Lost in the Mail

July 21, 2017:

When traitors inside of SHIELD's very walls conspire to keep valuable evidence about Bucky Barnes away from the defense team, Daredevil and Agent Phil Coulson forge an unlikely team-up, traveling to a remote Hydra facility so they can get it back.

Hell's Kitchen, NYC and the Smoky Mountains, TN

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, Steve Rogers, Peggy Carter

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Summer days in the city run long. Dusk comes just before nine o'clock, when the old have long since gone to their homes and the city rings with the sounds of the young would-be immortals — and those who would prey upon them. Outside the grey-green walls of Nelson & Murdock's offices, Matt feels the city thrum and vibrate with energy and expectation, hears laughter and half-a-dozen languages. No sirens — yet — no shouts or screams, but he knows the rhythms of his hometown well enough to know they'll come in due time.

While he waits, he works. There's always more to do. More depositions to go through, more police reports, more witness preparation and expert evaluations to pare and parse. He feels like he's married to his braille monitor at his desk these days, and here he's hunched over, scanning fingertips along the rising and falling hills of his keypad.

He's alone, and therefore in the dark. Even if your name weren't Matt Murdock, you could hear pin drop.

*

He won't hear a pin drop, but he'll hear very soft steps approaching. Not the front door, but the back. The cadence of heartbeat and breath suggest someone slipping through alleyways, making use of shadows and opportunities to hide his approach from anyone who might be watching outside, but are not consistent with malice. The heartbeat says 'male, older, late 40s, early 50s.' The sounds of cloth over metal do suggest he is armed, but that the weapons have not been drawn. Two weapons…one closer to his hand on a shoulder holster that brings with it the smell of some sort of very powerful biological agent even through the door, and one in an ankle holster that feels like a regular pistol.

The man knocks gently on the door. He's trying to keep it quiet. Very quiet indeed.

Shorter than Murdock himself by a good three inches, the man on the other side has the broad outline of a solid pair of shoulders. He smells of both the mundane and the fantastic even without taking his weapons into account. The smell of old books and fresh ink predominates, along with a sort of cafe au lait scent that follows him everywhere, very gently. He uses the world's most bland of soaps: Ivory, a clean that's 99.44 and utterly forgettable. The scent of Rogaine shampoo might indicate a very human desire to win a battle with a receeding hairline.

*

While the firm has souped up its cyber-security and installed security cameras, Matt put his foot down when Foggy suggested armed P.I.s during office hours as a precaution against all the 'wingnuts and psychos' out there who were making 'very threatening threats.' But Matt had been adamant. "We don't need it and we can't afford it," he insisted, in perhaps the single instance in the short history of the firm where Murdock was the more penny-wise and prudent of the partners.

He had his reasons for confidence, which extend to why he feels not a hint of fear at the approach or quiet knock on his door. Curiosity is the overriding emotion, prompting him to push himself to a rise after the first knock stands and grab his prop — and failsafe potential weapon — of a walking stick as he approaches the door. There's no hostility to be found in the heartbeat he scans, no fight on the horizon. But he must appear to play the part of the mild-mannered blind lawyer, and so he'll say, softly: "Who's there?" to the man on the other side of the door he hovers at.

*

"Agent Phil Coulson, SHIELD."

Phil's heartbeat doesn't stir a bit, doesn't betray any hint of a lie. Mild-mannered blind lawyer, meet mild-mannered dork Agent. "I would like a moment of your time, if I may."

Currents swirl at his wrist, layers upon layers of micro-circuits, some sort of high-powered spy watch more advanced than even the most advanced of Stark phones. That, the hand that's dropping now, the one that was poised to knock. "I apologize for disturbing you at this late hour, and I apologize for coming to see you so late in the game. There have been…complications."

That word sounds absolutely like the most understated of all understatements, even from a man who understates everything.

*

The door opens to reveal Matt Murdock after-hours. He's still bespectacled, but his suit jacket is discarded, his tie loosened, and the sleeves rolled up half-way along his forearms. His hair is slightly disheveled, and his seemingly perpetual five o'clock shadow has turned into an outright stubble. "Agent Coulson," Matt repeats in his customarily quiet tone, stepping back to allow the man inside.

"Thanks for dropping by," the lawyer says dryly. "I was wondering if my subpoenas had gotten lost in the mail." And there have been many — for recovered evidence, case files, witness testimony above and beyond that of Agent Carter or Captain Rogers. "Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee's running cold, but we've got water. I'd offer you a beer, but I expect you're on duty."

*

A flash of something in Phil's physiology signals something like regret at the mild rebuke.

But he doesn't address it. Not directly, anyway, though an answer is forthcoming. "Water would be fine, thank you," he says, tacitly acknowledging that he is, indeed, on duty.

He stays clear of the windows. He doesn't move to take a seat. But he does speak.

"I've been in the process of declassifying much of the data you requested, Mr. Murdock. I have brought you some tonight, but here is where things get…hairy. I'm holding out a thumb drive," he offers, not at all realizing that it's unneccesary to make this declaration, for there is his hand, and there is the drive. "It has what I have definitively recovered from what looks to be a focused clean-up effort from within my own organization. It's about a third of the information that will help you. I suggest you keep it off of any network, print hard copies, get several back ups into safe-deposit boxes and keep right on sending subpeonas."

There's more, but…this is where he's starting.

*

Matt is used to playing the admittedly improbable host in this office, turning and tap the side-wall to anchor and orient himself before making his way to the kitchenette and scooping a bottle of water off of the counter. A pivot, a few steps forward, and he's reaching out with it for Coulson to take. By the time he's there, of course, Coulson has his own hand outstretched with a thumb drive containing intelligence vital to the survival of his client, making it all seem like the strangest of exchanges.

Still, Matt goes through with it, reaching out for and claiming the drive and then offering the bottle to the agent. He digests the rest, though a flash of anger passes through his ordinarily unflappable countenance. "Jesus Christ," he curses quietly. "You're telling me that agents of SHIELD are trying to destroy evidence that could — " he tucks the thumb-drive in his pocket for the moment. "What are the chances of our office ever getting ahold of the other two-thirds?"

*

When Phil takes the water he in fact does it in such a way that would make it seem as though an exchange of a water bottle was all that had happened. He does uncap it and sip at it, though not out of any real interest. Some combination of selling that moment, and simply being polite.

"Not Agents of SHIELD, though some of them are doing a real good job at posing as some," Phil says grimly. "I believe Hydra has infiltrated our organization. They have a vested interest in seeing your client put away for a very long time, I think…and in making sure their mind control efforts are never revealed to the world. Sadly everything related to Ozone Park has either been classified so tightly that I can't get to it or has simply been erased. You'll have to rely on testimony there. That includes all the computer records, data, tapes, correspondence…all of it."

Everything Peggy says she saw and memorized, in fact…which means that part of it is down to her, and any continuing courage she might have to defy the classification.

"The third on that thumb-drive is all of SHIELD's research into the nanites they were using to rewrite the neurology of their victims. We did extensive experimentation, took photos your partner can review, took video of the research. It's all there." Meaning Matt doesn't have to rely on the more dubious adventures of a certain pair of Corpse Snatchers, or their slap-dash research which was really meant to figure out a way to disable the nanites, and little more. "There's also a bit about Barnes' very first capture by Hydra…though it's heavily redacted. The real stuff has been classified above my paygrade since before I joined the organization, so on that count I'm afraid you'll have to make do."

Quietly, "I'm trying to track down the rest of it. All of SHIELD's research into all the methods Hydra has ever used to brainwash, coerce, or rewrite another person. I have reason to believe it still exists but has all been moved to an off-site location."

He's already moving for the door. "I can't stay long, Mr. Murdock, if I'm to retrieve it. As it is, I've already had to give one tail the slip tonight, and given it was at the edges of this neighborhood it may not be difficult to tell where I've been. I suggest you leave quickly yourself…and find some way to make it seem as though you were not here when I arrived tonight."

Moving for the door, but Matt can hear it…the sounds of people who are hostile. Five men, moving like commandos, closing in on the Offices of Nelson and Murdock. Closing in fast.

*

Matt's jaw juts when he receives that dire verdict from this mild-mannered, balding spy out of a John le Carré novel. The enormity of it is staggering. Hydra has infiltrated a global security agency with a fleet full of helicarriers, a massive edifice in DC, and manpower all over the world. What's more, those moles are turning their wrath towards his client. "Jesus H. Christ," the lawyer mutters, surely wanting to substitute an 'F' for the 'H' — but he's still got too much of the altar-boy in him.

The rest he absorbs — Peggy's his only hope, so he better damn well sell her to the judge — but that train of thought is broken both by Coulson's insistence that he leaves and the sudden confirmation that he should from the sound of rushing heartbeats and footfalls approaching. "The back entrance," Matt says quickly, snatching back his walking stick from where he left it propped against the wall.

*

The balding spy doesn't waste a single moment questioning Matt Murdock. He pulls the strange gun, the one that smells like some sort of biological agent— like and yet wholly unlike snake venom. He opens the door. "Go. Fast as you can. I've got you covered," he says, protective over a man who, as far as he knows, cannot protect himself. His voice carries quiet confidence and command, and the impact of adrenaline on his system is muted. His heart barely stirs in response, and his breathing changes just enough to register total focus.

As if sensing their quarry is about to give them the slip, though, the Hydra agents put on a burst of speed. They burst through the front door, invading this little law office in a way that is wholly surreal. They are armed, it seems, with the same kind of weapon he is. Phil steps to try to block Murdock from view, as well as cover his escape, firing smoothly in a way that instantly drops one to the ground. Whoever it is continues to breathe; his heart continues to beat, but he seems completely paralyzed.

Nevertheless, shots are already coming Phil's way. He's moving, diving for cover behind poor Foggy's desk, but…a betting man would probably bet on him being overwhelmed quickly. His reflexes are a hair slower than theirs; he's in peak condition, but the slow, inevitable effects of age have begun to creep up on this man. These men are in their 20s and 30s, and they're all in peak condition too.

*

It's that eternal choice the masked ones dread: Do I break cover to protect others, or do I put my anonymity ahead of the lives of others to go suit up? For Matt, each time the terrible choice is different. It depends on the threat, the people threatened, and the options available for safeguarding his identity. Months ago in Sal's deli he 'faked' flailing effectively enough to punch a wizard in the throat — but there's no faking here against these trained killers. He'd have to go all out, using his walking stick and his wits as a weapon, and from the moment he did he'd be made by SHIELD and Hydra at once.

This guy won't last long, Matt thinks to himself. But he's trained, and he's not an idiot. He can last long enough.

A beat. Maybe.

But the choice is made quick and he's gone, keeping his head low and rushing for the back entrance. Pretense is immediately abandoned; he sprints with a speed few would ever credit him, the door bursting open — a walking stick discarded in the alley — a firescape grappled with and expertly scaled. His apartment is a block away, thank God, and the trail between them is a path he knows all too well. He feels a thumb drive burn a hole in his woolen pocket as he slips into his room.

He's sweating through his clothes, he finds as he casts them off furiously puts on the red and black body armor Jane Foster fashioned for him a lifetime ago. Then a short, sharp breath and he's up and out on the rooftop again, breaking his baton to reveal a grappling hook, and honing in on the office below…

*

Phil Coulson is indeed not an idiot, and he has indeed lasted. He just hasn't put down any of his attackers. He has maneuvered them though. He's managed to put the little hallway-like breakroom at his back, creating a bottleneck so he only has to fight one at a time. His strange pistol is gone, but as the Daredevil arrives he'll find at least one of theirs is too. His heart is pounding now with exertion. There are tiny flickers of fear, but they're like little candles flickering on the surface of a birthday cake. He blocks a blow from a nightstick and slams his fist into the face of the one who went into the breakroom after him.

But as the Daredevil hones in on the office below he'll find two of the men drawing careful beads on Phil's head as he fights, lining up shots with those toxic rifles. The third is standing point on the back door, looking for another target. They know someone got out that way. Their backs, however, are to the front door, providing Daredevil with an opportunity to strike before they are aware of a new player— well. New-to-them…in this unfolding drama.

*

Never has Matt's finely tuned senses — which give him a tactical, radar like view of a world aflame — come in handier. From his vantage on the rooftop he sees everything and everyone laid out below him. He sees the exits and the entrances, the choke points and the pit-traps. And so, of course, after a glide and a leap and a stumble he thanks God no one can see, he's there and —

The front door to which the men have their backs turned crashes open with lightning speed and jarring force, enough to knock them askew as the Devil of Hell's Kitchen comes storming in and rounds on the staggering assailants. The baton is lifted high before it falls low, aiming for the temple of one of the men in black.

*

Down he goes, crashing with a grunt, the well placed strike rendering him insensate in seconds, unable to defend from a thing he never saw coming.

His associate by the back door recovers quickly, turning the bap-bap of one of those guns on Daredevil himself. Of course, he can feel the bullets cutting through the air— lighter than normal bullets, faster, but also smellier. The toxins all but draw trails for him to perceive. The gunman closer to the one Daredevil took down whirls to try to draw a shot on him instead, but the half-turn isn't clean, and there's certainly going to be a moment where he just can't make it happen. Reflex lag time and the brain's flail to catch up with new circumstances can be a real bitch, even for trained men.

In the little alcove, Matt's poor coffee pot hits the floor, and cooling coffee splashes everywhere. The two men go down in a grappling struggle thanks to the newly wet and slippery floors. It does have the effect of ensuring Phil gets down? Just…with a man who is quite a bit bigger than him on top of him. For all that, the agent is over there holding his own, at least for the time being. It just means…he's no help at all, really, to the man in red.

*

Can I do this? Daredevils wonders with genuine incredulity in the split-second in which he's already whirling around to try and bat away the smelly bio-dart or whatever-the-fuck these assholes are shooting at him. It shouldn't be possible, really, for all that Stick told him it was. Really the thing should just strike him in that soft and unarmored spot where his chin slips towards his neck, and that would be the end of it. But lo and behold, his reflexes are true and the the bullet strikes the metal of his baton, ricocheting into the wall.

I can totally do that, he marvels in the next split-second that the chaos of the battle affords him.

It isn't a sustainable model, though, and so he closes the distance with the closer gunman as quickly as he can, making sure that his back is facing the compatriot further down the hall. A spinning kick aims for the right shoulder and chest of the gunman.

*

The spinning kick staggers Daredevil's closer opponent, though it doesn't take him out. What it does do, as heel connects hard with shoulder, is force him to drop his space-aged stun gun. It hits the ground with a clatter. Safeties built right into the weapon prevent it from going off, prevent it from sending more rounds into the fray.

The one by the door has a very eloquent response to seeing the Daredevil catch bullets on his baton. "Dafuq?" he whispers, startled. He raises the gun again, but realizes his shot's been blocked. He also decides it's not really useful anyway so…he draws a baton of his own, and begins circling in an attempt to flank. Meanwhile, the one Matt kicked shows that he is no pushover in the hand-to-hand combat arena either. These guys? Might present a real challenge. They're even similarly armored. He responds with a hard left-legged round kick meant to tag Matt in the ribs, and a backfist meant to take him hard in the face.

Phil, meanwhile, gets his hands on the actual coffee pot. He shatters it right in the face of his opponent, gaining an advantage as glass spirals into eyes and cuts into the Hydra agent's cheeks. His breathing is a bit heavy as he takes further advantage, punching the fellow in the throat. That fight still isn't done, but at least it's turning, a bit. Daredevil probably won't have to face three men…

But…there's a good chance he will have to take out these two on his own. Because now Phil is dealing with a man angry and frantic enough to draw an actual lethal pistol at point blank range.

*

Matt takes stock of the circling opponents and steels himself for a real fight. That impression is confirmed with the first two blows. One — the back of a fist aimed at his head — is artfully dodged, but the second connects. He grunts, but thanks God for Jane Foster that an otherwise rib-bruising blow is blunted and allows him to recover with a minimum of staggering. He belts out a ragged, audible breath that is as close as the quiet vigilante will ever get to a war cry as he throws himself into the fight.

And he does: Matt excels in close quarters. His first objective is to try and subdue or at least slow the unarmed man right next to him before his second opponent, the one armed with a similar baton, reaches him. And so it's an elbow to the jaw, a strike of steel to the ribs, a rounding kick of his own — all attempted in a flurry so fast that it could concievably take place before the next one reaches him.

Concievably.

*

Concievably.

He certainly manages to hit, and hit, and hit the unarmed man, though the first thing he hits is a hard armed block and a counter that misses. Soon, though, he goes flying into the wall, tumbling into the wall with a hard grunt. The strike to his ribs has at least put him on his knees for the moment, panting and holding his chest while he blinks the spots out of his eyes. Were it a one-on-one fight, it would have been child's play to end it then and there.

But the baton-wielding man knows just when to move in. He comes in high first, aiming to bring the blow down on Daredevil's skull, despite the helmet. He sidesteps clean; the thing whips out towards the other man's throat next. And he steps back, his other arm snapping back to support his force in perfect technique, waist and feet moving in the dance of a trained martial artist, even as the baton snaps out towards Daredevil's knee. He issues no war cry. Indeed, he is exhibiting the same cool professionalism as Phil over there, who is now slamming the man's gun hand into the cabinets over and over again, trying to make him drop it. He had his dafuq moment.

He's over it now.

*

For all of Matt's prowess, he's more used to tangling with brawlers and muggers than he is with equals, and it shows in the surprise he feels when the baton lands on his skull. Jane's work holds true — but it still sets Murdock's head ringing. He only barely manages to side-step the follow-up lunge to his throat gain a touch of distance from his formidable opponent.

In that brief but crucial instance Matt sees, in his world on fire, the two men before him — one pursuing him, the other getting to his feet. He looks for weaknesses in the armor at the joints, in the face, he searches for places that the man he's already injured guards. This is what he was ostensibly trained for — fighting multiple foes at once with brutal, methodical efficiency. Now it's time to prove it.

His first move is to regain momentum — a spinning kick towards the upright man's abdomen with a baton arcing in its wake.

*

Even with armor an abdomen shot hurts. The man grunts and doubles over, staggering back, trying to recover, his baton held a bit loosely in his hand. Then the other shot hits him right in the back, good and hard. Something fractures, even through the armor. He cries out and flattens, hitting the ground hard. The baton rolls across the floor. He's breathing hard, not unconscious, but not exactly ready to get back up and do his thing, either.

The other one, however, draws his own baton. He's sluggish, but determined, trying to move in while Matt is otherwise engaged with his buddy with the superior skills. He's going to try a short jab to the back, aiming right for the soft places on the Daredevil's own back. He's slower than he was before the Hell's Kitchen hero sent him careening into the wall, but still making a problem out of himself.

Phil finally snaps the hand of his assailant. He puts pressure on it, slamming it down a few more times until he's finally able to get up, kick the pistol away from the Hydra agent, and just…sort of…street boot the other man in the face hard enough to put him down. The older gent may be a little slower at his game, but he gets where he's going eventually.

*

Matt is not exactly at his most spry himself. His head aches and his neck is stiff from that direct blow from above; his side smarts. But this — this one on one — even with a trained agent, gives him little pause. It may not go smoothly, but — here it goes.

Matt lets his weapon lead, sending it with a backhand stroke cutting upward towards the remaining jaw. It may hit, it may miss, it may be blocked by an equal and opposite force. But it's not the last move he has in him. The red-clad Devil of Hell's Kitchen is all motion and momentum and ragged breath; the jab of an elbow or the but of a knee will do if the baton fails to connect. Anything, in the end, to put the man down.

*

Crack! The man's jaw shatters. The jab of the elbow cracks into the other fellow's body, the slam of a knee finishes him off.

It's quiet for a second.

Then Phil's soft, grateful voice. "Thanks for the assist. Did you happen to spot whether or not Mr. Murdock made it to safety on your way in?" He'll have to check on the guy later, but for the moment…he's got other priorities.

He starts riffling the soldier's pockets and finds something. He pulls some sort of cord from his pocket, sticks it in his watch, and sticks that in the other fellow's phone. He waves his hand over his watch, presumably at some sort of holographic display, and then lets out a sound that sounds triumphant. "Got you," he says, with the air of a man who just located the missing piece in a puzzle he very much needed to solve before he could truly do what he set out to do.

A goal Daredevil already knows all about.

And then he rocks back on his heels, studying the man in red once more, coming to some sort of decision. "So, Daredevil," he asks, (keeping tabs on the Superhero Set is part of his job description, after all,) "How would you feel about helping me slip into a heavily guarded facility long enough retrieve information that could save a man's life?"

*

The last of them goes down, and Matt does a quick sensory survey for vitals to make sure they're all still alive and are all likely to stay down. Seemingly satisfied, he throws his head back and lets out a weary puff of breath that punctuates the rapid rise and fall of his chest — right before he's approached by the victorious Coulson. The spy is collecting information — collecting Matt Murdock's information — but Daredevil does his best to pay it no visible mind. "Not a problem," he says to that thanks.

Then Coulson's naming him, asking him to come along and help save Bucky Barnes' life. He has to stifle the laugh that wants to bubble out of his aching chest. But if he can't laugh, he can at least crack a joke:

"Uh, is it north of 59th street?" the parochial vigilante asks in his best deadpan. "Because…"

*

The quip about 59th Street produces a faint chuckle out of Phil. "Quite a bit south, actually, and in another state," he says. "But…don't worry. We'll make sure it doesn't impact your local mystique too much. I'll drive."

He turns to go, even as he puts in a call to someone he trusts at SHIELD. He calls it a 'clean-up', much like a grocery clerk might call for a clean-up on Aisle 5.

Phil leads them to a nearby parking garage, adding, "I'll have us there in half an hour, and assuming we don't get fatally shot, we'll be back by morning." This will require them to take the elevator, though there are plenty of spots on the first floor. He's got his car on the top level, the one that's open to the sky, and it's one of the only ones up there. Matt's radar senses pick up the sleek lines of a convertable that must all but gleam, given the amount of car wax, leather seat cleaner, and Armorall that he can smell coming off the thing.

"Meet Lola," Phil says, with tones that indicate that the Daredevil is being introduced to his pride and joy. He slides into the driver's seat.

*

He wants to object, really, but Daredevil is not in much of a position to protest the unsupervised 'cleanup' of Matt Murdock's office — and all the confidential information contained therein — the way the lawyer himself might be. He contents himself with the knowledge that there's very little he could do to stop SHIELD from breaking into the law offices any night of the week they wanted without his knowledge or say-so, even if he would have a better chance than the average person of identifying the tidying up after the fact. He follows the man in black across the street — it's dark enough now that he'll hazard it — and into the parking lot with Phil Coulson's beloved ride

It sounds old, expensive, and well-cared for, and the corners of the vigilante's hard line of a mouth twitch upward. "I see you keep a low profile," the man in the big red devil suit quips — though he'll take his own passenger's seat without any further complaint. "So which way state are we going to?" he asks.

He's not used to this — working with others, or putting himself in his hands. He's only slightly joking about being out of his element. His powers of perception — potent as they are — serve him best on the home turf he knows. A venture this far out of his the well-trod urban environs of Hell's Kitchen will put them to the test.

*

Phil's own attitude about the clean-up seems more rueful than anything else, the orders he gives saying he's concerned with getting those Hydra agents into custody and making sure they aren't waiting for either of the two lawyers when they get back…most civilians wouldn't enjoy going to work in the morning only to find a bunch of unconscious guys on their floor. He doesn't say anything one way or another about respecting the privacy of the two men working there, either because it's a given or because it's a given they won't…hard to tell with SHIELD.

"Tennessee," Phil replies. He chuckles at the low profile, and he says, "I don't always get to drive her, but…sometimes it is more practical."

He doesn't even pull out of the parking space after starting her up. He just hits a button and sends it jetting straight up into the air, letting the cover of night and the swift acceleration up and across the city skyline do for cover for the time being. It is definitely more practical to fly them to Tennessee than it is to drive a stolid SHIELD unmarked car.

"They bought an old GM plant under false pretenses. It looks like they're largely using it to create specialized vehicles for their own operations, but Hydra never likes to do one thing at a time. They're also using part of the facility to store and mine data, including data about SHIELD's research into coercion methods that could be important to the trial. We get it back, we get it to his lawyers, and maybe it helps them get him acquitted."

The nature of dual identities. Having to hear partial explanations twice, sometimes. But at least it serves as confirmation that Phil hasn't made a connection between the devil-suited man and the soft-spoken lawyer.

*

… aaaaaannnd they're flying. Point of fact: homebound Matt Murdock has never been on a jet before. The furthest south he's been is Metropolis, the furthest north is Boston, all of it courtesy of Amtrak. The closest he's ever come to taking flight is leaping from rooftops, or a tethered whirl around Kinsey Sheridan's vault in rocket boots. This is something else altogether — zipping along in a flying convertible that sends his radar topsy-turvey with wind sheer alone. "Jesus Christ!" Daredevil murmurs as they lift off, gripping the side of the car with one arm in shock before he breaks into a grin.

Suddenly he feels a lot better about this trip.

He doesn't mind repeated explanations, truth be told, because there's always new information to be gleaned in the repetition. Like the fact that Hydra is buying old manufacturing plants in the South, which seems like it ought to be a political metaphor for something. "So SHIELD is on Team Bucky?" Daredevil's asking over the din as they arc their way through the air, and as he takes in qualities of cloud and sky — and because they're flying through Jersey, the requisite smog — he'd never manage on the ground.

*

"Sorry," Phil says, with what sounds like a rueful grin as he springs the surprise…but then Daredevil is grinning and he settles into a shared enjoyment of his favorite toy. The interior is surprisingly quiet despite the fact that the wind can be somewhat felt; there's some sort of force-field around the top of the car that contains sound and blocks the worst of the wind-shear, though it wouldn't keep someone from being whipped right up and out if the seat restraints weren't on and in place properly. They aren't up at 10,000 feet or anything— the air would be disasterously thin there— but they've got plenty of altitude.

The latter question produces a perhaps-surprisingly forthcoming answer. "Most of us," he says. "In a way, Bucky Barnes is one of ours. The Howling Commandos are part of SHIELD's history. Any Agent who knows that, respects that? And anyone who really has a good idea of what Hydra is like? Well. Let's just say we'd have been content to protect him and quietly help him from the shadows for the rest of his life. We did our best to keep this trial from moving forward at all, but things got really messy in DC."

*

"Huh," Daredevil says eloquently at that little history lesson. Which is not to say it doesn't resonate. It informs his view of Peggy Carter, Steve Rogers, and even Bucky himself, to think of an arc of continuity between that trio and the mild-mannered, flying-car toting spymaster he's sitting beside right now. "Well, that makes two of us," the costumed man concludes. "I've always been a sucker for an underdog."

His senses catches night-flying flocks of birds, criss-crossing currents of air, the chill that comes with even modest elevation and takes some of the swelter out of the summer night. "So what's your plan, then?" he asks, getting suddenly practical. "Do you know where the information is in the plant, specifically? I can probably do a little recon first and get a sense of how many Hydra are in there."

*

"Recon would be good," Phil replies, even as the air turns increasingly rural, increasingly damp as the humidity increases. He banks just a little bit, easing them westward even as he continues to make the southbound approach.

"I got coordinates and an address, and looked up a bit myself— but it didn't come with an interior map. Fortunately it's a smaller plant, though that's a bit relative, and every vehicle plant I've ever been in has very few actual 'rooms'. Usually no more than eight or fifteen. Most of it is wide-open space and factory floor. Which could be a big problem, but if they're actively using it to make anything there may be plenty of places to hide. If it's laid out like most plants, I suspect it will be one of the rooms off the second-floor catwalk, simply because it's harder to get to. It's in the middle of the Smokies though, and they probably don't see much in the way of action or threat. That can work to our advantage too."

He gives the rundown exactly the way he might give a mission briefing, treating Daredevil pretty much as if he were a fellow agent at this point. For the evening, he is. He has been thoroughly deputized, plucked off the street to come and help because the agents Phil trusts enough to know are not Hydra are otherwise occupied…or simply because Phil didn't feel like he had a whole lot of time to waste and wasn't dumb enough to try this alone. "I've managed to use local topography maps to identify a place where we can land unseen. We can make it down to the grounds by way of a back-trail out of the treeline that will conceal our approach."

*

If anyone had told Matt Murdock, lawyer turned street-level crime-fighter, that he would be racing in a private car alongside a superspy to infiltrate a terror cell somewhere in the Blue Mountains — and that all of it would be to help his client — he would have laughed in their face. For years he lived quietly with his powers, a young man with extraordinary abilities living an ordinary life. Now? My life has become surreal since I put on that mask, he thinks. But it's the life he has now.

"Okay," Daredevil answers after Coulson's done. "We land, I'll go ahead and scout out the perimeter, try to get the lay of things and report back in. Then we go in together, try to find the computer room, and get out before they even know we're there."

Simple, right?

*

"A fine plan," Phil agrees. But, in a way that is habitually protective…"But don't feel like you have to take unnecessary risks. Get what you can but don't go overboard. If you have to make the choice between safe recon and daring recon— no pun intended— choose the safe."

When they finally get where they're going the air takes on a distinct scent as Phil begins to descend. The crisp scent of dozens of trees: buckeyes and maples, sweet gums and white ash, dogwoods in full bloom. The scent of flowers and berries, too, drifting high into the air: wood sorrel flowers and dewberries, nodding lady's tresses and golden asters. He brings the car down near the silhouette of an abandoned vacation cabin: it carries the sharp-sweet scent of red cedar.

It is noisy. But not like the city is noisy.

The wind whistles through tree after tree; they sing and hiss and dance around with one another, their silhouettes ever changing, every leaf pinging to radar-sense, each one utterly unique, singing with life and the flow of water through tiny veins. Owls hoot in the distance, and small, nocturnal animals rustle in the underbrush nearly as soon as the asphalt of the little driveway ends. It's easy enough to pick out the trail Phil spoke of simply by the slight break in the trees, behind the house and past what smells like a barbeque pit that last saw any kind of use about a week ago. He'll have an advantage Phil doesn't; his radar sense pinging off of rocks and roots all the way down the steep trail. The absolute, complete lack of any heat or buzz from exterior lighting says that it's pitch black, and the older man doesn't turn on anything even remotely resembling a flashlight. He does, however, pull on a pair of night vision goggles that will help him a little. In a way, however, the spy is far more blind out here than Matt Murdock is.

Phil pulls his reclaimed ICER and changes out the clip.

The lack of any other heartbeats up here even makes the end of the trail easy enough to discern, because there are distant ones thrumming below, telling him it is going to take about fifteen minutes to pick his way down to the facility, and another fifteen back. True to his word, Phil stops at the edge of the trail, but doesn't go down yet, trusting the younger man to bring back the intel he says he can provide.

*

Don't feel like you have to take unencessary risks, the careful spymaster says to the man who leaps from rooftops in a big red devil suit. The latter's grin is a rarity; a barely discernable hint of shadowed ivory against a canvas of black and red. "No daring," says Daredevil dryly. "Got it. Thanks, agent."

And then he turns, and he's running down the steep trail towards the compound. For all his gifts, he's far from his concrete jungle and out of his element. There were no camping trips for young Matt Murdock, and the most he ever experienced of the outdoors was Central Park and a trip to see some girl of Foggy was hung-up on at Sarah Lawrence. The wave of sounds and smells emmanating from flora and fauna alike are so different from what he's used to that they would almost be overwhelming — were his attention not fairly well consumed by the distant thrum of heartbeats emmanating from the dilapidated factory. He'll move in silence, not dependent on line of sight but mindful to stay out of the field of vision of others, keeping to the outskirts and ducking to a slower-moving crouch as he nears. The wind, the sound of footfalls, the thrum of heartbeat and the crack of voices and chirps of birds and crickets will all serve him well — soundwaves echo and cascade off of each other before they strike him, creating a panoramic view of the complex before him — and its inhabitants.

He watches, in his own way, and takes in what he can as he nears the target.

*

'No daring,' the red-clad man says dryly, and…yeah, okay.

He gets the softest of chuckles from one Phil Coulson, one that says, as clearly as if he'd said it aloud, that the hero's point is well taken.

Daredevil's senses have much to share with him about Hydra's activities here.

Surrounding the perimeter of a square metal building roughly the size of a football field: the buzz and hum of electric fencing, the smell of metal and current, the heat of the thing picking out its shape and height with clear ease. Maybe not too high for the acrobatic blind ninja to leap over via a tree of some kind, but definitely high enough that the soft-spoken agent above, for all his acumen, is probably going to need that thing taken down and out before they can get anywhere, at least temporarily. The flow of power all goes to some sort of box on the southwestern end of the complex.

Four exterior heartbeats indicating boredom, and the occasional static burst of a walkie talkie speak to guards outside. The whisper of fabric on fabric says they're not armored up like the fully combat-prepared commandos back at the office. They wear kevlar vests, but that's about it. They all have weapons though. The smell of gun grease on the air confirms it. The utter lack of any real GSR residue says they haven't fired them in a long time. They aren't packing the strange stun weapon.

He can trace out three human-sized entrances on the south, east, and western edges of the building. There's a huge metal entrance at the north…probably a loading bay door of some sort. He can hear the very slight mechanical creak of security cameras near each exit, giving a rough 90-degree sweep wherever they're pointed, but the angles do change, and there are spots where one might slip right past.

He can hear things inside the building as well, things which give hints as to what he might find there. The accoustics of the place make it easy enough.

First floor, southwest quadrant: the hum of a vending machine. The gurgle of plumbing. The roar of a restroom hand-drier. One heartbeat, from the guy using the restroom hand drier. His heartbeat can be heard too. The flow of electricity through walls and the changes in air flow indicate four small rooms. One of those rooms is just completely and utterly silent.

First floor, southeast quadrant: the soft hum of four computers in sleep mode, all making that little bip bip clicky hum sound computers let off sometimes when they're on, but not doing anything much. As if they're muttering to themselves in the computer language, talking in their electronic sleep. Four rooms, nobody's home.

First floor, north. The ping of soundwaves and the echo of voices, steps, heartbeat…that tells him that's all factory floor. Five guys wander around down there. Three are doing a lot of moving, with heartbeats that indicate actual work happening. The sounds of tools and elevated conveyor belts in use support this assumption, though the plant must have been heavily modified to allow for such a small workforce. But Hydra's technology is as advanced as SHIELD's, and anything that could have been thrown to robots probably was. Two are guards by their own bored, stationary heartbeats, camping out next to those bay doors.

The second floor yields the sounds of feet occasionally shifting on a metal framework in bored fashion. It is a catwalk. There are four up there, three stationed at the northwest, northeast, and southwest corners, and one eating something in a room that has the hum and whir of active computers. Matt can hear the hum of monitors and the blare of some music, playing softly. That's there on the southeast corner. Next to that room he can hear sounds which are consistent with server rooms…hum-thrumming away, along with a couple more computers just sort of idling away in that very room. There's another computer in sleep mode in the room next to that.

*

"Well, shit," Matt Murdock breathes into the warm evening air.

The world may open up before Daredevil and yield many of its secrets, but that doesn't mean he has to like them. None of what he finds is ideal. Not the sophistication of the guards, the layout of the complex or the barriers to entry. But then, what ever is? He's arguably braved worse, leaping from can to can in the dead of night on those docks while men with Kalishnikovs prowl below. That those were thugs and these are highly trained intelligence operatives matters, but… it's still manageable, he tells himself. Especially with a little help from his new friend.

Recon acquired, he wastes no time in turning around and beelining back towards that distant, solitary heartbeat of Agent Phil Coulson. It takes him only a little longer to arc his way up the hill than it did to shuffle his way down it. And when he approaches: "Electronic fence, with four guards just beyond it," he reports through labored breaths — he's moving quickly in body armor, and while fit, he's not actually superhuman. "Live weapons. Five men on the factory floors — three workmen, two guards. Four more guards on the second floor catwalk. One in a room with computers and a server in the southeast corner."

The man in red turns back towards the path downward, the direction of the compound. "I could probably get over the fence myself, but we'd need to take it down or cut through it for you to. Might be an argument for me going in alone, agent."

Because of course it is.

*

Physiological changes in Phil Coulson ruffle lightly over that baseline of absolute steadiness, indicating a few things.

First, that Daredevil has deeply impressed him with the amount and level of intelligence that he was able to procure. Second, that he doesn't like what he's hearing any more than Daredevil likes reporting it.

He soon pushes that dislike aside. He makes no decision quickly and no decision lightly. The man just holds up a finger which appears in silhouette, obviously thinking about it, thinking about the gear he has on hand and running scenarios in his mind. That he doesn't dismiss the red-clad man's suggestion out of hand says that he sees some merit in it, but he also has to consider every angle, and he sees no reason to hurry as he does it.

Finally, he arrives at his answer.

"Here's the play, I think, but you tell me what you think of it."

Daredevil is not, in fact, one of his Agents, and while everything in this man says he's very used to being in command, it's also clear that he's treating Daredevil not just as a deputized SHIELD Agent tonight, but as one who stands on equal rank with him.

"You slip in, and if you can get yourself in and out of the server room without bringing the whole complex down on your head, fine. But I'll be close by with a couple of tech toys I've got with me. I'm thinking I've got a few you'll need to take with you, too. You get into trouble, you give me a signal. I have enough to make them think, at least in the short term, that I've got all of SHIELD at my back ready to raid them, which means most of them will move to deal with the attack they think is coming, giving you a window to extricate yourself and for us to get out of here. If I don't hear from you at all in 20 minutes I'm going to activate it all anyway, and then come in after you. Cause I can get the fence down, but not in a way they won't notice. Orders for one lone infiltrator in a costume and mask would have them trying to take you for interrogation, not for a kill, but that won't stop them from shooting you in the heat of the moment if they feel you're giving them trouble. Leaving you behind isn't an option if that happens."

And with that, he waits to see what the other man thinks.

*

It's a good plan. A solid plan. There are contingencies, subtle feints and distractions, and a modicum of thought given to ensuring they both get out of the situation alive. Unfortunately…

…it won't for a moment work, and Daredevil's brief grimace signals it, even in the greenscape of Coulson's night-vision. "No, won't work," he says with a quick shake of his head. "We need to get you in there. I have some, uh." A beat. "Technological liabilities. It'd be an understamenent to say I'm bad with computers," he adds in a tone that, however gravelly, still conveys something wry. "Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes would probably be more help than I am. So unless one of your gadgets will magically download the right files with a flick of a switch and require no work on my part, we'll need you to do the digging. Which means we've got to get you in, one way or another."

He mulls the matter. "I could still make it over the gate, but take down the guards outside," he offers. "I might be able to get the drop on them without anyone inside hearing, if I'm careful and take my time. Then let you in. But they likely have security cameras, and could be watching it all from inside."

*

"Sadly no. I'd need more storage capability than I have on anything I've got to just take everything they've got, run, and go through it all later."

Which is a real shame, cause Coulson would love to see what else they've got on those servers, but there's just no time.

Still, he takes it in stride. Again he's silent for a moment, playing the scenario out in his head. "I do have a way to deal with the security cameras," he says at last, without really explaining what that way is. "Just gotta be closer."

The answer to 'how' can probably be chalked up to 'SHIELD Techy Gadget Stuff' though, since that has been his answer for some of this as it is. He returns to Lola long enough to grab a few things. He has apparently decided that this plan is the best one they're going to get tonight, and now that the decision is made? He moves with purpose, ready to get down there and get the job done without a lot of hemming and hawing about it.

On the trail, he moves with silent precision, though he walks sort of carefully sideways to pick his way around the hazards in the dark. He just can't scramble up and down the way his companion can. But once they're at the base of that trail he pulls up one of those holographic displays again. He peers at the security cameras, taps the air a few times, peers up at them again, taps the air again.

He does this for about three minutes in fact, as careful and slow as Daredevil plans on being.

"Done," he whispers. "They're on loop. As long as they don't notice they're on loop, we're golden. As soon as they do, things could get interesting."

Daredevil's turn.

*

"Handy," Daredevil quips back quietly when Coulson explains his little bit of gadgetary wizardry, but the truth is he's already scanning the scene in his own singular way for avenues of attack. He gauges the give of the tree branches based on how they sway in the summer wind, measures the distance of the varying heartbeats and their respective trajectories, and somehow — almost inexplicably — calculates angles and slopes and places where he might find some purchase on the other side of that giant electric fence.

All of it takes only a minute, and then he's pulling out his baton and opening its top to reveal a grappling hook. He'll make a quick and stealthy beeline for one of the taller, sturdier cedars near the fence and, when it's clear none of the patrolling men are in eye or earshot, loop the hook up and over the branch. From there it's an improbably quick scale upward that leaves him perched on that tree branch. He draws the line back in with a flick of his wrist — thank God for Jane Foster — and surveys the scene from that higher vantage.

It's got to be one at a time, he realizes. //Each so fast that they don't know what hit them, or have a chance to make a sound that could alert the others. Fighting two at once is impossible. So it's all about controlling the field of battle, choosing the point of entry, staying one step ahead of the rest. And not letting them fire off a shot.

Child's play, right?

To Phil Coulson, the urban-dwelling Devil of Hell's Kitchen must look like a spectacularly out of place gargoyle, perched up on that branch — and he's every bit as motionless while he waits for the first of the patrolling guardsmen to come in close enough range and far enough away from his fellows to hurl his baton with precision through the night air and strike the back of the man's head.

*

The Devil of Hell's Kitchen might indeed look like a gargoyle to Phil… but only for a moment, as the man is hardly standing idle. Crouched behind the selfsame tree, he withdraws one of the gadgets that he promised to bring along…

Even as the baton slams soundlessly into the head of the first of the guards, dropping him like the proverbial sack of potatoes.

The device is small, and round, and from the subtle shifts of soundwaves in the air, sounds really only Matt himself can hear, it's meant to interfere with the walkie talkies and cell phones of the entire complex. Phil turns a small dial until he gets it just right. To Matt, it sounds like a blanket of white noise and static, bursting in and out at irregular intervals. He's not jamming them completely. That would be a dead giveaway in his profession. The heart beat of the man below is so steady he could be reading the morning paper, now.

Instead, he's jamming them just enough so that if they try to call one another they'll get useless poor reception consistent with, say, a mountain storm. Juuuust in case Matt's next target happens to see his downed buddy, just in case he thinks to call it in. Just in case anyone tries to call anything in.

The patrols sort of move in patterns. The first guy he got was the southwest quadrant guy, and he sort of walked a L-shape from the front doors on the south side to the side door on the west side. His buddy, the next closest and the only other one that could see the box controlling the electric fence, is northwest quadrant guy, who walks a pattern from the big bay doors on the back to the same side door. If Daredevil gets him at just the right time, the precautions Phil are taking will be unnecessary, at least in the immediate moment, but…why leave anything to chance?

*

The baton strikes silent and true, bringing one of the Hydra agents down to his knees and the ground without fanfare. Daredevil spends three seconds listening for fallen man's heartbeat, assuring himself that a hard strike with a metal rod didn't do damage enough to truly put his life at risk — when suddenly an image of the piles of Hydra bodies Bucky Barnes and Jane Foster have put between them comes to the forefront of his mind. Good Catholic boy Matt Murdock, worrying over Nazis.

I'm not them, he reminds himself, for all the unexpressed affection he bears the pair. I don't have to be to get the job done — to save them.

Not when silence, stealth, and surprise serve him as well as they do here. Leaping from tall objects in the dark of night is his forte, after all, and he does it here with an unshowy, utilitarian sort of grace — one well-timed vault off the sturdy tree branch clears the electric fence and sends him rolling into the comfortable shadows beside the wall of the complex. He has, by his estimation, about fifty-three seconds from landing point until the northwestern patrolman's route takes him in line of sight of both Daredevil and his fallen comrade. He wastes not a single one of them — staying close to the wall, quieting his breath, keeping his footfalls soft as he steals to the corner and waits until the man is in the process of turning it before stealing up behind him and wrapping one strong arm around his neck in a chokehold, while driving his knee into the middle of the man's back.

*

This man struggles, but not nearly well enough. The drive of knee to back and the sudden lack of air take him off balance, he grunts a little but makes no sound that carries far enough to be heard by his compatriots. By the time his lizard brain catches up with what's happening long enough for him to realize the longer AR-15 in his hands isn't exactly at a great angle for his own defense, by the time he drops it to the soft earth and tries going for a knife instead, it's too late. He slumps in Matt's arms, even as the panicked tha-da-thrum-thrum of his heartbeat registers on the Devil's senses— the panic that comes from the sudden cessation of air in any human being, Nazi or no Nazi.

And with that, he's got himself a cleared west side of the building and a clean route to the box that turns the electric fence off and on. Fortunately his radar pings tell him he doesn't have to be a computer genius to run the thing. It doesn't seem to have any biometric data or even a lock on it. That much is sloppiness on their part…the kind of cut corner that men who have settled into lazy routine indulge themselves in. It's just a big switch, with only two positions, easy enough to throw.

Phil, for his part, withdraws bolt cutters and moves almost-silently into position at the edge of the fence, smoothly and seamlessly ready to come in the moment Daredevil creates the opening for him. The little jammer is left right under that self-same tree, free to do its work while making it pretty hard to find.

*

As the frantic heartbeat of the man slows with the ebb of conscious thought, Daredevil lets him down almost gently onto the night-dewed grass before coming back to a rise and stealing quickly to where he can hear the indescribable hum of electric current coursing through the box. He's thoroughly grateful that there was no need to install a text-to-speech app and break out the earphones to shut off the power to the fence — just a hard turn of the switch that he immediately senses do its work.

Keeping track of the array of heartbeats both within and without, Matt makes a beeline for where Coulson is and only when he's within whisper-close earshot tells the man with the bolt-cutters on the other side of the fence: "All yours, agent. There's a side-door on the western wall we can probably take to get in."

*

Three efficient snips with the bolt cutters and Phil slips in. "Right," he murmurs. He leaves the fence off— much as he might want to turn it on again to cover their tracks, there's also the matter of a quick getaway. Most people probably won't go up and lick it to find out if it's on though, so there's that. He heads to the west side door, the way he's moving indicating he's staying in the shadows and well clear of those cameras.

This door requires a keycard, but this isn't much of a problem for the agent. He takes out a small vaguley keycard shaped object that's just thrumming with all kinds of neat electonics and RF waves and whatnot. He holds it to the door.

For about 90 agonizing seconds nothing at all happens. It seems to be shifting through different frequencies, testing different ones to see if it opens. Phil's heartbeat picks up marginally as he waits, adrenaline starting a slow flood through his system as he grows marginally more impatient, waiting for the telltale click.

Then it's there, and he opens the door, drawing his ICER and pointing it at the floor. Heavy machinery does block them from sight for now. Phil peers over it, trying to figure out how to get them from where they are to the catwalk stairs which are all the way over to the east side, all without being spotted by the catwalk guards. One heartbeat is right above them, in fact, right over their heads.

Of course, Matt can track every last heartbeat with his cat-burglar-for-good talents, maybe better than the cautious agent, who clearly isn't really too fond of any of their approaches by the very soft, very understated sound of frustration that issues, ever so briefly, from between his teeth.

**

While Coulson is finessing the lock on the west-side door, Daredevil is plucking the baton from beside one of the unconscious Hydra agents and slipping it neatly into the sheath strapped to his calf. By the time the ninety seconds are up the masked man is right behind the slightly-irritated agent who moves so carefully into the space.

Their option are limited, but what Daredevil can provide is intelligence. Angling for Coulson's line of sight, he lilfts up one finger and motions it silently upward towards the catwalk above them, then towards the other three corners of the room. Then, with a clear demarcation between the gestures, he holds up two fingers and angles them towards the front entrance.

Coulson might as well know what they're dealing with.

*

The intelligence is good intelligence, and Daredevil can feel a flash of appreciation from the agent, though a rare lack of curiosity. Coulson doesn't question how the Devil knows. Right now it's all being chalked up to, 'he wears a costume, he probably has a super power.' The agent isn't even bothering to guess right now, though if he were pressed he'd probably shrug and say 'some kind of psychic, has it under control, does good work, let him carry on and let's go after bigger fish.'

None of which is either here nor there.

Coulson gives him a thumbs up, then goes still. For a moment, Daredevil can just sense him there, tense, and thinking, a Phil-shaped statue growing slightly more nervous under the buzz of flourescent lights.

Often, in these circumstances, he'd just cut the power, but he doesn't want to cut power to the server room. And then he scoffs at himself. He doesn't have to cut power to the server room. He just has to cut power to everything else. That will alert them to the presence of someone, but it will also cast the whole place into confusion. Changing one element of surprise basically into another.

At least, that's his plan. He points up to the lights, then makes a slicing motion across his throat, then points to the guard in the hallway. His guess, based on what he knows about the layout of auto plants (the kind of weird, esoteric knowledge he has picked up from his years in the field) is that the power box will in fact be in that supply closet, which means they only have to take out Tweedle Breakroom.

He holds up a finger. So that's Plan #1.

Plan #2 is just…he points a zig-zagging pattern that will take them through the equipment and to the stairs, where they may have to quickly take out catwalk guards, because their target is . But then they'd have height advantage over the guards below. They could just make a dash for it, enter a rumble, and hope for surprise and superior position to do the rest, opting for the advantage of speed, over darkness. He holds up two fingers.

Finally, there's the matter of the offices on the first floor. Phil can kind of see his way into one. They might try ducking into one of those, and Phil could try to get the data from there. Possible if the data is connected to the computers downstairs, a waste of valuable time and an exposure risk that might leave them bottlenecked in that office if the gambit fails. This, again, mostly pits them against the guy in the breakroom entrance, unless the guards across the plant notice something. That one, though, offers the advantage of a quick in and out if they do get lucky, giving them a quick dash back to their safe exit without potentially trapping them on the second floors. He holds up three fingers for that one.

Then glances at him. His physiology says he's not thrilled with any of them, but neither does he find any of them particularly deadly. He'll roll with whatever the one beside him who can more easily sense the men above likes best, especially it's already been proven tonight that the bulk of the combat will fall to him. Especially if he has a better idea.

He also grimaces. It's a lot of complex stuff to convey over basically sign language, but it couldn't have been helped.

*

If an array of options are presented to Daredevil, and one of them includes cutting the lights, you — or someone who knew Matt Murdock better than Phil Coulson currently does — could fairly well bet he'd choose to cut the goddamn lights.

And so he does, with an emphatic index finger held up, right before he lowers the hand to pluck the baton right back from its holster and make his quick, careful way under cover of machinery and putting himself in range of the man guarding the supply room.

He aims, as he has the last few times, to put the man down quickly so as not to alert the others. Less care may be needed here — assuming he is put down and the lights are quickly cut, tipping off suddenly blinded Hydra agents will matter less and less. All the same — it's a quick dart into the man's personal radius and a strike to the temple that the masked man aims for.

*

It may even be kind of funny, because as Phil had quickly finger-spelled out that lights plan it had come with just this faintest hint of concern, as if worried his new friend couldn't see because he doesn't have goggles. The worry is quickly quelled…

As is the Hydra agent.

Phil wastes no time. He ducks into a room, one that smells like paper and cleaning chemicals, and he quickly finds the breaker box. There's a flash of triumph, because they're labeled. He won't have to guess. He puts one hand over the one that goes to the server room, and then quickly cuts the rest of them with a SNAP SNAP SNAP.

Matt can hear them all powering down. Lights. Machines. The computers across the hall. But upstairs, the servers busily click and buzz away.

Meanwhile, feet are pounding, adrenaline is surging through veins, hearts are kicking up into high gear. The guards from the door are shouting and weaving through the equipment, making their way towards Phil and Matt's location. Flashlights do click on. It's not a full advantage, but it's a good one. Workers, though, they get out of the way.

Now, they just gotta use the advantage and get where they're going.

*

Chaos and cover of darkness are nothing but allies here, and Daredevil is nothing if not adept at maximizing them. He doesn't beeline for the stairs — too obvious. First he uses arm and baton alike to knock over equipment — loud crashing bangs sure to add to the pandemonium and litter the ground with obstacles that can and hopefully will send approaching Hydra agents tripping over themselves. Only then does he move — in zigs and zags, hyper-conscious of the heat emmanating from those flashlights and their quick, darting arcs around the cavernous factory floor.

He's also aware of his role, which is to get Phil Coulson to the computer. That entails several tasks — making sure the man doesn't get shot on his way, and clearing a path ahead for him. It's the latter he focuses on at the moment, providing a shadowy vanguard as he makes his way up the eastern stairwell, ready for both sets of eastern guards above, wherever they may be.

*

There's another one of those flashes of emotion that says Phil Coulson is damned impressed. It wouldn't have occurred to him to knock over equipment, and he's been at this awhile. Maybe because 'sound and fury' isn't normally his MO, but in either way it's really effective. He isn't shy about shooting one guard on the ground that manages to get a little too close in spite of it, but he uses the ICER. The other door guard? Manages to hurt himself on equipment, sent sprawling by it.

Meanwhile, there is indeed the stairs, and that's where the vanguard will reach some real opposition. Two have converged there, and the heat of the flashlight beam passes over him. To their eyes, his own red ones will gleam out at them for a moment. They aim those weapons. The weapons are single shot weapons, from the few shots that have already passed across the cavernous car plant to ping off various bits of trashed equipment…they opted to pass under the radar by keeping their AR-15s legal…but pinging towards the Man Without Fear anyway.

*

Matt Murdock seems hell-bent on giving Jane Foster's handywork as many stress tests as possible. In theory — in theory — that crimson-shaded body armor should be able to withstand a straight pistol shot at close range. He's already bum-rushed half a dozen Russians with Kalishnikovs and come out of it on the other side, though his partner in crime fared a little less well. And this is not one of those situations, unfortunately, where stealth or subtrefuge or distraction will save the day. Their enemies have a good choke point, they are holding it and very sensibly concentrating their firepower… on him.

The only thing to do is make a quick end of it and mind the bruises — or bullet-wounds, if it comes to that — later. He lets loose his voice for the first time, a quick war-cry as he speeds up the stairs and sends his baton sailing for the head of one the shooters while attempting to rush the other, close the distance and wrest the gun up high and away from the Hydra agent altogether.

*

The head shot flies true, and the first opponent goes down. Meanwhile, Matt ends up in a hard grapple for the gun. The dude is strong, and for a moment it's not a sure contest. Then the gun is gone, and the guard snarls. That flashlight he's carrying is one of those big, heavy maglights, and he decides to get vicious. He tries to hit Matt right in the mouth with it, aiming for the only part of him that isn't covered in 'some sort of crazy bulletproof suit.'

Phil takes advantage of the spot directly behind Matt, on the stairs. He's at a bit of an aiming disadvantage from the lower ground, but not enough of one to stop those dendrotoxins from taking the next guard as he rounds the corner, at least making sure #3 won't get to enter the fray. #4 has the longest run-around, but Phil simply resets his aim. He can't quite scoot beyond the confrontation between the two men safely, but he makes the most of the position he's got, almost coldly holding it. Sadly he's not quite enough of a shot to just take out the one Matt is with, not without risking a hit to the Daredevil himself, not while they're locked in this conflict together.

*

Daredevil staggers back and almost tumbles down the stairs when the flashlight crashes into his jaw, hearing his own bones jar, his finely tuned sense of equilibrium take a sudden lurch as his ears ring. He tastes that copper tang of blood in his mouth, seeping in from the angry, inflamed gums around his molars. He spits fine red spray into the air, and then in the flash of an instant —

Matt Murdock gets angry.

The butt of that wrested gun suddenly becomes a cudgel, slamming first into his opponents gut and then driving upward towards his chin. With a cry he moves to shove the man behind him, sending him tumbling down the catwalk stairs to the factory floor below. A few ragged breaths to collect himself, a swipe upward of that baton, and then he's rushing the rest of the way up the stairs to open the way up for Phil to join him and, hopefully, take his shot.

*

The angry Devil is a force of nature to behold, and in seconds he's dispatched the fiesty guard who thought to hit him in the face. There's a flash of concern from Phil, but he doesn't bother addressing it. He takes the opening, racing up the stairs and pivoting on one heel to shoot the final catwalk guard before he can close with them. He nods to Daredevil instead— a quick acknowledgement of his fantastic work— and then he just makes a beeline for the server room, trusting the Devil of Hell's Kitchen to have his back if anyone else makes it up those stairs and into their general field of trouble.

Though by his count he is pretty sure they're all taken care of, save for two outside, which is nice. He pulls out a flash drive and gets to work, fingers flying across the keys at what has to be 120 words per minute. He may hunt and peck when he's tapping at holo-keys in the air, but he's pretty okay on a traditional keyboard. He is himself no hacker, but he has good hackers at his disposal who write him fantastic bypass programs for getting past passwords, and in seconds he's in and digging. Two minutes more and he says, "Got it."

He lets it copy, rolls over to a second computer, and repeats the process. Another minute more, and he's got a flash drive for himself and one for Daredevil. From there, he pulls out still a third thing. "And now to obscure our purpose for being here," he mutters. Three minutes after that, he pushes back. "There. Now it looks like sabotauge instead of retrieval. Let's get the Hell out of here before someone manages to get a message past my jammers." Which is what he guesses the two outside will be doing, trying to summon reinforcements.

"I'm going to summon the car right to the east entrance."

Because of course his flying spy car can take remote orders and just sort of show up out there if he needs it.

*

With the agents down it's Coulson's show, and Matt lets him have it. He gingerly touches his swollen jawline — sure to purple by morning — and otherwise stays quiet and vigilant as he listens for any Hydra agents who might rouse themselves to consciousness and try to make another fight of it. But then Coulson is downloading the files, obscuring their activities and —

calling the equivalent of automated valet service. It's a good thing the Agent of Shield can't see the lo-tech superhero roll his eyes behind those crimson lenses as he accepts the thumb-drive. "Thanks," the masked man murmurs, and finds that he actually means it. The defense attorney has a dim — or at least guarded — view of government officials, but the middle-aged spy has impressed him with his competence and, more importantly, the lengths he'd go to make sure Bucky Barnes gets a shot at freedom, when most of the world seems content to let him rot in the Raft. "I'll scout ahead to make sure the coast is clear," he says with a jerk of his head towards the server door.

*

Coulson almost looks ready to object, not because the man can't do it— he obviously can— but because of the man's jaw. His urge to take care of his people, whether they're his people for 33 years or an evening, is strong, and it's the first flicker of strong emotion that he really, truly shows, even if it is all still at that physiological level.

In the end, he just offers a soft, "Be careful."

The heartbeats of the men outside tell Matt that they've regrouped to the front entrance. He can, indeed, hear them snarling at one another, mostly trying to cut through the jammer, but he can also hear they're getting close. He can also hear Lola making her rapid approach. They probably won't be able to get close enough to stop the two men from making their getaway, as long as the both of them are swift and sure, wasting no time.

*

He's beyond grateful the men haven't yet managed — or thought — to switch on the lights. "They're clustered near the front," Daredevil says roughly, his voice all the more distorted from the ache in his jaw. I probably look like Michael in G1 after he got punched by the cop, he thinks to himself. Because of course Battlin' Jack sat his nine-year-old son down to watch the classic of New York gangster cinema; and maybe even slipped him some whiskey while he did it. "But we can make it. Let's move, fast!"

And then he's taking his own advice, rushing along the catwalk and sweeping down the stairs, dodging stray pieces of equipment and machinery as he makes his way towards the side door on the lower floor.

*

Phil is breathing a little bit heavily by the time he leaps into Lola's driver's seat. He's not huffing and puffing in any sort of dangerous or alarming way, but it's one of those moments that demonstrates this man is rapidly approaching an age where it might soon be infeasible for him to be running around doing this sort of nonsense. But he's not there yet, and as soon as he's sure Daredevil is in and strapped down, he's punching it, getting Lola into the sky and away before any more bullets can start flying.

He doesn't speak until he's really sure they're away, about 10 minutes out, already leaving Tennessee. Then he says, "I'll get you back below 59th street, and that's where we'll part ways, though I'd appreciate it if you'd hold on to that data for safekeeping. I'd send you to Nelson's house with a copy too, but my read on him is that he— maybe wouldn't handle that well. I really should check on Mr. Murdock, and get this to him personally if he's okay. I sent a blind man out into the wild and just sort of hoped there weren't any more Hydra agents out there."

He's out of mission mode. His adrenaline and focus are fading a little. He has time to spare a thought for the lawyer he thinks he left behind. And it causes some anxiety and guilt to roil in his gut, though his tone just remains matter of fact, low-key, in control as he blithely spins a scenario that could be a real problem for Matt.

*

In the time that takes them to launch into the air and speed across state lines, Daredevil tilts his head back againt the fine leather seat and lets the adrenaline seep out of him, lets himself feel the pain from that not insignificant injury, and for that long stretch of silence concentrates on little more than the sound and sensation of his own slowly steadying breath.

And then, when Coulson finally makes his suggestion, he lifts up the thumb drive in his palm as if he truly were actually examining it with his own two eyes. "I can get a copy to Murdock," Daredevil says, keeping his tone cool and even-keeled. He even adds a wry: "He seems less likely to get spooked by a man dropping by in a devil suit. Besides — they're south of 59th street. My territory." As if Hell's Kitchen were his own little fiefdom, separated from the jursidiction of the U.S. government, SHIELD, or whoever else might dare to wield some authority there.

*

Phil glances over, and feels another stab of guilt.

"Dashboard," he suggests. "I've got a bottle of painkillers, if you want some. They'll make a dent in it but they shouldn't knock you out. Two is the recommended dose, four will probably put you to sleep in spite of the formula."

He doesn't address it right away, sending Daredevil to do his work. He thinks about it just as carefully as he'd thought about any other plan. It goes against his nature, to leave his duty to someone else. Then again, delegation is a thing he's had to learn to do. His fingers tap tap tap on the steering wheel. "For a superhero, you make a Hell of a spy," he comments, at last. "I owe you my thanks and quite a bit more tonight, so. Alright. But take the communicator next to the painkillers. If he's in trouble— or dead—, I want to know. I'm tempted to assign a very quiet protection detail to both of them after tonight. But maybe we'll luck out, and Barnes' enemies will continue to underestimate them."

Phil has not. And then, finally, he adds, "If he is well, please pass on my apologies for leaving him in the lurch. And tell him that even SHIELD has lawyers. If things go south, it'll be because this case sucks, and for no other reason. Let him know we'll have a place for him if he wants it. Mr. Nelson too. They jumped out of a proverbial plane. The least I can do is offer some sort of parachute."

A non-verbal, physiological equivalent of a grimace. "That's a mouthful. Are you sure? You shouldn't have to play my messenger after all you've already done, and this is really my responsibility."

  • *

He'd make a hell of a spy, Coulson says. And it's inarguably true. Daredevil, aside from his fighting chops, is an all around excellent snoop and, in his daytime hours, an accomplished if deeply conflicted liar. But something about the compliment — however flattering — sits strangely with him. "Glad I could help," the vigilante says, and leaves it at that.

Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson, in house counsel for SHIELD. The idea is so outlandish that the man behind the Daredevil mask has to stop himself from cracking a smile — a good thing, too, because a smile would hurt like a sonofabitch at the moment. He distracts himself from fanciful thoughts of might-bes — especially since those thoughts would be littered with the corpse of Bucky Barnes — by reaching for the compartment and the pain killers. He pops two of the pills and takes a hard swallow before grabbing the also-offered communicator and fixing his attention back on the agent.

"And it's no trouble," he assures the man beside him. "I'll pass on the message — all of it."

A beat, and then: "Though if this evidence is as valuable as it must be for you to have risked all this? If I were a betting man, I'd wager he'd be thanking you instead of accepting your apologies.

"But what do I know?"

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