Daredevil thought.
"Grunter," Daredevil growled, gun positioned firmly against his human shield's temple. "You're the one I want. Tell them to drop their weapons."
"Jesus." Hogman ran a hand through his greasy hair, scowling. "Don't lower your weapons. Christ. The hell do you want, freak?"
Daredevil tightened his finger around the pistol's trigger. "Tell them to lower their weapons. Don't test me."
"Don't test you? Come on. You've got one meat shield. You think I give a shit about-?"
The guard with a gun to his head shifted in Daredevil's arms, spitting in his boss's direction. "Hogman, you fat fuck, I swear to Christ-"
"Agh! Forget about it!" Hogman crossed his arms. "He's bluffing. Devil of Hell's Kitchen. He doesn't kill. Fuckin' everybody knows that.
"Hrm." Without moving his head an inch, Daredevil thrust the pistol in his hand out to his side, unflinchingly putting a bullet through the head of the bodyguard to his left. Hogman jumped with shock as the body collapsed on the couch and rolled onto the floor, spurting blood from the skull.
"Still think I'm bluffing?" he hissed, driving the hot barrel of the gun against the head of his human shield again.
"Okay! Okay! Jesus Christ!" Hogman stumbled backward with shock, the still-standing bodyguard tightening his grip around his own gun.
"Lower. The gun," Daredevil commanded.
"Fuck! Fucking drop the gun!" shouted the captured guard.
Hogman and the other guard exchanged a brief glance, and the other bodyguard nodded slowly, placing his pistol back into its holster.
Daredevil nodded once with a sigh. "Good."
Without hesitation, he fired the gun again, blasting out the human shield's brains and letting the body drop to the floor. Unable to protect himself, the other bodyguard got two bullets in the chest and hit the floor behind the couch, though he survived. Daredevil whipped the pistol at Hogman's face to knock him to the floor as well, kneeling down to retrieve the baton he'd thrown at the light.
The remaining bodyguard yelped like a wounded animal, both hands scrambling on the floor in front of him as he leaked blood from his chest. Vaulting over the couch, Daredevil landed on the bodyguard's leg, snapping it with a loud crunch and earning another pained scream.
With his foot, he rolled the guard over onto his back, tightly gripping his baton in his right hand. Spooked, Hogman pulled himself up onto his knees and watched helplessly, two fingers tracing over his now-split lip.
"Wait…" the bodyguard raised one hand in front of his face, shaking with fear. "W- wait-"
Merciless, Daredevil brought down the baton full-force on the guard's face a few times, beating it into an unrecognizable mess of blood and mangled cartilage. The edge of the baton dripped with blood as Daredevil lifted it from the guard's caved-in face.
Horrified, Hogman slid back against the wall, edging away from Daredevil as he approached with the blood-soaked baton. "Fuck! Fuck! Wait! I can help you! I can pay you! I can-"
"Shut up," Daredevil grumbled harshly, kneeling. "Saturday night. 10 PM. Pier two blocks from here."
"I was there! We got attacked! I didn't- I couldn't-"
Daredevil punched him in the face, promptly shutting him up. "The one who attacked you. What did he ask about?"
"Ahh… uh… uh…" Hogman brushed off his shirt with both hands, almost too frazzled to speak. "Uh… R- Rand. Our contacts in Rand. He's trying to work his way up the ladder. Why the hell do you want to know?"
"You gave out names. Whose?"
"Who- whose? Uh, fuck. Nobody at the top or anything. Uh… Stuart. Thomas Stuart. He's the one I work for." He tugged at his sleeves, armpits soaked with sweat. "What the hell do you care…? Jesus, I figured you two were peas in a pod…"
"You figured wrong. I'm running a tight ship." Daredevil poked him in the chest with the end of the baton, allowing blood to trickle down onto his shirt. "Stuart? That's the only name you gave out?"
"Stuart. That's it. Swear to Christ."
His heartbeat backed the statement up.
"I'm here to deliver you a warning. Keep your mouth shut. Someone tries to work their way up the ladder, you don't give them rungs to climb. Am I clear?"
"Fuck! Who- did- who sent you-?"
The baton pressed tightly against his sternum, and he groaned with pain.
"Am I clear?" Daredevil growled.
"Yes! Yes! I hear you! Loud and clear! Tight ship! I got it!" Hogman shut his eyes, wincing.
Exhaling loudly, Daredevil stood, tucking the baton back into his belt. Hogman trembled helplessly on the floor.
His combat boots splashing in blood, Daredevil stepped around the couch again, stopping in front of the door. Getting on one knee, he reached one hand into the pile of broken glass left behind by the shattered light, settling on one particularly sharp piece about an inch long.
Then he stood again. Hogman's heartbeat spiked with fear as the man in the mask approached him.
"W- wait! I told you! I heard you! Loud and clear! P- please!"
"I hear you," Daredevil murmured, kneeling to put himself on Hogman's level. With one hand, he gripped the larger man's jaw and yanked it open, shoving the shard of glass into his mouth and pressing it firmly against the inside of his cheek. "I'm here to remind you of something."
"T- tight ship… I g- got it…" Hogman mumbled, sweat pouring down his forehead. "I swear on my kids' lives, I g- got it…"
"Not all I'm here to remind you about, Peter." Daredevil leaned in close. "Forget about Stuart. You don't work for Stuart."
"You don't work for Stuart. You don't work for me. You certainly don't work for strange men in black that come looking for the names of your bosses." Making a tight fist, Daredevil struck him across the face, shattering the glass in his mouth. "You work for the Purple Man. We all do. And you remember that, because next time I'm here you are really going to wish I was as kind to you as I am today."
The broken glass shredded the inside of Hogman's mouth, and he nearly choked, spitting up blood and flesh on the floor alongside little glass fragments. Daredevil stood from the floor, taking a step back.
"You got it?" he asked brusquely.
Hogman coughed loudly, blood spattering from his mouth onto his face and arms. "Y- yah… Phuh… Purple Manph… I got it…"
Breathing heavily, Daredevil stepped around the couch again, lifting a foot over a corpse and walking out of the doorway without a moment of hesitation.
Police sirens rang out on a street near a cheap motel, neon lights buzzing on all sides of the building. The room at the end had a small balcony. A figure in red dropped down onto it from the roof.
Sliding glass doors opened up into one small bedroom, which he stepped into, shutting the curtains behind him. Every window was covered and all the lights were off, leaving it nearly pitch black inside, not that any light was necessary.
Reaching behind his head, he undid the straps on his helmet, allowing it to fall away from his face and clatter to the floor. The gloves followed shortly after.
Matt slumped down onto the foot of the bed, burying his face in his hands. His knuckles had bruised, chafing even underneath his gloves.
He stood, making his way into the bathroom, and turned on the sink, wincing slightly as he ran his hands under the. Drawing his baton, he set the end of it in the sink, allowing some of the blood to run off into the drain. But it would still need to be scrubbed, along with his boots.
Matt tossed the batons onto the floor next to his helmet, and they rolled softly along the carpet before bumping into the foot of the bed. He leaned in and splashed cool water on his face, trying to manage his own heavy breathing.
The sirens outside felt almost endless, passing by the road leading to the motel as if on schedule every few minutes. In other rooms, Matt heard people talking about their jobs, or their kids, or TV. One guy was with a prostitute.
He knelt on the bathroom floor to undo his boots and turned on the faucet in the bathtub, filling it until there was enough water to soak out the blood in the soles.
The rest of Matt's outfit ended up in the pile at the foot of his bed. Now dressed only in boxers and a tank top, he reached into the fridge to pull out a bottle of whiskey and slumped down onto the bed on top of the covers.
He drank right out of the bottle, resting his head against the headboard. The alcohol burned his throat, and tasted cheap, like aluminum from a bottling plant. The kind his dad used to give him to stitch up wounds.
His breaths were pained and heavy. The sirens outside wouldn't let up. His head felt thick. Frustrated, he slammed the bottle down on the bedside table, almost hard enough to break it.
Matt's face contorted into a defeated frown. Hands shaking relentlessly, he raised an arm to touch his forehead, crossing himself and murmuring under his breath. He slumped down so that his head rested on his pillow.
Rubbing his hands together neurotically, Matt winced, his knuckles starting to swell.
Chapter 15: What I'm Here 4
Three months later
A bus pulled up at the corner of Convent and 128th, setting foot on the streets of New York for the first time in far too long.
With a relaxed smile, Luke ran a hand over his bald head, closing his eyes and tilting his head up toward the sky. The sun beat down on his face, and he took a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Felt good. He chuckled to himself as he started to walk along the sidewalk, tucking his hands into the pockets of his hoodie.
Luke stopped in his tracks to look up at the beautiful woman waiting for him there.
Her eyes dropped from his face to his chest, and she grinned shamelessly. "Should we get that coffee?"
They exchanged a glance, and Luke chuckled at her. "Heh. Been too long since I saw that smile of yours." He stepped down to put them on even footing.
Claire wrapped her arms around him, and they kissed fiercely- making up for almost half a year without seeing each other.
"Yo! Yo! LC!"
Luke pulled away with a laugh as someone shouted at the two of them from across the street. He raised a hand in greeting, and the culprit- a teenager in a grey hoodie- hurried across the street up to meet with them.
Luke laughed and covered one face with his hand, embarrassed. "Jesse…"
"That's what I like to see, man," the teenager exclaimed, taking Luke's hand and patting him on the back. "Luke-freakin' Cage. I thought you was in lockup or something!"
"Oh?" He tucked his hands into his pockets. "How long you been back in Harlem?"
"Uh." Luke looked back over his shoulder at the bus stop. "Five minutes, maybe?"
Claire snickered at that and crossed her arms, watching Jesse with amusement.
"No shit…?" Jesse widened his eyes, turning to Claire and shrinking slightly with embarrassment. "…Uh… sorry, ma'am, I didn't mean to interrupt or nothing; I was just kinda surprised to see Luke out here and all. It's good to see."
She waved him off with a toothy grin, leaning against Luke. "Ah. You're not the only one that feels that way."
"Yeah." Jesse turned to Luke with a grin. "Everyone's been wondering if and when Luke Cage is coming back. Things ain't the same without you."
Luke chuckled at that. "How's your sister?"
"Great! She's graduating this month. Going to med school."
"You don't say?" Claire smiled enthusiastically. "I like her already."
"I'm glad to hear she's doing okay. She's a good kid."
"Geez, Luke. Do you know everyone?"
Jesse grinned. "He's got good reason to know her. Saved her damn life."
"Is that so?" hummed Claire.
He patted one hand against Luke's shoulder. "Last year, Cottonmouth's guys tried to shake down my pop's shop while she was working there. Luke rolls up, takes care of all of 'em and even gets the one in charge to pay for the window he tossed their sorry asses through. He hadn't've been there, God knows where she'd be right now."
"Sure sounds like him."
Luke snickered, head lowered with embarrassment.
Looking back and forth between Luke and Claire, Jesse pulled his hands out of his pockets, clasping them together eagerly. "Alright, alright. I don't want to hold you up. But hey. Stop by the shop sometime. Seriously." He held up his fist.
Luke bumped it. "Will do, Jesse."
"Keep it real, Cage."
Raising one hand to the two of them, Jesse set off across the street again. Looking after him, Luke allowed himself a long sigh, taking hold of Claire's hand as she leaned against him.
"I missed Harlem," said Luke.
"It missed you." Claire stood on her toes to kiss him again. "And so did I."
"Well." He held both her arms, looking her right in the eye. "I would love to get re-acquainted."
The afternoon sun beat down through the windows of the Temples' apartment, blanketing the living room in a cool yellow. With his eyes half-open, Luke pressed his bare back against the bottom of an overturned table, basking in the sun.
One of the table legs was cracked near the bottom was cracked along the bottom. Luke pressed two fingers to it, and it gave way, almost breaking off. He winced at the sight.
"Claire," he called out, "this, uh, table might not stand so well."
Her voice called out from the kitchen. "It was just fine when I left the house this morning."
He clenched his teeth, eyes closed. "Yeah, uh… my bad."
With a groan, Luke stood, adjusting his disheveled jeans. As he did, he spotted Claire, who leaned against the entrance to the kitchen dressed in nothing but an oversized sweatshirt.
"You always break the furniture when you go to bed with a woman?" she hummed, turning back to enter the kitchen again.
He followed her inside with a chuckle. "Only with the ones I really like."
Claire stood over the counter and shook her hair out, handling a pot of coffee in one hand and a mug in the other.
Luke rested both hands on the counter and rested against it, watching her with a smile. "I thought coffee was a euphemism."
"I'm tired!" She took a sip from her mug and cupped it with both hands, raising an eyebrow at him. "You telling me you're not?"
He scrunched his nose. "…Actually, pour me some, too."
Claire smirked victoriously as she turned back to the counter to reach for the pot again.
"So…" she said slowly, handing him the mug, "…what's next for Luke Cage? Have you given any thought to… I mean, you were concerned about…"
"Jessica. Yeah." Luke took a sip of coffee, expression turning serious. "I think I'm gonna take a trip to Hell's Kitchen tonight."
"Tonight? So soon?"
"Sooner, if I can manage it." He nodded once, stepping out of the kitchen to dig through his clothes from the pile on the floor. "The more time I wait, the more time people are in danger."
Claire leaned against the doorway to the kitchen. "It's been three months, Luke. You know you don't have to…"
Setting his mug aside, Luke pulled a yellow t-shirt around his shoulders, shooting her an irritable frown. "What, are you saying I shouldn't try to help?"
She sighed. "No. I'm saying you shouldn't feel like you have to take on this responsibility all by yourself."
Luke picked up his mug again, turning to face her and leaning back against the couch. "Look, Claire. I've seen what Kilgrave can do up close. If I'm right, and he's still out there, the best thing is for nobody else to get involved."
"And what if you're wrong?"
"Then I'll be the first one to celebrate. But I owe it-" Luke stopped himself, lowering his steaming mug from his face as he considered. "…I owe it to Jessica, at least. I need to set things right between us."
"I understand." Claire studied his stern face, a little sad. "You… you should know. There might be more to this Kilgrave story. When I talked to Foggy about taking your case, he told me he was worried about the same thing as you. He was worried that Kilgrave might be the reason that Matt stopped taking your calls."
"Murdock?" Luke raised an eyebrow. "But why would Kilgrave have been tied up with him?"
They exchanged a glance, and Claire shrugged. "It seems like you're not the only one suspicious that there's something the police reports didn't tell us."
Luke narrowed his eyes at the vague response, drumming his fingers against the mug in his hand. "This just gets stranger by the second…"
"And- let me guess- more urgent, too, huh?" Claire took a few steps closer, one hand on her hip.
With a wry chuckle, Luke looked at the floor, apologetic. "I'm sorry I have to leave you so early, Claire. I just won't be comfortable until I know what's going on, one way or the other."
"What?" Claire scoffed. "Leave me? Uh, no. Nuh-uh. You are not leaving me behind. Wherever you are going tonight, I am right behind you."
"It could be dangerous."
"Yeah, 'cause I've never seen dangerous before."
Claire watched him expectantly, her expression resolute.
Naturally, he caved. "Fine. But promise me you'll stay behind if things get too bad. I don't want you caught in the crossfire if bullets start flying."
"Yeah… I think we can both agree that that's your strong suit, not mine."
Luke watched her with a small smile as she wandered across the apartment, making her way to the bedroom to put some clothes on.
"I'm just surprised you didn't want to check on how things are in Harlem before getting out of the neighborhood," Claire called out from the other room.
Luke took another sip of coffee before lowering it to his lap. "I wish I could be in two places at once. It's just… history. I've gotta take things one step at a time."
"Yeah. Even if that means you don't get to take any time to take care of yourself." Claire stepped out of the bedroom with an amused smile, now dressed. "I know the drill. Someone's got to be the hero."
She leaned over Luke to kiss him, and he narrowed his eyes as she did, considering.
The elevator in Jessica Jones's apartment rattled to a stop, and Luke and Claire stepped out side-by-side. The whole place was alarmingly quiet, and they seemed to be the only two in the building making any noise at all.
Luke looked up at the ceiling with a frown as the two of them approached the door at the other end of the hall, which had a strip of cardboard taped up in place of a glass pane.
"Classy," Claire mumbled. "Still not repaired."
"At least the damage is covered," Luke added, knocking on the door a few times.
Nobody responded right away, and Claire leaned against the wall with crossed arms, looking Luke up and down. "So what's the plan here, Luke? What if she isn't home?"
He paused. "Then we'll see where she went."
He knocked on the door again, and again, nobody responded. Lowering his hand to the knob, he tried the door, which wouldn't budge.
"What, then?" Claire leaned her head against the wall, rolling her eyes. "Don't tell me you're planning to break in. I don't think she would appreciate a broken-"
Without hesitating, Luke peeled back the cardboard and reached an arm to the other side of the door, unlocking it from the inside.
"…Right," she finished.
The door creaked open, and Claire followed Luke into the shady apartment, dust swirling around in the center of the room.
"Jessica…?" Luke called out quietly. "Anyone home…?"
One hand on Luke's shoulder, Claire looked around in all directions, scoffing with disbelief.
"Jesus, there's still bullet holes in the wall…" she mumbled. "This place looks exactly the same as it did the last time I was here… that can't be a good sign, right?"
"I wouldn't think so," he replied gruffly, making his way to the desk.
On it lay a laptop on a stack of old papers, strewn about haphazardly as though someone had sifted through them in a hurry.
Luke held up one of the papers with one hand, eyes scanning the document suspiciously. "Old case files. Nothing recent."
"Bed's unmade," Claire called out from the hall, peering into the bedroom. "We can't just go through her stuff, Luke. I mean, I know you and she were close, but…" She trailed off as she stepped into the office again, gaze fixing over Luke as he stared at the floor. "What is it? Something wrong?"
"Phone is unplugged." He knelt down to hold the cord, twiddling it between two fingers.
"Maybe she doesn't want to be bothered?"
"Then she must not want to pay her rent, considering she works out of this office." He stood, putting his hands on his hips. "Worked…"
Claire sighed, resting a hand on the desk. "Luke…"
He looked her in the eye, tapping two fingers against the papers on the desk. "Look at these. They're months old. She…" He brushed the papers on the top out of the way, eyes fixing on a familiar face in one of the photos on a page near the bottom of the stack. "Ay…"
"Gina," said Claire, reading over his shoulder. "What, you know her?"
"I, uh. I did. A while back." He pursed his lips, drumming his fingers along the desk. "Jessica must have closed this case at least a year ago."
"So these are her old files?"
"Yeah, but…" He murmured under his breath as he sifted through papers. "…Nothing on Kilgrave. Mostly stuff that should be later than this. Nothing on that girl that Kilgrave got… Hope…"
"Nothing on you," Claire added. "You think Kilgrave might have cleared the place out?"
"Would explain the phone."
"And the fact that everything is still busted up to shit?"
"Eh. Jessica may have just left it like that either way." Luke opened the top drawer of the desk, spotting a mostly-full bottle of whiskey. "Wouldn't expect her to leave behind her valuables, though."
"Could Kilgrave have gotten to her? I thought Jessica was immune to his… abilities. Whatever they are."
"She was. But… he was trying to get around it." Luke shut the drawer and walked around to the other side of the desk. "He was with his father, a- a doctor, or scientist or something… he was trying to increase his powers. He wanted to control Jessica again."
"And if it worked…"
"Maybe he just tried to destroy the evidence that he was ever here. Took her with him. Or…"
Luke scratched his chin, expression grim.
"Hey. Hey, hold on," said Claire, touching his arm. "Let's not jump to the worst case scenario here. This is hardly a dead end, right? I met her neighbor; he seemed pretty close with Jessica."
"Malcolm," Luke replied.
"Yeah. Maybe he can be our next step. He can tell us what he knows."
"If he knows anything. Kilgrave would have taken the steps to cover it up if he… got to Jessica. He's not sloppy…"
"Got a better suggestion?"
After a resigned shake of Luke's head, Claire made her way to the front door again, pausing as she opened it at the sight in the hallway. Luke joined her shortly after, hovering in the doorway.
In the center of the hall, just in front of another open apartment door, stood a middle-aged man in a long jacket, both hands hanging in his side. He stared with disbelief at the sight of the pair in Jessica's doorway, fingers twitching uncertainly at his side.
"Uh… hello? You're not Malcolm," Claire said slowly, taking a few steps closer as she exited the apartment. "Do you know Jessica…?"
The man murmured to himself as he took another step into the hallway, staring with disbelief. "Her apartment… you were in… her… apartment…" All of a sudden, and with his eyes wide with shock, he reached into his jacket, drawing a pistol from the interior pocket.
"Oh, shit!" Claire shouted in surprise, taking a step back as Luke moved forward to guard her with outstretched arms.
The man blinked once, the gun shaking in his hand, and Luke raised a hand in front of him as he took a step closer.
"Relax. Relax." Luke made intense eye contact with the man, hand still raised defensively. "Nobody is threatening you; we don't have to-"
A gunshot rang out as soon as Luke's foot touched the ground, and a bullet-sized hole burst open in the center of his t-shirt.
Luke narrowed his eyes sadly at him. "Okay, then…"
"I- wh- what?" Hand shaking fiercely on the handgun, the man shot Luke a fearful look. "You… you…"
With a frown, he jabbed the gun in Luke's direction again and fired. A bullet collided with Luke's outstretched hand, and the shell clattered harmlessly on the floor of the hallway. The man tapped the trigger of the gun, and the entire clip of the gun unloaded onto Luke's bulletproof chest as he lumbered forward, closing the distance.
The gun clicked uselessly as the two of them met face-to-face, and Luke grabbed the gun out of his hand, effortlessly crumpling it up and dropping it on the floor.
Terrified, the man looked up at Luke, wild-eyed. "You were… in her apartment… you were supposed to… to…"
"Supposed to die? Because we were in Jessica's apartment?" Luke grabbed the man by the collar with one hand, grimacing. "Is that it? Did Kilgrave tell you to do this?"
He shot Luke a panicked frown, unsure of how to respond. "Wh- what? Who?"
Claire touched a hand to Luke's shoulder, uncomfortable. "Luke, I don't think he…"
Luke shook his head. "He probably can't give Kilgrave up. It would have been an order."
"Look. Look!" the man said loudly, struggling with both hands to loosen Luke's grip from his collar. "I- I don't know any Kilgrave. Honest. I never met the guy in charge. But that ain't him."
With a long breath, Luke turned to the side, shoving the man back into his own apartment with one hand. As the man stumbled over onto the floor, Luke and Claire followed him inside, surrounding him on both sides.
"Please!" the man pleaded. "I- I have a little girl. They have her address."
"'They'? Who's 'they'?" demanded Claire.
"I- uh, they're…" With a gulp, the man struggled to his feet, pressing one hand against the back wall as the pair approached him. "Look. I can't. Do what you gotta do to me. But these people, they can't be reasoned with…"
"I don't need reason," Luke said firmly. "Listen. Whoever these people are. I can take care of them. You have my word on that." He ran a hand over his bullet hole-riddled shirt. "But I need to know so that I have a place to start. If you can just give me a name…"
The man thought for a while, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the wall. "…Okay, okay, I just… look, I didn't want any part in this. It was right when I moved in. This crowd of guys. Armed thugs. Working for someone named 'Hogman'- I've never met him, I swear. But they told me that since I was living here, I had to look after that apartment… the woman that lived there before, I never met her, but apparently she was important for some reason. Maybe someone their boss knew? I'm not sure. But… I wasn't- I wasn't supposed to let anybody go in or out of the apartment…"
"Or they'd go after your daughter…?" mumbled Claire.
"Yeah. That's right…"
"Nobody will know we were here," said Luke. With a frown, he backed away from the man, making his way to the entrance of the apartment to grab the crumpled-up gun from the floor. "And I promise you that nobody will know that we got any information from you."
He held out his arm, and Claire took the gun out of his hands, admiring Luke's handiwork with mild astonishment.
"I can make you this promise at the very least," Luke continued. "You are never going to have to see us again. Not after this."
"What? After wh-?"
With a sigh, Luke tapped his palm against the side of the man's head, and, unconscious, he slumped over against the back wall.
Claire peered over the man with a slight frown. "Geez, Luke, was that really necessary?"
"He did try to kill us."
"Fair enough." She peered down at the crumpled gun in her hands again. "So… now you have a name. Still think Kilgrave is involved here somehow?"
"Hard to say. I won't know until I look into it personally. But either way…" Luke ran a hand over his head, sighing quietly. "…You're probably going to want to stay behind for this next part."
Chapter 16: A Night On the Town
"I know what you're thinking." Turk Barret gave a smooth smile, running a hand over a bar counter stacked with guns. "I'm trying to upsell you. You don't need anything fancy. You're looking to protect yourselves in order to do business."
"Yeah. You're right, Turk. You do know what I'm thinking. Now quit playing and just give us what we asked for."
"Alright, alright. Now just hold on a minute."
A confident grin plastered to his face, Turk gestured to the small crowd of gangsters in front of him, though none seemed particularly swayed by his showmanship. The rest of the room- a small underground casino- was filled to the brim with criminals and ne'er-do-wells that were already armed with weapons that looked just as impressive as anything Turk had to offer.
"Fact of the matter is this," said Turk, patting his hand on the counter beside the stack of guns. "Anyone with half a brain is gonna show up armed to 'protect' themselves. Push comes to shove, you need something that can take care of business quick. Reliably."
One of the men leaned over the counter, examining the merchandise. "Yeah, well you aren't exactly known for being reliable, Turk."
"Hey, hey, c'mon, now! Just because some guys who can't shoot try and blame it on their guns doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the merchandise." He placed a hand to his chest, raising the other in the air. "You pack one of these in any confrontation, and I swear on my life, there isn't a man alive that could even dream of walking away. Scout's honor."
As if on cue, the heavy metal door near the counter swung open with a single blow, almost flying off the hinges. Without a moment of hesitation, one of the gangsters grabbed a machine gun from the pile on the counter, and Turk tossed him a magazine to load it.
The intruder marched through the doorway without even flinching as the gangster unloaded the entire clip onto his chest.
A torrent of bullets ricocheted off of him, and he closed his eyes with a small wince as holes popped open in the front of his hoodie. As the gunfire subsided, Luke brushed off his chest with a stoic frown, taking a step forward as the others backed away, leaving Turk in the center.
The gangster lowered the machine gun and shot a skeptical look at Turk, who shrugged helplessly. "Oh, c'mon, man, he doesn't count."
Flashing a tiny, smug smile, Luke ran a hand over the counter, scraping the remaining guns onto the floor. Turk took a step back into the crowd with his hands up, and everyone else scattered to leave him by himself.
"Well, uh…" Turk cleared his throat, lowering his hands into his pockets. "Welcome back, big man. What you doing in Hell's Kitchen?"
Luke crossed his arms. "I could ask you the same question."
"I guess you ain't here for the blackjack- ah! Alright, alright!"
A hand gripped Turk's collar, and he pulled his hands out of his pockets, tensing up.
"Let's chat," said Luke.
Nobody rushed to Turk's rescue as Luke dragged him into the nearest broom closet, shoving him up against the wall.
Turk rolled his eyes. "You got a funny sense of timing, Cage."
"I want information, Turk. You don't feel like talking, there's a dumpster with your name on it."
"Alright, alright! Message received, loud and clear." Turk straightened his coat, throwing up his hands a little. "I had to burn my clothes last time we did this, man. We don't have to go through all that again. I am all ears, okay?"
Luke narrowed his eyes. "I picked up a name. Guy running some kind of operation in Hell's Kitchen. 'Hogman'. You wanna help me out?"
"Yeah, yeah. Hogman. I know him. We've done business, personally. But trust me, he ain't running shit. His operation got swallowed up a long time ago by bigger fish."
"That's right. Gun runner from out of town. Originally a small operation. Thomas Stuart. Classic mobster type. Originally just a small operation, but… more and more gun traffic has been going through him lately. Trust me, I'm no fan of his."
"Alright. So Stuart recruited Hogman."
"Not just him, either. Lot of other smaller dealers." He glanced over his shoulder. "And you know what I've heard? There's a new guy at the top that put Stuart where he is. Nobody knows his name. Only the guys at the very top of the food chain ever even get to see him. But he's working up some kinda monopoly." He tugged at his collar. "Starting to look like Fisk all over again. Dangerous shit."
"So how do I get to him?"
"Shit, Cage. You are just begging for trouble."
"I'm not the only one."
Luke grimaced threateningly, lumbering forward.
"Wait! Wait! Let me finish!" Turk pressed his back into the wall, throwing his hands up. "I can help you! I can. Listen. I ain't heard much. But word has been getting around fast. Apparently there's some new vigilante that's got them scrambling. Some kid in a hoodie, on some Bruce Lee shit. Like Daredevil-lite, you know?"
"How does that help me?"
"Well, they've been having such a hard time getting small operations off the ground lately, word is they're having a meeting to address it. Even the big man on top is supposed to be there. At a storage facility near the warehouse at Pier 81. Going down tomorrow night." He took a breath. "…Like I said, you got a funny sense of timing."
Luke hesitated for a moment. "If it's such a big deal, how come you know about it?"
"I don't know! Everybody has been talkin' about it. Maybe they're just getting cocky. But that's what the word is." Turk took a deep breath, straightening himself out. "Look, man. Look. Things are getting dangerous around here. Competition is getting thinner every day. Way I see it, you go down there, rough some people up, knock some heads, you will be doing me a favor. So believe me when I say, I am telling you everything that I know. Alright? Everything." Turk looked at the floor, making his best puppy dog eyes. "So are we good?"
"Almost." Luke looked back through the open door. "Still got to deal with those guns you're peddling."
They exchanged a glance.
Turk lowered his head. "Ahh… shit."
The moon hung high in the sky over Hell's Kitchen the following evening.
All alone, a man in Kevlar stalked down an alley outside an old building, clutching an assault rifle with both hands.
Black hood pulled up over his curly hair, Danny Rand watched the man from a safe distance, clenching his fists under over-long sleeves. Like a predator, he watched in silence for some time, planning the best method of attack.
But the silence didn't remain for long. As the guard turned his back to pace in the other direction, a kick drove him to his knees, and Danny's arm wrapped around his neck. Keeping the man in a choke hold, Danny struck his wrist with an open palm, disarming him of his rifle. Steadying himself, Danny clutched his hands together, securing the chokehold.
"You're not the one I want," Danny hissed, keeping his voice down. "A lot of people are meeting here tonight. I'm here for your leader."
The guard gripped Danny's arm with both hands, face contorted. "You… I know you. You're him. The one that's been sabotaging our business."
"Your leader. The Purple Man. I know he's at this facility tonight." Danny tightened his grip, and the guard's face turned red as he struggled to breathe. "Tell me where to go."
"Gck… go… go to hell…"
With a pained grunt, the guard thrust his body backward, slamming Danny against the wall and rolling forward to get to his feet. Tactically drawing a pistol from a kneeling position, he fired straight at Danny, who only narrowly managed to slip out of the way.
Grimacing, Danny thrust his leg out into a crescent kick, knocking the gun out of the man's hand and sending it clattering out of reach.
"Shit!" The guard pressed a hand into the concrete as he stumbled back onto the ground.
A moment later, an ax kick slammed his head into the ground, taking him out. Danny straightened his hoodie with a frown, hurrying to the nearest door inside and fiddling with the doorknob to make his way through.
A stampede of footsteps greeted him as he entered, the gunfire outside having apparently attracted the nearby guards- three by Danny's count. He grimaced as they charged toward the door, ducking behind the nearest crate as gunfire rang out from the other end of the hall. Wood splinters flew past his face as bullets ripped through his cover, the guards closing the distance uncomfortably fast.
Listening close for footsteps to gauge their distance, Danny leapt out from his cover at the last possible second, deflecting a machine gun with a palm strike and following it up with a leopard blow.
The guard in front collapsed on the ground in front of his two compatriots, both of whom raised their guns to Danny after a second to collect themselves.
He gave the slightest smile- their movements were almost too easy to read.
Dropping to a duck to get out of the guns' line of sight, Danny downed the second guard with a single kick to the knee, following it up with a powerful ax kick to the chest. The remaining guard stumbled backward with fear as Danny leapt forward and slammed him against the crates, swatting the gun out of his hands.
"We both know why I'm here. Looking for your leader."
With one punch to the stomach, the guard slumped down to the floor at Danny's feet, groaning with pain. "Ugh… like I'd tell you sh-ulp-"
Unflinching, Danny pressed his foot into the man's throat, hardly giving enough air to speak. "Talk. While you still can."
"Gck- oh- okay…!" Choking as Danny lowered his foot, the man shut his eyes with a pained expression. "Down the hall… make two rights… four doors down…"
A kick to the face knocked the last guard unconscious, and Danny sprinted off down the hall on his instruction.
It was finally time, after months of searching… the one he'd been looking for. The man responsible for everything. Danny felt more determined than he had in ages, rekindling some extinguished sense of purpose…
But as Danny swung open the door two hallways down, he didn't find the man responsible at the other end of the room- and his expression turned to frustration almost immediately.
The guard's instructions had led him into some kind of conference room, with a long table that stretched all the way across the room. As Danny entered, he found himself at the far end, with another man in grey clothes positioned across from him.
The Purple Man was nowhere to be seen.
"Ahem. 'Bout time you showed up." The man at the other end of the table clasped his hands together and laid them down on the table in front of him, staring down at Danny with a smug expression.
"You're not…" Danny trailed off. "I know you… you're Stuart. Where is your boss? The P-"
Before he could finish, a blow from behind sent him stumbling into the table in front of him. At the same time, several men swarmed into the room on either side of Stuart, aiming machine guns down the table at Danny.
He glanced over his shoulder at the one who attacked him- a man in a dark red devil suit. Danny shook his head, disoriented.
"You- you set me up…!" Danny exclaimed, straightening himself out and shooting a venomous glare at Stuart.
"Wow, he catches on quick," chuckled Stuart.
"You've been targeting us," said the devil-suited man from behind Danny, his voice gravelly. "Who sent you?"
After a quick scowl over his shoulder, Danny stared fiercely at Stuart, both fists clenched at his sides. "I'm not telling you anything. I want your boss."
The security surrounding Stuart kept their guns fixed firmly on Danny.
"He's an idiot. An idiot! A complete amateur." Stuart stared at Danny with disbelief, scoffing. "You have no leverage in this situation, kid. You're completely outgunned."
"That's what you think." Danny looked down at his right fist, which slowly started to glow.
"Jesus- what is that voice? Is he trying to sound cool? Fuck's sake."
"Let me make this simple," said the devil-suited man, leaning in close behind Danny. "This is the difference between a quick death and an unbearably painful one. Just tell us who you're working f-"
The devil-suited man cut himself off, tilting his head upward suddenly at a noise. Across the table, the guard nearest to Stuart raised a walkie-talkie to his ear, surprised. Stuart and a few other guards turned to glance at him.
"What is it? What's the matter?" demanded Stuart.
"It's, uh." The guard shrugged. "Some kind of disturbance downstairs. Some guards got taken out."
The glow faded from Danny's fist as he realized his sudden opportunity. Without hesitating, Danny thrust an elbow behind him, striking the devil-suited man in the chest, before turning to grab him and flip him over his shoulder. As the man slammed onto the table, Danny dropped below, narrowly slipping out of the way of machine gun fire as the guards at the other end of the table realized his plan.
"Oh, shit!" Stuart reached into his jacket, pulling out an unusual-looking gun and jabbing it in Danny's direction.
Keeping his head low, Danny approached the door behind him, slipping around the gunfire recoiling from the wall. With his tongue in his cheek, Stuart kept his own gun raised and narrowed his eyes, tapping rapidly on the trigger.
Long steel flechettes shot in a straight line from the barrel of Stuart's gun, a few of them sticking in the door before the others found their target.
"Agh!" A searing pain shot through Danny's arm and torso as he stumbled through the doorway and out into the hall, pressing his back against the wall.
Finally in cover, he raised his left hand to his opposite shoulder, feeling out his fresh wound. Two flechettes had embedded themselves in his shoulder, leaking blood onto his shirt and hoodie. A third had grazed the side of his arm, tearing open the skin.
Danny looked at his own hand, stained with blood. His arm felt like it was on fire, and his breathing turned frantic as he heard the guards rushing to the door behind him.
Taking one deep breath, Danny darted off down the hall and turned a corner, blood dripping down his arm and trailing on the floor behind him. Gunfire rang out from somewhere at the other end of the hall- but not from any of the guards chasing him-?
Danny's train of thought was interrupted by a blow to the chest as he turned another corner- and as he stumbled back into the wall behind him, the man in the devil suit emerged from the other side, fists clenched.
Danny raised both fists, wincing from his injuries. "Who are you?"
The devil-suited man tilted his head but said nothing, hesitating only for a second before charging.
Danny deflected a quick punch before getting tagged by a second, his back slamming into the wall from the force. A knee to the stomach quickly followed up the strike, bringing Danny to his knees on the floor.
Blood pooled on the floor underneath him as Danny pressed his palms into the floor, struggling to stand. The man in the devil suit loomed over him, a fist raised.
He prepared to strike again-
-but just as he did, his attack was intercepted, and he went flying in the opposite direction of the hall, collapsing in a pile on the floor.
Danny knelt and picked up his head to look at the new man looming over him- dressed up in a hoodie riddled with holes.
The man in the hoodie outstretched his hand, and Danny took it, struggling to stand.
"Luke." The man gave the tiniest, sympathetic smile. "Something tells me we're on the same side."
"I… they said there was disturbance. You busted in here by yourself? Are those… bullet holes?"
"Don't worry. I'll be just fine." Luke looked over Danny with a frown, raising an eyebrow. "Probably can't say the same for you…"
"I'll be okay. I just need to- to take a minute…"
"I don't think we have one." Luke perked up at the sound of stampeding guards, apparently closing in on the hall from outside. "Give me one second."
With a breath, Luke brushed past Danny and threw a punch straight at the wall. Danny's eyes went wide as the man's fist went straight through, punching a hole cleanly in solid brick. Luke body-slammed through first to widen the hole enough for Danny to step through, and the two of them escaped into an adjacent storage room.
"Wow, you're… strong," said Danny, mouth agape.
Luke chuckled, taking a quick glance over his shoulder. "Yeah. Thanks."
With both hands, he grabbed hold of a couple of massive metal cabinets in the corner of the room, sliding one across the ground to block the hole in the wall and the other to block the door. As he did, Danny ripped the sleeve from his hoodie, wrapping it around the wound in his forearm to stop some of the bleeding.
The two of them took a moment to breathe, crowds of armed guards scurrying around in the hallway just outside.
His face stern, Luke turned toward Danny, crossing his arms. "I've heard about you. You're the one that's been messing with Stuart's operation. What's your deal?"
"Uh. I'm, uh. Danny." He shook his head, flustered. "I guess I don't have time to give you the full story. I just… I want something that was taken from me. So I'm taking it to the guy at the top."
"You talking about Stuart's boss?"
"That's right. The 'Purple Man'." Danny jumped as one of the cabinets shook. "He's dangerous… I don't know if I can really explain it, but… he's got some kind of power I've never seen before… makes people do whatever he wants. I don't know his name, but he's in charge of everything."
His fears finally confirmed, Luke sighed, earning a confused glare from Danny. "His name is Kilgrave. I thought- I mean, I knew…" He scratched his chin. "Look. He's the reason I'm here, too."
"Well, you're out of luck. This guy- uh, Kilgrave- he was never here. It was a setup; they just wanted to lure me here to catch me off-guard." Danny poked the flechettes in his shoulder with a pained wince. "Agh… and it worked, too… I was too careless…"
"You're not the only one." Luke watched the rattling cabinets with concern as the guards tried to force their way inside. "I led them here. I don't like those numbers, or that firepower…" He glanced over his shoulder at the exterior wall. "We could get outside if we got through here. I might be able to bust us out, but these exterior walls are way thicker… it won't be easy to do it in time." Approaching the wall with an outstretched hand, he pressed his palm into it, gauging the strength of the structure. "But I don't think you're in any condition to fight, are you? We might not have a choice…"
"Maybe not." Danny took a deep breath, approaching the wall and standing next to Luke. "But…"
Danny's fingertips trembled, and he kept his eyes shut tight. The stabbing pain in his arm was relentless- and it centered him, letting him find focus.
Luke gawked at him, taking a step back. "Uh… what are you doing?"
"I'm centering my chi."
Danny's hand closed into a fist. Blood trailed down his arm, and a surge of energy followed it, flowing out from the center of the body and collecting itself all in one place.
His fist turned gold, and Luke took a step back to watch from a distance, bewildered.
Danny opened his eyes, his face contorted into a focused scowl. With one final breath, he raised his fist and slammed it directly into the wall, which burst open in a single, massive blast of brick and mortar.
Dust settled on Luke's face, but he was too distracted to brush it off, his wide eyes fixed on Danny. "What… in the hell…?"
The makeshift barricades rattled again as the guards struggled to burst through. Not waiting up for them, Luke and Danny hurried through the brand new hole in the wall, making their way into the alley side-by-side.
"Don't worry," mumbled Danny. "I can explain everything. We just need to get somewhere safe…"
Luke leaned to the side, eyeing up the still-fresh wounds in Danny's shoulder. "Don't worry about that. I think I've got a place."
On a bench in the heart of Central Park sat Alexandra Reid, draped in a long white overcoat and tossing out bird seed with black gloved hands.
Stepping out from a small crowd of passerby, an elderly woman approached the bench, slumping into the seat beside her elegant companion. With a subdued frown, Madame Gao allowed herself to sit in silence for a few moments, and Alexandra took the opportunity to study her face.
"That is a face I know only too well," Alexandra declared with something resembling concern.
Gao drove her cane into the sidewalk. "Hm."
"What do you have to report? How are our preparations coming along?"
"Preparations have progressed smoothly. And I would not expect to encounter any major roadblocks before moving to the final phase. At least… as long as we continue at our original pace."
Alexandra nodded slowly. "Then what is the problem?"
They exchanged a glance.
"This is…" Gao said slowly, rapping her fingers along the top of her cane, "…assuming that we do continue at our original pace…"
Alexandra narrowed her eyes at that. "…How long do you expect before we are ready?"
"Three months." Gao took a quiet breath.
"So you anticipated my concerns. That I would want to speed the process."
"Such a decision… it would be rash to rush things along now, after the great lengths we have gone to not to draw attention."
"I am aware of the attention it would draw. It is a necessary risk."
"But there are factors at play you are not aware of. I understand that you are eager to proceed with the plan. However…" Gao wrung her hands around the end of her cane, considering. "…There have been unforeseen complications within my business in New York. It would be unwise to proceed too hastily without having our affairs in order."
Alexandra furrowed her brow, setting aside the bird seed and turning her head to look down at the smaller woman. "Harold Meachum has never been anything more than a minor concern. Surely you don't mean to suggest his cooperation is an issue you cannot resolve without having to divert resources from the rest of us."
"Meachum is not the problem."
"Then what is?"
Gao pursed her lips. "There has been an outside party targeting the distributors of my product. A vigilante. Not the devil of Hell's Kitchen- someone new. With profound abilities."
"Gao, I don't need the minutiae of your business. You are concerned about one lone agent? How does this affect our plans?"
"It is perhaps more pressing than you may think," Gao said slowly. "I have good reason to believe that this vigilante is the Iron Fist."
"What? Impossible. The Iron Fist guards K'un-Lun," scoffed Alexandra.
"And this is why no Iron Fist has ever challenged us before?" Gao raised an eyebrow, shuffling in her seat. "It is possible that he left his post at the request of the elders of K'un-Lun… particularly if they are somehow aware of our activities. And if this is the case, it would be unwise to so dramatically signal our presence."
"…If the Iron Fist has sought us out, then so be it. The Chaste has their weapon. We have ours."
"And you believe she is ready for such an undertaking?"
"She's ready." Alexandra steeled herself. "I've made certain of that."
Gao nodded once, eyes closed. "Well… certain as you may be, I believe I have a more… practical solution at hand. One that may not force us to risk losing the Black Sky preemptively." She met Alexandra's skeptical glance with a frown. "It is possible that we would need her in one piece, after all, if we are ever to attempt to return to K'un-Lun."
Displeased, but curious, Alexandra settled into her seat, contemplating a fitting response. "You truly believe you have a solution more practical than the Black Sky?"
"I only ask for a little more time, to make the proper preparations. A week- or two at most." Gao tightened her grip on her cane. "Then we can speed up our plans, as you wish, without the risk of the Iron Fist's interference. And without having to put the Black Sky at risk."
"She is a greater asset than you think," Alexandra said firmly, "but I can accommodate at least that much time. But Gao." She gave a dark, unyielding frown. "I expect this to be handled. Completely."
Slightly off-put, Gao gave a single nod. "It shall be handled. These… obstacles." Gao hesitated for a moment. "They will be removed. That much… I can assure you."
Chapter 17: Freedom!
Finished Luke Cage’s second season today. Absolutely blown away. Enormous recommendation to anyone who hasn’t gotten to it yet.
Here’s to many more stories from our little Netflix corner of the MCU!
A fist hammered against the front door of the Temples' apartment, Luke hovering just outside the door with Danny's arm draped around his shoulder.
It only took a few seconds for Claire to open it for the two of them, hands on her hips. "What in the…?"
Without waiting for her to invite them in, Luke led Danny into the entrance hall, forcing Claire to take a couple of steps back. "Claire, I need some help," he grumbled.
"Uh, okay, let me just pump the brakes on this for a second." Claire crossed her arms, looking over Danny with uncertainty. "Who the hell is this guy? …And what happened to him?"
"It's a long story."
Danny flashed her a tiny smile. "I'm Danny Rand. It's good to meet you." He winced from pain as he spoke.
"Right. Sure." She sighed, glaring at Luke expectantly. "I thought the whole point of you going alone was that nobody was going to get hurt, hero."
"I know. I'm sorry, baby. I didn't plan this; Danny was just… there." Luke looked at Danny again with some distaste.
"They sprung a trap. That's the only reason they were able to get me," Danny mumbled, a little defensive.
"Alright. I've heard enough." Claire jabbed a finger in Danny's direction. "You. Living room. Lie down and try not to move. And get your shirt off."
With a tiny pout, Danny nodded and exited into the living room, leaving Claire and Luke alone.
She turned back to Luke expectantly. "Okay. So who the hell is this guy?"
"I'll explain everything in a minute, Claire," he replied, stepping to the side to brush past her. "Right now we need to-"
"Luke. No." She grabbed his forearm to stop him. "You don't get to do this. You don't get to just roll up and ask me to do shit for you without giving me any info. I'm with you, but I don't work for you." She paused for a moment to let that sink in. "Look at this from my perspective for a minute. How am I supposed to know Kilgrave didn't send this guy along with you to spy on me? Or, y'know, to kill me?"
Luke hesitated, briefly at a loss for words.
"You have to keep me in the loop," she added seriously.
"Alright. I'm sorry." He took a breath. "I don't know that much about him, either. He's a vigilante or something. I found him getting attacked at the facility at Pier 81. He's after the same thing as me. He…" Luke looked up briefly, toward the living room. "…He's got abilities. Kind of like me."
She widened her eyes briefly, then allowed herself a loud, incredulous sigh, running a hand through her hair. "You've got to be kidding me…"
"I know, I know; I thought the same thing. His… his fist lights up. I don't remember what he called it. But it's strong- really strong; even stronger than me. The way I see it, if Danny was going to attack me, he has the means to do it. And he was already injured- and in the middle of getting his ass beat- before I even found him. I'm sure he's not under Kilgrave's control."
"So… what, then? He's just some kid with a Rambo complex? Why would he be doing this?"
"I don't know. But right now, he's after Kilgrave, and that means that we're on the same side. At least for the time being." Luke's eyes flitted to the living room.
Claire looked directly into his eyes, trying to read his expression. "…And I guess going to the hospital is out of the question…?"
"This isn't exactly legal. And having to deal with police would just be another roadblock…"
Disappointed but not surprised, Claire nodded, turning away from him with a nod. "Yeah, yeah… alright. I'll get my medical bag. Uh… get him some water; looks like he's lost a lot of blood…"
"Thank you, Claire."
"You owe me one."
The two of them parted as they entered the living room, Claire heading to her bedroom to get supplies while Luke headed into the kitchen to fill a glass of water. Positioned on the couch, Danny ripped away the tatters of his hoodie and his shirt, letting the cloth fall to the floor. Two metal pins remained stuck in his shoulder, and the tear in his forearm was still tied off with a piece of his sleeve.
The bedroom door slammed shut as Claire marched back into the living room, now donning a pair of latex gloves. Luke stepped in through the kitchenette with the glass of water as she knelt by the couch, examining Danny's chest with her tongue in her cheek.
"Wow. Nice tattoo."
"It's not a tattoo," Danny mumbled.
"Sure it isn't." She scratched the back of her neck, eyeing up Danny's wound. "So what happened, exactly?"
Danny clenched his teeth. "The guy had some kind of needle gun. Stuck me with a few of these… pins… or whatever they are."
He winced as Claire gently touched one of the flechettes in his chest with a finger, staring at the wound with revulsion. "Jesus, that's medieval…"
"Can you help?" Luke asked, moving in to stand over them.
"I think so. Won't be pretty, though."
Luke set the glass down on the table beside Danny before taking a seat in the chair across from them, folding his hands on his lap. Danny gulped down water as Claire returned to her medical bag to consider her options.
"I'm surprised you didn't take these out," she mumbled, picking up a pair of tweezers.
"It's a puncture wound… I thought you were supposed to leave them in?" Danny exchanged a glance with her, and she pursed her lips.
"Good call. These pinheads could be stopping some bleeding. Probably one of the reasons you haven't gone into shock yet."
"So can you take them out?"
"I'm gonna have to eventually, aren't I? If you're not going to an operating room, we're gonna have to do it here." She leaned over Danny with a frown, pointing to the flechettes with the tweezers in her hand. "These little fins at the ends will make the cut wider on the ends. Might mean you start bleeding pretty severely. But at least it stopped them from getting embedded too deep." She took a breath. "Stay still; I'm gonna take them out. We need to keep pressure on the wound." Reaching behind her, she grabbed a small ceramic bowl from the table behind her laid it on Danny's stomach, picking at him with the tweezers in her other hand.
Blood trickled out of the puncture wounds as Claire pulled the flechettes out, dropping them both in the bowl with a clink. Setting the bowl to the side, she leaned into the wound with a gauze pad, looking back at her medical bag.
"Don't know about that tear on your arm… might be able to get away without having to stitch it up, but you're gonna have to be careful not to put too much strain on it."
"No. No, I need to get moving soon…
"No, you need to lie the hell down and stay put. Unless you want to open your wounds again and pass out from blood loss." Claire made no attempt to hide a roll of her eyes. "Come on. I do not want to have to put stitches in you. Why does everyone I patch up have to be so self-destructive?" Leaning back from Danny, she reached behind her and took hold of Luke's hand, pressing it into Danny's wound. "Keep pressure on it."
Luke nodded and knelt on the couch as he did as he was told, watching Claire over his shoulder. "She's right, Danny. You're too hurt. You need to tag out. Seriously."
"I don't see you slowing down, Luke," Danny replied sharply. "Don't act like you and I weren't in the same boat back there. I'm the one that bailed us out. Remember?" He raised a fist, earning a raised eyebrow from Claire.
Luke rolled his eyes. "Tell that to the dude in the devil costume. He would have killed you if I hadn't been there. I found you kneeling in a pool of your own blood."
"Hang on. Hang on." Pouring a solution into a cloth, Claire stood to Luke's side and untied the bind around Danny's arm, replacing it with the wet cloth. "Back up. Devil costume? Who are you talking about, Luke?"
"It's exactly what it sounds like," mumbled Danny.
"The devil character from Hell's Kitchen," Luke added. "The one you've talked about before."
"Yeah. I know him. I know him…" Claire bit her lip, thinking. "…Ah, crap. Kilgrave does have him…"
"He didn't seem so tough to me."
"Yeah, maybe not to you. But you're a pretty goddamn special case." Stricken by the realization, Claire let out a tired sigh, leaning away from Danny for a moment. "Damn it… I need to call Foggy."
She let out a groan, "…It's a long story."
"What about me?" asked Danny, sitting up suddenly.
"Yeah. I'm taking things one step at a time. Now sit your ass down so I can finish up on you." Claire slid forward again, clutching the saline cloth.
Danny winced as she pressed it into his wound. "Look- ngh- look, you guys seem like good people, but you don't know all the details here. This Kilgrave guy… he took everything from me. Taking him down is the only thing that matters to me. This wound is just… just a small setback."
"Oh, yeah?" Claire set aside the now blood-soaked cloth. "And what… did he take from you…?" She mumbled that last part as she wrapped the wound with sterile bandages, sliding to the side to take over for Luke putting pressure on Danny's shoulder.
Danny steeled himself. "He stole my birthright. Rand, my father's company. There was a place for me there- I'm supposed to own over half the shares. But he… forced me to sign them over."
Now without anything to do, Luke stepped away from the couch, crossing his arms with an unimpressed grimace. "Danny, he killed my wife."
Danny glanced briefly at Luke with surprise, but shook it off. "Okay… fine, then. So he took something from both of us."
Luke and Claire exchanged a disbelieving glance.
"…Yeah. I guess you could put it like that," Luke murmured.
"It doesn't change anything." Danny narrowed his eyes. "I want him beaten. That's the only thing that matters right now."
"We all want him beaten, genius. You didn't see the bullet holes in his shirt?" Claire pointed at Luke, making no attempt to hide an enormous eye-roll. "Let's think about this for a second. You're facing off against a guy who can make people do whatever he wants just by talking to them, and your plan was to attack him head on? That's asinine, and it's an easy way to fail. Like, spectacularly. You can't solve every problem just by bulldozing through people with a glow-in-the-dark fist."
Danny glowered at her for a moment, but his head quickly turned to Luke, perturbed. "…Dude… you told her about the Iron Fist…?"
Luke shrugged halfheartedly. "What, was it supposed to be subtle?"
"Listen," said Claire. "We only beat him if we outsmart him. So he can't see you coming, right? What's the best way to do that?"
"Get him where he lives." Luke crossed his arms. "Where he sleeps…"
"Okay… so… where's that?"
"There's no easy way to find out. He's been a step ahead of me this whole time. Like I said, the reason they almost got me today was because they sprung a trap." Danny spoke bitterly, resigned to remain seated after Claire's derision.
"Yeah. He's secretive. Information like that is something he would be careful not to let out," said Luke.
"And he'd probably have security there."
"Now that's something I'm not worried about."
Claire smirked briefly at that, taking a long sigh before responding. "Then the missing piece is… how do we get someone to turn on Kilgrave?"
"We actually might have a certain advantage." Luke said this cautiously, and Claire and Danny both directed their full attention to him as he spoke. "Kilgrave's operating on a bigger scale than he did before. That means he has people working for him that he isn't directly influencing with his powers." Luke nodded once, thinking it over. "We saw that when we went to search Jessica's apartment. Her neighbor was being strong-armed by lesser criminals, not by Kilgrave himself."
"That's true. But don't forget- Jessica's neighbor had never even heard the name Kilgrave. Anyone close enough to have personal information about him…"
"…Is going to be directly under his control. Shit…"
"It's beside the point anyway," said Danny, clutching a fist. "The ambush tonight just proves that Kilgrave is expecting people to try and use his criminal underlings to get to him. The only business I've ever actually been able to confirm that he personally attends to is Rand, and all the employees there are victims to his every whim. I can't even get in the front door."
Claire blinked. "Wait, you know where spends his time? You mean, you've confirmed it?"
"I didn't just confirm it," Danny scoffed. "I met him there. How do you think he compelled me to sign the company away in the first place?"
"Okay. Okay!" She threw up her hands. "So we have something to work with after all."
"Except we can't go after him there. Like I said, I can't even get in the front door."
"And Kilgrave and I have crossed paths multiple times before. He'd see me coming from a mile away if I tried going after him there," said Luke.
"What about me? Kilgrave hasn't seen me before; he doesn't even know who I am." Finished with Danny's wounds, Claire set aside the cloth, stepping from the couch.
"How would you get in?" Getting defensive again, Danny touched a hand to his chest, sitting up. "I mean, no offense, but… you have no business with Rand. Kilgrave was controlling Ward Meachum- the CEO. You'd never be able to get in the same room with him."
"Fine. Maybe not me, then." She narrowed her eyes. "But it's something. Right? I'll tell you what." She looked Danny sharply in the eye. "You want to go after Kilgrave now? You have plenty of time to strategize."
Luke just smirked at that. "You have to admit, she's got you there."
"Franklin P. Nelson, Es-"
"-Foggy, it's Claire. Can you talk?"
Fingers drumming uneasily on the phone, Claire leaned on the wall of her bedroom, the others out of earshot.
"I can talk. But what's wrong?" Foggy was quick to respond on the other end, speaking uneasily. "Sounds like something bad…"
"…Kilgrave has him."
There was a tangible pause, and Claire gritted her teeth as she allowed Foggy a little bit of time to take that information in.
"How… do you know…?" Foggy asked after a while, voice suddenly a little hoarse.
"Luke came face-to-face with him tonight."
"What is that bastard making him do?"
"Fight. It looks like." Claire closed her eyes. "Ugh… I'm sorry. This is what you were worried about."
"He's in over his head." Foggy sighed loudly. "God damn it, this is my fault…"
"Don't go down that road, Foggy. You don't deserve it, and it's not going to do any good. Trust me when I tell you, Matt is carrying enough guilt on his shoulders for the both of you. And it's not going to fix things any sooner."
"Then what is? If Matt can't stop Kilgrave, what chance do we stand?" Foggy hesitated. "…What happened to Luke?"
"Don't worry, don't worry. Luke is just fine. He's staying with me right now." Claire leaned back, taking a surreptitious glance through the bedroom door. "Actually, he made a friend. A special friend. Like Matt and Luke."
"You're kidding me."
"Okay, well…" Foggy huffed, "…well, that's something, right? Who's the new guy? What's his story?"
"Name's Danny. I don't know much about him. He seems a little… off… but he has information on Kilgrave that I think might be useful." She slowed down a little. "Apparently Kilgrave has taken control of a corporation called 'Rand'. That's been, like, his HQ. Now, I don't know if that's something that we can use right away, but-"
"Hold on, hold on!" Foggy cut her off abruptly, voice suddenly filled with energy. "Did you say Rand? As in Rand Enterprises?"
"Uh, yeah-" Claire tripped over her words for a second- "-What, are you involved with them or something?"
"They're one of my clients!" Foggy exclaimed. "-I mean, not one of mine, but… one of my firm's. Jeri Hogarth personally represented them before the suicide- I mean, before she died…"
"You're shitting me."
"No! I've worked with them before. The senior partners were right in the middle of delegating a lot of Hogarth's boilerplate paperwork when I signed on, so…"
"…So you could get in the building."
"…I, uh." Foggy paused. "Sure, I could."
Claire lowered the phone from her ear for a moment, leaning her head back against the wall.
After everything that had happened. Finally some news like this.
She stared at her phone. "…Sweet Christmas."
Chapter 18: Informing
Who all caught that Iron Fist season 2 date announcement? Personally I am pretty pumped for September.
"Hi, I'm Nelson. Er, Franklin. Er… Franklin Nelson. Franklin P. Nelson. …Esquire?"
Foggy shook out his hands in front of him, taking a shaky breath.
"Hi, I'm Franklin Nelson. Friends call me Foggy. I'm happy. I'm happy to be. It's good to be here… good to be here."
He leaned his head back against his headrest, and the car rattled as it slowed to a stop alongside the sidewalk.
With a raised eyebrow, Claire looked over at him from the driver's seat of the car, smirking slightly. "Talking to yourself?"
"You know something?" Foggy said harshly. "I've dealt with murderers before. Loads of times. Come face-to-face with them. Like, legit murderers. Matt and I, one time, we represented this guy…" Foggy held out his hands in front of him, forming a sphere. "He crushed someone's head with a bowling ball. Bashed a man's head in. With a bowling ball. For money. How messed up is that?"
"So why'd you represent him?"
Foggy put two fingers on the bridge of his nose, letting out a loud sigh. "Matt insisted on it."
"Doesn't sound like him."
"Yeah, well. The guy ended up throwing his own face into a spike after Matt beat Wilson Fisk's name out of him."
Claire widened her eyes. "Ah. That sounds like him."
"Come on. Let's just get this over with."
The two stepped out of the car and up onto the sidewalk, the home of Joy Meachum looming over them like an insurmountable peak. It took Foggy ages to actually knock, and a while longer for Joy to open the door and usher them inside.
"Franklin, right?" Joy asked hurriedly, as Foggy and Claire stepped into the lobby of the home.
"That's right, but, uh… you can call me Foggy. It's good to finally meet you, Joy. Wish it could be under, uh." He cleared his throat. "Better circumstances…" Foggy trailed off at the end, noticing a curly-haired blonde man leaned against the wall at the other end of the room. "Uh… is he…?"
"Danny. How's it going?" Danny gestured to them with his head without uncrossing his arms.
"He's a real charmer. Don't worry about it," said Claire. "Can we go over the plan? Just to make sure everyone is on the same page here?"
"Sure; step one, find the serial killer, step two, get as close to the serial killer as possible, step three, hope I don't get serial-killed. Did I leave anything out?" Foggy opened his hands to the crowd.
"I'll be right there with you, Foggy." Joy leaned against the table in the center of the room. "I have dealt with him plenty of times. I promise I will make sure he never gets suspicious of anything. My only question is how we are going to find out where he goes without getting caught."
"With this," said Claire. With two fingers, she presented a small black disc from her pocket, holding it in front of her. "It's a police GPS tracker. I called in a favor from a friend in the Harlem precinct to get my hands on it, so… don't lose it. It's light enough to attach to fabric. If you can get it anywhere inconspicuous on Kilgrave's person, we'll be able to learn where he's staying, and probably where the woman he's holding captive is as well."
"Great. So all I have to do is get my hands in his pockets," said Foggy with a roll of his eyes.
"Or under his clothes… but, yeah, essentially." Claire gave a sympathetic frown. "But this is how we get him, Foggy."
"I know. That's the shitty part." He groaned. "This is way beyond enough to get me disbarred. And just knowing about it is enough to get everyone in this room arrested. Felony stalking. With the intent to cause serious bodily harm. You must have some friend on the force." Foggy took the tracker from Claire, inspecting it cautiously. "…Okay. So. Just so we are one-hundred-percent clear on this. When you do capture Kilgrave." He tapped his fingers together. "We are going to apprehend him, right?"
"Are you kidding? What do you think we're going to do? We're going to kill him. What other option do we have?" Danny spoke up immediately, incredulous at the question. "You said it yourself; he's a serial killer!"
"Alright, alright, alright… I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. I'm not going to be party to that."
"I'm sorry, but I don't see any other way to stop him. We can't give him to the police. This isn't a normal situation," Joy said quietly, exchanging a cautious glance with Danny.
"That's a slippery slope if I've ever heard one."
"Got to say, I'm with Foggy on this one," said Claire. "Sure, maybe we can't just deliver him to the police so he can escape again, but that does not mean we have to jump straight to murder. Luke is strong enough to beat him up with both hands tied behind his back; maybe we can just… like, break his jaw, or rip out his tongue, or something…?"
"Oh, yeah, that would go over just great with a jury," Foggy added sarcastically.
"Hey, I'm trying to help you, here."
"We need to be absolutely sure he is never going to hurt anyone again," Danny said darkly.
"I agree. And I know the world would probably be better off with him dead. But I'm sorry," said Foggy, "I'm not going to help you if it means we are getting blood on our hands. That's not who I am. That's not what I signed up for."
Danny finally stepped away from the wall, though he still kept his arms crossed. "Well, I'm sorry, too, but we can't just let him-!"
"-Danny!" Joy raised a hand to stop him. "Just hold on. We need his help, okay? We can do things their way. Claire is right. It doesn't have to be all or nothing; we can find a middle ground here."
With a disgruntled frown, Danny looked from Joy back to Foggy, and then finally to Claire. "…Alright. Alright, fine. We won't kill him. Yet."
Foggy ran a hand through his hair. "Okay. Good."
"…Yet," Danny repeated. "But I will defend myself if I have to."
"Do it. If you have to," Foggy mumbled. "But right now… we don't have to."
"Are you alright, Foggy?" asked Claire, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah. I'm great. Golden." He took a breath. "Let's go do something illegal."
Foggy kept his hands limp at his sides, walking up the stairs of the Rand building close behind Joy, like a duckling.
"Just follow my lead. You'll do fine." Joy turned briefly and smiled at him, and he returned it nervously.
"I know. I know." He opened and closed his hands, palms sweaty. "Is there… is there anything I should make sure to say? Or… not to say?"
"Foggy! Just act natural, okay? Everything's fine. You're supposed to be here. You know what you're here to talk to him about. You're just our legal representation."
"I've definitely never done anything like this with a client before. …I mean, to a client."
"He's not a real client."
Joy waved to the woman at the reception desk, and Foggy flashed her a polite smile, scratching behind his head.
"And it would be best if you cut the nervous chatter," added Joy, letting Foggy into the elevator in front of her and scanning her ID to select their floor.
"Right, right." Foggy looked around the empty elevator. "…But. I mean. What- what if he tells me to tell the truth? Or asks me why I'm nervous? Or what I'm doing here?"
"Then you'll tell him. You won't have any choice." She turned to him and narrowed her eyes, face serious- almost grim. "Which is why… if there was ever a time to keep a level head, this is the time. Okay? He won't have any reason to ask anything like that unless you give him one." She straightened up quickly as their elevator arrived. "Now please cut the chatter."
"Alright, alright… Chatter's just… kind of my thing."
The elevator let out a ding as it opened for Joy and Foggy, and the two stepped out onto Ward and Joy's floor. Joy waved to Megan- the secretary- as the two cut through the hall to the office at the end. Foggy kept a hand in his pocket, fingers rolling over the tiny round tracker.
The two arrived at the office door, and Joy stepped inside, leaving Foggy in the doorway. At the desk sat a man Foggy recognized, Ward Meachum. A man in a purple jacket stood over him, the two looking up from their conversation as Joy approached and waved to Ward.
Foggy took his hand out of his pocket, wiping sweat off on his pants. He knew who Ward was, which meant that the man in purple must be-
"Ah! This is Franklin, yeah? The lawyer?" The man in purple had a British accent, just as they had described Kilgrave.
He was… less scary in person. Foggy froze for a moment. Somehow… that thought made him even scarier. Somewhere, this guy had Matt captive, doing God knows what. And anyone with Matt as a captive was about the scariest piece of shit he could imagine.
"That's me!" Foggy smiled on pure instinct, and he threw out a hand, waiting to shake with Kilgrave. The moment he started to speak, confidence poured out of him, from some source he hardly even knew existed, and he continued on as if speaking to any other client. "Franklin P. Nelson, Esquire. Friends call me Foggy. It's good to be here. I'm here on behalf of Hogarth, Chao, and Benowitz; I'd love to sit down with-"
"Alright, quiet down and take a seat. Let's just get this over with."
Kilgrave didn't shake hands.
Foggy's feet started to move, awkwardly and mechanically, before he even completely registered what was happening, and he found himself climbing into one of the chairs in front of the desk, feeling more desperate to take a seat than he ever had in his life. The feeling gave him chills.
And no handshake. So that was plan A for slipping Kilgrave the tracker, immediately out the window.
Foggy and Joy exchanged a brief, marginally nervous glance.
"Let's just hear it. I want to be out of here early this afternoon," said Kilgrave, leaning against the desk.
Foggy glanced back to Kilgrave again, letting out a deep breath. "Alright, well. I'm not your accountant. But it is my job to keep Rand out of the sights of criminal prosecutors. And large financial improprieties, well… that's dangerous criminal territory. There's no way to sugarcoat that."
"Well, you're certainly not going to tell anybody about it."
The pair exchanged a glance, and Foggy shook his head, blinking once. "…No. No, I'm not. Nor would it be legally admissible even if I did, if I even wanted to, which I don't." He sighed. "I'm not making a threat. Just informing. The extensive financial reports provided to HCB's legal team suggest that a substantial and disproportionate amount of R&D funding is being redirected toward development of properties that simply aren't being developed. And this is coming out at the same time as repeated allegations that these same undeveloped Rand properties are being used to facilitate criminal gang activity. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that something illicit is going on here. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that, despite what limited protection your attorney-client privilege gives you, a financial juggernaut like Rand is subject to a lot of outside scrutiny. And honestly? Ethical concerns aside, you are drawing a lot of undue attention to yourself. If you aren't ridiculously careful in covering up shady business, an audit is putting you at risk of a huge corporate scandal. Like, Enron huge. Probably huger. Again… not judging. Definitely not threatening." He threw up his hands. "Just informing."
Ward, who had been tiredly slumped over his desk since Foggy had entered, spoke up for the first time, raising one hand in the air. "Look, I'm just doing what he tells me to."
"Well, what can you expect me to do? Only reason I'm wasting any of my time in this soul-sucking brick and mortar hellhole is to buy me leverage for these so-called 'illicit' activities. So how about you stop wasting everybody's time moralizing, Foggy, and tell me how you would recommend I do this without drawing attention to myself?"
"Honestly? Just stop dipping directly into company money. It should be simple. I mean, I'm not your accountant or your banker. But Rand is a huge company. I'm sure you have some inactive shell company that can fly under the radar if you launder money through it. More than enough to fund… whatever kind of business you happen to be conducting." Foggy cleared his throat.
"And moving these funds into a company that has never received an investment a fraction of that size is supposed to raise less suspicion? Come on, you think that never occurred to me or Joy?" Ward rested his palms on the desk, leaning back with a groan.
"I think you're used to legitimate business! Which is great! But, uh. To serve the interests of present company. I'm just saying. A judge is going to be more likely to look the other way when there is a degree of separation between a criminal transaction and the company that may or may not have financed it."
"Present company, you said," Kilgrave mumbled, stepping away from the desk and putting two fingers to his chin. "That's what you say, but how does that serve my interests? Be direct with me: how does this better protect my interests?"
"I." Foggy took a breath. "Whatever presence you have at this company. It draws attention from that. When it comes to a hypothetical crime, your best case scenario is to have as few people mentioning you as possible. Trust me when I say, I have dealt with a ton of would-be criminals in the past, and one of their biggest downfalls is getting too comfortable and overplaying their hand. And that's a situation with even less risk than you have to worry about, given that I would be surprised if even the worst of them has killed even half as many people as you have-" He cut himself off, realizing too late exactly how direct he was being. …Exactly as commanded. "…Oh, I should not have said that…"
Everyone in the room turned their eyes to Foggy, obvious horror painted on Ward and Joy's faces. Kilgrave seemed almost as intrigued as he was disturbed, possibly even moreso. Foggy felt the sweat forming on his brow, and he shuffled uncomfortably in his chair.
"Listen to me, now," Kilgrave commanded brusquely. His feet dragged on the carpet as he stepped off the desk. "Whatever communication you may have had with the Meachums about me. Whatever you may have heard. Whatever you may have otherwise assumed." Kilgrave made his way all the way around the desk until he loomed directly over Foggy's chair, standing over the lawyer with a twisted, menacing half-smile. His purple jacket dangled at his sides. "It's true. Every last bit of it. I am as dangerous as you could possibly imagine. I can do things you couldn't even dream of. I can make your life a living hell. And then some. And I could do it before lunch." He straightened out his jacket. "You won't tell anyone a word about me. Any recordings you have of me, or about me, you'll destroy. And that's a command, of course, but I'm covering my bases. Do you understand? I'm not just… informing you. No… that… that is a threat. Am I clear?"
The two stared each other down for a few tense moments.
"C- crystal." Foggy cleared his throat.
Kilgrave stepped away from Foggy's chair, marching all the way behind the desk and setting a hand on the glass, exasperated.
The tracker hung on the underside of his jacket, just out of view.
"…Well, I don't know about the two of you, but I have had quite enough legal advice for one lifetime. Joy, lead him out of building. And for God's sake, don't bring him back."
Foggy stumbled as Joy nearly yanked him from his chair, the two awkwardly making their way out of the office. Ward gave them both a grim, fixed stare without saying another word.
"Have a wonderful day, Mr. Nelson," Kilgrave said grimly, leaning against the window. "Not going to forget that name…"
The door slammed shut on Kilgrave's apartment, and he hung up his jacket on the coat rack as he stretched in the doorway, a curious look on his face.
"Jessica! Darling?" he called out, taking a few steps into the foyer.
She called out to him from the kitchen, in a singsongy sort of coo. "Hey! I'm in here!"
Kilgrave met her in the kitchen, where she stood over the oven in a blue dress. He closed the distance between them, resting his hands on her bare forearms.
She looked back over her shoulder to kiss him on the cheek. "Hi, sweetie."
"What- what's this?" he asked cheerfully, stepping to the side to get a better look at the tray in her hands.
She backed up a bit to open the oven, setting the tray inside. "Uh, it's salmon. We had leftovers in the fridge; I thought I would make some dinner. You were complaining that you were going to have a long day…"
"Yeah, I was right." Kilgrave chuckled at that. "Ah, well, you know you're not a great cook, but…" He shrugged halfheartedly. "Sure. We can try it, sweetheart."
"I hope you like it."
The two of them smiled at each other. Kilgrave breathed slowly for a few moments, truly appreciating the feeling.
And then the smoke alarm interrupted them.
Both jumped with surprise at the same time, and Jessica threw her oven mitts off just to cover her ears. Kilgrave looked at her briefly with some disgust.
"What- is that- did the oven set that off?" he asked incredulously.
"No, I- I don't see how it could! I just put it in!" She waved her hands frantically at the oven. "It's fine! No smoke!"
"Then what's the problem?"
He marched out of the kitchen and Jessica trailed anxiously behind him, high heels clacking on the hardwood floor. The source of the smoke was subtle but obvious- trailing up in tiny loops from the only jacket on the coat rack.
Kilgrave ran his hand under the bottom of his jacket, fingers rolling over a little plastic disc, which he immediately ripped off and held in the palm of his hand.
He shook it out, and the smoke stopped trailing, though a few sparks shot out at the same time. A red light in the center of the disc blinked, like it had malfunctioned somehow.
"What in the name of-?" Kilgrave sputtered, at a loss for words in his obvious outrage. "-What is this? Jessica! Tell me!" He shot her a venomous, accusatory scowl. "Did you have anything to do with this?"
She looked up at him with horror, shaking her head violently. "No! No! I- I have no idea what that is! I've never seen it before!"
He narrowed his eyes at her, then shook his head. "God damn it. God damn it!" The device cracked as Kilgrave threw it to the ground in frustration, putting both hands to his forehead. "What is it? Some kind of bomb?"
"I don't- I think- it looks like a GPS tracker or something." Jessica spoke slowly, obviously flustered but trying to manage his emotions at the same time. "…Maybe it's the police…?"
"No. The police are not the ones that have been relentless tailing me for the past month. I'll tell you what: whoever it is, I'd bet anything your ex-boyfriend Luke Cage had something to do with it." Furious, Kilgrave shook out his jacket and draped it around his shoulders again, slapping a phone into Jessica's hands. "Get Murdock on the phone. I've got work to do."
Chapter 19: Body-Hat Syndrome
Kilgrave's suitcase dropped on the floor of the foyer with a thud. Jessica drummed her fingers on his cell phone, exhausted by the sight of it.
"Give it to me. Go pack. Essentials only." Kilgrave took the phone from her hand, and she obediently wandered off to the bedroom as he put it to his ear. "Stuart, is that you? I need men. As many as you are capable of sending. I don't want a repeat of last time."
Jessica dragged a nearly empty bag out with one hand, walking backwards awkwardly over her high heels.
"Ten? Yes, at least ten! At least twenty! Bring a hundred if you have to! I want these two dead, do you understand? No games." Kilgrave hung up the phone with a sigh.
"You're bringing people here? To the apartment? With automatic weapons?" Jessica asked concernedly, setting down her bag next to Kilgrave's suitcase. "There are innocent people living here…"
"I don't exactly have any way of anticipating where else we might be attacked from, do I? I can hardly be held responsible for defending myself."
"But if you're worried about an attack, why wouldn't you just stay here and take care of it yourself?" Jessica scratched behind her head, a part of her regretting even making the suggestion. "You couldn't just use your own powers to…?"
"Oh, sure I could. If I wanted to walk directly into a trap. Honestly, Jessica." He rolled his eyes. "For all I know, one of them will jump me around a corner with a syringe full of Sufentanil on my way out the door. Or, y'know, a handgun. No, I need someone disposable." He straightened out his jacket. "…Speaking of which, Murdock should be here by now."
"You really think he would come because you commanded it over the phone? He's not exactly loyal to you…"
"I just spoke to him this morning. He'll be here. He should still be under my control."
"But he lives on the other side of the city! Time and distance…"
"It's not enough time. And it's not enough distance. Jessica. He'll come." He stopped rushing, turning slowly and taking a few steps forward to put him face-to-face with Jessica. "I'm sorry. I know this is difficult. I know it must be hard to have your ex tied up in all this again. But I promise it will be over soon."
He ran the back of his hand along her cheek, then leaned in to kiss her. She hummed softly as they embraced each other.
"I know… and thank you for saying that." Folding one of her hands over his, she held her head very slightly away from his, making gentle eye contact. "Let me stay," Jessica murmured, smiling fondly at him. "…Let me stay to help Matt, just for tonight."
Kilgrave immediately scoffed, stepping away from her. "What? You? Jessica, that's ridiculous; the whole reason I'm doing this is that I'm trying to keep you out of danger-"
"-But you're sure it's Luke, right?" She lowered her hands to her sides, balling them up into fists. "It's Luke that's going after you?"
"I'm sure he's one of them, unless there's some other bulletproof black man I haven't heard about. Even with all the precautions I've taken, he's relentless, I'm telling you…"
"Then let me stay. Just for tonight." Jessica took a step toward him, tilting her head down to look him in the eye. "You can't keep me out of danger if the danger just keeps following you everywhere you go. Trust me. I've fought Luke. And I've fought Matt, too. And Matt may be tough, but believe me when I tell you, he's not unbreakable. He doesn't stand a chance." She sighed, fists still clenched. "I'm stronger than he is. I have a better shot than he does. I'm the best shot you have."
The two looked deep into each other's eyes.
Tentative, Kilgrave gritted his teeth. "You know how I feel about you seeing him again."
Jessica didn't move an inch. "Just for tonight." Her lips curled into a tiny smile. "…And then there won't be anybody else to get between us."
He studied her for a long time.
But her smile made him cave. "…Okay. Okay, just for tonight. You can stay behind to help. Kill Luke Cage. Do whatever you have to do to make it happen." He raised one hand, pointing a finger in her direction. "But as soon as it's done. Or if anything goes wrong. Come back to me. You know where our safehouse is. Come and find me."
She nodded, and a few strands of black hair fell in front of her eyes. "I'll come back. I promise."
Kilgrave kissed her again, and she sighed through parted lips.
"When you see him again," Kilgrave whispered. "Tell him you don't love him."
"I'll tell him," she replied shakily.
"Wow. Look at this place."
"Reminds me of the kind of place my parents used to go to parties when I was a kid."
"I guess that's what you get, being raised by billionaires."
Luke and Danny exchanged a glance, standing underneath a massive, ornate palace of an apartment building. The coordinates from the GPS tracker had led them straight there, not long before the signal cut out entirely.
"So where do we go now?" Danny asked, slipping his hands into the pockets of his hoodie.
Luke scratched his chin. "If you could pick any place in this whole apartment, price be damned, no strings attached, where would you live?" He shook his head. "Top floor. He'll be in that penthouse with the balcony out back." He looked down at Danny. "You ready for this? How's your wound healing?"
"That? Ah, it's fine. Mostly fine."
"It's healing. Trust me, Luke. I've had worse." He brushed off his shoulder. "What about you? Are you ready for this?"
"Oh, I'm ready. This is something I should have done a long, long time ago." He steeled himself. "Just remember, Danny. If one of us gets compromised. Kilgrave is the priority."
The two entered the apartment's spacious lobby- beautiful, ornate and floored with white marble. Half a dozen people already were already loitering inside, dispersed among a few couches and chairs lining the walls.
Luke approached the tenant list next to the mailboxes, and Danny trailed a little bit behind him, looking over his shoulder with some discomfort.
"Wow… it's a party in here…" he mumbled, straightening out his clothes.
"It's a big apartment. Just don't make a scene," Luke whispered back. His finger landed on the final entry on the tenant list, the penthouse on the top floor. "1414. That'll be at the end of the hall on the top floor. That's where we're headed."
"Got it. Let's make it quick."
They nodded to each other, and Danny glanced back one last time as the two made their way out of the lobby to the elevators in an interior hallway.
Only a few seconds of silence passed before the crowd in the lobby started to bustle behind them. Luke perked up suddenly as someone shouted from behind him.
He flinched very slightly as a crowbar hit him in the back of the head, and he turned around slowly to look, Danny throwing up his fists beside him.
Someone shouted from the lobby: "The white guy! You were supposed to start with the white guy, fool!"
The guy with the crowbar, a whole head shorter than Luke, looked up with a tiny, apologetic frown. "…Ah… that makes sense now…"
One hand tugged the crowbar away from him, and the other tossed him against the wall, sending him hurtling to the ground unconscious. A second man charged Luke barehanded, only to be grabbed by the face and shoved helplessly backward.
Awkwardly getting to his feet while fleeing, he stumbled into the lobby, waving one hand behind him. "Clear out! Clear out! Get a clean shot!"
Luke flinched as buckshot bounced off of him from a shotgun blast in the back of the lobby, but pushed through the doorway anyway, shielding Danny as he entered. A man near the far wall closed in on the door and unloaded his pistol onto Luke point-blank before being cut off by a punch that sent him flipping several feet backwards.
Reinforcements spilled in through the entrance by the handful, carrying in heavier weapons from some cache outside.
On the other end of the lobby, Danny planted a hand on Luke's shoulder and sprung to his side, landing a leaping kick on a third gunman and following it up with an elbow strike. The two spread out as they cleared out the room, Luke soaking up bullet fire and Danny weaving around it.
"Aight! Aight! Clear out! I got this!" Three more reinforcements charged inside, and the few still-conscious gunmen stepped to the side, making room for a man in the center of the double-doors as he loaded up a hefty assault rifle and aimed it straight for Luke.
Aiming down the sights at Luke's head, the two of them looked straight at each other for half a second, just long enough to make Luke hesitate.
With a raised eyebrow, Luke leapt to the floor at the last second and stayed kneeling there- and three shots narrowly missed him and made impact with the wall behind him. Seconds later, three small holes blasted open in the wall where each of the bullets impacted, sending brick and plaster flying out.
Danny looked back with alarm, caught off-guard. "Did… did those bullets just explode?"
"That's a Judas." Luke threw up his fists in front of his face and stood, glancing briefly in Danny's direction.
"Pierces my skin. You need to be-"
Another gunshot rang out, and Luke snapped his head forward just in time to see Danny's closed fist, glowing bright yellow, held out directly in front of him. Sparks flew from the Iron Fist as the bullet tried and failed to drill through, exploding harmlessly with a small puff of smoke.
The color left Danny's hand as he opened it, and debris from the exploded bullet dropped from his palm.
"Wow…" Luke stared with some amazement at the remains of the Judas bullet on the ground. "Uh… thanks, Danny."
"No problem. You okay?"
"Me?" Luke grabbed one of the defeated toadies off the floor by the seat of his pants, throwing him halfway across the room with one hand and sending him clattering into the gunman with the Judas rifle. "Never better."
Danny grinned. "In that case."
Leaping into a roll, Danny dodged a shotgun blast and jumped to his feet, slapping the gun out of one of the gunman's hands and taking him down with a hook. Luke chuckled as he charged the men on his own side.
"You know," said Luke, clanging two heads together, "I usually do this to Wu-Tang Clan."
Danny kicked someone into a wall and punched them in the jaw. "Yeah? Digital Underground for me."
A gunshot echoed from the double-doors, and Danny flinched out of the way. Another two men, dressed up in black coats, marched inside, the one in the back holding the smoking gun.
"Hey, Curly!" The man in front brushed a hand through short brown hair, reaching into his coat to pull out a funny-looking needlegun. "How's your arm?"
Danny pressed a hand to his forearm. "Stuart."
"Showed up with your boyfriend this time?"
He threw up his needlegun in front of his face and fired it straight at Danny, only narrowly missing as Luke shoved past Danny to intercept them.
tink tink tink
Three flechettes ricocheted off of Luke's chest and landed on the floor, giving Luke an opportunity to lunge forward and swipe the needlegun from Stuart's hand. He crushed it in one fist, gripping Stuart's collar with the other, but the second bodyguard intercepted him, pressing a pistol to Luke's head and tapping on the trigger. Wincing with pain, Luke lost his grip, and Stuart shoved past him to move in on Danny, drawing a tactical knife from his belt.
Danny caught Stuart's wrist just in time to stop him from plunging the knife into his face. The two took a second just to scowl at each other.
"That's gotta hurt, huh?" Stuart chuckled, gesturing to Danny's bad shoulder. "Maybe if I-"
He swung out his other arm, and Danny swept out of the way, sending Stuart stumbling forward. He barely had time to steady himself as Danny charged again, and the two blocked a few blows from each other before Danny managed to land one.
Stuart brushed himself off and chuckled. "Agh… heh. Alright, little man."
Flipping the knife in his palm, he lunged forward, stabbing straight for Danny's chest. Without a moment's hesitation, Danny intercepted the strike, following up with a knee to the stomach and throwing Stuart in front of him in an arm lock. One elbow snapped his arm at the joint, and Stuart stumbled forward in pain, the knife clattering on the marble floor.
"Agh, shit! You son of a-"
He threw a limp punch at Danny with his remaining functional arm, which Danny easily blocked. A crescent kick sent him reeling back into the wall.
Danny leaned down to pick up the knife, brandishing it in front of him. "How about a fair fight next time?" He drove the knife into Stuart's shoulder, pressing him against the wall with a firm hand, and knocked him out with one final punch.
Stepping over a few semi-conscious goons, Luke lifted up one of the lobby's couches and wedged it in the double-doors, blocking the entrance off.
"Don't think they've got any more backup, but just in case," Luke said, approaching Danny and wincing at the sight of Stuart on the ground.
"I don't like these numbers," said Danny. "There were way too many for this to just be Kilgrave's security. And the fact that Stuart came himself…"
"Yeah, smells fishy to me, too. They brought a Judas rifle. That means they were trying to prepare for me." Luke leaned down to pick up the rifle in question, wrapping his hand around the magazine and crushing it like a soda can. "But this is our only chance. We came this far. We need to finish it."
"I know we do. I just hope he doesn't see us coming. Everyone in the apartment has to have heard this fight."
"We'll be careful."
With a nod, Danny let Luke take the lead, and the two finally made their way out of the apartment lobby, leaving two dozen beaten and broken men in the wreckage behind them.
Danny put his hands in his pockets as they stepped into the elevator, which let out a cheerful ring. Luke leaned his head against the back wall as he watched the little red light tick past the floors they passed.
Luke scratched his chin. "…Alright… what's your go-to album?"
"Body-Hat Syndrome," Danny replied with a smirk.
"Seriously? Not Sex Packets?"
"Everyone says Sex Packets. Humpty Dance is great, but you can't sleep on their later stuff."
"Can't argue with that."
The elevator rumbled to a stop on the top floor, and Luke and Danny stepped out side-by-side, both obviously worse for wear.
"Remember," Luke said quietly, slowing his walk as the two approached the apartment at the end of the hall. "Kilgrave is the priority."
Danny nodded once. "I remember."
"Then we grab him first. Get him restrained. And don't let him speak. Then we can worry about the others…"
Distant police sirens sounded from the streets below. Luke reached one hand to the doorknob with caution, snapping it open and breaking the lock. The door creaked quietly as he stepped inside, raising a finger to his mouth to signal to Danny.
The apartment was well-decorated and obviously lived-in, but barely a sound came from inside, making the whole place eerie and still. The duo looked around with caution, careful about making even a single footstep too loud.
It all became moot seconds later, as Luke opened the door to the kitchen and was immediately charged by an old friend in a devil costume.
Daredevil drove a knee into Luke's stomach, not even earning a flinch, and Luke swung out his arm to retaliate, hitting nothing but air.
Danny took a stance behind Luke as Daredevil brushed past him, and the two traded a few blows before Luke could even register what was happening.
"Oh, come on; not you again!" Danny groaned, backing up almost into the door. "Go, Luke! I got him! Search the apartment!"
With a brisk nod, Luke rushed off out of the foyer, hurrying to the next door along the far wall, which already hung open.
He stopped abruptly in the doorway. Kilgrave was, predictably, nowhere to be seen. But Jessica was standing in the center of the room in his place, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket and looking exactly the way she had when he had last seen her.
Jessica froze at the same time, and they stared each other down for what felt like ages without saying a word. All the ferocity on Luke's face faded in an instant, and drooped into obvious pity. She flinched at that.
Jessica knew exactly what she had been commanded to do, and even still she managed to hesitate for just that brief time.
"Where…?" Luke shook his head with disbelief. "Where is he, Jessica…?"
"Not here," she mumbled.
"…How long have you been…?"
"You know the answer to that."
"I can't believe he sent you to…"
Slowly, her feet started to shuffle her across the room, toward the entrance. "You shouldn't have come here, Luke. You never should have come back to this."
The color drained from her face as she tightened her fists at her sides.
Luke raised one hand in front of him. "I don't want to hurt you."
"Yeah, well, you're in the wrong goddamn place, then."
Without warning, Jessica's fist flew across his face with a loud crack, sending him staggering back several feet. She rushed him again, landing another few hard punches before Luke's arm flew up to block her strike.
She tugged on her arm, which didn't budge in his steel grip. "Damn it, Luke." With her free arm, she threw another haymaker, which Luke promptly intercepted with his own free hand.
"I- I'm sorry that I left Hell's Kitchen," Luke murmured, his tight grip keeping both of Jessica's arms locked firmly in place. "I didn't- I thought that you got him- they reported in the news that they found a body. I just thought you wouldn't want to see me again…"
"That's the part you were right about!"
With a loud grunt, she lifted her knee and planted a firm kick to his stomach, knocking the wind out of him enough to shake his grip on her arms. Another punch sent him stumbling back again.
Stumbling back into the living room, Luke blocked another of Jessica's strikes and glanced over to his side toward the foyer, where Danny and the devil-suited man were still trading blows. "Danny! They're being controlled! Go easy!"
Across the room, Danny landed on the floor and skidded a few feet back, face sore from a particularly rough shot to the chin. Daredevil charged him, and he planted both his palms on the ground under his head, flipping backwards and landing on his feet to fall into a twist stance.
Intercepting a low kick, Danny knocked Daredevil back with a palm strike and shot a glance back at Luke. "Not really in a position for that right now!"
Panting heavily, Daredevil touched his chest briefly before returning to the fray, and Danny straightened himself out to meet him just in time to deflect a flurry of punches. Each one was furious and powerful, like a boxer's. Danny knew he was just fast enough to contend, but not by much- one slip-up and he could end-up with a broken arm.
He moved backwards with purpose, changing stance with each step to find an opening as the masked man continued to approach with flying fists. Each block sent a hand flying in a different direction, keeping Danny on his toes until, finally, one of the strikes was just a little too slow. A little too open, if only by a centimeter.
With a swift breath, Danny deflected the punch and thrust his palm into his opponent's chin, following up with a kick to his chest that knocked him to the ground. As Danny centered himself and found his breath, Daredevil struggled to his feet, wiping blood from his lips with a grimace. When he returned to the fight, it was with a billy club in each hand, swinging for Danny's head.
In the living room, splinters flew from the wreckage of an armchair, and Luke struggled to his feet on top of it as Jessica closed in on him, smashing a porcelain lamp over his head.
He shrugged it off, and threw up an arm to block another punch, shoving her backwards with one hand just to put enough space between them. As she attacked again, he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her into him, wrapping an arm under her chin and getting her into a headlock.
He wavered on one knee, still trying to find the right words as she elbowed him in the gut. "I- I don't know what else to say," he muttered. "I shouldn't have left you alone."
"God damn it, Luke. You should have." Jessica relaxed for half a second in his grip, catching her breath. "You… you don't understand. I got him to let me stay behind. Just to see you again. I went to that risk… just so I could tell you… you should never have come back. You should never have come after him again. I don't want your help. I never did. And by getting involved… you're just someone else for me to worry about. You're just going to be more blood on my hands." She planted both feet on the ground, her hands wrapped around his forearm. "Luke. I can't live with that…"
"No. I shouldn't have left you alone. I knew what he was capable of; I just… I guess I just wanted him dead so badly that I was in a hurry to believe it. But I won't make that mistake again. I know what I have to do." Luke gripped his palms together, tightening his lock around her throat. "I'm really, really sorry for this."
He kept his knees planted in the ground, and Jessica struggled to free herself, to absolutely no avail. Eventually, she passed out, and Luke gently rested one hand behind her head to keep her from falling.
Rubbing his now-chafed wrists with some pain, Luke stood over her, grimacing with displeasure and catching his breath.
Danny landed a few feet behind him as he vaulted over a counter into the living room, rubbing his head from the few billy club hits he had already taken. Fixing both clubs together into one long baton, Daredevil closed the distance, swinging the long weapon overhead at Danny, who threw a single punch above his head to block it.
His fist changed color mid-punch, and the baton collided with it in the air, shattering into two pieces and sending several fragments of metal flying in different directions. Luke smirked at the sight, closing in next to Danny and crossing his arms.
A little disoriented, Daredevil stumbled backward, kneeling down and grabbing one of the ends of his now-broken billy club. Without turning his head, he swiped his hand to the side and threw the shard of metal across the room into Luke's face.
It hit the floor- no effect. Luke continued to approach, and the masked man got to his feet with alarm, throwing a punch that bounced harmlessly off his chest.
"Sorry, man." Luke grabbed the man by the collar, and he flailed uselessly in Luke's grip. With one arm, Luke bashed him in the side of the helmet, denting it and leaving the man to collapse to the floor, unconscious.
Bleeding from the lip and clearly exhausted, Danny straightened out his clothes, approaching Luke and glaring down at his unconscious attacker. "…Took you long enough," he mumbled.
"I was a little preoccupied," Luke scoffed, gesturing to the destroyed living room. "You couldn't have just hit him with the magic fist?"
Danny caressed his right hand slightly, letting out a quiet pant. "Hey, I didn't want to kill him. You're the one who said to go easy on them."
Police sirens continued to echo from down below. Danny looked back to the window to see red and blue lights flashing.
"We can't stay here." He put up his hood. "What do we do now?"
Chapter 20: AKA While We're Making Introductions
A few heavy lengths of chain draped behind Luke's legs as he dragged them through the wide empty storeroom of a Rand building, one of many unoccupied properties Danny had paid a visit to over the past several months. For the time being, Luke and Danny were the only two people there, aside from the two captives they brought with them.
Police sirens rang out from the streets behind them.
With a nod, the two laid the unconscious Matt and Jessica against a pair of concrete pillars, restraining them both with the bulky chains.
"This is not what I signed up for," Danny said with exhaustion, standing anxiously across from the two pillars. "We're not any closer to getting our hands on Kilgrave now. Actually, we're probably further away. We planted a tracker on him and he still caught on to us? How do we beat that? There's no way we can catch him now."
"It's not what I signed up for, either, but it is what it is. At least we managed to get these two to safety. We'll take it one step at a time." Luke dropped his hoodie- in tatters from all the damage it had taken- on the ground, only to reveal that the grey t-shirt underneath was damaged nearly as badly. He poked a finger through one of the bullet holes, frowning at Danny. "…That's not any better, is it?"
Danny shrugged. "Actually looked cooler with the hoodie."
"Swiss cheese hoodie is kind of my signature, though. Not really the best thing for me to wear if we're trying to lay low." He scratched his chin. "What's your size?"
"Smaller than yours, trust me."
"Yeah…" Luke poked at the tattered hoodie with his foot.
Danny pointed a finger toward the wall, where chains were rattling against one of the pillars as Jessica awoke. They peered over her at the same time.
Hair fell in front of her eyes as she regained consciousness, and she slumped into the chains for a moment before pulling back with a gasp, realizing where she was. She struggled against the chains very briefly before looking up, rolling her eyes at the sight of the men standing guard in front of her.
"…Well, this is kinky," she grumbled.
"Jessica-" Luke raised a hand in front of him as he started to speak, but she cut him off immediately.
"-Look, this has gone far enough," she said sharply. "You and Karate Kid back there need to pack your shit and get out of New York. Like, yesterday." She gestured to Danny, grimacing. "You- what's your name?"
The man in question glanced at her with his arms crossed. "Danny."
"Dan- what, seriously? …Hey, he really is the Karate Kid."
Danny frowned humorlessly at the joke. "I'm the Iron Fist, and nobody is leaving town. We want Kilgrave."
"Then you have a death wish." She blinked. "And… what the fuck? What did you just call yourself?"
"Iron Fist," Luke mumbled with embarrassment, covering his eyes.
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
"Now's not the time for this," said Danny, though his irritation was painted all over his face. "Where is Kilgrave going? We almost had him."
"You really think I can tell you that? Geez, someone is new at this." Jessica groaned with disbelief.
Luke shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Kilgrave can wait. You're safe now; that's the important thing."
"Come on, Luke, you have to know better than that." She threw her head back, or at least, as far back as she could against the pillar. "As long as you knew me, Kilgrave was doing everything in his power to get me back under his control. Now that he has that, you really think he's going to just give it up? To get to you? Come on. I always need to reunite with him. That's his rule. If you want to put an end to that, you're gonna have to kill me."
"Well, I'm not doing that."
"I know. Which is why you need to get the hell away from me." She sighed. "Like I said. Pack your shit. Get out of town."
Her expression softened as she spoke, looking over him with a grim frown. Luke frowned back, apologetic.
Danny threw up his hands at her, moving around restlessly. "Look, we're not going to get anywhere if you keep-"
Luke raised a hand to cut him off. "I can't begin to imagine what you've been through, Jessica. But you don't have to carry it on your shoulders. You don't have to be a martyr."
"And you don't have to be a moralizing jackass," she replied with a scoff. "Recognizing a lost cause doesn't make me a martyr. And refusing to recognize one doesn't make you a hero, either."
"I'm not trying to be-"
"I've seen it, Luke." Jessica raised her voice, lunging forward against the chains a little before relaxing back. "I've seen it. On the news. I've seen what you have been up to in Harlem. With that… crime boss, or whatever. I know they're calling you some goofy name. I don't know what sense of guilt you have that is driving you to feel like you need to play the hero, but you need to figure out sooner rather than later that you don't owe a goddamn thing to anyone." She sucked in her breath through gritted teeth. "Before you end up chained to a wall, having to explain the same damn thing to someone else."
"Harlem's Hero. That's the name. I didn't ask for it. But… I guess I earned it." Luke steeled himself. "Fine. So maybe I was trying to be a hero for them. But that wasn't because of what I wanted. That was because the problems they needed solved were bigger than me. They needed me." He pointed a finger at her, almost accusingly. "And you need me, too, whether you like it or not."
"I don't need you. I didn't before, and I certainly don't now…" Jessica looked at the floor. "…I don't love you, you know."
She felt like a weight was lifted from her shoulders as she said it, and she breathed a sigh of relief, though too quietly for anyone to hear.
Taken aback, Danny widened his eyes at the remark, but said nothing, glancing back and forth between the two of them with his mouth slightly agape.
Luke's face twisted into something like anger. "What? I-" –he stopped himself– "-what? Is that what you think this is about? Really? I don't need you to love me- hell, I don't want you to! I'm happy without you! Being with you made my life more complicated than I ever wanted!" Luke hesitated for a second, realizing how much he was raising his voice, and tried to relax. "But… like it or not, our lives are tied up together. And that means I have a responsibility to you. I can't just let you run back to Kilgrave."
Before Jessica could work up a response, a loud groan sounded from the unconscious man at the pillar next to her, and the whole crowd turned to watch as Daredevil finally shook himself awake, his mask still covering his face despite a few cracks.
"Great," Jessica said with a roll of her eyes.
Luke glanced back to her briefly while Danny moved past him, shaking Matt by the costumed arm.
"Hey, man, are you alright?" he asked quietly.
Gritting his teeth, Matt shook Danny's arm away, immediately struggling against the chains. "Where are we?"
Taking a step back, Danny crossed his arms, positioning himself at Luke's side once again. "We're on a Rand Enterprises lot. Next month it's going to be a pharmaceutical storehouse. Right now, it's just an empty building. We're the only four people here."
Matt continued to bark out questions without a moment of hesitation. "How did we get here? How did we get out of the apartment?"
"We dragged you here. You know. After I kicked your ass."
"That's not how I remember it," said Matt with a gravelly chuckle.
Jessica interrupted them both with a deafening groan. "Alright, Jesus. Can we measure dicks later? You're both grown men who do karate; clearly being cool is not at the top of either of your priority lists."
Embarrassed into silence, the pair stopped bickering for a few moments, and Luke took a breath, considering whether he should speak up.
He decided to, though admittedly with obvious hesitation. "…Technically, I'm the one that kicked his ass."
"Luke!" Jessica shot him a look.
He shrugged. "Sorry."
"’Luke’. There it is again. You two were talking earlier, too." Matt perked up again. "You two know each other? How?"
"Yeah," Danny mumbled quietly, "I was gonna ask that earlier, but it seemed like a bad time…"
Jessica rolled her eyes. "It's a long st-"
"-From my bar," interrupted Luke. "We met at a bar I owned while I was living in Hell's Kitchen. She was going after Kilgrave at the time. She's how I found out about him. And she's how I found out what happened to my wife, Reva." He gritted his teeth, but soldiered on. "He… used Jessica to kill her. And when he found out about me, and my unbreakable skin, he blew up the bar, and he tried to use me to kill Jessica."
"…And she survived?" Danny interrupted, with a disbelieving scoff. After shooting an apologetic glance at Jessica, he added, "Uh, no offense… but how?"
"She shot me point-blank in the head with a police shotgun."
Danny blinked. "…Okay, that is badass."
Fed up with Danny's adolescence, Jessica made a face and chimed in again. "I'm sorry, but while we're making introductions, can someone please tell me who this guy is?"
"I told you already. I'm Danny." He looked her in the eye after a short pause. "My name is Danny Rand. My father is the founder of Rand Enterprises. And Kilgrave made me sign away my stake in the company. But it's my right to take what my father left for me there, so I want Kilgrave taken down. And I want my company back." He looked away. "You can go ahead and give me the spiel about how it's selfish, and how it's trivial, and how I should just count my blessings. I've heard it already. From everybody."
Jessica's face turned from condescending to serious, and she spoke slowly and firmly. "No. I don't think that. I would never say that. Kilgrave is a leech. And every time he roots around inside your head to take something from you, he leaves a little bit of himself behind. Every time. No matter how small it is. That's hard to let go of." Having gotten his attention, Danny turned his gaze back to her, and she looked him in the eye. "So no, I don't think it's selfish, or trivial. I wouldn't wish it on anybody. Not on my worst enemy… except maybe for him. And I'm sorry that it happened to you." She glanced to Matt and Luke. "To all of you. I'm sorry. None of you should have to be involved in this. But it's too late to change anything."
"The fact that people keep saying that is the reason things are as bad in this city as they are." Matt spoke up suddenly, surprising everyone. After getting their attention, he gestured to Danny and Luke in front of him, half-smiling. "Did you see the crew he sent to stop you two? That means he thinks you're a threat to him. Which means you probably are."
Luke and Danny looked at each other and shrugged.
"…You know what?" said Danny. "I just remembered that there's still somebody we haven't gotten an introduction from."
Matt's smile vanished immediately.
"Who are you?" asked Luke.
"I'm just trying to make my city safer," he replied harshly.
"Not good enough."
Luke took a step forward, and Matt forced himself back against the pillar, grimacing.
"Don't touch the mask," he threatened.
"Oh, for the love of- he's Matt Murdock," Jessica said matter-of-factly, drawing everyone's attention to her again.
"Huh?" Luke processed it for a second. "Matt Murdock?"
"Matthew Murdock," Jessica affirmed. "Yes, that one. He represented you in court, Luke. He disappeared because he got Kilgraved."
Matt looked a little worried and a little hurt at the same time. "Jessica, why would you-?"
"-You really think this is the right time to be keeping secrets?" She rolled her eyes. "Not like you can stop them from taking that mask off your face anyway. At least this way you don't have to embarrass yourself."
Even as she spoke, Luke marched up to Matt as he struggled against his chains, reaching one hand to his face and ripping the mask off. Luke tossed it behind him with one hand, sending it clattering to the floor. Even knowing what to expect, he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"Matt Murdock…?" he repeated. "Why- I mean, how… I mean, what the hell, man? I thought you were blind!"
"It's complicated," Matt grumbled.
"Are you kidding me?" Danny exclaimed. "Does everybody know everybody? You're telling me you're Luke's lawyer?"
"I was." Matt smacked his lips. "…Uh, congrats on the acquittal, by the way."
"…Thanks," grunted Luke.
"Who did you get?"
"Claire recommended me your old partner. Foggy."
"She did?" Matt and Jessica said this at the same time, but Jessica shut up immediately after, not wanting to draw attention.
"Figures she would, I guess. Good for him," mumbled Matt. "…He doesn't know you're going after Kilgrave, does he?"
Danny squinted at Luke, who didn't even look back before speaking. "No. He just represented me in court, that's all."
Matt nodded, but his face remained neutral, and he sat on it for a moment. "…That's a lie. You're lying."
"What? What are you talking about?" retorted Luke, bewildered.
"I know it was a lie." Matt thought for another moment. "I can tell when you're lying. I can hear your heartbeat."
Danny's eyes went wide. "…Awesome."
"What did you tell Foggy? What does he know?" Matt's voice took on a much more urgent tone, and he slacked against the chains again.
"Not much! Alright? Not much." Luke raised a hand to reassure him, sighing. "Claire told me he was worried you might have been tied up with Kilgrave. Now I understand why. Foggy just helped us out while we were tracking Kilgrave down, that's all. He's not in danger."
"Helped? What does that mean, 'helped'?"
"It means helped, okay? And the more I tell you, the more Kilgrave can make you tell him."
Matt froze for a moment, contemplating. "…Okay. Fair enough."
"Wait a minute." Danny shrugged at Luke with both hands. "I thought the whole reason we were going to all this trouble was because we were freeing them from Kilgrave."
"Someone hasn't been paying attention," Jessica grumbled.
"Yeah, I'm sorry, but it's not that simple, Danny." Matt clenched his fists as he spoke. "He has me meet him so he can update me with new instructions. Like clockwork. Same place and same time, every other day."
"Then we'll stop you from going back to him!" Luke declared, exasperated. "What do you think we restrained you for? We can just keep you two here until his powers wear off-"
"No, you can't," Jessica interjected. "It doesn't work like that, Luke. He's more powerful than he used to be. A lot more. How do you think he managed to control me again?" She hung her head sadly. "24 hours is nothing to him anymore. I've seen people stay controlled for a week, sometimes even more."
"A week?" Luke stared, shocked. "A- a week without seeing him in-between?"
"Sometimes even more," she sighed. "And look, as much as I- and Matt, I'm sure- would love to stay here in chains, shitting in a bucket and having you hand-feed us for the foreseeable future, there's no way we could stay missing for that long. He'd just come find us. And he'd find you in the process." She leaned forward, slacking against the chains.
"Then maybe we let him," Luke said seriously. "Maybe you bring him to us."
"It could be the best chance we have."
"Now who's being a martyr?"
"Jessica's right," said Matt. "I think you guys have a chance at stopping him. But you have to do it right. Being reckless is what got me here. If you're going to stop him, you're not going to do it by putting yourselves at risk like that. Maybe… you need to wear him down, little by little." He jerked his head a little, taking in his surroundings with his senses. "…Speaking of which, Jessica, you've put more than enough strain on those chains to break them."
She looked right at him, slumping her shoulders and scoffing. "Yeah, I was waiting for a less obvious opportunity, genius."
Danny clenching his fists behind him, Luke took a step forward and shot her a sharp look. "Wait, what-?"
Jessica cut him off. "-Screw it."
In one move, she lunged forward, and the chain snapped apart in the back of the pillar, sending her flying into Luke. He collected himself quickly, but before he could stop her, she tossed a loop of chain over his shoulders and brushed past him. Tugging on the chain, she yanked him backwards by the neck and pulled him into the ground with a crash, getting to her own feet and brushing off her clothes. Danny rushed forward to stop her, and she shoved him backwards with one hand, catching him by surprise and sending him hurtling to the ground next to Luke.
Jessica grabbed the loop of chain around Matt and pulled it taught, chopping it with one hand and splitting it to free him. With the chains falling away from him, Matt stepped away from the pillar, joining Jessica at her side.
Luke brushed the chains off of him on the ground, and Danny helped him up. The two duos faced off, all making fierce eye contact, with the obvious exception of Matt.
Her fists tightening, Jessica glanced once at Matt. "Hey, are you…?"
"I'll be fine," he responded brusquely. "Go on. Get back to him. He made that the top priority."
"See you on the other side, then."
With a huff, Jessica took one step forward, and Luke reached out to grab her. But he caught air.
Before they could even realize what was happening, Jessica had leapt thirty feet into the air, nearly brushing against the storeroom's high ceiling, and cleared the entire distance of the building in one jump, landing far out of reach. With one look back, she disappeared through the exit, and that was that.
Baffled, Danny scratched behind his head, staring over his shoulder at the door. "Did… did she just… fly…?"
"It's complicated," said Luke quietly.
Not a moment later, Matt set down his foot and rushed to get past them, instantly grabbing their attention.
"Luke!" Danny snapped.
A hand shot out to grab Matt's arm, stopping him short and tugging against the fabric. With a grunt, Matt flipped around against Luke's grip, tearing a hole clean in his outfit along his forearm. Surprised, Luke glanced at the fabric in his hand before exchanging a glance with Danny, the two of them coordinating with a nod.
Matt met Danny's lunge with a block and a jab, turning just in time to intercept Luke's attack and backflip away from him, using Luke's immovable arms as support. Landing at the skinnier man's side, Matt threw up a hand and blocked another of Danny's strikes, breathing heavily.
"No. Not him, too." Danny took a deep breath and clenched his fist, which lit up a bright yellow. "Not letting all of this be for nothing."
Luke's head shot to his side, teeth clenched. "Danny-!"
Danny's foot pressed into the ground, echoing in Matt's ears, and he took a step forward, thrusting forward with a fist charged with energy and heat. Matt recognized it instantly from their fight in the apartment.
With a slow, focused breath, Matt took one step backward, bent to one side, and leapt into a crescent kick. In a split second, his foot intercepted Danny's punch by the forearm, redirecting the punch straight to Danny's side- and straight into Luke's kidney. The eruption of a shockwave overshadowed Luke's pained grunt as the force of the blow sent him hurdling across the room and skidding along the floor.
Landing from his kick, Daredevil spun around to face the still-disoriented Danny, driving a foot into his knee to drop him to the ground and following up with a kick to the face. Grunting, Danny slammed into the ground, nose split and bleeding.
Matt stood over him, panting. "It doesn't have to be for nothing," he grunted, voice low.
Scratching his jaw, he turned away from Danny, walking slowly to the door on the other end of the room.
On the way there, he leaned down to pick up the Daredevil mask, fixing it back over his face.
Kilgrave's safehouse was really just another penthouse in another ritzy apartment, with nothing but a wall of glass to separate its dining room from the New York skyline.
With a loud crash, the front door flew open, and Kilgrave leapt to his feet out of his armchair, hurrying to the entrance.
Panting heavily, Jessica brushed hair out of her face, drumming her fingers on her black gloved hands. She looked him dead in the eye, her expression dull.
"Oh, Jessica. You poor thing." Kilgrave breathed a sigh of relief, looking her up and down. "You look like a mess. Are you okay?"
"I'm okay," she mumbled quietly.
"We- we can talk about it later. Alright? Just come in for now. You're safe here."
Kilgrave closed the front door behind her. She took severe, heavy steps into the foyer, her dirty boots treading on the fine carpet.
He took her hand, and she recoiled slightly, though not enough to stop him from tightening his grip on her.
"Relax, Jessica," said Kilgrave. "You're safe now." He kissed her on the cheek. She didn't fight him. "Hate that ratty old thing." He pinched her jacket with two fingers. "We can get you out of it now. Why don't you smile for me?"
Jessica froze, gazing shifting slowly from the sight of the skyline to Kilgrave's bony face. The two of them smiled at each other for a long while.
He leaned in and brushed hair out of her face, kissing her on the cheek. She couldn't stop smiling. She was just trying to make him happy.
He mumbled something. "Everything is going to be okay. I love you, Jessica."
She replied automatically.
"I love you, too."
Chapter 21: AKA Mother Teresa
"Let's start with a smile."
The words rang in Jessica's ears, hammering into her brain, and breaking through some invisible barrier. Just when she had started to feel safe again. She remembered what it was like to have him in her brain. Deep in her brain.
Jessica smiled brightly, the same way she had done so many times before.
The way he liked.
His hands brushed over her hair, and he laughed with some kind of demented relief, like a child on Christmas morning.
"Tell me you love me." He murmured straight into her ear and then stepped back, appraising her with giddiness.
Jessica froze for a moment, smile still plastered across her face, and she locked eyes with him, to his delight. "I love you," she said quietly.
Trish's horrified gaze bored into her from just past Kilgrave.
He looked briefly over his shoulder at her before returning to meet Jessica's gaze, his smile even broader out of giddiness.
He clasped his hands together, and he brushed slightly past Jessica, contemplating out loud. "Brilliant… just brilliant… I swear, I didn't think it would work. Dad finally managed to do something worthwhile for once in his miserable life…" Kilgrave ran a hand through his hair. "It's over now. We can finally just… breathe…"
Jessica turned slightly to look at him. She couldn't stop smiling. Sweat rolled down her forehead.
Kilgrave turned to the silent crowd behind her, throwing up his hands dramatically. "Alright. Alright! You'll all realize now that, of course, you must be very sick and not thinking straight. Whatever happened here tonight must have been some kind of fever dream. Go home and sleep it off, and never talk or think about what happened here ever again."
The people in the crowd shot each other confused glances as they suddenly lost track of themselves, shuffling off of the docks like a hoard of zombies.
From behind Kilgrave, Trish stalked off to try and join the rest of the crowd, but stopped short when Kilgrave grabbed her by the forearm. Wordlessly, she trailed her eyes up to meet his gaze, and he narrowed his eyes at her.
"Not you, Patsy," he muttered, releasing her. "Not finished with you, yet."
Unable to stop herself from trembling, Trish pulled her eyes away from him, shooting Jessica a sorrowful look.
Tears welled up in Jessica's eyes. Her smile, still flighty and cheerful, didn't falter for a moment.
"Th- then… what…?" Trish asked with a low voice, head drooping.
"Don't speak. Tired of listening to you… God, so tired of it…" Kilgrave turned from Trish to Jessica expectantly, and she panicked, smacking her lips.
"We can go somewhere else," she chirped suddenly. "There's nothing left for us here. You even have a boat ready. Let's just… go… and be done with everyone else…"
She watched him uncertainly, trying to gauge his reaction, and he scoffed loudly, glancing all around him. "What, you want to go? I thought you liked New York."
"I do like New York…"
He nodded, suspicions affirmed. "Then tell me why you would suggest something like that."
Her eyes fluttered slightly. "I want to get you away from Trish," she mumbled. "I want to protect her from you."
With that, she signed her sister's death warrant, and she knew it even as she said it. She struggled desperately to keep from crying, just to maintain her smile.
"I'm sorry I kissed her. That was- I didn't mean to cross a line. I know that must have been upsetting. I just… truly couldn't believe it. Truly…" Kilgrave sidled up next to Jessica and kissed the side of her head, taking a moment to smell her hair. "We're done with her now. You're done with her." He chuckled to himself. "After tonight, we will never have to think about her again."
"You're right." Jessica placed her hand on his against her head, looking seriously into his eyes. "You're right… we can be done with her. We can go our separate ways from her. We can…"
"All this." He wavered for a second, stepping away from Jessica and looking darkly at Trish. "You couldn't still be- you wouldn't still pretend, just to protect her-?"
"No!" Jessica yelped fearfully. "No! I'm not! I swear, I just…"
"Well, I'm sorry, but she can't just go, Jessica. She wants to protect you as much as you want to protect her, not that you need protecting from anybody. But I can hardly expect either of you to understand, at least not yet." He drummed his fingers on his leg. "And she has known about me for far too long for me to just compel her away. She's not going to stop coming for me."
Trish wiped tears out of her eyes. The two women locked eyes.
"She'll leave us alone," mumbled Jessica. "She'll leave town. We'll never see or hear from her again. I swear."
"Fine. Fine, then. Patsy?" Arm in arm with Jessica, Kilgrave turned to Trish, commanding her attention. "Tell me the truth. If Jessica and I left, would you leave it be? Would you come back for her?"
Trish swallowed. "Of course I would. I would always come back for her." She made eye contact with Jessica, as much as it pained her to do so. "Always."
Jessica, weighed down by her own thoughts, almost fell to her knees right there. Her smile melted away somehow.
"Trish, no…!" She wailed it like a dying animal.
Trish returned Jessica's forlorn expression. "I'm sorry, Jess…"
"Well," Kilgrave mumbled, throwing up his hands. "There you have it, then."
"Please don't kill her. I'm begging you. Please…" Jessica choked, hands shaking at her sides. "Please…"
"It's not about her, Jessica! It's not about Patsy! Forget about Patsy!" Kilgrave stepped in front of Trish to overtake Jessica's gaze. "You have to understand my position here. It can't be about her. It has to be about us. Kiss me."
Jessica embraced him, and the two passionately kissed. Trish sobbed silently in the background, still unable to speak and afraid to make too much noise.
"I love you. I love you…" Kilgrave pressed his forehead against Jessica's, breathing softly with closed eyes. After a moment, he opened them, tilting his head to the side. "God, I can't… I can't let this be about her. Tell me you love me."
"I love you," said Jessica.
"…Again. Say my name."
"I love you… Kilgrave… I love you…"
"God." He placed both hands on her cheeks and pushed her away from him, turning away with frustration. "Patsy!"
"No!" Jessica shrieked.
He turned his head to hiss at Jessica. "Quiet!" He turned back to Trish. "We've got to take care of her."
Jessica winced at the phrase.
"Don't kill her," she murmured. "You can't kill her…"
"I said be quiet! Listen to me, Jessica! God damn it!" Kilgrave opened and closed his hands, palms sweating. "No… no… I'm not going to kill her."
Jessica's eyes opened sharply, and she turned over in bed, smothering herself with the heavy white comforter.
There was nobody in bed next to her. Still sleepy, she took another moment to process it before sitting up sharply, feeling around with both hands on Kilgrave's side of the bed.
Though bright, no sunlight came in through the windows- the blinds were still shut. He would always open them when he got out of bed. Jessica stared at the windows.
"Honey?" she called out, turning to shout toward the bedroom door. "Are you here?"
She set her bare feet on the cold hardwood floor, recoiling slightly from the temperature. It took her a little while to actually stand up enough to allow the blankets to fall away from her.
She opened the blinds to let in the morning sun. The view from the bedroom window overlooked the whole city, which was more or less the whole point of bothering to get the penthouse. She stared out the window for a while.
…Eventually, she got around to opening the bedroom door.
"Hey! Is anyone home?" Not surprised by the lack of response this time, she wandered through the living room in her underwear, brushing hair out of her face and rubbing her eyes with one hand. "Ugh…"
She grabbed the remote for the speaker system from the coffee table as she wandered into the kitchen, raising it above her head and tapping the play button. Preppy, classical piano music erupted at full blast in surround sound. Jessica jumped at the noise, but rolled her eyes and tossed the remote onto the counter without bothering to adjust it.
Everything she did took a little bit longer than it should have. Jessica stared at the contents of the kitchen cupboard for a few minutes before deciding on something. The thing she decided on ended up being plain sourdough bread, two slices of which she shoved into the fancy toaster oven. After a little while of trying to fiddle with the knobs, she gave up and just hit the default 'toast' button. Then she sat on the floor, her back against the cupboard.
Jessica stared at the radio on the kitchen counter, sitting there unused. Her neck slumped down, and she looked at the back of her hands, cupped around her bare knees. Her skin was pale. Her fingers trembled.
One of her fingernails was chipped. She had done more punching in the past day than she had in the rest of the past six months combined.
The alarm for the toaster had been going off for a couple of minutes now, and it finally occurred to her to attend to it. Her toast was badly burned, but she shoveled it into her mouth anyway, trailing blackened crumbs on the floor as she left the kitchen for the living room again. Classical music continued to blare.
She collapsed onto the couch and sank into it, one hand feeling around on the desk beside it for the TV remote. She flipped the television on. Some schlocky reality show. There wasn't much Kilgrave was comfortable with her watching, and she didn't want to upset him.
Jessica barely moved all day. Her gaze shifted from the television, to her feet, which rested on the coffee table, to the wall of glass on the far wall, and the New York skyline.
The sun went down. Her head felt thick. She had barely eaten, and barely cared to. Were she alone, she would have been drinking all day, but Kilgrave didn't keep any liquor in the house, and didn't want her drinking anyway, outside of the occasional glass of wine, for dates.
Suddenly, it was dark out. The view was gorgeous at night.
Nobody had come home all day. She hadn't heard from anyone. Kilgrave wasn't answering his phone. Jessica's little prison felt like it was shrinking. Like the walls were closing in around her.
She fell asleep on the couch, head throbbing.
"Hi; thank you for tuning in to Trish Talk." The host was familiar; one of the women from the show that had filled in for Trish in the past. Her voice was cold and unwavering. "We… apologize for the extended absence of the program over the past week, and for our inability to provide more immediate information. I am… ahem, extremely disheartened… to have to report that Patricia Walker has been officially declared a missing person, and is now the subject of an investigation. The police, along with all of us here at WNEX New York, having been making every attempt to uncover information about where she may have gone or what may have happened to her. And with today's program, I would like to take the opportunity to reach out to any of our listeners who may have information. Please… if you have anything at all that you think can help our investigation- if you've seen her, if you've heard about her whereabouts… anything… reach out to the police and put in a word to assist with our investigation."
Jessica rocked back and forth in her seat, hands wringing. The hem of her dress tickled the tops of her bare feet, but she was much too distracted to notice.
The broadcast continued:
"In light of…" The host sucked in her breath, obviously holding back tears. "…Um, excuse me… in light… of this extremely sobering news… w- we would like to dedicate this program to our beloved boss, host, and friend. Wherever she may be, we are all hoping and praying that she is in good health. Please come home, Trish. We're…" She cleared her throat. "…We're all still listening."
The radio clicked off. Jessica stared at the hand resting on top of it.
Kilgrave leaned down to look her in the eye. "Tell me, Jessica: what is this?"
She stared at him with wide eyes. "It's Trish Talk."
"Why were you listening to this?"
"Because…" She thought about it, and gulped uncomfortably. "…Because she didn't deserve this. And I wish I could make it right."
"You don't tell a soul about Patsy. Or about me. Least of all anyone from that bloody lifestyle program."
"I know," she mumbled.
"Just forget about it."
"Then try harder."
She looked him meekly in the eye, visibly in pain, but said nothing.
He raised a finger, scolding. "Don't test me on this, Jessica. You don't want to go down this road with me."
"Okay," she mumbled.
"I just want things to go back to normal." He ran a hand through his hair. "I thought… I thought things were going to go back to normal when I had you again. I thought that I was going to get the old Jessica back. But all week long, you've just been moody, and spacey, and miserable. It's not what I wanted."
She pouted but still said nothing.
Grumbling, he waved a hand at her, looking away for a moment. "Oh, for God's sake, get that depressing look off your face. You think this has been easy for me?"
She settled into a tired, neutral expression, doing her best to obey the command. "Yes."
"I- agh!" Kilgrave snapped his head back to look at her again, upset now. "I have been out all week cleaning up after the mess you left behind! You left me to die, you know that? You left me to bleed out in an alley. You beat me, you kidnapped me, you tried to kill me- multiple times- and then you treat me like I'm some kind of monster because I used one overachieving teenager to try and reconnect with you…"
Jessica stared at him with a horrified expression. "…Hope killed herself…!"
"Sure, because you were holding her hostage as the object of your guilt! If you had just let the authorities have that girl, she never would have died! No, you went too far with her, and that's why she ended up with a glass in her neck."
Appalled, she shook her head at him, forgetting any desire to placate him. "Oh, shut up, you disgusting piece of-!"
"-No, you shut up, for Christ's sake!" Jessica obeyed him, and he leaned back against the counter, rubbing his chin. "You don't deserve what I've given you to begin with. You think you have the right to mope around playing the victim? Get over yourself." He straightened out his clothes aggressively, moving in close to her. "Don't you ever speak to me like that again. Understand?"
"I understand," Jessica replied with gritted teeth.
"I'm going out. Don't go anywhere." He shook himself out, taking a few steps to leave. "When I get back, I want to see you smiling."
Three days had passed. Nobody ever came back to the apartment.
Jessica was lying in bed in the middle of the night, her eyes wrenched open and staring at the ceiling.
Time barely felt like it was passing. All she had was the inside of her head, and the more she sat around stewing in thought, the more she felt out of touch with everything, like she could barely tell what was real anymore. She clenched blankets in her fists, then released them.
She thrust a hand out to the bedside table, feeling around for the telephone, and held it to her ear without moving an inch.
Kilgrave's voice, stern and dismissive, came alive on his answering machine. "Leave a message."
"Kilgrave. Where are you? Agh…" She placed her free hand over her eyes, groaning. "For God's sake… if you're trying to prove a point, it's proven. I feel like I'm losing my mind. Don't just leave me here to rot. God damn it. God damn it, I don't know what to do. God damn it."
She threw the phone at the wall, both destroying the phone and denting the wall.
"God damn it."
Jessica rolled over in bed, resting her feet on the floor and struggling to hoist herself out of bed.
She didn't know what to do. She didn't know what he wanted her to do.
Hands trembling, she wandered over to the wardrobe and flung it open, grabbing a pale green sundress from inside and resting it on the bed. Then she turned around to stare at the inside of it again, eyes scanning all of the outfits Kilgrave had picked out for her.
"God damn it!"
Her bare foot smashed the bottom half of the wardrobe. The whole thing collapsed in a pile of planks, splinters and fine cloth. Her foot bled a tiny bit, but she ignored it.
Jessica stuffed herself into the dress and moved to leave the bedroom, but she stopped to examine herself in the mirror for a minute first. Her makeup was sloppy. She put on a layer of bright red lipstick.
The living room was a mess. Jessica figured she probably should have cleaned up over the past few days, but for some reason she never got around to it. Even though it was probably what he'd want.
It was past midnight, but it was as bright as ever in the city, considering all the buildings still had their lights on. The apartment was heavily soundproofed enough that not much of the noise from the city traffic could get through, creating a strange dissonance. Jessica remembered how loud her own place was, even on an uneventful night.
Her head was a haze of loose memories, commands, wants and needs. She wandered to the wall of glass overlooking the city, resting one palm against it. Words kept echoing in her head. It felt like someone was breathing on her neck.
She shut her eyes, panting.
A little bit of pressure had cracked the window in front of her. One push and she could fall through. Part of her wanted to give that push, and let it happen, and feel the wind in her hair. Her head was throbbing. But she didn't know if she even had it in her. If she could even give that push.
It wasn't what he would want.
"It could be worse. We could be Japanese. You know how crowded their subways are?"
"You know you are going off the deep end when you are trying to defend New York public transit."
"I'm not defending, I'm just saying. It could be worse. Tokyo is way more crowded."
"There are more people, but it's not more crowded. New York is more crowded."
Trish closed the door to her apartment with a laugh, following close behind Jessica as the two wandered into her living room.
"What?" Trish chuckled. "No way is that true."
"It's true. Look it up." Jessica rooted around in the cabinet for a bottle of whiskey, taking a swig without bothering to pour out a glass. "New York has a larger population density. That's what happens when you try to cram eight million people onto one little island."
"Japan is an island."
"You know what I'm saying." Jessica shrugged, slumping down onto the couch. Lifting the bottle in her hand toward Trish with a wide eye, she added, "So… is this something I should be concerned about?"
"What? No, come on. It's for you. You're predictable. And I can afford better liquor than you can." Trish gave a small, self-amused shrug. "So… call it a gift. It can be your reward for being a superhero."
Jessica cringed. "Ah. Ah. There's that word. I knew you were going to use that word."
"It doesn't." Jessica failed to hide a smile, taking another swig. "Even if it did, superheroes don't get rewards. They get, like, noble satisfaction, or good karma, or something."
Trish laughed at that, leaning into the couch as she contemplated.
Jessica shrugged. "Doesn't matter, though, because kicking some random creep on the subway in the taint doesn't make me a superhero."
"No. No!" Trish sat up straight, grinning, and jabbed a finger in Jessica's direction. "No, standing up for a complete stranger is what makes you a superhero. Kicking a guy in the taint is just… what makes you Jessica Jones."
Leaning her head back against the couch, Jessica looked at the ceiling, poking her tongue against the inside of her cheek. "I don't get why you're so attached to this thing."
"I don't get why you're so opposed to it!" Trish exclaimed. "You're not one for modesty."
"What, now I'm not modest?"
"I mean, you're not one for false pretenses. I mean, come on. Badass superpowered lady. Person in need. Criminal gets his ass kicked."
"Close enough! I'm just saying, if the shoe fits, why not wear it?"
"I'll tell you why." Jessica rested her arms on her knees, leaning forward and shooting Trish a look. "Because it's not my problem. And I don't owe a goddamn thing to anyone."
"Well, yeah," Trish replied with a shrug. "No shit. It's your life. You can tell everybody to just screw off if you want to. But what I'm saying is… you've had plenty of chances to do that already. But you haven't, because you're not that kind of person." Trish rested her hands behind her head. "I mean, not that you don't tell everybody to screw off. But you help them anyway, because you know that you have power that other people don't. In a way, that's almost more impressive. I've seen you be an asshole plenty of times. But I've never seen you refuse to help somebody that really needed it." Trish pointed a finger and then shrugged again. "That's who you are! You go out of your way to help people that can't help themselves. It's not something to be ashamed of. It's something I admire about you. You're like… like-"
Jessica's eyes nearly glazed over. "-If you say I'm like Captain America, I swear to God, I will pour this into a plastic bag and walk out on you without another word," she quipped, raising the bottle in her hand.
Trish jokingly bit her lip. "…So would Mother Teresa be worse…?"
"Oh my God, shut up."
"Okay, okay!" Trish threw up her hands. "But you know what? You give yourself a really hard time. Someone has to give you a little credit every once in a while."
"Realism, Trish. If you had my job, you'd know what I was talking about." Jessica widened her eyes. "We can't all be the good people you think we should be."
"Maybe not. But some of us are." Trish leaned in toward Jessica to emphasize the point. "And I'll tell you what: it's a hell of a lot easier to try when we have good examples."
They looked each other in the eye. Jessica tried not to look touched as she drummed her fingers over the bottle in her hand.
"…You just wanna design me a costume," she said, eventually.
Trish didn't skip a beat. "And it would be the best goddamn costume the world has ever seen."
Jessica set the bottle down on the table, unable to conceal her smirk.
Sunlight slowly began to leak in through the window, highlighting more and more of the carpet as the sun rose. Jessica's back was pressed against the glass, just a few feet underneath the massive crack she had left. She had been sitting there all night long. But she could hardly tell how long it had been.
Jessica wondered if he would ever come back. Maybe he wouldn't, but if that happened, she didn't know what she would do.
She didn't know what anyone would do.
It was hard to think. Jessica's head was a mess of wants and needs- thoughts she didn't understand. Everything was starting to get buried by that urge to lean back and fall through the window. But it felt like the commands were leaking out. It had been so long since she had heard his voice. Other voices started to break through, though not her own.
She raised a hand to her head, running two fingers along the scar behind her ear.
Her back still pressed against the glass, Jessica got to her feet, toes digging into the carpet. She stared across the room, at the door.
He wouldn't want her to leave. That thought tugged at her like a leash, compelling her to stay. But there wasn't any command, not one that she could think of.
Jessica thrust a fist behind her, cracking the glass pane in another spot. She bit her lip so hard it bled.
She took a step forward to the door, but stopped herself and turned into the bedroom instead. Her bed was still unmade. The wall was still damaged where she had thrown the phone at it.
Jessica marched all the way to the bed, got down on her knees, and pulled a duffel bag out from underneath. Hands trembling, she felt around for the zipper and opened it all the way. Reaching one hand in, she pulled out her leather jacket, clenching the sleeve in her fist.
"God damn it."
Jessica found Matt waiting alone at a table with his hands folded together, head lowered like he didn't want to be seen. She approached without saying anything and slid into the seat across from him, cracking her knuckles. He recoiled as she did, head moving sharply to the side as he used his senses to puzzle out her identity.
They sat in silence for a bit.
Then Matt spoke. "Where is he?"
Jessica folded her hands, wrapped in black gloves, on the table in front of her. "He isn't coming."
He grimaced. "He didn't come last time."
"Yeah, well, he's gone."
She spoke matter-of-factly, enough to make Matt stop short.
"…Gone? What do you mean, 'gone'?" he asked, not entirely sure how to react.
"Gone. He disappeared. He left me alone in the apartment." Jessica shrugged with both hands, then rested her palms on the table again. "I have no idea where he is. But he isn't coming. Not today. Maybe never. God knows."
They sat in silence for a minute or so, Matt smacking his lips as he tried to process that. Jessica just waited for him, trying to be patient but not giving away much.
"So." Matt took a breath, head tilted slightly. "So… if he's not coming, why did you? Do you want something?"
"I just wanted to tell you. So you can go home." She looked down, fixating on a spot on the table. "So you can stop showing up, maybe. Get out of this goddamn mess."
He shook his head once, firmly. "I can't do that."
"Why not? He's not coming."
"He could still show up. I can't take your word for it. He told me to wait all day long if I had to. Until he showed up."
He leaned back in his seat with his hands still folded, earning an eye roll from Jessica.
"Seriously?" she groaned. "You're going to wait here all day?"
"What do you want me to say, Jessica? That's what he told me to do. You of all people have to understand that."
"Fine," Jessica groaned, lifting her hands from the table and crossing her arms. "Fine. So you can wait here all day." She leaned back. "I'll wait with you."
"You don't have to do that."
"Yeah, I do."
Matt narrowed his eyes underneath his shades. "You do? What, Kilgrave told you to?"
"Hell no. He doesn't even want us talking to each other."
"…Right." He'd almost forgotten, and frowned at the reminder, suddenly troubled by the conversation somehow. "So… why, then?"
"Because it's better that he doesn't leave you with nothing to do and nowhere to go." She didn't respond right away, leaving a heavy silence between them.
"We don't even know what happened to him."
"Who gives a shit?" Jessica scoffed. "This is a window of opportunity we should never have gotten. He's gone. Think about that. You can go home. Better yet, away from home." She waved a hand toward the street. "Out of the country. Y'know. Pack your shit."
"You think I should run," he said sternly.
She shot him a look. "Uh, hell yes, I do."
"Well, I can't." Matt said it almost aggressively. "I don't run. That's not who I am. If he's still out there, he'll still be putting people in danger. That's on me now."
"Dude." She considered for a moment and clicked her tongue. "You're religious, right?" She leaned in. "You know what they call something like this? A miracle. A goddamn water-to-wine, pillar-of-salt miracle. Don't piss on that."
He didn't falter for a second. "Okay." Sliding forward in his seat, he straightened himself out, facing her directly. "Then why are you still here?"
She went silent, and her eyes drifted down toward the table.
Eventually she rolled her eyes, pouting. "…Because you deserved the chance to get out, too."
Point proven, Matt threw up hands, eyebrows raised.
Jessica scoffed. "Alright. Busted. I'm a moron. Like you." After a bit, she quietly added, "But you still have something left to lose."
Matt looked almost crestfallen. "Don't talk like that."
"Don't tell me how to talk." She closed her eyes and took a breath. When she opened them, she looked at him again. "How long have you been waiting here?"
"I don't know," Matt said curtly. Running two fingers over a braille watch, he corrected himself shortly after. "Two hours."
"And you intend to be here for the rest of the day?"
"Until midnight," he said with a single nod.
"Okay, then." She clicked her tongue, leaning back in her seat. "So we have day plans. You like twenty questions?"
"Nobody likes twenty questions," Matt chuckled.
"Fair enough. How about coffee?"
She flashed him one gentle smile, not that he could see. But her tone- almost friendly- put him at ease anyway.
He scratched his chin, chuckling quietly again. "…Fine."
It was dark outside, but the streets were still bright from the artificial light they were bathed in. The city never slept, after all, and passerby were still plentiful on the sidewalk nearest the little table Jessica and Matt had spent the whole day sitting at.
Jessica almost jumped out of her seat with a start as an alarm on her cell phone went off, and she shot out a hand to turn it off, glancing at the screen with a surprised frown.
"Hey," she muttered, looking up at Matt, who was nodding off himself. "Hey! Murdock." She reached over to pat him on the arm. "Murdock."
He threw his hands in front of his face defensively, surprised. "What? What?"
"It's time. Past midnight." She tucked her phone into her jacket pocket. "We've been here all damn day. You waited for him… all damn day. You can go home now."
"Ah…" Matt straightened himself out, nodding slowly and running his fingers over his watch. "Alright. I- alright. So he never showed up…"
"Nope. Who could have guessed? Besides, you know, me."
Matt stood from his chair for the first time all day, grabbing the trash from the dinner Jessica had bought for the two of them and carrying it to the nearest garbage can. Jessica followed close behind him.
"Um, thank you." Matt took a breath, shaking his head and turning back to her. "For staying here."
She pursed her lips. "Yeah."
"Hey. Um… Jessica?"
She raised an eyebrow.
"You should go. I mean. You should. Get out of the city, or… if it goes any way toward helping you get your life back." He rested a hand on the trash can. "I just think… you've been through enough at his hands. If Kilgrave ever comes back, I swear to you I will be here to take care of it. There's no reason we both need to stay behind."
"Yeah… maybe I will. Later." She spoke slowly, studying his face. "Where are you headed now? Are you going to go drink?"
Seemingly put-off by the question, Matt took a step away from her, toward the sidewalk. "I'm going back to my apartment."
"So you can get drunk?" she asked immediately.
"So I can sleep."
Jessica set down one foot on the concrete. "I can't hear heartbeats, but I can smell bullshit. I know what it looks like when someone is planning to drink themselves to sleep." She looked at the ground. "That was me every weekend. Before Kilgrave cut me off."
Matt turned toward her again, his arms hanging at his sides and his mouth curved into a small, pitying frown. "Fine." He threw up his hands. "So what? You don't think I should be drinking?"
"I'm not a hypocrite. Just… don’t drink alone. At your apartment. It's… depressing. …Okay, maybe I am a hypocrite." Jessica shrugged. "Whatever. I know a bar. You should come with me."
He waved her off. "Look, maybe you didn't gather it from sitting in silence with me all day, but I'm not really in the mood to socialize."
With gritted teeth, he half-turned, but paused when Jessica didn't turn to leave herself.
She closed her eyes for a moment, losing the edge in her voice. "I've just… been where you are."
The bar the pair walked into was shady and ill-kept, bathed in dim orange light from neon signs behind the counter. The one or two patrons already inside both shot a dirty look toward the entrance, but said nothing.
Matt, entering first, adjusted his shades with one hand, sliding his cane across the floor in front of him. "Huh. This place is practically empty."
Jessica kept her hands in her pockets as she followed a step behind. "Why do you think I like it here?"
With a chuckle, Matt navigated to the bar, folding up his cane as Jessica moved past him and slid into a stool near the end of the counter. He sat down at the seat next to her a moment after.
The bartender- a young blonde woman with a perpetual frown- widened her eyes at the sight of the two of them, leaning over the counter to speak to Jessica. "Jessica Jones. Didn't think I'd see your face around here again."
"Yeah, I didn't think so either."
"Appreciate the business. 'Specially since you brought a guest."
"Hi. Nice to meet you." Matt flashed a polite, if slightly uncomfortable, smile, resting his elbows on the counter. "Uh… can I get a gin and tonic? Thanks."
"Psh." Jessica shot him a glance and then raised two fingers to the bartender. "Absinthe. Neat."
"…Wow…" Matt mumbled under his breath.
She shrugged. "I haven't had a proper drink in six months. Cut me a break."
The bartender set down each of their drinks, and Jessica grabbed hers immediately, raising it to toast the bartender and downing it in one gulp. Matt was momentarily speechless, but the bartender just filled another glass for her without a word, totally unfazed.
Jessica grabbed the second glass with a dreary expression. "Since you're here: don't have more than six drinks. Don't stay until closing. Two rules I'd like to say I follow."
With a shake of his head, Matt took a heavy breath, taking in the atmosphere of the bar. "Seems strange to go out of your way to drink responsibly if you're gonna go to a bar that's happy to serve you straight absinthe."
"What? Too divey for a lawyer?" Jessica mocked.
"Tsch. Not even close." Matt took a sip of his drink and shook his head with a quiet chuckle. "I'm used to Josie's."
"No shit?" she snickered. "I'm banned from there."
"Jesus, I don't even want to know what you have to do to get Josie to refuse you business."
"Yeah, you probably don't." Jessica drummed her fingers on her glass with one eyebrow raised. "…How does a guy like you drink at Josie's?"
"Well. It's got sentimental value," Matt explained. "At my old firm, me and Foggy and Karen, we spent most of our time just trying to keep the lights on."
"Ah. There's a name I recognize. Karen."
"Karen Page. Yeah. She used to work for Foggy and I. Secretary. Before she got a job with the New York Bulletin."
He exhaled deeply, breath just a little shaky. The bartender raised an eyebrow at him, and Jessica shot her a poisonous glare in turn, enough to intimidate her into wandering away, out of earshot.
Jessica took a sip. "So, uh, how did she end up… um, why was Kilgrave interested in her?"
"She was skeptical of the police reports about Kilgrave. She was chasing the story- she's a natural journalist. Karen… I think she's the kind of person that cares more about getting the truth out there than her own safety."
He lingered on that for a moment, and Jessica shrugged at it. "I know the type."
"Me and my partner Foggy, when we represented Frank Castle… Karen ended up really taking the lead with him. She probably got more up-close-and-personal than I ever did, and Christ, I foughthim." Matt murmured that last part, though there was nobody close enough or interested enough to be listening.
"Up-close-and-personal with a mass shooter. She must have some serious balls on her." Jessica rolled her eyes at her own turn of phrase. "…You know, in a… patriarchal manner of speaking."
"She does. She's tough as nails, really," Matt said with gritted teeth. "And if I had just trusted that she could take care of herself, none of this would be happening."
Her eyes glazed over at that, and she threw her head back, letting her hair fall over her shoulders. "Alright, alright, hey. Don't start blaming yourself. We're here to work through our shit, not wallow in it."
Matt shook his head, laughing quietly to break some of the tension. "Right- is that what the alcohol is for?"
"Eh. Baby steps." Jessica took another shot. "Hey! Janie!" With a glare, the bartender looked up at Jessica and marched back over to her spot behind the counter, filling Jessica's glass with a frown.
"Just leave the bottle," Jessica mumbled, taking a sip with no hesitation.
The bartender just rolled her eyes and left the bottle lying there. "You better stay sober enough to pay me tonight, Jones. You know I'm not putting anything else on your bar tab until you pay me for the shit you pulled last time."
Matt raised a hand. "It's alright. I've got the bill tonight. Thank you."
"Well. Alright, then, pretty boy." With a self-amused smile, Janie patted a hand on the counter and trotted off again, earning a pained sigh from Matt.
Jessica finished her glass and immediately poured out a new one. "…I wasn't trying to guilt you into doing that."
"I don't mind," Matt replied, waving one hand. "So, did, uh… did you follow the Punisher trial?"
"Kilgrave did. I just caught some of it over his shoulder. He's obsessed with that vigilante superhero shit." Jessica snickered at the thought, pressing her tongue to the inside of her cheek. "He's paranoid. I think he's afraid one day he's gonna see someone on the news that's more powerful than he is."
"I guess he wasn't paying so much attention during the Incident, then."
"Don't think he gives a damn about Captain America and the Superfriends. I figure if they aren't somebody in his immediate area that he can rape and/or torture at his discretion, he doesn't really see them as a part of his 'world'."
"So that's why he was interested in the Punisher?"
"Small-time New York vigilante. Well, as small-time as you can be while making national headlines, I guess." Jessica gave a grim smirk. "I guess he had Kilgrave sweating a little. The nutjob was killing bad guys, right?"
Matt shook his head. "Yeah, I- uh. That's how he saw it."
"Yeah, well, somewhere in the depths of his screwed-up mind, I think Kilgrave knows that he…" She trailed off, keen eyes settling on Matt's hand as his fingers trembled ever-so-slightly. With pursed lips, she looked up at Matt and paused for a second, trying to be sympathetic. "What is it? Something wrong?"
"No," Matt huffed, instantly catching himself in a lie. "It's, uh. Sorry. Frank Castle. I clashed with him a few times in the suit. You probably know." He opened his hand, waving it firmly. "He told me once that I… ah, that I was one bad day from being him."
Jessica was reading him carefully- a meticulously honed skill of the PI, even as out of practice as she was.
She nodded once with understanding. "And you're worried he was right," she said matter-of-factly.
Matt sucked in his breath. "I've had more than a few bad days since then."
"Oh… shit." Sliding back in her stool, she let go of her glass, resting a hand on her knee and turning toward him. "Hang on. Don't say that. Don't even start with that shit."
He groaned audibly. Jessica's words were predictable, after all, and he knew she wasn't going to convince him otherwise, not that he wanted to get into a debate.
"Listen to me, alright? No bullshit. No sarcasm. Whatever he tells you to do. Whatever blood you think you have on your hands. That's him. One-hundred percent him."
"No, you don't-" Matt stopped himself, choosing his words carefully. "Those people. What he had me do. It's not just him. I… I've been pushed to the edge before. I mean, almost. I've thought about it. I've struggled with it. And…" He tried to steady his hands. "The first time I did it… it was… easy…"
Jessica could feel herself starting to pity him, a feeling she immediately resented. The two of them sat in silence for a minute, and she turned back toward the counter to have another drink.
When she spoke, it was slowly and deliberately, with a scratchy voice. "There was this… girl. Hope. Nice girl from Omaha, going to NYU. Straight A's. Called her parents all the time from school. She did track. Did the long jump. Number two in the state. A nice girl." Jessica closed her eyes and took a shot. "She shot her parents to death. Both of them at once, right in the elevator of my building. When I found her, she was smiling. Standing over their bodies." Jessica opened her eyes, expression dark and intense. She stared at Matt, still gripping the empty glass in her hand. "Smiling… because Kilgrave told her to."
Matt winced at the description. It was clearly hard for Jessica to talk about, at least judging from her heart rate, and her breathing.
He thought about taking a drink, but never did, instead just drumming his fingers rhythmically against the glass. "I… Jessica. Why are you telling me this?"
"Because you need to understand, and you still don't. There is nothing- and I mean nothing- that Kilgrave can't make you do. But it's deeper than that. There is nothing that he can't make you think you want. You know something? That poor girl killed herself right in front of me, just because she knew I wouldn't let Kilgrave die until I could use him to acquit her. Killed herself, right in front of me. With her dying breath, she made me promise I would kill him. I promised her on her deathbed that I would kill him. Once and for all." Taking heavy breaths as though about to cry, Jessica downed her drink again and closed her eyes, exhaling through her nose. "Fuck."
"The thing is- the thing that really sticks- is that I know, at the end of the day, if he ever shows his face to me again, I'm just going to start smiling again, just like that. Big, dumb smiles, and candlelit dinners, and whatever other fucked up Disney princess shit he likes. However he likes it. He makes you think you want it." She shivered at the thought. "He makes you think you want it. He makes it easy. He takes that thought process away from you. He takes it from you. You didn't kill anyone. He did." Jessica chewed on her lip, hair falling over her eyes as she looked up at Matt again. "It's not on you. It's not on you. And you are going to spend the rest of your life hating yourself for all the shit he is responsible for, unless you get that."
She took a few heavy breaths, hanging her head and looking at the counter.
"I…" Matt raised a hand. "I- uh, I'm sorry; I didn't mean to-"
"Don't goddamn apologize," she groaned, slumping in her seat. "I'm trying to help, and instead I just ended up unloading all my shitty baggage on you."
"And you let me pay for your booze," Matt added, after a short pause.
She put a hand to her forehead. "Ah, shit… like I said, I really wasn't-"
"-Jessica, it's alright." He flashed her a reassuring smile. "I'm joking. I don't mind, really. It's for the best." He raising his glass to his lips with a little smirk, still not finished with his first drink. "Working through it, not wallowing in it, right?"
"Yeah. I guess. To be honest… it's a little out of my wheelhouse. The whole 'relating to people' thing," she grumbled. "But I don't really have anyone to talk to, about anything."
Matt replied immediately. "You have Luke."
Jessica was exhausted by the suggestion. "No, I don't. I…" she trailed off. "…I've done enough to screw up his life as it is. He needs to stay as far the hell away from me as possible. He's not tied up in this like you and me are."
"I don't think he sees it that way."
"Of course he doesn't. Because he's a good guy, and he thinks this whole thing with Kilgrave is his problem just because he knows I'm in danger."
"But he-" Matt hesitated to contradict her. "I mean. You have to admit, someone like him. He's a good ally to have. A powerful one."
"It doesn't matter. As long as he keeps his distance, he might be able to keep himself and the people close to him safe. I just don't want him to end up dead."
"The bulletproof thing doesn't hurt that. He seems to be doing okay so far."
"Yeah, and you know what? He's goddamn lucky, because everyone that gets close to me ends up dead. Sooner or later."
Matt opened his hands. "Fine. But that's because of Kilgrave, which-"
"-Trust me, Murdock, the amount of fucked up that my life is does not begin or end with Kilgrave."
"…Oh. Do- you mean…?" He smacked his lips, stopping himself short. "-Sorry, I'm overstepping…"
"You're not. You're fine. This is what we're doing, now, right? Working through our shit."
"Yeah. Yeah…" he murmured with a nod. "So… are you… talking about the accident you were in? Where you… ah… got your abilities?"
A little surprised, Jessica shot him a look, eyebrows raised. "Wow, uh… where are you getting that from?"
"The first time you mentioned it, back at your apartment. Your breath shortened when you talked about it. You said it was a bad memory." He shrugged. "Same reaction you had just now."
"Fair enough." Impressed, she nodded, taking another drink. "Yeah, I mean… that doesn't help."
"It was a car crash. My whole family was killed. Mom and Dad. And my little brother. Phillip."
"I'm so sorry."
"S- uh. I'm just trying to be sensitive."
"You don't have to be." Jessica cleared her throat, which, predictably, was burning from the alcohol. "I can't really feel sorry for myself, can I? You said you were in an accident, too."
"Yeah, but. It wasn't. Um." He tilted his head to the side as he thought about it. "I'm the only one that got hurt. It's how I lost my sight."
"Well, not something I would want to lose."
"Even still, I'd give it up in a heartbeat for a chance to be with my dad again."
"Your dad? He, um…?"
"Yeah. When I was a kid."
They both lingered on the thought in silence for a minute or so.
"Um, this might not-" Matt stopped himself short, but then spoke up again, past the point of holding his tongue. "I had to bury someone close to me recently. That's… something I've been working through, for a while now."
"Friend? Or family?" Jessica asked, not looking up.
"Friend." He winced a little at that. "Closer than friend. She was… uh. I… was in love with her."
Jessica frowned sympathetically. "…What was her name?"
"Elektra." He took a breath, almost relieved saying her name out loud. "She… we knew each other in college. She wasn't the person I thought she was back then, but we reconnected anyway. In spite of everything, she… it's like she saw right through me, you know? She saw me for who I really was." He spoke more quietly. "I think she knew me better than anyone ever has. Better than I know myself. And I've been trying to be dignified. Trying to move on. But I don't want to forget, and I don't know how to…"
"Come on. You don't forget. You carry it with you." She straightened out her jacket, crinkling the tight sleeves. "Here, while we're one-upping each other. You see this jacket?"
She rolled her eyes. "Ah, you can smell the leather or some shit."
Matt almost protested, but ended up just shrugging instead. "…Yeah, I thought that might be what it was."
"Point is. This jacket was a gift from someone close to me." She pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I had something similar happen to me. When I was in my twenties. Old boyfriend."
"Stirling. He was a good guy. A really good person. You know… a rare kind of person."
Matt scratched his chin.
Jessica brushed her bangs out of her face. "I used to think I was going to marry him."
"I didn't think you were the type to get married."
"Yeah, I'm not. And honestly, I only knew him for a couple months. Would have been a mistake if I had." She stared at her empty glass. "But that's where your mind goes when you're young and stupid. And lashing out against people that don't deserve it."
She sighed out loud.
Matt raised his head. "So… what happened?"
"Oh. Well. He… was mixed up with some bad people." She cupped her hands together. "I, uh. I found him with his head bashed in against a wall outside of a bar."
She looked up at him only briefly, then turned to the bottle, pouring out a little more into her glass.
Matt gave one solemn nod. "…God rest his soul."
"Yeah… like I said. You carry it with you. Carry that memory." She raised her glass. "So, to… Elektra, right?"
They toasted, each downing the rest of their glass.
"Don't have much to remember her by," Matt said, setting down his glass upside-down. "Daredevil… she was really always more a part of that side of my life. Gave Foggy hell back in college, with all the crazy stuff she would drag me along to do-"
"I knew it!" Jessica declared suddenly, slapping down a hand on the counter. "I knew it was a sex thing. The spandex. A really kinky sex thing."
Taken off-guard, Matt laughed out loud, fixing his shades with a grin. "Yeah. Oh, yeah. Trust me, you don't even want to know what the billy club is for."
She snickered, resting an elbow on the counter.
"No, no, it's…" Matt chuckled again. "It's… a symbol. I want people to know that it means something. If I hurt them. I don't want it to just be some man in black. Some random act of violence." A little uncomfortable to be speaking about it out loud, he took a breath before continuing. "I want people to understand why."
"Like the devil is coming to reap the sinners, or something."
He contemplated. "…Yeah. I guess so."
She stared at her glass. "Damn. You're scary, Murdock."
"As long as I'm scary to the right people." He clenched a fist as he spoke. "I… guess that's part of why Kilgrave scares me. Because that symbol… it's… I've been working so hard to make sure that good people know they don't have anything to fear. I wanted people to see the good in what I do. And he's done so much to destroy it. And there's so little I can do…"
"I have to tell you," said Jessica, voice a little hoarse, "I didn't think I was going to come here today. Let you know what happened to Kilgrave." She swallowed. "A part of me… ugh… a part of me… feels like I should just put a bullet in my head while I have the chance. Before he miraculously shows up again." She shook her head. "…Okay. A big part of me."
She turned to look at him, and he kept his hands rested on the counter, head turning in a few directions as he tried to gauge how she was feeling.
"So…" he said, quiet and cautious, "…why haven't you?"
Jessica kept her voice low. "I guess…" She shifted restlessly in her seat, not sure how to answer. "I guess I was just worried that you would. And that's not what… that's not the kind of person I…"
Matt lowered his head a little. Dour, Jessica stared down at her knees, resting her hands on her legs. Her breathing was slower now, but her heart beat faster, pounding in Matt's ears.
What she said was familiar- reassuring somehow, even for as bleak as it came across when she said it. Their breathing was in sync, and for just a moment, something spurred in him, and he leaned forward to kiss her, resting his hand on the edge of the counter. Jessica was neither surprised nor put-off, and she grabbed onto the end of his jacket almost aggressively, so that he had to force himself away from her before she let go.
When she did, it was with a grim, frustrated expression, and she shut her eyes with a groan, resting one elbow on the counter.
Matt slumped back onto his bar stool with a concerned frown, straightening his clothes with both hands. "…Agh. Sorry, I…"
Jessica smacked her lips. "No… no, it-"
"-No," Matt said firmly. "That was wrong. You- we're not…" Matt pressed two fingers to his temple and stood, fishing out his wallet to leave money on the table. "I'm sorry. I should go."
Jessica felt herself panicking a little, and she turned sharply toward him as he stood.
"I need to go. I'm sorry." He left a stack of bills on the counter, wringing his hands together uncertainly. Feeling around his bar stool, he found his cane and unfolded it, gripping it tightly with both hands. "Please take care of yourself. Please."
With no other options, Jessica let out a long sigh, scratching the back of her neck. "…Yeah. You, too, I guess."
He drummed his fingers against his cane, choosing his words carefully. "…Good night, Jessica."
Cane in front of him, Matt left the bar, the tapping against the floor growing faint as he approached the exit and stepped through. The door shut behind him, leaving Jessica by herself at the counter.
"Goddamn shit," she grumbled.
The bartender approached again as Jessica filled her glass, shooting her a small judgmental glare. Jessica gave her the middle finger before taking a drink, staring at the wall behind the counter with a blank expression.
With a loud, conspicuous groan, Jessica tightened her grip, and her glass easily shattered in her hand, covering the countertop in alcohol and broken glass. She kept a closed fist.
I’ve written a number of Jessica-focused chapters in a row now. In my eyes it has made sense narratively. But there will be some variety before too long.
I have a feeling that joke about Jessica being banned from Josie's is probably going to end up biting me in the ass later, MCU-continuity-wise. But I liked it, so I left it in anyway. But... whatever! It's an AU, suckers! No rules!
Thanks again for reading, everyone!
Chapter 23: Anointing of the Sick
The slamming of heavy wooden doors reverberated across empty pews. Dim light poured in from tinted windows, coloring the room in a thick red. At the entrance stood Matt Murdock, his entire body trembling.
His hand opened, and a white cane clattered to the floor as he dragged his feet, taking forceful steps toward the altar. He reached the end of the hall and fell inelegantly to his knees in front of the crucifix there, hands drooping at his sides. Matt sat in the shadow of Christ, taking heavy, solemn breaths, and crossed himself.
Another figure- the only other person in the building, as far as Matt could sense- watched him thoughtfully from the corner of the room. Matt recognized him immediately as his priest, but he ignored him for a little while.
"I was wondering if I would ever see you here again," Father Lantom said cautiously, taking a step out of the shadows to approach Matt.
The tips of Matt's fingers brushed gently against the carpet. He turned his head slightly toward the priest, but said nothing, still trembling.
"You look… like you've been through something," Lantom continued, after another minute or so.
Matt swallowed, unmoving. "I have…"
"Would you like to talk? Or… would you rather be alone?" Lantom shot his eyes toward the crucifix sympathetically. "I don't mean to interrupt prayer, if that's what…"
"No, I-" Matt cut himself off, licking his lips. "I think… I need to take confession."
"…Okay, then. That's what I'm here for."
Lantom took another few steps toward Matt, extending a hand to help him to his feet, but Matt rejected it and stood on his own. With one hand, he removed his shades and folded them, holding them in a closed fist. After taking another few moments to stand in the visage of the crucifix, he tucked them into his jacket pocket.
His hands balled up into fists, Matt followed his priest into the confessional. If Lantom was curious to see Matt moving around unassisted, he showed no sign of it.
Now perched in the booth, Father Lantom cupped his hands together and leaned back patiently in his seat. Matt picked up on his heartbeat, inadvertently. He was concerned- maybe even afraid.
"Bless me… uh… bless me, Father, for I have sinned," Matt said hoarsely. "It's been… months. I don't really know how long…" Matt fidgeted in his seat, fingers intertwined. "I'm sorry, I- I'm not sure what to…"
"It seems like something is really weighing on you."
"More than usual?" Lantom closed his eyes and made a heavy frown. "…I've heard things. Reports, in the news, and rumors about you. I'd like to believe they aren't true." He sounded… perhaps disappointed, but not judgmental or reductive. His breathing remained steady and calm, and Matt listened to it for a few moments.
He nodded once. "They're true. Every word." He wiped his palms on his pant leg. "I- I've taken a life, Father. I mean, more than one… many more." It hurt to say it out loud, though the truth had been eating away at him regardless.
"Well, Matthew, I…" Lantom stopped himself, stricken. "…I get the sense that I… don't have to remind you what the Bible says about that."
Matt hesitated. "I've been troubled… for a long time… about the Devil. About what he is. What form he takes; how he… manifests himself."
"You've asked me about this before."
"I think I have more insight into it than I used to." He rested his forearms on his knees. "I've seen the Devil in men before."
"When you first came to me about this, you believed you saw the Devil in yourself," said Lantom.
"But not like this." Matt sat up. "You told me once that the darkness of that action- of- of murder- that it would spread to others. To the people nearest to it. To the community."
"Proverbs 25:26. That's what you're referring to?"
"In other men- evil men- I felt the temptation to kill because I thought that- that to do nothing would be giving way to the wicked. That that would be less righteous."
Lantom nodded slowly, contemplative. "…So what's changed?"
"The men that I did kill. I didn't do it to be righteous. I did it because of the will of another man- a truly evil man. I did it to give way to the wicked. That darkness, that you warned would spread to others. It spread to me. And I've seen it spread to others."
"Wait. You mean that you killed others to serve the interests of another man?" asked Lantom, almost scoffing at the proposition. "In all the time I've known you. That you've done… the things you do. I've never known you to do them for any cause but your own beliefs. Even then, you've doubted yourself."
"He forced me to. It's what he does. He… forces others to commit evil on his behalf. And he washes his hands of it."
"He compels it. I don't know. Whatever he says…"
"I don't believe I've ever heard of a man I would have believed could make you do anything."
Matt groaned quietly, resting his back against his seat. "…This one can. Not just me. Anyone he wants."
"I'm not sure I understand."
"Neither am I." Matt's lip trembled. "It was never my intent to… to kill those men. I mean, never before I was told to. And I want to believe that it wasn't me. I want so badly to believe it… that it wasn't in my heart. But I can't, not earnestly. I know I can't, because I've felt it. I always have. And it's not any one man. It never has been." Matt was afraid of the truth of his own words, and went over them again and again in his head, one hand raised to his chest. "…It's me."
"And this man. Who told you to kill… in him, you believe you saw the Devil?" Father Lantom folded his hands on his lap. "You fear what he's done to you?"
"I fear what he's brought out in me. What I've seen in myself, when I've done what he…" Matt trailed off. "I don't know what's him and what's me. I know it can't mean damnation. But I also know it would be dishonest to absolve myself of responsibility."
"Something drove you to confess. I know that you're a man compelled by guilt, Matthew," Lantom said soberly. "So what makes you so sure?"
"What makes me so sure…?"
"That it can't mean damnation. What this man has brought out in you."
Matt nodded with understanding, though it was clear that he was reluctant to explain. "Last night, I met with another victim of his… someone who has suffered at his hands for a long time. Done everything he said. Someone more lost than me. Someone who is truly, completely consumed by fear, and loss, and- and remorse. And I- I can't- I have to believe that their soul isn't… that there can still be salvation for a person like that; I have to believe that. Otherwise everything I've done has been for nothing."
Working himself up talking about it, Matt slumped forward onto his own knees, hands kneading together erratically. Father Lantom was silent and attentive the whole time, and as Matt finished, allowed a few moments for silent reflection before opening up himself.
"Matthew 5:28," he declared. "'But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' I know that passage off-the-cuff because I love it. It's not a popular one among churchgoers, given that nobody wants to feel like they are being made to confess for watching internet porn. But I like the underlying message." Lantom chuckled to himself, though Matt remained stone-faced. "Many people look at this passage and say it means Jesus is drawing a distinction between different types of adultery. Adultery of the body. Adultery of the mind. Adultery of the heart. But in my view, this is an imprecise interpretation. Everyone who lusts after another has already committed adultery. In resolving to commit adultery, it has already been committed. In other words, the adultery is not any physical action, but the betrayal of one's commitments entailed by it." He took a brief pause, allowing his words to sink in for a moment, before leaning in toward the barrier in the center of the confessional. "Sin is a concept beyond your flesh and blood, Matthew- it is a matter of your soul. I don't know what's in your heart. No one can truly know that but you and God. But I don't believe you to be an evil man, and I don't think you do, either."
"I… I don't know what I am," murmured Matt. "I don't know how I can come back from this… how to understand what I've done, or pay penance for it…"
"The mere fact that you're here means that you are doing what you can to pay penance to God. That means that all you have left is what any of us have, when we're faced with the consequences of our actions. That is… to make amends with the people who you've hurt." Father Lantom lowered his head seriously, his face obscured in the dark booth. "To do right by the people that care about you."
The lights were on in the former office of Nelson & Murdock for the first time in months. From the outside, quiet chitchat could be heard faintly through the door.
Karen stood just outside for a few moments before stepping inside, enjoying a little bit of nostalgia. When she finally stepped through, she found Matt and Foggy both already there in the lobby, in the middle of a conversation. Both of them smiled in greeting.
She raised one meek hand in greeting to Foggy, but her attention focused on the other, looking him up and down. "Oh, my God… Matt."
He scratched behind his head, and she approached him, immediately embracing him with a hug.
He returned it gracefully, taking a heavy breath. "…Hi, Karen."
They released each other, and Karen brushed a little hair out of her face, looking around the office with a small pout.
"Um… how are you holding up?" she mumbled to Matt, straightening out her clothes as he took a step back to lean against the desk.
"I'm… ah, I'm alright. Just been a difficult few months." He pointed a finger toward her. "Uh, I was gonna ask you the same thing."
"Oh. Um, yeah, I'm okay. A little frazzled, but… well, I just didn't expect your call."
They smiled awkwardly at each other, leaving the office quiet for a second or two.
"I'm just happy to see you both safe. God knows I've been losing enough sleep," Foggy cut in, raising a finger in the air so as not to be forgotten. "Please tell me this means we can… put this whole Kilgrave thing behind us."
Matt scratched his chin with a frown. "I hope so. But I'm not one hundred percent sure yet."
"Okay. But you said he was controlling you. That's what you told me." Foggy opened his hand. "If he's still out there, how did you get away?"
"That's the thing. I don't know if he's still out there." Matt tucked his hands into his pockets with a grimace. "I'm sorry; I wish I could do better than that, but I have no way of knowing. He's vanished without a trace. For all I know he tripped and fell down a flight of stairs, but all I know for certain right now is that he has stopped making his usual rounds."
"I noticed the same thing," mumbled Karen.
"You noticed it?" exclaimed Foggy suddenly, eyes flashing with concern. "What does that mean; you noticed it?"
"It means." Karen sighed, rolling her eyes. "He was coming to see me. About once a week. He never showed up to check in this week."
"Oh, my God. You were keeping in contact with him?"
"It's fine, okay? I'm fine." Karen shot Foggy a look. "He didn't hurt me or anything. He just showed up to make sure I was keeping my mouth shut. To… refresh the grip his powers have on me, I guess."
"I…" Foggy's face sank. "…I had no idea."
"Well, I couldn't exactly tell anyone."
Foggy shuffled a little at the thought of that but said nothing, exchanging an uncomfortable glance with Karen across the room.
Matt sighed. "Foggy, it's… okay. I think… I think it may not be anything to worry about."
"Nothing to worry about?" Foggy asked incredulously. "Are you shitting me? We're both talking about the same person here, right?"
"No, no, I just mean… Kilgrave keeps a lot of outside contacts. There's no reason to assume Karen specifically is a high priority for him."
"I can handle him," Karen added. "I've been dealing with him every week for months. He's a disgusting creep, sure, but he's never laid a finger on me."
Foggy let out a defeated sigh. "…This is so screwed up."
"I know," said Matt. "I know it is, Foggy; I'm not trying to say that he's not dangerous. Believe me, I know from firsthand experience that he is." He adjusted his shades, pulling one hand out of his pocket to gesture toward Foggy. "And I think- the safest thing we can do right now is just keep our heads down and try to lay low, at least for a little while."
"Like hell!" scoffed Karen suddenly. "You can't be serious, Matt. Keep our heads down? After everything that Kilgrave has done? After what he did to Brett, and all those cops from the fifteenth precinct?"
"I- no, I know, Karen, I just-"
"-We need to get the story out there now more than ever. That's the only just thing."
"There's nothing just about getting yourself killed, Karen!" Foggy shouted, throwing up his hands. "Matt said it himself: we don't know if Kilgrave is still out there!"
"It's even more important if he is!" she retorted. "Bringing him into the public eye is the first step in bringing him to justice. It's not like Kilgrave could just get ahead of the story like Fisk did; there's nobody to stand up for him if we get eyewitness testimony from all the people he's hurt."
"You're the one that told me we need to keep our distance from each other so I don't get tied up with Kilgrave. And now that you have one spare moment, you want to send him a direct broadcast saying, 'Hey, I'm going after you; please come kill me'? Going after this story is the reason he found you in the first place."
"Yeah." Karen narrowed her eyes. "And the fact that the story never got any traction in the public is the reason he has gotten as far as he has."
"Guys, please!" Matt raised his voice for the first time, interrupting the two bickering friends and drawing both of their attention. "Can we please just…?" He sighed. "…Look. I don't want either of you to get hurt. And I also want justice done for the victims as much as anybody. But we can't keep telling each other what to do. I didn't ask you to come here so we can figure out what to do about Kilgrave. Trust me when I say: I've given a lot of thought to the issue, and there's no easy solution. But the bottom line is, this has put all of us in danger. And these past few months, as… difficult as they have been… they've given me a lot of time to think about everything. About how we got to where we are. Like…" He gestured to Foggy and Karen, referencing their argument. "…Like this."
Karen spoke softly. "Matt…"
"Just let me say what I have to say," he pleaded softly. "Please."
Foggy and Karen exchanged a worried glance, and, with a shrug, Foggy raised a hand, inviting Matt to speak.
And after a second to straighten himself out, he did. "I put on that mask because I have always felt it was my responsibility to take care of this city. And when I stopped, after-" He hesitated for a moment- "-after Elektra died… I did that because I was doubting myself. That's it." Matt forced the words out, voice getting shakier as he went on. "I'm never going to say that I don't stand by my choices. The good that I did, as- as Daredevil- I'm never going to apologize for that. But whether I like it or not- whether I acknowledge it or not- those choices were about me. About myresponsibilities. And I made them knowing the consequences they would have. I betrayed your trust. And I'm tired of… of… manipulating. Forcing you to overturn your lives because of me. It's not about Kilgrave; it's about… everything. Uh." He exhaled sharply through his nostrils, rubbing his hands together with obvious anxiety. "I- I know I've made a lot of mistakes. I took advantage of you- both of you- and you got hurt because of it. And I'm… I'm sorry for that. I'm so sorry. You are the two most important people in the world to me. I can't let that go unsaid. Everything that went wrong. With Nelson & Murdock. That's on me. And I need that to be- I need to say that, while I still have the chance."
The room went silent for a long time, nobody sure how to follow up on that. Matt leaned back against the desk again, nervous.
"Matt." Karen was the first to speak. "We're… a family. Nothing is going to change that." Karen looked at the floor, folding her hands in front of her. "And yeah, we've been through a lot of shit, but it's not just you. We're all headstrong. We all want what's right. And it's not always easy to know what that is. But…" She repeated herself, more firmly this time. "But we're a family, and nothing is going to change that."
"That's right. Family," said Foggy. "Tiny, dysfunctional, occasionally a little incestuous, but still. Family nonetheless." Foggy patted Matt on the shoulder with a bittersweet smile. "You know I've got your back, buddy. Always."
Karen smiled at the two of them. "We both do. We all have each other's backs. That's the reason things are always so damn difficult." She chuckled quietly, and Matt and Foggy followed suit. "But we're going to get through this."
Karen took one last moment to look around the office- barebones compared to what it used to be. Her gaze eventually settled on her friends, both of whom looked melancholic and exhausted. Matt's shades covered the dark circles under his eyes.
She sighed. "One way or another."
Chapter 24: AKA Said the Pot to the Kettle
Who caught Iron Fist season 2? I binged it in a weekend and really enjoyed it; crazy stuff is going down in Danny's corner of the Defenders-verse. And that Daredevil teaser is crazy, too… sure looks like things are going to get dark.
The door at the entrance to Jessica's building was in surprisingly good condition. Apparently one of the only things getting regular maintenance.
The elevator rattled too much. Its light was getting dim, but it still wasn't doing the hangover any favors.
Jessica stared down the hall at her apartment door. It felt like it stretched for ages.
The door was unlocked, cardboard still set up in place of the glass pane. When she swung it open, she found that everything was exactly as shitty as she had left it.
She stalked through the entrance, letting the door close slowly and hang ajar behind her. Papers were strewn out on her desk. Case files, from the looks of it.
The last time Jessica had stepped inside the place was with Kilgrave. He had taken her there in the middle of the night to destroy evidence- to make sure nobody else came snooping around. He'd offered to let her take a keepsake with her, but she didn't take him up on it. There was nothing there worth keeping.
Jessica wandered around to the front of the desk, running her hand over the file on top- it was Gina. She rolled her eyes. On pure instinct, she found one hand reaching for the desk drawer, where she found an old bottle of whiskey. She took a swig without a second thought.
It was an odd, kind of uncomfortable feeling to be home again. It took Jessica a few moments to pinpoint it. That precise, needling feeling in the back of her neck, like pinpricks, telling her that Kilgrave wouldn't like what she was doing. That he didn't want her to be there. He wanted her at home, waiting for him. Smiling.
She winced at the thought. But it felt good to forget that it was him. Just for a few seconds. Even that was a certain reassurance.
"Main Street. Birch Street. Higgins Drive. Cobalt Lane."
Jessica pressed the whiskey bottle to her lips again, stalking off into the bedroom. On the way there, she peered through the person-sized hole in the wall.
Everything was exactly as she'd left it. Exactly. The bed was still messed up from when Luke was passed out on it.
She slumped down onto the bed over the sheets. A minute later, she fell backwards, resting her head on the mattress. The ceiling was damaged, probably from all the shit she had thrown at it to shut up her upstairs neighbors.
She felt a knot in the pit of her stomach, and took another drink.
"Main Street. Birch Street. Cobalt- agh, goddammit." Both of her arms slumped to opposite sides of the bed. Jessica took deep breaths. "Main… Main Street. Birch Street…"
Her feet planted on the ground, and she stood from the bed, wandering back out of her bedroom.
She'd gotten that from a therapist. Probably not even a week after she got away, the first time. Main Street, Birch Street. She was staying with Trish. She didn't have a place of her own yet. Trish took the couch for a while. Jessica was impossible to live with. More than once, she'd woken up shrieking in the middle of the night.
Once she had a panic attack at the foot of the bed- it was probably almost four in the morning. Trish held her hand.
With a sigh, Jessica leaned back on her desk, drinking straight from the bottle in her hand. Her feet dangled above the floor. As she swayed her arm around, her leather jacket crinkled noisily, and she briefly looked down at herself. Her own outfit looked unnatural to her, given how used she was to being decorated by someone else.
Jessica thought about what she said to Matt.
"It's probably bad form to pour one out for an addict." She looked at the bottle in her hand and took a swig, rolling her eyes. "…Said the pot to the kettle."
Reaching out in front of her, she tipped the bottle to the side, letting a shot's worth of booze pour out onto the wooden floor.
"If you were here, you'd be telling me there are too many people still alive to care about to spend time worrying about a dead one." Jessica snickered at her own sentimentality. "Well, shut up."
Her face sank as she set the bottle back down on the desk next to her.
She stared at the floor for a little while. One hand absentmindedly brushed over the side of her jacket, fingers creasing the leather.
And Jessica made up her mind. Stepping off the desk, her boot splashed in the little pool of whiskey on the floor. She stalked her way back to the entrance of her apartment, and locked the door behind her.
Someone was waiting for her outside. A middle-aged white guy with brown hair, hovering outside of Malcolm's apartment with his hands trembling at his sides.
-Or at least, what used to be Malcolm's apartment.
The two made eye contact, and Jessica raised an eyebrow, taking slow steps down the hall to meet him.
"Uh… hi…?" she said uncertainly.
Straightening out his jacket, the man looked Jessica up and down, opening and closing his mouth once before speaking. "You- you're…"
"Jessica. I'm. Uh. Your new neighbor." She looked over his shoulder, peering through the open door into Malcolm's old apartment. "And you are…?"
The guy seemed like a tweaker- a messed-up one at that- but Jessica found herself distracted by something else before she really had time to give it much thought.
"Hey…" said Jessica. "That… that apartment. Did you know the guy who used to live there? A man named Malcolm?"
"Hm…? No, no, I never met the old tenant…" the man mumbled, apparently distracted, judging from his intense staring at Jessica.
"What was the place like when you bought it?"
"Mostly cleared out… not in great condition…"
Jessica stood in the doorway, opening the door the rest of the way with one hand.
"If- if you want to take a look around, you can step inside…" mumbled the man, still hovering in the hallway.
He seemed unhinged, maybe, but not particularly dangerous. And Jessica was too tired to worry about it. She stepped inside.
And the place was in bad condition. Maybe even worse than when Malcolm had been taking care of it, if that were possible. Even Malcolm had a TV, stolen though it was.
"Did you find any personal belongings left behind? Heirlooms, or…?"
"Why? Why do you ask?" The man followed her inside, closing the door behind him with a nervous look on his face. "Who lived here before…?"
"Just. A friend of mine," Jessica said darkly, glancing at him over her shoulder.
To Kilgrave, Malcolm was just another loose end to tie up. Jessica wondered if his parents ever got the chance to hear from him. They probably never got to hear the truth about what Kilgrave had done to him. She was never allowed to tell.
"B- Birch Street. Higgins Drive."
"What?" the man asked.
Jessica didn't turn around. "Nothing."
She rested her hand on a desk next to the window. There was a framed picture- a young girl, probably not older than seven or eight.
"What… what did you say your name was again?" he asked from behind.
"Jessica," she replied quietly, adjusting the picture frame with a forlorn frown. "Uh… I'm sorry to intrude. I shouldn't be doing this-"
Jessica turned around to face him, and cut herself off mid-sentence. The man was pointing a handgun at her, with both hands trembling on the grip and his back against the door.
"…Seriously?" Jessica clicked her tongue, raising her hands behind her head.
"Jessica. J- you're Jessica."
"Come on. What, you know me?" She smacked her lips. "…Kilgrave? He sent you? What, to spy on me?"
"Not Kilgrave. I don't-" The man froze for a second. "-You're not the first person to ask me that."
"So you're not Kilgraved."
"What…? No… I don't know what…"
"Then you're just an asshole," said Jessica, sighing with disbelief.
"I don't know Kilgrave. Ain't seen him. Don't want to." The man shifted back and forth in place. "This ain't me. But… but you can't be here… you're not supposed to be here."
"Ugh." Quickly running low on patience, Jessica lowered her hands from behind her head, slamming one fist into the desk behind her and smashing a hole in it in the process. The man with the gun jumped with surprise. "Says who?" Jessica demanded again.
"Agh! Jesus!" he exclaimed. "Bad- bad people! Mobsters, or… I don't know! This ain't me! But… they don't want anybody coming in or out of that apartment. They told me to keep a lookout. They… they wanted me to watch out… for you…"
He looked past her, at the framed photo on the desk. Jessica glanced back at it with pursed lips for a moment.
"Who is she?" Jessica asked. "Your daughter?"
"They… they threatened her…"
"Well. Count your blessings. Because the guy who wants me- Kilgrave- he's gone. Nobody has any reason to come back for you now."
"Like I can take your word for that." The man straightened himself out, jabbing the gun in Jessica's direction again.
She took a breath, taking one step forward with a hand raised. "Here's what you're going to do. Pack your shit. Get out of the city. Get somewhere safe. Let things die down. Your daughter is going to be fine. You just need to lay low for a little while."
"I can't do that. I can't."
Jessica stopped in the middle of the room. The man with the gun stared her down from five feet away. She bit her lip. Pinpricks traveled up and down her neck.
"You know something?" Jessica scoffed, crossing her arms. "Honestly? If you knew the year I've had, you wouldn't be thinking twice. I have shit to deal with. Important shit. Way more important than this. And I don't have time to sit here negotiating with you. So if you're gonna shoot me, stop staring at me and just freaking do it already. Honest to God, you would be making my life so much easier."
She didn't blink, staring him down with an intense, impatient grimace. The man's hands shook over the gun- he was clearly too afraid to do anything. He didn't shoot.
Jessica shoved past him, opening the door and stepping back into the hall.
"Get the hell out of here. Lay low. Your daughter is going to be okay," said Jessica.
She stalked off down the hall, muttering under her breath. "…Spineless, limp-dicked, piece of…"
A floor below, the entire hallway nearly shook from the force of Jessica's fist pounding against the door, and within moments it opened just a crack, revealing the concerned face of an elderly Italian man.
Jessica put a hand on her hip. "How's it going?"
The old man continued to peek through the door, speaking nervously. "Can I help you…?"
"You're the super, right? I'm Jessica Jones. I'm a tenant."
"I know who you are, Miss Jones. And yes, I'm the super. Alfredo, since we are apparently not even on good enough terms for you to remember my name."
Alfredo narrowed his eyes at her, hand perched in the doorway and ready to shut the door in her face.
"Right…" Jessica said impatiently. "Listen… we need to talk, Alfredo."
"I don't think we have anything to talk about."
Irritable, the super shut the door, only for Jessica to stick out one hand to stop it. Visibly frightened, he struggled against Jessica's strength with both hands against the door, to absolutely no avail.
"I think we do," Jessica said bluntly.
"I don't want any trouble."
"Neither do I. So let's not make any."
With a reluctant sigh, Alfredo made a face at her and opened the door the rest of the way, allowing Jessica to lean against the door frame with her hands in her jacket pockets.
"So I swung around to my place…" she hummed.
"It's not your place anymore," Alfredo snapped. "You're out."
"I was. For a little while. Now I'm coming back."
"I haven't received a rent payment in months, and you left the residence in a state of disrepair. Property damage in practically every room. You nearly knocked down a wall-"
"Yeah, and thanks for fixing that, by the way."
He stared with disbelief. "…I am well within my rights to evict you, and that's not even mentioning the business you have been running out of my apartment, illegally, that I allowed. And the crime you brought to my doorstep. Violent crime! There are bullet holes in your wall! The men that have come through here because of you…" Alfredo waved one hand to dismiss her. "I'm not going to have this discussion. I want you out, Miss Jones."
She nodded as he spoke, obviously unimpressed, and retorted instantly. "Then I take it you want to be the one to explain to the cops why a missing persons case that you knew was connected to crime- that you knew was happening in your own building- never got reported? Or why you never alerted them about these so-called violent criminals that were endangering your tenants? How about the guy upstairs that just whipped out a gun at me for coming out of my own apartment? Want to explain that? Because I'm no cop, but that sure sounds like concealment of a felony, coming from the superintendent of the building."
He was lost for words for a minute. "I… I feared for my safety… for my wife's safety…!"
"…Then just imagine what the hell I was going through." She scoffed dismissively at him, turning to leave, but stopped short in the doorway. "I'll start getting your rent to you next month. I need a little time to get my feet under me." She looked over her shoulder. "And fix my damn wall."
She slammed the door shut behind her.
The Stars & Tykes Talent Agency was open all afternoon, five days a week. It took a conscious effort for Jessica not to be sick, listening to the rehearsing of a dozen hopeful child stars. They had no idea what they were getting into, but Jessica certainly did.
She didn't bother waiting to be invited inside. As soon as the coast was clear, Jessica stormed through the door to the office of Dorothy Walker, letting it slam shut behind her.
Dorothy did not look happy to see her.
"If it isn't the human Venus fly trap," Jessica quipped humorlessly. "Still nourishing yourself on other people's stolen childhoods."
"Well, hello to you, too, Jessie. This is a surprise." Dorothy's hand hovered over her phone. "You don't have an appointment. There are people out there waiting to meet with me. I'm a busy woman, you know. Don't make me call security."
"You really want to have to call an ambulance to your studio in the middle of a weekday?"
They exchanged a glance.
Defeated, Dorothy leaned back in her seat, her eyes narrow. "…Make it quick."
Jessica slid into a chair opposite Dorothy, eyes scanning the trinkets lining the desk. She settled on a picture frame, which she grabbed with one hand and turned to look at.
It was a photograph of Trish- a recent one, Jessica was surprised to see, rather than a Patsy photo- fit into an embroidered picture frame. A label at the bottom just read "Patricia Walker" in flowery cursive font.
"Oh, that's nice," Jessica mumbled. "This must play great in tabloids."
"Wha- how dare you? That- the day I heard about what happened to Trish was the worst day of my life, you horrible little…" Dorothy trailed off, slamming both palms into the desk with a furious grimace. "And you know what? You have no excuse, acting all high and mighty. We had a fundraiser for her just a few months ago. Didn't see your sorry face anywhere."
"Not like you would have wanted me there."
Dorothy scoffed. "Since when have you ever given a damn what I wanted?"
"…Fair enough." Jessica shrugged. "Besides, I'm not being fair. You gave it at least a month before you started cashing in on Trish's-"
"Oh, that is so-"
"'Twenty Years of Patsy?'" Jessica demanded harshly. "Seriously? How much did you net for that one? Tell me it wasn't cheap, at least."
"Excuse me for trying to protect her reputation! She's spent her life developing her brand- her legacy! You'd rather just have everyone forget about her than acknowledge that I might care about my daughter? At least this way she will have something to come back to when she turns up!"
"You piece of shit. Don't act for a second like any of this is about her. This is about your reputation. She hated the brand you built for her." Jessica waved a hand behind her, to the posters all over the wall. "That you built by pimping her out to creeps that you knew were going to exploit her, and by looking the other way when she actually needed help. That's the brand you're protecting. If you're going to sell out her memory, at least respect her enough to be honest about it."
"So that's what this is about, huh? You just came here to give me one last 'screw you'? Well, message received, Jessie. I have enough on my plate without you shaming me. So you can see yourself out."
Jessica resisted the urge to storm out, taking a breath. "…Actually, I need something."
"Well, isn't that a surprise?" Dorothy snapped. "You ungrateful little brat. Get out of my office."
"You really don't want to test me today," Jessica replied calmly.
She rested one hand against the desk. It didn't take much for the threat to come across.
"Fine!" Dorothy exclaimed, throwing up her hands. "Stop beating around the bush, then. What do you want from me?"
"I was at her apartment. I saw they cleared out her stuff. That was you, right? You got your hands on it? What did you do with it? Sell it? Melt down those awards, maybe?"
"For God's sake. I kept her things. They're in a storage locker. They're safe. And they will continue to be until she comes home again."
Jessica gritted her teeth. "Where are they?"
"Where? Is that some kind of joke?" Dorothy stared Jessica down. "Why on Earth would I tell you?"
Jessica cracked her neck.
Everything Trish owned- at least, that her mother hadn't sold or given away- sat behind the hefty garage door of a single storage unit. Jessica ripped off the padlock with one hand, and Trish's things saw the light of day for the first time in months.
It was a mess inside. Stacks of cardboard boxes, furniture, and awards- lots of them. No doubt they were arranged in the front so that Dorothy could show them off. The thought made Jessica sick.
Jessica took a seat on the arm of one of the chairs inside, opening a cardboard box from the side. Inside was a stack of magazines- at the top, the smiling face of a sixteen-year-old Trish, complete with red wig and eyesore dress.
Somewhere in there, Jessica knew there was a magazine talking about Patsy's new adopted sister. A charity case orphan. At the time, Trish had hated it as much as Jessica. And they hated each other.
She shut the box, brushing dust off the top. Her jacket crinkled again, and she brushed it out, gritting her teeth.
Something glinted in the sunlight shining toward the back of the unit. Jessica had to slide a stack of boxes out of the way to get there. It was a tiny glass award, something about achievements in talk radio. Jessica rolled her eyes and set it aside- figures Dorothy would have pushed it to the back, along with the box it was sitting on…
She hesitated for a second, then ripped the tape from that box, thrusting it open. Nothing in this one would make headlines- at least not at first glance. Mostly jewelry, a couple of family photos. Near the bottom, Jessica found a handgun.
"Classy, Trish," she mumbled, burying it back inside.
Then her fingers scraped against something else. Something small. She pulled it out from the bottom of the box.
It was a coin. A hefty silver one, with a big Roman numeral X carved in the front. It took her half a second to realize what it was- an NA chip, commemorating ten years sober. Jessica couldn't help but think of Simpson- there was virtually nothing more important to Trish than her sobriety, and yet she took his pill in an instant, just for one shot at being a hero.
Jessica rolled the chip in her fingers and let it lay flat in her palm. With heavy breaths, she blinked tears out of her eyes, closing her hand.
"Tired of missing you," she mumbled.
Jessica tucked the chip into her jacket pocket, resting against a stack of cardboard boxes.
She was tired. Exhausted, in fact. It had been so long since she had just taken a moment to stop and think, just for herself.
She reached a hand into her jacket pocket opposite Trish's NA chip, pulling out her cell phone.
It took her a long time to actually dial, and she allowed herself a deep breath before she reached the phone to her ear. But the other end picked up almost immediately.
Jessica sucked in her breath. "…Is this Luke?"
The other end was silent for a long time before responding. "…Yes."
"I owe it to you to tell you this in person," she said quietly. "But it sounds like an obvious trap, and I don't want there to be any doubt, or any suspicion, so I'm just going to tell you this over the phone. Then we don't have to talk ever again. Okay? I just owe this to you."
Luke didn't respond right away, and Jessica didn't give him much time to.
"Kilgrave is gone," she continued. "He disappeared. Something must have happened to him. I'm not sure what, but I don't know if it really matters. I'm safe. And so are you. I know you're not going to believe me- not right away, anyway. But before long, Kilgrave's trail is gonna run cold, and at least then you'll understand why." Jessica held the phone close, breathing heavily as she figured out exactly what she wanted to say to him. Luke waited patiently for her to speak again, and eventually, she did, biting her lip. "…Um. I didn't ask for your help. But… I also didn't deserve it. I didn't mean for any of this to happen. And I'm sorry… about all of it. You're a good guy, Luke. I've always known that. I hope things work out for you." Jessica hung her head low. "Take care of yourself. I swear on my life… I'm not your problem anymore."
Without waiting, she hung up the phone. It rang back immediately after, but she ignored it.
"Main Street. Birch Street. Higgins Drive. Cobalt Lane."
Jessica leaned into the boxes, letting her head hang back and her hair fall down over her shoulders. The sun shone in her face, and she closed her eyes.
One hand rested in her pocket, her fingers tracing slowly over the chip. She felt relieved. At least for a moment.
Chapter 25: New York Strait Talk
Hello! It's been a while! Hope everyone has had a good year! Thanks to everyone who has picked this fic up in the time I've been gone. It's been quite a bittersweet year for this fandom since I released the last chapter- we got amazing new seasons of Daredevil, Punisher and Jessica Jones, but then... y'know, the untimely cancellations of, well, everything. But that's what's great about fanfiction, right? The fandom is still alive as long as we're still talking about it :P
On that note- thanks for reading, and thanks for your patience!
A weekday afternoon found a Harlem teenager staring down the barrel of a handgun, held up in an alley by another man not much older than him and not much bigger. The afternoon sun cast shade down over the both of them, casting an eerie shadow over the mugger’s face.
“This is all I have. I swear. I swear.” The younger teen pressed his back against the wall, holding out a cell phone in his trembling hand.
The mugger swiped it without lowering the gun. “Pockets. Fold out your pockets.”
“I swear. That’s all I have on me. I don’t have a wallet.”
“Then fold out your damn pockets and show me.”
“Come on. Please.”
“Fold them.” The mugger reached up to clutch the gun with both hands. Pointing it firmly at his target, he took one step back for a better shot.
Instead, he bumped into someone bigger.
“Yo,” said Luke Cage.
“You better back off.” The mugger flipped around instantly, pressing his gun into the interloper’s torso.
Luke grabbed his wrist, flashing a scolding frown. “If you shoot me, I’m gonna be pissed. I mean it. The hoodie was expensive.”
The mugger hesitated for half a second and made eye contact with Luke, weighing his options. Then pulled the trigger. A bullet clattered on the asphalt beneath them.
Luke’s face sank. “Damn.”
Sighing, he shoved his arm to the side, slamming the mugger headfirst into the wall and knocking him unconscious. With the threat taken out, Luke poked a finger through the bullet hole, pouting over another wasted piece of clothing.
The teenager kept his back pressed against the wall as he watched the encounter, mouth hanging agape as he eyed his rescuer. “You- you’re Luke Cage…”
Luke bent down to pick up the stolen cell phone, holding it out to offer it to the kid. “You just figure that out?”
“You- uh…” the teenager mumbled, nodding gratefully as he tucked his cell phone back into his pocket. “I, uh, I think you could stitch that up.”
“Not worth it. I’ll just wear it next time I need to get involved in a shootout.” Luke smiled lightheartedly, despite his very real irritation.
The two of them glanced over the unconscious man on the ground before looking back to each other, and the teenager tucked his hands into his pockets. “So, uh… no offense or anything, but what are you doing here? In Harlem?”
Luke raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean? I live here.”
“I… you do?” The teenager pouted apologetically, equally confused. “…I mean, uh… still? People have been saying you’ve been rolling in Hell’s Kitchen these days.”
“Nah, man. No, I… who’s been saying that?”
“I dunno. I mean, everybody. They were out here saying you were busting gangs at the docks in Hell’s Kitchen along 12th Avenue. Do you mean that wasn’t you?”
“No, I- that was me. I mean, not just me, but.” Luke was obviously embarrassed, to the point where he was hesitant to even give an excuse. “I’ve… had a lot going on lately.”
The sound of his own voice was making him wince. And the kid staring him down didn’t seem impressed either.
“Yeah, well. So has Harlem.”
The door to Claire’s apartment swung open and then slammed shut.
Claire hurried out into the front hall just in time to brush past Luke, who stomped into the living room with both hands on his head.
“What?” she crossed her arms and leaned against the wall, turning around again to face him. “What’s that?”
“Tunnel vision,” he replied gruffly as he slumped onto the couch. “I’m forgetting what I’m doing here in the first place.”
“Luke, what are you talking about?”
He rolled his eyes, then lifted the bottom of his hoodie to direct her attention to the bullet hole. “See this? The kid this was meant for was fifteen, maybe sixteen.”
She shrugged with open palms. “So you helped someone. Isn’t that a good thing?”
But he blazed right past the question. “Do you remember Candace Miller?”
“The girl that was going to inform on Mariah? Yeah, of course I remember her. Why?”
“Well, she had two brothers. Sean and Cole.” He threw his head back. “The kid I talked to today told me that they were both found dead, and nobody knows exactly what happened to them. Their mother is all alone now.”
“Oh, my God. That poor woman.”
“And all this shit has been going on while I’ve been chasing my tail downtown.”
“Luke.” The self-blame earned an instant groan from her. “Kilgrave is important, too. You can’t hold yourself accountable for every problem in the world. We both know there are too many bad guys out there for one person to take on alone. Even you.”
“It’s like I said before: I wish I could be in two places at once.”
“Yeah, well, you can’t. You need to follow your own path, Luke. If you don’t think going after Kilgrave is the right call- well, you’re the one that told me Jessica doesn’t want you involved. So it seems to me like you have already done all you can to make things right with her,” she said tentatively. “But at the same time… Harlem survived for a long time before you ever turned up. And it can survive without you. I feel like a broken record when I say, you need to stop trying to put all the responsibility on your own two shoulders.”
“Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be rethinking my strategy.” Luke folded his hands over his lap. “What I’ve managed to do here. Watching people’s backs. Keeping Cottonmouth and Diamondback and Mariah under control. And speaking out about it. Standing against it out in the open. Black folks in this community need to be able to see that, and embrace that. It’s important to them. It sends a message. Harlem is as strong as it is because it has always had good people looking out for the neighborhood, nurturing it and making it something bigger.”
“And it still does.”
He nodded seriously. “And I should be one of them.”
“There you go with that corny shit,” said Claire with an affectionate sigh.
“It’s corny, but it’s true. I’m not doing enough. That’s the bottom line.”
“And what about Jessica? Shouldn’t you talk to her?”
Luke gritted his teeth and hesitated again- he didn’t have a good answer to that, or any answer to it, really. As he slumped into the couch and thought about it, Claire pushed herself off her spot on the wall to traipse over and join him, running her hand reassuringly over his forearm. Luke looked her in the eye and opened his mouth to speak.
Then his cell phone rang.
He showed Claire the caller ID, and she scoffed with comparable disbelief. Then he looked at it again, just to make sure he wasn’t imagining it.
He set down the phone on the coffee table and put her on speakerphone, but said nothing.
Jessica’s voice came through a moment later, raspy. “…Is this Luke?”
Luke looked Claire in the eye. “…Yes,” he replied cautiously.
Jessica continued in a murmur. “I owe it to you to tell you this in person. But it sounds like an obvious trap, and I don’t want there to be any doubt, or any suspicion, so I’m just going to tell you this over the phone. Then we don’t have to talk ever again. Okay? I just owe this to you.”
Luke was just staring at the phone. Claire was staring at him. Both were at a complete loss for words.
“Kilgrave is gone,” Jessica continued. “He disappeared. Something must have happened to him. I’m not sure what, but I don’t know if it really matters. I’m safe. And so are you. I know you’re not going to believe me- not right away, anyway. But before long, Kilgrave’s trail is gonna run cold, and at least then you’ll understand why.” She sucked in her breath loud enough for her receiver to pick it up. “…Um. I didn’t ask for your help. But… I also didn’t deserve it. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. And I’m sorry… about all of it. You’re a good guy, Luke. I’ve always known that. I hope things work out for you. Take care of yourself. I swear on my life… I’m not your problem anymore.”
The call cut out- she hung up on him. Luke picked the phone up and stared at it again. The couch cushions shifted underneath the two of them as Claire shuffled over to lean over his shoulder and look him in the eye. Luke was too baffled to do anything but shake his head at her.
“…Well, now you have to talk to her,” she scoffed.
Luke took slow steps down the hallway, the door with cardboard in the window looming at the opposite end. He’d changed into something nicer; a black denim jacket without a single bullet hole.
He moved with caution. Of course, part of it was the obvious concern that it might be a trap, but there was a chance that it wasn’t, and the truth was that that scared him just as much. The idea of having to actually face her, one-on-one, for real. He couldn’t imagine how to begin that conversation.
And so he dragged his feet reaching the door, hovering outside for a minute to collect himself. Then he gave a quiet knock with two knuckles. The whole rest of the apartment was eerily quiet, like he was the only one in the whole building. Eventually, something moved on the other side of the door, casting a shadow underneath it. And then the door creaked open to reveal her face.
It was Jessica… just Jessica, by herself, dressed haphazardly in a tank top and a pair of old blue jeans. She stared at him with wide eyes, like she was seeing a ghost. That was all either of them did at first- just stare.
Luke was the first to speak, softly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I…” She pressed her tongue to the inside of her cheek, staring off to the side. “Just… tired. You know.”
“…How are you holding up?”
“It’s the middle of the night.”
“Were you asleep?”
He nodded once, then glanced back over his shoulder at the empty hallway. “It’s like you said. Could be a trap. I wanted to come when you wouldn’t expect. Just in case.”
She sighed loudly, and stared past him, down the hall, for another long pause.
“I called so you wouldn’t have to show up here at all,” she mumbled.
“Well.” She smacked her lips uncertainly. “…Thank you for com-”
She could not even get the sentence out before choking up, and then bursting into tears a second later.
With a sad, intense frown, Luke closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her, and she simply stood there and allowed him to. The tears rolled down her face and stained her cheeks. Her eyes were shut tight. She buried the side of her head in his chest and just cried for a while as they stood together in the doorway.
Eventually the heaving in her chest slowed enough for her to say something. She gently pushed him away with one hand and rubbed her eyes with the other.
“I must look like a goddamn disaster right now.”
“That a question?”
“Tsch.” She looked away from him. “Can I get you a drink?”
“I’d like that.”
Luke shut the door behind the two of them as he followed her inside. He slumped down on the couch- the one with a massive hole in the wall behind it. But Jessica headed straight for the desk to pull out some whiskey and a pair of shot glasses. She had more than enough alcohol for both of them, but something told Luke she hadn’t been counting on company.
“I talked to my super,” said Jessica, glancing in Luke’s direction as she poured drinks. “I told him to fix the wall. He never called anyone in to look at it.”
He looked back over his shoulder with a smirk. “I like the hole in the wall. Gives the place some flavor.”
“Yeah, well, the cockroaches and the shitty plumbing are about all the ‘flavor’ I can tolerate.”
She took the two glasses in one hand and the bottle in the other, shuffling across the room to approach him. Luke raised his glass to her when she handed it to him, slumping back against the couch. Reluctantly, she took the seat next to him, but the pair quickly found themselves at a loss for words again.
Jessica traced her index finger around the rim of her glass. “…If you’re waiting to see if I start trying to kill you, I’m not going to. The message I left you was honest. Kilgrave is gone.”
“What happened to him?”
“I have no idea.”
“So… what now?”
She shrugged halfheartedly. “Now… you can close the book on this incredibly shitty chapter of your life. And, hopefully, so can I.”
Luke narrowed his eyes. “Do you think he’s gone for good?”
“I can’t say for certain,” she sighed. “I have no idea where he could have gone. He never would have left without bringing me along. But, the last time I thought he wouldn’t come back, I had actually seen him get hit by a bus with my own two eyes. Not even that stopped him.”
“Maybe he didn’t get so lucky this time.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” Her eyes wavered as she said it.
Since she was already avoiding eye contact with him, Luke took the opportunity to study her face. She certainly hadn’t lied when she had said she was tired. Her face was pale, her hair was messy, and she looked haggard, with dark circles under her eyes like she hadn’t slept in days. Luke tried not to seem like he pitied her.
“You’re not under his control anymore?” he asked quietly.
“I.” Jessica stopped herself short, shutting her eyes tightly for a moment. “I can still feel him in my head. But, no. I’m not under his control. He hasn’t commanded me to do anything.”
“Good. That’s… that’s good.”
He rapped a thumb on his glass and took a sip, but Jessica had already finished hers and was in the process of pouring herself a second. She offered the bottle to him, but he raised a hand to refuse.
She shrugged. “Uh. Sorry. I’m not good at small talk,” she mumbled. “How… are things?”
“Well. I got out of prison recently. So, I guess things are good.”
“Yeah. Prison. I heard about that.”
“You told me that you saw some stuff about me on the news.”
“Not much,” she grumbled, before softening a bit. “Funny… for a while there, we got so close, but… aside from Reva, I never really learned a thing about you.”
“We didn’t get that close.”
“That’s not how I remember it.”
That was coy, maybe even a little flirtatious, and she said it with a chuckle- but she quickly ducked his gaze again and retreated back to her more melancholic demeanor.
Luke waved it off. “My point is, when you met me, I liked it that way. Back then, I was hiding. Keeping my head down, trying to avoid complications.”
“Yeah… I sure made that easy for you, huh?”
Sarcasm was one thing, but the attempt at self-deprecation just made Luke (already a little disturbed by the way she talked about herself) that much more serious.
“When I first came to New York with Reva,” he explained, “the truth is, I was a fugitive. But she helped me connect with a lot of good people. And after I lost my bar, they were there for me when I reached out. I’ve made a lot of good friends in Harlem over the past year. And I’ve gained a lot of perspective on my life.” He punctuated his next pause with a contemplative frown. “I lost people. Lost someone real close to me. Nothing like what you’ve had to go through, but… I still think about it. It made me realize that I needed to make a change.”
Something about that seemed to hit Jessica particularly hard.
She just nodded halfheartedly. “Yeah.”
Luke continued: “I ended up reconnecting with that nurse. Claire Temple. The one you got to help me, after we.” After awkwardly stopping himself short, he added, “Uh. I’ve been staying with her since I got back in town. She’s… really something special.”
Jessica’s eyes widened with understanding, and she forced a smile. “That’s good. That’s great, Luke. I’m really happy for you.” She looked him seriously in the eye. “You deserve it.”
He nodded without smiling back, and she made a pained face at his reaction, gripping her glass tightly and looking away, toward the wall.
“Look, I don’t wanna make things awkward, but.”
“Nothing good has ever followed a sentence like that,” he replied hesitantly.
She rolled her eyes- it was true, of course- but she pressed on anyway. “Last time, in that warehouse. I said… uh, I said, ‘I don’t love you’. I just want you to know, that wasn’t me. That was just some bullshit Kilgrave wanted me to say. You know- he’s insecure. And jealous. But I don’t want you to think… I mean. I just don’t want you to think I’m bitter, or I still have.”
Jessica stopped herself, and they, predictably, exchanged an exceedingly awkward glance.
She stared at the floor. “Like. Unresolved. Uh. Feelings. Or.”
He put her out of her misery quickly. “It’s ancient history, Jessica.”
“Yeah, I wish it was.”
She didn’t look up. Her hair dangled over her face. The moment actually made Luke kind of wistful.
“I really regret how things went down between us,” he admitted.
“It was stupid of me to leave. Not to make sure you were okay. It-”
“It’s what I would’ve done.” She interrupted him with something almost like frustration in her voice. “After what I did to you.”
It took half a second for that to register with Luke. “Jessica.”
His reaction was predictable, and she gritted her teeth the next time she looked him in the eye. “I shouldn’t have said that. Forget it.”
“Please don’t,” she pleaded.
She threw her head back and looked at the ceiling, letting out a loud, exhausted groan.
“I get it,” she continued. “I know you’re just trying to help. But look at you. You’ve got a girlfriend. You’ve got a reputation. You’ve got a… a… fan club.” Boots scraping the floor, she slid forward on the couch again, resting an elbow on her knee and turning all the way to the side to look him right in the eye. “I’m not the right person to be around for someone putting their life back together.”
Luke shook his head and thought for a moment.
“I just don’t want you to have to be alone.”
He focused on her face, careful to be sympathetic without seeming pitying. She met his gaze, but she didn’t really react at first. Instead, she took another sip of whiskey.
Looking like she had made her mind up about something, she shifted in her seat again in order to rest both elbows on her knees, and looked straight at the far wall, staring off into space.
“I killed my sister,” she grumbled.
Luke was caught off-guard. “…What?”
“I killed my sister.” Her expression was completely blank. “Trish Walker. Do you remember her? You met at my apartment once.”
“She… yeah, I remember…”
“She was my adopted sister. She was the most important person to me in the world.” Jessica drummed a finger on her glass. “I hacked her to death with a fire axe.”
Her voice was flat. Emotionless, eerily so, like she was recalling what she had bought at the grocery store. Luke was at a loss for anything to respond with, but after a moment, she continued, never looking at him in the interim.
“I still remember what it felt like. The amount of pressure I had to apply to take her limbs off. And… the blood. As much blood as I’d ever seen. All over my hands. And my face. I could feel it running down my face. And I could taste it.” She traced her bottom lip with her tongue, as if remembering. “I took off her arms first. She was screaming. Real, visceral screaming; the ugliest thing you’ve ever heard. Like the soundtrack to hell. Screaming you only hear from someone getting their arms hacked off with a fire axe. And I fucked up her right arm, so it crushed a little bit of her shoulder. It crunched. Like splitting wood.” She took a small breath. “She passed out before I took her legs off. Then her head. Then I dumped her in the river. Officially, she’s still a missing person. But she’s dead. And I killed her.”
She wasn’t just staring off into space anymore. Her eyes were practically burning into the far wall.
“…I’m alone, Luke. Nothing you can do about it.”
Then she finished her drink.
That could have ended the conversation right there. Jessica seemed like she intended it to. On another night, with a younger Luke, it may even have worked.
He came up with something else instead.
“There’s something you should know,” he decided, with an air of finality. “That flash drive you gave me- I finally looked into it. I found what it was Reva wanted me to see.”
“Luke.” She dismissed him with pain in her voice. “That’s private. It’s between you and your wife. It has nothing to do with me.”
“It doesn’t matter. I want you to know.”
Luke took a deep breath. “The files on it… I… think they were Reva’s way of confessing to me. She wasn’t the person I thought she was. She was involved in the experiments they did on me when I was in prison; the ones that gave me my abilities. Way back. When we first met. From the very first time we laid eyes on each other. She was keeping tabs on me. Lying to my face. She told me that she didn’t know. She let me believe she was innocent, that she had nothing to do with it. I shared everything with her, and she betrayed my trust, all the way to her dying breath.”
Jessica was incredulous. “What is this supposed to mean? I shouldn’t feel bad about her death? Because that’s a long way from-”
“No.” Luke answered firmly, almost harshly. “This is what it means: Reva was the most important thing in the world to me. I put her on a pedestal. And I’ve realized since then that she was only human. Fallible. She didn’t have her priorities in order. She was vulnerable, and she was afraid to tell me the truth. And I’ve grown to accept that. My point is… her memory still matters to me. No matter what she did to me… I still can’t bring myself to resent her.” He hesitated, choosing his next words very carefully. “So, after everything, how could I resent you?”
The confession silenced her for a while, though she continued to drink, while Luke sat by and watched.
“It’s not the same.” She barely whispered it.
“Look. I don’t want to make your life any harder. Maybe you’re not ready to hear this right now. But I can accept what you did. And I can move past it. Whether you like it or not, I forgive you.”
“Please. Please don’t. Luke.” She was looking at him desperately now.
“You’re torturing yourself,” he replied with a shake of his head.
“No, I’m trying to move on.” Struggling to make him understand, she leaned further forward in her seat and pressed a palm firmly to her forehead. “The past year of my life has been… a waking nightmare. I have watched myself do things you can’t even imagine. And I’m trying not to blame myself. Because that’s what I tell everybody else. It’s not me, it’s him. It’s him.” She threw her free hand out in front of her. “But what I did to you, that was my choice. I know it was, because I remember what was going through my head when I made it. I used you. To make myself feel better. Kilgrave had nothing to do with that. That was me. And if I start letting myself off the hook for all the miserable, piece-of-shit things that I have done, the choices that I have made-” Her voice got raspy for a second, and she stopped to prevent herself from choking up. “…Then how am I supposed to know the difference?”
She demanded it directly of him, but he had no more advice to offer. Even after everything, Luke still struggled to think back on his own encounter with Kilgrave- the panic and the grief of having his whole life upended. It seemed like Jessica’s whole identity came from that feeling, and she wore it on her face. It was in her eyes, now more than ever.
Thumbing the inside of her glass, she stared at the rippling liquid inside as it shook in her hand. “I think… maybe I’m gonna leave.”
“Leave? And go where?”
“I don’t know.” She looked over past her desk, at the window with a bullet hole in it. “I like this city. I grew up here, you know? After Kilgrave disappeared, I came back to this apartment, and I saw everything turned to shit, all the damage he left behind, and I thought, ‘fuck that, he can’t take New York from me, too’. I thought I would stay. I told the super to fix my wall. But… I went out today, to this storage unit. It had all of, um. All of Trish’s old stuff. And now I’m thinking, maybe… there’s nothing left for me here. I don’t know where Kilgrave is. And I don’t know if he’ll come back. But I’m me now. And I’ve got nothing else to lose.”
“So you want to run?”
“Wouldn’t you?” She shot him a sharp look, but he had no counter to that, so she didn’t wait for him. “That’s why I called you today. We don’t have to fight. I just don’t want you to be a loose end.”
“You’ve got people. At the bare minimum, you’ve got me. And you always will. But if you feel like you need to leave, I won’t tell you otherwise. You gotta do what you gotta do. Don’t let me be a loose end.” He hesitated, then reached out and rested a hand gently on her upper arm. The contact made her jump, but she turned to look at him without saying a word. “You need to hear this from somebody, and it may as well be me,” he said quietly. “The truth is, you’re a decent human being. And you give a shit. And even if you can’t see that, everyone around you can. I hope you know that.”
He set his glass down and stood to leave, and Jessica called out from behind him.
“For what it’s worth, it was good to see you again.”
He looked over his shoulder. “Never backward, Jess. Always forward. Remember that.”
She smirked, albeit a little sadly. “That’s corny as hell.”
“Yeah, well. It’s corny, but it’s true.”
He was hovering awkwardly in the foyer now, drumming his fingers awkwardly on the door frame like he was looking for an excuse not to go. But he couldn’t find one, and she didn’t stop him.
“Take care of yourself,” he added with a wave.
They took one last look at each other.
Jessica flashed a bleak smile, and Luke closed the door behind him, his shadow slowly disappearing from underneath it.