Penance and Reconciliation

March 02, 2018:

Bucky Barnes and Jane Foster continue their apology tour by paying a visit to Matt Murdock, who has his own thoughts on how they can best make amends and move forward.

Fogwell's Gym, Hell's Kitchen

An old boxing gym in Midtown Manhattan.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Six Boomerang Iron Man

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

ll in all, it's more than a month before the texts finally begin to flow back and forth between Matt Murdock and the Barnes-Foster household. Four weeks of relative silence follow that harrowing confrontation in Westchester, as well as the strange procedure in New Jersey that saved Kinsey Sheridan's fractured identity. Once lines of communication are reestablished, it's Matt's suggestion they should meet — and he even provides the location. An address in his part of town.

Their arrival on site — or a beforehand google-search — will instantly confirm that the site is Fogwell's Gym, a long-standing boxing gym that's sent its fair share of fighters to nearby Madison Square Garden for some legendary contests. This time of evening is after-hours, so the doors are locked, but lights shine through the dingy windows and the door is as-yet ungated. In fact, buzzer will sound and allow them entry before either of them thinks to ring the bell.

Inside is exactly what you might expect from an old-timey boxing gym. A cavernous space dominated by its ring, twenty-feet by twenty-feet and encircled by three sagging rungs of rope: one red, one white, and one blue. Spitbuckets are strapped to the post. Around the fighter's ring are all kinds of bags hanging from the walls. The walls are covered with old newspaper stories of old fights, promotional posters of bouts decades past, and pictures of champions. The places smells of stale air, sweat and blood.

The space is dimly lit, and almost empty, but explicitly not quiet. There's a rhythmic thudding sound that echoes in the vast space, authored by one sweats-and-zip-up hoodie wearing Matt Murdock, who is methodically knocking away at a black speedbag, the expanse of brow between his sightless hazel eyes furrowed in concentration.

—-

For that entire month, James has held his end of the silence. Matt Murdock did not want to speak, and James Barnes did not make him speak. A man needs time to process things, and the type of man Matt Murdock is… even more so. James knows the type. He's that type himself.

Eventually, however, communication restarted, and James can't say he didn't feel secretly glad when it did — though it also makes him feel deeply bone-guilty that he feels glad about any of this. It would have been best, a part of him murmurs, if none of these relationships re-established in any way; it should be best that he hold himself apart, and not let anyone close again. Certainly not for any reason so selfish as his own happiness.

He's too dangerous for foolishness like that.

In the end, it's more for Jane's sake that he ignores the voice of his own guilt. Even if he is too dangerous to be around others, he won't isolate Jane in that way. She needs other people… and thus, when she initially resisted the idea of going when Matt finally suggested meeting up, he dragged her out of the house.

…It'll backfire if Matt just wants to meet them to chew them out again, but some risks must be taken.

On arrival, James looks around, briefly wistful. The old timey-ness of the gym clearly calls to him, and moreover the fact it's a boxing gym in specific. "Took a lot of awards in boxing in my day," he asides to Jane, as he leads her towards the man of the hour. He just follows the sound of fists against bag.

"Hey," he greets, unnecessarily. Matt knew they were here from the moment they got to the doors, if that immediate buzz was any indication: if not even earlier thatn that. No, his greeting is more on behalf of Jane. She took point on the other engagements. He will on this one.

—-

The past month has barely felt like one. Not to Jane Foster, who has barely allowed herself a moment's rest, peace, or break away from her grand plan of a city's worth of reparations. The days bleed together. The nights wink by.

In the beginning, she religiously checked her phone for any message from Matt. Either to inform her that what she did worked, or did not work, on Kinsey, or… or something else. To check in? To ask to speak to him? Or, far more safer, to ask something else of her to do for him? Something that could help hedge some of the guilt keeping her up at night?

Silence from him. She dared not reach out. She missed him, missed the friend she and James made over the months — a friend who put himself twice on the line for them. Who is, in every way, the singular reason James still walks free.

Was he angry? Was he unable to forgive? Was he hurt, deeply hurt, by what she did to the woman he deeply, transparently loved? Jane could think of no reason else. If he understood and forgave James the actions of the Winter Soldier, perhaps it must have carried over —

Does this mean this silence is because of her?

Guilt can be a selfish, egocentric emotion, one that strips all the world away to place oneself at its center, the pariah on parade for the shaming. In her mind, Jane let it. The silence became an acid, eating all away down to the raw, exposed nerves of doubt, and even as she found the courage to reach out to other hurt friends — Jessica, John — her shame stayed her from Matt Murdock.

She still built for him, however. One of her reparations. A suit she long promised, and for months was unable to deliver. A suit she is unsure even now how to give him —

When word comes, Jane looks equal parts heartened and reticent. As Bucky answers the message, she paces in the background, certain Matt's reaching-out is for him and him alone: she makes up excuses about not feeling well, and lies badly. She proposes Bucky go along, and take the gift she engineered with him.

He doesn't let that happen.

For the first time in their strange history, the arrival of Barnes and Foster is bereft that familiar smell of donuts. Only hesitation, shame, and guilt.

And Jane, bearing the worst of it, small and dressed darkly and lingering behind Bucky's shoulder, her hands in her coat pockets, and her back bowed a little between the weight of her duffel bag and a far worse emotional burden. Her eyes take in the gym, distant and not yet understanding, and then up at Matt — applying his measured, but considerable, violence into the bags. She is always the one to have offered the first, chipper hellos, sunshine cutting in through Barnes' reserved shadow. This time, she is quiet.

—-

That 'hey' from Bucky may be superfluous — Matt has tracked their steps with relative precision before they even entered the gym — but it's still signal and impetus enough for him to stop the steady roll of his tape-wrapped fists and step back from the speedbag. He lifts a stubbled chin in their direction and gives his own understated echo: "Hey." Even without his glasses, neither his unfixed eyes nor his features betray little of whatever underlying emotional state has kept him at a remove, or prompted him to renew contact.

(Though if they were to ask Kinsey Sheridan, she might have a thing or two to say about the lengthy leaves of absence Matt can take when relationships get complicated or confused. Apparently his 'Man Without Fear' status doesn't apply to challenging emotional terrain.)

There's a beat long enough to suggest that said exchange may be the sum of the conversation before Matt gestures to the scattering of metal chairs and bench to one side of the boxing ring. "Thanks for coming all this way, especially with the mess outside," he offers at last, his jaw shifting right, shifting left as he mulls his words. "You're — ah. Settling back in, I hope?" Anyone searching for absolution or recrimination in either those stilted words or his tone of voice will find neither. Just an attempt at something like courtesy, which may (may) be a tip of the hand towards his general orientation in this strange new world the trio have found themselves in.

Jane is silent. Bucky glances at her, and holds his silence too. He stands just a little in front of her, shielding her marginally; not because of any distrust or fear of what Matt might do, but more in a gesture of support for her. It is a wordless way of saying that he will protect her, even from her own guilty conscience.

His gaze tracks back to Matt as the blind lawyer ceases, steps back, and returns that greeting with one equally brusque. Even the practiced searching look of the man who was the Winter Soldier yields nothing; Matt's expression keeps its own counsel with its typical ease, betraying nothing of how Murdock might feel, nor any of the reasons why he might have summoned them today.

There is a long pause, one which Bucky doesn't try to interrupt.

Then Matt finally proceeds with conversation. Bucky takes Jane's arm gently, intending to guide her to sit when bidden. "It's no trouble," he replies, starting with the niceties. "Thanks for calling." Three words, which say a great deal more than the sum of their actual syllables. Thank you for calling, instead of staying silent forever… because I can't watch Jane carry this guilt and pain with no resolution — one way, or the other.

You're settling back in? Matt asks. "As much as possible," is Bucky's reply. "There's been a lot to try to set right. It's just… trying to keep busy. Trying to make sure this never happens again."

—-

Jane's dark eyes remain carefully averted, away and down. Her hands do not leave her coat pockets, and for one telling reason only. Matt will hear it. Bucky knows her well enough to easily predict why.

Her hidden fingers fidget incessantly on each other, fingernail rasping against fingernail. If she let her hands free to their own devices, they'd be unstoppable. Her nerves seize her up into one small, tense line, every inch of her someone who palpably believes she is not wanted here.

She has not even stopped to wonder why Matt has even asked them both to a boxing club of all places; unlike their terse history of back alley and warehouse meetings of the masks, unlike the living room and office gatherings of the human men stripped free of their disguises. And Jane, unlikely in the middle, trying to bring two reserved, similar souls together.

The greetings between James and Matt press her lips into a thinner line, but the woman remains silent. It is Bucky who compels her forward into movement; he is gentle, but she resists for a moment — what if he doesn't want her near? — before she concedes, remorse locking her arm stiff under that touch.

Relenting, one of her hands slips from her pocket, if just long enough to cover Bucky's. She's still not sure if she should even be here, but she's glad he is.

Restlessness eases Jane uncomfortably down in one metal chair, folded slightly, stooped where her arms brace against her thighs. She looks down and through her own hands, there and not, as Matt and Bucky trade sparse, few words. Bucky, in his way, speaks for them both: she does not argue any of them. All true. True to her.

She holds a too-long, uncomfortable silence. When finally courage bids her to speak, her voice — raspy with days of disuse — asks only one question. "Is she OK?"

—-

There's been a lot to try to set right, Bucky says, and Matt's eyebrows lift and drop in an acknowledging shrug. He knows the feeling, even if he has never directly authored the kind of damage and devastation Bucky and Jane did on the New York City area. The blind man makes his own way to one of the short, rust-hinged metal chairs to claim a seat. He leans forward in the chair, elbows on his knees, his white-wrapped hands clasped tightly together. Bucky adds that they're trying to make sure this never happens to them again, and some hard-to-read flicker of emotion, something like distress, passes briefly over Matt's face and then is gone.

And then fidgety, guilt-ridden, raspy-voiced Jane zeroes in on the reason Matt has had to work to this moment over the course of four weeks. "She's okay," Matt says quietly, his lips twitching towards a melancholy smile for all that's left unsaid behind those two words: Okay, yes, relatively, but also traumatized, herself but also inevitably changed after going through the ordeal she did. "What you did, it worked." A swallow that bobs his Adam's Apple before he summons words he couldn't the night of: "Thank you for that." Another beat, and then his eyebrows lift as he remembers something. "She actually wrote you both a, ah, a note." He reaches into the side-pocket of his hoodie and pulls out the folded piece of paper and holds it out for either of them to take from him.

"She didn't want you to think she harbored bad feelings," he goes on before clearing his throat. "Neither of us do."

—-

Bucky doesn't question the choice of location either. There's a smell of something personal to it all, that doesn't invite prying. Instead, he just eases Jane over to make her take a seat. When her hands start to fidget, he takes them both in one of his, and holds them firmly still.

He does not seem surprised at the reaction that passes over Matt's features when he speaks of 'making sure this never happens again.' He does not try to call attention to it, nor address it, nor even interpret the meaning. He had a feeling, from the moment the phrase left him, it would engender some kind of reaction. It's one of those kinds of phrases that just comes out loaded… especially from them. Especially from him and Jane.

Speaking of Jane — she gets to the real meat of things, the real reason things hang by a thread between the three of them. Matt's answer, fragmented as it is, bows Bucky's head. He doesn't dare the presumptuousness of saying, 'you're welcome.' Where is their right to do so? That he thanked them for doing their duty was already more gracious than deserved.

The news that Kinsey wrote them a note, however… that Bucky didn't anticipate. Much less a note about how she doesn't harbor bad feelings.

Neither of them do, Matt adds. James is tellingly silent in the wake of that, save for the slight crinkle of paper when he takes the note. He gives it to Jane.

"I owe you my life three times over," he says, his voice sad and wry. "Whatever you wanted to harbor, it'd be your right."

—-

Thank you, says Matt, and Jane's heart lurches painfully.

Unable to help herself, she looks up, her dark eyes stricken, that stress smell of her souring with deeper guilt. Relief, deep and fatiguing, that Kinsey seems to have taken to Jane's technomagic surgery, seems to have reclaimed back some semblance of her mind, however changed; a second after-shock of relief after, like a hollow echo — selfishly, privately — that their friend seems to be reaching out, but to thank her? For fixing something she did to his girlfriend?

Her hands fidget; Bucky covers them both with one of his hands, swallowing those little movements away, and bridling Jane down from whatever fit anxiety wants to take her. She wants to say aloud: no, no, don't thank me, please don't thank me. I did that to her. You don't ever need to thank me again. It wasn't earned. It wasn't deserved.

Jane's fingers curl back on Bucky's, grappling down, needing to hold on. Something to steady her as she forces those words back, because it feels ugly of her to say — ugly of her to refuse Matt's thanks, however unneeded.

"Thank God," is all she says instead, voice heavy. "I'm so glad. I —"

But there's further mention of Kinsey, her feelings — a note she wrote. Jane's eyes burn into that piece of paper the moment Bucky takes it in hand. Her stomach tightens and turns. He hands it to her. She hesitates, then takes it.

Opening the paper in her hands, Jane… doesn't even read it. Not yet. No chance to, as the words blur as her eyes sting them unfocused.

She doesn't even need to read the note to be immediately and utterly wrecked by it. Kinsey wrote them a note. Kinsey. On that couch. Limbs removed. So scared. Couldn't remember. Couldn't have her mind. A stranger inside it —

She wrote them a note. After everything that happened to her, she worried how Jane might feel.

In the wake of Bucky's words, Jane is for a moment silent. Then there is the sharp, sudden smell of salt, and her voice is being pulled on the rack, limbs separating, joints popping loose. "Matt," she chokes through a sob, "I'm so sorry."

Up to now, this meeting has been a continuation of the awkward emotional plateau the three had reached towards the end of Kinsey's procedure — with all sides feeling various degrees of sad, guilty, and anxious for varying reasons, but unable to adequately express any of those emotions to each other. Matt's careful step forward, combined with Kinsey's note, breaks that logjam and upsets that equilibrium. For better or worse.

Bucky says that Matt is within his rights to hold any grudge he wants as long as he wants, which has Matt puffing out a breath that flares his nostrils. He smiles a little and attempts nonchalance with his shrug. "Life's too short for that," he says of the grudge he's entitled to. And then a wry addendum: "Or at least my life is."

And then Jane is outright crumpling under the weight of that tiny sliver of paper. Sobbing, apologizing for things she did out of her right mind. It tugs at Matt's heart strings, sees him swallow that wry smile and duck his head while something pained passes over his features. "I know you are, Jane," he murmurs tightly. "I know it."

He brings his hands together, palms facing each other as if in prayer; his finger tips hover just under his lower lip. "I spent the better part of a year telling the world you weren't responsible for what you did when you were stripped of the things that made you you," he says, voice thick but leavened with a gentle, wry humor. "I'd be the world's biggest hypocrite if I didn't practice what I preached at the bench."

A beat, and then: "If you do want to make amends to Kinsey, though, I have at least one idea."

Jane dissolves before she even has a chance to fully read the note. It's not the contents, after all… it's the fact Kinsey cared to write one at all. To even think about whether or not he and Jane might think she harbored bad feelings…

Bucky puts his right arm around her, pulling her close. A little squeeze follows, a reassurance for both her — and a restraint for himself. The feelings of dissonance over the thanks, the note, everything… it's great, but Bucky knows on some level it would be the grossest of insults if he were to wallow in his self-pity and push away this extended hand. Guilt can make a man reluctant to accept such magnanimous gestures, thinking that they are not deserved… but to refuse freely-given forgiveness would feel like throwing a precious gift on the floor.

So, instead of demurring, he comforts Jane, and leaves it to Matt Murdock what to choose to feel. Matt's response, light with that familiar wryness, actually brings James to smile, just a little. At least my life is, Matt says.

Bucky actually snorts at that, briefly lapsing back into his typical briskness. "No it's not," he says, and he takes the duffel from Jane and pushes it over. "That kinda shit… is what this is meant to prevent." It's likely not hard to guess what's in it.

He sobers, however, as Matt elucidates some of his reasoning — speaks of how he'd be hypocritical to be tripped up now after what he preached at the bench. "Things get hard when they come into our backyards," he says quietly. "Either way, I mean to… not squander all the work you did, then. I mean to not make you have to do it a second time. I mean to never be controlled again."

As far as Kinsey? Bucky lifts his head, clearly willing for whatever idea might come, though it is likely Jane will speak first.

—-

That note hangs from Jane's fingertips as she sways, herded gently by Bucky's right arm to a sanctuary up against his side.

There's no fight in her, loose and malleable, every bit of her from her stubborn head to her iron will broken by a single, folded leaf of paper. Jane's head leans near to Bucky's shoulder, bowed down and chin tucked, as she racks with sharp, stinging sobs: everything she told herself she wouldn't do, not for a single soul her actions took away or did harm. It's about them, not her — and the crying can be done later, in private, out of sight and alone, where it doesn't obligate anyone to see her tears and shift in awkwardness. Or worse, courtesy, making promises they don't mean or want in order to appease her pain.

Strong intentions, but even Jane has seams in her own armor, little, imperfect nooks — and all it takes is one note to pull her apart. She took from Kinsey nearly everything that was taken from her, nearly did to her what Hydra did to so many others —

And there is a note.

Matt's words feed in through her quiet weeping — he knows she's sorry — and Jane's tears only seem to want to worsen. Guilt and relief make terrible bedmates. She rubs at her face, tries to compose, and — Bucky instead intercedes when Jane cannot speak, and answers Matt's self-deprecating joke on his own lifespan with —

— the duffel being flung the lawyer-and-vigilante's way.

The gruff audacity of the gesture is a miracle, and stops Jane's tears — dried-up, just like that — as she slants up Bucky a raw-eyed, shocked look. Did you just?!

When the next breath kicks out of her, it's not in weeping, but a rough could-have-been ghost of a laugh, rubbing a hand through her dark hair. "It's yours, Matt," adds Jane softly, in all she'll say aloud in the matter: they've some privacy, but same as Bucky, she shares his wariness of public spaces.

With a grateful squeeze of her hand on Bucky's closest knee, leaving it there, Jane uses her free hand to rub away the rest of that moment from her eyes. Composure back. "It's true, Matt. We never want to worry you — anyone — that way… ever again."

Mention of Kinsey lifts her eyes, as they turn on Matt, chasing some nascent hope. As Bucky predicts, Jane answers immediately: "Anything."

—-

Matt's smiles — his honest-to-God smiles — are always a little melancholy. That's just woven into the warp and weft of his nature, and it's certainly the case of the half-smile that greets Bucky Barnes when the metal-armed-man slides the duffel bag over in his general direction. He reaches out for it and drags it over to his feet with a surety that betrays absolutely no concern about being seen by others. For whatever reason, he regards the after-hours environs of Fogwell's Gym as a place where he doesn't have to hide all that he can do.

"You didn't have to do this," he says of what he's sure is the second high-tech combat suit Jane Foster has built for him in nearly a year. But he'll still take it. Running around for the past few months in a mail-order ninja outfit, going up against demonic bears, dragons, killer robots and ghosts alongside various unbreakables and people with unusual powers has been a lesson in humility and the dangers of his chosen side-hustle. He unzips the bag to reveal his contents, but before he even has the werewithal to pull the suit out of the bag he's murmuring a: "Thanks, Jane."

Mention by the pair of their commitment to never again let themselves be controlled by others sees his lips press together, the overall cast of his features registering acceptance and understanding, though it's qualified. He believes they mean it, and he doesn't even need his polygraphic powers to tell that they're both serious about it. But how will they do it? Still, he doesn't press.

Especially not when Jane is still crying, or collecting herself enough to urge him onward and provide some sort of shape to his proposed penance. Matt draws in a slow breath through his nose. "Be a friend to her," he says after a moment's pause. "She, ah, doesn't have many of them right now. Cut herself off pretty thoroughly when the accident happened. But you work in the same office, you share a lot of the same interests. And, if she comes to trust you, she might even let you you help her figure out what exactly happened to her."

There's a beat, and then a grim little addendum: "If there's one thing that corrupted version of Five was right about, it's that failing to pursue those answers could be a liability long-term. The virus proved that. And if she's willing to let you, you could help her get those answers more quickly and more safely than she might on her own otherwise."

—-

You didn't have to do this, Matt says, and Bucky slants the man a deeply incredulous look before he remembers — and turns it into a dismissive scoff instead. "You kidding? It's the least of the things we can do."

He notices, a moment later, Jane giving him a shocked look at the gruffness of the gesture. His brows lift in a wordless 'what?' He did in fact just. It's totally how guys like him and Murdock do things.

His attention returns to Matt a moment later, however. The lawyer doesn't press on how they intend to prevent this from ever happening again, and there's some frank relief from Bucky that he doesn't. Bucky doesn't know yet either, and he doesn't think that's what anyone necessarily wants to hear right now.

He just listens in silence as Matt lays out what they could do to make amends. Be a friend to her, he says, and Bucky trades a glance with Jane. "Glad to," he says, "if she'll have us. Any way we can help her figure it out. I know well enough what it feels like to… change drastically." His left arm, and its many deftly-worked plates, hums slightly as if in agreement.

—-

"You don't need to thank me," Jane says to Matt, very quietly, something almost shy in the downcast pull of her eyes, staring down into her own lap. As far as she feels, he never needs to thank her for anything ever again.

But, leave it to Bucky Barnes to break up whatever awkwardness on her part by dismissing the rest of what Matt says in its entirety; Jane lifts her eyes, hopeful for this change in mood — lighter, gentler, better — and amused around the corners. She doesn't disagree. Even before their respective guilts about the last many months, there's no way Matthew Murdock doesn't need some form of armor. Dumb lawyer is going to get himself impaled on a mob or three.

"There's upgrades," she adds, very softly — discretion is definitely a part of life. "Stronger than before, without compromises to mobility. Shouldn't break as… readily." Jane pauses a moment. "Experimental tech at the feet. Tell me if it ends up working out for you. Electroadhesive material. Should help with balancing… climbing. Really help. If you don't like it, I'll take it out."

And that seems to be as much as Jane will say out loud, put in as vague terms as possible… while Matt goes ahead and just opens up the duffel. In public — or its closest facsimile. Straightening up, Jane tightens with shock, exchanging a look with Bucky — wasn't Matt private about this sort of thing?

In a gym, no less? No one else seems to be around, but —

If anything, talk of Kinsey excises Jane's attention entirely. From the pain in her eyes to the pang in her stomach, she sits with fierce zeal to do anything to help pay the hurts she's put on Kinsey and the artificial intelligence joined into her mind. She'll do anything, discover anything, build anything, solve anything —

— or be a friend? It lifts Jane's eyebrows. She shares Bucky's glance, surprised, a little stricken. Not in a hundred years would she consider Kinsey even wanting to look at her, but — "If she's — if she's all right with it," she says lightly, hopefully. "We can reach out. I can't imagine — not having people there. After that. Definitely, Matt."

She breathes in, then out, and carefully folds up Kinsey's note, making the decision to read that privately — back when she's home. "So is this — your gym?"

—-

They agree to his plan of action, though allude to the fact that its success depends, more or less, on how receptive Kinsey will be to their reaching out. Matt's lips twitch at their corners. "You'll manage," he says with quiet confidence. After all, these two have an uncanny ability to win the trust and friendship of the very people whose lives they complicate.

Then he's bringing the high-tech body armor out of the bag, feeling the fabric of it under his fingers. Upgrades, she's telling Matt. It's tougher and more durable. "Don't suppose you tested it against Wakandan laser panthers," he says dryly before reaching in to grab the boots she says will now adhere to surfaces as desired. "I'll give it a spin and see how it works. But no, this all seems — great. Amazing, even."

She's shifting the subject to their meeting space — so unlike the abandoned warehouses or construction sites they've usually chosen for times when he's wearing the mask. Matt can't exactly look around, but something in the tilt of his head and the quality of his expression suggests he's making his own sort of survey of the musty old gym around them. "Yeah, it was where my dad trained," he says with a little roll of his shoulders. "He was, ah, a boxer. And even after he passed, the owner, Tommy, was a sort of — well, he'd look out for me. Let me work out here after hours." Normally eloquent, when Matt speaks of his boyhood and his father, his speech takes on a halting and stilted quality — as if he's using muscles stiff or atrophied from lack of use.

A beat, before Matt's lips quirk at one corner. "But ah, after this last winter, I think Tommy's finally done," he says ruefully, and there's a grace note of apology in the words, given the role those two played in said winter. " He said he was going to stay in Florida where it's nice and warm, sell the place to some of the developers that have been sniffing around. 'Let 'em turn it into fuckin' condos, for all I care,' were his exact words, I think."

A light flickers in Matt's unfixed hazel eyes, right before he adds a wry: "Which is why I want to buy it with the Stark retainer money. And why I wanted to see if you were interested in going in with me."

—-

Gently, Bucky tries to navigate the conversation somewhere lighter, a little less bleak. It's not something he does much anymore, the years having destroyed the socially-adept creature he once was, but nonetheless the skills still remain. And this is a time for him to use them, if there ever was one. Jane certainly needs the help.

He uses the suit to do it. It's a welcome change of conversational topic for them all. Bucky doesn't have much to say about the new specs; it's enough for him that Murdock will have some armor again, and the specifics all contribute to the whole of 'Matt not having to run about in a ski mask anymore.' What does bring him to lift his brows is the fact Murdock just opens it up in apparent public; he meets that exchanged glance with Jane, a vague 'beats me' shrug given. It must be his gym, if he's so comfortable with just looking at the suit here in the open…

The explanation comes in response to Jane's oblique question about it. Bucky holds his silence as Matt speaks of his father… his childhood training here. Of the owner, being driven to the snowbird life by the past winter — Bucky winces a little at that — and what he intends to do with the place. The story resonates with James, putting a gloss of recognition and reminisce alike in his eyes. He's heard a story like this before. It's not his own; it's broadly similar to the story of someone so close to him as to be a brother.

Matt speaks of wanting to buy it — and wonders if they're interested in going in with him.

There is a brief silence from Bucky before he answers, though nothing about the hesitation smells or sounds of a pause born of rejection. "Yes," he says eventually. "But I got one condition for you," and despite the flippancy of the words there's a reverence hidden in his tone to say what Matt asking means to him. "You gotta let me train here. It's a good place you got here. It takes me back."

—-

Little by little, the weight seems to lessen.

The guilt does not leave her — destined to hang its long shadow over Jane Foster for some come — but in moments like these, there is a brief, beautiful release to the twisting tightness in her chest. It stings her into a moment of pensive silence, considering all the people in both James' and her lives: John and Zatanna, at the end, helping the cause to free their corrupted souls, Jessica standing there with open arms, Emery Papsworth and Owen Mercer, drinking with them, teasing them, treating them as people and not the ghosts of old, exorcised monsters —

Now Kinsey, whose treasured note is folded carefully and stored in Jane's inside coat pocket, who needs friends after all what happened to her. And now Matt, sharing a story from his childhood, and asking both of them to help own a very significant piece of it.

'Feeling touched' puts it lightly. This goes far beyond forgiveness. This is Matt Murdock, despite it all, welcoming the strange Barnes-Foster family a little closer into his life.

Jane, for her part, struggles again against the renewed burn of her eyes. She doesn't want to cry twice in the same ten minutes. It's Bucky's response, really, what saves them all from a few more of her endless-sourced tears. He comes back with conditions of his own, and she lets go a shaky laugh, warmed with mirth. "Basically what he says," she confirms. "Yes. Absolutely. I've never partially-owned a boxing gym before."

But there's a measured strength to her voice, no different from the fabric Matt takes in hand: the new skin of the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, that familiar, nanoweave-aggregate cloth back under his fingers, light but rigid, thin as it was before, but still durable. There's an audible smile creeping into Jane's next words. "But we'd be honoured to keep it going strong. And Wakandan laser panthers won't be able to touch you this time around. I promise."

—-

Matt senses the tension and stress slowly slough off Jane Foster in all the dozens of ways that only he can, hears the undercurrent of reverence in Bucky's tone, and considers his mission for the night more or less accomplished. The sentiment is tucked into the half-curl of his lips, hidden only partly by the duck of his head. James names a condition and that shatters the subtle expression; it's replaced by a grin that shows off his teeth and crinkles the corners of his eyes. "I was counting on it, James," Matt says with a little lift of his chin. "And not just train yourself, but train others. You're good at it, and you could do good with it. This'll be more of a… club… than a gym, and it'll have a carefully selected clientele."

"Besides," the blind man quips. "As your lawyer, I'm going to gently suggest that you need an actual day job."

And then he's pushing himself up to a stand, nano-tube fabric in hand. "But first, I'm going to get this on and we can go a few rounds, right here in the ring. Not that I don't trust you, Jane — but nothing beats a stress test. Right?"

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