"You little shit!"
Maybe not the best way to announce yourself at an all-night diner, but it's the Jessica Jones way. And she's fucking mad as hell. The waitress behind the counter gives her a look that she swiftly suppresses when Jessica glances toward her. The cook doesn't react at all, plucking off an order slip and ringing the bell to announce another order up.
The aforementioned little shit, Malcolm, cowers away from her as she approaches. Or at least, he should. Instead, he waves with one hand and stuffs a mouthful of pie into his gob with the other. She wants to pick it up and slam it facedown onto the floor. She would, except...
"Hi, Jessica," Luke says.
His voice is calm, the sound like a warm blanket on a freezing day. When she turns to him, he's just as calm. Eyes and teeth bright. His plate is empty, just a few crumbs decorating the plate.
"Hey, Luke," she answers, then drawls with her best sarcasm, "The pie good here?"
Malcolm nods, another bite already on its way in. Luke shrugs. "It's not bad for Jersey."
Just the mention of the location sets her veins on fire again. Malcolm was supposed to be three states away by now. He was supposed to be unreachable for at least a week while Jessica was tracking down the assholes who were threatening him. She'd texted Luke on purpose so she wouldn't have to talk to him in person, not even over the phone, but look how great that turned out.
But no, he was here, with a shit-eating, excuse me, pie-eating grin on his face. To Luke, she says, "He really won't go with you?"
Luke shakes his head. "He's tried to ditch me twice already. I'm doing you a favor, Jess, not playing babysitter. He's all yours." Luke stands and tosses a little money on the table to cover the check.
Jessica snatches it up and shoves it back in his hands. "No, I've got this."
Luke just nods a thanks and pulls on his jacket.
"Here," she tells him, holding out a wad of bills. She doesn't even look at them because it means he'll be gone faster. "Partial payment for the day."
He just shakes his head and ignores the money. "Take care, Jess." Then he's heading for the door.
She sits across from Malcolm, in the place where Luke had been sitting, still warm. "Hey, dumbass. You do realize that he's probably your only chance of making it out of this alive."
Malcolm looks at her with those big trusting eyes. "No, you are."
"I'm not bulletproof, Malcolm." He raises an eyebrow. "Not as bulletproof. You think the guys you pissed off are gonna come after us with knives and popguns?"
"They—" he begins, and then his face goes ashen.
"Yeah. That's what I thought." She can hear Luke revving up his motorcycle engine outside. "It's not too late to stop him. If you promise to be good this time, he might say yes."
"Okay." His voice is small, contrite.
Grumbling under her breath, she heads out to the street, putting herself in front of the bike. "Hey! Um." She waves her hands in front of the headlight. "Come back in?"
He shuts off the engine. "Jess..."
"He promises to be good. Look, I can't be the one to protect him, I have to be the one to track down these guys and..." She air-quotes with a Captain America-style voice, "Bring them to justice." Dropping the voice, she adds, "Or some shit."
"I could look into it for you."
"Yeah, but then I'd have to brief you on the case and it would waste time, and—hell. Forget it."
She stomps back toward the door. But Luke's hand on her shoulder draws her up short before she reaches the handle. "I'll do it."
Her heart jumps a little. He can still turn her muscles to goo, good to know.
She turns to him but then Malcolm is in the doorway, coat and scarf on and ready to go. "I want both of you to take me."
As she drives, she keeps glancing over at Luke in the passenger seat. He's tapping the arm rest with one finger, a finger she can remember being very talented—no. This road trip is all about getting Malcolm to safety, not about playing The Way We Were game. He's been dating Claire for a couple years now, last she heard anyway, once he got out of prison. Maybe during, too. Not that she's keeping up with him or anything. She's good for him; they probably don't have the fucked up relationship she and Luke had, what with Kilgrave playing Psycho Puppet Master.
How much of what they had was planted in there and how much was real? The charge she keeps getting when she looks at him sure feels real. Could be just a horny woman reacting to attractive man kind of deal. He doesn't seem to be having any residual feelings for her. He's just the nice, upstanding Hero of Harlem, doing a favor for an old friend. Nothing fucking more, nothing fucking less.
Still... are he and Claire still together? She'd ask if it wouldn't be so goddamned awkward. Oh, hell, she's the queen of awkward—
"How's Claire?" Malcolm asks from the back seat.
She stifles a startled cough.
Luke doesn't notice, or pretends not to. "She's doing fine. Or so I hear."
Jessica stops breathing for a second.
Malcolm helpfully asks, "Really? What happened?"
She is gonna have to give Malcolm a raise. After she docks his pay for all the bullshit trouble he's causing tonight.
"The usual," Luke says, his voice casual. "Drifted apart, wanted different things... worried I'd get her killed."
Malcolm is silent for a couple of minutes. "Sorry, man," he finally says. "I liked her."
Jessica can relate. She hasn't really had anything but a couple one-night stands since Luke. Why risk some random fuckboy's fragile life on the regular when she can just bang 'em and give 'em a story to tell their grandkids?
"It is what it is." Luke just keeps looking out of the window at the scenery that no one can really see in the dark.
The gas gauge lights up on the dashboard. Shit. She hadn't filled up before she jumped in the car and took off—never thinking that she'd actually be the one making this trip. There's an exit up ahead, though. "Gotta get some gas, boys," she says. "And drain the ol' tank, too." She pats her stomach gingerly. Shouldn't've had that jumbo coffee to go.
Malcolm rolls his eyes. Luke lets out a small, low laugh, and it vibrates in her chest. Fuck.
He volunteers to pump the gas so she can hit the ladies. Malcolm wants to get snacks, but she tells him to stay in the car unless Luke goes, too.
Once she's in the bathroom, she braces her hands on the sink and lets out a sigh. They've barely been on the road for a couple of hours. There are hours more yet to get to the safe house, and then there's the entire ride back. If just the sound of his laugh is enough to get her hot again...
She gives her reflection a good long look. What the fuck are you doing, Jessica?
Things did not end well between them. They're still friends, thank God, it's why he agreed to do this favor in the first place. She doesn't think she could handle it if he cut her out of his life entirely. But they've got a river full of shit to deal with before they could ever consider being more to each other again.
So that's the way they need to keep things. Who wants to wade through all that shit to get to the other side?
Maybe she just needs a cigarette to calm her nerves. Or a good stiff drink. That's always been her go to when she needs to shove something under the rug. She could let Luke take a turn driving while she gets quietly wasted in the passenger seat.
But she's got a friend to protect. Who needs her at her best. Damn it.
So she splashes some water on her face. Then again.
There's a quiet knock at the door. "Give me second, okay?" she calls toward it..
It's Luke. "Yeah?"
"You okay? Been in there a while."
Had she? Great. Now she has to come up with some excuse. "I'm fine, just… must've had some bad street meat." Ugh. Stupid. Cliche. Still, maybe he'll give her a few more minutes.
"Uh. Okay." There's a pause. "You want me to get something for it?"
"No. It'll pass."
"All right." Then he's gone, and she feels a pang of disappointment. God.
She gets herself together in a few more minutes. And then gets back in the driver's seat. Focusing on the road—that's what she needs to do.
One state line down and Malcolm is snoozing in the back seat. They've been mostly quiet, the tension pressing down on everyone. Maybe this won't be so bad after all. They can get through this job and go back to hearing about each other's lives third-hand.
"So, how have you been doing, Jess?" he asks out of the blue, quietly so as not to waken Malcolm.
Or maybe not.
"It's… you know, about the same. Few more clients. Haven't destroyed the office lately."
He smiles, and his teeth somehow glint in the dim moonlight. "I know what that's like."
"Yeah. Heard something about that." That barbershop he works out of must have gotten shot up a half a dozen times.
"You did, huh? Keeping up with me?"
Yes, but not in a check-social-media-daily, drive-past-the-shop kind of way. Still, she can't deny her ears perk up if someone if their shared circle mentions him. "Keeping up with the news." There as well. "Kind of hard not to notice."
"Point taken." He glances back to where Malcolm is sleeping in the back. "What happened with him? You were pretty vague on the phone."
She had to be—she hardly trusts technology anymore, what with how easy it is to clone a phone these days, or so Trish tells her. It's not like she's tight with Tony Stark and his gang and carrying around super-encrypted spy phones or some shit. "He was doing some introductory research on a case for me while I tied up some loose ends on another one. Stumbled onto some pretty damning secrets while sneaking a look at some files, and then got himself caught on camera."
"Ah, I see." He frowns a little. Luke's never been a fan of her less-than-legal methods.
"I never told Malcolm to break in to get the info!" This time. It was just supposed to be a little recon and research, not full-on digging. So her denial rings a little false to her ears.
By the smirk at the corner of his mouth, it rings false to Luke, too.
"But now he's got these guys after him to end him before he spills, and I just can't have that. Malcolm came to work for me because he thinks I'm a hero, he thinks I can help people." She swallows hard so that the next words don't crack. "So what kind of hero would I be if I didn't help him?"
"You wouldn't be you," Luke says.
The words are so quiet, so sure, that she doesn't know what to say. At least nothing that wouldn't sound fucking maudlin. She has to swallow again. "Anyway, the quicker we can get him to safety, the quicker I can get back and rip their balls off for daring to think of fucking touching him."
He nods. Then he looks out the window again.
Then she thinks back over what she just said. The quicker this is over, the quicker they can go back to their separate—and safe from each other—lives. It's what they need to do, but as the minutes and hours pass, it's less and less what she wants to do.
"Looks like you're going to get your wish," he says.
Her brows draw together. "What?" She sees him looking out the side-view mirror. And then she quickly assesses what he's already seen. They're being followed. From the color and the shape of the headlights, the car has been following them for a while now. "You think since the gas station?"
"I think since Jersey."
"Damn. Shit. Fuck!" She slaps the steering wheel and dents it, more than a little. Why hadn't she noticed the car before? "Probably followed me from the office."
"Wh-Wha...?" Malcolm asks, rubbing at his face. "What's going—?"
"Stay down," Luke tells him, a low snap of authority. To Jessica, he says, "What do you want to do?"
She sees a turnoff just ahead, for a country road. No services, therefore, no witnesses. "Face those fuckers, what else?"
She speeds up, taking the exit and the turns way too hard. And the car speeds up to follow, verifying their suspicions. There's an empty field up ahead, and it's far enough from the highway that no one else will really notice, or worse, get caught up in things. No streetlights, no distant farms. She hits the brakes hard and fishtails around to stop, facing their pursuers. "You got Malcolm?" she asks Luke.
"Yeah." He's already pulling on his hoodie and shades.
She throws open the door, grabs the tire iron under the seat and rolls out just as the other car screeches up to face hers. Then she hits the dirt at a flat-out run and jumps—
She's in the air and out of range of the headlights of either car in seconds. But not too far up to hear them over the idling engines.
"Where the fuck did she go?" one asks. Good. They haven't heard she can fly. "You got the car, Phillips?"
Phillips cocks a gun. "Got him. Doors are locked."
Good. She hoped Luke would take care of that. She can't see either of them through the windows of the car.
"But that won't matter much. O'Hair, jimmy the trunk."
"Hey, Jones!" the first still-nameless one calls out to the empty air. "You may be tough as nails, but your errand boy sure isn't. Give the files back and we'll let him live."
Files? Oh for fuck's sake, Malcolm took the files? She thought he took photos or just read through them... She decides not to answer, flying slowly around to the other side of their car to see if there are more than three of them. She catches a flash of something in the driver's seat, the screen of a smartphone. Okay, four of them. Pretty good odds considering Luke could take on an army alone.
But Luke's on human shield duty. Doesn't matter—along with the tire iron, she's got her gun tucked in her holster. She can just pick them off one by one from the air, aiming for something painful but not lethal.
"Jones?" the guy calls out again. After a pause, he asks his cronies, "Think she just took off?"
None of them get a chance to answer because suddenly Jessica's car is roaring forward, smashing into the grill of the other car and spinning it around. Then Luke's driving back down the road again, toward the highway.
Her mouth drops open. Her car is a piece of shit, but it's her piece of shit. She's rocked only for a second, though, shaking it off. Luke's given her the perfect opportunity to take them out.
The lead dude is shouting at the driver while the other two are firing bullets at her rapidly disappearing car. She swoops down and gives O'Hair a love tap with her tire iron—hard enough to knock him out, not hard enough to kill. She's gotten pretty good at gauging her strength these few years on the job.
"What the fuck—?!" is all Phillips gets out before he goes down, too.
The car is revving uselessly—nice hit, Cage—and the lead turns around to see what's going on just as her Doc Martens hit him square in the chest. His gun goes off, the bullet grazing her arm, but she knocks it out of his hand with a quick chop to the wrist. Groaning, he crumples.
She approaches the man in the car. He desperately tries to force his way out of the crumpled door. She gets it, one getaway driver vs. a superstrong flying private investigator was probably not what he signed on for. But she punches through the glass and grabs him by the hair, slamming his face into the steering wheel a couple times for good measure.
Pushing back from the car, she dusts the glass off her hands. The leader is curled up on the ground in the fetal position. By design, he's still conscious, unlike his thugs. She tips him over onto his back, then sits on his chest. She doesn't recognize him from any of the photos Malcolm took. Same with the others. "Okay, fuckwad," she says—after all, she doesn't know his name yet—"you're going to tell me who you are, tell me why you want those files so bad, who you're working for, then leave Malcolm Ducasse alone—more or less in that order."
He groans again. "You're one of those... never fucking tells me anything..."
"That's not what I asked, dipshit." Maybe she'll just call him that instead. She taps the tire iron in her palm.
Just then, she hears the heavy crunch of boots behind her, but she doesn't flinch or turn around. "Jess! Are you okay—?" Luke calls out, not even winded. Then he chuckles. "Why did I even worry?"
He worried? She files that away as he comes to stand beside her. "You recognize this asswipe?" Or that one, maybe, it's got a nice ring.
The dude recognizes Luke, she knows it by the widening of his eyes. Then she feels wetness on her jeans and she leaps off him. "Christ!" Great, he pisses himself for Luke, but not for her?
Kicking him in a fit of pique, she gestures grandly toward the human mess on the ground. "You want this part? Think he might loosen his tongue a bit more for you."
"Sure." Luke reaches down and pulls the guy up by the collar, dangling him like a bad puppy held up the scruff. "Let's talk, you and I."
"Thanks back there," she tells Luke.
There's a bit of a walk back to where Luke stashed Malcolm and the car, now that all is said and done. They checked for any life-threatening injuries, left them all tied up in their car with the lights off, and used the driver's phone to call 911. She's pretty sure they'll come up with some other explanation about how they ended up in the middle of nowhere, tied up and bleeding.
"Looked like you didn't need much help to me."
She shrugs. He's about as good at taking credit as she is. "We make a pretty good team." She regrets saying it as soon as the words are out of her mouth. "I mean—you know, a little superpowered help is always nice—"
Suddenly he's grabbing her around the waist and pulling her into the bushes along the side of the road. Before she can ask what the hell he's doing, he murmurs low, right into her ear, "Headlights." She hopes he doesn't feel the shiver that runs down her neck and back.
She sees the lights then, a truck making its way toward them. Will they stop when they see the wrecked car off the side of the road? It passes, rattling by, and the sound slowly recedes. No sound of brakes. Luke lets her go and she wants to keen with disappointment.
"We do make a good team."
Flushing a little, she tries not to gently rub at the place where his arms wrapped around her. She's hella glad that the light from the sliver of moon doesn't show much either. "So can I put you back on my speed dial?" she jokes, picking up the pace.
"Why not? I never took you off mine." She can't tell if he's being friendly or just polite by the tone of his voice. She'd been joking—mostly—but could she handle that? Giving him a call whenever she needed a little extra muscle… getting one from him… seeing him that often… is she ready for that? Is he?
"Luke…" She slows, but doesn't look up at him. "Maybe that's not such a great idea. I mean, I'm so glad you said yes when I asked you to pick up Malcolm out of the blue, seriously, thank you, but—"
"We've got a lot of baggage between us."
"We're a fucking JFK International Airport full of baggage, what with Reva and Kilgrave and—"
He puts a hand on her arm and she stills. "Is that—?"
She hears it and reacts first. The ambulance is on its way. This time, she's the one to grab him around the waist and pull them off the road into hiding. She could try flying them back to the car, but she's not sure she could lift him and fly at the same time, so…
They wait the long minutes until it passes—out here in the sticks, the siren must be audible for miles—bodies pressed tight against the trunk of a tree. He's so solid, so muscular, she has to bite her lip to keep from running her hands all along his sides and back. She closes her eyes against images of the two of them in her apartment, in her bed... When the flashing lights are close enough, she risks a look up into his face—and finds he's looking down at her, eyes soft.
She swallows. "This is a bad idea," she whispers.
Then his arms are encircling her again, and his mouth is on hers. She opens to him, no, really, pulls him into her, drinking him down like a fifth of scotch at the end of a shitty day. And what a day this was.
She jumps up to wrap her legs around his waist and grinds against him as the ambulance passes, its blaring siren and blinding lights not even making a dent on her consciousness. She wants all of him, right here, right now.
A couple of police cars trail in the ambulance's wake, and Luke stops kissing her, though his lips are still connected to hers. Against her mouth, he murmurs, "We should get going. Maybe split up."
Fuck. He's right. With a sigh, she asks, "Where's the car?"
With his eyes and chin, he points above and behind him. "Over that ridge, down a dirt road I found."
The last police car's lights dim from view, though she can still hear it. She gives him a final, passionate kiss, not promising more later because she doesn't know if there will be a later. Then she untangles herself from around him and rises into the air.
She feels his eyes on her until she crosses the ridge, though she can't bear to turn back and see if he really is looking at her.
During the drive back, everyone is even quieter than on the drive out. She almost wishes they could talk, about something, anything. It might keep her from visualizing Luke's roaming hands all over her body, or what it would have been like to positively wreck that tree. Even focusing on the road doesn't help. Every time she looks over at him, he's staring out the window, probably having what-the-fuck-now? kind of thoughts. Except with less internal swearing.
The thing is, they need to have a conversation, that conversation, or really a series of long and deep conversations, before they can do anything but offer each other comfort.
And she wants more than that from him. He deserves more than that from her.
"So..." Malcolm finally says. "What happened back there? I mean, other than getting the bad guys. You guys fuck?"
She jolts so hard that the car swerves onto the shoulder for a panicked moment.
"That's what I thought." Malcolm sounds so smug, she wants to punch him.
"No," Luke says at the same time as she tells him, "None of your goddamned business." Malcolm just gives her a shit-eating grin again through the rearview mirror.
Then she does catch Luke's eyes, and they're full of humor and warmth, the way they were when things were good. She takes a deep breath and asks, "When we get back, you want to get coffee?"
One of his eyebrows rises. "Coffee?"
Oh. That's not what she meant. Not yet.
She lets out a big laugh and something releases in her chest. "This time, that's just code for conversation. Real, actual, conversation." She glances at the clock on the dash. Four AM. By the time they get back it'll be breakfast. "I know a place with great bagels. Or we could get donuts, if you want."
Luke smiles. Malcolm pipes up, "I could go for donuts."
"Shut up, you little shit," she says, but it's full of affection. When he figures out how much he helped Luke and her get back on the road to recovery, he's going to be unbearable, but she'll live with it.