Dani stared down at her (poor) handwriting and tried to think up a more pleasant way to describe the nature of the latest criminal’s assault on her. It didn’t help anyone to record that he’d gone for her collar and ripped – thinking she’d be too embarrassed to continue the fight with a breast exposed.
The joke was on him. He was too distracted by the dragon curving across her sternum and chest to put up much of a defense.
She wiped a hand across her forehead, tussling her bangs into disarray, and raised her head. Across the room, Luke was wrestling with her own paperwork – looking ready to carve the pen right through the paper to the desk beneath.
Usually, Dani would mention the incident she was dwelling on and maybe get her dark-skinned friend to smile. This wasn’t a day for such things.
Luke’s expression had been sour and brooding all day. This heavy mood hung over the office yesterday, too – maybe, in its earliest stages, two days ago. By now, it was almost a taste in the air.
A storm was brewing. Some private investigator Dani was, only really noticing it now. Jennie Royce had been so spooked that she’d invented a dental emergency before lunch.
Dani had been working with Luke for a long time, and liked the strong, morally-intractable soul she had slowly come to recognize. She’d never seen her partner glare so fiercely without an imminent fight, and when this one finally erupted…
Well. In that case, it was a good thing that only the two of them were in the office. At least Dani knew that it would be difficult for either of them to outright kill the other.
So here Dani sat, worrying about Luke as obviously as she dared.
“I can feel you watching me, Rand,” Luke growled at her hand; too large, clumsy with a pen. This sedentary report-writing was the worst part of the job for both of them.
Dani kept her eyes focused on Luke, noting her rigid shoulders and bouncing knee. Her own chi was affected by Luke’s unsettled mind. She simply couldn’t let the older woman stew any longer – it was time to share the problem, so that they could face it like always. Together.
Luke stopped writing and flicked her eyes up to meet Dani’s, a flat rejection in every line of her face. “Leave it alone. It’s my own thing.” This was her no-nonsense, I’ll-throw-a-punch-next warning.
Slowly, gathering her thoughts, Dani said, “Whatever the problem is, I wish you would trust me with it. I hate not being able to help, my friend.”
Luke narrowed her black-black-brown eyes, thrust her jaw out petulantly. Restless, she sat back in her chair, then pushed it out to stand up entirely. She paced a circuit of the room, pensive and still throwing a few glares back at Dani.
“That’s not fair, throwing things like that around,” she accused, when she could stand still again.
“Emotional warfare,” Dani retorted, smiling sweetly. She sat back in her chair; she wasn’t going to be doing paperwork any longer. “Use every weapon, Cage.”
The black woman smiled back, and a moment later sighed at herself for giving up ground. She ran a palm across her buzzed-off hair and capitulated. “Fine. Fine. Just – come with me.”
Fifteen minutes later, the oddly matched partners stood in a pharmacy. Dani came to an abrupt halt when she comprehended the rack of near-identical pregnancy tests.
She shot Luke an incredulous look. The older woman carefully ignored her and reached to take a box at random. She kept her head low, her eyes averted. Perhaps she was blushing.
“Lucas,” Dani said, keeping her voice as level as she knew how.
It brought on another hotly challenging look. Luke was daring her to make the wrong move. It was enough to make Dani leave it along. She picked up another two tests and tried to compare them, her mind racing.
Luke Cage, once Carly Lucas, once framed, once experimented upon. A woman who fought injustice at the right price, but who protected her own with her life. And now pregnant?
Dani wondered, for a moment, at the image of solid, muscular Luke holding a fragile creature – and couldn’t think of a safer, more gently-handled thing.
She bought the two tests with her own money. As much as Luke protested charity… this was nothing of the sort.
They walked to their office in near-silence. The bag of tests was crashing into Luke’s hip at every step. She was brooding again, deep and entrenched in it.
“Luke,” Dani said, to call her attention back. She made what she thought might be a warm and supportive expression. “You know that if the test is positive…that isn’t the end of the uncertainty. There may still be decisions to make.” She didn’t know any more delicate way to say that a pregnancy didn’t have to lead to a child.
With a sharp shrug of her shoulders, Luke cast that aside. “If it’s positive, I’ll talk to the father first. It’s… we’ll decide together. I’m not… I don’t really think… well. I don’t know if he even likes me all that much.” She rubbed her short hair, that obvious tell of hers, and huffed a frustrated laugh. “You’re damn lucky, you know? At least when you sleep with other women, no one can get knocked up.”
Dani smiled back at her. It was nice.
They took a dozen more steps, two dozen, in that same, steady rhythm of New Yorkers. Dani’s thoughts were stuck. She couldn’t imagine someone not liking a woman like Luke. She didn’t know if she was allowed to ask: “The father. Who is he?”
Another pause. “You remember Jones?”
“What… Jesse Jones, the investigator? I thought you two got along.”
“Not anymore, we don’t.” Luke laughs a little, ironic. “We slept together. He was… really drunk. He told me not to call or anything. Said it’s not going to happen again.”
They stopped for a crosswalk. Dani picked up her (low and sensibly heeled, thank you) shoe and knocked it into Luke’s boot, in a kind of silent acknowledgement. She hoped Jesse hadn’t shouted at Luke; better to just get in a fistfight. At least that way, Luke could fight back, especially with their super-strength so well matched.
Jesse Jones was a man who could wield words like knives. There were some insults that Luke could never forgive him for – and never forget.
Luke stopped to unlock their door. She grinned to herself; she could see Dani’s worst fears across her face. “He didn’t say anything bad. Just… I think it’s a bad time for him. Maybe I’ll talk to him and see what’s up.”
“All right,” Dani said, following her in. It was all right. It would have to be all right.
It became clear, over several weeks, that Jesse was committed. Whatever was between them at first…Luke and Jesse were together. For the baby that was growing, for themselves, for each other. It didn’t matter. They were going to have it and make their best attempt at a family.
It wasn’t Dani’s business. She could only hope they took care of each other.
Still, she found an unlikely ally in Jesse Jones, investigator. Investigative reporter, now; he’d taken on a second, steadier job to support Luke and their child.
(Both of them were still extremely against accepting Dani’s help, even though she’d explained that she just wanted to do something useful with her inherited fortune.)
Jesse seemed to be the only other one who could stand Luke’s bouts of temper. It turned out that she didn’t handle pregnancy with anything approaching grace, and the tantrum that came when Dani suggested suspending their business for the duration of Luke’s condition…
Well. Dani could afford to replace that wall, at least.
Today found them at lunch. Both of them teaming up against Luke.
“Hell,” the woman enunciated clearly, “no.”
“Think about it,” Jesse cajoled her. His arm was across the back of her chair, his fingers soothing the back of her neck. “It makes a lot of sense.”
Luke waved her large hand at the spinach salad she had ordered – at Dani’s insistence. “Bad enough I have to give up drinking and coffee and I have to eat rabbit food because baby needs the nutrients. I’m not going to those classes.”
Across the table from this tableaux, Dani caught Jesse’s eye and shook her head meaningfully. They weren’t getting anywhere; it was better to cut your losses when trying to persuade Power Woman into anything she didn’t want.
After the meal passed quickly after that, the conversation turned to jokes and lighter things. Afterward, they extended the break from work with a walk in the park.
While Luke became distracted trying to help a child with her attempts to feed pigeons, Dani got Jesse alone. “Prenatal classes fill up early,” she reminded him gravely. “This is the time to be registering.”
“I can’t believe it. It’s only been a couple months and she’s already showing,” Jesse hedged. He ran his fingers through his hair, flipped it to the side of his face. “I mean, can’t I just have some time to talk her around?”
“I’m going to register you both,” Dani decided. Then, with a quick sly glance around, “If she still refuses, I’ll pay for them and attend on my own. A natural birth is her only choice – no cesarean, no epidural. Nothing will be able to break her skin. Someone had better be prepared to keep her breathing.”
Her eyes caught and lingered on Luke, who now had an audience of several children, aged five to twelve. She seemed to be giving a lecture on what sorts of things would hurt birds when ingested.
Jesse was watching the same scene. With a kind of wonder, he said, “You know, she thinks she’s bad with kids? She thinks she’ll be a terrible mother.”
Dani leveled a glare at him. “Well. Talk her out of that, first of all. Can you imagine—”
“Oh, believe me, I can,” he agreed. He shielded his eyes against the summer sun; Luke was taking the whole passel off into a patch of grass, looking for their minders. Making sure they weren’t on their own. “God knows how I’m going to handle it, anyway.”
“Expectant parents get nervous,” Dani found herself saying. Not that she knew anything about it. This was the kind of thing – well, that her mother might have said to her, had she lived long enough. “Plenty of people have done worse. Jesse?”
Reluctantly, slowly, he looked at her. His doubt and insecurity was written across his face.
She laid her hand on his arm. “Luke needs you to be the confident one. She’s… she’ll never stop second-guessing herself in this, and she’ll never forgive herself if she makes a mistake. She doesn’t think she can give your child the perfect life – and she can’t. Something always happens. That’s how life is. We’re heroes; every day, we have to know what that means and keep going anyway.”
Jesse flinched away at that. Dani had never asked him what had made him retire from his first costume – and she didn’t want to know. Luke had hinted it was bad, and part of the mess they’d been after their one night stand. But Jesse had to put it behind him and keep it there.
He promised, quietly: “I’ll do my best.”
“Good. That’s all I can ask.” Dani looked out toward her partner again – one child didn’t seem able to find his parents. He was dark-skinned, almost the right age to start getting involved in a gang depending on his neighborhood; a soft spot for Luke. She had one hand on his shoulder, steering him around, refusing to let him wander into New York alone.
Jesse watched her watching Luke for a few quiet seconds. “You’re seeing Misty Knight, right?”
Dani shrugged. “I think she and I are off again. It’s hard to tell with her. Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering how a girlfriend could deal with the crush you have on Luke,” Jesse said – almost casually. Painfully nonchalant.
It didn’t make her lock up. It didn’t even take her by surprise, really. Dani breathed in, and out, and centered herself in her chi, and spent a few seconds in her mind. In a place without the man who slept with her best friend, rejected her, and then came back all smiles when he learned she was pregnant. That man, this man beside her, would not have the pleasure of throwing her balance.
Dani gathered herself. She knew these words, and she could speak them.
She turned to him, pushed her braid over her shoulder. Looked up the several inches to meet his blue eyes, and said flatly, “Yes, I am in love with Luke. She isn’t aware. Misty knows – she understands. Emotional infidelity is one thing, physical another. It will never happen, and you have nothing to worry about. And I would appreciate it if this could the only time we discussed it.”
“Fine. Fine.” He broke the contact first; he’d noticed Luke returning to them. He grinned and put an arm around her back. “Hey, beautiful.”
“Won’t be calling me that when I’m as big as a rhinoceros,” Luke said, in an imitation of a grumpy mood. The kids had obviously erased the attitude about her healthy lunch.
Dani shook off the stern attitude she had adopted with Jesse and put her own smile back on. She playfully waved between all three of them – Luke and Jesse around six feet (he a little shorter), and herself nowhere close, even in her kitten heels. “You always seem huge to me, Power Woman.”
“Shove it,” Luke said, and swung a fist for her partner’s upper arm (easily dodged).
Jesse was still watching them together. Dani met him head-on, jerked her chin up in a challenge for him to take it anywhere.
He just looked away and tightened his hold on Luke’s shoulders.
“Christmas,” Luke muttered under her breath. She was sorting through shopping bags – now she held up a pair of jeans to her hips, the waistline gaping down by several inches. “Every single thing in that maternity section is designed to hold a beach ball.”
Dani bore the comment patiently and continued hanging the new purchases in Luke’s closet. She’d endured these complaints for hours, through the process of Luke discovering she could no longer wear her favorite pants (even with a pregnancy-specific extender) all the way to being denied the chance to help her friend pay for the (rather expensive) new wardrobe.
Across the bed, she heard a quiet: “God damn it.”
Sensitive to that tone coming from this woman, Dani turned immediately. Luke was hovering over the bags still, an unreadable cloudy expression arresting her features. She glared down at the new jeans, balled in her fists. She might tear them apart if she held any tighter.
Dani went to her with a hand on her elbow – in easier reach than her shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“I feel…” Luke swallowed, blinked, and tossed the jeans to hit the closet wall with a thump. “I feel out of control. My body hasn’t changed dramatically like this since I started strength training in prison – and I was in charge of that, I did that myself. This? This is a new unpleasant surprise every week, it feels like. You know what’s going to happen when I get real far along?”
Dani did, actually. She’d been reading everything she could find. The entire daunting process was detailed and footnoted in her mind’s eye.
But she remained silent.
Luke sighed and shoved the remaining bags off her bed as she slumped down onto it. She reclined on her back and set a hand over the barely-visible bump low on her belly. She told the ceiling: “I already feel like I have to pee every ten minutes. I have to drink, like, a gallon of water a day and eat all those awful nutrients. And it messes with my body – it’s gonna release this chemical called relaxin that loosens up everything. Joints, muscles… especially the hips, to make room for baby. Might take a while to tighten up again afterward. What’s that going to be like? How long till I can get back to being a hero?”
Ah. This talk.
Danny sat on the edge of the bed, beside her friend’s knees. She turned her shoulders, looking up the length of her. “Your life will change either way. That’s what babies do. Your future will obviously be entirely different than you expected… before you were expecting.”
Luke huffed and swatted half-heartedly at her arm, scolding, “No puns.”
“Maybe you’ll jump right back into your costume after,” Dani offered with a small smile. “Maybe it’ll take some training. Maybe you’ll have to wait a while and get the little one settled in its brand-new life before you can even consider it.”
Luke covered her eyes with the palm of one heavy hand. Not protesting, but listening. Processing. Still panicking.
Gently, Dani put more of her weight on the bed, lying down and scooting back until her head was even with Luke’s. She didn’t care that her feet seemed to barely reach Luke’s shins. “Maybe you’ll never go back to being a hero,” she said softly, just between them. “Maybe you won’t even want to.”
The hand dropped. Luke’s head turned to meet Dani’s gaze, large dark eyes searching for something. She said, “I can’t imagine it. I need the costume, Dani – you know that. I need the fight and I need to know…” She couldn’t seem to finish it.
She didn’t need to; Dani did know. She knew her partner inside and out, and Luke Cage was a born hero. She couldn’t live with herself if she failed to help this city. Sure, she was pragmatic and charged for her services (in theory)…but everyone needs to eat. As long as she refused Dani’s ‘charity’, heroing was Luke’s only income.
None of that really mattered. At her core, Luke didn’t think she deserved any powers if they were going to waste.
Luke had given up trying to find a word. She simply stared at Dani, waiting for something.
Dani’s smile had gone somewhere, and she couldn’t find it.
Luke turned on her side, propping her head up with one hand. Leaning over Dani, with an odd tone, she said, “Jesse said something, and I didn’t believe him.” Then she leaned down and put her lips over Dani’s.
It was a kiss. Slow and careful and dry, yes, but a kiss. Dani raised her hand to Luke’s shoulder, her heart racing, thinking that she should push her away. Luke’s fingers were cradling her hip and this didn’t make any sense. But it was Luke, her partner. Luke, her best friend. She’d been in love with Luke for so long that…
Luke slicked her tongue across the seam of Dani’s lips. Dani fought not to gasp, not to open herself to that temptation.
Jesse. The child.
She pushed against Luke’s shoulder until the broader woman eased away. Dani hooked her ankle over the edge of the bed, using that leverage to snake out from under. She rolled off the mattress and came up in a crouch.
Luke was still watching her, looking perfectly normal. Dani could feel her own face heating to a dull, throbbing flush.
She couldn’t afford the maelstrom kicked up in the wake of this. She closed her eyes. Recentered her chi on one breath. Opened her eyes with organized thoughts. “It’s about time Heroes for Hire suspended operations. You’re already on light duties; this will settle things until after the birth. We can discuss whether we’ll resume then.”
Pure outraged shock seemed to hit Luke like a blow and Dani had to avert her eyes. She sat upright and said, “Now, wait right—”
“I’ll spend tomorrow polishing up paperwork, closing or referring all cases, and sending invoices. Jenny will handle all other business – perhaps coming in once a week to check messages, that sort of thing.” Her voice was steady and decided. Cold and distant. She didn’t know how. “You needn’t come in, I’ll settle—”
“Dani!” Luke interrupted, putting her hands on Dani’s shoulders and shaking just enough to make Dani’s body tense for a fight. At a lower volume, she asked, “What is this? You’re talking like you won’t be around.”
Dani stared directly ahead – but barefoot, she came almost exactly level with Luke’s breasts. So she looked to the right, refusing to face her partner properly. She could forgive herself this cowardice.
“C’mon, Fist, talk to me. What’re you planning?” Luke asked. Pleaded.
“I’ve been putting off a few business trips. My name still matters in things like public relations. It will take me to Japan, China. As long as I’m there I can wear the costume and see what I can do.”
“Dani,” Luke sighed, and dropped her hands away from her shoulders. She took a step back. “Don’t. Please. We can talk about this, okay? I’m sorry.”
Dani met her eyes and smiled as much as she was able. “I know. Goodbye. I’ll call.”
Luke crossed her arms, but she wasn’t challenging. She looked…resigned. Not happy, but not fighting. “Will you really call?” Luke demanded bluntly.
“Of course,” Dani lied, and walked out of the room.
It was a small apartment; she was in the kitchen before she could blink. Jesse was chopping up stir fry at the counter. He asked, “She okay in there? I heard her yell.”
Dani paused in her escape and fixed her eyes on him.
When she didn’t answer, he glanced up, and paused at whatever he saw in her face. “Whoa. What’s wrong?”
“Fuck you,” she hissed. Suddenly, the anger and hurt she had suppressed was flooding her, getting her blood up for a fight. “You had no right!”
He changed his grip on the knife and watched her hands – glowing with her chi. In this state, she could punch out the supports of the entire building, crash everything down around them. “Calm down. What did I do?”
“You told her!” With no small effort, Dani pulled her control back together. She stopped glowing, but that didn’t mean she was finished. “I swear by all the gods, Jesse Jones, you had better be worth this.”
She started walking out again, ignoring Jesse saying, “What the fuck happened?” to, presumably, their audience of one.
She slammed the door as she left.
Dani sat in a board meeting for the Japanese branch of Rand-Meachum. She only half-listened; she had never been interested in these things. Something something dividends, the stock value is rising, we’ve found a solid market here. She smiled and nodded.
She was a tiny, pretty blonde. She wore pantsuits and kitten heels and left her blouse unbuttoned too far. No one asked her any difficult questions.
Dani told them, in carefully stilted badly-structured Japanese, that they were doing an impressive job. What wonderful progress. They bowed and told her what an honor her visit was.
Then she walked out of the building, climbed into her hired car, rode the elevator to her luxuriously appointed hotel room. Opened her suitcase, found the hidden lower pocket. Stripped out of her suit.
Two minutes later, Dani leapt over the railings in the stairwell, dropping two floors at a time. No security cameras in here.
Then she was out in the night, and running.
It was funny, how familiar her routine was already. Dani truly hadn’t expected her stay in Japan to last so long.
It was so easy to let one more day pass before she made good on her promise. Then another. Another.
She extended the meetings and banquets she had to attend, wore her mask in the dark and fought until her mind was empty. She absorbed her attention into details, memorizing city maps and the language. Building her own network of other heroes, those she could trust and those she might, with time.
She didn’t want to think. She didn’t want to go back to New York City – because, as long as she didn’t talk to Luke, nothing was permanent. They were suspended in uncertainty; Dani could pretend that they would move past the kiss. Luke would laugh off one mistake and they would best friends again. They were implicitly best friends until Luke told her otherwise.
Dani wouldn’t give Luke a chance to tell her otherwise.
It was a weak excuse.
Jesse was the one to call her.
Dani’s phone lit up and buzzed across the bedside table, loud as a chainsaw. She grabbed for it, dragged it to her ear, tugging it free of its charger. “Rand,” she mumbled.
“Dani. Listen. You have to come back, okay?” Jesse obviously had no brain power to spare for time zone mathematics. He sounded like the end of an adrenaline high.
Dani blinked herself awake. “Jesse? What’s wrong?” She saw the clock by her bed and squeezed her eyes shut, in case that changed the numbers on it. She’d been asleep for two and a half hours.
“You have to come,” he repeated. “It’s been – fuck, it’s been a hell of a day.” He paused, then went a little more slowly. “Luke went into labor.”
“What?” Dani shouted. It was as though she was back on her training grounds, stripped naked in the cold and suddenly numb. She was definitely awake. “No. She’s…” Dani was ashamed that she needed to think about it. “It’s only been six months!”
He croaked, “I know. We were all worried. They kicked her out of the hospital because she’s powered.” He snorted, and she could imagine the exact look of disgust on his face. “They couldn’t have done anything for her anyway. No drugs, no c-section. Fucking assholes, anyway…”
“Jesse,” she interrupted sharply, “is she okay? Is the little one okay?”
He barely paused, but it was enough to make Dani’s heart skip. “Yes. Yes, both of them, yes. I don’t know how, but – it’s done, he’s here, and…”
The relief was overwhelming, and on its heels came the shame. She should be there. She should have been there already.
“I’m coming,” she promised, throwing the bedclothes out of her way and packing without looking at anything very closely.
Jesse was quiet for a few seconds, but the line was still open. Then he said, “Luke. Um. When it was all done, she asked me to marry her.”
“Of course she did,” Dani said. It didn’t even hurt, really. Of course Luke asked him; that was exactly like her.
“I mean, I. I haven’t said… I didn’t answer her?”
At this, Dani froze. A suit jacket was crumpling in her palm, and she had to lower the phone away from her ear to breathe. Center herself. She put it back to her ear. “I see.”
He very sounded defensive very quickly. He’d clearly already dealt with Luke’s reaction to this. “What! I mean, it’s so sudden, how could I just—”
“Jesse Jones,” Dani began, and caught herself. She leveled her tone and said, “I am neither your therapist nor your mother. It is none of my business.”
She slammed her luggage closed and growled, “I don’t want to know, Jones.”
He was quiet.
Dani got her laptop out and found tickets – gods, why hadn’t she brought the jet – and held the cell to her ear with her shoulder. She didn’t think he had hung up – something like New York City’s sounds might have been in the background, overpowered by Kyoto outside her window. So she broke the silence with, “My flight leaves in an hour and twenty minutes. I’ll email you the details.” It was past seven in the evening in New York, she wouldn’t arrive until ten in the morning… today, theoretically. “Gods. Time zones. I won’t be able to call a car, can you—”
“I’ll take care of it,” Jesse said.
Dani let herself calm down for a moment. Tried to think of anything else she needed. Then felt like an idiot. Tentatively, she asked, “What did you – what’s his name?”
“We don’t know him nearly well enough, yet,” was Jesse’s answer. “We’ll see you.”
Then he hung up, and Dani needed to call a cab.
There was a car waiting at the airport. Dani hadn’t been able to sleep on the plane, and she looked like it. She had never bothered to change out of her sleep clothes after her abrupt awakening.
The driver didn’t ask for directions. He dropped her off in front of address of the Jones/Cage apartment. Dani tightened her grip on the handle of her suitcase, looking up at the building’s façade.
She was very tired. Luke had to be even worse. Going through birth after six months, her best friend half a world away… what could she have thought?
Enough. Dani stepped forward and went for the elevator. She had come too far for second thoughts; now was the time to confront this.
She still took a moment outside their door, leaned her head against the wall. Tried to pretend she had rested at all.
She knocked. The door swung inward.
It was Jesse, looking as wrung out as Dani felt. He stared at her for a second – his hair awry, his eyes sunken – then stepped back, silently inviting her in.
Dani went through the living room and kitchen in what seemed like seven steps, dropping her bag on the way. She pulled up short in the entrance of the bedroom.
There was Luke, asleep, one arm curled up around an impossibly tiny lump of blankets.
Holding her breath, Dani slipped closer, closer, to the edge of the bed. The little one’s brown skin was light in contrast with his mother’s. He was stirring a little, eyes closed but restless, squirming in his blankets. Luke was still sleeping like the dead.
The light changed, making Dani glance up. Jesse was leaning in the doorway. He nodded at her, permission.
Dani wouldn’t let her hands shake as she reached down, eased the tiny bundle up, careful not to jostle her friend. The baby rested in the crook of her elbow naturally. His diaper was soiled, and he was fussing more and more.
She took him out of the bedroom and did a quick scan. She found the supplies, laid out and recently used, and got to work. He was stripped, cleaned, and dry by the time he got up the energy to make any noise. He settled again easily, willing to sleep a while longer.
Dani hovered over him, staring. He was so small, made up of a million unfathomable moving parts.
Behind her, Jesse murmured, “You’re, uh. His godmother.”
She turned to look at him over her shoulder, too tired to react. Should she be grateful? Incredulous? Defensive, perhaps?
But he rubbed his fingers through the fringe of his hair and smiled. “You look like shit. I’ll take the kid; you sleep on the couch. Luke’ll have a few words to say to you when she wakes up.”
Dani tried not to make a face, but it must have showed.
Jesse came closer, knelt with her, put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s alright. She and I, we’ve – um, talked. It’s all, everything’s fine, okay?”
“I should’ve been here,” Dani told him. Her eyes tracked Jesse's hands as they settled around the little one, picked him up by the head and body, careful and gentle and possessive.
“It was so unexpected,” Jesse argued. He shushed his son when the relocation woke him a little. “It’s not like we can schedule emergencies.”
Dani stared into his eyes, letting him see the guilt and fear in her. “No,” she said, “I should never have run the way I did.”
He sobered and countered, “I shouldn’t have told her. That put you in a bad spot, okay? I understand that.”
Dani shook her head. Her customary braid was coming loose around her ears; she pushed the strands back and rubbed at her eyes. She couldn’t believe what her life had become.
“Sleep,” Jesse told her, more firmly.
Vaguely, she nodded her agreement, blinking around at the small apartment. The couch was tiny; it was a good thing she was tinier. Dani reached for the little one, not touching Jesse’s arm. She laid two fingers on the child’s brow and stroked, whispering, “Sleep well and welcome, little one.” Not really thinking it through, she bent and kissed the same spot, the baby's skin newborn smooth, the smell of talcum in her nose.
She glanced up and realized she was much too close to Jesse. He had a strange expression on his face. She began to lean away, but he darted in to press his mouth to her cheek. Still near, he repeated: “Sleep.”
Then he went to the bedroom, turning off the lights as he went. To sleep with Luke, in their bed.
Dani curled into the couch and shut her eyes.
“Hey. Rand.” A foot nudged her shoulder.
Dani lifted her head, blinked against the sunlight. It came back to her sluggishly: not in Japan anymore, Luke’s had her baby, she’s still talking—
“Christ, woman, you are a mess,” Luke was saying, with a smile that showed her white teeth. She looked… well, not good, but not so bad as she had in sleep last night. Her shirt was unwrinkled, she had showered. She looked more prepared to face the day than Dani felt, certainly.
“I don’t know how you can say that,” Dani croaked. She needed water. She needed food. “You’re the one that gave birth 36 hours ago.”
Luke reached down to grab the end of her blond braid and tugged it playfully. “Come on. The little missus is making breakfast.”
From fifteen feet away, Jesse said, “I never agreed to marry you, Cage!”
Dani focused on him around Luke’s knees. He was balancing his son in one arm and stirring a frying pan with the other. It smelled like eggs and bacon.
“Yeah, she’s awake,” Luke told... her not fiancé. Very, very, serious, we-have-a-child-together boyfriend?
Dani sat up, pulling the band out of the bottom of her hair. “Wonderful. I don’t think I’ve eaten since somewhere over California.” She rolled onto her feet while trying to sort out her hair, re-tying it without the benefit of a mirror or brush. She went directly to Jesse and held out both hands, a silent offer that he could choose to ignore.
He didn’t ignore it. He nodded and turned to give her access to the little one, letting her take his weight up and away. It have Jesse an extra hand to add salt and pepper to the eggs, and it gave Dani a chance to run her thumb over the baby’s cheek. His eyes only opened to slits, watching her with some suspicion before sliding peaceably closed once more.
Jesse glanced up at Jesse – and then over her shoulder. Dani could feel the presence at her back, and turned to face Luke with a clenched jaw. Ready for whatever would come to her.
Luke was frowning, her brow pinched. She’d let her hair grow out a little during her pregnancy, a frizzy mess almost an inch out. “Listen,” she said, “I’m sorry about what happened before. I think you – I think it was because I didn’t talk to you first. But I have to think about things like making sure everybody knows what’s going on – that’s important for baby, too.” She put her hand on her son’s belly.
Dani felt the new weight on her arms. She stared up at Luke with wide eyes, and it must have been obvious that she was getting ready to bolt, because a hand touched her back.
“Don’t panic,” Jesse advised. Then he was gone, cooking attentively.
Luke smiled over her shoulder, then focused back on her. “Dani, I – I really, really like you. Okay? You’re my best friend, you’re… you were pretty much everything to me, for a while there, between the business and the heroing. I have more going on in my life, now…”
Blinking hard, Dani turned her eyes away. She needed to breathe. She needed to center herself for this.
Luke put her hand on Dani’s jaw and forced her to lock eyes. Very deliberately, she said, “I have more now, and the busier my life gets, the more I miss you. Do you hear me, Rand? You’re still so important to me. I just… I want more. With you.”
Dani opened her mouth. Closed it. Tried to turn toward Jesse, but couldn’t get away from Luke’s grip on her.
“He’s fine.” Luke crowded in, curling above her, taking her other hand away from the child and splaying it across Dani’s neck. Her voice was nearly a growl. “We’ve talked. He’s fine, it’s not about whether or not I’m taken, okay? I want you.”
Shifting the little one to cradle him with only one arm, Dani reached up for the back of Luke’s head and pulled her down. Their brows met and rested, Dani’s eyes closed, taking in the gusts of Luke’s breath across her cheek. Gods, but she did want it. If she was allowed to have it.
“Don’t let me stop you,” Jesse said from somewhere behind her.
Dani grinned hard, but had to get it under control before it ruined her kiss with Luke, maneuvering carefully with the child still between them.
Dani perched on the edge of a rooftop, listening. Mattea had graciously allowed her to alter the cowl to let her see, but it still felt more true to the Daredevil identity to work by sound.
Last one tonight. One more, and then she could go home.
It was a shrill scream that reached her. Without thought, Dani started running – took a sprinting leap across an alley – landed and rolled back up to her feet. This costume exhilarated her, in a way that Iron Fist didn’t; in her partnership with Luke, Dani had restrained herself to traveling by foot. But New York was a jungle gym for acrobats, and traveling this way used muscles she’d missed for far too long.
Dani found the proper building; it sounded like a robbery on the fourth floor. Dani landed on the fire escape almost soundlessly, balancing in a crouch with her fingertips against the grating.
Three men inside the apartment. Two taking a laptop and flatscreen, and the last holding the tenant (a young woman, in a thin nightgown) at knifepoint. He bared his teeth and started saying, “I think before we’re done, I’ll call my friends back in here and—”
At that point, Dani jumped feet-first through the open window and knocked him into the doorjamb. The knife fell, the other men heard the commotion—
It was over quickly.
Afterward, the young woman (Call me Jenna) was effusively grateful. She wanted to kiss Dani’s cheeks, she wanted to give her hugs… she wasn’t wearing anything under her nightgown, and her nipples were showing.
Thank the gods that Mattea’s standoffish reputation preceded her, because Dani made every excuse she could think of and got out onto the streets.
She made it back to the apartment with her honor (relatively) intact, entering through the window in the living room/kitchen. Luke was standing by the microwave, rocking the bundle in her arms, eyes half-lidded.
Must be time for the little one’s 2am feeding. Exactly on schedule.
Dani crossed to her, stood on the balls of her feet and guided Luke down to meet her for a kiss. “Let me take him,” she offered. “You can go back to sleep.”
“Mmmm,” Luke hummed, and handed off her son. Rather than heading for the comfort of her blankets, she leaned her elbows back against the kitchen counter and closed her eyes, her chin sinking drowsily. “How was it?” she remembered to ask.
“Well, it’ll be well-publicized,” Dani shrugged. The microwave beeped, and she made the familiar motions – shake, test the milk on her wrist, tilt up for baby’s mouth. “I don’t know. How much longer will Ms. Murdock need me to throw the papers off her scent?”
Luke laughed. “Everything’s uncertain, in this business.” She slitted her eyes open, looking Dani up and down for the first time tonight. “Ugh, it freaks me out how much you look like Mattea with the cowl on. Is that lipstick on your cheek?”
Dani pulled the cowl away from her face, leaned the baby’s bottle against her shoulder as he suckled it, and rubbed at her cheek. Almost defensively, she said, “Yes? I got a lonely twenty-something who was very grateful for my help.”
Luke huffed and shoved herself off the counter, coming close. Her finger wiped the last of it away and she said, “Exactly how jealous should I be?”
“Well… how good do you look in a nightgown?” Dani teased her, catching the little one’s bottle before it fell, smiling uncontrollably down at him.
“Jesus Christ,” Jesse said, staggering into the light and barely catching himself on the doorway to the bedroom. “I hate you both. I hate everything. Enough talking, enough frankly nauseating domesticity, if the kid’s fed let’s get back into bed and sleep, you lunatics.”
Luke’s finger nudged Dani’s chin up, and they exchanged a quick kiss. Dani flipped the baby up and reached for a burping cloth as Luke went to kiss her man goodnight.
Dani had started cleaning up when she heard Jesse, still leaning there, watching. “I told her yes,” he declared. He jutted his chin forward and added, “About the marriage thing.”
The little one was squirming. Dani pinned down his tiny limbs and kept her eyes on Jesse’s. At length, she said, “Good.”
“Good,” Jesse agreed. He glanced at his son, back up to Dani. “Good. Come to bed when you can. It’s my turn next.” He pushed off the wall with his shoulder, went into the bedroom withour a backward glance.
“Good,” Dani repeated, like it didn’t mean anything anymore. She told the baby in her arms, “You, my little man, are going to be legitimate, apparently.”
Then she finished wiping up. Went into the bedroom, setting the baby down in Jesse’s arms. Stripped out of the Daredevil costume and climbed into bed in just her sports bra and underwear, Luke a buffer between her and Jesse.
The war started. It came on suddenly, sharply: Dani looked around one day and a third of everyone was on one side, a third on the other, and a third locked up or dead.
Jesse left the country with the baby, the only good move of the whole fiasco.
Luke stopped sleeping, unless Dani could drag her there herself.
It dragged on and on. No end in sight.
The sight of Jesse, long and lean, huddled over the twisting parcel of blanket that held his son, made everything worth it. As he walked down the steps of the Rand private plane and across the tarmac, Dani resisted the strange urge to run to them crying.
“Come here, little one” Dani said. Or maybe cooed. She didn’t know what was happening with her vocal chords – they were completely out of control around this child. Compounded by not having a chance to see him for months. She reached her hands out to Jesse, asking to hold his son.
Jesse tightened his arms. Just a little bit. “Hey, Dani. I haven’t… we haven’t had any down time since we boarded in Canada, and…”
Dani looked up from smiling at the little one and met his eyes. Her smile faded enough to show how deadly serious she was. “I got you here safely. I’ll take you to Luke. May I carry your bags?”
With a sigh of relief, Jesse nodded and shifted his son to his other arm. The little one was big enough to press his baby-fat brown cheek into Jesse’s shoulder. It was started to get embarrassing, not having a name for him.
“Right. The car’s this way.” Dani slung the baby bag and Jesse’s meager possessions across either shoulder. Where they would rest against Jesse’s hips, the bags nearly dwarfed her, banging unhelpfully against her thighs. “We can meet them in forty-five minutes.”
“Who’s ‘them’?” Jesse asked. He had a hand free to open the trunk for her, and then he got himself and his child settled in the backseat of the car. His super strength was as good as, or better than, a car seat.
Dani slid in next to her, opened a comm line to the sound-proofed driver’s seat, and issued her instructions. Then she told Jesse, “What’s left of the resistance. They’re thinking of calling themselves the Avengers again. Luke, Wolverine, Spiderman…”
“Luke’s still going to being a hero,” Jesse asked. Or, not really asked – sighed. Resigned.
“She wants to lead them,” Dani told her, somewhat smugly, somewhat protective. Glad to have been around for her during the hard times that the Registration Act had brought down.
Jesse pushed his long auburn bangs back. “It’s not that I’m not proud of my wife,” he said. “It’s just – I’m burnt out with hero work. I hung up my costume a long time ago. I just – I don’t know what I’ll do if she gets herself killed over Tony Stark being an unrelenting dickwad.”
“We’re all tired.” This was the one truth that Dani could speak. She wore bruises layered over bruises; she had killed ten men in the last week before they would kill her first. “We all want it to stop. But surrendering to the government and becoming their pawns is not an option.” She reached for the little one, as he tried to climb out of his father’s arms, but pulled back. “She’s protecting her child, and you, and the families of everyone with powers.”
Jesse sighed again, some of the iron leaving his shoulders, all of that war-weariness showing. “I know. I know all that. But no matter what she does, it’s never going to be safe enough for our kid to grow up, is it? There’s nothing we can do about that unless the Act is thrown out.”
Dani touched his shoulder, in something like comfort. “It still could be overturned. Maybe they’ll realize how incredibly horrible the consequences have been.”
“Are you kidding? Captain America is dead. If they were going to come to their senses… well. We’re past that point now.” Jesse held his son up, those chubby legs freewheeling in the air. “Not going to happen.”
Dani watched her godchild and felt the usual pull. An adult, unlikely to become a parent, seeing a child and wanting to hold it. To cradle it for a moment. And beyond that – a close family friend (or whatever she currently was), used to treating a child like her own, wanting to hold him and confirm that he was all right, nothing had happened…
“Here,” Jesse said, swiveling his arms. He offered the restless toddler to her. “I’m tired. Think I could catch another twenty minutes to nap?” An act of kindness, or a concession in a constant passive rivalry. Possession over the child was an unspoken contest with them, sometimes, still.
“Yes.” Dani’s hands automatically closed around the boy’s waist, his delicate ribs. “I’ll wake you in plenty of time.”
Her lover’s husband settled his shoulder against the door, put his head into an awfully uncomfortable position, and fell still.
Dani balanced the child on her knee, looking deeply into his brown eyes. He held still under the scrutiny, either remembering her or unsure how to react. “You’ve grown so much, little one,” she told him gravely. “What are to going to be like in five years? Or ten? I wonder.” She did not say: Will you be like your mother, protecting the weak and doubting your own worth? Or like your father, indignant and outspoken against the abuses of power, but unwilling to put his loved ones at risk?
The child clumsily reached out with one hand. He took a piece of blonde hair from near her ear and tugged it out of her braid. It went right into his mouth.
“Or will you be like me, I wonder,” she cooed to him, bouncing her knee and making him laugh. “Will you have the power to take what you need, but wish for the things you can’t have?”
The child mouthed at her hair and she rubbed his back, keeping him balanced there, watching over him.
A meeting of the Avengers was called to discuss the Skrull problem. In the milling-around period as everyone gathered, Peter watched from the ceiling as Jesse brought the little one in on his hip, handed him off to his mother with a kiss. He said, “Okay, am I the one who has to say this? Luke, Jesse, it’s been months. You really need to name that boy.”
It interrupted all the other conversations in the room, along with Luke’s persistent, “Who’s a baby? You sure are a baby!” babbling.
Jesse kissed the crown of his son’s, spoke from millimeters away from his skin. “We did name him.”
Dani moved forward a few steps, her attention captured. “You – what? What is it?” She reached for him, took his weight as Jesse passed him over.
“Daniel.” Luke hovered behind her husband’s shoulder, the slightest bit taller, smirking. “His name’s Daniel.
“That’s,” Dani started, and stopped. Her blue eyes skipped from Luke to Jesse to the – to Daniel, to her namesake. “That’s, that’s really nice.”
“Oh, we didn’t name him for you,” Jesse blatantly lied, matching her smile with a secret little wink.
Peter slid down a web upside-down, dangling close enough to peer at them, smiling like idiots. “You know, I’ve been meaning to ask what your deal is for a while,” he said.
Jesse put a hand to his shoulder and pushed until he swung like a pendulum. “None of your business, Spiderman.”
Dani came into Strange’s kitchen somewhat blearily, hands just finishing off her braid. She’d woken after Luke, meaning no chance to talk her into staying in bed awhile. She was rumpled and needed a shower. All she wanted was some nice, caffeinated tea first.
She found, instead, Luke and Jesse, glaring at each other over their son’s head. Daniel was happily playing with some cereal, oblivious to the tension, sometimes gnawing on Luke’s fingers as she distractedly encouraged him to actually eat the things.
Jesse turned to see Dani, frozen awkwardly in the doorway, reluctant to intrude. He pasted on a tense smile. “That works out. Dani, could you do me a favor?”
“Of course?” Dani said, taking a few cautious steps closer. She mostly did her best to keep out of Luke and Jesse’s relationship, but it was a struggle. This probably had nothing to do with Dani, and if she broke right, she might get to the kettle…
“I need to have words with my stubborn wife. Loud words. Away from baby over here,” Jesse waved his hand in Daniel’s direction. Daniel caught it as it passed and shook at him, forcing Jesse to looked down and smile at him reflexively.
Dani gave up her hopes of escape, for now, and went for the table. She joked, “Let me guess: your first pick for babysitter was Spiderman.”
Luke rolled her eyes and refused to humor her. She pulled her hand away from Daniel’s mouth – “Hey, baby, break your teeth before you get a bite outta me, time to let go,” – and wiped the spit away on her shirt. It already told a story of an attempted meal of mashed carrots. Or something else… orange. Luke raised her eyebrows at Dani. “You don’t mind?”
“No. No, of course, I’m happy to sit with him.” Dani came around the table, put her hand on the back of Jesse’s chair. She let him stand up out of it, played a momentary dance of right-left-right for who would pass whom, and slid into place in the seat. She offered her finger to Daniel and nodded at Luke to let her know she could go and have a fight with her husband in peace.
Luke met Jesse’s eyes and nodded toward their bedroom. They both left, presumably to find somewhere inside Strange’s concealment spell where noise wouldn’t carry.
It was quiet in the kitchen. Dani decided she could afford to split her attention between the little one and the kettle and set it to boil, anyway. She spent a few minutes tickling Daniel, recovering her hair from him, making him smile and smiling back at him. She sang a little, the softest of the nasal songs of K’un-L’un. She stole his nose, making him look as though he might sneeze.
“Baby, baby, baby,” she found herself chanting softly. Something about children reduced responsible adults to mindlessness. “Baby, baby. Can you say ‘Mama’?”
“Ma, ma,” Daniel recited obediently, one chubby fist closing on her hair again.
Dani stared at him.
“Mama,” he repeated, trying to chew her blond hair. “Mama mama.”
At that moment, the kettle started to boil. The whistling startled Dani enough to tug her hair against Daniel’s fist, and that in turn forced her into motion.
“Gods,” Dani said, and untangled herself from the little one. She turned down the whistling of the kettle and called to the house at large, “Luke! Jesse!” She stared blankly at the steam rising up before shaking her head and pouring a cupful with a tiny tremor to her hands.
She hadn’t considered how unsteady her voice sounded. They reappeared ready for a fight, assuming that she’d called for back up for some reason, using the speed of people who know their child might be endangered. Both did visible spot-checks of the area and caught their breath.
“Sorry. I’m sorry,” Dani apologized lamely. She rubbed at her eyes and sighed. “I just – has he spoken yet?” She knows they would have mentioned if he had, but she wants to double-check. They don’t have to tell her everything, after all.
“No-oo.” Luke squinted at Dani, thinking along the same lines, then sat down at the empty seat by her son. “What’d you just say, baby?”
“Mamamamama,” Daniel babbled cheerfully, throwing cereal across the table. “Mama!”
Jesse’s face softened, and he drifted a few steps closer. “Okay. I will admit: that is pretty cute.” He put one arm across his wife’s shoulders and cupped his other hand behind Daniel’s head.
“Mama?” Luke parroted back, grinning wide and proud. She picked the boy up, held him to meet her eyes curiously. “Who’s your mama, huh, baby?”
“Ma!” Daniel shouted, and twisted around to reach for Dani, smiling with his gums showing.
Luke’s smile turned into a small puzzled frown and she met Dani’s eyes. Jesse straightened behind her, a harder look in his eyes.
Dani stared back like a deer in headlights, the cup of tea over-steeping at her elbow. Her heart was beating hard, her knees locked. She wanted to run again – further away than Japan.
She pulled her mind together enough to say, “I don’t – I don’t know why he said that, Luke. I mean. You’re his mama, he shouldn’t be saying… I’m sorry…”
Luke made a face at Jesse, and they shared a silent moment of conversation. Jesse took the command and crossed the kitchen. He put his hands on Dani’s shoulders and said, “Calm down.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Dani told him, heart in her throat. This was worse than when they named the boy after her; at least they had control of that. “I’m not his mama and I know that, I don’t know how—”
“I do,” Jesse interrupted. “Dani, he sees you about as often as Luke. And you love him like your own, don’t even pretend.”
Dani glanced miserably over to Luke. Daniel was propped over one massive shoulder, trying to stand with no success. “I’m sorry,” she repeated, for Luke.
Jesse huffed, “Fuck everything, fine. Don’t you dare run away this time,” and leaned down to kiss her.
Dani didn’t have the mental capacity to respond in any way. When he pulled back, she simply stared at him, stunned.
“There. Fine. There’s that,” he told her. “Listen! You are as much that boy’s parent as either of us, okay? It’s fine that you’re his mama. He’s gonna have to get used to saying it, since he has two of them, anyway.”
Slowly, Dani lifted a hand to her mouth. “Jesse,” she ventured, after a few moments.
Across the kitchen table, Daniel was happily naming everything he could point at ‘mama’ as Luke looked on bemusedly.
“Jesse, so, are you and I… trying this?” Dani asked. She wasn’t usually one who need things spelled out, but. This mess of a relationship needed it.
“Yes, you idiot,” he told her, and kissed her again. It lingered, the pressure against her lips, the smell of him so close, even after he stopped.
Dani blinked up at him from the cradle of his hands on her cheeks. The first thing she could think to say was: “I’m going to go shower.”
Jesse huffed and stepped away. “Sorry. Sorry, I shouldn’t have – we don’t have to—”
“It’s okay,” she told him, still feeling shaken, her emotions everywhere. “It’s alright. Don’t apologize. I just. I’m going to go take a shower and then we can talk.”
Still looking like a kicked dog, Jesse took another step away, glancing guiltily at his wife and child. Dani followed his eyes to see Luke, wearing a conflicted expression.
“It’s what we were talking about just now,” she said, hands full of Daniel. “We think it’s a good idea.” She looked like she thought Dani was going end everything, even with her.
“I just need a moment alone.” Dani remembered her tea – oversteeped, but a life outside the law came with hardships – and took it out of the kitchen. Jesse made room for her when she passed him so that they didn’t touch anywhere.
She paused once she was out of their sight and licked her lips, imagining the taste left there. Jesse had kissed her.
She needed a chance to think about this.
She made her way to the bathroom and took that shower she needed.
Well. She and Jesse were trying this, apparently, she thought as she shampooed her hair. It hadn’t truly occurred to her before – she far preferred women, and he had always been off-limits. She’d resented him for getting Luke, hated him for telling Luke her secret. But that had all worked out in the end, really. She wasn’t angry about any of it anymore.
Look at it from another angle: could they have something together? The only common ground they had was caring for Luke.
Well, and for Daniel. And the heroing. And what that implied: a desire to help, an increased sense of responsibility, a clear view of both the worst of humanity and the best. A more cynical approach than Luke, most days.
Maybe they had more in common than Dani had realized.
Slowly, the idea crept in on her: maybe it was enough to work. Maybe it wouldn’t change what they each had with Luke, maybe they could all manage to pull this off.
Dani wasn’t a stranger to risk. And the reward for this, it seemed, was too great to pass up.
She finished up and toweled herself dry. She brushed out her wet hair and braided it again.
The mirror began clearing of steam, revealing just Dani, no cosmetics, no costume (civilian or hero). She had scars interrupting her white skin, and the black-as-night dragon slithering up between her breasts, her history written across her body. The woman in the mirror had the power to take what she wanted.
And Dani wanted this family she had stumbled into.
There was a tightness in her, a thrum of anticipation. She could do this; they could do this together.
She redressed in the bathroom and went into the hall. There was Jesse, leaning on the wall, staring at a strange piece of art opposite and waiting for her. He turned his head slowly to look her up and down. “So,” he drawled, one corner of his mouth turned up. “You haven’t run off yet.”
“I’m not going to,” she told him. She took a few steps closer, craning her neck to keep eye contact. “We’re trying this.”
“Yeah?” he murmured, not moving an inch. He sounded, very slightly, like he had been worried about it.
Dani waited a few seconds, her face turned up, the invitation clear.
Jesse didn’t budge an inch. He was easily six inches out of her range; she couldn’t kiss him unless she climbed him like a tree, and he knew it.
She pressed in even closer, running her hands from his hard stomach to his shoulders. She couldn’t tug him down if he resisted, not with his strength. “Don’t make me sweep your legs just for a kiss, Jones,” she warned him.
Above her, he smiled with all his teeth and closed the distance between them.
It was a good kiss, hard and wet and like a spark to tinder. She leaned into him, pinning him to the wall, and his hands found her waist and slid up under her arms. His thumbs brushed outward, encroaching slowly on the edge of her breasts—
Peter stuck his masked head around the corner of the hall, already halfway through his sentence. “Hey Iron Fist, so, costumes, something’s going down in Harlem – uh.”
Jesse pulled away and Dani hid her face in his shoulder, smothering giggles. Jesse said, almost casually, “I’ll give her the message. Two minutes.”
Peter was still staring when Dani looked up. “Peter,” she said.
“Right, right, none of my business. I know.” He disappeared back around the corner.
Jesse smacked one more kiss against her mouth. From the corner of one eye, Dani saw Peter’s head reappear, closer to the ceiling. She pointed her finger at him, caught.
“Right!” he called and disappeared.
Dani backed out of Jesse’s grasp, already pulling her hair out of its braid, rewinding it into the low bun she wore under her mask. “Costumes.”
“Costumes,” he agreed with a sigh. “Be safe. Look after Luke, would ya?”
She beamed at him. “Always.”
They got in hours later, banged-up but not bloody. Well, not wearing their own blood. There was the usual sign-in sheet for using the house’s two showers (Peter had titled it the ‘Dibs list’) and Dani was starting to feel the fight in her calves by the time she got out and went to the room she shared with Luke and Jesse. Her hair was down for once, and if she didn’t braid it before she went to sleep it’d turn into a mess…
They were both there, sitting side by side on the bed. Waiting for her.
Dani paused a few steps inside. “Uh. Hello?”
“Close the door,” Luke instructed.
She obediently kicked it shut. At Luke’s continued stare, she turned around and locked it properly.
Jesse smiled when she turn back to them. “So, we want you, Rand. Are you going to come to bed with us?”
“Where’s Daniel?” Dani asked first, like an idiot.
“Wolverine’s babysitting,” Luke told her. “Get over here.”
She went to her lover and kissed her, slow and deep, with intent. They knew each other well, this way; she could feel the way Luke reacted to her, warmed up and held on for the ride.
Dani turned her head, reached for Jesse, and pulled him closer by the back of his head. She kissed him, too, and they were still negotiating these things. The right amount of tongue, the give-and-take.
She broke the kiss and looked at the two of them, waiting for her. Everything they were offering.
“Yes, I’ll come to bed,” she laughed, and pushed Jesse down flat to climb on top of him.
Luke made a confused, twisted face and said, “That’s a weird image.”
“Me straddling your husband? Yes, I’m surprised, too.” Dani sat back and Jesse grabbed her hips, guiding her to roll against him.
“No, I mean – I don’t think I’ve ever seen you with a man. I don’t even know—” She looked worried. “Have you ever been with a man?”
Jesse got his hands under Dani’s shirt, lifting it, clearly working on getting it off of her. “God damn, woman. Does that even matter? We’re attempting sex over here, you’re welcome to join us. Or you can keep killing the mood.”
Dani helped him out by simply stripping out of the shirt and said, “No, it doesn’t matter. But yes, I have been moved to be with a man. Not for a very long while.” She grinned at Jesse between her knees and flicked one of his nipples, already hard under his clothes. “They have to earn it.”
“Right, I’m getting in on this,” Luke decided. She planned ahead and stripped before she tangled up with them.
It was a good thing. It was a glorious thing that made ducking away from fights and living in hiding somewhat easier. Their three lives – four, with Daniel – twisted together in a tight knot, and they weren’t letting each other go for the world.
Good things, Dani has learned, never last.
Luke stalked into the new Avengers hideout and slammed the door. She was furious, her chest heaving in huge gulp of air, her fists ready to break something. Dani had seen her this angry before, during the war, but usually with a fight to spend it on.
“Where are they?” Dani asked, heart sinking. She pushed to her feet. “Are they hurt? What’s wrong?”
“That son of a bitch,” Luke ground out, his voice rising with every word, “took our son to Avengers Tower and registered!”
Dani gasped. It hurt like a punch to the solar plexus. She went to Luke, stood on her toes to reach for her lover’s face and make their eyes meet. “If you go anywhere near there, you’ll be arrested. He’s just…cutting you out like this? How could he? He loves you, he knows you love Daniel, how could—”
“Us, Dani.” Luke brought her arms up, wrapped Dani against her body. The tension was starting to drain out of her, but Dani was afraid it was the only thing keeping her going. “He’s cutting both of us out of Daniel’s life. That’s just… it, I guess.”
Dani nudged her way out of Luke’s embrace and led her to the bed – their bed, she’d picked it out for all three of them – and made her sit down. She stood in front of her and stroked her hand over her hair, rubbed the muscles in her neck. Keeping eye contact, letting Luke know she wasn’t in this alone.
“You’ll be arrested if you try to see them,” she said. “But I won’t.”
“Welcome to Stark Tower. Identification, please,” the security door prompted.
“Danielle Rand,” she told the camera. “I would like to see Jesse Jones and his child.”
The door didn’t let her in, but that’s not what she needed. She crossed her arms and waited on the steps. She knew how she looked; this was her full corporate battle-dress, pencil skirt and proper pumps for once. She saw heads turning out on the street, wondering what she’s doing how here, loitering.
Carol Danvers, in her full Ms. Marvel costume, was the one to come down. She touched down with the smallest scuff of her boot on the concrete. “What on earth are you doing here, Rand? Come to register?”
“Register what?” Dani asked politely.
Carol shook her head. “Your powers.”
Dani gave her the smallest, blandest smile. “I don’t have any powers.”
“I don’t care that your lawyers kept you from being declared a fugitive. Try to keep in mind that I’ve known you for years.”
“I’m here to see Jesse and my godson,” Dani told her patiently. “I don’t have to go up, but I would like him to come down.”
Carol shook her head again and took off, flying straight up.
It took five more minutes for Jesse to come through the front doors. He was pushing a stroller, covered by a blanket to keep the sun out. He walked directly to Dani, put the stroller’s brake on, and crossed his arms. “Fine. I’m here.”
Dani looked at him long and hard. He was wearing a new shirt – hadn’t packed anything when he left. His mouth was set in a grim line, but nothing else showed when a huge upheaval he had caused.
“May I hold him?” she asked, not bothering the mask the longing in her words.
Jesse huffed and bent down to draw the blanket back. He lifted Daniel out of the stroller and offered him to her.
Dani felt him in her arms, the heft and squirming shift of him. “Hello, little one,” she whispered. It felt like it had been longer than two days.
“I just. He’s safer here,” Jesse said, uncomfortably watching them together. “Dani. It’s safe here. I have to think about him.”
“You know exactly what I want to say to you,” Dani stated bluntly. She tucked Daniel to her shoulder, and he dragged droolly kisses against her neck. She held him there, memorized him. “Gods, Jesse. You’re not the only one concerned about him. This was not your decision to make.”
Jesse clenched his jaw. “I had to—”
“You told me that this is my child as much as yours or Luke’s. You are one out of three, and you are outvoted.” Dani could feel, like a train roaring closer, that she might cry soon. It was coming. “We had something. It was working.”
“You have ruined it, Jesse, and I hope you understand what you’re doing to us.” She held Daniel out for him.
He took his son, looking stricken. “It’s only until Luke registers.”
Dani held up her hand, “She will die first. It’s over. You left us.” She watched Jesse settling Daniel in the stroller, covering him again. “Do you have any idea,” she can’t stop herself asking, “what family means to Luke? This is the first time she’s had one since she was wrongly imprisoned—”
“I know. You don’t need to explain my wife to me,” he argued.
“She’s my wife as much as yours,” Dani hissed. She could feel her face flushing, her eyes staring to water. She turned on her heel and walked away.
The Skrulls invaded. It was too many hours without sleep, intense fighting punctuated by anxious mistrust.
But Jesse joined in the fighting. It was a time when all factions united at last, and Jesse was fighting on their side again, and that felt good.
Then Jarvis walked out of the Skrull containment ship and Jesse shouted, “Fucking shit!” and flew for Stark Tower.
“What? What the fuck?” Luke shouted after him. “Hey! I need a lift to the Tower, someone—”
“I’ll take you,” Carol offered immediately, and grabbed her arms.
Dani watched them shrink away and her heart twisted. “I need,” she said, and it was a hoarse croak.
“Hey, Fist,” Peter said at her elbow. “Spidey Airlines has some turbulence issues, but if you want—”
“Yes. Let’s go,” she said. “How would be best? On your back?”
He nodded and bent for her. “Now boarding.”
They arrived just in time to here Jesse shouting, “He was a Skrull! I left the baby with Jarvis and they’re gone!”
“Fuck,” Luke spat.
Peter said, “Oh my god,” and didn’t complain when Dani dismounted a little roughly.
She ran on unsteady legs to Luke – Jesse was farther into the room. Her hands landed on Luke’s shoulders, she dropped beside her and held on. “We’ll find him. Luke? Luke?”
Luke punched the tiled floor, made a crater. She wasn’t crying. Her face was a rictus of unadulterated fury. “That thing has my son,” she whispered. Her body was shaking, her breathing harsh. “That thing…”
Jesse wiped his face and stood up, shoulders back. “I need my costume, and we’re going to see the Fantastic Four,” he decided, voice surprisingly even.
“There’s no traffic in or out of the city, everything’s sealed off,” Richards explained to them. “There’s a good chance that he’s still here. The downside is: this is the largest city in the world. Worse than finding a needle in a haystack, this is a needle that can look and feel like hay.”
“If the only way to find them is to burn this city to the ground,” Luke said slow and measured, “I will set the fire myself.”
When the first day didn’t turn p anything more than a few lost teeth for the criminals they could track down, they decided to call it a night.
“We can’t find him like this,” Jesse told Luke. He was the only one of them prepared to be rational about this. “You’re both running on fumes. When was the last time you slept?”
“Can’t remember back that far,” Dani admitted, rubbing her sore knuckles. Everything was sore. She may have still been bleeding from injuries sustained during the battle royale Skrull fight.
Jesse caught her right hand. It had been in a fist so longer, the fingers were still tightly curled. “You’re a mess,” he told her, and began rubbing out the ache there.
Luke watched them and asked, “Are you going to sleep in Stark Tower, or come home with us?”
Jesse froze, eyes wide. He met his wife’s eyes and asked, “Am I – is that even an option? Can I go home with you?”
With a shrug, Luke turned away and started walking.
Dani put her left hand over Jesses, still on her wrist. “That means, yes, you’re welcome. If you’d like. I can’t imagine… I wouldn’t want you to be alone after a day like this.”
So Jesse came with them, walking through the dark of the new hideout, falling into bed beside them like he’d never left.
Jesse was dressed as Jewel again, after years off the job. He was falling back into it with relish, holding a car over their new source of information, ready to squash him like a bug.
“Tell me where it is,” Luke asked the Skrull nicely – or less menacingly than she had thirty seconds previously. “Where the fuck is the one that took my baby?”
“I don’t knoooooow,” it howled, choking on its own ichor. “I just wanted to live here in peace!”
Luke knocked its skull into the ground. “How about in pieces if you don’t tell me!”
Peter and Dani were watching this scene play out. Peter observed, “It’s like therapy, I think.”
Dani watched the Skrull writhing and nodded. It was certainly cheering her up.
They determined it didn’t know anything and turned it over to one of the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, who summarily executed it.
Dani found Luke in their room, sitting on the bed, staring at her interlocked fingers. The lights were off; she was nearly invisible.
“What’s with the dramatic pose?” Dani asked, going to the closet and peeling at her suit, eager to get into her costume.
“I went to Osborne,” Luke confessed.
Dani dropped her shirt from nerveless fingers. “Tell me that you are joking.”
Luke looked up. Their eyes met.
She wasn’t joking.
It got them Daniel back, and that is the last thing she is going to say about Osborne’s methods.
Jesse flew in with the baby, right through the window that Peter used. He looked around the new hideout with some surprise. “This is what the place looks like in the daylight? Why weren’t we living here instead of Strange’s haunted mansion?”
Dani didn’t answer. Her eyes were riveted on Daniel, devouring the sight of him.
“Just opened up. Technically, we’re squatting,” Peter explained.
Jesse walked into the kitchen, admiring the size, Daniel propped against one shoulder while he unsteadily tried to stand on Jesse’s arm. “Not bad.”
“It’s the whole floor. And Rand over there owns the build – Dani? You okay?”
They both came to her. She realized that she had sunk to her knees, and her face was wet. She couldn’t look away from the child, her child, she hadn’t seen him since she walked away from Jesse in front of Stark Tower before everything happened.
“Jesse,” she sobbed. “Jesse, please, oh gods, can I hold him? Please, I just need to. I just.”
“Dani, Dani, here.” Jesse put his arm around her back, hauled her close, so that they were trapping Daniel between them.
He was alive and safe and unharmed. He was squirming against Dani’s hold, babbling, “Mamamamama!” which had become something like a greeting for her.
She couldn’t stop crying.
She kissed his head and spoke into his skin: “Oh little one, oh my little one, you’re here, I have you, I love you,” a litany of the things she would tell him as he grew up, as he grew to know her.
Luke heavier arm came around her soon enough, holding all of them together, their entire little family. “Everything’s fine,” she said, voice low and rumbling through Dani, soothing her. “We’re all here. We’re not going anywhere. We’ve got baby back and it’s all alright now.”
“I love you idiots so much it’s stupid,” Jesse told them. It was pretty apt.
Somewhere in the room, Peter said, “Oh, that’s your deal. I wondered.” When Dani pointed at him, he said, “Fine, I’m leaving, god.”