Icebreaker

February 17, 2017:

Donuts are the best icebreaker for mysterious masked ninja men who save your life. So Jane thinks, anyway— and she winds up potentially picking up a new side job as an armorer. Bucky accompanies because sitting in Hell's Kitchen alone with a box of donuts is the silliest thing.

Hell's Kitchen, New York

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Steve Rogers

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

If there is one thing Jane Foster is learning, it's that life does not magically resume after trauma. At least not for her, not to anything safe, or sane, or close to familiar, and no matter what happens, she awakens from each too-short, unwanted, sometimes open-eyed sleeps hoping that somehow everything is back to normal. Or at least she is. But it isn't, and she's not, and she spends the last couple of weeks hiding in her apartment and going quietly necrotic with her own holding pattern.

Soon her too-small, cramped, Brooklyn apartment gets unbearable. She is frankly terrified of going outside, out there too full of unknowns, but it suddenly feels overwhelmingly worse to be trapped in a home that's now become a cage. So Jane finds a reason to go out. Visiting one of her rescuers feels right, but exhausting. Random errands — she has none to do, other than work, really, and work is — not now. It's a good night for the stars, because she knows, because she always checks the reports, but no, no, no. So she chooses something else. Something safe. Something she's had in the back of her mind, meaning to do for some time now.

It's a moderately late hour at night that Bucky Barnes will find Jane pulling on her winter coat, hunting for handbag — staring down at it dubiously like she hasn't seen it for weeks. She's going out, she says. Not too long, but she'll have her phone. Where is she going?

Oh, Hell's Kitchen.

What follows is slightly milder than an argument, but sure as hell is not a pleasant discussion.

There's someone, someone of a far, distant memory that Jane hasn't forgotten. Someone both of them barely know, but is more than worthy of a — what is it, exactly? A hopeful, chance meeting? A semi-scheduled appointment? A worried check-up on a strange man who wears an eyeless mask and appears to want to save people from the Russian mob? Either way, she doesn't want to evict him from her memory without a proper thank-you. And what better way is there to try to find a masked, nameless, probably-vigilante than to return to his haunts, take a seat, bring along some Krispy Kremes, and wait a bit?

At least Jane Foster thinks it's a sound idea. And unable to be talked out of it, here she is, smack-dab back in Hell's Kitchen, finding some rusted transit bench and making a night of it, a box of donuts in her lap. And a very unimpressed super-soldier at her side.

The first thing Bucky had thought, hearing 'I'm going out,' was relief. He'd been watching Jane over the past few weeks with concern, noting how she withdrew into herself and calcified into her apartment. It was the opposite of his own coping mechanism— to go out as often as possible, to rediscover freedom of movement and walk around free and uncaged. He understood people had different ways of dealing with things, but nonetheless he did not think it was healthy for her to sit in seclusion and refuse contact with the outside world.

After the relief, however, came curiosity. Where is she going? Oh, just Hell's Kitchen.

That, Bucky did not consider a healthy coping mechanism at ALL.

After a brief semi-argument as to why she was even going there and what she expected to do and why exactly she thought she was going to just walk out there without him, Bucky agreed to let her go properly thank the strange eyeless-mask vigilante of Hell's Kitchen on the condition that he accompany her. This had triggered some resistance, but ultimately Jane had given in.

Thus it is that not just one, but two marks sit on that rusty transit bench. Aware of what she's trying to do, Bucky has attempted to make himself look as nonthreatening as possible, which is difficult for a super-soldier, but accomplishable if he sits very still and wears very civilian clothes that cover up his arm.

"How have you made it to the age of thirty without dying?" he eventually asks. "The last person I knew who liked to look for trouble this much was Steve, and he had me looking after him most of his life."

'That's the best question I've heard all week, and I've sat through three cross-examinations.'

So thinks the Man in the Mask as he pauses in his scale of still, STILL frigid rooftops, after hearing a voice from below that triggers months-old memories. He'd remember the voice of the man who gave him one of the more surreal fights of his young career anywhere. At the time, the voice carried a toneless, clinical sort of brutality, as it deigned to a truce and negotiated over the lives of the fallen men around them. There may be new nuances, but it's the same man.

And where he goes, Matt expects, the young woman who nearly got riddled with bullets on her last visit to Hell's Kitchen likely followed. His jaw sets; eyes practically roll beneath the sock. He listens, then, for the clink of gunmetal, the footfalls of would-be assailants; the evil Nazi sorcerers; any of or any other permutation of the calamity he's pretty sure follows Jane Foster like a Biblical plague or a personal storm cloud. Finding none — immediately, at least — he parkours to the appropriate wall and makes his descent at a leisurely pace, quietly and deftly scaling ladders and fire-escapes down the old brick wall.

He should not revisit these two. Doing so last time nearly gotten him killed. But he's a curious cat who apparently has a few lives to spare. Down he goes — eavesdropping all the while.

It looks, hears, seems to just be the two — no Russian mobs, no Nazi sorcerers, no open portals to other worlds. Just a man and a woman on a bench. Maybe, just for tonight, Hell's Kitchen's door comes painted with lamb's blood.

Though one can never be sure. Far down below, sits innocuously the tenth plague of Jane Foster, dressed carelessly in jeans and her familiar, floofy-hooded winter coat, her head slightly turned to veer an irritated look over and up at the man at her side.

The words that come from his mouth bring an agitated quickening of her heartbeat.

"Did you just compare me to Steve 'I jump from planes' Rogers? That is such an unfair assessment," she retorts, in one has to be one of the most ridiculous conversations among these emptied, crumbling, dangerous streets. "This is just rote statistical probability. If there is no way else to conceiveably find a man without a name or any kind of identification, then just err to what worked before. If he noticed me once, he'll do it again. It puts the ball in his court." Jane blows out a breath that mists briefly, visibly in the air. Then she looks away, clearly pouting though she'd attest she's certainly not, put out that her grand, get-out-of-the-house idea isn't going over well. "You really didn't have to come. Especially in this sort of mood."

As for their eavesdropped, she remains none the wiser. Jane of ye-olde-mean average-senses hears nothing.

Even Bucky of ye-olde-super-soldier senses hears nothing, not at first. The Man in the Mask is just that good. Bucky is also significantly distracted by Jane 'No Sense' Foster. His eyes narrow at her as she inquires whether she really just got compared to Steve 'jump from planes' Rogers.

"We all jumped from planes back in the war," he grumps. "Sure did /my/ time in jump school. My jump wings're probably lost somewhere forever in Italy, though."

He folds his arms. To the keen senses of Matt Murdock, the familiar sound of the metal arm— articulating quietly beneath his sleeve— is quite audible. "Besides, it's usually flattery if I'm comparing someone to Steve." The sound of Bucky's voice is also extremely familiar, though the /tone/ of it is not. The last time he heard it it was the frozen, emotionless voice of a killer, wholly indifferent to human life. Now? Now it sounds like someone normal. As normal as 'someone with the voice of a thirty year-old talking about 'looking after Captain America'' can, anyway.

He rolls his eyes as Jane starts getting into 'statistical probabilities, however. There is rustling, then the sound of a box opening. Bucky has stolen a donut.

"This is my tax for being here making sure you don't get killed," he explains, "before your sock friend shows up." There is a pause as Jane insists he didn't even HAVE to come— the /look/ he's giving Jane can no doubt be imagined— and then Bucky grudgingly admits, "Well, I should probably apologize for hitting him."

/By that logic, lady, isn't the Russian mob as likely to find you as I am?/ Matt thinks, even if he admires her gumption.

He also gets a fair number of answers as he traverses veritcal and horizontal planes that lie between them. Of course they come with an even greater number of questions, too. He was one of the few boys who never had a phase of Steve Rogers worship. In his younger years his dad was a one-god pantheon, and later he was politically radicalized enough by his upbringing among those liberal Jesuits that 'Captain America' came with a host of complications. But Matt still knows who Rogers /is/, and to say the stated association between the metal-armed man and a figure out of legend and unstuck in time complicates matters is an understatement.

Also, /sock/? It's not a sock. But we'll get to that.

"Not necessary," Matt tells the Winter Soldier on the matter of apologies once he's decided he's in earshot of them, the echo of his voice literally bouncing off the walls of the narrow alleyway that adjoins the couple.

If anything mitigates Jane's own sulking, it's Bucky's brief mention, memory of the war. She turns a glance back on him, brief but meaningful, and her free hand lifts to impart a quick touch to his chin.

But that still doesn't save him from comparing her to someone who probably backflips out of moving planes. "Don't roll your eyes at me. You can't argue math."

She's probably conveniently ignoring the appending bit of logic that a certain Murdock has not missed.

The night breaks with a sharp, annoyed cry following the rustle of that box. Jane sighs with theatrical displeasure as Bucky helps himself to a donut. "They're not for /you/. I can get you your own box on the way back. And I'm not going to get killed. And he's not a sock friend. I don't think that was a /sock/. He's a /person/ who deserves an actual thank-you. /And/ —"

Bucky says he should probably apologize for hitting the guy. The superficial armaments ventilate out of Jane, who in half a heartbeat goes from surprised, to pained, to worried, to understand. Her lips part, probably to speak his name —

— when someone else answers.

Any initial reactions, severe or not, will all be Bucky Barnes, a man with far quicker reaction time, battle sense, and sound localization than her. For her own part, Jane turns where she's sitting, eyes rounding, tensing up — nervous in a cursory sense, but surprised, alert. The surge of hope hits her so hard she briefly forgets the cold.

Talking about the war seems to leave Bucky simultaneously morose and fondly reminiscent, as if simultaneously recalling a harrowing experience— and perhaps one of the few times in his life he had real purpose and meaning, fighting alongside his best friend. Sensing that, there is a moment where Jane goes quiet, touching his chin; he leans briefly into the touch, but says nothing.

He just rolls his eyes at her math, a moment later.

Even if the thought of the war is not necessarily always fully unpleasant, he still doesn't dwell on it, choosing instead to pilfer one of the donuts as his payment for sitting out in the freezing cold of Hell's Kitchen waiting for a sock guy. Except it wasn't a /sock/, Jane says— amidst a lot of other lecturing that he isn't listening to. Bucky shrugs, already having finished most of the donut while she was talking. "/Looked/ like a sock," he says. "But it was dark and there was a lot of fighting, I admit."

He sobers soon enough, thinking about that fighting. How willing he was to execute every single man, even unconscious and defenseless, just on the /off/ chance it might be necessary to cover his tracks. It troubles him visibly, thinking of the man the Winter Soldier was— /is/— and how the Soldier has not gone away. How that has become part of who he is, a mindset he can no longer fully distinguish from his own, because even if he did not want to do the things he did, his body carries every memory of actually doing it.

He should apologize for hitting him, at least, he starts, completely not expecting someone to /answer/—

That voice bolts Bucky to his feet in an instant, humor dropped, the rasp of metal against leather heralding a gun pulled from its concealed holster. Senses like Matt's can perceive the moment when James Barnes and the Winter Soldier, heretofore two distinct entities, suddenly sound exactly the same. Two minute clicks herald safeties releasing, the quiet hiss of parting air indicating the swing of the gun until it points towards the origin of that voice.

Then Bucky processes what actually got said. There is a hesitation, then the audible sound of the gun lowering and safeties being re-engaged. "You sneak up on people pretty good," he allows, grudgingly impressed.

Safe to say Matt caught Bucky's bolting, the unholstering of that gun. Also safe to say it informs his lingering wariness about a man who was all set to execute a dozen men on whim. "That /is/ necessary," the disembodied voice says of Bucky's quip about sneaking — some scant heartbeats after the safety is re-engaged, and right before a shadow steps out from around the corner from whence the voice came. Without the tumult of an actual life-or-death brawl, Matt's form comes into starker definition as he stands there on the dimly lit sidewalk. The form-fitting black shirt, the cargo pants, the dark wrap of fabric that obscures the top half of his features and leaves only a hard-set mouth and a pale, stubbled jawline visible to the eyes. Like a shadow, he's long-cast, with the hulking stance he takes allowing him to occupy more space than his average height and frame would otherwise allow.

"We have got to stop meeting like this," the vigilante says with a twitch at the corners of his mouth, his voice all gallows humor. He cocks his head to one side. Yes, yes, those really are donuts he smells. "What brings you to my neck of the woods?"

It's not often — if ever really — that someone sneaks up on James Barnes. Not many at least in Jane's brief, intense window of knowing him.

When he reacts, so does she, not in an innate reflex, but a slowly-learning symmetry that is attuned to his initial instincts and reflexive, gut actions. He simply moves so quickly and immediately that she goes still at his side, trusting that movement, doing nothing to want to fight its far more powerful current and instead be carried along — to go with his momentum. When Bucky draws the gun, Jane glances in its same direction, following that steely aim until her dark eyes fasten where shadow knots to disguise and cover the distant shape of a man.

Of course, where Bucky's first instinct is cold caution, Jane's is fiery hope.

The stand-off, however, is brief and quicky-remedied. The safety back on that gun, and with enough… trust? she wonders, has enough faith to think so, that dressed-black, masked man of their memory shows himself.

When the adrenaline slowly cools from her blood, Jane gentling back down off that frenetic first moment of pointed guns, she slips a brief glance towards Bucky, her eyes a bit more brighter than he's seen them in days. See, I'm right, Jane says in that glance.

Her eyes rivet back on the masked man. He was definitely watching them. Probably overhearing. Did he hear James call his mask a sock? Jane hopes not, because that's embarrassing. The odd things she thinks when she's sitting on a half-busted, rickety bench in Hell's Kitchen at Stupid O'Clock, a box of donuts on her lap meant for a vigilante. "You did," she answers, with a frank honesty. "It's pretty deliberate this time, though you've probably already caught that." Jane's heartbeat is slow, quickly calm, even in the face of pulled guns and people melting out of shadows. Just a hitch to her rate, here and there, the palpitations of someone chronically without sleep. "We, um, didn't forget about you. We brought donuts."

The sneaking is necessary, Murdock replies dryly, even as Bucky reholsters his gun. An audible sound escapes the former assassin's throat, sounding like the ghost of a laugh, though there's no humor in it. "I suppose it is. No, I insist— the apology's necessary." And it probably tacitly covers the sock quips, too. "I wasn't… exactly… myself at that time. And you were helping Jane, here."

We've got to stop meeting like this, the masked man remarks. This time Bucky does laugh, though it's exceedingly brief and kept low in the back of the throat. "Blame her. Only way she could think to find you," he says, with a tone of voice that suggests Bucky sure is. He casts a sardonic look at Jane's 'I told you so' stare, though his gaze noticeably softens when he notices how much brighter her eyes are than they have been in some time.

"She brought donuts," Bucky continues, grim. "I just brought her in one piece."

There's a certain shrewd way he's looking at Murdock, though of course the masked man won't exactly be able to see it. Just detect it, maybe, in the way Bucky's silence goes on a little long, audibly thinking, before he remarks, "Background in boxing, unless I miss my guess. You're good."

Jane says she didn't forget him — and that they did, indeed, bring donuts. It's not the first time anyone has expressed gratitude to Matt for his efforts; when he sticks around long enough to let them do anything of the kind it's fairly commonplace. But it's safe to say no one has ever gone to such lengths, at such risk, and after such a long amount of time after those efforts. Matt finds himself strangely affected by this seriously odd couple.

"You shouldn't have," he says to Jane, dry enough that it could be a double-entendre, but weighted on the side of actual sincerity rather than arch remonstration for putting herself at risk. "But… thanks," he says, and seems to mean it. He takes a step forward, then another, and another. It may be the donuts that draw him, or it may be the very practical concern of getting close enough to Bucky to take him out should he go somehow madman haywire; he wouldn't last long against a good marksman at medium range, supersenses or no. Whatever the mix of reasons that brings him slowly forward, his attention is turned to Bucky. "Don't worry about it," he answers to the apology, easily enough. To say he's hard to read in the dark, and with the mask, is an understatement — but something in his frame suggests surprise when the Winter Soldier critiques his fighting style. Escrima, muy thai, judo, akido — it's all there — but he'd be hard pressed to deny boxing was at its core. "Yeah, you've got some left hook," he quips as he slowly closes to an actual conversational radius. "I always hated southpaws." A beat, and then a wry: "No offense."

He wasn't exactly himself at the time, explains Bucky.

Jane reaches over to place her hand over his closest knee, her first and genuine instinct to impart some sort of grounding touch. It's an airy remark the man says, but sources something so deep — something she's vastly aware — that in that moment even she wants to provide a reminder he's not alone.

Of course, then Bucky lapses back into being the sassy thing he is. She imparts him an exasperated look. "You did not bring me in one piece," she huffs back, indignant.

Jane's eyes whip back on the masked man whose name or face she doesn't even know. "He didn't bring me in one piece," she confirms, just to set the record straight. "It was an uneventful subway ride, and we're the only ones out here on the street. Other than you. And, maybe, shouldn't have. But did." There's an audible smile in her voice. "No take-backs."

But with agitation that's largely superficial, the woman goes silent when Bucky reaches out, in his way, to the vigilante, if just to comment on the way he fights. Jane doesn't roll her eyes, or engage that with any skepticism; on the contrary, her silence is curious and encouraging, because James needs to engage more. And what's even more interesting — the observation seems to hit the mark, and get something back.

She listens, fascinated, even if the boxing terms go over her head. The quip on the left arm — that she gets. Jane uses that time, in her way, to get her own bearings, to watch with a certain hope as the black-clad man, with that eyeless face mask, steps slowly, but purposefully closer. It's impossible to say what draws him; Jane's own hope just wants to believe it's a human being's willingness not to want to be entirely alone.

There's an audible shift, familiar, the slow, telegraphed movement of Jane shifting up, standing to her not-so-significant height to want to proffer that ridiculous box of donuts forward. There's an earnestness to her, the way she steps forward, though weighted with an awareness, aware she's still an unknown element, and not wanting to trigger either of these men into some second bout of fighting. The once was well enough. "I'm Jane Foster," she introduces herself formally. "And this is Bucky. Thank you for saving my life."

Bucky watches the slow, cautious way the masked man dares closer. It does not surprise him— how else is a masked man going to behave other than cagey?— but there is another element he can recognize to it, an element of wariness to be caught at an unfavorable range should the Winter Soldier return. Should the man before him go mad again.

It's something that bothers him enough he looks down, though Jane's hand on his knee does help a bit with the shame. So does the 'don't worry about it.'

It helps enough that he goes right back to sassing. "I did bring her in one piece," he grumps. "We're the only ones out here because I'm here."

He lapses into a brief silence, then, studying Matt. Eventually, as if in a peace offering, he reaches out in the way he best knows how: a commentary on the shared aspects of how they fight. Matt's reply about southpaws gets a wry half-smile, too much heavy weight behind the reason for Bucky's left-handedness for the rest of the smile to make a showing. "Yeah, wasn't always. Wasn't when I first started boxing. But in the end, you use what you got." And he does have a nasty left hook. His left arm articulates a muted murmur, as if aware it is being discussed.

He lapses back into silence, however, as Jane stands to approach. His blue eyes watch carefully, though he seems ready to trust her getting closer to the masked man. "Bucky Barnes," he adds, when he's introduced. "You look out for this area?" He glances around, frowning. "Would have expected it to improve more since the 40s…"

This is, of course, the point where Matt should introduce himself, whether by name or some suitably impressive moniker. But as Jane may have gathered from the last time she asked him point blank, 'What can I call you?' said moniker doesn't exist. This despite the best efforts of one nearby P.I. to give him one. So he simply offers a: "Nice to meet you both," and in tones deeper and more resonant than he allows himself in his suit-and-tie other life. A beat, another twitch at the corner of his stubble-framed lips, and he's reaching out to accept the offered box of donuts. "…and you're welcome, Jane. Like I said that night — I'm just glad you're alright."

Matt observes the interplay between the pair in his own singular, idiosyncratic way: the nuances of their voices, the pace of their breath, the fluctuating rhythms of the heartbeats. He sees Bucky with his old (though still-open) wounds, she with some fresh ones readily detectable behind the almost neighborly gestures and smiles. He regards Barnes, letting out a puff of rolling white breath when he comments on the sad state of Hell's Kitchen. "Yeah, I'm working on that part," he says, and if there's a wryness in his voice it's muted to the bleakest of greys. "Night by night."

A beat, and Matt decides he might as well broach it: "Bucky Barnes is kind of a well known name," he says carefully. "Your parents have a thing for the Greatest Generation, or?"

Or?

Even without sight, it's impossible to miss, avoid, or not be fireball-engulfed in the way Jane Foster lights right up when that box of donuts is accepted. It's so simple a gesture, so takeaway and pointless in the grand scheme of things — a world filled with septic neighbourhoods, of men forced to wear masks to show their true natures, of lost soldiers resurrected into a lifetime of memory they do not want — but to her, it means so much.

She doesn't miss how failure to give them a name, whether it's that of a man or some moniker those capes often possess, but Jane neither questions or presses it. She cannot disguise any of her curiousity, just to look at the vigilante, biting briefly down on her bottom lip like she's stifling some deluge of questions, but in the end, she respects privacy. And tonight is about prying. It's about — well, she isn't sure. Trying to make some connection she thinks is worth the risk and effort.

But the calorie-laden gift given, and peripherally aware the watchful way Bucky is, Jane does her part to sit back down on the bench, not wanting to push anything. She doesn't feel that nervous — felt more nervous /inside her own home/, thinking constantly of the unknown — but she wants to help ensure this dialogue between the two men stays relaxed, best without her getting a little reckless in the mix. Surely the first and one time was enough. "I'm totally alright," Jane confirms warmly, though it may not be a totally accurate statement these days, but she won't get into that.

Especially when the masked man comments on Bucky's name. A smile gentles her mouth, and Jane passes a quick glance toward the man in question, warm. "He is the Bucky Barnes. The one and only."

Bucky doesn't say anything about the lack of name, ignoring it politely as if there weren't a gaping hole in the usual conversational back-and-forth. It's probably touchy for him to even be giving his own, given the fame behind it— Captain America and his Howling Commandos are the stuff of history books— and given the questions that will inevitably arise when people find the dead best friend of Steve Rogers isn't quite so dead… and isn't visibly a centenarian. More on that later.

For now, he just studies the vigilante before him with interest. Obviously trained, obviously fluent in a number of different martial arts, and blessed with the kind of physicality and grace to stitch them all together. A cape, for sure, but with a very specific purview. And with a rather entry-level set of gear. "Night by night," he repeats. "It's a big job. Don't know much about what this part of town is like nowadays, but organized crime always was a problem before."

In deference to his nerves, Jane sits back down after delivery of the donuts. There's plenty for Matt to read between them: a great many small cues that add up to a picture of two damaged, nervous individuals leaning slightly upon one another to find a way to face the world again. There's additional cues from Bucky, now that it's quiet and there's nothing between Matt's senses and the other man. Most humans have bodies that putter along well enough; Bucky Barnes has one that purrs with the efficiency of a finely-tuned engine.

That, added to the name, is enough to draw out the inevitable question. Bucky looks briefly startled— so fresh off the ice, with his last coherent memory being dying in the snow in 1945, he has had little time to truly grasp or acclimate to the idea that his name is anything people would recognize. Perhaps sensing him off-balance, Jane helpfully answers in the affirmative for him.

He seems a little embarrassed. "…Long story. 'Greatest' Generation, huh," he settles on saying, shoving his hands in his pockets. "That's flattering. Was it because of the war? We only did our duty."

His cants his head at Matt, his gaze sweeping Hell's Kitchen. "Seems to me people haven't stopped putting themselves on the line for the right thing."

He'd guessed Jane and Bucky's answer before they ventured it; what with all the Steve Rogers talk. And he's becoming slowly inured to Weird Shit beyond his own strange saga of heightened senses and blind martial arts masters; what with battles with aliens and near deaths by wizard gangsters and magical healing and love triangles with super-powered PIs and cyborgs. Still, it's outlandish enough that it does part his lips and leave him without words. "Huh," he says after that beat. "Yeah, the war, the Depression, all of it. History's given you all an A+ for perserverence."

The praise Bucky gives him doesn't go unregistered. His chin dips ever so slightly, leaving his features even more obscured. It's hard for Matt to square the seemingly decent guy across from him with the cold-blooded killer who was ready to shoot a bunch of unconscious (though admittedly murderous) men in the head just a few months ago. He reads in a hundred different non-visual cues the perfect hum of the man's body, paired with the a psyche weighed down by everything that body has done. He reads the shame that registered just moments ago; in that, at least, he senses something like a kindred spirit. It prompts him to tack on to that A+ comment: "Seems like it was deserved."

This is unfamiliar territory for him. He rarely forms close personal connections with the mask off, and the actual conversations he's had with it on he can count on a single hand. Even his rooftop talk with Jess had been born of their association in the daylight hours. But he does like these two.

"As for organized crime," Matt adds, an almost cat-like cant to his head as he listens to the sounds of the streets. "Some things never change, or change too slow. It's not like when the Italians or Irish were running things wholesale — it's fragmented, but —" a beat, and then an almost perplexed: "But more resilient than you'd think." Almost, he thinks to himself, as if there were some invisible adhesive holding the various pieces together.

And then he's clearing his throat before lifting up the box he is still holding, now somewhat awkwardly. "No way I can eat these all by myself," he says to the pair.

The masked man takes it a lot better than Jane imagines. Not that even she can stretch skepticism that far, herself; she's been months into her tenure in New York City had has nearly ever one of her assumptions challenged. And this was after an Asgardian god fell out of the sky and into her truck (twice).

She waits with either the patience or curiousity whether he'll have questions — because who wouldn't have questions about a long-dead war hero sitting on a random bench, young and very much alive — but none come. Takes it all in stride. Certainly not a native New Yorker as it appears the two men are, Jane listens quietly, fidgetting a little with her mittened fingers. Something of a shy soul, maybe even toeing into the realm of awkward, she seems content to let conversation move past her, and passively absorb the information that goes by. She's just glad her strange idea seems to even be working this far. Contrary to her stern assertions, even she was doubting herself.

There's no way he can eat these himself, Matt concurs. Jane looks a little guilty around the corners. "Sorry. I wasn't sure which kind you like. So I got… everything. But there's a solution to that."

She reaches and noisily pats the still-empty part of the bench, her lips twitching up with a hopeful smile. Come join their weirdness. "I know someone who can help you." It's a certain super-soldier who would have emptied the box if she hadn't put a stop to it. "Take a load off for a bit. It's not like you have to clock out, right?" Jane pauses a moment. "So you do this alone? Uh, sorry if I'm prying."

Bucky seems keenly aware of just how outlandish it all is, judging by the way his presence seems to pull in on itself a bit, embarrassment audible in the shift of his stance as weight transfers from one leg to the other. He turns it into a walk back to the bench, the super-soldier apparently relaxed enough now to get back off his feet and resume his seat beside Jane.

His abashed silence grows more pronounced when Matt offers that praise. There is an definite element of guilt and shame heavily graven into everything about him now, easily read by someone with Matt's perception— moreover, with Matt's own deep familiarity with those two emotions. It is not hard to link that shame up with Matt's previous encounter with the Winter Soldier to deduce a fairly-complete picture: a man who feels the praise is not deserved, given what he was— what he did— when he 'was not himself.'

"In the vast majority of cases," he says, his careful word choice just confirming that, "it was very much deserved."

Feeling Jane grow a little fidgety and awkward beside him, he shifts a little closer to her in mute comfort. A comfort that transforms into mock crossness when she impugns him as someone who can definitely help polish off a box of donuts. "I'll only help as much as needed," he grumps.

He quiets as Jane inquires if Matt's been doing this alone, clearly interested himself in the answer. "Usually when things seem broken up," is all he has to contribute, "it's just because the strings tying it all together haven't shown yet."

"I hear that," Matt says by way of agreement on the matter of strings, as it dovetails with both founded observations from weeks of tangling with Russians — as well as his own naturally paranoid inclinations.

Then Jane is once again reaches out, invites him to join them — and Matt registers a very detectable moment of indecision. Five heartbeats, and then: "No clocking out, no" Matt admits quietly, adding in silent addendum: /No one to bill for my hours, either/.

And so the masked psuedo-ninja, decked entirely black save for the white cloth wraps around his fists, makes his way over to the bench with a box of donuts in hand, to take a seat next to a socially awkward but infectiously enthusiastic girl and her tortured, metal-armed war-criminal of a boyfriend. It's an almost surreal shot, all of them there in dim street light.

Matt will indeed take a donut — even potentially cock blocking Bucky by plucking out an old fashioned, as the glazed ones can cloy his over-sensitve taste buds — before passing it on to the woman next to him. "Yeah, I've been doing this alone," he says without any reservation or, at least here, shame. "No Bat-fam or super friends or special teams." Truth be told, Matt's not entirely comfortable even putting himself in the same stratosphere as any of the aforementioned, what with his Amazon-order outfit and street-level foes.

"You were here on business, that other night," he asserts to Jane. "What is it you do?" They're not the only ones who get to ask questions.

If anything, Jane does not pay too much attention to Bucky in his brief, mild state of self-consciousness — that goes into the realm of embarrassment. It is not disregard on her part, not impatience or callousness: her first instinct is to go to him. But she's learned well enough of him so far that his stoicism must be handled carefully, and his pride — a sort of pride bottled straight from the emotionally austere 1940s — protected. She doesn't kick up a fuss in front of company.

She keeps her attention gently fastened on Matt, welcoming back Bucky with a brief touch on his closest knee. It lingers because Jane sure as hell knows he's also guilting intensely beside her. He deserves that praise, is her opinion.

But even she cannot arrest all of her own fidgets. She's not regretting getting out of the apartment, and certainly not regretting tonight's idea that seems to be working out beautifully — reaching back into Hell's Kitchen to possibly find themselves another kindred spirit. But it's still taxing in its own way, especially on Jane as of late, sleepless but enduring. She doesn't miss Bucky hitch closer. She slips him a glance, apologetic and grateful both.

Even Jane knows it's a reach for her to invite a masked vigilante to share a transit bench with them. Absurd to say the least, and at best dangerous — she and Bucky are still strangers, and Bucky one he /traded blows with/ not too long ago — count her transparently surprised to actually see him… come close. Come close and /sit/. Surprise framing all the soft features of her face, and delighted, she steals a quick glance at Matt's masked face, wanting to absorb any closer chance of detail — before looking away again, sobered, at the same time aware she needs to leave people their privacy. He says he works alone. It's what she figured, and yet to hear it confirmed aloud — it sounds a little sad.

Still, it tickles her to watch him take a donut, and Jane takes the passed box with a half-crooked smile. She knows she should take one, though she has no appetite, and chooses one of the tinier donut holes before offering it along for Bucky. Her attention turns at Matt's question, eyebrows raised, perhaps not quite expecting it. But she's happy to answer. "Kind of business. More like a promise I made," she says, with no shortage of warmth. "It might sound weird. I'm an astrophysicist. On the side, well, I'm an engineer. I build a lot of things. Anything, really." Which may include metal arms.

Bucky notices the way Jane carefully doesn't call attention to him, leaving him to nurse his self-consciousness in stoic peace. It's appreciated, and he covers it up himself by clearing his throat and hiding it under movement, turning and rejoining her on the bench. She welcomes him back with a hand on his knee, one that lingers as if to chide him: yes, he deserves that praise.

No, I really don't know if I do, says his silence, but he does let her keep her hand where it is.

He does draw closer to her when she seems uncomfortable— transparently more at ease with protecting her than he is receiving protection— though it's not due to any negative impression of Murdock himself, who the both of them now seem to trust. He looks mutedly pleased when the vigilante dares closer and actually does sit down. Bucky knows it's a weird-ass image, the three of them hanging out, but then again his entire life has been weird as hell ever since Steve turned up twice his previous size, and he's sure the lives of the other two are weird as hell also.

This is probably the most normal they've gotten to be in a long time.

He fishes through the donut box when it gets to him. He doesn't seem affronted that everyone else chose before him. Anything's fair game to him. He picks one, though he could have probably picked two with his perpetual caloric needs, and passes the box back to Jane to steward. He doesn't seem to find Matt's assertion that he works alone as sad as Jane does— he's become a bit of a lone wolf himself over the years, a significant change from his days as the NCO glue of the Howling Commandos.

"Meanwhile, me," he grumps about that night, "I was just trying to keep her from getting her ass killed."

It's an odd moment, to be sure, but something is refreshing about it. Most of Matt's days are spent wearing a different sort of mask — the blind, do-gooding attorney. An opportunity to form connections of any kind with this — arguably truer — side of himself provides some quiet and unexpected pleasure.

Who can say what she'd be able to glean from the profile of the masked man next to her? Even in daylight hours his emotional pallet is muted, subtle. Here, with everything from the nostrils up obscured by black mesh and the midnight hour, there's little furtive glances could take away other than the shifts of his stubbled jaw and the thin press of the mouth above it as he munches quietly on his old fashioned. Maybe the shapes and contours she finds there will serve as useful pieces for a larger puzzle later on, maybe not. But that is a /risk/ of this sociability, and somewhere in the back of his mind Matt is very much aware of it.

Said mouth turns musingly downward when she answers Matt's question. It's not what he expected from her at all, especially since she's the second scientist and engineer he's met in the span of a few months — and neither of his lives seem suited to run-ins of that kind. He quickly makes the connection between her self-described role as a builder and the metal arm that nearly punched through his chest cavity several weeks ago. That gives him pause, sets him thinking — a train of thought that continues only partly interrupted by the Winter Soldier's quip, which prompts from man in the mask a quick and barely suppressed chortle. "Most people that find trouble in this neighborhood don't have their own personal protectors along for the ride," Matt notes quietly, affably. "Lucky you."

A beat, and then tentatively: "So, you make… lots of different things. You take side commissions?"

Weird-ass image as it is, Jane seems more than pleased to be in the middle of it. She seems on her way to building a long-suffering encouragement of strangeness such as this, which lends even to the casual, patient way she holds the donut box open for Bucky to make his selection. Taking back the box, she considers discreetly putting her own mouthful-sized choice back, realizes that would be probably weird and slightly unsanitary though she really, really has no stomach for sugar, much less eating any kind of solid food lately — but Jane still forces herself to quickly eat and swallow down the donut hole.

It sits uneasily in her empty stomach. She closes the box and lets it rest on her lap, good for the taking of any of the two nearby metabolisms much more fierce than hers.

Jane, in the meanwhile, takes somewhat of a close inspection of Matt's face — what little she can see of it, anyway — in reaction to her job. Definitely curious what an actual masked vigilante thinks of her. Her concentration only breaks, however, at the saucy little remark at her other side, and she turns Bucky a glance that could strip paint from a car.

"James," she warns, a bit of pink rising to her cheeks, because that's first totally not what happened, and second, absolutely embarrassing. Then it gets even worse when the guy with the mask over his head /laughs at that/, and Jane briefly, self-consciously covers her face in her mittened left hand. "Are you two ganging up on me now? This is so unfair," she complains, trying to sound exasperated, but unable to even summon the spirit enough to feel annoyed. She sighs a foggy breath into the air and rolls her dark eyes skywards, perhaps in some habitual gestures to beg the stars for help, before she glances quickly back down. A rueful smile jumps up one corner of her mouth. Matt calls her lucky.

"Yeah, I am," Jane says to that.

Now the next question. That one — that one she doesn't expect. Jane doesn't expect it so much that she glances visibly over at Bucky, as if he could provide her with some help. She looks back towards Matt, her eyes searching, as if to try to find meaning under that mask. "I… uh… no one's ever… what is it you need?"

Lucky you, Matt says. Lucky me, Jane agrees. Bucky looks markedly less enthusiastic about Jane's 'luck to have him' than either of them are. "Yeah, well," he says. He fishes for some kind of protest that won't be insulting, can't really find one, and gives up with a grumble.

Instead, he reaches for another donut, because he already finished his second one. Matt had better get all the donuts he wants, and soon, because the super-soldier on the other side of Jane will clean through the box if left to his devices.

Bucky mollifies a little to Jane's apparent mortification, however. She complains about being ganged up on, and it's his turn to pat her knee consolingly. "Truth hurts," he says, more than a little smug, but he does let it go; giving her a bit of her own dignity back in exchange for her sparing his, earlier.

He falls silent when Matt asks, rather casually, if Jane does side commissions. He exchanges that look with Jane, in a glance expressing that while this is her choice— take care with the potential ramifications.

Matt observes the banter between the two quietly, muted appreciation found only in the twitch at the corners of his lips. And yes, he'll use the opportunity to snatch one more donut before turning his attention to Jane's deer in the headlights answer

What is it you need, she asks. And what follows is a pause where the man in the mask visibly wrestles with that perfectly sensible question. I'm not even sure right yet," Matt begins slowly, deliberatively. "I know I don't need a fancy armored car, or a jet, or some crazy Tony Stark suit. I couldn't afford any of them if I wanted them. But —"

Another beat, and what follows is difficult to for him to say: "I'm starting to get the sense that if I /am/ going to be out on the streets alone, I may end up needing more than just my fists and my wits." However miraculous his recovery, Murdock's near brush with death has changed him. It happened while he was wearing his lawyer's suit rather than The Sock, but the whole encounter still made him painfully aware that the universe of potential threats he could end up facing on the streets of Hell's Kitchen are more dangerous and diverse than muggers and local gangsters.

He cuts her a sidelong look, as if he can see straight-through the thick dark mesh of his mask. "Chances are it's really basic stuff," he adds. "Some kind of body protection that won't slow me down too much, a few simple tools I could use for scaling, grappling. I — uh, spend a lot of my time on rooftops. I need to really think it through, but wanted to see if that was even possible before I did."

There's a deliberate silence at her side when Jane admits she's lucky. It's enough to earn Bucky a glance of her dark eyes, pensive, concerned, though she does not say anything about it now. But she's aware, and it takes a bit of the levity out of her.

She does her part to hold open the donut box as it's slowly ransacked. She doesn't take anything more for herself, but it might be expected — tiny little thing like her, probably eats like a bird.

Jane at least puts up a valiant show at looking put out at Bucky's amiable, patting hand on her knee. But it's irritation for irritation's sake, and there doesn't seem to be a single naturally angry bone in her body. She amiably bumps her shoulder on his, and allows him his smugness /just this once/ —

Because Matt, the man who single-handedly took down gun-wielding mafia enforcers with little more than his bare hands and a mask over his face — is asking Jane, in a way, for a favour. Or a commission. Or just… help. Because isn't that what it is?

It visibly arrests her, stunned to silence for a few good beats. Because she's never been asked such a thing in all her life, and not for a reason like this. Her promise when it comes to Bucky's left arm is — complicated, and began on a different grounding, but is turned into a duty on her part because of her loyalty to him, her feelings for him, and how she with her own hands wants to replace all of that ugly memory of slavery off his body with something better, something he at least helped choose —

But this? Jane listens keenly as Matt speaks, her attention on him, a pensive pinch to her eyes as he explains at length what he needs. Why he needs it. He's alone, a single man on what seems a nigh-impossible mission, and he needs… things. Not a jet, or a power suit (wouldn't everyone love one of those), but an armory fitting of who he is, and what he does. In the end, he isn't even sure what equipment that might be.

She turns a quick glance on Bucky, wordless, but with the genuine searching of someone wanting his opinion. He gives her a more sobered look back, and it's something she seems to hit on. Ramificiations. Though the kinds Jane seems the think about are: what if I build something that lets him down? What if I get him killed? It's a lot to…

She glances down at her hands, watching her mittened fingers flex. If there's one thing Jane doesn't, cannot doubt about herself, it's her abilities. Her hands. Her mind. She /knows/ she can.

"It's possible," Jane says, decision made. "It's… definitely possible. I probably don't look like… but," she gestures aimlessly, "I can do these sorts of things. And I think I want to. Even if it was just a matter of owing you, which I do… I want to help."

Bucky listens too, with a similar concern for this lone vigilante trying his best to stem the criminal tide in Hell's Kitchen— but also, with a concern for that same criminal tide finding out who's supplying him, and deciding that they can leave Hell's Kitchen just long enough to make a trip over to Brooklyn.

So when Jane looks to him… while Bucky doesn't try to demand her decision one way or another— choice is an important thing between them— his eyes do reflect that caution. Her own sober in turn, message conveyed.

Though perhaps she's not thinking quite of the consequences that he is; not consequences towards herself, but consequences towards Matt Murdock should she not design well enough, or should her designs fail. Ultimately, however, she has faith in her own abilities, her own intellect, and more than that— she has a soft heart.

She wants to help him. Bucky's eyes reflect a moment of resignation, but he himself admittedly has a hard time just leaving Matt to face the criminal underworld in nothing but a mask and some ninja wraps. "There's probably a way we can do it discreetly," is all the continued insistence he does make. "And I'm sure she can design it for…" He trails off, but there's just no getting around it anymore, "…well, there's no cutouts for your eyes, so I figure you got some unique specs."

He turns towards Matt after. This is probably a more touchy offer to make, but… "Listen," he says. "You need other kinds of help, it's not like I live far. I got a broad skillset." He pauses, winces a little. "Not just killing."

Relief washes over Matt Murdock, relieving a knot in his stomach he didn't even realize was there. It's never been an easy thing for him, asking for help, between his fierce need to rise above his disability and maintain his independence paired with an inborn, mulish grain. But he needs it, he asks for it — and she agrees, out of either gratitude or genuine buy-in to his quixotic campaign. His lips part and he puffs out a plume of wintry air before saying: "Thanks, Jane." His tone is may be quiet, but it readily conveys sincere gratitude. And even if she somehow missed it, he'll stress it again: "I mean it."

And then Bucky is making his own wary addendum, highlighting potential consequences for Jane involving herself in his private wars. Matt nods in ready assent to Bucky's point, though his lips will tighten a touch when reference is made to his mask's more unusual aspects. "Discretion all around is the only way any of this works," he says, pointedly but not at all unkindly. "I'll keep it up on my end; you both have my word on that."

He pauses, fingertip tapping thoughtfully on the donut held firmly in hand. "First step, I'll need a way to contact you," he says. "Email?"

There is no missing the gratitude imbued in the masked man's words. Not one thanked often, and certainly not with that level of appreciation, Jane flusters a little under the attention. She lowers her eyes and smiles to herself. "You're, um, welcome."

While the supersoldier and the vigilante talk discretion, Jane Foster tries to figure out the best way to pass along her email address. She chews on her bottom lip, lifts her eyebrows, and upon digging through her little handbag for a pen, tears off a piece of the donut box cardboard, and leans down to scrawl her address down.

Discretion for Jane is to use one of her older, personal email addresses than anything more formal. "This email runs off of an old server of mine I'll set back up." She starts writing out: moc.obicera31m|fj#moc.obicera31m|fj

Her attention averts, only, when Bucky assures Jane can design for any sort of circumstance. It's a compliment, she knows, and flushes faintly around the corners. He suggests his own sort of assistance. Not so much in the way of designing equipment, but within his own skillset, and her eyes soften. "I get privacy," she adds, with a glance at Matt. "I won't tell anyone without your permission." A smile nudges up her mouth. "Other than James here." It's kind of an unspoken implication on her part that he's as integral to her inner circle as inner circles get, someone trusted, someone she'll keep informed on all the things she does.

"This is… definitely not something I've ever done before," she babbles a bit, pathologically honest. "I'm going to have to do some preliminary research. Get some supplies. And begin, I guess, testing. I usually get ideas pretty quickly. A… lot of ideas."

Discretion all around, Matt insists. Bucky takes the point— it's not like he doesn't have a whole crapload of things to be discreet about himself— and says no more about the man nor his odd mask. "Appreciate that," he does say, when Murdock promises to keep up the discretion on his own end.

He might also be expressing appreciation for Matt's gratitude to Jane, a gratitude that pulls her just that much more out of her shell.

First step to the start of their odd new friendship/working relationship: a means of contact. Bucky's already mentally running through thoughts about that when they start talking email, and Jane starts to happily write down an address.

Bucky frowns a little, and sloooowly relieves Jane of that scrap of cardboard. "Nothing's really secure in this day and age," he makes explanation, "but I'd rather minimize the amount of paper trail being generated." He fishes in his pocket and removes a small notepad and pen— because of course he just carries this stuff around— and writes down a phone number instead. It is almost assuredly just one of a number of phones he has, and most assuredly not a smartphone.

He gives it to Jane to hand over, rather than reaching impolitely over her. "Call if you need anything."

"That'll work," Matt says simply and without complaint to the super-spy on the amended manner of contact between them all, holding out an upraised, crumb-scattered palm for the hand-off. In another guise, he'd make a joke about discoveries and subpoenas.

Aside: to the outside observer aware of Matt's liabilities, one might think that the written word would pose a problem; but if it does, it doesn't seem to trouble him in the moment.

His lips quirk at their edges once again at Jane's sudden burst of enthusiasm for blacksmithing equipment for vigilantiism. "Sounds good, Jane," he says quietly, and it actually does; she's something of an unknown quantity, it's true, and he's almost certain to look up her CV later — but eagerness goes some way towards inspiring confidence. "When we talk next I'll have more thoughts of my own, and we can compare notes. I'll try to answer your questions as honestly as I can. And then we can hash out the details and next steps. Fair?"

And just as quickly as Jane scrawls out her email address, Bucky Barnes takes it away. She makes a small sound of bemusement, pauses against his mild admonishment, and just ends up frowning, feeling ever the amateur.

"I'd be surprised if anyone can hack into /my/ servers," is her turn to grump, some professional pride on the line, but she doesn't argue Bucky's caution. Jane has enough sense to bow to his better expertise. Part of her thinks he's being a little overparanoid, but, just as well. She's in no rush to repeat that memory of a gun pointed at her. "Besides," she has to add, because she needs to win /somewhere, "it's not technically a paper trail."

Either way, Jane takes the paper off Bucky with an overfond look. She passes it over towards Matt, attention on him; it hasn't occurred to her yet to ask aloud why his mask lacks holes for his eyes, but it's something definitely on her mind. She figures it one of many reasons. Maybe that fabric is enough to see through. Maybe he has really remarkable eyes. Maybe he is that worried enough about his privacy enough to suffer the sensory deficit, like he has people to protect, things to lose. But the notion of a blind man able to be a vigilante? To adapt and react in the tactical sense he did? Jane's ignorance shows. Just does not occur to her.

"Fair," she agrees, her mine already awhirl with thoughts, questions, a plan of action. Jane accepts it gladly. Her mind is so starved lately, starved beyond the books Zatanna gives her, starved as she continues her staid avoidance against her actual work, refusing to look up at the stars overhead in the sky. Instead, she pauses, indecisive, before she can't help herself: this is who she is, someone who tries to reach out to others, ever persistent to build bridges as she goes. She dares to reach out to touch her hand against Matt's arm. "I'm happy we met you. Keep safe."

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