Declaration of War

May 10, 2018:

Determined to save Matt Murdock's soul, Bucky Barnes and Jane Foster seek out Wilson Fisk directly.

Vanessa Fisk's Art Gallery, NYC

Look, just because it's all in shades of white doesn't mean it's not art.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Matt Murdock

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Vanessa Fisk's gallery is on the fifth floor of a swanky commercial high rise, and is one of the only businesses in that high rise open in the evenings. Indeed, it doesn't really start businss until 4 PM.

The proprietess is a lovely woman. If one didn't know that her taste in men includes horrific gangsters she might be a fine person to have at just about any gathering. Her crisp white suit is impeccable and well-tailored, but not ostentatious. From old money and in late middle age, she exudes a graciousness that takes just about everyone as they are. Her make-up is understated, her brown bob just brushes her shoulder, and she has an absolutely radiant smile.

She loves her job. She loves her art.

Wilson Fisk has not yet arrived, though the schedule given by the Russians indicates that this is one of the nights he favors, and well within the window of time that he favors them. In the meantime, Vanessa circulates the gallery, talking to the few patrons. It's okay that it has few patrons, as the cheapest painting in there is enough to buy a late model car at least.

For Bucky's purposes, the gallery is pretty great, because it has these big windows that let people see straight into it from any number of good rooftops or other windows in the area. From the street level it's like this bright, warm beacon in an otherwise dark and quiet building…which may rather be the point.

In a world of superheroes, costumes, and futuristic suits, Jane Foster dresses in a different sort of armor.

This is not the first time she's done this; let James Barnes' zip the back up her elegant dress she'd normally never wear, strapping on heels, and arranging her little accessories the same way the ex-assassin beside her counts and checks his guns. Tonight is a plan they have conspired with no one but themselves, a first step that will forever change the climate of Hell Kitchen's private war, and possibly — hopefully — the lethal trajectory of Matt Murdock's life.

If they do not do something, then he will. And if the Devil miraculously survives it in body, he may not in soul.

Before she leaves, Jane takes a moment, tenderly, to rub her thumb along the corner of Bucky's mouth. "The software is ready on your phone. You'll have eyes and ears through me," she promises. "I'll follow any lead you take. Tell me to get out, and I will."

She departs with a kiss.

And now, inside that gallery, among those patrons walks Dr. Foster. Hers is a famous face, of course, branded across every monitor in the world after the Trial of Two Centuries. Millions heard her intimate life story forcefully told aloud, and millions more watched her cry. Since last summer, Foster has been a public ghost — as one would suspect — keeping as modest a life as possible, no doubt still suffering the weight of her notoreity.

Until now. Dressed well, her dark hair knotted tastefully at one shoulder, better to let the platinum studs in her ears broadcast video and audio of the gallery, Jane settles her nerves with another sip of her proprietary wine. She stands before some expansive, expressionist piece, pretending to be absorbed for how little she cares about it.

This, too, was one of the things James Barnes taught to Jane Foster. Not all arsenals are made up of blades and bombs, and beautiful women in particular have an assortment of unique weapons to bring to bear.

"Well," he'd clarified mid-coaching, his voice wry, "I didn't personally teach the Widows about this part. But I knew the shape of their training in this regard well enough." And he'd zipped up the back of her little black dress.

The rest he left to her. He busied himself with his last check on his array of more conventional weaponry, his choices for the evening centerpieced by a suppressed M2010 sniper rifle. His eyes turn to hers as she gives him that parting touch, affection in their blue irises. "I'll have eyes on you," he says. "But be careful."

He draws out the kiss, before letting her go. He watches a few moments, before he scales up to a pre-selected rooftop vantage point to set up.

Not long later, he's settled in a nest and is watching Jane, as promised, though equally surveying the surrounding area for any other hidden threats or signs of anything untoward.

"Ah, I see you've taken an interest in the Vashen," Vanessa says, drawing close to Jane. "Quite the up-and-comer. Are you an impressionist enthusiast, Dr. Foster, or did it just catch your eye?"

When someone is famous there is no sense in pretending they are not. Vanessa Fisk offers a gracious hand.

It is around this time, down below, that a long black stretch limo pulls up and parks. Their target might just be arriving. It's probably a good bet that's him. The windows are tinted, and the thing is worth a fortune.

As Bucky surveys the area though, he'll spot it. There's another nest. A second sniper is in the area. And if Bucky weren't exactly who he was? He never would have caught it. It takes that sharpened eyesight to see it, and even then the little glint he catches comes his way almost by chance. It is several buildings away.

And enter the notorious Mrs. Fisk: the unassuming wife, and potential personal life, of a business mongul behind murdering so many innocents in the Devil's vigilante life.

Jane, for her part, has read all she can on the woman, and in her searching has found nothing unsavoury. A civilian unlike what Jane, herself, was, just over a year ago. The only question remains is how deep does that assumption go? How much does the woman know? Is she piece of art on her own, elegant and pretty, meant to catch the eye and distract it away from imperfections on the wall, or is she something more?

A partner in every definition of the word, like Jane is to Bucky?

Hearing her own name, even prepared for it, seems to surprise Dr. Foster. She looks over and up — she's a tiny thing, tiny on television and even smaller in person — and with an apologetic smile, changes her wine glass in her hands to accept that offered hand. "Sorry," she says, with a laugh. "Still getting used to being recognized. And… it's definitely caught my eye."

She did some requisite study on art. Her eidetic mind did its damndest to flush the information as fast as she read it. Jane wanted to shoot herself. Most. Boring. Subject. Alive.

"Honestly? I think I'm a bit in over my head," Jane confesses. "I'm opening an office for a business of mine, and everyone is all about the personal touch — so here I am, trying to pick decor. You're, ah — I'm the worst with names. Miss Fisk, is it?"

It takes a second pass before he sees it. That flick of light off the lens of a scope, that would have gone unnoticed by any mundane human eye. But the Winter Soldier, of course, is not just human…

He has to be grudgingly observe that his counterpart appears to know what he — or she — is doing. Not a common assessment he gives, at his age and with his experience. "Kids are growing up," he mutters to himself, though given how crazy the world is these days… it's equally possible he's looking at a peer. All kinds of time-lost people and supersoldiers, these days…

He glances at the approaching limo, and then back at the enemy sniper. Risky. If he tries to close with the enemy and is noticed, it'll cost Jane her life by sniper shot. Not a risk he is willing to take. If he fires now, he'll blow their cover entirely and lose any shot at gaining intelligence.

He moves, slowly, repositioning such that the enemy sniper loses direct line of fire on him. Then, he angles his weapon. It's a slight movement, precise and calculated, meant to flash light across his own scope in a way the enemy cannot fail to notice.

I am here. You kill mine, I kill yours.

"Oh, just call me Vanessa, please," the woman says with a warm laugh. "Do you have colors picked out for your office? What do you like, Dr. Foster? What's drawn your eye here? I'm sure I can help you find just the perfect piece."

It's hard to tell. At least, from this interaction. All the things Jane is seeking in this woman. It's just so hard to tell. She is a well-dressed enigma wearing pleasant perfume.

Bucky signals to the enemy, and a moment later, he gets a signal back. Not just a flash of light, but basically morse code.

'Funny. I was about to tell you the same thing.'

Meanwhile, Wilson Fisk gets out of the vehicle.

That it is him becomes evident from the way the bodyguards swarm around him. It's evident from his bearing. He believes himself a king. He walks like one. Is attended to like one. Though he is all bulk, easily five hundred pounds, something in how he moves is graceful. Powerful. It would be easy to dismiss him as a fat, rich man, unless one looked at how he walked.

It takes him little time to get inside, and Jane will have at least one answer as he passes through the glass doors to the gallery itself. Though Vanessa does not abandon a potential client? Her eyes light right up. Her face transforms.

She is desperately in love with this man. And there's an energy between them almost, a fit, a way those beady eyes track first right to her?

That says this is mutal. This is real.

For all her talents, duplicity is not one of Jane's strong suits. Honesty may well be the Polaris of her moral suite, and has forever guided her true.

So she finds her best, personal lies are those mixed with truths. Though she does have a company — operated care-of the frightening business acumen of Tony Stark — there is no way in hell Jane would, herself, open a regional company. And in this imaginary office she could never see herself running, she supposes she could fantasize the way she'd like it —

"I do," Jane answers of colours. "White. And blue." Warmth comes briefly to her eyes at mention of both, warmth to be found even in the lions' den: white and blue, the colour of the faraway, brightest-burning stars. The colour of the star on James's shoulder, white, and the blue of his eyes. "I welcome any sort of help. This is not my usual forte —"

Her voice lingers off. Hard to speak, to want to speak, when a king makes his presence known.

Slowly, Jane's head turns, better to look, better to give Bucky vantage, as well, through the recording lens disguised in her earring. In one, long stare, she takes in the very man responsible for Matt Murdock's brush with first-degree homicide: the supposed maestro who had her friend clutching a knife in his shaking hand, rage twisting his voice into something unrecognizable, and on the edge — the paper-thin edge — of giving himself away to the dark.

This is the man behind it.

Jane looks every bit the curious patron, dressed well and wined appropriately, unable to help but have her dark eyes be drawn by this throng of attention — bodyguards and all else — but there is the deliberate twitch of something more, in the way her gaze follows Fisk's first priority. From his eyes, her travels back to Vanessa, who looks inescapably in love.

That answers Jane's question.

The Winter Soldier's eyes narrow at the answering flicker of Morse code. His jaw tightens at the glib response. Light flickers in a response.

Beat you to it, then. Truce.

Their purpose here is not to kill, anyway. Not yet. Not here. Too public. Too many variables. Wilson Fisk, once he emerges, appears with a swarm of guards… on top of having an unseen sniper who almost managed to slip the Winter Soldier's eye.

"Tricky bastard," Bucky says, under his breath.

He keeps most of his focus on the enemy sniper, and some of his attention on Jane and the unfolding conversation. He views Vanessa, this woman who seems so deeply in love with a man like Wilson Fisk… and he views the 'king' himself. A cruel beast of a man, and supposedly the one behind the heinous series of events that seem poised to steal the sanity of one of his closest friends in this modern era.

"Jane," he whispers to his little partner on the ground. "He has a counter sniper. Have him in a deadlock but it's getting hot. Get what you can and start extracting."

His eyes travel back to Vanessa, contemplative, and then look to see the matching way Fisk regards her. The predator in him smells weakness, though for now there is no safe way to pounce.

Truce, the unseen sniper signals back, though of course. He doesn't move either, anymore than Bucky does. Moving sort of ends the stalemate, and just because they're signaling it doesn't make it so if battlefield conditions shift.

Vanessa Fisk might have known Jane Foster from TV.

But Wilson Fisk definitely knows her from CCTV.

His smile is amused. A brief flash across his face. "Dr. Foster," he says, offering a massive hand. "A bit of art shopping, at this late hour? And here you didn't strike me as the type. Let me assure you the lady here can point you to your heart's desire with little trouble."

His eyebrows climb. His voice just has this seething quality. Even when he's amused. Even when he's standing in the calming presence of his lady love. This man is furious. Perhaps at everything. Cheap, $15 cufflinks glint in the sleeves of a $700 tailored suit.

"Or were you perhaps seeking something other than a painting tonight? I'm afraid we're a bit bereft on the science front. Moreso of late than usual, in fact."

Is the fact that he's speaking in codes and innuendos a signal that Vanessa knows nothing, or at least very little? Or is it just his own way of avoiding saying anything which might be incriminating? He finishes with, "Investments. Sometimes they just get positively wrecked. But we carry on however we must."

Unbeknowst to the silent war between snipers that wages above, Jane keeps her eyes and attention focused on the here and now.

Bucky's voice transmits through the cilia of her ear, car of the pinpoint-sized device hidden along the pinna. Jane answers in a silent signal, absently trading her glass of wine from one hand to the other to hold. Acknowledged.

Standing back, she allows the two Fisks a relative privacy to trade their looks — in them silent greetings — with the politeness of mannered company. Someone who knows when to allow a married couple a moment alone. Jane watches as her mind ruminates: does Fisk have a potential accomplice? Is there a bend in a load-bearing wall in his house of cards?

The hand Fisk extends to her is huge. So huge that Jane almost wants to hesitate. She does not, and bravely takes it. Hers is tiny. How much force would it take him to twist it free from the wrist joint, if he really wanted?

Especially as Jane answers with a sheepish laugh. "Everyone is recognizing me today, it seems." The comment out of the man who ordered the murder of innocent women brings her to laugh — light, amused. "Definitely not the type, I promise. But definitely finding myself on that long road. It seems business may well be in my future."

Her expression softens. "Vanessa has been a great help. I think I'm going to trust her eye far more than my own. And please, both of you. Call me Jane."

Briefly, Jane meets Fisk's eyes. Her uncovered earring gives Bucky the same front seat to that brewing storm circling beneath the Kingpin's expression.

She doesn't miss the vagaries. Keeping a private life separate from the missus? Jane feigns a playful wince at 'science.' "Oh god! Nothing like that here, I promise. I'm already being given lessons not to bore the future clintele. I promise, only here for the art. I mean, they're like an investment in a way, would you say?"

Her eyes cross to Vanessa for agreement, seeking the opinion of the expert. Then, Jane's eyes are back on Fisk. "Some friends told me I'm way too deep in the science, and I need to explore the other side of life. Integrate it into the business. Cover up some of the drudgery and minutiae with something pretty, right? Pretty enough no one notices the rest of it. Someone — even recommended me what to look for. Abstract or something. I think by a Russian artist. Two brothers. Strike any bells?"

The Winter Soldier holds position and his silence. He cannot move on Fisk or his little wife… but while he's here, the enemy cannot move on Jane. His presence is enough to stalemate this interaction, for now.

Long enough for Jane to deliver their mutual message to the Kingpin.

He watches, carefully, as Miss Foster speaks. His gaze is trained on Wilson Fisk's features. His eyes. His body language. His wife, and whatever reactions she might be having to the conversation, in her turn.

Snipers do not use laser sights. It defeats the entire purpose. Yet sometimes, there's a niche use for them. A use like letting the barest flicker of red light ghost along the fine strands of Jane's hair, over her head, for the briefest instant. A trajectory which makes unequivocal that should Jane be harmed, the Kingpin will not long survive it.

Even if it costs Bucky his own life.

From the sniper, another message in Morse. A radio frequency.

56.

An invitation to chat, if Bucky wants it. Rather than to send messages in sight lights and mirror flashes.

Meanwhile, the main show down below.

First, Vanessa, tilting her head thoughtfully. "Two brothers? Artists? Let's see…Solokov and…gosh, I can't think of any brother artists. I do have a Solokov. I don't know if I'd call it impressionistic, but it would work well with your colors. Let me see if I can go find it."

She's either a fantastic actress, not aware, or only a little aware. She drifts off to the back room, falling out of sight for a moment. "Brothers," she murmurs.

Meanwhile, Fisk's hard smile hardens just a little bit as he looks down into Jane's eyes, letting her hand go with a gentlemanly pat. "Jane," he says, as if they're old friends. "If there's all that drudgery and minutiae, perhaps you need different work. You and your associates alike. Too much exploration can make you lose sight of everything you love. Maybe even lose it altogether. You've been through enough, I should think. I'd hate to see that happen to you."

Gravelly voice, powerful frame, deliberate air. Wilson Fisk is now in a chess match. Some of that seething quality abates as he looks down at Jane Foster. For all her diminutive size, he is treating her like the skilled opponent she is. His beady eyes flick up and to the window. He is as aware of being in someone's sights as Jane now is. He is likely well aware of whose, simply by virtue of her identity.

If it's causing him to sweat, even a little bit inside of that suit, it's not showing. Neither up close nor from the bird's eye view.

It is difficult to suffer this room and not feel drowned in Wilson Fisk's presence.

His bodyguards, his entourage, and himself — so much of himself — seem to dominate every last inch of the gallery. Enough, that beneath Jane's polite smiling, even she cannot deny the instinctive itch of a cornered, trapped animal.

There is only one salve to this, within which Jane Foster trusts implicitly and wholly. She knows James Barnes has his eye on her. And, by that, she is not alone.

That thought keeps her brave as she watches Vanessa take leave to consult the gallery's storeroom. "Thank you so much!" Jane calls after.

With that, she takes a sip of her wine; liquid courage for what to happen ahead. Jane Foster, alone with Wilson Fisk.

She looks up at him. She's faced off against Demon Bears, Asgardian princes, Wakandan kings, Nazi sorcerers, Hydra killers — should one man be any different? Jane knows better than to let that fact soothe her. She knows well enough, one truth above all: sometimes it takes only one person to move a world.

With that, she decides on the four most brazen, dangerous words anyone should ever tell the Kingpin, and she does with a kindly smile: "I like your wife."

Above all, Wilson Fisk presents as a man of culture and diplomacy, couched in all his danger a gentle warning not gone unmissed by Foster. A veneer of refinery to disguise brutality, and if what Matt says is true — of course it is, she trusts him always — Fisk is a monster. Her eyes shutter when he tells her what she's been through. Her fingers move unconsciously against her wine glass.

"Professional concern? Is that advice from a businessman?" she asks, a tease in her voice. "Or from a man in love? If you know us well, then you know there are some things we cannot let go. Some things happen in this world that make us see so, so clearly."

The invitation flickers across the Winter Soldier's blue irises. A few flashes of light spell out a radio frequency.

He watches Jane and Fisk a few more moments, before he makes an internal decision. He switches to the frequency in question, keeping one eye on the transaction transpiring down below, and one eye on the enemy sniper.

It means he will not be able to listen to their conversation — perhaps what the enemy intends — but he trusts Jane to navigate it well enough. He's warned her of the situation outside already. She can take it from there.

"I don't usually get called for small talk," he says dryly, over the specified frequency, quietly toggling a recorder.

Jane Foster makes her dangerous dig against his wife.

It is well that she trusts in James Buchannan Barnes, for it is probably the only thing that stays his hand. Even though his wife may know but little, the rage that sparks in his eyes is a bonfire ignited. Wilson Fisk takes one step forward, his fingers just twitching, slightly. As if he can already feel them around Jane's throat. Squeezing and squeezing. Until her head pops. Like a grape.

And then he smiles. His shoulders shake in a silent chuckle.

"You know," he says, evenly, "I've often wondered what life is like for the significant other of an acquitted man. I have known many men who walked out of courtrooms free. Good people, if you know them. But dangerous men, if you do not. They raise the glass in toast on Monday to celebrate their acquittal, and then on Tuesday go out and commit the very crimes they were nearly convicted of. New crimes. Things not covered by unfortunate mitigating circumstances, or whatever it was that got them off. Things well outside the laws of double jeopardy."

He motions behind him. Almost a summons. It's not like a glass of wine just appears in his hand, but that's almost the effect. Someone sure scrambles to get it for him. He takes a long sip and says lightly, "It's a gamble, of course. Who gets off. Who doesn't. Who gets caught a second time, and who continues doing their work uninterrupted. No matter how skilled they may be. Unless, of course, they've actually gone clean. Which I'm completely sure your dear beau has. After all, who would be crazed enough to go snap together a sniper rifle, set off a bomb somewhere, or threaten some innocent woman after the Hell of that trial, am I right? Why, I'm sure he's wise enough to even avoid the appearance that he's up to old tricks, after all that. It would be rough if someone with a grievance began stirring up nasty old business once more."

Up above, two snipers engage in a stalemate.

Down below, a social battle rages, and Wilson Fisk suggests he and Jane Foster may have something of the same.

Meanwhile, a sniper on the radio.

"Aw, chief, it's not smalltalk, it's professional courtesy. You just keep warning me, and I mean you know. Not necessary. I follow my Momma's advice real good. Never start nothin', always be the one to finish it. 'S long as my client's significantly less attractive body continues to function, so will your lady's."

Alabama accent, good ole boy joviality.

That single step forward puts all of Jane's nerves on edge.

She always feels tiny, in contrast to her physically-larger, physically-stronger world around her. In the shadow of Wilson Fisk, she feels miniscule.

But even in the infinite vastness of space, too large even yet for its boundaries to be quantified, a single star still knows how to burn on strong. Jane takes that lesson, and holds her ground.

This is for Matt's soul. James trusts her. She can trust herself, too.

That friendly smile haunts like a ghost at the frames of Jane's face, though its fake mirth is long forgotten, run out of her by the current of Fisk's words. He is a careful man — how could he not be — and speaks in vagaries and hypotheticals, but within their seams spins back to Jane her own life story. Her past year, on close and personal replay. Of course he knows, far more than the average man would, of her, of James, of anyone else in periphery of Daredevil. Even careful as they've been, a clever man could take a deep and long look down and see their binds for what they are.

Her fingers move on her glass. Jane Foster is not without her own temper, just as quick and supernova-bright, and she wrests down to hold it. James had prepared her as much; she went into this knowing this would not be a reconnaissance, not an infiltration, not a glean for information —

But an escalation. And, so, let it escalate.

Fury burns through her eyes to imagine James Barnes once more on the stand. But, even to that fear, faith and decision hold stronger. What he ordered on those women. What he did to innocent women.

"Some people choose to see far beyond their own fears, Mr. Fisk," answers Jane, her voice flat, but unable ever to be cold. Too much passion in her, born of it, burning with it. "You'll see it more in the coming days."

She is silent a moment. Her voice goes soft. "I will tell you that nothing hurts like seeing yours put in chains." Jane's eyes are steady. "You're going to make her weep."

The voice that comes through on the line immediately grates the last of James' nerves. Especially as its dulcet tones ring in his ear while he's forced to watch Wilson Fisk step towards Jane.

The man stops. So does James' finger, on the trigger.

I don't always shoot opposite men raised as well as you," is his blase response. "Your momma a sniper too, son? You're a long way from home."

"My Momma eats snipers for breakfast," the other sniper says, with the same joviality. "But thanks for asking. She'd find that one a real hoot. I'll have to tell her you asked. James Barnes, thought you were probably in my line of work, Momma. Must have raised me right."

A cold chill from Jane Foster. The kind of resolve and faith that makes her so much more than meets the eye. A burning star in a void of black.

'You're going to make her weep,' Jane says, and a hardness comes over Fisk's face that promises a great deal of madness ahead. They will show him things, but he will show them things too. Escalation has indeed taken place here. Whatever caution had stayed his hand on the matter of doing things which might make the Winter Soldier his enemy has passed. It had already passed, in truth, and he realizes that now. There was nothing he could do that would prevent it, which means he has only to win it.

And there is nothing more to be won here.

"Perhaps, Dr. Foster," he says, his voice restored to sandpaper and velvet over stormy molten seas.

"And perhaps other tears will fall first."

Vanessa comes out then, with a Solokov, and a bright smile. "I found it! I think it's perfect for you, Dr. Foster. I'd forgotten Solokov did so many space paintings. This is The Eye of the Universe."

It's a painting of a wild, sweeping nebula.

Fisk presses a kiss to his wife's temple. "Gift it to her, sweetheart." he says. "I'll write the gallery a check for it when I get home."

And with that, he turns to take his bulk, and his entourage, back out into the hall. He holds out the wine glass. Someone hastens to get it for him, to get it properly disposed of.

And within moments, just as planned, just as intended —

War is declared.

And always a spectre of force waiting at the periphery of the Defenders, both the Winter Soldier and Dr. Foster take territory in the battle for Hell's Kitchen — the battle, perhaps beyond, for Matt Murdock's soul. For Jane's part, she stands strong, balanced better with the phantom weight of James's scope at her back, and staring down into the jaws of the dragon himself, realizes one truth:

She is chilled, she is nervous, she is terrified — but she is not afraid.

Perhaps it is the smithed steel of one year holding her in place. Having survived the whispers of Hydra through her head, and drowning them out with her own voice. Walking out of that Courthouse, her faith in the system irreversibly shaken, but her hope in something far else gone untarnished: the impetus, good and bad, behind all actions speak their weight, and that wilful ignorance does not exist long in her universe, when light and truth is victor. Staring up, her eyes full of magic, at the ephemeral shape of Wakanda's panther god, feeling the voice of a nation moving through her mind, and feeling nothing but the deeper drive to go farther into the unknown. Waking up beside James Barnes, and able, these days, to see the greatest miracle she has given this world — not her proofs, not her theories, not her creations — but a man who is asleep without one of his nightmares.

Perhaps it is knowing, longer than she realizes, that she is strong. Strong enough to meet a man like Fisk, pound for pound, and not flutter an eyelash.

James Barnes and Jane Foster have fought long enough to save their own backs, forced by this world again and again for a year. It is time now to do it for others.

She says nothing back to Wilson Fisk. Her dark eyes speak well enough with their staring, focused, unblinking.

Then Vanessa reappears, and Jane Foster remembers her smile. The painting is somewhat of a surprise, catching her eye — and just like that, Mr. Fisk gives her a generous gift. She forces her smile to remain. "That is just beautiful, Vanessa," she says. "Exactly what I was looking for. It's like you read my mind. I'll send someone to pick it up tomorrow."

In a double-take, she realizes Fisk is already gone, retreated, the interaction ended on his terms. She smiles again, apologetic. "I didn't even get a chance to thank your husband. Could you pass it along to him?"

It's with those pleasantries that Jane arranges her own exeunt, slowly, unhurriedly, from the building. She only realizes now how quickly her heart is beating.

For James Barnes, once and always the Winter Soldier, the calculus is much simpler.

He has spent far too much of his life now as a victim. He is now ready to cycle back to his base nature as a protector, and he's going to start with those who were there to protect him.

He is also going to do it in the way he knows best. Blood, steel, and —

"Bless your heart, son," says James Barnes. "I hope it makes her day." And he turns the radio off.

A few moments after Jane emerges from her gauntlet, James Barnes is there to greet her. He's cleaned up, nothing untoward about his outer appearance. He looks no more than her leisurely escort home from an evening out.

"That's step one," he murmurs to her, and offers her his arm.

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