Man Without Fear

April 16, 2017:

Jane and Bucky present Matt Murdock with the results of her tireless engineering work: advanced gear and armor to help him in his war against the dangers of Hell's Kitchen.

Hell's Kitchen, New York

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's been a few weeks since Matt Murdock's last contact with Bucky and Jane and their promises about totally sweet armor. Surely Jane needed some time to analyze and put all that data into practice— data gathered from having the two men punch each other, obviously a totally legitimate data collection strategy— but on the other hand, does it really take this long?

Maybe something happened? (Spoiler: something totally happened. They wound up in Hell. Probably best Murdock doesn't know about that).

But then the call came to meet up, at the warehouse they met at last time. On the Daredevil's arrival— unless he's there early, like some kind of super-ninja— it'll be to find Jane setting up and Bucky securing the area, performing a quiet prowling sweep of the environs and the warehouse interior to make sure there's no mafia or demons or supervillains lurking in the immediate vicinity.

As one might come to expect, there's also a box of donuts and some coffees sitting on a derelict workbench.

Matt did, in fact, stake the area out early, though there's no /obvious/ sign of it. The warehouse is seemingly gargoyle-free when Bucky & Jane arrive. Of course, Matt's peculiar talents make it more than possible for him to observe the environs at some remove, tracking by sight, smell, and his peculiar brand of echolocations any aforementioned sorts of unexpected threats and, eventually, the arrival of this strange pair of acquaintances he's made.

He gives them a little time to conduct their own reconnoiter of the area before he makes his way to the side-door entrance. There's absolutely no attempt to hide the sound of the open and shut of the metal doorway. It's a useful way to alert them to his presence — and far more advisable than sneaking up on a one-time assassin who gave him a run for his money weeks back.

"You shouldn't have," he says dryly with a jut of his slightly-stubbled chin to the donuts as he steps, masked-as-ever, into the dim light of the warehouse. There's no recrimination or questions for the weeks-long stretch of silence — Matt's never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth. "No trouble getting here?"

There's little chatter from Jane Foster's side of things as Bucky Barnes performs his rote appraisal of the warehouse. She stays respectfully quiet, better to give him the silence he needs to make his job easier; her noise is scant and minimal, no more than the work of hefting up an oversized, locked briefcase to one table and giving the lot of it one, last, pensive look. Probably doing a mental, last-minute checklist of everything, everything she's promised to do, everything she's done so far, giving herself wholly to her tunnel-vision as the soldier at her back looks for worse threats.

It's a comfortable silence between them, man and woman too used to each other's habits.

Jane taps one finger against her mouth, head tilted — before her thoughts disperse at the first sound of the door, followed the Devil of Hell's Kitchen's voice, and all of its familiar, lazy sarcasm. Glancing over her shoulder, her expression starflares with a brief, wide grin. "Trouble?" she asks back. "What, with Mr. 'It's a Cold Day in Hell You Ever Go To Hell's Kitchen Alone' Paranoia over there? Never trouble. How've you been? I'm really sorry it's taken — but it's ready."

Bucky's head turns at Matt's first approach, his heightened senses unerringly telling him that someone's coming— and then identifying for him who that someone is. "Sockdevil in two," he alerts Jane, because why be friends with a shadowy vigilante of Hell's Kitchen if you can't come up with adorable nicknames to identify him, and finishes his sweep to circle back to her side.

You shouldn't have, Matt says dryly as he makes his appearance and notices the donuts. Bucky shrugs with a flicker of a grin. "Figured it was tradition."

No trouble getting here? the Daredevil wants to know. Jane answers before Bucky can, and with an answer that draws a frown from 'Mr. Paranoia' himself. "There's never trouble because of my paranoia," he grumbles, "ingrate."

He flicks his gaze back to Matt. "She does have some neat stuff in there," he admits.

Sockdevil. Good grief. Truth be told, even if all goes swimmingly with this new effort of Jane's, Matt Murdock will miss the sock. The nylon-spandex mesh bandana — or the various iterations of it, what with several of the like having been damaged in the course of his adventures — has served him well (enough) for three months now. The compression shirt was simple, durable, and kept him warm in the chilly months he bore it; the cargo pants were a utilitarian marvel, allowing him to move freely and store the surprising amount of /stuff/ you need to do this strangest of tasks.

But he's also had enough close calls, enough bruises and welts and close shaves with a knife's edge — and at least one stint in the ICU — that he knows it is time to move up and move on. Especially with the bevy of —

"I've been — fine," he says with a twitch of his lips to Jane's friendly question as he stalk-steps to a more companionable range.

It's still more than a little strange to him, making chit-chat while wearing the mask. His first few months he wore it almost entirely silently, equally taciturn while stealthing along the New York City skyline or dealing out brutal pain. But between this burgeoning friendship and his investigatory tracks with Jessica Jones, he's (slowly) learning how to relate to others and form connections as the Devil by simple necessity.

"Oh, I believe it," Matt adds to Bucky Barnes grudging praise for Jane's work. "I'm looking forward to seeing it."

Called an ingrate, Jane replies with a crooked grin.

But her attention diverts, no doubt catching the telling pause in the Devil's reply. The woman slants the vigilante a look, something searching about her dark eyes, though there's not much there she can particularly glean in his masked features. Not much a person can read from the smiling line of someone's jaw. She looks for a moment like she wants to frown, clearly skeptical, though she eventually relents. If he has trouble enough getting used to conversation under the Devil persona, time for the reality of Jane Foster worrying about him.

She's just going to quietly add this tally mark to her own guilt, and that if he's been hurt on the job in the interim, it's her fault for not getting this finished fast enough.

Fortunately, pulling Jane out of her little knot of shame is Bucky's compliment, and the Devil's ready agreement. She goes momentarily deer-in-headlights, then glances away, her cheeks flushed all the way to her ears. "Well," she babbles awkwardly, clearly unused to even being a momentary center of attention. "It's — uh, it's right there. You should do the honours. It's yours now, after all."

It sits in an oversized briefcase, set with obvious locks — probably at Bucky Barnes's request. Unlocked now, when he would go to open it —

— inside are three gifts. The first two are a set of batons, similar to the kind he wielded himself the last time, rather than wood forged of a strangely-light, solid metal alloy. The last is a folded suit. The fabric is deceptively thin and light, the yield somewhere between the thinness of leather and cotton. It feels reinforced in places, though the padding feels more like some tertiary shock absorbant than something designed solely to protect. There is a mask, and to feel it over and find two horns — it seems Jane Foster took the Devil moniker to heart.

It's red as promised.

He's been… fine, Matt says. Bucky cocks an eye at the slight pause, but he doesn't inquire. He has his own secrets; the Daredevil is more than permitted to have his. He feels similarly strange about just… making conversation, here, though the strangeness, for him, is really the opposite of what it is for Matt. Matt's not used to making conversation with others with the mask on; Bucky's not used to making it with the mask off. Over the seventy years of his operation, he would on occasion be required to speak and interact, and the nature of his existence demanded that he never do so without a mask shrouding his features.

He turns his attention to Jane as she gives Matt a look, too, at that pause. He can read her expression quite well— the guilt that comes and goes in her eyes— and he puts a hand on her shoulder in a quelling gesture of brief comfort. Not her fault.

He prompts her to just show what she's got, and she blushes at the praise. Bucky rolls his eyes good-naturedly at her self-consciousness, giving her a slight nudge as Matt presumably heads over to open up the briefcase. Presumably he's heard where Jane put it down so has no issue finding it.

"We tested out multiple calibers on that," he nods at the fabric, in particular. "Should hold up without issue against most pistol and rifle fire, though I wouldn't advise trying to take a .300 with your face or anything."

Matt may be a keen study of the human condition, privvy to all sorts of secrets most people keep beneath the masks they present to the world — but he misses most of the ripples his halting answer causes, whether it's Jane's consternation or Bucky's reassurance. Chalk it up to how removed those responses are from the physical, or just blame it on the distraction that inevitably comes from having something long-awaited so nearly within your grasp.

Whatever his eagerness, Matt moves with deliberate, vaguely feline grace towards the chest. He drops to one knee beside it, snapping open the case deftly despite his wrapped fingers. He absorbs its contents in ways they couldn't perceive. Red or black, he honestly wouldn't know the difference, but even without laying his hands on it he can sense its contours and gauge its density.

"No .300s to the face — got it," Matt quips, almost absently, as he finally brings his hands to bear, skimming over the little grooves and indentations, testing its give against the pressure of his fingertips, and finally lifting it gently out of the case as if he were holding something very precious. Eventually, head bowed towards the suit, he lets out the breath he didn't even know he'd been holding.

He brings one hand out to heft the bound batons, weighing them appreciatively in a cloth bound palm before setting them gently beside him. Lastly, he reaches for the mask, and his grazing of those two horns on the masks' brow that Matt Murdock offers his first visible reaction to what's been laid out for him — a smile, a sharp and fierce slash of white utterly incongruous to the Devil's traditionally stone-faced glower. The expression contains measures of appreciation, gratitude, and even something like relief.

"They're… perfect," he says with quiet fervor, his aspect angled towards Jane. "Thanks, Foster."

The hand on her shoulder pulls Jane out of her darker thoughts. Old hat when it comes to guilt, Bucky Barnes has no difficulty recognizing it haunting others, and his touch offers a wordless argument to her self-castigation. She tilts up her head to pass him a quick, grateful look, though her eyes are already coloured with a familiar burden: with these gifts, she officially considers herself solely and single-handedly responsible for the safety of the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. Anything that make happen to him, especially on part of her equipment — will be a weight she'll have to carry.

Probably the only impetus that carried Jane Foster past that concern is the dogged belief that /she is the best and her work is infallible./ And she will trust in both immeasurably.

At the nudge, probably to break up her bashfulness, she takes Bucky's hand in a brief squeeze, then turns her attention inevitably back to watch the Devil approach and acquaint himself with his upgrades. Jane bites down anxiously on her bottom lip, both excited and nervous, holding for herself that same breath of not really knowing how someone will react.

He calls it all perfect. And Dr. Foster, ever the professional, blushes all over again. Compliments for her work are the most affecting to her.

"My friends call me Jane," she answers to that, with that the unspoken implication that the vigilante is officially a friend of the strange Barnes-Foster household. NO ESCAPE.

Clearing her throat, trying to get her bearings back, she continues on, far more pragmatically, "James is right. He helped me with all the munitions tests. Did it all himself. He was actually — he gave me the idea for it. The fabric is carbon nanotube aggregate. In the biz they call it Buckypaper," she explains, with a lopsided smile. "I, well, made it better. Less brittle, more elastic. It won't feel like much, but it stands up. It redistributes energy along a gradient, so, uh, standard bullets?" Jane glances at Bucky. She doesn't know the gun obsessor terminology for that. "They won't have the hit you're expecting with stuff like kevlar. It shouldn't even bruise. When you get up to that caliber he was saying, it's… not perfect. It might save your life, but you won't exactly be able to walk away. But most things? Even knives, bludgeon type things? Falling, even? It's not going to hurt that much."

She fidgets restlessly with her hands. "I designed it — to you. It should be enough not to impede you. But it might actually not be perfect. This is the important step. Field tests. I had to extrapolate: how you move, how you react. And I guess even that changes over time. So if anything seems off, give me a call. I'll make whatever adjustment you need. Anytime.""

Jane pauses again. She's forgetting something. She always forgets something. What is she forgetting? What could — "Oh! I put grapple lines in the batons," she adds, almost casually. Grapple lines, why not. "They can punch through concrete. They're retractable. I remember you're pretty aerial."

An indulgent smile crosses Bucky's face briefly at the Devil's reaction to his new kit. He never gets tired of seeing people get new things, from troops getting requisitioned gear back in the war, on up to a lone vigilante receiving personal armor with which to defend Hell's Kitchen.

They're perfect, Matt says. Bucky gives Jane another 'told you so' nudge with his shoulder.

Some of his indulgence falters in favor of a wry look when Jane says he was actually the inspiration for the material. He still can't get over something being called Buckypaper. "'Gave' is such an active word for it," he says. "More like I existed and she had an idea and went to live in her lab for a week."

He lets her expound more on the actual properties of the material, however, because she's much more qualified to speak about that part (though he rolls his eyes a little at 'standard bullets'). "Best way to see its capabilities is probably gonna be taking it for a spin," he says. "Or a couple spins. See how it feels and performs, get an idea of how much more durable you are. Jane certainly did."

He nods at the batons. "Found her hanging from the lab roof by those more evenings than I would like."

"Jane," Matt repeats quietly, assent and affirmation found in his voice.

He listens to the rest — to the origins of the material, the testing sessions to prove its worth — intently, even if it may not seem like it from the way he's rotating the suit in his hands here, lifting up the mask for scrutiny there. His gut reaction may have been to declare it all perfection, but enough rides on the details that he'll do his due diligence. Among those details: the red-tinted panes in the mask's the eye-holes that he'd requested, at once obscuring the color of his eyes from the world and — presumably — decking his view of the outside world in crimson and effectively rendering him color-blind. The sticks are separated, clacked together to measure their weight and resistance.

What they're telling him is nothing short of remarkable. Surviving bullets without bruises, withstanding knives or blunt instruments — all of many dangers the nights of Hell's Kitchen has had in store for a would-be crime-fighter. And /grapple lines/, to which the Devil actually chortles, even as he imagines the manifold possibilities. "I asked for a little help, and you went all Caped Crusader on me." He lets out a sigh, tipping his head briefly skyward in something almost — or quiet possibly actually — reverent.

"Testing I can promise you," Matt says as he puts the items back in their case and comes to a rise. "This — well. This came at a good time, is all I can say." A beat, and then his masked countenance cants rightward. "How can I repay you?"

The second nudge from Bucky quirks up Jane's mouth. She leans momentarily on him with the unspoken resignation of 'OK, OK, you're right, you're always right.'

Despite her self-consciousness, telling pride writes itself all over Dr. Foster's face. Not one for attention, it doesn't mean she's not astoundingly secure — and arrogantly so — about her own ability and intelligence. She's not used to the fanfare involved, but she knows what she's capable of. She knows there are few things in this world so far, even inside its stranger parts, that are beyond the grasp of her mind. Her provided gear contains, so far, all of Matt's requests. His vision combined with her engineering.

"You might give Batpeople a run for their money now," Jane replies haughtily, her smile audible in her all her words. "I kinda had a breakthrough. It kills me I'll never be able to patent it, and you know, for obvious reasons, but I actually don't think the world is ready for it. At least the bad parts of the world."

Bucky's advice has Jane agreeing with an eager nod. "What James says. Test it out, because I guess you won't be fighting now the way you used to. You're gonna have mileage now." A pause. "And I was only hanging — it was only that one time! It was one time. It wasn't releasing — there's a release button. It works now."

Either way, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen asks how he can repay her. Jane's eyebrows lift with surprise. "What?" she asks, not expecting that question. "This isn't — no need! Saved my life once, remember? And even then, you're… this is bigger than that. You're doing a good thing. I'm happy to — I /want/ to be a part of it. Let's just say I've had some… I've had things happen. I'm officially off the sidelines, so whatever war you're starting, count me in."

There is a look in Jane's eyes, however, replaying Matt's question. How can he replay? Please don't overestimate his equipment and get himself killed, because she'll never forgive herself. She is silent a moment. "Just… be careful? I upgraded you, but you're not invincible."

Jane gives up and leans into him, a tacit admission that he is always right. The look on Bucky's face turns momentarily self-satisfied.

Not that he won't still give her a little bit of shit, though. Like about the initial tests she ran on the grappling mechanism. He chuckles as she bristles with indignant defensiveness. "Good to hear it works now," he observes. "Though, what were you gonna do in the moment if it HAD worked then? Plummet down from the ceiling? Not sure you set up anything to catch you on the floor."

His attention turns back to Matt, however, as he speaks up. It comes at a good time, the Devil says.

Bucky tilts his head. An observant man both by nature and training, he focuses in on the phrase and what it implies without saying aloud. "There's no need for repayment," is the only thing he says aloud immediately, however. "Like Jane said, you saved her from her own inexplicable attraction to walking around Hell's Kitchen, and it's enough you're… doing good work. At your own risk."

There is a brief but very heavy silence when Jane mentions that she's had things happen.

Given they're in company, the momentary shadow that crosses his eyes doesn't last long. "But if you're asking… well, she wants you to be careful. I want you to… get in touch with us if there's anything else you need help with down the line." He won't say it aloud, but he's got guilt of his own, and debts to society he foresees himself repaying for years. Even if it was not his choice to do the things that saddled him with such debts to begin with.

The visual image of pint-sized Jane Foster suspended, hanging from the ceiling from a grappling hook has Matt stifling a smile, though whatever expression it finds fades of its own volition when Jane mentions that she's 'had things happen.' It's hard to say whether his half-obscured expression conveys /concern/ — but at the very least she'll feel the full weight of his attention in the long beat of silence that follows.

Especially since she seems to want no other payment for a technological marvel other than, perhaps, a little bit of caution on Matt's part. The generosity of it all leaves him briefly flummoxed, unable to offer anything other than a: "I'll do my best."

Note to Jane Foster: Matt Murdock's 'best' at being careful leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.

"If I can think of ways for you to help — I'll let you know," he says of his mission, the contours of which are only now taking anything like a discernable shape. It might be a nicety he's offering them, were recently discovered details about munitions companies and biotechnology acquisitions and suggestions of a vast and growing network of dark and dirty science not fresh in his mind. Jane Foster's help might well come in handy — and though he's loathe to drag Bucky back into the cauldron of violence from which he just recently escaped, it's not lost on him that he'd be good to have in a fight if things get truly hairy.

"And," Matt counters with quiet sincerity, "if you ever need /my/ help — backup of any kind — you've got my number. You call? I'll show."

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