Cutscene: Luchshe Pozdno Chem Nikogda

July 20, 2018:

"Better late than never." Directly after Defenders Disassemble.

New York City


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster, Matt Murdock, John Constantine

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Still alive.

Just two words, but Matt Murdock didn't need to say any more than two for James Barnes to get the drift. For something heretofore held back in his mind, unacknowledged, unexposed to the light, to come crashing fully into dire focus.

Fisk is still alive, and therefore he has failed. Because Fisk is still alive, eight thousand are dead.

Another eight thousand lives on his red ledger. Another eight thousand voices to wake James up at night.

He walks out the door.

Failure is an alien thing to a man whose identity is knitted entirely out of being the last resort. The final word. The bloody punctuation on the end of a kill order that needs to go through. People needed to die in the Second World War, and James Barnes was called. People needed to die in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, in Romania and Hungary and Czechoslovakia, on both sides of the Berlin Wall and in Russia itself — his second home — and the Winter Soldier was always called.

And the Winter Soldier always got the job done.

No reason else to take him out of cold storage. No reason else to set him on the warpath. He was the last word of the State when everything else had already failed.

This time he has failed, too.

I always found a way to take the shot, reminds the Soldier. Their conversations are always in Russian. Sometimes James talks back aloud, and Jane gives him strange looks. Always. Have you forgotten the hunt, brother? The kill? America has made you weak again.

James looks up, and the familiar sight of Jane's apartment looks back. He doesn't remember getting back. His last memories are the reproachful eyes of others, the slap of humid evening air after the bar's dim coolness, and the sound of Jane talking softly. Not her words: just the shape of her voice.

She is somewhere now, getting ready, changing, arming herself. He should get ready too.

You know how to get ready, Yasha says. He talks Moskovskoye proiznoshenye, generic as you come, roughened by too many cheap ration cigarettes. A voice familiar as his own. It is his own. It came out of his throat for seventy years. You know how to make these screams stop.

"Make more," James says.

Luchshe pozdno chem nikogda.

Some time later James finds himself sitting in the kitchen, turning a box over and over in his hands. It is an unassuming thing considering what it represents.

The Rashnakov brothers.

A promise of testimony, should Wilson Fisk be brought to trial.

An assumption that Wilson Fisk will be brought to trial.

The box is a strange thing. James still doesn't fully understand all its nuances. Typical, of magic. John Constantine, when he first gave it to them, explained it as a gateway to a pocket dimension, of sorts. A dimension that could be molded to the user's needs.

It was intended as a way for him and Jane to get away while he was under house arrest, during the trial. To leave home without ever leaving home. Now it serves as a hiding place. The only reason the Rashnakov brothers haven't already been cleaned up by the methodical engine of the Kingpin's orderly empire.

It could, in theory, be switched off. The active dimension canceled and recycled even while in use.

The steel fingers holding it turn it over and over, cold metal tap-tapping against its exterior, pensive.

James leaves it behind when he and Jane depart half an hour later.

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