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It’s not a lucky night in Hell’s Kitchen, all around.

Maria isn’t used to walking around this part of town, especially so late at   night. She’s exhausted, soul sucked dry and all she wants to do is get back to her new crappy apartment, kick off her shoes, and pretend that her life isn’t falling apart around her ears.

She keeps her head down. It’s the heaving breathing that finally catches her attention, makes her glance up.

She runs.

The street is wet, and her shoes slip more with every step. She thinks the man behind her is shouting something, but she can’t hear past the pounding in her ears.

Please, please, please, I just want to go home.

A hand claws at the back of her coat. She goes down on the pavement, knees scraping open. She screams, half terror, half frustration.

This can’t be happening to me this isn’t happening this isn’t happening .

She rolls onto her back. The man has a knife. He’s spitting obscenities. Maria kicks and claws and spits and screams and screams. The man is heavy and he smells. She pulls out some of his hair. He rips at her blouse.

There’s a burning in her shoulder and she’s running out of breath. Oh God, he’s so heavy .

And then … Maria can breathe again. The weight is gone. She hears … grunting, and snarling, and a heavy thud.

Her shoulder screams as she scrambles back. Her head hits a wall.

There’s someone else here. Someone moving, fast, a blur of motion against the dark light. The man is on the ground. He’s cowering. Spitting blood. He chokes and his collar is grabbed. He writhes as he’s dragged along the ground.

The shadows swallow them, but Maria can still hear the man. Screaming about the devil.

She runs the last five blocks home.




Tony’s not a church kind of a guy. Meaning that the one time he tried to follow Steve to church on Sunday, he got practically tied to a tree outside, presumably to keep him from spontaneously combusting in blasphemous flames.

It’s Sunday again. Which means Steve’s not there to mess with. Clint and Natasha are off doing their spy thing. Tony’s not supposed to poke Banner. And he finished adjusting his Disintegrator Microcircuit and there’s no one to show it to and he’s bored.

Tony Stark does not do bored well.

Jarvis politely suggests that he might feel better if he gets something to eat. Which, fair enough, he tends to skip meals when he’s working.

He goes out to eat. (He thinks Jarvis will appreciate the space. Well. He’s taking his phone so, he’ll still have Jarvis. But chances are good Tony’ll leave him mostly alone. Unless he gets bored. More bored. Bored-er-ed.)

He’s feeling a bit of a sweet tooth, and it’s been a while since he’s flirted with Naja. The bakery it is. He doesn’t mind the walk.

Naja is ancient and tireless. As Tony tells her everytime he walks through her door, she never ages a day. She sniffs at him. Tony’s been coming to this bakery for over a decade, and Naja has yet to say a single word to him. It’s their special thing. Plus, she makes the best pastries.

The bakery is lively today. Good food always does good business, but today the clientele is particularly lively. Tony sits at the counter with his sweet roll and coffee, makes some small talk with a couple fans, though he’s quick to reassure Naja she always has his heart. He keeps an eye on the rest of the customers as well.

“Don’t you lecture me about adrenaline. This is Maria , we’re talking about. That girl didn’t even flinch when the loan scandal broke on national television.”

“Oh, it is not the same thing. Besides, all she said was that someone dragged the guy off of her. It’s not like she stuck around to take names. It was probably a cop.”

“In Hell’s Kitchen?”

“Alright, then it was one of those big shot busy bodies from Stark Tower.”

Ooh, hey, Avengers business. He sidles a little closer to the two women whispering in the corner. Well. One of them was whispering. Loudly.

“If it were, the whole thing would be frontline news instead of swept under the rug.”

Ouch. Tony knows how to be discreet. And clearly these two have never met Barton and Romanov.

“Lulu. There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. The Devil.”

“Well someone has been cleaning up the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. Who else would bother?”

Tony’s heard this rumor. It came up in a SHEILD report when he was perusing (snooping). A string of uncorroborated reports of vigilante action in Hell’s Kitchen. SHEILD didn’t seem that impressed, but Jarvis noted it because of the extensive hospital reports connected to the incidents.

Tony disapproves -- because clearly this vigilante has issues, and only wusses and people with things to hide have secret identities -- but not enough to get involved. Hell’s Kitchen is a rough neighbourhood. And the guys getting their faces kicked in (pretty literally) are clearly real scumbags. And frankly, goofing off aside, the  Avengers have their hands full tracking down Hydra agents.

Still. It’s one thing to read about a rumor in a report stolen from a bunch of paranoid … well, some of them are decent enough, he probably shouldn’t go there. But there’s something about actually overhearing the rumor being talked about that makes Tony wonder if ignoring this is one of those obvious mistakes people make in the movies.

Seriously. The Devil? It’s not even subtle. If there’s a new player on the scene, Tony really ought to be paying attention.

He’ll have Jarvis start a file.