A Man's Pride

October 10, 2017:

Now a free man, Bucky Barnes pays Jessica Jones a visit. There's a great deal to catch up on.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, New York

Mind you don't take up Bucky's smoking window while he's there.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Luke Cage, T'Challa, Matt Murdock, Jane Foster, Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's been enough time, since they all got back from Wakanda, that things have calmed down. Bucky has lost that fight-or-flight Winter Soldier readiness which has hung about him for the past while. Finally feeling normal enough to stray out of doors and rejoin normal society, he has started taking short jaunts outside, sometimes to visit those he knows, but mostly just to walk. His arm is not yet ready, and he did not want to wear a placeholder prosthetic, so he simply goes out in jacket and shirt with the left sleeve rolled and pinned up out of the way.

People stare. But James Barnes is too old to care, other than the natural tension that itches at the back of a lifelong covert operative's mind to be so much the subject of scrutiny. Even though he is aware, on some level, that he may be one of the few amputees in the world who is not being stared at because of his amputation.

Life changed after his exposure as the Winter Soldier, but after the acquittal and his long absence from the media during his sojourn in Wakanda, the news cycle has moved on to other things. America has largely forgotten its lost son, other than people remembering 'oh, that man,' on the street.

Thus it is that he's relatively unmolested on his walk towards Hell's Kitchen and a certain window there. It's a window he's climbed in effortlessly a thousand times before, and so he doesn't think much of it when he moves to scale it again. He handled himself for weeks in Wakanda with one arm. He's a goddamned supersoldier. A fire escape should be nothing.

Except, in Wakanda, he was running on 120 percent adrenaline, and adrenaline is a hell of a drug. He's also never actually lived as an amputee despite his arm being seventy-two years gone, for another thing.

So, when Jessica returns to Alias, while it will be to the familiar sight of Bucky sitting in his accustomed windowsill, smoking away, certain aspects of the image are… critically different. He's a little dustier than usual, for one. A little grumpier than usual. And his hair is a little ruffled.

Does Jessica notice his state when she comes in for the day? Yes. Almost certainly. She may not be a spy, but Bucky, like the rest of the crew from the 40s, is usually pretty well put together, not dusty and not ruffled. This doesn't exactly lead itself to any grand theories about how he got that way. It does lead, when she first steps inside, to a sudden calculation about whether she's going to ask.

'Holy shit are you okay?'

Bzzt. Rejected for potential to wound pride.

'What happened?'

Bzzt. Rejected for potential to be 'I don't wanna talk about it.' Bucky usually says whatever he wants to say without a lot of need for prompting, in his own good time.

All of these calculations happen with a grin on her face, though, as she draws closer. And what she settles on is what she'd have said anyway, if he weren't doing looking grumpy, dusty, and rumpled in her windowsill.

"Now there's a sight I've missed," she says.

Option one is rightfully shot down. Never ask a man if he is okay, especially Bucky.

Option two is also rightfully shot down. Never ask a man what happened. Most of them get defensive if it's something 1) they're not supposed to be doing 2) they don't feel particularly proud about.

Now there's a sight I've missed, she says. Correct answer.

"The actual sight you missed was a lot more composed than this," he grumbles, pushing his hand through his short hair to settle it down, but without any heat and with a muted smiling in his blue eyes. "You know, I've never actually gone around without my arm. I fell with my own arm on, and I woke up with the one I had attached. If there was ever anything to thank Hydra for…"

He smokes pensively a few moments more — a little more awkward, with just one hand — before he puts the cigarette firmly in his mouth and beckons her closer. "C'mere, girl," he says, somehow making it an endearment rather than a condescension. Should she comply, once she's within range he's reaching to chuck her lightly under the chin, much as he might have with a blushing girl back in the day, turning her face lightly to see she's in one piece and hale after everything.

"Jane told me you figured out Wakanda 101," he says, drawing back his hand.

"Yeah, but that story about how you ripped it off yourself and hit T'Challa in the head with it repeatedly is super-badass," Jessica quips, in response to his arm. "It's too bad you had to what…grind it down with your own teeth to make spearheads so you could eat in the jungle?"

As for his beckoning, well, Bucky Barnes might be one of the only people on the planet who can not only make Jessica Jones feel endeared by that, but get her to happily come right over and let him do all of it. She is indeed in one piece, unscarred— with one glaring and somewhat baffling exception she never scars, and that one's always covered by her hair anyway— and, right now, looking happy as can be, all her walls and issues momentarily gone to reveal the warm, sassy woman that lies beneath.

When he draws back his hand she opens the opposite window and settles into it. She does not actually pull out cigarettes so she can smoke with him, because right now she isn't stressed out in the slightest.

As for Wakanda 101, she says, "Did she tell you she cracked the actual case?" Jess doesn't seem put out by that at all though. "Because she did, also like a total badass."

Bucky laughs around his cigarette at that. "They said I did all that? Those're dumb things to say I did. If I did shit like that, I'd be disappointed in my own self's lack of sense. That's almost as good as my Wikipedia page saying I threw a bus over a cliff in Sarajevo, back in '85."

He's oddly relaxed, perhaps more relaxed than she's ever seen him. It is an effect that comes about from finally getting off death row after being on it for half a year, but also an effect that comes of finally feeling… less fucking guilty about everything. It was hard to exist, knowing one's own hands had committed such heinous crimes, and never being called to account for it, never facing his victims, never… laying it all out, bare. Never being punished for what he did.

Now he has, to some degree, and now all is in the clear. He, himself, has come to a certain realization about his path forward, after days and weeks and months spent alone with his thoughts. He must atone for the acts of his hands… but not to die for the things he was forced and used to do.

He wants the burden of redemption, because he wants someday to deserve it.

Typically reticent with his own thoughts and preferring to focus outward, he asks her closer instead, looking after her health with a critical eye. Mental, as well as physical. Seeing nothing amiss, he lets her go, and smiles fondly at the mention of Jane. "She might have been modest about that part," he says. "But I assumed it." A shadow briefly crosses his face, thinking about how Jane must have done that cracking, but he shakes his head and shakes the thought away. "She said she made a black hole. …I was worried she was going to make a black hole."

"Oh damn, I believed that one," says the woman who has never read his Wikipedia entry, but it's an easy joke to make. It's also possible the only one who ever said that story about ripping off his own arm was Jess, in the service of joshing him a little bit, but who knows what the heck they're saying about it all now. That's a very real possibility.

He studies her, she studies him. And if all of the reasons for the fact that he seems less weighed down than ever don't occur to her right now, they might sometime in the future, especially as she went through a similar mini-process with Luke Cage. Not that he would have made the mistake of briefly getting romantically involved with his accusers. For now it's enough that he is here, and relaxed, and seemingly happy enough. The rest will probably be worked out with introspection, later; she lacks the spy's gift for getting right to the heart of things quickly.

The trial, and Wakanda, gave Bucky a purge for his guilt. Wakanda, at least, has given Jessica something else, something equally valuable to her, something she's never had before. There's confidence in the way she holds herself now. Maybe she's not as confident as some, but she stands and sits with her shoulders straighter, doesn't habitually drop her head anymore the way she so often did, has lost a dozen other mannerisms that whispered 'I'm worthless' to anyone who knew how to read them. It's hard to say exactly what gave it to her, but she has it. It's not false temporary confidence, either, but something that seems to have settled in for good.

"It was only a very little black hole," Jessica says, holding thumb and forefinger apart.

And she grins at the absurdity of saying something like that. But then again given the very real possibility that Jane could have just gotten fed up and decided to suck the whole damned country into one…well. It really is accurate.

Those changes in Jessica don't escape his eye, either. He regards her with some searching interest — the newfound confidence she's gained, the way she has of holding herself that suggests she might think she has at least a fraction of worth now. It softens his eyes. Even though she teases him about believing the Wikipedia entry.

"I don't think I was even awake in '85," he grumbles, but good-naturedly.

As for Jane? Matters of shooting up magic, of bruised and mangled arms, go unmentioned. He only makes that small quip about her casual black hole generation, and Jessica verifies the tale. It was only a little one, she says. "I warned T'Challa," he says, with a sigh. "There was gonna be trouble if I got killed."

Settling his chin in his hand, he looks pensive. "I heard you lost someone," he mentions, more sober. "I'm sorry for that. And everything else all of you have gone through, these past many months."

He sighs heavily. "So much interrupted. This — " he lifts his left shoulder. " — needs squaring away. And this…" He taps his temple. "Still needs clearing."

Blue eyes turn to Jessica. "And you? If there's anything I can do to help you, I owe you. Months of lost business."

Things turn more serious, and Jessica just listens for a moment. She bows her head for a moment on the matter of Rizza, and doesn't speak right away. Not because she's necessarily in a state of glaring upset. She's still not stressed when she takes out her own packet of cigarettes and taps one out, pulling out a lighter and lighting it, but the mood has shifted a little bit and she needs the soothing ritual of the inhale and exhale of tobacco to navigate it. She's gained confidence, and she's learned to be a little bit mindful.

With things like his apology, for example. At last she says, "Nothing that matters is easy, Bucky, and getting you back mattered. We all," with perhaps one glaring exception, "went in with our eyes wide open. And we all did it knowing damn well that had our positions been reversed, Hell or high water, nothing would have stopped you from pulling our asses out of the fire. So how could we do anything less?"

On the matter of his arm, and his head, she's not sure she has anything useful to say, but she nods to show she's listening anyway.

He asks the last question, and she opens her mouth to say she has come home to a twee routine case and a corporate malfeasance check, nothing serious. But then something occurs to her, and she realizes the hesitation she had before is gone. It's not ripping into her like it could be, but it's a glaring piece of unfinished business, one she finds she doesn't really want to handle herself necessarily, or by herself. She's done so much moving forward from all of this that she finds she's more than happy to leave it to others she trusts. So she lowers her cigarette and looks at him frankly. He wants to help, and she's going to let him. Neither of them accept help easily, but they're past that.

"There is something," she says. "But before I tell you, I should make sure— you definitely already know the really real identity of the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, right? I got the impression maybe you and Jane both did."

Because it's going to be damned hard to explain how certain information got to both parties if she's wrong about that. With someone else she'd trust her ability to make up some story, but with Bucky? Forget it.

Perhaps there would have been a time Bucky would have argued Jessica's earnest response. At the least, he might have scowled about it. He can't say much about her logical addition, though — how he would do the same for any of them, so how could they do less for him? — so in the end, he does not argue — merely nods in acquiescence, smoke curling from the end of his cigarette.

The thought that another soul was lost because of him just redoubles his determination to destroy Hydra. For good.

For now, he offers Jessica his help, at the least — a little recompense for her struggle and her trouble, in the form of taking care of anything she might need taken care of. She thinks for a moment, before she replies — in a way he didn't expect.

There is a moment's hesitation when she asks whether he knows the real identity of the so-called 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen.' He regards her a moment, transparently cautious with this secret that is not his own, determining whether she's asking in the context of 'I know, and am trying to verify that you know too,' or in the context of 'I know you know and am trying to see if you will tell me.'

Eventually, something about her demeanor tells him it's the former, though he is still careful in his reply. "We know," he says. "How'd you work that out?"

"His mask got knocked off in a fight we were in together," Jess says, equally careful, not because she doesn't trust Bucky but because she is absolutely rabid about guarding this secret. It's a spy's dance she doesn't really know how to dance, but her next words will probably verify that she's asking for good reasons and not trying to probe for any information she doesn't have.

"During the trial," she says, "he found out Kilgrave's still alive. Somewhere. The police lied to me about him being dead." She realizes maybe that wasn't so revalatory after all unless Bucky asked how the Devil of Hell's Kitchen found out, but she wasn't about to bank on him not asking that question. As for this tidbit of information, it never did make it out on the stand, probably too messy for the USA to screw with.

"He was in a coma when they did it, and he probably still is, because Trish found out this company CGI is basically putting out superpower pills, and one of the pills she stumbled across duplicated his powers exactly. Which is going to be beyond horrifying if they hit the street. On one hand I feel like I should be right in there in the thick of it— my past, my problem. But he promised me he'd handle it, it touches on an investigation he's been on forever; and I think is maybe reluctant to have me involved. And maybe he's right— maybe 'my past, my problem' translates to 'I'm too close to this and don't need to be anywhere near it.' I'm a little scared he'll find him just for the bastard to sit up in bed and start issuing orders. Would you please help him put an end to this shit? I realized just now I'd feel even more secure knowing you were on this too, and I don't think he'd turn you down."

You're not alone anymore, Matt had said, and he was absolutely right. And she needs Bucky on this, for reasons she can't even begin to articulate. In the past she'd worried she'd be loading him up like her own personal weapon, aiming him and firing him at her problems— not for this specific thing, but for other things she'd run across— but now that just doesn't seem too big of a concern.

She does add: "I don't need Kilgrave to die, necessarily, if the Raft or whatever can contain him. I just need to know he won't ever hurt another person ever again, and I need to know these pills are going to be found and destroyed before they hit the street."

His mask got knocked off in a fight, Jessica says. Bucky's expression turns wry. "I had to be put on trial by the United fucking States of America before he told me," he grumbles. "If it were that easy, I would have just punched him in the face a few more times and saved myself the trouble."

He sobers, however, as Jessica relates what their mutual mystery friend found out: Kilgrave is alive and out there somewhere. The police lied. Bucky looks, indeed, extremely unsurprised about that, though her follow-up — a company putting out superpower pills that can make more Matt Murdocks — brings him to sigh and scrub his one hand across his eyes.

"People are never gonna learn to stop trying to reproduce the serum," he sighs, though he says little beyond that, and does not interrupt her further explanation. "Yeah, I'll help. Last thing we need is a superpowered lawyer under mind control."

As for the method?

"There's one way to make sure a man can't hurt anyone ever again, doll," he says, his eyes reflecting the Winter Soldier, even if his voice is still purely Bucky Barnes. "And I got no trouble doing it exactly that way. But if you prefer I not, I won't."

Jessica snorts a little as Bucky makes his grumble, her laughter working around her cigarette smoke. She takes another drag. There are all sorts of pills, but it's the ones that make more Kilgraves that concern her.

He talks about the serum, and she, a rarely and accidentally successful product of that self-same attempt, just gives him a wry smile. "Einstein had a whole quote about the infinite nature of human stupidity that probably applies."

He tells her his opinion on how to stop it, and she doesn't answer right away. She has mixed feelings. Really. Really mixed feelings. And a lot of them have to do with Matt, and maybe some fears Bucky will get caught. She dismisses the second…he won't. But Matt, who stopped Jane from killing an assassin and then later felt guilty about it, who breaks his enemies but never takes their lives…the spectrum of morality between the two men couldn't be more different on that count, no matter how well they get along, and she, woman of the middles, isn't sure how to reconcile it; it's a conundrum that almost has her second guessing what she's already done.

Kilgrave is a cancer and a monster, and that factors in too. If people will never stop trying to reproduce the serum, would even SHIELD stop themselves from trying to reproduce an asset like mind control pills? She shudders, thinking on it. SHIELD has been good to her, but governments can and do lose their way.

"I trust your judgment one way or the other, when the time comes," is what she finally says, gravely.

And simply adds this: "I got a little injured, at one point, by this one bitch. He stood there and apologized to me for not killing her. I told him that he was never required to take a life to save someone else's. If it comes down to a choice between killing that bastard or preserving who Daredevil is…preserve him."

She looks up at him, some sea of emotion in her eyes, hoping she hasn't said something that might sound wrong the way it had the night they quarrelled over her visit to the embassy, hoping he'll understand why she can simultaneously find comfort in who Bucky is and who Matt Murdock is without wanting to change a damn thing about either one of them, because of her massive esteem, respect, and love for them both, hoping he'll understand why she'd want to preserve the latter bit more than she'd want to kill the man who hurt her and so many others. It's complex and weird and hard to explain, but there it is.

"Einstein," Bucky says wistfully, inhaling and taking the cigarette from his mouth to blow smoke. "There's a man I wanted to meet. Never got enough time between missions to come back to the States for that, though."

He places the cigarette back in the corner of his mouth and waits, patient through Jessica's thinking silence about his opinion. His offer, really. He is understanding of her reticence, though perhaps doesn't really get the full range of why she's reticent up until she starts to explain. It's not hesitation over the act of killing itself, nor an uncertainty over how much she wants to see Kilgrave dead.

It's more about whether she wants Kilgrave dead to the exclusion of wanting Matthew Murdock to stay… well, Matthew Murdock.

I trust your judgment, she eventually says, which he takes in stride — of course his judgment should be trusted — but her addition brings him to pause. If she fears offending him by the implication that Daredevil carries some purity worth preserving that Bucky himself now lacks… she need not fear. Bucky himself knows his soul is already in tatters. There's not much to save there.

Matt, on the other hand…

"Don't think there's much that's worth changing Daredevil for the worse, no," he eventually says, with full understanding and his typical understated wryness.

Everything in her relaxes. But then, maybe it's no surprise he understood. He was trying to preserve the same thing in her, she realizes, when they had that quarrel, only to her mind it was already gone. Maybe not as gone as Bucky sees his own as being, but not exactly untarnished either. But maybe he sees something she doesn't. She ought to have realized it earlier, because she'd said similar things to Zatanna while siding with John on the matter of whether she should kill her father's dimensional twin, but somehow it's this that really drives it home. It'll be something else to think about when she's staring at the ceiling tonight.

"Thank you, Bucky," she says, with gratitude for pretty much all of it— his willingness to help, yes, but also just getting it.

She suffers from a moment of anxiety that Matt will read this the wrong way, that he'll assume she thinks he can't do it. Which is the polar opposite of what she thinks in every way, shape, and form.

But she supposes if he does, he'll tell her and at least hear her out. Unlike certain Man Mountains she can name.

Which reminds her…

She takes another drag on the cigarette and says, "If you decide to go see the final member of the Wakanda party, probably don't bring me up. He despises me." It was not out of the realm of possibility that Bucky had already heard the name and resolved to go pay the man a visit at some point, and she feels this is a warning she ought to issue.

Thank you, she says. Bucky does not answer aloud, but his eyes gentle visibly in a tacit, 'of course.' It is plain he thinks it his beholden task to preserve the sanctity and the goodness left in those around him. It has been his raison d'etre, ever since he was pulled aside seventy-odd years ago and quietly asked to do the nasty shit they couldn't have Steve be seen doing on live broadcast.

He can be dirtied as much as is needed. His soul is already stained with enough blood it does not matter.

Jessica then brings up the 'final member of the Wakanda party.' Bucky frowns a little, trying to recollect. "There was a name I didn't recognize," he admits. "What would a man who I don't know be doing risking his life in Wakanda over me, if he doesn't even like you?" He looks pensive. "Is he a friend of someone else?"

"It's more complicated than that."

Jessica hesitates, because if Bucky doesn't know maybe this is not stuff to get into, but it's that pensive look that stops her.

"It's convoluted, too. Very convoluted. His name is Luke Cage. The woman I killed when Kilgrave had me? Was his wife. The talking heads, the trial, the transcripts, they all helped him put together Reva was at the same bus crash Kilgrave was."

She gives a humorless laugh. "He tried to hire me to find out what happened, figured I must know something, day before I was all set to leave for Wakanda. I lied to him. So he follows me. Demands to help even, because he feels like if I die he won't get his answers. And so I put him to work, resolving to tell him after it was all done. To let him have his say, like you said."

She tumps ashes onto her balcony. She's trying to keep this consise. She has at least explained why he was there in Wakanda, and she adds, "Oddly that's not why he despises me, but. That's why he was there at all."

Luke Cage. Bucky turns the name over and over in his mind transparently. His expression sobers when Jessica explains just what ties her to this Luke Cage. She killed the man's wife while she was under Kilgrave's control.

He frowns, starts to say something, then falls silent. There is no judgment in his eyes for the act itself, nor for Jessica's handling of Cage as the man tried to get his answers. He only looks disturbed, presented so bluntly with a clear example of what Jessica was forced to do by this Kilgrave.

Having his finger slip on the trigger is starting to sound more and more appealing. He's sure everyone involved would understand…

"I see," he finally says. It's a very short phrase, to try to encapsulate all that just got said. There is a temptation to ask more, to pry, but Bucky pushes the impulse away. "He absolved you," he says instead. It's both a question, and not. "Of his wife's killing."

"Yeah," Jessica says. She takes a long drag on her cigarette. She is evaluating how much to say now, because the goal here is not to take her honesty to a fault as she so often does. In truth she's tired of sharing the story, but it's important to her, if this big stompy piece of her past is going to be floating around, that the people she cares about hear what matters from her.

It's not that she thinks they'd ever condemn her even. It's not even that she imagines, as she did when Constantine became the first to hear the story way back in January, that they won't trust her if they hear it from someone else's mouth. It's just important to her to disclose, so they don't even have to doubt her for a minute, maybe, or maybe just so the narrative remains her own.

The other goal is to give Bucky a heads up, so he doesn't walk into something awkward trying to do something she thinks he might feel honorbound to do.

Bucky doesn't necessarily need to hear the blow-by-blow-up.

She isn't in any distress— whatever the story between her and Cage she's accepted it and moved on from it. It shows in her body language, which is completely relaxed. In this, she's not looking to pour her heart out to her friend. This is different.

Finally, she gives him a wry smile. "I tried to take care of him a little too hard I guess. Both from the shadows, couple years ago when I was all fucked up, looking up Reva's people— person, but I thought maybe people— thinking I'd atone to them in secret, and in Wakanda, when Mr. Bulletproof took two lungfuls of cyanide, and I thought: he wasn't even supposed to fucking be here, so I had Zee heal him and shipped his ass home before he woke up. He doesn't really know about the former, because when I tried to explain why I already knew his address he threw me out of his bar, and he's pissed about the latter. So just— heads up, is all."

James Barnes is the last person to push someone else to tell all if they do not want to. He figures people will tell him what they want to tell him, at their pace. He got done interrogating people years ago; the act brings back bad memories.

So he doesn't press. He just finishes his cigarette in silence, waiting for her to tell him — or not. It makes no matter to him. The decision to tell is hers, as well as her reasons for deciding to tell him or not.

Eventually she does, and he listens. She tried to take care of him a bit too hard, she admits. Both before Wakanda, and during it, when she had him healed up and sent home after a cyanide attack.

After absorbing it all, Bucky Barnes has a rather odd reaction. He — laughs, the short sound of someone who unexpectedly heard something amusing. It's an instinctive response, an impulse reaction to what he just heard, and he promptly sobers and looks apologetic. "Sorry," he says. "It's not funny. It's just, you hit straight on the one thing that'll put most men in a savage bad mood. Even before you get to confessions, and all."

He turns the stub of his cigarette over in his fingers. If there's an ashtray, he'll put it there. "Few men can handle being cared up for and shipped off home without a by-your-leave."

He pauses. "Not that you did wrong. But a man's pride is a prickly thing."

His laugh startles her a little bit, provokes a bit of a confused frown between her brows. When he reveals why, she chuffs a laugh in turn, apparently not particularly offended by his laughter.

There is one now, an ashtray, sitting out there on the fire escape.

It does put a whole lot into context though, and by the look on her face he's put a few things in context for her, shed some light on events that she hadn't even considered.

Still, when she speaks again it's to say in a rather low-key, amused fashion, "Man. Dude-pride can be a little frustrating."

All part and parcel of how terrible she is at woman-ing. Not that she's particularly good at dude-ing either. Woman of the middles.

Shifting off of that, feeling they've gotten about as heavy for the time being as is needed, she grins and says, "So." Slightly dramatic pause.

Then…she nods to his pinned up arm.

"Jane finally going to be installing that coffee maker she's been threatening to install for months now?"

Dude pride can be a little frustrating, Jessica says. Bucky laughs and sticks the stub of his cigarette in the tray. "Let us have it," he says. "It's all we got. You ladies took the good sense and the good looks."

No wonder he made the rounds back in the day.

He seems happy to move off heavier topics for now, himself. She looks at the empty space where his left arm once was, what's left of the metal swathed and pinned in the shirt's rolled up sleeve. He seems to be carrying it well enough, other than his apparent mishap getting up to the fire escape, and other than a slight sense that he's not quite as balanced as he usually is.

"If she does," he says, "I'll kill her myself. I need the space for the arm to do actual useful things. We already have a coffee machine that is about ten times more complicated than a coffee machine needs to be. She's spending a lot of the time in the lab. Should be done with the thing soon."

Yeah, she can really see it, why he did. Jessica tosses him a grin when he says that line about sense and looks, eyes sparkling. His grousing about the ultra-complicated coffee pot produces another laugh, pure, and unbridled, a sound that isn't as rare as it used to be but which still doesn't come to her super fast.

"Careful," she teases. "You're starting to sound like some sorta Grandpa again with this coffee pot gripe. Surely an international super spy can navigate the cappucino function."

She's missed this too, all that griping about the too-complicated coffee, the screwy cars, the millions of types of rice. She finally puts her cigarette out, still chuckling, leaning around the window frame to drop it into the self-same ashtray, the only one out there.

A snort is Jessica's only reward for her jab about sounding like a grandpa. "You kids are going to say that about me no matter what I say," he says. "I'm still technically thirty-something. You all hold my birth year against me."

He never does actually admit whether he can navigate the cappucino function. He may never have tried.

It transparently reassures him, though, seeing her like this. There is little enough happiness, in all their weird and overcomplicated lives, that moments like these are all the more precious. "That said, I probably should get over to Stark Tower and check on her, because like as not she's forgotten to eat or sleep again," he says, brushing a lingering bit of dust from his jeans (out onto the fire escape) and standing. "I'll check in with Murdock, also."

Ambiguous enough that eavesdroppers might not make the connection. Jessica certainly would, though.

"I'll let myself out the normal way," he says wryly, but his demeanor turns more serious when he adds, "Thanks for everything."

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