Combat Science

March 12, 2017:

Jane starts to fulfill her promise to equip the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. First step: setting up mock combat between him and Bucky to make algorithms of their fighting style.

Hell's Kitchen, New York

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Hell's Kitchen goes corpse-quiet this late at night.

And here, out among the storehouses that line the slowly-developing waterfront, is especially quiet. This building out on the piers is a skeleton, cement-and-steel housing, the only nearby signage calling to a local contracting company — a familiar one to the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, and mob-owned. Now it stands silent, hollow and vacant, with enough cover and mirrored windows, though there is little insulation: the only salve is that tonight is particularly warm for early March, temperate and balmy, the only chill expedited off the nearby Hudson.

In other words, absolutely perfect for late, clandestine meetings with underworld vigilantes.

An essential meeting on Jane's part, as she's organized it: there's been enough of a break-through on her own end that, in her fledgling career in outfitting and equipping masked people, she's hit her first brick wall. How do you properly armor someone without knowing how they fight? How they move? How they carry themselves? In her phone call out to her vigilante client in question, she called this "stress test number one."

Negotiation of all the other details bring both her and Bucky Barnes here. She lets him manage the carrying of the fifty-pound packed rucksack from the backseat of her car, and especially lets his skills deal with the minor inconvenience of locked doors.

"You know, you never think to bring lamps," Jane calls rhetorically over to Bucky Barnes once they're both inside, frowning to herself at all the darkness. It leads her, using the screen of her smartphone as light, to pick her way to the building's breaker switches, and finding herself delighted they've installed some cursory electrical. She can make some quick adjustments she can always fix later.

With a pair of cutters, she roots through the wiring, changes some around, and then throws on the lights. They come on minimally, spartan enough not to draw outside attention, not enough to look like someone is home.

"Did you remember the coffee? There was a thermos. Did you pack it?"

The fifty-pound rucksack is nothing. The locked doors even less than nothing. Darkness is apparently also nothing to Bucky Barnes, judging by Jane's complaints. He lets them into the building with equanimity despite her grumbling, holding the door for her before sliding it shut behind them both.

"Yeah, I guess I don't think about it, my night vision's really good," he says peaceably, checking the area instinctively in a wide sweep of his gaze. "But you've got a smartphone, don't you? That's got a flashlight. Swipe up from the home screen," he instructs, purely to troll, because nobody likes being told how to operate a smartphone by a guy who was born in 1917.

He puts down the rucksack as she's fiddling with the lights, opening it up and fishing through. Did he remember the coffee, indeed. "Of course I remembered it," he grumbles. "You only reminded me like five times. I'm not senile, you know."

"What, no donuts this time?" echoes a hushed voice from no particular direction as soon as Jane sparks that dim constellation of lights.

He was here early, of course, waiting in the dark of the quiet midnight hour among the concrete columns and dingy dropcloths, alert for any sign that the building's often absent but still formidable owners might assert their presence.

It's only a moment after the voice sounds that the so-called Devil of Hell's Kitchen rounds one of the nearbye columns properly to reveal himself in all his slapdash glory: pitch-black headwrap, muscle shirt, cargo pants. The homemade ninja lifts a stubbled chin by way of greeting. "Kidding. Though there's a box of 'em over on the far right wall, with a box of Joe too. No trouble getting here?" he says as he closes (some of) the distance between them in a vaguely feline, predatory gait that couldn't stand in starker contrast to his affable words. "Thanks for coming."

"Well, not all of us have enviable night vision and super kung-fu grip," Jane quips back, audibly amused, as she demonstrates rather skillfully that she can, in the end, make up for the difference. The self-taught electrical engineer has the entire building rewired to her preferences in seconds.

Let there be light, and St. Foster provides her miracle, given enough lighting to turn off her phone, unzip off her winter coat, and direct Bucky Barnes a look flatter than opened champagne left three weeks out in the sun. Did the hundred-year-old just give her a /lecture/ on /smartphones/? She makes a face. Then, with the innocence of freshly-fallen snow, replies, "Actually, you might not know this. We don't use flashlights anymore nowadays. We use something called a fleshlight, you should actually look that up sometime."

Tell HER how to technology.

Her face lights, however, at reassurance that coffee wasn't forgotten — until a new, familiar voice interjects.

Jane stops, her head turning to the sound, surprise gilding her face. The joke about donuts crooks up her mouth, and then widens all the more when the Devil of Hell's Kitchen apparently returned the favour this time. She amuses herself at the momentary mental image of a masked, eyeless vigilante standing in a Dunkin Donuts line, and chirps back, "You brought donuts?" Back at Bucky. "He brought donuts!"

As he appears, she makes her way back to the rucksack, bending down to unzip and begin sorting through its many packed contents. "And no problem! I keep my promises about these things. I, so, I've had some ideas. A lot of ideas. But they all seem to, in the end, hit this one stop point, just in terms of customization." Jane, still balanced on her heels, draws out a notepad and her laptop. "I need to… see you fight. Really see you fight."

"Super kung-fu grip sounds kinda dirty," Bucky says with all the unawareness of a man who just had a reference fly over his head, pulling the thermos of coffee out and setting it aside. He turns and has himself a seat next to the rucksack, placidly waiting as Jane gets the lights up and running in the building.

He frowns suspiciously as Jane makes her return shot for his trolling. There's something off about her suggestion, but he doesn't know what. "Bullshit, I see people using flashlights all the time," he says, but he still seems unsure enough that he might well look that word up later.

Then kill Jane. Then demand that she pull the same prank on Steve, and please record and send him the reaction.

His head snaps around, however, when Matt suddenly speaks. It only takes a moment for him to place and recognize the voice, however, at which point the hackles go back down. Especially at mention of donuts. "Good," he nods, looking over and up at Jane as she comes over to start rooting through the rucksack herself. "We're gonna need them later."

Jane explains the reason soon enough.

Matt has no place in squabbles between the pair over smartphones OR fleshlights, for any number of reasons, and so he summons up all his reserves of will to maintain that sphinx-like aspect against any impulse his lips may have to quirk upwards at their edges. Besides, it's Jane's summation of why they're here that captures the brunt of his attention, and that's — a more serious matter.

"Really fight," the devil repeats, and even if there's no gaze to flick over to Bucky, it's unmistakable that his attention and consideration rests there. Jane has, of course, seen him in action — but that /was/ in pitch dark, in conditions far from conducive to observation or study. There's a moment of not reservation, but deliberation, before the man in black gives a faint nod of assent. "Alright," he says, making consent to the likely bloodletting to follow official. A beat. "You asked me to bring what I've got," the devil adds, before two short, wooden escrima sticks seem to flash into his palms out of mid-air. And then, a wry addition: "This is what I've got right now."

"You're kinda dirty," Jane retorts back amiably, but that's about as much time as she has for any residual sass, because the local Ceiling Devil has intercepted their silly little squabble.

A crooked grin still hooks up her mouth, but she retreats to something more semi-serious, though there's less of a formality about the woman. Either she's a casual sort, no trace of austerity on her, who wears her heart freely on her sleeve and holds herself in front of others in a general, unguarded sort of manner — which either speaks of innocence, or carelessness, or courage, or just-don't-give-a-damn — or she's officially decided to trust the masked Devil to see her this buttoned-down, Jane busily sorts through the rucksack, pulling out item after item.

"Yep, really fight! No holding back, no pulling punches, because I'm going to be calculating not only what you can do /tonight/, but what you have the /potential/ to do later," she rambles, while she pulls off her coat to throw over the ground, building a strange nest to situate herself down, as Jane slowly surrounds herself in a stack of notebooks, some pens, her opened laptop, as well as some cobbled-together electronics like — is that a radar gun? "And what better to do that than with James!"

To answer her request of the initial call, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen showcases his arsenal — which is: well, to Jane, it looks like a couple of sticks. She's more awed at just how quickly he pulled them out of nowhere. "Give me a lever long enough and I can move the world," she says, paraphrasing Archimedes, and appends, "I like it. Nice."

Her eyes lift, peeking up at Bucky. The question in them is visible: your show, babe. All good to go with you?

You're kinda dirty, Jane retorts. Bucky's answer is a wink.

He lets the verbal sparring go, however, once the Devil of Hell's Kitchen shows up on the scene. Jane wants them to fight, really fight, and as if on cue Bucky rolls his shoulders and gets to his feet even as Jane chatters on. No holding back, no pulled punches, because she's prepared with a RADAR GUN. And who better to go all out with than James?

Bucky seems to agree, judging by the way his left arm limbers up with a whir of metal and circuitry.

After a pause, Matt agrees as well, and he pulls out what it is he's got— seemingly from nowhere. A pair of escrima sticks. Far from being underwhelmed or unimpressed, Bucky seems delighted. "Escrima," he says. "Good choice. I like it myself. Though" He produces a knife, as out-of-nowhere as Matt produced his sticks, holding it easily in a reverse grip for now, "more with knives than sticks." Not hard to guess how the preference came to be.

Jane looks up at him in silent question. He nods assent, before starting a slow walk forwards towards Matt. "All right," he says. "Let me see it."

The devil hears the slick whisk of a knife through air, and now his lips do twitch with something like relish. He's a student of the heartbeat of others, but right now the only one he can hear is from the thudding in his own chest, all anticipation. It has been a long time since he's faced anything like an equal, much less a better. Even the sticks he bears in either hand are nearly virginal — entirely unused on the streets of Hell's Kitchen — mostly for fear of what they might do in his hands when his blood is up.

But when he faces something other than thugs or goons, that cautious calculus changes. The Winter Soldier may be no blind sensei, but Matt's harrowing experience with him months ago suggests he'll more than do.

Bucky tells Matt while stalking forward: "Let me see it."

For a millisecond, actual fear grips him. He's studied enough manslaughter cases to know that, intentionally or not, he could die here when playing with such lethal force. The feeling passes, and something coiled and cold takes its place. Matt snaps his neck to limber and drain his sinuses replies, before replying with quiet sincerity: "Pardon me."

And then he does let him see it, turning a careful stride into a sudden race and a spinning leap: a flurry of lethal motion. One stick strikes high, the other low, each arm wielding them prepared to fluidly rearrange itself to the dictates of this bloody choreography as necessary.

'Escrima,' Jane hears, and though she doesn't recognize the word, she makes sure to write it down for later. Not sure of the spelling either, but no problem. She'll figure it out when she reads up.

Getting comfortable in place, bending up her knees and planting her feet, notebook braced against her thighs, the woman hunkers down and gets comfortable in her front-row seat. It's not every day someone gets to see this, and especially so, Jane doesn't think she's ever really had a continuous look at James Barnes in a brawl. Glimpses here and there, short and violent, and at one point, too mired with her own terror to really watch.

This is a far more controlled setting, and now she'll be able to /see/. Part of her wishes she could record video, and the thought is briefly compelling: though, in the end, she does not. Not part of the deal with the vigilante, of course, and dangerous at worst to have sure evidence of… any of this. Not like she needs it anyway, Jane thinks boastfully: she remembers everything.

Contrary to that brief chill of fear that runs through Matt, Jane sits in perfect, civilian ease. If someone /could/ die, she simply does not believe it possible. That is the extent of her faith in James, and her trust: not only in his own ability, but that of him to control variables far numerous and external even to his own self.

She waits in eager interest as the two men ready themselves… and engage.

From her corner comes silence. Jane watches, eyes widening against that first flurry of action, her attention only wavering momentarily to scrawl something quickly down on paper.

Something about the aspect of Bucky Barnes changes, as he starts his slow stalk forward and tells Matt to get started. There is a shift from the casualness of jests and teases to something more serious, more scrutinizing, more demanding. James Barnes might not be a blind sensei, but he does read 'teacher.' He's plainly taught before, is familiar with the beats of training and instruction. He put generations of young Soviet killers through their paces, beating them mercilessly until they either broke or reforged.

He was a brutal teacher, of necessity. The fact he's going in with a bared knife just reinforces that his approach hasn't changed even after the removal of the brainwashing.

The devil wastes little time to engage, turning a walk smoothly into a swift run and spinning up into an acrobatic leap. Bucky blocks the high strike with a swipe of his knife blade, and the low strike with his metal wrist. But there's little active resistance to his blocks— they're more like redirections, really— and after only a moment he collapses his pushback and lets Matt's momentum continue to carry him forward through his leap.

The action lets him drop low and slide under Matt with surprising speed and agility, whereupon he twists and tries to plant his knife right in the other man's back.

No fear of pulled punches here, it seems. There is no fear of hurting the Winter Soldier inadvertently either, that is for certain. He was not a Cold War legend for nothing.

Jane may trust Bucky to manage the situation, but outside of some furtive guilty looks during their last doughnut run, the Devil has absolutely no reason to trust the man's resolve to keep this peaceful. He treats each sweep, slide, and blow like it may be a prelude to his untimely demise and another dumbass Ben Urich story about his martyrdom.

Fuck that. Avoiding that is reason enough to stay alive, in Matt's book.

Fortunately, he has has a few tricks up his sleeves besides a pair of reed-bound batons. After all, he doesn't see the world in the arcs of vision most people do. His picture of things, qualified and contingent as it may be — has a 360 degree radius. Hence, not the sort of man you want to try stabbing in the back.

Bucky stabs, and the devil's hand and stick somehow find themselves parrying the attempt behind the man's own back. He twists, flips away away, and delivers a harsh kick of rebuke towards the low-lying Bucky's face for the affront.

It's all a frightening display of combat that has her entire attention. Unable to look away, Jane transparently gawks. She doesn't think she owns a violent nature, and has never really had a particular taste for it — but watching Bucky do his thing? She bites momentarily down on her bottom lip.

No pulled punches. No rules and boundaries of an honourable spar. Just the replication of a raw, deadly fight against an enemy of terrifying skill —

— and then there's Jane Foster, looking anything but bothered, taking her time to draw a column down the middle of her sheet into two sections. One she labels 'James', the other, after a moment, marked with a ?.

That reminds her. "You know," she calls up conversationally, because this is all reasonable, because she fully expects a friendly dialogue as Bucky and Matt trade crippling blows. "I don't think we ever fully caught your name. I mean, obviously, identities and things. Absolutely respecting that. But is there anything we can call you?" Jane politely fails to mention that, as of present in the strange Foster-Barnes household, he's referred to as 'Sock Guy.'

It's fair enough for Matt to not quite fully trust this man he just met. Bucky doesn't seem to still be that cold-eyed killer who was ready to execute a bunch of defenseless, unconscious men just because they might have passingly seen his face, but the only assurance the Devil has is the word of Jane and of the man himself… and if the Winter Soldier were suddenly to turn on him, things would get extremely deadly extremely fast.

Besides, the guy showed up to a spar with a knife.

On the other hand, Jane asked for no pulled punches, and the fact Bucky seems confident Matt can handle a knife could also be a compliment, after a fashion. He certainly doesn't seem surprised when his strike is blocked, though he is briefly shocked at how fluently the Devil seems able to pinpoint activity happening even squarely behind his back. He adjusts quickly, recoiling backwards from the Devil's follow-up kick— it misses him so narrowly he can feel the wind of its passage.

His left arm snaps forward with a heralding whir of steel. It's far faster than his right, and he doesn't curtail or dial down its speed in the least, though he does moderate his strength as he tries to catch Matt by the back of the ankle and yank sharply in the direction of the other man's kick, intent on sending him spinning off.

Meanwhile, Jane chats from the sidelines. James glances at her, momentarily distracted. Thanks Jane!!

/He's faster than me,/ Matt reminds himself from that previous bout. /Stronger, too./ And while that metal arm may be loud as hell, setting off a dizzying number of sense receptors with its mechanical whooshes and whirrs, it's also shockingly fast. Fast enough to indeed catch the back of Matt's kicking calf. That might knock someone else on his ass — and Matt experiences a lurching moment of panic that 'someone else' might include him — but he has the presence of mind to use his own body's momentum and make it a full, if not entirely graceful, back flip that sees his feet planted on the concrete and his knees bent to a crouch. It amounts to a wash — Matt keeps his bearings, but misses the opportunity to take advantage of a distracted Bucky as Jane —

— improbably makes conversation. "On the streets they're calling me the Devil of Hell's Kitchen," says the masked man as the wooden sticks twirl in his fingertips, taking advantage of the brief lull to provide her with an answer. "I don't know — I'm kind of thinking of owning it." Seems more likely to strike fear into the hearts of underworld operatives than 'Sockman,' and it satisfies the Catholic lawyer's highly developed sense of irony.

He's made one run at Bucky Barnes — outcome inconclusive. Rather than make another immediately, he opts for a circling stalk — allowing the Winter Soldier the option of coming for /him/.

Smiling a little lopsidedly to herself, Jane's eyes capture that moment of Matt's physical, palpable surprise against the quickness of Bucky's left arm. His escape from its terrifying redirection makes her look impressed. She glances down, quick and frantic, trying to jot notes against the hope of missing more of the action. Her brain turns its wheels, and she calculates mentally momentum, kinetic force, colliding mass.

Quick reaction time. Agility. It seems to be two strengths both men rely on. Not brute force, but a congress of speed and skill.

But even as Jane seems to acquaint herself to the math of combat, its particular rules — not so much. As she appears to, in the heat of it all, engage pleasant conversation. Catching Bucky's look, Jane glances askance his way — aren't you supposed to be concentrating on that? Her attention swivels when Matt speaks. And gives them both the closest approximation of a name.

"Devil of Hell's Kitchen," Jane repeats, trying on the name for size. "It has a ring to it." She crosses out the '?' and replaces it with a 'DHK'.

She only glances up at the apparent silence that follows, men circling each other and not quite — doing things. "You two have to attack each other to make this work," she complains out loud.

Bucky doesn't seem surprised that Matt got his feet back under him even after being forcibly flipped. He could follow up nonetheless— the man is off-balanced even if he's not put flat on his back— and he seems just about to when Jane suddenly starts talking. It surprises him enough that the window of opportunity passes, Murdock steadying himself again by the time Bucky glances back.

It turns into a bit of a breather, Bucky holding his peace as Matt answers Jane's question. The moniker raises his brows, though he supposes he's the last person to talk if 'dramatic nom de guerres' is the topic on the table. "You must be scaring the piss outta them if you got a name like that," he says, with some approval. "May as well own it."

He watches the other man all the while, who seems content to let Bucky come at him for a change. The former assassin starts to walk slowly himself, watching Matt with care—

—and Jane complains. Bucky slants her an unimpressed look.

A moment later he seems to decide to comply with her desire for more flash— or just to spite her— because he lunges into sprinting motion, putting on a burst of enhanced speed he has never used against Matt before. He dashes right, leaps, ricochets off the side of a support pillar, twists in the air to springboard off a second pillar— advancing fifteen feet in a confusing zig-zag without touching the ground once— and spins into a violent axe kick aimed down at Matt's shoulder as he descends from the air.

"Working on it," Matt says quietly, either of scaring the piss out of gangsters, his name, or both. But he accepts the praise with the faintest dip of his head, barely perceptible given the low-lit space and the mask.

And then, to either spite or impress his girl, Bucky Barnes is rushing him at speeds that his opponent can only marvel at. Really, it would be a terrifying image, had Matt Murdock the eyes to see it: a powerfully built cyborg moving at the speed of an Acela barreling down the Northeast corridor, then vaulting into the air and pinging between the stone columns that punctuate the field of combat.

But Matt has no eyes to see it, and what's more, his life is lived calculating trajectories, angles, and planes. In this respect, at least, the Devil's bizarre form of echolocation makes him more bat than the so-called caped crusader. Misdirection will not serve Mr. Barnes well. After his initial shock at the audaciousness and sheer speed of the move, the devil drops his sticks clattering to the ground, steps right to dodge that boot hurtling towards him, and tries to do one better — grab the assailant in mid air and fling him towards one of the columns he's been bouncing off of.

Jane doesn't miss Bucky's reprimanding look. Her crooked grin loosens up a notch.

And then he… he moves. Whether it's to impress or spite her, not even she knows, and frankly, not even she cares — because she's too busy staring wide-eyed at movement that is frankly not human. Jane's hands blindly paw for something, refusing to turn her eyes away one second in fear of missing it — then she grabs up the radar gun, pointing it at the surge of action.

He clocks in over sixty miles per hour.

She doesn't stop and jot notes. She doesn't speak. For this, the woman plainly watches, stunned into silence, her face reflecting every bit of the impossibility of Bucky's leap off the side of a pillar, dropping like a guillotine blade right onto the Devil of Hell's Kitchen —

— and then her eyebrows pop up, eyes wide, as the Devil /reacts/. He reacts like someone who saw it coming a minute ago, and needs not block, needs not defend, but is actually intercepting —

And that's the thing, really; Bucky Barnes has had limited contact with Matt Murdock, and all in contexts where Matt fought as well— or better, honestly— than most sighted people. Bucky has a suspicion there's something going on, of course, judging by the fact the mask has no eyeholes… but it's still hard for him to really wrap his mind around the possibly that a man who fights like the Devil of Hell's Kitchen does might actually be fully blind.

So he still tries tactics to visually misdirect— tries vaulting from multiple angles in a way that would confuse someone reliant on sight. It would work on most, not just because of the oblique approach but because of the sheer speed that the supersoldier can attain— Jane clocks it surreptitiously to get an actual number on what is already transparently inhuman— but it doesn't work on Matt. Who reacts with such matter-of-factness that it's obvious the misdirections had zero effect on him, obvious that he anticipated the final trajectory long before it happened.

Shock flickers in the former assassin's eyes briefly as he's anticipated several seconds in advance.

Bucky revises his approach mentally in the split second before the Devil seizes him and uses his own momentum against him. Flung right back towards one of the columns, Bucky twists in the air with the grace of a cat to regain control over his tumble. He impacts the pillar in a crouch, inverted— back parallel to the floor, facing up towards the ceiling— and immediately pivots to the right, kicking off in a sideways spin straight back towards Matt, his body still horizontal, his right shoulder now pointed at the floor.

His aim? To scissor-snap his ankles in a lock right around the other man's neck and shoulders, and carry him hard down to the floor through his own momentum. If Matt can anticipate elaborate misdirection, he'll just have to get direct.

Direct works. Or at least, it works better than the alternative.

Matt's brief triumph doesn't last long; certainly not long enough for him to catch his breath or pat himself on the back. His opponent is nimble and responsive enough to stick his landing against the column and vault right back into action with speed and ferocity. This time, without the benefit of time from performative ricochets, the Devil fares less well. He sees the legs coming, certainly, but there's no time to duck, weave, or spin away from them. He'll grunt as his torso is fairly well trapped, and it's all he can do to slow the freight train bearing down on him, driving him - both of them, really - towards the cold concrete floor.

It's a palpable hit, that Matt feels in his shoulder that strikes the ground, in the neck jolted by the impact, and in an supportive elbow that sears with sudden pain. He grunts as the river of pain runs down cascades down his left flank.

But there's something else about Matt that Bucky will likely come to know: he's damn good at taking a beating and getting back up. It take shim only a moment after hitting the ground before using his whole body to lurch upward and break the vise-like grip of the assassin's legs and counter-striking with a close-quartered spearing knee headed straight for the former Winter Soldier.

Even Jane winces, jumping a little, when that attack soundly /connects/.

But even at odds with the sympathy of seeing someone hurt, there's a deep, invested fascination reflected against her eyes, the look of someone wanting foremost to objectively parse, unravel, and understand every one of their actions. She's an absolute amateur to watching combat, and seems driven on learning a quick fluency with too-quick, fluid strikes. Fortunately, her brain makes the woman a quick study.

A near-instantaneous study, really.

The reality of what just happened hits her. Indirect doesn't work, but direct does. She hurriedly scrawls it down, her first page of notes already stacked full of her messy, mathematical scrawl, and she flips the page to continue her dizzying line of thought. The connection is there, haunting the peripheries of her mind, something about the Devil of Hell's Kitchen and his literal blind spot, and that it seems like —

— no. It doesn't make sense. Someone needs to use his /eyes/ to fight, to win, to /survive/ a war against New York's mobs.

Jane's eyes peek up from her notes. They widen in time to see that knee go right for Bucky.

Bucky is rapidly realizing that the more time and space he gives the Devil to track his movements, the less success he has in attacking. So he goes for quick, immediate, direct. With inhuman reaction time and agility, he transforms his tumble into a controlled twist, springboarding straight back off the pillar before Matt has time to react or calculate any trajectories.

He gets Matt and crashes them both to the floor— though he hits in a marginally more controlled fashion than Murdock, twisting to brace himself up with his arms as he disengages his lock.

The Devil is getting up way faster than Bucky anticipated, however— there's a brief flash of familiarity in his mind, a sense that he's seen this stubborn refusal to just STAY DOWN before— and he only has time to turn and raise one arm before Matt is driving a knee straight into center mass. It connects solidly, knocking Bucky back against one of those concrete pillars.

The thing about a knee, though— you're still in close after the move, a fact the Winter Soldier tries to capitalize on by pistoning his left fist forward in a rapid six-inch punch aimed center-mass. Despite Jane's entreaties to 'hold nothing back,' Bucky… still holds back on that one, in power at least if not in speed.

/I knew I shouldn't have dropped those sticks,/ Matt thinks of the bastons that might have let him keep an appropriate degree of distance from the one-time assassin — right before said assassin's literal iron fist connects with his midsection. Putting aside Bucky's strength and speed, it's always been the metal arm that has been the game changer, elevating any hand-to-hand combat between them into something far more dangerous. Matt's seen it wreck the front of an SUV — what can it do to rib bones or cartillige, or the more sensitive parts of the body they guard?

Bucky holds back, thankfully, but even a taste of the force behind that fist sends Matt stumbling backward. It's a bone-jarring moment where Matt feels his own organs shift in deference to the blow, hears the creak of his ribcage. No crack, thank God. Maybe a bone-bruise, but the jury's still out on that one. Endorphins flood his system, masking some of the pain — the ancient miracle of adrenaline. He gathers himself upright, summons a sharp breath, and puts up his dukes. It may be a gesture of defiance, or perhaps just a feint for the flying kick that follows.

He seems bent on keeping the Winter Soldier up against that column — on the ropes, as it were. Even if Bucky has just shown how dangerous he can be with his back up against a wall.

That knee connects so solidly that Jane /hears/ it.

She is absolutely, faithfully certain of Bucky's enhanced strength, endurance, and really, everything else that could help mitigate him taking damage from that sort of thing — but still she winces, still she worries. She finds herself having to double-take, force her knotted attention to unravel and pull back down to her notes, because all of this is important. Very important. She needs to know how both men fight, and it appears at the crux of that is how quickly one recovers.

The strike pins Bucky back against a pillar and Jane quickly calculates the force and angle of the blow. She jots a note down under the Devil's column and circles it a few good times: SPEED IMPORTANT.

As for James, Jane considers, with a quick glance up, eyes wide, as the Matt raises his fist in signal almost like a boxer's. Time to see where Bucky Barnes fares better: at mid-distance, or lethally close.

When the left arm of Bucky Barnes drives forward, it's certainly not with the maximum force it can bring to bear— but it's still more than solid enough as a hit to send Matt reeling back. It stops just short of causing actual damage, the control Bucky can exercise over the prosthetic perfectly refined.

His eyes track immediately upwards when the Devil puts up his fists in a classic boxing stance afterwards— enough so that he almost falls prey to the fact it's just a feint for the flying kick that Matt opts for instead. It's fast enough that he can't react in any way more fancy than to just twist to the side, letting the Devil impact the column instead of his face.

He doesn't go far, suggesting to Jane that the answer to her pondering is 'up close.' He turns immediately back towards Matt, throwing a sharp, swift right cross at him from the side in an attempt to send him reeling off— ideally while he's still airborne from the kick.

Well, it was a noble effort, that bit of misdirection, if ultimately unsuccessful. Matt's booted heel finds concrete instead of Bucky's chest, the jolt sending shock-waves up his horizontal legs and torso. Worse yet, it leaves him vulnerable to a counter-strike, which lands with enough force to send a hint of bile to the back of the main black's throat — and catches him mid-air and sending him tumbling askew.

It would be a devastating setback…

…if he didn't let him carry him, if he didn't hit the ground with a rolling spin, and if said spin didn't leave him within crouching reach of — well. Those two wooden bastons. He claims them, rising with a wince that betrays some of the damage his body has begun to take, but with a palpable sense of resolve that comes through the half-mask. If they're playing by points, Matt's pretty far down. But something about the way he raises the two wooden prongs suggests that the end result is all he cares about.

He advances, weapons in hand, and suddenly the Devil of Hell's Kitchen is in fact a whirling, heavy-breathing dervish, bastons arcing cat-quick towards Bucky's head and torso, ready to fluidly realign and reassert in a flurry where blocked.

That sense of unbowed and unbroken resolve, even in the face of accruing damage, sends another ping of familiarity ringing through Bucky's mind. He's seen Steve look the same way countless times when being knocked around. Stubborn kid just wouldn't stay down. He always had to get back up for more, no matter how beat up he was.

The comparison just makes him like Matt Murdock more.

That doesn't mean he goes easy on Matt, though. His counter-strike connects solidly with the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, though Matt is quick to turn setback into advantage as he rolls back to his weapons and scoops them back up. He leaps forward with surprising agility and aggression, enough to take even the Winter Soldier aback; Bucky blocks the first few strikes, but Matt is on to him by now, and the sticks slide fluidly around his guard to strike home. Persistently enough that he gets hit pretty solidly a few times. The length of the sticks does well to keep him at that mid range where he's less effective, too. At least for a while.

At least up until Bucky gets impatient, turns his left shoulder and surges forward, and tries to abuse his left side's superior strength to ram Matt and flip him angrily over the fulcrum of his left shoulder, with the end result of sending him spinning off towards the wall behind them.

Blow after blow may land on his opponent's head and torso, but any surge of elation at having some momentum is short lived. It gives way to shock and dismay as Bucky vaults towards him, steel shoulder first.

Let's take this moment of Matt involuntarily vaulting over Bucky's shoulder to be crystal clear: he is outclassed in strength and speed, and while he is talented, he is unseasoned beyond a few months of proverbially punching down against mobbed up hoods. He should be at his best at close quarter combat, where he usually prevails through brutal muay thai jabs and disarms, but Bucky's arm can't be disarmed (easily) and more than compensates for most of Matt's advantages.

It is not, of course, a dynamic he is entirely unfamiliar with. /Get the fuck up/, shouts his blind sensei from across a decade, as Matt lays felled, dazed, silent; knocked full-length on the cold concrete. /I don't even have your creepy supersenses, and I'm -still- kicking your ass./

It's the one lesson Matt can fairly claim to have learned from both his father figures, albeit in different ways:

Always get up.

And so he does, staggering to a crouch and then a stand, grimly ready to resume.

And then, just like that, without any fanfare, peeps up Jane Foster's soft, little voice. It pops up like a happy sunrise over so much traded violence, so much shared brutality —

"OK! I think I have enough!"

And that's that.

A glance back will find the woman, still seated innocuously on the ground where they both left her, cross-legged, and smiling cheerfully on, surrounded now in page after page of written notes, filling all available paper in her frantic and helpless math.

She clears her throat. "I mean, if you boys want. You don't get shows like this every day." Her smile goes crooked, hitched up into something tongue-to-cheek. "I'm sure not complaining. Well. Um. Any injuries to look at? Who wants coffee and donuts?"

The Winter Soldier is silent after literally throwing the Devil over his shoulder. He turns, a pivot on his heel, his sharp eyes regarding Matt as the vigilante does what he does best and soldiers through, picking himself back up off the floor and sinking back into a ready stance.

James is impressed, he can say that much. For a young man just starting out, Matt's already highly trained, skilled in a way that suggests formal instruction, and fast as hell. Bucky has the advantage of decades of killing experience, decades of teaching others to be as lethal as he himself is, and even then this Devil of Hell's Kitchen was scoring good hits and keeping pace.

"You'll be pretty damn scary once Jane gets you equipped," he nods at Matt as Jane calls an official halt to the 'festivities.' Unless they want to continue, she adds, to which he laughs, "I have enough bruises for my taste already."

He cracks his neck and shakes out his left arm with a whir of machinery. Who wants donuts and coffee? "I do," he says, heading unerringly in that direction, though he does pause along the way to look with interest at Jane's mound of incomprehensible math. "Which one is me?"

And then, with that chipper pronouncement, Jane Foster's science experiment is done — leaving Matt briefly adrift as adrenaline and all his aggressive impulses seem to slowly seep into the concrete beneath them. That process takes a moment, and it's only after the adjustment — and a minute to reclaim his breath — that his combat-ready stance relaxes and he pulls himself upright, either eskrima stick at his side.

"Guy's gotta live up to his name," Matt says of being scary — quiet, wry, and as subtly appreciative as one can be of someone who you just spent the last half-hour pummeling and getting pummeled by.

He won't echo Bucky on coffee and donuts; he'll just beat him to the punch. Bucky stops to look at what would be /twice/ as indecipherable for Matt; Matt beelines for refreshments. "So what's your take, Jane?" he says with as he pours the box of coffee into the cup, not bothering to look behind him. "Glad you got what you needed, but I've got to ask. What did you get?"

Sorting through about fifteen double-sided sheets of chaotic mathematical proof, Jane looks up, reddening faintly across the cheeks when Bucky both compliments her engineering and /then/ takes a passing interest in her theory. She flusters a little, unprepared for all that, but cannot even hope to hide the delight from her brown eyes.

She pulls a good seven pages to turn them in Bucky's direction as he walks past. To him, it looks as interchangeable as the other pages. Alien as ever. Jane beams shyly. "This is you! All of you, right here."

While the two men engage a race to see who gets the first pick of all the donuts with the coveted sprinkles, Jane meanwhile tidies up her little nerd nest, dusting off her jeans as she picks back up to her feet. She stops only, in subsequent afterthoughts, to jot more of her calculations down.

And then Matt asks the million-dollar question. Jane peeks up. He may not see the transparent surprise that unlocks her face, but her short, pregnant silence is telling. The surprise of a scientist just not /asked/ often, if ever, to lecture about her method.

This may be a mistake.

"Oh, just the usual things! Three-dimensional motion. Angular momentum. Angular velocity. Linear velocity AND momentum. Uniform circular motion. Definitely a Legendre transformation, I mean, you're not a capacitor but I can solve for the egregious parallels. I mean, what I just witnessed is no more than a bunch of conjugate energies, blah blah. It's fine. Figuring out the cotangent spaces might be a little dicey, but. Minor. Minor things." Jane emphatically waves that off. "And then I'm — probably talking weird words, aren't I."

She tries this again. "I'm basically solving you down to a single function. And I'll design to that function accordingly." She pauses. "You see things before they're coming."

Matt makes the smart move and goes for the refreshments before the super-soldier can get to them. Said super-soldier is distracted by the pages and pages of notes Jane has made, though he's chiefly interested them in the context of 'which one is me?'

Bucky can be a bit vain. That part of James Buchanan Barnes survived seventy years of torture pretty well.

Jane rustles through her notes and hands him a good seven pages of scribbled gibberish. He takes them and politely attempts to read them, but it all looks like nonsense to him (not Greek: he is passingly literate in Greek). He examines the pages, realizes a few seconds later that he's looking at them upside-down, and turns them right-side-up.

They still don't make sense.

He's privately relieved when Matt explicitly asks Jane what exactly she did get and what 'this is all of you!' really means in the context of this math. He listens intently as the nerd floodgates open, as Jane babbles some things he understands and many things he does not. Momentum and velocity he gets just fine, but the more esoteric things?

Bucky just reaches for a coffee. She's solving them down to a single function, Jane explains. And she tells Matt what his function is. He sees things before they happen.

"I did notice you almost seem precognitive," he says, taking an appreciative sip. "You sense intent before the strike ever happens."

Jane offers her first answer in hopelessly nerdy gobbledygook that reminds him of someone he knows, prompting a faint but fond tug at his lips. Her second answer produces noting of the kind outwardly, and internally it — and Bucky's follow-up — inspires sudden caution. There was a real risk in exposing himself to this pair: so much of his edge on the street is mystery. Letting anyone see how he fights, much less thinks — or, God forbid, perceives the world around him— is a risk that's hard to justify.

Except for the fact that his aims are ambitious, and his options for self-improvement and armament are few.

"I've been told I'm a pretty quick study," Matt allows in dry understatement as he nabs a doughnut and brings himself to a upright rise. "Most people with strong survival instincts go out of their way not to get hit. Guess I lean in." He pivots then, rather deliberately, away from theory and speculation about his abilities. "So what does that translate to? What do you have in mind for — uh, me?"

She tries, and fails, to suppress a smile as Bucky turns her notes right-side-up. Jane looks helplessly endeared.

There's a brief, but transparent pause from Jane, the silence of someone who doesn't quite buy Matt's explanation, or isn't fully convinced. Unlike James Barnes, she's no expert when it comes to reading combat, but that against what she just proofed — the math doesn't add up.

Either way, she seems to let it go, and doesn't linger on more questions even as he steers conversation away. In the end, she finds herself more than able to respect privacy. As someone who, in the last two months, /needs/ privacy in a way she's never before — Jane gets it.

"It translates to… well, good question," Jane asides, matter-of-factly. She's making this up as she goes too. "I suppose your strengths and weaknesses. But beyond that, things like speed and adaptability." She glances towards Bucky as if for confirmation; this is his area. "I need to study some more up on the actual physics of combat, at least the stuff that I might not be aware of. Designing for James here? I'd be concentrating on making him quicker. Be able to, sorry, video game words used, but tank through someone's guard and keep them close. You, though? I don't need to make you faster. You sure liked getting hit by James and standing back up. I think I need to make you sturdy."

Bucky looks up too, eyes lifting from his (right-side-up) notes, when Matt explains away his fighting style. He isn't really convinced by the vague explanation either, but he does also notice the sudden caution in the Devil's demeanor, and in deference to that he doesn't press. He just lowers his gaze back to the squiggles that apparently represent him.

He doesn't look back up until a telltale lull in the conversation indicates someone is waiting for his input. He looks up to find Jane glancing at him for affirmation. "Oh," he says. He considers the Devil a moment.

"Yeah," he eventually evaluates. "You don't need help with speed or agility. Those are your strengths. Not with perception, either. You blocked a hit going straight for your lower back. You need durability. You got a lot of internal grit, standing back up all the time after getting hit. Couldn't hurt to design to make you better at doing it."

He pauses. His gaze turns severely on Jane. "Wait," he protests. "I'm plenty quick."

"Knowing is half the battle, and the other half is not getting knocked on your ass," the man in black sums up pithily, pleased with himself right up until he realizes that /at least/ one of them party won't get the reference to Saturday morning cartoons from the twilight of the 20th Century. Whatever he makes of their measure of him, he seems to accept the conclusions they draw, or at least offers no obvious complaint to them. He has been grievously injured within the span of the last two months; anything that prevents a repeat performance is fine in his book.

He won't make any attempt to peruse Jane's scribblings. After all, he wouldn't be able to read it unless he /literally/ had his hands on it, sensing the indentations of pen on page with hyper-sensitive fingertips, and even then wouldn't be able to decipher it. He takes what she — they — recommend at their face value, at least for now.

"Okay," he says quietly, though only after having downed half a doughnut. "Sounds good. What are next steps? What more do you need from /me/ to make it happen?"

To Bucky's protestations, not a solitary word; just a quick tug at the corner of one lip.

The protest from James earns Jane's eyes. She agrees absolutely, his quickness his beyond human limits, but, well, she likes to tease him a bit from time to time. He usually deserves it. Smiling crookedly, she waves a hand back-and-forth. It's OK.

Her attention swung back to Matt, Jane gets the reference. Her amusement grows at the realization that she'll have to teach G.I Joe to James later on. It's probably not going to go over well, probably as he rails for a half-day straight about how parrots are not standard issue.

"Next steps? Maybe a few more sessions like this one. The more I see, the better. Hell," Jane adds, though with certainty this idea will be turned down, "let me come with some nights and see how you parkour it out. With binoculars and everything. It'd be helpful to see how you operate in the urban jungle, see if I need to make you more aerodynamic or not. Otherwise? Most of it is on me. Fortunately… I've done some homework."

With that, Jane opens and pokes again through the rucksack. What she comes out with is… something not that impressive, or even significant, no more than an arm's length of strange, black fabric, cloth-thin, light, and flexible. She steps over to hand it over to Matt to take in hand, play with, and whatnot. "Still a work in progress, but — check it out. Knife-proof, bullet-proof, fire-proof. Still need to test higher-calibers and explosions. Absorbs light. And it's really quiet."

Bucky turns away pointedly from Jane's so-so wave. Whatever, Jane.

It doesn't help that Matt seems to be quoting something that flies straight over his head, but which Jane gets without a hitch. He glances back and forth between them, suspicious at this wordless exchange of late twentieth-century cultural wisdom, before he just makes a handwave gesture of his own and drinks more of his coffee. "I'll get Jane to tell me later," he resigns himself.

He frowns pointedly, however, as Jane goes so far as to offer to just tag along some nights and see how the Devil parkours through Hell's Kitchen. "If you insist on THAT," he says doggedly, "I am coming with you."

He takes more active interest as Jane takes out the fabric she's created. He comes over to her side for a closer look, even though he's seen it before. "It's good shit," he says. "Tested it myself. Stopped a .45 point blank, no issues."

It's a wash, really. 80s references are lost on Bucky, while modern TV references are lost on Matt Murdock. What the hell does /parkour it out/ mean, anyway?

Regardless, he resolves not to let himself or this test get enmeshed in this (weirdly charming) couple's banter, bickering, or — whatever. He gives a noncommittal shrug of his shoulders to the idea of her following him around. 'I'll think about it,' the gesture says says.

Then there's what would be the simple sound of rustling fabric to anyone else, but what to Matt, with all his sensory powers, is a revelation to his ears. It stops him dead in his slow pace towards the coffee, sees him angling his aspect towards Foster and her precious cargo. Her footsteps — and Bucky's — draw closer towards him, while Matt reaches out for the strip of offered fabric with a confidence he would never betray in daylight. "Huh," he breathes out as he slides the strip between his fingers, gauging with exactitude a hundred qualities few others could begin to guess at: density, resilience, flexibility, durability. All of those impressions register with the sweep of a still-gloved thumb, and something in his breath catches.

"Looks good," he offers after a long beat. Another, shorter one, and then: "Got anything in red?"

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