"Come on, Luke, we have to talk about it—"
"We do not have to talk about nothing, Danny—"
"It's not like it never—"
"Yes it is like it never—"
"Boys?" Jessica's room-volume voice interrupted their argument of screaming whispers (man, they sounded crazy as Tombstone). Luke looked at her, a irrational though all-too-familiar curl of guilt waving over him. Her frown was thick with disapproval, and it was hard for him to meet those strong hazel eyes. "What is going on in here?" she demanded, and her tone seemed to be directed at Luke — not that he dared look directly.
"Hey, baby," he tried the safe route, but Danny was already answering her literal question.
"I'm trying to convince Luke to be forthright. We all know why you don't like me, Jessica, and I don't blame you but please let's stop skirting around it!"
"You think?" Jessica's face grew cool, which was almost scarier than when she yelled. "Please enlighten us all." Scratch that, it most definitely was.
Luke found himself biting his lip. "Ima… go look for Danielle."
"You stay right here, Luke!" Jessica snapped. "She's in the other room, what could she possibly get into in the brief second this should take? Danny?"
Danny stared at her for a second, his eyes clear and blue and sad. He was silent. Oh, now he'd learned how to shut up. But Jessica was surprisingly patient, and presently Danny spoke. His voice was cracked and there was the faintest echoes of a sob behind the words, but those words was clear. "I don't love Luke anymore, Jessica. I mean I do, but — as a friend."
"Rand," Jessica's reply was very on the offensive, and low, almost a growl if it could be called that. "I have complete faith in my husband. I don't give a fuck about your… history. What I think, is that you think way too highly of yourself."
"Jess!" Danny's eyebrows tilted upwards in worry — his adorable guilt-tripping look, the single thing that could actually make Luke wish Danny was wearing the mask.
"You," Jessica jutted a merciless pointer finger at the blond immortal weapon, "don't call me 'Jess'. We're not friends. If you're really so convinced I don't like you, Daniel, you might look back at your own history. Try fucking earning it, why don't you?" Her lower lip curled.
"Jess," the syllable escaped Luke's lips, because of course he could call his wife by her shortened name. But she seemed mad.
"Shut up!" she snapped, tapping a finger across the top her brow and shaking her head several times. "Rand. Luke simply doesn't have time to run with you. He has a family and responsibility. He's moved on!"
"Seconded!" Luke agreed loudly, feeling the tension heavy in the air. Jessica's voice was rising in volume, and the last thing he wanted was to see her all-out yelling at Danny. And yes, also he did feel guilty, he couldn't help thinking this was his fault. If he was a better man, a better husband, maybe even a better father, she wouldn't have to feel jealous. She wouldn't have to be worried about Danny. It would be out and clear and they would all be happy.
And his feelings for Danny were long gone anyhow — right? They were like brothers now, no more, no less, with no awkwardness lingering between them from past entanglements. Right? Right!
"'Seconded'?" Danny looked back at Luke. Aw man, it was that fiddle-faddle look again.
"I mean, I've moved on from our time as Heroes for Hire." The wheels of Luke's brain were churning fast as he figured out some safe-ish words to say that hopefully fit in with the conversation. "You're the coolest man I've known in my life, Danny, but Jessica and Danielle are my life."
"Mmhmm," Danny nodded briskly, more or less cutting in with his innocent tone, "That's great, and I'm really happy for you, I hear family life is very rewarding; but all the same I'd feel so much better if we actually addressed that elephant in the room that I mentioned."
Luke opened his mouth to say, well, he-wasn't-sure-what-yet, but Jessica beat him to it. "I'm not jealous of you, Danny!"
"Then why don't you like me?" Danny pleaded instantly.
"Oh I don't know, maybe because you're a bitch?" Jessica snapped, stingingly. Luke actually winced.
"Could we please stop this?" he asked. Part of him wanted to get yelling himself, but well, this was Jessica. She was his wife and she was his heart and she was… well, his master, honestly. And he was good with that, he loved her for it. So he spoke quietly.
"No, we absolutely can't!" Danny's voice rose an octave, both in volume and in pitch. Luke looked at him like the little traitor he was — even though he knew Danny had good intentions. Jessica was not one to be messed with. Too bad Iron Fist was never one to back down from a fight.
"Are you talking back to me?" Jessica crossed her arms tartly, and Luke wondered when she had gotten so cold.
"No, Jessica, I'm having a conversation with you," Danny stressed, and pushed on before she could yell at him again, "I don't want to get between you and Luke, that's the last thing I want — but Heroes for Hire can make money to support your family, and, and, I just really loved those days — but not for the reason you think! We were, Luke was so much happier in those simple days, you'd understand if you'd known him then — and we all know, a happy daddy makes a happy baby." He looked at the door, and Luke's eyes followed the direction to see little Danielle, standing in the doorway and sucking on her hand.
"Why, exactly, do you keep trying to use my child against me? This is not about her." Despite her words, Jessica lifted up Danielle in her arms as if as a weapon. The toddler innocently wrapped her arms around her mother's neck, whilst blinking blandly at Danny. Danny waved at the her, which made Jessica scowl. "Is this a game to you? Damn Daniel, this is not a game!" She looked like she might be literally about to start a second superhuman Civil War, only with her against Fist, rather than Tony vs Steve.
Then, the worst happened.
A sound somewhere between a snort and a giggle emerged from Luke's lips. For a moment he froze. But really. Damn, Daniel? Even Jess had to see the humor in that.
Of course, she didn't. Jessica's stance really seemed icy as a frost all of a sudden — and her eyes were shining with hurt. If she had been dangerous to all men before, she was doubly so now. "What, Luke? Is this a joke to you too? You think this is funny?"
"No, not at all," Luke responded automatically, his chest seeming to clench up with a storm of emotions. The hurt in her eyes was really getting to him — he wanted to help — but he really hasn't done anything wrong, had he? Had he…
"You taking your friend's side, huh?"
"No, Jessica, I'm with you!"
"Jess, he's just trying to placate you!" That was Danny, trying as ever to honest things up, but ruining them entirely. Could he at least not call her Jess again?
"Luke?" Jessica snapped, ignoring him, and Luke thought vaguely she really should be mad at Danny.
"Jessica," Luke began, almost ready to fuss back — but then, Danielle started to cry. She was a strong little girl, probably a trait passed from both of her parents — Harlem was a tough place to grow up — but she was still pretty much a baby. Her lip trembled slightly, and her eyes were welling up with tears. These altercations had been happening oftener lately, and Luke knew she really didn't like to see her parents argue.
"Mmhmm?" Jessica pursed her angry lips, but Luke just — couldn't. He gazed at Danielle.
"I'm just making it worse, aren't I," he muttered under his breath at length.
"No, Luke, you're an essential part of the discussion!" Danny protested — but Luke knew he really wasn't.
"See you, baby girl," he sighed, then left before Jessica realized he was talking to their daughter. He knew this was an immature thing to do, running out on an argument, and would come to bite him in the ass later, but right now, he really didn't care; he couldn't stand to think about the future, let alone consequences. Jessica plus Danny equaled a difficult situation in the Cage house; and even though all were superheroes, he doubted they were going follow him out right now into the dark.
Luke moved at a fast but still walking pace through New York City. Cabs were rushing by the curbs at dangerous speeds, and the city lights illuminated all but the narrowest alleys. Naturally he took to one of those alleyways, letting out a deep breath as the night washed over him. The alleys of New York were no place for the average citizen to hang at night, but for Luke, this solitude beat a family argument any day. These streets was his first true home. He stopped, closing his eyes and listening to his own gentle breathing. This was him. Just him and the darkness and the very relative quietness of the city that never sleeps. He could almost imagine he was alone.
Then he heard footsteps, and he couldn't ignore it. Sighing long and audibly, his grumpiness surely emanating from the sound — he opened his eyes slowly to see a small group of guys — kids, really, gangster wannabes by the look of them. They were a motley blend, their hands clenched around guns and knives not even bothered to be hidden on their persons. And the boy who was clearly their leader — an older guy, well into his twenties — had a particularly unfriendly look on his face when he looked at Luke. "Yo!" he waved a hand, leading his guys down the alley almost single file. "What we got here? Don't you know this is our turf?"
Luke faced them down, trunk-ish arms crossed over his chest. The young man didn't look afraid — but Luke attributed that to stupidity, not courage. Even if he hadn't been a street hero onetime Avengers leader with unbreakable skin, he was still an extremely muscular black man by appearance. And sure, these boys had the upper hand in numbers, but well — it was unfortunate for them that Luke wasn't in a sympathetic mood. Another day, he might've felt sorry as he dealt with them, reminiscing upon his own youth; maybe he could've been them (albeit less petty and soft) if his life had taken a different turn — but now, relating didn't even pass his mind. He clucked his tongue against the top of his mouth. "This really isn't your lucky day," he shook his head. "Most other times I might let you off dissing me, but right now, my wife is mad at me and I really could use something to punch." They were clearly a 'gang' of some sort; and they were more-or-less threatening him for being here; they were bound to be up to no good — provided they attacked him first. He dearly hoped they would attack first.
The leader smirked even wider, though some of his followers almost seemed to take a step back at the threat. Suddenly though, there was a wave of an arm, a flick of a wrist, and a knife was thrust squarely and expertly against Luke's abs. It hit, and dull pain waved from the point of impact — though not nearly enough. Luke snorted. Thank heavens.
There was a brief moment of confusion and a sudden fear in the man's eyes; and then he was brought down by one blow of the fist. "Unbreakable skin, bozo." The kid was owed an explanation for the throbbing headache he'd wake up to in a cell. As always Luke pulled his punch however; upset as he was, this dude had nothing to do with it, and was really only a dumb kid lead down the wrong path by circumstance, who deserved another chance to amend his ways.
…which didn't mean he couldn't take out a bit of mad emotion on these wankstas (or whatever). "It's Luke Cage!" he heard one frightened scoundrel call out in too-late realization, before being gently knocked out as well.
"Did I just hear 'Luke Cage' now, mm?" A smooth yet charmingly homey woman's voice rang out unexpectedly from overhead, and Luke felt an almost happy rush of recognition. But it couldn't be — he glanced up, over his bicep, to see the ninja-esque moves of a lithe female body, the silhouette of round perfectly groomed natural hair.
"Misty," he greeted, felling a trigger-crazy kid who seemed (almost concerningly) to be having a panic attack.
"What do you know, it is you!" Misty Knight stepped closer to the light of the street, and he caught sight of her pretty face and revealing scarlet costume, her bare stomach and upper boobs theoretically vulnerable yet somehow definitively untouchable. Well, this was a new costume. She flexed her metal arm, grabbing a guy by the wrist and twisting it much farther than the joint went. The guy's scream was higher than Danielle's ever was. "Mm," she repeated then, took a step back and swung herself up onto a fire ledge, dangling her legs over the narrow street as if sitting on the back of the bleachers.
Luke grunted, but didn't respond until all the youths were either down or run off. He didn't care to follow. "Y'all better call 911!" he yelled after them. Maybe it was cruel, but which did they care more about, the health of their buddies or dodging the police? Okay, yes, it was cruel. But he lacked the mindset to care.
Misty clapped, once the alley fell fairly silent.
"You could've helped out more," Luke pointed out roughly. He could've thrown her at least a greeting smile, and he probably should — but the rush of adrenaline and surprise of crossing paths with her was quickly fading.
"Well excuse me for stepping back, you looked like you could use your space," she shrugged, hopping down from the grated metal ledge. "Feel better now, after beating them kids?"
Luke sighed. "You know me too well, Misty." Dry wit twinged his voice.
"I know you well, my brotha? Anybody could see you out to murder somebody ass and it ain't about these guys one bit."
Luke sighed again, though secretly relishing it when she gave her lectures.
"So…" she crossed her arms, leaning against the brick wall. "What's up?"
"Not a lot," Luke shook his head. "Just needed to get out."
"Is this about the Heroes for Hire?" Misty's tone was smooth, unjudging, but matter-of-fact.
Dammit. Luke facepalmed. "Why exactly would this be about that?" He tried to sound detached, but was almost definitely failing.
"Hey, I'm not immune to rumors. I heard how you're back with Danny. Business not so great?"
"That," Luke spluttered, "is a myth, probably inferred by nosy Twitter users and perpetrated by Tombstone's hench guys or God knows who else! We are not back together."
"Oh." The word was dainty. Misty paused, biting her bottom lip softly. "I didn't mean like that, you know, I know you're devoted to Jessica."
"Like what?" Luke tried to cut her off — silently daring her to answer his question.
Misty sighed, ignoring the challenge. "How's my immortal Iron Fist doing, anyways? We haven't talked in a while."
"He's fine," Luke replied, ignoring the fact that she hadn't answered his question since of course they both did know the answer. "He's… good, actually. In a happier place than he used to be. You know how he can get, all bubbly, those times when he won't stop talking? And somehow, he seems determined to take me to sunshine land with him."
Misty chuckled. "You don't wanna come?"
"I can't." Luke sighed. "I can't get drawn into Happy Danny, definitely not remake the Heroes for Hire. Jessica…"
"Come on, don't say your white girl made you a househusband," Misty was grinning. "Luke Cage, Power Man?"
"It's not like that," Luke stressed, before pausing, "though, she is the boss. The leader of the household. The head of the family. Point is, she don't feel comfortable about me and Danny — which I understand… you know, would you partner with Danny while rolling with Sam?"
"Sam?" Misty blinked, then laughed. "Captain America? You think there's something going on between me and Captain America?"
"Whatever!" Luke growled, annoyed, and Misty slapped her own thigh, shaking her head.
"Right. Right. You don't want to make Jessica jealous, you gotta keep your family together, I get it. So are you and Danny teaming up in 'secret'?" She literally did air quotes as she said secret.
"I love Jessica!" Luke crossed his arms in frustration. Why did she seem to think anything less. He loved Jessica. "I don't know what you think you're doing, but you're projecting your passion for your ex onto me."
"My passion?" Misty snorted, her eyes wide slightly. "Come on, now, I don't care about Danny. Apart from the normal amount you would care about an acquaintance."
"An acquaintance, really?"
"Honey, that ain't the point." She waved a hand dismissively. "I'm glad Danny is well; but as much trouble as he may be for you, he's not what's at stake here. Do you really love Jessica?"
Luke stared at her for a second. Why was this so hard for her to understand? Why was the black man/white woman relationship always viewed that type of way, like a brotha wanted nothing more than to show off to the homies? Why would Misty be that way? She'd on-and-off dated that white man for how long? Why was it different if it was a female? Then Luke felt a little guilty, because he knew why — but he didn't feel like talking about sociopolitics right now. This was personal, dammit! Jessica was his wife. When it came to their love, he couldn't care less about anything else! "Of course I love her," he stressed, every syllable seeming to last a minute on his tongue. "If I wasn't in love with her, I never would've married her. Love won't die like that. And don't start saying it was for Danielle." It wasn't. Luke loved his baby to pieces, but he hadn't gotten married just so her parents would be together. Jessica had always been Luke's special hot mess.
"Gotchu," Misty said, then chuckled. "Okay, okay, I do realize that, Luke. But if you really love her, you need to sort this out with her, not out here with amateur tough guys and (God forbid) me. Because I know you, Luke — and one way or another, Danny is always important in your life. You're the happiest fighting crime with him, and not to be presumptuous, but I think some of your best days with Danny might've been before the whole romance thing. Jessica has to understand this. You and her, you both deserve to be happy, but maybe that's not always from each other."
"I don't have those feelings for Danny anymore," Luke found himself saying, almost as if to affirm to the world that it was true.
"I hear you," Misty nodded calmly. "But I'm not the one you need to be telling. When's the last time you talked with Jess?"
"Just before coming outside—" Luke began instantly, but Misty cut him off, shaking her head.
"I don't mean househusband boss kind of talk. I mean a real talk, like people who love each other have."
"I do love her." Luke's brow furrowed as he repeated this phrase. He did, didn't he? He loved her more than anything in the world — apart from their daughter, that is, maybe, but he did love her, all his heart and soul belonged to her, what was why it was so important to him to make her happy. That was why he let her boss him around all the time. Because he loved her.
"Then show it." Misty gazed at him, her eyes even and without judgement.
"Haven't I…?" Luke gazed at her, somehow feeling not as hurt or mad as he figured he should be. Instead of at her, his mind turned inward to search his own soul — and he thought, maybe, he knew what she meant. He swallowed. "Yo, Misty. I should be getting back, don't want to be gone too long. Family to care for, Danny to deal with… wife to love."
Misty snickered at that last phrase, and Luke just rolled his eyes at her. "Hey," she said, "I'll see ya?"
"See you around," Luke nodded, extending his hand for grateful dap, it passed his gratefulness, he knew she understood; and he left. He was long past due to talk to his wife.
Time seemed to fly with speed as he jogged through the smoggy night air along the streets he had so often came along before. He wasn't that far from home, either, of course, which could also be why it seemed so short. Anyhow, he finally reached his apartment, and knocked on the door instead of any windows.
There was a pause. Presently, the door opened. It was Jessica. She didn't look directly at him, and the expression on her face was resigned in some type of way. That worried Luke. Where was the fierce woman that he knew?
"Hey baby," he closed the door softly behind him, his gaze passing with pointed casualness across her face, and she continued to blearily avoid his gave for a few moments.
Those moments passed.
"Where have you been!" Jessica looked up at him suddenly, her eyes stormy and demanding. Oh, there was that fierceness. It could never be gone for long, he guessed. "First you bringing your punk friend to my house, backing him up, then fucking leaving me to deal with your drama? Why would you — you self-obsessed fucking ass!" As she broke off into a breathy rant, Luke was silent. He watched and listened as she called him names, he listened as she insulted Danny. Her red cheeks and pearly grimace were contorted, yet so beautiful to Luke — he wondered if she knew that. He needed to tell her so more often; not now, of course. He did listen to the words she shouted, too; he took in all her complaints and tried to bear it for her. He beheld her tornado of fragile hurt wreak its havoc, until at last her wall of toughness crumbled, and she fell into tears, not slowly, suddenly: pouring noisily down her face in a gross but charming mess.
He pulled her into his arms suddenly then, and it felt she tried for a moment to push away, but he didn't let her, she was worth holding onto dammit and she needed to know that — holding her, rocking her in his strong thick arms, promising over and over in soothing whispers that things were going to be alright.
Luke wasn't sure how long it was before there was silence, but when it did come, it was a rich silence that rested over them, a good one, Jess relaxed in his arms, her face buried safely against his chest. His arms loosened around her slender shoulders, caressing her. He wasn't sure when he'd stopped speaking, but unpleasant as it the prospect seemed, he had to start again, if he was going to do what Misty suggested. "I'm sorry, Jessica."
"But why?" Her reply was instant, although her voice was muffled against his yellow shirt. "Why do you want him around so much? Do you still… love him?"
"No, Jess, no." Luke ran his fingers through her hair, caressing the softness that was so familiar. "Things were awkward in the Heroes for Hire business when that got in the way of it. Maybe not at first, but they became so. That's why I called us quits, and the feelings faded. And then, when I met you, Jess—" he paused before correcting himself — honesty was key! —"when I got to know you, I wondered how I ever could have believed anybody else might be the one for me… not when you, you were so… perfect." He looked down at her earnestly, and she lifted her bleary face from his chest. Mascara stained her cheekbones and the creases around her eyes. "Danny and I will always share something special. We've been friends for a long time, and he's saved my butt more times than I care to recall. But when it comes to love, Jessica, I will always, always choose you." He gazed at her sincerely, openly but fiercely. She had to know. Always.
Jessica blinked up at him, her eyes shining. "I love you, Luke."
"I love you too, Jessica," replied Luke, and his heart felt warmed at the exchange. He would always, always choose her — and they would always, always choose each other. Whether they got separated, or anything — forever.
"But…" Jessica began, and his heart sank a little. "You do know Danny hates me, right?"
Luke stated at her incredulously for a moment. Then he blinked. "He hates you? He's convinced you hate him! Keeps blaming it on me not passing you his little messages over the phone, though."
"Seriously, is he for real?" She blinked several times. "Danny used to say horrible things to me when I first met him. He said he didn't trust me, and whenever you were having a bad day, he blamed it on me. When I was pregnant, he even accused me of having a secret baby daddy who wasn't you." She paused, as if to let that sink in. Luke stared. "He was seriously a jerk. I guess he was just worried about you, though."
"Wait, really?" a new voice came from a doorway, and out from Danielle's room popped Danny himself, his shock of blonde hair a ruffled mess. He was holding the toddler in his arms, and she seemed fast asleep. "I didn't know that still bothered you."
"Rand!" Jessica jumped, her eyes narrowing. "What are you still doing here? You were leaving!"
"Trained to disguise my chi," Danny explained vaguely, before pushing on, "I didn't know you even still remembered any of that."
"Remembered! You called me a—"
"Right! Right! My bad. I'm sorry, Jessica. I was stupid. I really am." Luke studied him carefully, but through his cheap words, he really did look sincere. His forehead was blushing, and he looked more than abashed; but a little horrified. He was sorry. Still, Luke addressed him sternly, and from Danny's little start, he presumably looked threatening.
"You better be. You ever talk to my wife like that again, and—"
"He was suspicious, he had right to be," Jessica interrupted, to Luke's surprise. "He's been through a lot in his life. I know you've both been through a lot… together. And I'm sure you still will in the future."
"…In the future?" Danny paused, a finger raised to his chin. His eyes widened like an owl's. "God, Jessica, did you just approve the Heroes for Hire?"
"Suppose I just did." Jessica half shrugged, but to Luke, she seemed to have a burden just lifted off her shoulders. "It's up to you. It's never been in my hands, it's between you."
"We'll talk about it," Luke nodded at the delighted Danny, who (juggling the toddler with flippant skill) ran over to them and threw his arms around the couple in a big, warm, group hug.
"This is for real, right? Thank you! I'll never forget this. Sorry for being a dick. I love you, Jessica Jones. I'll make you cookies with my students. I love you. Now I'll leave you to your spouse time." He disappeared back into Danielle's bedroom, the baby still somehow asleep.
Luke gazed at Jessica, joy and gratefulness bubbling up in his heart. "Are you sure? The Heroes for Hire… it's a big commitment."
"I trust you, Luke." Jessica gazed at him intensely. "You love me, and I trust you."
Luke gazed into her eyes. How long has it been since they had looked at each other like this? So simple — but so expansive? How long since he had felt such a profound sense of peace with Jessica and Danny and the world around him.
Putting his arms around her once more, Luke and Jessica wrapped each other in a warm embrace.