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Where the Devil Don’t Go

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It’s late and it’s cold— like, coldest-night-of-the-year-so-far-cold— and Jessica is almost regretting the fact that she accepted Matt's invitation to come patrolling as she shrugs further into her coat. The air is so frigid it has its own mass, and her lungs fight against the force of it as she inhales deeply. They worked up a bit of a sweat chasing down the masterminds behind a small-potatoes weapons deal they’d stumbled on earlier in the evening; now, across town in Brooklyn, they’re brimming with satisfaction as they stand on the docks knowing they’ve dismantled the whole sorry operation behind the little deal. As they survey their bounty, Matt pulls out a burner phone and walks a few paces away as he calls in an anonymous tip to Detective Mahoney about the shipping crate full of weapons that they’ve confiscated. He wears the smug little smile that Jessica has come to associate with a mission that he considers “a job well done” and she rolls her eyes, though she can’t help but smirk at his back. But then the wind off the bay picks up and she shivers. And her smile disappears with a huff.

Her exhalation of breath turns to condensation almost instantly, wreathing around her face as she mindlessly kicks at leftover sludge on the ground from the season’s first snow. She reaches into the messenger bag which hangs at her hip and fishes out the thermos of coffee she had packed. Unfortunately, not much remains inside, and she barely fills her cup with the dregs.

Oh well. At least it’s something. A fleeting thought in the back of her head tells her that it’s rude to drink the rest without even pretending to offer some to Matt, but she dismisses it reflexively. It’s her thermos. And besides, Matt hasn’t given any clue that the cold is bothering him. She’s nearly certain that it is, at least to some level, but he hasn’t shown it.

The coffee was piping hot when they started the night, but it’s a testament to all the running around they’ve done since that it doesn’t even bother to steam anymore in the single digit degree weather. But Jessica is prepared. She is reluctant to unzip her jacket and feel the cold seeping through her inner layers, but she sighs in relief as she slides a hand around the flask tucked away in her inner pocket. She is topping her coffee off when Matt finishes his phone call and crosses back to where she leans on a pallet waiting for him.

“Brett’s on his way.”

“Great,” she says flatly before spinning the lid of the flask closed and slipping it back into her jacket. With a shiver, she hastily zips her jacket closed again. Then she turns and picks up the cup she placed on the pallet to her right and takes a sip.

Matt cocks his head, curious after having noticed her suddenly sour mood. “What, you’re not even the least bit pleased about how that turned out? And all because we just so happened to run into a random deal in the right alley at the right time?”

Jessica sighs and crosses her arms as delicately as she can while still holding the cup in her top hand as she fights off another round of the shivers. “I’m fucking thrilled, okay. But I’m also freezing. So have we saved the world enough for tonight? Can we go home, now?”

Matt huffs a laugh at her. “Fair enough. Yes, we can go.”

Jessica throws back the rest of the coffee and sighs in relief. “Thank god.” In a matter of seconds, she has the thermos recapped and back in her bag. She hears Matt chuckle as she stands and shoves her half-gloved hands into her pockets. Then she starts off in the direction of Manhattan.

“So, how were you thinking we’d get home? I’d say cab, but it’s probably impossible to find one still in service this late and this far out. But I guess there’s always the F train. I think there’s a stop not too far from here—”

Matt bristles beside her. At the feel of the tension he is suddenly radiating, Jessica slows and narrows her eyes at him. “Something wrong?”

He heaves a heavy sigh and shakes his head. “No, it’s nothing. I just … thought we’d walk.”

She stops short, shivering in place to illustrate her point. “In eight degree weather that’s basically into negative digits with the wind chill?”

Matt pauses and moves the few paces back to her as he shrugs. “It’s not that far. We walked here, didn’t we? More or less? And isn’t your blood pumping after all that exercise?”

Jessica scoffs. “Not anymore, it’s not.” She unzips her jacket and retrieves her flask again, taking a quick shot before bundling back up and starting a begrudging pace. But she keeps the flask handy in her outside pocket this time.

Matt’s tone turns reproachful as he moves to match her stride. “You know, you didn’t have to come with me tonight,” he says, almost under his breath as he rolls his shoulders. (Jessica is beginning to thinks he does that instead of shivering, but she hasn’t seen him in weather this cold quite enough times to prove this hypothesis yet.)

“Yeah, ‘cause you didn’t need my help at all,” she says as she remembers the idiot she had tackled earlier who tried to box Matt’s ears with a broken, metal lock box. Something about the cold had definitely affected him then, because he’d staggered harder than she’d seen him do in some time, and if she hadn’t been close enough to tackle the guy, Jessica wonders if Matt’s beautiful face might have suffered some abuse. Jessica throws him some serious side eye that she knows he’ll feel as she replays the scene in her mind.

He rolls his shoulders again (this time likely due to her scrutiny) and adjusts the makeshift Muay Thai rope-glove monstrosities he wears around his hands. Jessica takes this to mean that she has won this particular argument. She takes another sip from her flask, then raises her chin victoriously as they walk on.

After a beat, he breaks the silence, voice laced with a hint of challenge. “You know drinking whiskey like that is counter-intuitive in cold weather. It feels like it makes you warmer internally, but it actually lowers your body temperature— scientifically speaking.”

Incredulous, Jessica scoffs at him. “Oh my god, really? That’s your comeback right now? Nice one, Counselor.”

Matt’s expression is anything but amused by her new nickname, so she makes a mental note to remember it and use it again. Often.

“Oh, and how do say it … Objection: relevance? Because I think you’re changing the subject because you know I’m right.”

This catches his attention and he comes to a standstill on the sidewalk of an industrial park they are now passing through. His expression morphs from displeased to full on offended.

“Excuse me?” he asks, and Jessica thrills at the indignation in his voice.

“You heard me,” she says as she stops and turns back to him, elbows out and hands in her jacket pockets. “I’m right but you’re such a lawyer that you can’t stand to lose or to not have the last word, so you’re inventing a completely unrelated thing to try to argue with me about. And I think that’s bullshit.”

Matt’s jaw drops. “W-what? That’s not true.” In this moment he bears a striking resemblance to a number of cheating spouses she has found out and confronted, all when claiming their innocence and doing a terrible job of it. In his defense, Matt wears the look much better (he does, somehow, still attempt to lead a double life after all), and the difference in subject matter likely helps. But she finds it hard to believe that he struggles so much to tell a convincing lie.

“The hell it’s not.”

“Jess—“ He almost looks personally affronted by her words, and her heart pinches at the sight for a millisecond before her own indignation swells up in its place.

“Then prove it. Prove to me that I don’t completely have your number.” She crosses her arms and leans into her hip.

He pauses and a light blush rises on his cheeks for reasons that she doesn’t understand, but before she can ask, he’s accepting her challenge.

“Okay, fine. But how?” he asks with an air of petulance at which she has to bite her tongue not to laugh. He looks so determined and it causes a coy little smile to curl at the corner of her mouth.

"Ride the subway,” she says matter-of-factly with a shrug.

Matt goes still and pale at her words. “What? W-why? What does that have to do with anything?”

Jessica rolls her eyes. “You didn’t give me a real answer about why you didn’t want to earlier, and I’m even colder now than I was then. So start talking or we’re taking the train home.”

Intrigued, Jessica watches as Matt licks his lips and squirms under her gaze. For a beat, he picks at edges of one of the ropes of his left glove which has started to fray; then he gives a small shrug. “Well, uh, you know … I can’t exactly ride it looking like this,” he says as he awkwardly gestures to himself and his new Daredevil ‘suit’.

She maintains an impassive mask and an even tone as she opens her messenger bag. “So give me your gloves and your mask.”

He recoils a step from her as soon as she offers, face turning ashen. “What? No, that’s— no …”

Jessica drops both arms to her sides like leaden weights. “Why not?” she asks, voice pointed.

“B-because. Because I-I can’t …” he sputters as he starts to turn red. He gets more upset with each syllable he stumbles over, his chest starting to heave.

And with that, recognition flashes in Jessica’s mind. She immediately knows what she’s seeing in Matt because she’s experienced it many times herself. That panic and irrational fear of a place or a person or a situation that you can’t logically explain, but that you desperately need someone to understand and respect, or else be drowned by a sea of overwhelming and unpleasant emotions. Guilt bubbles up in her chest at the distress she can see on his face and hear threaded in his voice. Suddenly, she doesn’t really care why he doesn’t want to ride the subway.

Jessica looks at the ground and shrugs into her coat, as if to disappear into it. “Hey, sorry. I’m sorry. Forget it. We’ll walk. It’s fine. We’ll just walk,” she says, voice even and as soothing as she dares to make it. It’s a strange role reversal for her, but … she actually doesn’t mind it as much as she thought she might. Maybe even finds it to be kind of nice. Huh. She doesn’t know when she’ll let herself ponder that tidbit of information, but it’s not right now.

Matt sucks in a deep breath and nods. “Thank you. I’d much prefer that.”

Shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, Jessica rolls her shoulders. “Whatever. It’s fine.” She blows out a long exhale as Matt takes another grounding breath. Once he’s done, she turns to him again. “But can we get a move on, because I’m still freezing my ass off over here.” She uses just enough of her typical ire to show that things are back to normal, as far as she’s concerned. They can pick up and go on as if they hadn’t had this part of the interaction if he would like to pretend as such. The ball is in his court, where she thinks he’d prefer it to be (as would she).

The slightest of smiles breaks across his face, and she gives herself a mental pat on the back. Crisis averted. Thank god.

They make the rest of the trip back to Manhattan in relative silence. Matt looks contemplative and broody whenever she sneaks a glance at him, and she wonders where his head might be. She hopes he’s not stuck re-living awful flash-backs or battling intrusive thoughts, but something about the tight set of his jaw and the way he jumps and reacts to sounds she can’t even hear tell her that’s a ridiculous hope. She tries to work up the nerve to speak a couple of times, but the words always get stuck in her throat. Besides, she knows from experience that even the kindest words with the best of intentions often fall flat in a moment like this. The silence, as tense as it is, is likely best.

Eventually they begin to approach her neighborhood, and by then she resolves that she can’t just say nothing. As they are reaching her building, she’s racking her brain trying to find the right words to say. Her heart is pounding as they stand on the rooftop and move to say their goodbyes for the night, as they’ve done multiple times before. He turns to her and opens his mouth, inhaling like he’s going to speak, and she swears her heart stops for a beat until he shakes his head and exhales, licking his lips and tipping his head down. Then he tries again.

“You know, I've never really loved the subway. Too much sensory input in a small, confined space. It’s exhausting to sort through it all and not get overwhelmed, so I tend not to use it as a mode of transportation unless I literally have no other options. But ever since … You know, when I … ” Matt trails off, one hand going up to rub the back of his neck while his other rests on his lower back, a phantom pain coming to haunt him.

She’s seen him do this before, knows what he’s referring to even if he’s not being specific about it. And she doesn't blame him. He doesn’t seem to have decided what to call what happened to him after Midland Circle. Hasn’t processed it in a way that he can own yet. Jessica knows all about that. She also knows that it takes time to work through trauma and that there’s no sense in rushing a person or forcing them to use words they don’t feel comfortable using. She knows what she thought happened to him, and that was part of the reason she was so pissed when he came back in the first place. Because grief fucking sucks, and she was angry to have experienced it for someone who she didn't actually end up losing. But once she got over herself, she was able to forgive him. He had his reasons, idiotic as they were, and he was clearly hurting at the time. Hell, he still is. And though she couldn’t do anything about his pain before, she can do something about it now.

Jessica gives him a sharp nod, absolving his need to explain further, and his shoulders sag with relief. He licks his lips again, fidgeting with his gloves to give his hands something to do. “Anyway, since then, I have found the prospect of being underground and in a confined space … incredibly unpleasant, to say the least. Hence, no subway.” He gives her a mirthless smile and drops his hands to his sides. “But, uh, anyway … thanks. For coming tonight,” he says as clears his throat and swallows thickly. “And, you know, for underst—” he says, uncertainty in his voice.

“You can come in,” she says in a rush, closing her eyes as she does so. Partly from the embarrassment she suddenly feels and partly in order to miss his reaction if he flinches or does something equally off-putting. But when she opens them a moment later, he’s standing still, open-mouthed and amazed, as if she had somehow read his mind to his deepest, darkest desires. Her heart starts beating in triple time, but she shrugs nonchalantly and adds a non-committal, “You know, if you want,” just because she’s Jessica Jones, dammit. And she has a reputation to uphold.

Matt smiles softly. “Uh, yeah. I, uh ... I’d like that. Thanks.”

Jessica blinks once, because she’s surprised at herself for inviting him in and doubly surprised at Matt for accepting her invitation. But surprised as she is, she can’t deny that she’s also thrilled.

“Great. So let’s go inside, because I think I’m going to get frostbite if we stay out here for another minute,” she says as she crosses to the rooftop access door. Matt follows behind her with a bright chuckle, and the warmth that Jessica feels creeping up her spine doesn’t just come from (finally) stepping indoors.

And even though it takes a good thirty minutes for her to thaw out from the night’s activities once they get to her apartment, she can’t find it in her to be mad about walking home. If spending time with Matt means not riding the subway— even in near freezing weather— it’s a concession she’s willing to make. Because she’s really not giving up much, for all she’s getting in return. After all, the MTA subway is its own kind of hell when she really thinks about. And if it's the one hell where even the ‘Devil’ of Hell’s Kitchen dares not tread, she won't blame him and she won't complain. Instead, she'll suggest they take a taxi. Or walk. And next time, she'll just have to bring more coffee.