If There Must Be an End

June 02, 2017:

Matthew Murdock makes the fateful decision to accept James Barnes' case.

The Raft

The world's most secure prison, designed by SHIELD to hold the world's most dangerous meta-criminals.

Characters

NPCs: US Attorney David Archer

Mentions: Peggy Carter

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Several hours ago, James Buchanan Barnes was placed in special magnetic restraints and read his rights. The somewhat sympathetic US Secretary of State gave Jane leave to travel with him, to stay by his side through the early part of this ordeal…at least for now.

This had left one Jessica Jones with the task of making some phone calls. She had a list, but two calls, and only two, were important enough to make instantly.

Her first call, grim and subdued: to one Matthew Murdock of Nelson and Murdock.

"Matt. Sergeant James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes has just been arrested for treason, and more. They're taking him to the Raft. He did all of it, but he was forced to. Tortured, mind controlled. Will you take the case?"

She'd also offered him a ride, since the security station is actually located about an hour outside of the city limits, and the trains don't exactly run there.

Her second call was not even on her own cell phone. Six months ago, Steve Rogers gave Jessica a direct line phone in case she ever needed to talk. She had always, even after having him over for movie night, felt he was too important and too busy to bother. This time, she uses the privilege without hesitation.

"Steve," she had said, with no hint of the worshipful fan that had followed him around for a time, but with every hint of a highly concerned friend, "Bucky just got arrested for treason. They're taking him to the Raft. I'll take care of calling Peggy and anyone else— you don't have to worry about that. But I know he'd like you to be near."

She assumed Steve had his own ride though.

Jessica herself was not allowed to travel any further than the checkpoint on the coast, and so there she sits, making the rest of her calls from outside the facility, staring restlessly at a cold, grey sea.

Steve and Matt, however, would have been allowed to take the ferry to the Raft. All weapons and electronics are confiscated once inside. The place is cold, sterile, and in possession with all of the security one would expect of a prison that houses the world's worst and most dangerous metas. It might have been eerie to feel its rumble as it rose up out of the water, first to admit Bucky and Jane and their escort several hours before, and then to admit Matt and Steve whenever they arrived, only to rumble back beneath the waves, submerging them and sealing them beneath the darkness of a choppy sea.

Bucky is left in restraints fully capable of holding his super strength and his metal arm alike, chained to a cold table in an interrogation room. It is a measure of how unusual a case this is that Jane is allowed to sit with him, a measure of the sensitive issues involved that Steve is allowed in to see Bucky too. Matt, being the counsel, is shown right through.

The US Attorney has chosen to allow Matt time with his client— and his client's unusual moral support, if so desired, though they can easily be asked to step outside, if desired— before even bothering to come onto the scene again. Why lock horns over Murdock's need to see his own client when they can lock horns over plenty of other things later? Still, it is only a matter of time before David Lee Archer arrives.

—-

Bucky has said a whole lot of nothing ever since the initial arrest.

He answered questions posed to him, but in brief monosyllables. If they were any questions that might incriminate, he did not answer at all. He accepted whatever restraint was put onto him. He does not seem terribly aware of, nor in need of, the odd bit of moral support that has gathered around him, and that he is permitted to have in defiance of convention.

Periodically he does hold Jane's hand in his own, as much as the shackles will permit him to — they are heavy cuffs and not mere chains, in deference to his strength, and the left cuff is magnetically reinforced — but it is transparently more for her comfort than his own.

He is thinking, and his mind is a thousand miles and many decades away.

—-

Ever since her initial stand-off with US Attorney Archer, a brewing battle that briefly had Jane Foster treading tumultuous waters —

— she's been strangely cooperative. Brought down to compliance by Bucky Barnes's one and only demand given to her, Jane rhymes with his silence, intent to remain fiercely at the man's side for as long as they let her.

Murdock's arrival will bring him back to a couple he knows well — knows in that private, careful, guarded way men both he and Barnes know too well. The metal-armed man who gave him one of his first vigilante fights and the woman who gave him his armor are here now, side by side in that cloistered, locked room, with Jane having pushed her chair as close beside Bucky's as she humanly can, both her hands wrapped around the one he offers her.

The one he can barely offer her, through all of his chains and fetters.

Jane is close as can be to Bucky, but also far away, her eyes emptied similarly — thoughts taking her beyond another horizon. The tears run silent but constant down her face. Her hands are clammy on his from holding it for so long.

—-

Of all the frantic calls Matt Murdock expected to receive from Jessica Jones, this ranked among the last. And that, given all the strangeness they've encountered together, is saying something.

He's rocked, for many reasons, but he recovers well. "Will you take the case?" she asks him after a terse introduction that would have left any other lawyer on Earth's head spinning. Not Matt, though, who has his own reasons for more than a passing familiarity with "Bucky Barnes."

"Jessica? Stop talking," he says. The words are terse, but his tone is gentle — and they're followed by an answer he's suddenly sure will, one way or another, change his life: "I'll take the case. Let's ride together. We can talk in the car."

And so they do, as he peppers her with questions — most of which he knows the answer to from reading the files she graciously left for him before speeding off to fight magical gangster, or magical Nazis, or whatever she did an ocean away. But then he leaves her behind, continues on past the perimeter, walking stick click-clacking along pavement, along cement, along tile, right until it leads him to the interrogation room where a very familiar couple have been stashed away.

Not that the bespectacled, stubbled, and slightly ruffled twenty-something who enters the room betrays any hint of familiarity with the huddled pair. "Sergeant Barnes?" he asks in a soft-spoken but assured voice as he enters the chamber with deliberative, carefully cultivated dignity. "My name is Matthew Murdock. Jessica Jones brought me, and I'm here to offer my services as your attorney."

—-

TWO HOURS AGO… "I see." Pause. "Have you told Peggy?" Another pause. "That's good. Thank you. I'll be there to meet him at the dock. Thank you."

Rogers put the phone away, looking into the mirror of the quaint bathroom. Dressed in his usual costume sans mask, the American Icon looks himself in the mirror. He wants to destroy this place. He wants to just leave. But the people in this small city outside of New York didn't cause this, nor did the children waiting for him to read the Doctor Seuss book. So he takes a breath looks himself in the eye, gives a nod, and then proceeds out. Admist flashing lights, Rogers gives a friendly wave as he sits on a awkwardly small chair among children sitting on a variety of carpet squares, all so excited. Steve has done this before, been hope when he had none left, promised joy even when loss tugged at his heart. It's what you do when you're bigger than a man. You do your duty.

"Congratulations! Today is your day," Steve begins slowly, swallowing a little before going on gradually gaining momentum. "You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!"

NOW

Most times when Captain America is on the Raft, he is allowed to have just about anything he wants to have on, as long as he promises them he has it handled. After all, til this moment, they've never had a reason to not trust Steve Rogers to do anything but defend the Raft with his life. Things have changed, it seems and the blond finds himself stripped of his shield, his belt, and even his chest armor, as if fearing he could smuggle the dangerous spy something as life changing as a paperclip. While still wearing the blue bottoms and boots of freedom, a white t-shirt is all that covers Rogers's upper top. When he enters the room, the first person he goes to, oddly, is Murdock, who Steve gives a sad smile that pairs awkwardly with the warm handshake if he finds a way to offer it (since you know, don't want to offend the visually challenged). "It's an honor to meet you, I've heard great things about you. Wish we didn't have to meet like this." After that, he finds himself seated across from Bucky. He offers Jane and Bucky another smile and a nod, weak on both accounts but still there, still trying to offer hope in a time where it looks anything but bright. The words he read a short while ago still cling to him, but he remains silent, allowing the proceedings to go as they must. That is, if they even allow him to stay in the room, which they might not.

—-

Matt Murdock said, "Stop talking," and Jessica's mouth had shut so fast that her teeth had literally clicked together. She had only offered a soft, 'Okay,' after he said he'd take the case, not even saying anything superflous like 'I'll be right there.' He said stop, so she stopped. It's much the same kind of trust that had her immediately yanking her vehicle out of the parking space at Bucky's word. She knew he had his reasons, and responded.

In the car she'd been tense, grim, and focused. She's angry at her core, but emotionally she'd shut down. But she answered whatever he asked to the best of her ability.

As for her call with Steve, she'd reassured him that Peggy Carter would be her very next phone call.

One floor up, almost directly overhead, a conversation only Matt can hear, if he cares to tune into it.

Female voice, light, soprano: Sir? The opposing counsel's here.

Male voice, a deep, rumbling bass: Did she hire Hogarth?

Female: No sir. It's someone named Matt Murdock.

The sound of clicking keys. An exhale.

"Jesus Christ. This is a rookie, a step above a public defender."

Female: Maybe he's just the stop gap. He'll refer them out.

"Unlikely. Nobody sane will want to touch this case with a ten foot pole. For all the reasons this kid shouldn't. This is going to be a slaughter."

A pause.

Male voice, again. "Go call John Andratti. See if his title company has an opening. The least I can do is offer this guy a soft place to fall after I finish him as a defense attorney."

—-

Bucky lifts his head as Matt Murdock enters the room. He does not let go of Jane's hand, even when they are no longer alone; she needs his touch and he won't deny it. His blue eyes are very different than the ones Murdock would remember from their other meetings: dulled, incurious, and tired now, where before they were by turns impish, focused, teasing, or earnest. It's never been a secret that he is objectively a hundred, but his eyes have never looked his age until now.

There is no recognition in his gaze for Matt Murdock. Only a sort of unresisting trust, when the young lawyer explains who it was retained him. If Jessica went to him, she must have had a reason.

"Not the best circumstances to meet you, Mr. Murdock," he says, on an autopilot sort of courtesy, "but a pleasure, nonetheless. You got an unenviable job ahead."

His demeanor changes when Steve arrives, however. He glances up at his best friend, briefly meeting blue eyes with blue. He tries to return the smile, but it doesn't work too well. Soon enough his gaze shakes and he looks back down at the table, shame in every line, unable to hold Steve's eyes for too long.

—-

Pulled from that distant, dark place she is in — her dark eyes briefly reflecting its dark, empty void — Jane animates the same time Bucky does.

She does not speak. She simply looks on, taking in the moment their counsel takes to enter their room with help of his cane. Jane gets what she believes is her first good look at Matthew Murdock, a man she's never before seen or even heard about — a veritable stranger pulled off the street who is about to partake in the most intimate look on Bucky Barnes' past hundred years. On the past six months she's shared with him.

He announces himself some friend of Jessica. A lawyer. He's so young, is all Jane can think. Too young for this…

But then Steve arrives shortly thereafter, and her thoughts file away, immediately broken by the sheer look of /relief/ that finds Jane's fasce. There's an urgency to her like she wants to stand and go to Bucky's oldest, best friend, but she's too afraid to leave the former's side. Too afraid to let go of his hand just yet.

Neither to Steve does Jane say anything, but her shining eyes speak tomes. Her glance to him asks one question:

You're going to fix this, right? You're going to do something and fix all of this?

Then Bucky speaks and she turns her eyes to listen; only when Steve's presence locks him up and turns down her eyes, Jane sits forward in her own chair, her hands tightening around his. Time to speak up.

"Matthew," Jane extends first, a rushed desperation to her words that has no time for formality. "I'm Jane Foster. Tell us what you're going to do. You're going to get him out of here, right? You can get him out of here today? They're not leaving him in here."

—-

Of course Matt hears the far-away dialogue between his adversary and parties. He's not wrong. The newly minted lawyer is untried, inexperienced, and lacks the resources to take on a case of this complexity, profile, and magnitude. He's also right that few other lawyers — perhaps up to and including Jerri Hogarth — wouldn't touch this case with a ten-foot pole.

But, then, Matt has never been one to scare easily. And he has his own reasons, even aside from his affection for Jessica, for taking this case on. To wit:

He can't, for all his strange powers, see the change in the quality of the old soldier's eyes. But his subtle ears can hear the change in the tenor of the man's voice, at once alike and different from the voice he bantered with over donuts and fisticuffs in an abandoned parking lot, as that voice had been alike and different from the blithely ruthless tone used by the man he'd barely stopped from executing a half-a-dozen unconscious Russians last winter. He's known several different iterations of James Buchanan Barnes, and at least one of them he felt rare kinship with. "You're the one with the hard road ahead, Sergeant Barnes," Matt counters as he makes his way into the room and feels for the back of a chair to claim. "But it'll be an honor to help you along it."

And then he's being approached by — Captain America, of all people. They'll manage a quick handshake with a bit of necessarily awkward fumbling, though Matt's eyebrows will shoot upward when Steve says he's heard so much about him, and what an honor it is to meet him. "It's a pleasure, Mr. Rodgers, but I think that's my line," Murdock says dryly before reclaiming his hand and using it to draw his chair backward so that he can slip into it with slow but practiced grace.

And then there's Jane.

Her pain and anguish are palpable. He can taste the salt of her tears in the air, hear the urgency in her voice, and sense the beat of her heart — like the rest of her, small but fierce. Matt places both of his hands flat on the table that rests between himself and the pair. "Jane, I promise you I'm going to do everything I can to help Sergeant Barnes," Matt says with quiet and sober conviction. But for all that he can be an empathetic presence, sugar coating has never been in his nature. And so: "You know he's been charged with some very serious crimes — and he's being charged in federal court, which has its own special rules. One of those rules is that anyone arrested must stay in custody until their arraignment. That's usually about 24 hours after the arrest. So chances are he'll have to stay the night. After that… options open up. We'll push — hard — to get him out on bail."

Then his crimson-lensed gaze is fixing almost uncannily on Bucky. "Sergeant Barnes, have you spoken to the U.S. Attorney, or any of the guards, about the charges against you? Is there anything you've told them that I should know?"

—-

As Matt explains himself, Steve merely gives a nod toward Jane. Her desperation is met with a calm resolve that seems to increase. It seems that until he breaks, Rogers always seems to step up when others seem unable to carry on. All he does is offer a sober nod, not really able or willing to offer any attempts to soothe or encourage with his oratory skills.

Like before, Steve doesn't push any contact with Barnes. He knows this is an awkward place for his friend to be and instead speaks toward Murdock, even as the blue eyes of Cap glance toward his lifelong friend. "I wish I could help directly. I know I could talk to contacts in SHIELD, drum up support, but in the end, that would hurt a lot more than help, I'm sure." After all, he wouldn't want to seem as if Bucky won his innocence by strings being pulled or fear of public outcry. "That said, I want to do everything I can to help, even if it means staying out of this." His attention flickers back to Matthew. "In the end, I'll follow your lead with the legal proceedings because I'm confident that Bucky will be exonerated from the crimes."

It's clear that Captain America believes in the American legal system and its ability to be fair and just. But that is likely not a surprise to any of those gathered at the room.

—-

Upstairs the door closes, a woman walks away, perhaps to go make the phone call the adversary sees as a kindness.

Upstairs, said adversary marshals himself. There's the soft click of a laptop as someone gently closes it down. A few sure, even footsteps. The very light hiss of fabric against fingers as a man adjusts a tie. Perhaps he looks into a mirror as he does it. Perhaps David Archer is up there meeting his own eyes right now, briefly acknowledging the wide gap between the things which are right and the things that are necessary, between the justice of the heart and the justice of the world.

Or perhaps he's just adjusting his tie.

Then? He moves about the room, the sounds consistent with someone who is gathering this and that, things he will need. It's a series of sounds that herald the fact that the US Attorney is going to make his way onto the scene soon enough, ready to offer his opening salvo. If his heartbeat is heard all the way through the steel and electricity that hums between floors it rather speaks to a man who expects to win a chess game with the infamous scholar's mate, and, moreover, who thinks he's already got the pieces in place, as if he's just about to reach across the board and move his Queen straight up to f7 so that he might end the game here and now.

Each step is a marker of time, advance warning of his impending arrival. The hiss of doors and the beep of locks as he passes through various security checkpoints. The ding of an elevator as he waits for it. The very few minutes Matt has been allowed to meet with Barnes and his entorauge without the interference either of law enforcement or the prosecutor's office are coming to a swift and inevitable close.

—-

You're the one with the hard road ahead, Matt rejoins. Bucky laughs a little, though the sound is flat and without humor. "I suppose I am," he says. "Nonetheless, I appreciate you taking the case. It's not without… risk for you. You're a young lawyer. Long career ahead of you." This could make or break it, goes without saying.

His long silence afterwards connotes that he is not sure whether he is worth that degree of risk.

Steve doesn't push any contact with Buck. In turn, Bucky doesn't say anything either up until Steve speaks of how trying to marshal support might do more harm than good. "I wouldn't let you anyway, Steve," he says. "I don't want a farce. I don't want to be let off just 'cause people like you and they wanna do you a favor."

Matt inquires, then, whether he's spoken to anyone about the charges against him. Told them anything he ought to know about. "No. Not much to say," he sighs. "I know the routine. Admit nothing."

—-

Above all, the First Avenger, Captain America, is a symbol of hope. And that very hope is what crosses and seizes Jane's face as Steve gives her that quiet, wordless nod.

She takes it as a promise. And it's all she has right now, that and nothing else, to keep her upright in that chair, keep her mind moving forward. Swallowing roughly, she rearranges her hands around Bucky's, and her palms are sweaty and her fingers trembling, but she still will not let go. Jane hangs on with the quiet tenacity of someone who knows she's going to be forced to let go, and until that moment comes, she's not going to leave him alone.

The woman looks down at her lap briefly, trying to stare at something neutral and bland, until her eyes stop burning. Stop crying, Jane, she reprimands herself with contempt. You're always crying.

Glancing back up, she listens as Murdock speaks. Her eyes run every inch of his face, but all Jane's read can pick up is one thing — young, young, /young/, how many clients has he had, how many times has he litigated, but Jessica seems to know him, and even Steve seems to have heard of him, maybe it'll be fine, maybe it'll work out, maybe —

Then he makes her his promise, but in it a caveat: Bucky will have to stay in here overnight. Murdock, those with super-soldier senses — it's not beyond them to hear how Jane's heart quickens into a punishing triple time. She shakes her head helplessly, but can't seem to find her words. All she sees is Bucky in chains, in a cell, alone, like he's back in that chair, and he's got no one —

Jane takes one hand off Bucky's to cover her face, stealing a quiet moment for composure. More salt in the air.

—-

Bucky suggests, however obliquely, that Matt may be risking his career on this case — and that it may not be worth the risk on the merits. To which the lawyer offers the faintest twitch at the corner of his lips. Most of Matt's expressions are subtle, but this flicker of rueful humor is clear enough: he is aware of the risk, and gauges the venture worth the cost.

Meanwhile, Rodgers is speaking to him again, and a brief crease forms between the lawyer's dark brow as he listens. There's a purity of vision about the man that's right out of the Saturday morning cartoons Matt remembers from before the accident. In fact, any minute he half expects Steve to remind Matt that knowing is half the battle. But on the substance of what Steve says — and what Bucky echoes — Matt demurs. "There's time to dig into trial strategy later," the lawyer offers mildly. When you aren't surrounded by people that nullify our attorney-client privilege, for one. "But whether you like it or not, Sergeant Barnes, the circus is coming. In the 21st century, high profile cases put the Leopold and Loeb's of your era to shame. We'll need to be mindful of it, and think through how to manage it."

A beat, while he takes in those solid footsteps ringing closer. "Later, though. I imagine we'll be getting visitors shortly."

—-

A simple nod is all that is given in the wake of Bucky's request as well as Matt's wisdom on the matter. It seems that Rogers might be starting to get up and excuse himself. After all, he came to offer support, which was the main thing, and now he leave. After all, there are likely things he shouldn't be hearing since there is no doubt that Rogers will be called up to be a witness, something that Steve is not at all looking forward to. But the mention of footsteps coming closer causes Cap to stop himself. Huh, there are footsteps. Steve has heard that if you remove one sense, the others heighten. Perhaps when things are not so dire, that can be tested.

—-

The man who enters the room smells of Bvlgari cologne. He is one of those people who doesn't wear so much of it that it overpowers, but wears enough that people in the room are all forced to be aware of him at all times. He's a big black man in black pants, a gold vest and crisp white shirt that is so clean it's almost blinding. Matching tie. Many men couldn't pull it off and make it look professional, but he makes color work for him. Salt-and-pepper scruff. Broad shoulders. A cobra tattoo on his left hand, faded, old, ill-cared for, cheap ink. His heartbeat is a steady boom-boom-boom; his breath the even cadence of someone who is calm, even cold. He carries a thick legal folder and a small brown envelope with Steve's name on it— which indicates whether he leaves now or not, Captain America might not be able to 'stay out of it' half as much as he wishes. But he doesn't hand that over right away. It looks a lot like the one that he handed to Jane, the one that she tossed down in the alley with such contempt. He sets both down on the table, simply choosing an unoccupied corner of it.

"Captain Rogers. Mr. Murdock. I'm US Attorney David Lee Archer," he rumbles. His is the voice of public speakers and professors. Cultured. Educated. The reverberating tones of a powerful, gifted orator.

His gaze skims over the rest of the scene. His mouth tightens slightly.

Then he turns his attention fully on Matt Murdock.

"You've seen the list of charges. The death penalty is probable. I am here to offer your client my one and only plea deal. Barnes pleads guilty to all counts. He serves 100 consecutive life sentences here at the Raft." Diplomatic dealings have demanded this debacle, but a swift guilty plea is, apparently, perfectly acceptable to the foreign powers that have tossed a torch into these timbers.

Some prosecutors lay these things down like they're being incredibly generous. Archer doesn't. He offers it like he doesn't care what happens one way or another. He's checking a step off a box. There's only the faintest hint in his voice that says only an idiot would turn down this chance to save Barnes' life. But if he has to send Barnes to death row, he will. He will, it seems, be more or less dispassionate about it.

—-

A circus, Matt warns, is impending. A media storm to put anything from his remembered era to shame. Bucky winces at the idea. "So much for my anonymity," he grunts.

He does not say anything further, however. His eyes only follow Steve as his friend gets up, the expression in them kept controlled to a careful blank. He does not want to seem weak and want Steve to stay, and besides there are no benefits and very many downsides to Steve staying.

It is certain that James Barnes remembers the list of charges, hears Archer speak of the death penalty, is aware of that obscene plea deal as it's laid down. But he has no real reaction to any of it. None that relates to himself, anyway: his hand does tighten on Jane's, holding hers in mute reassurance. His fingers move over hers, aware of how the words 'death penalty' will hit her.

There is only this for himself: his mouth crooks in a grim half-smile. "Wonder how long a life sentence would be for me," he wonders bleakly. No one has ever tested the limits of the serum's effects on longevity.

—-

Breathe in. Breathe out. It takes Jane a moment to compose.

And thanks to Murdock's warning, she pulls herself together just in time to freeze over, going glacial-cold, the moment David Archer enters the room. Jane Foster undergoes a sea change, her dark eyes flinty and her face like steel, every wall up and every lock secured over her expression. He will not see her weak.

But she has learned her lesson from before, and the US Attorney's words are met with the woman's silence. She does not speak the words that are burning her tongue, simply bides a quiet sort of fury that, at the surface, shines a fool's gold version of patience.

Archer goes right for the artery with two words: death penalty.

Bucky's fingers move against hers, no better demonstration to Jane now just how alive he is and how dead he could be, and a muscle flickers against her tightening jaw as her eyes close. It's going to be a macabre memory, she thinks, this moment, when she's going to sit there and watch him be executed. She'll be thinking of how his fingers felt — and stop it, Jane. Stop it. She holds in how she breaks inside.

The plea deal is just as bad. Jane keeps her head bowed down and her eyes shut. It's not for her to say anything even as her heart is ripped apart.

—-

Matt turns his head sideways, giving the room's newest entrant a glimpse of his stubbled, hawk-nosed profile and little more. Not that the lawyer had to do even that to take Archer's stock. His view of the world, however limited and idiosyncratic, is radial. He can make out the man's imposing outline, hear the clear and strong heartbeat, and he could smell the noxious waves of cologne from down the hallway.

Well, the gold vest he might miss.

The younger lawyer makes no move to rise in greeting — a prerogative and perk of the disabled, however rarely he puts it to use. Not that Archer wastes much time on pleasantries either. He cuts right to the heart of a matter, offering the leanest deal possible. Lean, but is it unfair? Given the mountain of evidence amassed against Bucky Barnes, and the high likelihood that more will eventually be found? The USA's subtle insinuation isn't off base: many lawyers would leap at this deal, perfectly willing to discount Bucky's sardonic quip about what consecutive life sentences would mean for him — or the quiet, crestfallen sounds coming from his girlfriend. Even Foggy would tell him it's a good deal for a terrible situation.

But Matt? Matt merely offers a cool: "A pleasure, Mr. Archer. Let me confer with my client and I'll get back to you shortly."

—-

Matt Murdock's cool commentary produces the slightest quirk of David Archer's eyebrow, something the others will see, though of course something like that gives zero clues by scent or heartbeat for Matt to pick up on. Everyone in the room will pick up on the slow, slight tilt of his head. A man whose opponent has just done something a bit unexpected.

A man who is evaluating. Just a little bit.

"Very good, Mr. Murdock," he says. And that's when he decides to give Steve his envelope, just sort of handing it off to him like he's anyone. Not like he's the famous Captain America. He is a witness named Steve Rogers. If Steve should open that envelope?

He's Steve Rogers, being subpeona'd as a witness. For the prosecution. Even as he drops the 'out' that might prevent a trial at all. Perhaps throwing that down there is another tactic, another bit of psychological pressure.

Still, it seems he's not going to get his scholar's opening.

He turns and steps out, sweeping up the big folder for the time being, giving them their space once more. He doesn't go very far, but he goes far enough that he couldn't even be accused of trying to listen in. Down the hall, his phone rings.

"Yes, Mr. Vice President."

Pause, beat. The tinny voice of an older man, asking if they're going to fold.

"Too early to tell."

The Vice President asks what David would guess.

Dark irritation. "I'm not in the business of guessing, Mr. Vice President. I'm in the business of—"

The Veep calmly asks for his assessment then.

"My assessment? They're gearing up for a fight."

—-

Let me confer with my client, Matt says.

Bucky hasn't lifted his gaze from the table, and the shackles holding his wrists firmly in place. The hand that isn't still holding Jane's — his left hand, the steel one — turns over in its restraint. He looks at it as if he's never seen it before.

Archer steps out, as requested. It's not until Bucky is certain that he's gone that he glances at Matt.

"A hundred consecutive life sentences," he sighs, his voice wry. "Never heard of such thing. I'd say that's kind of overkill, but then how many people have done what I did?"

—-

Matt Murdock's carefully cultivated powers of mindfulness have rarely served him better than now, when he has to set aside overheard communications from the Vice President of the United States of America. It's undoubtedly pertinent — but in this pivotal moment it's Bucky Barnes who needs his undivided attention.

Bucky's dry observation wins a brief flicker of a smile from the sober attorney. "To most people the difference between two consecutive life sentences and a hundred would be academic," Murdock admits with an illustrative spread of one hand. "But the considerations may be different for the — longer lived. But whether it's fifty years or five hundred, that man means to see you die in here.

The lawyer cants his head to one side, examining this beaten-down man he both knows and does not know. "I'm not going to tell you to take the offer, Sergeant," he begins in the soft-spoken, deliberative clip. "But I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to take the offer seriously. Archer has reams of physical evidence, and the federal case law around your best defenses isn't great. You do have a chance to win — but it's an uphill fight. And this deal? It would keep you alive."

A beat. "For whatever that's worth to you."

—-

With David Archer's departure, he takes with him Jane's flimsy bravado.

The woman slips back into her hollow-eyed, brittle weakness, breathing slowly in-and-out, keeping her brown eyes averted as she listens to the back-and-forth conversation between Bucky Barnes and Matt Murdock.

Counsel, in his way, gives advice. She wants to throw up.

"Why is no one discussing that he didn't do it? That he didn't do any of it?" Jane asks, with fierce eyes, and her voice mulched between anger and a begging sort of hysteria. "They took his mind, his will — they almost did it to me too! What the fuck do they call — mens rea? Isn't that a thing in law? Is it just some fancy bullshit or does it matter? James isn't going into a cage, he's not going anywhere, he's not — you're not going to let them tell you that the last seventy years was your choice."

—-

Bucky is silent to Matt's advice, though he transparently absorbs it. Silent, to Jane's final outburst of anger and desperation. He looks at the palm of his left hand, at its many intricately-forged plates. At the way they move and interlock, in a marvel of unparalled engineering. With bleak, tired eyes, he looks at this thing that represents, in all its cold steel physicality, all that was forced upon him, which he did not want, and which he did not ask for.

He turns it back over, and lets it press flat to the table surface.

You're not going to let them tell you that the last seventy years was your choice! Jane says.

"No," he says. "I am not. It wasn't my choice. But the acts still happened. Someone has to acknowledge that." And neither he nor his thousands of victims have any catharsis for that.

His grasp tightens on Jane's hand. "It's not worth much to me to live if it's in lockup," he finally says. "Either it's decided I should go free, or it's decided I should die. These are the only choices, in my view."

—-

They placidly discuss centuries in jail or lethal objection, and Jane understandably erupts. Matt absorbs it with relative equanimity, turning his attention to the direction of her voice. "I know he didn't," he says of Bucky's culpability, his tone even but leavened with a grace note of quiet sympathy. "Sergeant Barnes can mount the best brainwashing defense in history. That doesn't change the fact that the courts — and many juries — are skeptical of that defense, or any duress defenses where a physical gun isn't literally held to the defendant's head. Go ask Patty Hearst." A beat, and then: "But in his case, it has the virtue of being the truth — and I think we can prove it."

And then he's turning his attention back to Barnes, who seems to have found his fight, or at least his fatalism. The lawyer tips his head forward in a measure of quiet respect. "Then I'll do everything I can to make sure you go free, Sergeant," he says to the gentleman cuffed to the table before he pushes himself up to a rise. "Shall we give Mr. Archer the bad news?"

—-

When Archer is called back in his entire mien, despite the conversation in the hallway which briefly got under his skin, is entirely unchanged. He steps inside the door with that thick legal folder, reams and reams of paper in one of those brown accordian folders. "Gentlemen. Doctor Foster. Are you ready to plead?" It's as if he hadn't just told the Vice President that his read on these people was that they were going to stand and fight him. He does them the courtesy of hiding his predictions, of allowing them to tell him themselves.

As much as he can, as a slight twitch of his hand actually half-offers that folder to Matt before he stops himself.

He stops himself because he's been surprised before, despite having a good sense of how to read people. Body language, faces, little hints of personality— a sense of these things have allowed him to have all the courtroom successes that he's had in the past.

And all in all, he is indifferent. His duty does not change.

As to the folder, should it be taken, well. This has got to be one of the fastest prosecutorial disclosure exercises in history. No foot shuffling, no paperwork fumbles, no secretaries saying 'it'll be there next week,' ad infinitum. Whatever else can be said about his legal work, this isn't the kind of guy who is going to get his case hung up on a Brady violation later down the line. Nor is he the type of fellow who feels like he's going to have to. None of it, of course, is in Braille…but then, he'd expected an entirely different species of shark to be swimming around this little interrogation room.

—-

Give me liberty or give me death, Jane thinks, her eidetic memory pulling on some old high school history lesson.

It is not his decision to fight, but his reason for doing so, that loosens her hand slightly inside his. It's not the fury she hopes to see in Bucky Barnes, but something far more tired — and old. Older than she is, and she can't understand it, can't cross the decades to properly stand there with him in that moment, and just for that brief moment, she feels —

— alone.

Someone has to acknowledge that, he says. But what about him? Jane thinks. Who acknowledges that James Buchanan Barnes is allowed to be alive too?

She stays silent. The silence persists up and into Archer's return. Not her pronouncement to give, Jane remains quiet.

—-

Stand and fight indeed. Now, for the first time, the two lawyers will find themselves face to face. You might think that the soft-spoken, unassuming Matt Murdock would be overshadowed by the looming U.S. Attorney — especially as he is momentarily bereft of his very literal crutch. Not so. Matt's presence is forceful, projecting a sense of unwavering solidity at odds with his handicap. He can't look Archer in the eye, but he can meet him square and say.

"I've discussed your offer with my client, and we're going to decline," he says, the rejection coming with a careful courtesy that, for all its quiet confidence, lacks any sort of swagger. "I expect we will see you tomorrow morning for the arraignment and the bail hearing. You can expect a Brady motion from my office by end of day."

Because, of course, he can't see the stack in hand, can he?

—-

'Not guilty,' is not how James Barnes feels. He knows it is what he is, but it's not how he feels.

Yet that is the answer they give. The fury Jane is looking for in Bucky simply, unfortunately, is not there. There is only the exhaustion of a man who has, in his mind, a record of all the things done by his hands. Atrocities he has committed that are older than anyone else in the room bar Steve. Wrongs done that were not of his volition, but which he is cursed to carry the memories of.

Ultimately he does fight, but not out of outrage. Out of a sense that if there must be an end, let it be conclusive and decisive — whichever way it goes. He will not sit in a prison for the rest of his natural life, however long that may be.

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