"Are you on crack?" Jessica asks calmly.
On the other end of the line, Trish laughs. "I'm totally serious, Jess. It'd be a hell of a show, and I bet he'd do it. You said he likes to screw with people, right?"
Jessica blinks. "If by 'screw with people' you mean 'shoot neo-fascists in their Hydra-hailing faces', then yeah, he loves to screw with people. But I'm not sure the FCC will see it that way."
"It's not like he's going to shoot anybody on air."
"Are you sure about that? Because I'm not. Your sound engineer could be a Hydra mole." Jessica kicks at a bag of garbage, shoving it three inches closer to the curb.
"He didn't put anything about international terrorism on his resumé." There's mirth in Trish's voice. "But I'm not kidding. We could pre-record the interview in a safe place, or have him call in. He wouldn't even have to go near the studio."
Jessica pinches the bridge of her nose with her free hand. This is the problem with having Trish Walker for a best friend. She's fallen out of the habit of not telling Trish things, and unfortunately Trish has delusions of serious journalism.
"This is about Madeleine Albright, isn't it?" Jessica demands. "This is because she wouldn't do your show. Which is a lifestyle show—"
"Fighting fascist terrorists is a hell of a lifestyle."
"You are high! You think getting—" she almost says the Winter Soldier, but that's not a name she likes dropping on a New York sidewalk no matter how many bottles of whiskey they've polished off together by now, "—James on the show will raise your profile and—" She stops walking. "Oh, my God. This isn't about Madeleine Albright. This is about Captain America. You want Captain America to call you, oh my God—" She cackles until she can't breathe, then wheezes, "I just want you to know that's a gross abuse of your power as a member of the fifth estate. I'm ashamed of you, woman!"
"Hey!" Trish is indignant. "This is a serious story, Jess! There are ethical and philosophical implications. And that's before we get into the politics and the legal questions, and—"
"And Captain America's ass," Jessica interrupts.
"It really deserves the Ken Burns treatment," Trish agrees. "Lots of long, slow shots, a deep-voiced narrator ..."
Jessica is cackling again when something drops off a roof and slams into a half-filled dumpster.
"Holy shit!" Jessica yelps. "Trish, I gotta go, somebody just threw a corpse into a dumpster."
"Please tell me you're kiddi—"
She hangs up before Trish can finish warning her, and saunters over to the dumpster in question. As always, the rancid stench of garbage-juice assaults her nose from ten feet away, but she keeps walking. She didn't become a PI out of a lack of curiosity. She leans over to look inside.
There is definitely a body in the dumpster, sprawled on top of the trash with its limbs askew. It's a male body, well-muscled, with chiseled arms sticking out of its purple T-shirt and a rotten banana peel in its crop of sandy hair.
"Hey," Jessica says. "You got something in your hair."
The body blinks its eyes, lifts one hand to the top of its head, and pulls the banana peel away with a disgusted moan. Then it lets its hand flop back into the garbage and it just lies there, staring up at the little piece of sky visible at the top of the alley.
"Okay," it croaks. "This looks bad."
"No shit," Jessica agrees. "You fell off a roof."
"Didn't fall. Jumped." Purple Shirt winces. "Was testing my new—grappling arrow."
"I don't think it grappled," Jessica says wryly, noticing a black bow and a broken arrow ... contraption ... thing ... lying beside him. "You need an ambulance?"
"Nah, 'sokay. I'm an Avenger."
Jessica snorts. "Right. Does that mean Iron Man's gonna come get you?"
"Captain America—actually." Purple Shirt groans as he tries to sit up. "He—worries too much."
"Whatever gets you through the day, pal," Jessica says, and immediately shakes her head because really, pal? It's the kind of thing Bucky would say. She's officially been spending too much time with her new drinking buddy.
"Nobody believes I'm an Avenger," Purple Shirt groans as he eases into a sitting position. "I don't know why that is."
"Because you're sitting in a dumpster?" Jessica guesses.
"That's not a reason." Purple Shirt blinks at her. "You got any idea the places Iron Man's woken up? And the Hulk doesn't even wear a shirt." He sniffs and makes a face. "Or shower."
Jessica looks at him narrowly. "Wait. Are you saying you're really an Avenger?"
"'m Hawkeye." Purple Shirt hefts his bow. "Here, I got my ID—aw, wallet, no."
The fake leather has split, and a couple of cards spill out as he pulls it from his back pocket. Jessica spots a library card, a discount card to a coffee shop, and—
"Ha! Got it!" Purple Shirt holds up a shiny, slightly garbage-stained card with his picture on it. He actually looks worse in the picture—one eye is blacked and swollen shut, and there's something vaguely concussed about his expression. But the card proclaims itself an Avengers ID, and says his name is Clint Barton, codename Hawkeye.
She knows that name.
Trish has done two different shows on the Avengers, and one of them was on the question of whether Clint Barton should be prosecuted for his role in the Chitauri invasion. Jessica only remembers the show in question because Trish paid her time and a half to run around digging up everything available on the guy's service record (not a lot, before the Black Widow made Reddit's entire year), and because the broadcast included Trish blowing her top at a caller who wanted "that hawk guy" strung up from the nearest lamppost. But either way, she's never going to forget the name Clint Barton.
Jessica's brain slams into high gear.
This guy's an Avenger—one of the original ones—papers said he was brainwashed—think I read that in the SHIELD files—he knows Captain America—Captain America is Steve—Bucky's Steve—goddamn I can work with this—
"You," she says deliberately, "look like you could use a beer."
Purple Shirt—Clint—perks up immediately. "I can always use a beer. Or coffee. Coffee's even better."
Jessica shrugs. "I can't help with the coffee, but I'm meeting a friend for a drink about a block away. If he won't buy you a round, I will." And she can, too. Between the pick-up in Alias Investigations and a couple of lucrative PI jobs Bucky has thrown her way, she's relatively flush. Definitely enough to buy a dive-bar beer for a human train wreck.
Clint grins. Half his teeth are bloody. "Awesome."
They walk at Clint's shambling pace. Once he picks the bits of garbage off himself—well, most of them—he chatters amiably the whole way to the bar. Half of it, Jessica ignores: meaningless crap about arrow design and draw and his need to get some tape to label his nocks. He mansplains a little when she doesn't answer, like she doesn't know what nocks are.
Of course she knows what nocks are. She spent two weeks each of four summers at ritzy private summer camps with Trish, which meant archery and horseback riding, all day, every day. Riding, because trail rides got Trish out of the camp and away from most of the Patsy groupies; archery, because nobody asked Jessica about her dead family when she had a weapon in her hands.
But Clint's an okay guy, she decides. Definitely too much of a disaster for her taste, but a well-meaning disaster. He might even be good for Bucky. God knows the guy has a magnetic attraction to walking car crashes.
Come to think of it, that might be why Bucky's still drinking with her.
It's been a couple of months since Jessica delivered her final report on all things Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. But the calls and texts keep coming, usually in the middle of the night. They meet every week or so for Jessica's regular attempts to get Bucky wasted, even though all they've achieved so far is a state Bucky described as "kinda buzzed, I think?" Somewhere in there he's somehow gone from Barnes to Bucky, and Jessica finds herself looking forward to the boozing sessions, and not just because he insists on picking up the tab with looted Hydra cash. Bucky's one of the few people she's met with an even lower tolerance for bullshit than she has. And she's not a hundred percent sure why he's still putting up with her, but it's probably something to do with the fact that she already knows all his hideous secrets and she still shows up to do shots with him. There can't be a lot of people who'll drink with the Winter Soldier and aren't Steve Rogers.
"Wow," Clint says as they step into the bar. "This place is a dump." He pronounces the word like somebody else would say palace.
"You should feel right at home," Jessica replies, and signals to the bartender for a beer, her usual bottle of Jack, and a sealed bottle of Four Roses for Bucky. The bartender knows by now to stock it just for them.
They settle into the usual table, Jessica steering Clint away from Bucky's customary seat against the wall. Clint scowls at being denied the best position in the room, and he stubbornly turns his chair to enable him to watch the door as he nurses his beer.
It's less than five minutes before Bucky appears in the doorway, and stops dead.
"Holy shit," Clint hisses, and his chair squawks as he shoves it back across the sawdust-encrusted floorboards.
Jessica yanks him back down before he can draw whatever's hidden in his waistband. "Sit. He's not gonna hurt you unless you start it."
"You seem really sure of that," Bucky remarks from the doorway.
Jessica scoffs. "You carried an orphaned kitten around in your jacket for like a week. You want me to be scared of you? Try harder."
Bucky glares at Clint. Clint tries to glare back, but he's still concussed enough that he ends up glaring at the wall instead.
Jessica hefts the bottle of Four Roses. Bucky turns his glare on her, but it doesn't last. With an irritated huff, he steps into the barroom.
At which point Jessica sees the man standing behind him.
The guy's smaller than Bucky, so maybe it's no surprise that he was able to hide. But he's not a lot smaller. He's wearing the rumpled remains of a gray suit and tie, and his tousled reddish-brown hair is sticking up like he doesn't own a comb. He's got a face like a lost puppy, under a few scratches and a smudge of dirt, and a sheepish expression like he's not sure whether he's allowed on the sofa.
And his eyes aren't focusing, and his pupils are fixed, not dilating even as he steps into the darkness of the bar. He's totally blind.
"Over here," Jessica says, and the blind guy orients himself toward her voice with a faintly apologetic smile.
Bucky drops into his chair with a grunt and picks up his bottle. The blind guy follows him, and somehow pulls up the one remaining empty chair without needing direction.
"Sit up straight," Bucky tells him as he sits down. "Your mama didn't raise a putz."
Smirking, the blind guy sits up.
"This is Clint," Jessica says, clapping a hand on Clint's shoulder so the blind guy knows who she's talking about. Clint hisses in pain. "I found him in a dumpster."
Bucky snorts. "That's where I found Matt." He jerks his head at the blind guy and opens the Four Roses.
"Technically," says Matt mildly, "it was a recycling bin."
"Po-tay-to," Bucky says, taking a swig and sliding the bottle to Matt. "Po-tah-to." Matt catches the bottle perfectly and takes a more dignified sip. "I know what my plus one's doing here, Jones—what's with yours?"
Jessica shrugs. "I found him in a dumpster. He voluntarily associates with Steve Rogers. I figure he could use some adult supervision. That is your specialty, isn't it?"
"I don't need a babysitter—" Clint begins.
"Yes, you do," Jessica and Bucky say at the same time.
"So what's with Mister Magoo over here?" Jessica adds, ignoring the affronted look on Clint's face and the horrified one on Bucky's.
"Well, for starters, I'm blind, not deaf," Matt pipes up, voice dripping with false cheer.
"Is that why you're sitting next to an internationally feared assassin and not freaking out?" Clint asks him.
"No, that's the alcohol," Matt replies. "And maybe the concussion." He makes a face. "And he's not as scary as my secretary."
Jessica expects Bucky to complain about that, but the guy just shrugs. "I've seen her argue with people. He's right." He takes another swig. "And as for why he's here, I figured you need to meet him. He goes around hitting assholes with his face, and occasionally his fists."
"Usually the fists," Matt interjects.
"Your face says otherwise."
"Excuse me," Matt retorts. "I jumped out the window of an exploding warehouse. How was your morning?"
"See what I mean?" Bucky asks, and swallows more whiskey. "Plus—tell 'em what you do for a dayjob, Matty."
"I'm a lawyer," Matt says, a bit grudgingly.
"And he got blown up," Bucky continues, "because he was doing a little investigating on one of his cases—"
"Wait." Jessica cuts him off. "Matt? Matt Murdock?"
"Guilty," Matt sighs.
Jessica arches an eyebrow at him. "Jeri Hogarth's told me about you. She says you don't suck."
Matt's eyebrows shoot toward his hairline. "Seriously?"
"Well, her exact words were, 'He's enough trouble that it's better to settle out of court', but coming from her, that's like—"
"Don Corleone calling you a man of respect. Ha!" Matt sits back in his chair and snorts. "So you're Jessica Jones. I've been trying to find you. My firm needs a PI. Ideally one who can handle," he rolls his eyes, "the interesting cases."
"Like being Daredevil?"
"Never ask a lawyer something like that. I'll talk you into the floor."
"See," Bucky says smugly, and takes another pull. "One of us brings nice gifts to the party."
"I still have no idea why I'm here," Clint complains.
Bucky passes over the bottle.
Clint takes a swig. "But I'm suddenly caring less." He squints at Bucky as he sets the bottle down again. "You know Cap's looking for you, right? Like, tearing the planet apart, while you're sitting here drinking expensive bourbon?"
Bucky gives him his best dead-eyed Winter Soldier stare. "You gonna rat me out?"
"Depends. Can I get a beer?"
Jessica signals for one.
"Aw, beer, yes!" Clint crows as his drink arrives. He holds the bottle out to clink with Bucky. "A toast. To the absolute shittiness of mind control."
Startled, Bucky clinks with him. Jessica sticks her own bottle in. Chink.
"Great," Matt says dryly. "Am I the only person at this table who's never had an evil asshole steering his brain?"
"Somebody's gotta be the designated driver," Jessica replies.
Matt snorts and starts to laugh. It's surprisingly high-pitched, almost a giggle.
Between the four of them, they polish off a frightening amount of whiskey—although Jessica has to admit that's mostly Bucky, who drinks his Four Roses like it's water. And they talk.
Matt and Bucky turn out to share a passion for boxing. Clint and Bucky swap sniper shop talk. Jessica trades asshole-client stories with Matt and argues about pizza joints with Clint. Matt and Clint compare ridiculous injuries and argue about coffee and dogs. Jessica and Bucky drink and kibitz.
They make lists of dead people the snipers wish they could shoot through the eye (Loki, Kilgrave, Alexander Pierce). They discover that Clint and Matt have been getting patched up by the same overworked ER nurse (somebody named Claire, who's apparently some kind of saint, ninja, or ninja saint, and eventually turns out to be the same woman who helped Jessica with Luke after Kilgrave made him blow up his bar). They agree that Jessica has the most disturbing weirdo-neighbor stories, but Clint has the funniest. They drink some more.
After an hour, things get downright chummy. Matt offers to defend Bucky if he ever gets into legal trouble, either from blowing up Hydra or because of his history. Bucky grudgingly agrees to give Clint a working phone number so they can go to the range sometime, although he sounds more interested in meeting Clint's goofy half-blind dog. Clint suggests he and Matt go to the movies together next time Clint's hearing aids are on the blink—Matt can repeat all the dialogue for him, Clint can describe the images, and they can see how fast they get tossed out. Jessica talks more about Kilgrave than she's done in months; Clint gives her an actual goddamn hug, and it doesn't suck.
Two hours in, they're betting on an arm-wrestling match between Bucky and Jessica (it's a draw) and Clint is beating Matt at darts by an incredibly slim margin. This leads to a plan to take Matt to another bar and use him to hustle assholes at pool. Jessica and Clint cackle all the way through the strategy session while Matt sits by smirking and Bucky complains that he's beaten up enough people in bars for several lifetimes, thank you very much.
They discover they're all orphans, and drink to the memories of whatever parents they had who didn't suck—George and Winifred Barnes, Jack Murdock, Alisa and Brian Jones, and Clint's big brother, Barney.
Matt and Clint drink themselves into happy stupors, and Bucky and Jessica end up lugging them home, Jessica reeling a little herself.
"Can you even get drunk?" she slurs at Bucky while Matt leans companionably on her arm. "I'm starting to wonder."
"I dunno," Bucky replies. He's got a passed-out Clint slung over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "But it turns out I can get happy."
Jessica grins. "I'll drink to that."