Breaking Point

August 08, 2018:

Set a day after Defenders Disassemble. Daredevil tracks down the Winter Soldier and Jane Foster after they storm out of a Defenders meeting, resulting in a very tense meeting between three friends over the unconscious bodies of some of New York's less-than-finest.

The ruins of Hell's Kitchen.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Wilson Fisk, Jessica Jones, Kinsey Sheridan

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It is the natural place to look first if one were to try to find James Barnes and Jane Foster after their virulent departure… but they are not at their apartment.

They did stop there briefly, though. That much would be perceptible to a man on their trail. Their trail swings back into Manhattan afterwards, and there it gets a little lost for the rest of the day. For most of the next.

Evening falls, then full night. The city finally gets quiet after midnight — or as quiet as it ever gets, anyway. Especially here, at the north fringes of what used to be Hell's Kitchen, not far from where the remains of the Midtown North Precinct hang on by a thread.

It's not functioning. NYPD from other precincts have come to help cover this area. Even now there is a heightened police presence. It should make people feel safe. But not all the cops have the people's backs, these days.

Through the relative quiet, Daredevil's famed senses would register far-off voices.

That's her.

Alone? Bounty's doubled in the last week.


There is the sound of people breaking into a run. A brief scuffle. Angry, low voices.

And the distant sound of Jane Foster, one avenue west and four streets north, being hustled down a narrow side alley by a pair of NYPD cops.

Daredevil is well acquainted with police corruption after a year of watching over Hell’s Kitchen. Nothing else would explain how Fisk’s underlings — Russian, Chinese, what have you — could so consistently escape arrest. Or, when they were actually arrested, be out within twenty-four hours even though the cops had them dead to rights (and sometimes bound and gagged).

It’s a delicate thing. The fierce protectiveness of the police for their own paired with no real sense of how far up that level of corruption and collusion rises means every encounter runs the risk of sicking the entire NYPD on a certain horn-headed vigilante.

But some things are worth that risk. For Matt Murdock, Jane Foster is among them — regardless of the words they exchanged last time they saw each other.

Avenues and streets are no obstacle at this point. Armor that feels like a second skin and nearly two year’s worth of acrobatics along New York City’s skyline sees him racing on foot and swinging through the air, rolling and diving and jumping. Yes, he’s breathless by the end of it and sweating into his reds on a sweltering summer day, but he’s there, perched on the rooftop above that alley three stories up.

And he’d bet good money Spider-man couldn’t have gotten there faster.

He listens from above. That Jane Foster has a price on her head doesn’t surprise him, not after he learned that they confronted Wilson Fisk in person. What does surprise him is the fact that she is, or seems to be, alone. He quickly scans her vitals — is she terrified or simply nervous? Is she a captive, or is she a honey trap?

There’s little time to decide, and he makes ready to intercede in either case, grappling hook in hand.

There are simple, rote ways to hide an abduction in plain sight.

The easiest they've found, in their last near-decade of lining their pockets with Fisk's gracious donations, is to hide very little. So when the mark — in this case the alone and unguarded Dr. Foster — angrily struggles, fights the cuffs they lock on her wrists, and snarls her demands, they say it as it is. Plainclothes police officers who have orders to question her on the basis of threats made on Mrs. Vanessa Fisk's life. Resisting has her now under arrest.

Usually that does the trick, dressing the lie in the bindings of unbreakable control. Authority has its way of laying chains and breaking wills better than any drawn gun or softly-spoken threat. Humans are bred to submit.

And whatever her sordid past — not that they know beyond the news stories, other than she was stockholmed by the man she's still living with — Jane seems to fall in line. Do as those have before her. Authority takes the fight out of her, and she submits enough for them to drag her deeper into the dark.

The two officers put on their show. But they don't radio this one in.

"I want to talk to my lawyer," Jane is saying over and over, voice somewhere between a demand and a plea. They make lip service she will, back when she's processed at the station, just move quietly until they've reached the car.

Then, when they have her deeper in the alley, the two men exchange a look. One kicks out her feet and shoves her down. The other checks the suppressor on a handgun he pulls not from his holster, but unmarked, from the small of his back.

Sprawled on her side, Jane looks up, eyes wide. Her face fixes with shock.

But her heart beats slow and calm.

Jane Foster is alone.

To the two officers, this does not mean anything in particular. But to Daredevil — to Matthew Murdock — this would mean a great deal. Jane is never alone these days, not with a price on her head: or at least, she's never unwatched. Yet this farce goes on just long enough that even that might come into question.

The officers kick Jane to the ground, despite all her protests, and still she is alone. One draws an unmarked gun, serial filed off, from his back, and still she is alone. He points the weapon, aiming calmly at point-blank range, and still she is alone.

Yet her heartbeat never once quickens. And the reason why comes diving abruptly down from an overhanging rooftop, silent up until the moment he lands between the two cops.

Metal articulates with a familiar well-kept whirring hum, as the sound of a steel grip closing on a gun's barrel and crumpling it into uselessness cracks through the night. The weapon safely wrenched away, the officer is sent spinning into his stunned companion with an audible backhanded strike of that same metal arm, both hitting the far wall of the alley with a sickening sound of flesh against brick.

It's not immediately clear if they hit hard enough to die instantly.

Especially because the next sound is loud enough to briefly cover any life signs: the sound of the Winter Soldier closing his metal grip down on Jane's cuffs, and tearing them in half with a tortured sound of steel parting.

Again, Matt’s strange senses show him the truth of things behind the visible world. Their ruse can't survive given all he knows of the human heart and how it reacts to bona fide stress, much less all he has come to learn about Jane Foster and her deadly guardian.

Of course, Matt wasn't even the mark. And while he can't be surprised as the cops who were are quickly put down by a suddenly emergent James Barnes, he's still angry. He feels the sharp spike of rage in his breastbone, and it has him leaping from his own ledge and landing square onhistorys two feet in the alleyway beside them.

Thank Jane Foster and the shock-resistant boots she made him.

He rises from his crouch several feet away and takes a few steps forward. "What are you two doing?" the masked man says, even while he scans the walls and windows for watchers. "Are you trying to get the whole NYPD out looking for you, on top of the mercenaries and bounty hunters Fisk already has on the case?"

Not a hitch to her heartbeat. Not a flutter of her lashes.

Adrenaline, at the precipice of it — staring down the darkened barrel of a gun — rolls through Jane Foster, but never graduates into anything more. That is how deeply she trusts in the Winter Soldier.

And the old Soviet ghost story obliges. He slips down like some errant shadow, dispatches of her would-be executioners, and breaks her handcuffs in all of a few seconds. Perhaps, at one point, a long time ago, Jane would witness the raw brutality of the Soldier's hands with fear. Now, his left arm moves in memorized algorithms made from her mind, his body winds in familiar violence, and the sight invokes of her so many feelings, but none of them are fear.

Silence shrouds the alley in the wake of that attack. Jane looks up, paying neither of the fallen officers her first glance; her eyes are on the Winter Soldier, as she reaches out to him in silent request for a hand up. When on her feet, she rubs the residual sting from her wrists and wipes soot from her clothes, a shrewd, assessing look finally on those two, quiet bodies, when —

The Soldier will hear it far before she does. His sharper senses will bear the couple's first reaction.

It's the landing that attracts her, Jane taking in Daredevil's arrival in surprise, guardedness, and, finally, aggravation — which really doesn't help at the first thing he deigns to speak.

"We're doing our part," she snaps back, voice low, but firm. First to speak, Jane usually is, and this time out of equal parts protectiveness and fury. "Don't even start with the hypocritical bullshit."

Jane requests a hand up, and James obliges with his extended right hand. He lifts her effortlessly, and the both of them turn to the bodies. Still breathing — but for how long?

Daredevil interrupts whatever the two of them might have intended.

The Soldier indeed hears it before Jane does, and he whips around in alert silence. He doesn't move on Matt, having recognized him instantly, but he doesn't greet the other man as he normally might. He doesn't even speak. He just holds his position, slightly behind Jane's right shoulder, watching Daredevil with a wolf's pale, impassive gaze.

He might react first, but it's Jane who speaks first. This, too, is familiar to Matt. It's usually always been how the two operate. Jane spends her voice in angry words, protective and righteously infuriated.

James? He says nothing at first, obviously spending time in silence to evaluate what even to say. If anything at all.

"You need to decide what you want me to do," he finally says, laconic and flat. Underneath the dispassion, however, is a sound familiar to Matt Murdock: fury. At whom is it directed? "You don't seem able to make up your mind."

Matt resettles on his feet and squares his shoulders. Whatever his talents and the marvels of Jane Foster's equipment, that was a long jump. And just as he absorbs the shock of feet finding the hard pavement of the alleyway, he absorbs their anger. Jane, forceful and explicit; James, subdued and opaque.

Neither does any to cool his own ire. Red-gloved hands tighten into fists.

"How would you know what I want you to do?" Matt rasps with a tilt of his head towards Barnes, in mimicry of someone looking for a better vantage. "You haven't asked me. You've just gone and done. Without me." There's anger in those words, sure, but a silver of something wounded. His helmed head snaps over towards Jane. "You want to know what I want you to do? I want you to tell me what 'doing your part' even means. Why did go off and confront Fisk like that? What are you doing — here?" He gestures with a sweep of his arm.

Here, with these men. He listens for them in the gap between his words and theirs. Breath. Heartbeats. Thank God.

"Without you?" James spits, incredulity and anger and bone-deep frustration hacking hard edges onto all his syllables. "What, like you were going to murder two people without us?"

He walks towards Matt, getting in his face, his voice lowering to a furious hiss. He might be mad, but he can still keep a secret, and what he's about to say doesn't need to be overheard:

"That's what I do, Matt, not you."

He's close enough Matt can easily smell the steel of his left arm, sharpening tellingly as the plates shift in grind in a restless and autonomic indicator of his agitation. "Even you know it. You know exactly what I'm for, so you got on my case for not doing my job right. Fine. I didn't take the shot, and it's on me. Eight thousand people on me. Because Fisk is 'still alive.'"

His expression twists, his anger breaking under a familiar self-recriminating despair. His breath catches tellingly in his throat, and he turns away again and walks back towards Jane blindly, as if looking for her stability.

"I don't need your bullshit right now, Matt," he says, his voice deflated down into a flat emotionlessness that transforms the statement from venom into mere, pedantic fact. "You want us to 'tell you?' Why don't YOU tell us? Since Monterary it's been a load of nothing from all of you, up until we find you trying to kill people."

His turned back is wound taut. "You didn't come to us sooner. You didn't want our help when we showed up. Did you want us to go home and sit around? Want us to ask your permission so you can tell us to get lost again? I don't want your shit about us deciding seeing you in that condition was worth doing something about."".

Shallow respiration. Thready pulses. The two men, baited into the jaws of the wolf, heap where the Soldier's left arm put them, silent, but still alive.

To the Devil's far-reaching senses, a third noise briefly winds into that concussed, broken-boned harmony: a sharp, high-frequency band that comes off the way Jane touches one of her earrings. A running scan on Fisk's dirty cops, running vitals — checking, above all, they remain unconscious.

She multitasks this with the dangerous look she slants Matt Murdock out the corners of her eyes. The implication is undeniable: his presence isn't going to inhibit or impede upon their work.

Whatever it is their "work" has decided to become.

As Matt speaks, Jane stays quiet. Perhaps she's listening. Never needs to give her full attention to do it passably, with that mind of hers. Anger in the sympathetic system makes her smell bitter, and amidst Matt's questions — demands — her teeth audibly tighten in a click.

Her breath catches with a telling crack in her temper — only James Barnes, surprisingly enough, rarely enough, gets there first.

Now Jane looks up, watchful, but makes no attempt to interrupt. Through his low, baleful words, she is silent and implacable — like everything gentle about her, warm, has been folded up, drawn in, narrowed down into something that isn't sure it wants to forgive — especially when James says, "it's on me."

Her heart lurches; she disagrees. James returns to her, and Jane spends another beat of silence to look up into his eyes, her gaze still that faithful anchorpoint.

"You've seen us weak, Matt," Jane says, her voice soft in timbre, but like her, stronger than it seems. "Helpless to depend on you. You stepped up twice when we had no choice. But you won't let it go the other way. If it's because you don't trust either of us, fine. But don't you dare play sanctimonious. The only reason James didn't take the shot is because he'd have to sacrifice me to do it."

For most of the time Matt Murdock has known James Buchanan Barnes, he's been the very picture of his generation's brand of heroism: the strong, silent type. John Wayne, Gary Cooper, etc. Laconic, taciturn.

But here, Barnes displays more raw emotion in the space of a minute than Matt's seen from his friend and former client in the space of the nearly two years they've known each other. He gets up in Matt's face, snarls and hisses like a wounded animal.

There's a lot to process in what Bucky says and the way he says it, but the line that strikes the strongest chord is: You know exactly what I'm for, so you got on my case for not doing my job right.

Ordinarily a big fan of punching back in a fight — physical, emotional, verbal, take your pick — it's all such a shock to him that he stands still there in the shadowed alley and lets them both get it all out. He lets the wave of words wash over him, and listens with all the carefulness a man with his peculiar gifts can muster.

The details of what they were doing with Fisk and why aren't totally clear yet, but they don't need to be. Whatever they were doing, they were doing it for him. And like most of the people who give a shit about him, he's managed to foist them off.

How's that recovery working out for you, Matty? Stick's voice sneers in the basement of his brain.

"I was out of line, back there at Luke's," he says at last, quietly. A longer beat. "I was —" Blindsided. Frustrated. Out of my element. "Look, James, you aren't to blame for Hell's Kitchen. You had Fisk in your sights for a few minutes?" His adam's apple bobs visibly behind the thin, second-skin neck of his suit as he takes a hard swallow. "We've been hunting him for over a year. You dropped the ball? Fuck, no. We dropped the ball."

I dropped the ball.

He 'looks' to Jane, and then back to James. "Honestly? I wasn't even upset about you not taking the shot, James," Matt says. His voice is heated, but not much above a whisper. "I was worried about what might have happened if you had. Why do you think I've kept you both at arm's length through all this? Because I couldn't use or didn't want the help? Come on, James! Too many people gave up too much to make sure you were a free man for you to throw it away. If you — if you cross that line, in a high-profile investigation like this, and you get caught, you go to jail for life. No New York jury will ever acquit you again. You mean — "

A beat, and then: "You mean too much to people to make them go through that. I know I'm being a hypocrite there. I know people " — you — "care enough to want me to protect me from the same thing. It's why I'm trying to herd the cats against every goddamn lone-wolf instinct I have. To see if there's another way to do this that doesn't end up with one of us as some sacrificial lamb, dead or in jail taking this asshole down."

The Soldier keeps darting looks at the two men. Quick, assessing looks, the way a wolf looks at its downed prey to ensure it's not gone anywhere while its attention was elsewhere. He can't hear that high-frequency sound the way Daredevil can — his senses don't stretch quite that far — but he can see the gesture Jane makes, and knows what it means. He relaxes, marginally. On that front, anyway.

As far as Matt? James doesn't relax at all. In fact he finally breaks the stoicism Matt's known him for, for all of their two-year acquaintance, his nature of forbearing endurance gone into a sudden burst of vehemence that can apparently no longer be held back. Months of worry finally spill over into the one expression of emotion that has always been allowed for men — anger — and for once? James Barnes gets it out.

Matt replies. He was out of line.

Not typically one to hold grudges — save against the men and institutions who have hurt him for seventy years — James pulls back, goes quiet, and lets it drop.He visibly has a hard time letting the idea that he's to blame drop, though. He scrubs a hand over his face, several-day stubble rasping his palm, and holds his silence as Jane adds her piece. As Matt explains what it was he was really upset about.

The telltale pauses don't escape him.

"It's like Jane said," he finally says. "You won't let it go the other way. We owe you the lives we have now, Matt. I know what people gave up, and I know what they gave me back." He glances at Matt; he knows though the blind man can't meet his eyes, he has other means to convey returning the gaze. "They gave me back my freedom. The freedom to choose what to do with the life I have now. If I pick to go down again to protect somebody who — to make something right, then that's worth it."

His tone is bitter. "After the life I've had, I like getting to choose at all."

One does not need super-sensory abilities to feel Jane Foster's eyes on him — a stare that needles in, equal parts protective and watchful.

Damn straight, you were out of line, it seems to communicate.

While the ex-Winter Soldier has little taste for grudges, the infamously-spiteful Dr. Foster has the stomach for it, her reputation long someone whose pride and temper can make her nurse a slight up to resentment. With her cagey silence, either the woman seems to be listening, or perhaps deciding whether or not she'll ever let this go.

Her eyes only soften marginally to return on James, as he speaks — speaks truly. Jane knows well what sort of rarity this is, here and now, that he even deigns to speak at all. How much Matt Murdock means to him to vent his temper rather than lock it up in another box. Forget the feeling, exile it off to its own eighty-year icy tomb.

"There will be a lot of people you'll go on to save, Matt," adds Jane, to James Barnes's piece. "With the mask, without it. There will be a lot of people who'll get to go back to their lives because of your work and your care."

There is a weight to Jane's voice. "We aren't those people. We've made choices. Choices because of, and beyond, what was done to us. We made these choices long ago, and did not make them to spite what you did for us. But we'll never choose to live as you would hope. My life changed before I met you, and it took me some time to realize there's no going back to the way it was. That I didn't want to, because even if I tried, that person wouldn't be me. And James has over seven decades to add to his decisions.

"There are monsters in this world," Jane says, something in her voice that transcends weariness, resignation — a scientist's objective committal of fact. "They sold their humanity away. When someone like Fisk exists only to do harm, he's lost his right to be among us."

It's a good thing Bucky and Jane are so watchful of the men in blue who lay prone there on the pavement. While Matt's powers of perception can easily tell a waking heartbeat from a sleeping one, his focus is far removed from the corrupt cops at their feet. Every inch of him is focused on the two people in front of him: what they say and how they say it.

Bucky accepts Matt's amends for the barb made at Luke's Bar. Jane seems undecided. It doesn't really matter. There will be time for him to try to mend those wounds. What matters now is what the pair are about to do, and why. "James, you aren't for anything," Matt says, harkening back to the line that struck him just minutes ago. "You're not a weapon or a tool, and even though I think you're good for a lot more than just killing, you've got a life of your own. I'm the last person who would ever try to force you to live it any which way." He looks to Jane. "Either of you."

Matt spreads his hands. "If you want to dedicate your remaining years to hunting down Hydra cells, I won't stop you. Hell, I won't even try to keep you out of this mess, much as I might want to. Kinsey says I try to put people on shelves and keep them there, and she's — she's right." His jaw juts, and some of the heat creeps back into his voice. "All I ask," he says, putting the emphasis on that word, on the fact that it is a request and not a mandate, "is that if you're in, be in with me and not for me."

He's said a lot, and he's aware of it, but there's another piece he needs to address, as much as he may not want to. "I know you found me at my worst that night in the gym. That you stopped me from — "

His chin ducks slightly, the admission and memory of his conduct and general state back there at Fogwell's painful to him. The moment is brief. "And look, I — I won't even say I'm at one-hundred-percent now. But somehow I'm better than I was, even if the world just seems to keep getting worse. You don't need to do all the ugly things you think I shouldn't — just help me do this right."

James has receded back into his more typical silence, his blue eyes fixed on the two still-unconscious dirty cops. Jane's capacity for grudge-holding is not one he shares — perhaps out of simple necessity. If he were to allow himself to fully feel the rage and retributive urges for all that has happened to him, it would be too much for any single man to handle. The wrongs that have been done to him are too extensive and too horrific for him to feel fury over them all in their entirety.

His attention only diverts back to Matt when he insists that James isn't for anything. That he isn't a weapon or a tool, no matter how good he may be at being wielded as one. "You get in a habit," is all he says. "It gets hard to break."

Jane takes her turn to speak, to tell Matt that there will be many he goes on to save who will resume their lives — but that she and James won't be those people. They have a mission in their lives now, and it is to erase monsters from the world. What was done to them will not be repeated. What Matt Murdock did for them — what everyone involved in the trial did for them — was give them the freedom to make that choice to spend their lives in such a way.

Matt answers, and James listens to that too. He only asks they're in it with him and not for him.

"Like I said," he remarks, with some weary humor that is perhaps a relief to hear after the tension, "you get in a habit. Doing the shit work, so better men don't have to, was my job since 1942. I've been doing this a long time. We thought we could spare a lot of people if we just…"

He shrugs, lets it go. James exchanges a glance with Jane — perhaps asking permission — before he glances back to Matt and says the actual important part. "What do you want us to do?"

Jane Foster will absolutely feel the rage and hold the grudges for the both of them. A proper sense of perspective is an physicist's best friend.

While the ex-Soldier softens — just a little — with tired humour, the woman does not follow suit, not yet ready to emulsify with the change in mood — though she makes no attempt nor holds any desire to barricade James from forgiveness.

Not quite cold, but not quite tepid enough, Jane holds herself at careful remove. Guarded, absolutely, able to trust Matt Murdock in many ways, though no longer sure she can trust him not to lash out with some other barb to strike James Barnes to the quick. No longer certain how far down that wellspring of fury in him goes.

But with her own words said, and met by Matt — allowed, and gone without judgment — some of the bite comes out of her bearing. Only when Matt speaks of that night in Fogwell's — she relents slightly, a turn of her dark eyes, and exhales out through her nose.

Jane meets James's glance. There is no argument in her eyes against whatever proposal he communicates to her.

James asks the question for both of them, and it's her turn to be silent, intent to hear Matt's answer.

You get in a habit, James says with characteristic understatement, and Matt feels a twitch at the corners of his lips.

"Yeah," replies the masked man who has been wrestling with his own patterns in a conscious and deliberative way for the first time since he started beating people bloody in the streets nearly two years ago. "I think I know what you mean."

One of those patterns, of course, is the very source of Jane's wariness: His tendency to lash out at, neglect, or otherwise drive away those who mean the most to him, and whom he should keep closest.

So what would he have them do, they ask? "There are any number of threads to pull," Daredevil says quietly. "After you left, Six walked us through the little empire Fisk built. It's not so little. Four more for-profit prisons like Monterary Shock. Freight railway lines. Trucking companies. Pharma labs. The list goes on and on. Even if we put a bullet in his head, this James Wesley or some other lieutenant will come in and take over what's left."

Matt spreads his red-gloved hands. "Fisk isn't some lone evil-doer who can be put down. He's an infection, and we have to root it out. That means everything from figuring out what illegalities are going on at each of these businesses so that they can be shut down when the time comes, to figuring out which of the cops on the force are on the take." He gestures to one of the still-unconscious officers sprawled on the pavement at their feet.

"What were you planning to do?" A beat. "You can be honest."

It surprised James too, that Matt Murdock could pull out such a deeply-cutting barb against him. But where he and Jane are different is that James — after the initial flare of hurt, shock, and anger — merely accepted it. What's a little personal pain, to someone who has already put so much pain out into the world? Is it not just a form of penance?

And besides… if he got angry about everything he could feasibly be angry about, there would be no room left in his mind and heart for anything other than rage. Those few who are still his friends are simply not, to him, a productive place to direct all the anger he could feel about the things that have been done to him.

So while Jane continues to nurse her wariness, James looks as if he's already let the entire incident go into the wind.

He merely listens — returned to his normal taciturn reserve — as Daredevil speaks of the information they have all gathered on Fisk's empire. It is transparent he is cataloguing the information, but also that he already has a trajectory laid down in his head. Perhaps sensing that, Matt asks directly.

What were you planning to do? You can be honest.

"Learn what they know, if anything," the Soldier says laconically. "Then disappear them. Like you said, it's an infection. Not that dissimilar from Hydra, when you get down to it. You can't just cut heads off. You have find the root, and burn all the way back to it."

And Jane seems more than content to nurse her wariness.

She meets Matt's last question with silence, her eyes turning off him to, again, keep sentry on those unconscious bodies. Without preternatural senses at her command, she only feels content with one eye permanently fastened on the unknown.

That, and she doesn't feel much more convesational. Doesn't feel like divulging much more, and may well, on her side of things, be putting Matt Murdock on a swiftly-decided information diet. As for James, Jane lacks any sort of impulse to ever tell him what to do — too many people have done that — and doesn't judge what he does care to share. It's equally his right, even if she's not feeling as similarly charitable.

But even if she doesn't contribute, Jane listens. Matt's analogy on Fisk's empire hits with striking familiarity; poison leeched in some societal circulatory system, not unlike Hydra. Cutting a few vessels won't stop the beat of the heart, but it does matter to some in the world — does it not? Less monsters? Less hurt? It was cathartic to help James cull down entire cells, even if they both knew it would do little to impede Hydra in the long term. To her, it felt better than doing nothing. Sitting in her apartment, feeling afraid, feeling like a victim.

Her arms fold across her chest without realizing, body language drawing in. Jane still stays quiet, though there is no argument to infer off a scan of her vitals. Everything the Soldier says, is all right with her.

Matt asks Bucky what he and Jane planned to do. The one-time soldier tells him, in his own understated way, that they were planning to torture and murder some cops.

For the first time since the verdict came down, now more than a year ago, Matt wonders: Who the hell did I set loose on the world? It's an unfair thought, perhaps. Matt knows Bucky has continued to wage his own private war against Hydra since his mind was freed. And he knows that his own verbal jab back at Luke's bar was the precipitating factor behind a guilt-ridden Bucky deciding to wage a one-man war of vengeance against Fisk's criminal empire. Besides, these were crooked cops, willing to do the dirty work of a man who mass-murdered New Yorkers. They were ready to hand Jane, a dear friend of his even if she's still cross at him, over to Fisk. Perhaps Bucky and Jane were right that the best thing for everyone is that they "disappear."

But he also acutely feels the world slipping out from underneath his — their — feet. With a few bullets and a couple of tanks of gasoline, Wilson Fisk has turned Matt Murdock's city into a war zone, and he and his friends are rapidly becoming combatants instead of the peacekeepers they set out to be. I'm never sure with you guys where the line is, Kinsey had told him a few days ago. I suspect that's because you guys aren't always sure, either.

Right again, he thinks.

"These aren't Hydra soldiers," Matt says with a gesture of a hand towards the fallen. "Forget all the moralizing. These guys disappear, and you're at war with the NYPD instead of Fisk. Go after the infection that way and the city — the country's — immune system kicks into overdrive and starts targeting the body, not the disease. It may be that Fisk needs to die, James. It may be that we have to be the ones to do it. I don't know. But I do know we can't just kill our way out of this problem."

He summons a cleansing breath. "You guys should get out of here," he says wearily. "I can handle the cops in a way that makes sure they face a reckoning. If you want to help, and it seems like you do, we have a lot of good options for recon on your end, Bucky, and research on yours, Jane. Six can get in touch with you about them." He's guarded with her real name, even when it's just the three of them and the still unconscious.

If there's one pithy saying that can summarize Bucky Barnes' long life, it is this: war is not clean. Another might be this: do what must be done. Both maxims have governed the entire career of this man, from his first uncertain steps into the Second World War to his last bloody steps out from the shadow of the Winter Soldier. They have governed him up until this very instant: informed the decisions he made that led all three of them to this particular moment, in this particular alley, having this particular standoff.

It brings Matt to wonder: who did he set loose on the world? But he already knows the answer to that question, does he not? He knows James Buchanan Barnes more intimately than most, after months of a bitter-fought trial in which he delved deeper than anyone — save Jane — into the history and doings of the Winter Soldier. Into James Buchanan Barnes and all he has done: the good, and the bad.

Not that James would regard this as a bad act. Some people prove that they no longer need to exist in the world.

Perhaps James can sense some of Matt's disquiet. "I don't usually tell people what I'm doing for a reason," he finally breaks his silence, his wry voice as dry and distant and sharp as wind off an ice-capped peak. "Defeats the purpose of me. Usually, I only bring people the result. That's the point of me. Always has been."

Yet he makes no further move against the men he and Jane have downed. He holds, listening to Matt make his case… though he does slant a rather narrow look Murdock's way at the 'seems like you do.' Perhaps the practical argument Matt makes has more of an effect than any moralizing that he might have attempted: if only to change the actions, and not the actual beliefs. We can't kill our way out of this problem, Matt insists, and James' presence saturates with a polite but unvoiced dubiousness.

"Recon," he sighs. "Research." His voice carries the tone of a master swordsmith asked to forge a butter knife. He glances at Jane, some unspoken communication passing between them, before his blue eyes return to the other man. "All right, Matt," he finally says. "We'll do it your way."

Simple as that, he turns to walk away.

I don't usually tell people what I'm doing for a reason, James says. And earlier, Jane had impressed on him how unfair it was to expect either of them to go back to their old lives or establish anything like one might call 'normalcy' after all that had happened, and all that had been done to them. It's not who they are. "That's just it, James," Matt says to the friend, his lips bent downward. "You're not a point. You're a person. And while I'd never tell you or Jane what to do, or how to live your lives, I can say you deserve a lot better than what fate's doled out to you."

Matt puffs out a wry exhale. "The whole neighborhood went up in flames. My bar's gone. My corner deli. You know what's still standing? That goddamn boxing gym. If it's still there when all this is done, and we're still here, that door's always open. You own half the place, after all."

And then he's kneeling beside the blue-clad bodies in the alleyway, and getting to work…


Jul. 18, 2018
By Ben Urich

Two battered, unconscious members of the New York Police Department were found bound and gagged at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan in the early hours of Monday morning. Photographs of the police officers in the center square showed signs taped to their chests and arms reading, "Kingpin's stooges," and "Blood on their Hands," and "Hell's Kitchen Remembers."

The photos have been widely shared on social media, along with what are purported to be financial documents detailing the officers' assets, their IRS expenditures, and significant gaps between the two. The homemade signs, which link a little-known underworld urban legend to the June bombings in Hell's Kitchen, stand to cast further scrutiny on a devastating attack for which no person or organization has yet claimed credit…

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