A Unique Client Interview

June 06, 2017:

Matt Murdock conducts a client interview with Bucky Barnes, and develops the beginnings of a monster headache as the former Winter Soldier finally honestly answers some questions.

Nelson & Murdock, Hell's Kitchen

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster, Steve Rogers, John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara, Jessica Jones

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

When imagines the Platonic ideal of a Manhattan law office, one's mind tends to go to high-rise, multi-story affairs: all sleek lines and glittering glass and steel. And that mental picture, firmly established in the public consciousness by years of cinema and television, may even be appropriate for a certain rarefied class of firms, though they're far from emblematic of the real practice of law in New York City or anywhere else.

Regardless, they bear no relation whatsoever to the offices of Nelson & Murdock. After being buzzed into the building, an ancient elevator takes one up to the second floor of the ramshackle 9th Ave. office building, and then it's a short walk down a dingy hallway to the front doors, where the names of the partners are emblazoned on dimly-frosted glass:

Nelson & Murdock
Attorneys at Law

The doors open to reveal a space that is modestly, even sparsely appointed. One enters into the center of three equally apportioned rooms run along a railroad and bisected by green-tinged walls. Ordinarily the place is bustling with clients or would-be clients — most of them low-end, some of them seeking to pay in cold cuts or baked goods — all overseen by their longsuffering new assistant, a thirty-something Latina paralegal named Ariana Alvarez. But this is, safe to say, an unusual day for the firm, and in an excess of caution the office has been closed for any business other than the case of James Buchanan Barnes.

Which of course leaves the space quiet and empty as a mausoleum by evening hours. Ariana has gone home to her child, Foggy to do more research, leaving Matt Murdock the sole occupant of the quiet, unassuming space. He's in his office — the door swung wide open — perched over his braille display, banging out text onto the white screen of a word doc. If he hears any entrant, he won't betray it at first — though as the office is right now, one could hear a pin drop.

Bucky had not really wanted an RFID chip — he knew how they were implanted — but it was the condition imposed upon him if he wanted the option of being released on bail to be available at all. While he might not have even minded just sitting in prison until trial if it were only him affected — being secured in the Raft was a sort of extreme insurance policy against him being switch-flipped and hurting people — there were other considerations that had to be taken into account.

He hated to leave Jane alone.

So he sucked it up, and took the microchip. It was not easy for him. The people implanting it have rarely seen anyone of such a dire reputation get so tense and afraid at the sight of a needle. They do not know his history with injections and needles and things under his skin

But he was let go, afterwards. Whatever they did to his prosthetic to suppress it power source also remains in force. It makes his left arm a heavy weight to carry as he makes his way slowly to the office of the man who has signed on to defend him. For God knows whatever reasons.

"Looks like I did get the right address," he quips as he arrives, though he has the tired look of someone who knows he is on a leash.

And it's safe to say that Matt considered making exactly that point to the judge — that subjecting someone who had been poked and prodded and maimed by people for decades to invasive procedures was a betrayal in and of itself — but in a court of law you pick your battles. Comparing the judge to the KGB and Hydra at the outset of the trial would have started things off on the wrong foot, to say the least.

Besides, for all of the psychological pain the insertion of that chip likely caused him — it's a quiet coup that he's out and about, even if he's still wearing chains of a sort.

"Sergeant Barnes," Murdock says at the sound of the man's voice as he lifts his head and turns it in the direction of Bucky's voice. The flicker of a smile that graces the young lawyer's lips is brief, and does little to leaven an otherwise sober mien. "Glad you found us alright. My associate, Mr. Nelson, sends his apologies. He's eager to meet you, but there's a lot of legwork to do on this case and little time to do it." He rises then, placing one hand over his tie and his open-buttoned suit-jacket to smooth his ascent and keep his shabby-chic attire from getting too ruffled. "Come on into my office and take a seat. Can I get you some coffee?"

Despite a certain fatalistic temptation that occasionally seized him, while he was still in the Raft, to just remain there where he could not hurt anyone, now that he's out Bucky can't say that he isn't relieved to be able to move about semi-freely. There's too much about being caged up that reminds me of the past seventy-odd years of his life being confined and controlled, and the sight of the sky is never unwelcome after such a life.

Even just talking to people can be a bit of a relief: though it's much harder for the ex-Winter Soldier to endure prolonged social contact than it ever was for Sergeant James Barnes, for obvious reasons. Matt Murdock is easy company to keep, however, and not just because he's the guy working on defending Barnes' case.

"Sure I'll get to meet him before this is all over," he says of Foggy Nelson, sliding himself into a seat with a visible bit of relief. It's jarring. The Bucky Barnes that Matt remembers always sounded strong, vital, with a beating life about him that ran at an efficiency and power much higher than the average person's. This version of Barnes sounds like an old man, weary, weighed down both literally and figuratively. "Coffee would be great. Haven't tasted anything proper since I went in."

"Yeah, you got it," Matt says casually of coffee as he breezes past Bucky's now-seated frame and circles around towards the small kitchen connected to the foyer. Apparently he's familiar enough with these environs to navigate them without too much fumbling — a single touch at the doorframe of his office and then he's rounding the bend, momentarily disappearing from sight, if not earshot.

"There's a backdoor to the building I'll show you later," his voice chimes in from around the bend. "Good way to duck the cameras." Said cameras — a combination of local and national television news crews, criminal justice beat reporters, and paparazzi, had been staked outside of his office for most of the day and only gradually melted away as the long summer day fell into darkness and the chance of a decent shot of either Barnes or the green lawyer who took his case became impossible.

Then Matt's back, two mugs of steaming Sumatra Manhelding in hand. It's likely no surprise that the blind lawyer has shit taste in office décor but exquisite taste in coffee. "Here you go, " he says when he's two steps past the doorframe, reaching out in the vague direction of Bucky with one mug for him to take. When that exchange is done, he'll walk and gently feel his way back around to his side of the desk and begin to reclaim his seat. "How's Ms. Foster holding up?" he asks quietly.

He asks he because he knows, has seen, what a devastating day arraignments can be for the loved ones of the accused. To hear the charges read aloud, to see those close to you with the Sword of Damocles hanging over them. For many, the hearing makes it more real than any police interrogation rooms or threats from prosecutors. The ceremony of the law is a powerful thing — by design.

The mention of the back door provokes an audible sound of relief from Bucky. "The camera-dodging hasn't been too hard for me," he observes. "I am what I'm accused of, after all." And what he's accused of being is a man who was such a wraith no one could even say for sure he existed for sixty-odd years. "Still, it'll make it a lot easier on me. Appreciate it."

The coffee, when Matt returns with it, is predictably excellent. Bucky accepts his cup gratefully, though his expression sobers considerably when Matt inquires after Jane.

"She's… holding up," he says. "It helps I'm able to be with her, and not locked up." He shakes his head slowly. "Hell of a thing you pulled off, getting them to agree to bail for somebody like me. Jessica wasn't kidding about you."

Matt's lips twitch at their corners again when Bucky talks about his talent evading tails, but he makes no comment on it. To the rest? "Yeah, don't praise me yet," the lawyer says as a weary half-smile passes over his stubbled features. He leans back in his chair and draws the cup upwards to his lips. "But I'm glad you're able to be there for each other," he says after the first sip. "You'll need that. In our system, there's a lot of talk about innocent until proven guilty, but what most who don't live through it or see it first hand can't understand is that very act of indictment is punishment. Whatever the outcome, it takes a toll — on people's emotions, finances, and reputations."

He blows out a breath. "I touched briefly the day we first met on the challenges we're facing," Matt offers, setting the coffee mug back on a desk littered with braille-stubbled papers. "I'd like to elaborate on them now, and then ask you some questions." One beat, and then a dry addendum: "The first of many, sorry to say."

Don't praise me yet, Matt says wryly. The ghost of a smile crosses Bucky's face, though it falters and drops away as Matt expresses he's glad Bucky and Jane will be able to be there for each other. "Yeah," he says, closing his eyes as he inhales the scent of the coffee. It's a luxury he's missed, these past few days in prison. "Once you're in the system, you've already lost something no matter what happens from there. Some kinda feeling of innocence."

He glances out the window, before remembering himself that Matt can't see the visual cue. "Media's already holding trials for me about my guilt or innocence." He winces. "Jane told me not to read Twitter."

He sobers as the lawyer starts to get down to business. He'll elaborate on their specific challenges, then ask some questions. Or a lot of questions. Bucky's laugh is bleak. "I got nothing but time right now," he says. "Shoot."

"Yeah, no, please leave the Twitter reading to our office," Matt says in weary but wholehearted agreement with Jane Foster. "But regardless — this is the worst day. This is the day where the only thing people can begin to register is shock — and what comes out of Mr. Archer's mouth. That will change, and the scales will rebalance if we do our jobs."

Bucky opens the door to discussions and questions with gallows humor, and Murdock can't help but smile. Shit, mask on or off, I like this guy. And now I get to tell him all the reasons he may be fucked.

But it's his job — his sworn duty, truly — to provide the best counsel possible to his client. Levelling with him is part of that. "Ms. Foster brought up some sharp points about your mental state during the periods when most of the crimes were alleged," Matt begins in that soft-spoken, deliberative cadence that suggests a man who chooses what he says — and what he does not say — with care. "And I brought up the fact that federal law may not be helpful there. I'll elaborate. One of the better legal theories to advance in your case is related to the traditional insanity defense — a mental handicap or defect that was in this case forced on you. But the law around that changed after Hinkely —"

He pauses, stops himself, remembers who he is talking to… and backs up with a note of apology. "In the 1980s, a man named John Hinkely shot President Ronald Reagan, and afterwards claimed he did it to impress a child movie star. He escaped the worst of his punishment by pleading insanity. After that, Congress cracked down with the Insanity Defense Reform Act. That law shifted the burden of proof from the prosecution of proving sanity of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt to the defense establishing insanity by clear and convincing evidence. It also limits any arguments around mental defect to those included in the statute — meaning we must operate by its strictures no matter what. There are some other legal arguments to make around what was done to you — coercion and duress, for instance — and we'll make them all. But you should know that we have an uphill battle to prove to the jury that what was done to you made it impossible for you to realize what you were doing was wrong at the time you did it."

And after all that digression into legislative history and legal vagaries, Matt reclaims his cup of coffee and summons it back just under his chin. The two red, round-rimmed lenses that obscure his eyes look, in this dim light, nearly black and are entirely opaque. "So with all that in mind, Sergeant Barnes, I suppose my first question is: How much do you remember of what was done to you, and what you did, and why you did it?"

"Yeah," Bucky sighs, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "I… the spin they put on it isn't exactly flattering, is it? And it's hard for me to argue back, or defend myself. I start to try, and I…" He trails off. It's a lot to say to someone you've just met(?) that you can't really defend yourself because the moment you do, the memories of so many screams cloud out your very ability to think.

"Guess that's what we got you for, though," he finishes in lieu of saying that, sipping his coffee. "The defense thing, that is." He has no idea that Matt is liking him in both masked or unmasked situations, and that this is troubling the young lawyer who can see — with all the clarity of a trained eye — just how fucked James Buchanan Barnes may be.

It's his duty, however, and Matt Murdock is nothing if not a stickler for duty. Bucky listens intently, coffee mug cupped in both hands, as Murdock explains the relevant case law. In the 1980s, there was a man, Hinkley, who shot Reagan. "Ah," Bucky says, looking briefly awkward. Possibly because he was considered for something like that at first, and was just never ultimately deployed for whatever reason. Possibly because by then he'd already gotten another president.

"Yeah," he says ultimately. "I can see that. If you let just anybody run around claiming they were insane, without some rigid standards on proving that…" Puts him in a bit of a difficult spot now, though, those stringent standards.

It all sets up for the question Murdock ultimately opens with. How much does he remember?

"I remember most of it," he admits. "There's… so much that I did that I don't remember all. Kind of like you presumably don't know everything on every sheet of paper in this office at all times, but it's all there in the filing cabinets. I remember what they did to keep me… compliant. I remember the false memories they implanted to make me someone other than I was. The Soviets ran me as a man called Yakov Vasilevich Morozov, a soldier who lost his arm in the war and volunteered himself for the Winter Soldier program. I believed myself to be a Soviet citizen. Hydra…"

He shrugs. "Hydra didn't bother with that much. They used me as a blunt instrument. A killing implement doesn't need much personality. We have some… information on the machines used to do the mental wipes."

Of defending himself, Bucky says: 'I start to try, and I…'

And then trails off. The following silence leaves Matt filling in the blanks, and it's lucky he's a charitable soul who has his own experience with demons. Lucky too that he's able to detect trace signs of guilt that differ subtly but decisively from the elevated heartrates that mark deception or evasiveness.

It's the latter part he latches on to most. He won't squint, he won't lean forward to see better, but there's a shift in the quality of Matt's attention that suggests he's rapt. It's confirmed when he begins typing immediately after Bucky mentions a personality supplied — built, really — for him by the KGB. He records it quickly and then turns back to his client lest he miss some precious detail on which the fate of Bucky's life could hinge.

"The mental wipes were used by both the KGB and Hydra?" Matt asks first. But it's followed quickly by a knit-browed: "Who is we?"

The guilt coming off Bucky in the wake of that unfinished sentence is nigh-palpable. Murdock could probably practically smell it. Probably for the best to avoid putting Bucky anywhere near the stand. He might know objectively he wasn't responsible for anything he did, but he wears the guilt of his actions as if he was. Feels, keenly, every life he took as if it were his own volition to take it. And why not? Those memories — intimate memories if you think about it, memories of being alone with the very last gasping moments of too many victims — are his, and his alone. His captors forced him to bear those in their stead.

As a tactic it could pay off — or backfire horribly. The risk is likely not worth it.

Matt asks about the mental wipes. About who used them. "Both," he confirms. "Though in different ways. Department X, the KGB, they created something that could perform more delicate operations. A personality. A man who could pass as a man for some short amount of time. Hydra did… harsh wipes. Erased memories. To them it was like reformatting. If I began to remember, they would reset me and begin again. I was to know nothing except my orders and the imperative that was carrying them out."

He hesitates, though, when Murdock focuses in on 'we.' That was a slip. He curses himself for speaking carelessly in front of someone as perceptive as Matt obviously is; then he remembers the man's supposed to be his lawyer, and perhaps his habit of extreme paranoia isn't quite as necessary here. Nonetheless, he looks a little cagey when he asks, "…so this attorney-client privilege thing…?"

Matt feels a chill as he listens to Bucky describe the variants of handling and mind-control he was placed under. Hydra's mistake, he thinks, to do the harsh wipes. The mind's not meant to be a blank slate; when it is wiped clean it will fill in the gaps unless you've already done that hard work. That he can actually appreciate the relative artistry of a KGB mind-rape marks a low point in Matt Murdock's exploration of the world's dregs in his young career as a defense attorney.

And then Bucky is asking about attorney-client privilege, and Matt's eyebrows are lifting in a way that says for sure the useless eyes behind those crimson shades are rolling. He takes the glasses off anyway and casts them to the table like a gauntlet. The eyes revealed are big, dark, and ordinarily kindly, but in the moment they flash. "I can't say anything about anything to anyone," he says flatly. "And if you're even asking yourself this, you should definitely tell me. I can't help you — or anyone else — unless you help me, Barnes."

It was certainly a mistake. No matter how often Hydra tried, they could not erase a man, nor destroy his memories. They could only dam up who he was, and the thing about dams is, eventually, they erode and break.

Now Bucky Barnes is in his right mind again — but even then, old habits from his Soviet spy days certainly die hard, and accustomed as he is to playing his cards close to his chest at all times, he gets a little cagey about his slip of the tongue. Which is not helpful at all in an attorney-client setting, and Matt Murdock gives him the most unimpressed expression possible as a reflection of just how silly this secretiveness is.

Taking the point, Bucky clears his throat. "Jane and I," he finally admits. "We got ahold of the machine they used to do the mental wipes. Jane was working on reverse engineering it before… all this. SHIELD also has documentation related to the Winter Soldier Program that was taken from a base in Queens, when I was recovered."

Bucky levels with him, discloses Jane as his partner-in-crime, and Matt feels his heart crack. He's almost moved to speak, but restrains himself. We'll get to that later, says the pragmatic part of Matt Murdock's mind. You need him to give you as many leads as possible before you throw a wrench in the night.

"Did you get the machine you were reverse-engineering from the base in Queens where they recovered you and were — questioning her?" he asks, gently but probingly. He knows the basics, the ugly outline, of what was done to Jane Foster — that much is clear. "Or did you find it somewhere else?"

It is plain Bucky does not want to bring Jane into this, but also plain that he is worried that not disclosing something may weaken his case and get him executed, which would also not be any kind of help to Jane. It's a difficult tightrope to walk, but something about Matt Murdock encourages confidence even beyond the promises of attorney-client privilege.

So he discloses. It's still not a very thorough disclosure, the ex-Winter Soldier naturally disposed to be closemouthed, but Murdock knows how to pry. Bucky looks uncomfortable — particularly when reminded of what Hydra did to Jane — but after a moment, he slowly answers.

"…Siberia," he admits. "There was a Hydra base in Siberia. The place I was created as the Winter Soldier. They kept it there. We found out by raiding another of their cells in Alexandria." He looks more and more uncomfortable by the moment, the discomfort of a man who is aware he is about to be responsible for a headache. "I think that one was covered up for me."

Now, after so much relcutance, Bucky talks and talks, creating at least a half-dozen more charges and international incidents in his wake, and Matt can't disguise either his surprise or concern. It's a few beats before he speaks: "One of my questions for you," he says in arch but soft-spoken tones, "was what you'd been up to since you were — freed up. I guess now I know some of it."

He clears his throat, reclaims his coffee, and takes a long, slow sip as he decides on one question out of the hundred that pop to mind. "Who would you bet covered it all up for you, if you were a betting man?"

The surprise and concern neither surprises nor fazes Bucky. He knows how bad it all sounds and how bad, objectively, it is for him and his case. Potentially bad for Matthew Murdock, too, whose neck is also on the line, which is likely a major reason Buck is opening up as much as he is.

Hindsight is 20/20, though. What he did in the grip of rage seemed like a good idea at the time, but things 'done in the grip of rage' are rarely ever a good idea weeks and months down the line.

"Yes," he grimaces. "That was some of what I've been doing. I was… angry. I hit a number of Hydra cells. A number of people from… the old days. Most incidents are not traceable to me. I spent sixty years not getting caught; I know how to cover my tracks. That last one…"

Who would you bet covered it up for you?

"I don't have to bet," he admits. "I know. I'll have him talk to you. …He's SHIELD."

Matt blows out a breath and rakes a hand through his hair. "Jesus, Barnes," the lawyer murmurs in quiet exasperation. "You know that at least one of your murders was for a John Doe Hydra agent, right? They're not exactly letting you off the hook for killing 'the bad guys.' They're trying to pin every body on you they can."

And then Bucky is offering to connect Matt with the SHIELD agent who covered up his latest round of wet-work, which may in itself mean that one hand of the U.S. government is running counter to the other. I'm a two-bit lawyer who moonlights as a street-vigilante. How did I get mixed up in this Three Days of the Condor shit?

There's an argument for steering clear of all this cloak and dagger business — it's safer professionally, and likely personally — but Matt's never been much for personal prudence. "Alright," he assents, trying to keep his voice even. "Next question: why are you trying to reverse-engineer the machine that made you?"

Bucky has the grace to look chastened at Matt's exasperation. "Yeah, I know. Bad decisions." He pauses. "That bastard in particular deserved it though." Oh, Bucky.

He doesn't miss Matt's reaction, either, to news that SHIELD is mixed up in this — and possibly running counter to the US Government. That look of 'what the hell did I get myself into.' Bucky doesn't say anything aloud, but his expression attains a certain look of sympathy. He can empathize with that sudden feeling of signing up for one thing, only to find that thing transforming into something far more extreme than expected.

It passes. Next question. It's an easier question to answer, for given values of easy: mostly, it's just easy because the answer is straightforward. "I'm concerned about any lingering trigger words or conditioning in my mind," he says frankly. "I don't ever want to lose control of myself again. Jane figures she can… re-tune the machine to undo anything that was done to me. Take it out. Make sure I'm clean."

Bucky makes his quip and Matt manages slouches back in his chair. "I hope by 'deserve it' you mean he gave you reason to believe he was either about to kill you or kill another," he says, quietly but pointedly. "Because my guess is that if we make enough headway in our defense about mental states, Archer will argue that because you killed him after you regained your senses, the jury should find you guilty even if they believe you were brainwashed and aren't guilty of the other crimes. You always want to have an ace in the hole, right?"

But there's more — always more — to sift through. It may be that Hydra had their own ace in the hole, that there were fail safes in place that can be triggered to press Barnes back into their service. The lawyer's fair Irish brow furrows as he puzzles it through. It's an incredibly risky venture, is his gut reaction — but wearing his literal other hat he's well acquainted with Jane's considerable talents as a scientist and engineer. He doesn't push back. At least not right now.

Instead: "We're going to have to start putting together a stable of expert witnesses," he says slowly. "That means they'll have to examine you. Medical, psychological testing." There's a note of quiet apology in his tone, for all his passing frustration with the man. He has at least some sense of what such 'testing' must trigger.

"Kill Jane," Bucky says grimly. "Though I suppose it wouldn't be imminent enough by the legal definition," he says, with a faint curl of his lip, nearly a snarl, to suggest what he might think of that. But then, Bucky is obviously not always rational where Jane is concerned.

It's brief, and then it passes. Bucky sighs, and that moment of fire goes out of him. He scrubs a hand over his face, looking apologetic for all the issues he is causing. "There was enough grey area in my mental state even then," he offers, a little feebly. "I was a mess. Half remembering who I was, half not. Too much memory flooding back at once. All mixed up with the fake memories they've put in me for so long."

He laughs a little. "Sometimes I just sit and try to sift through everything. Figure out what's real or not. Truth, or lie. It's not as easy to tell as one might think. Even the fake memories look real."

He falls silent as Matt makes plans to put together a bunch of expert witnesses. Unfortunately, that means subjecting Bucky to a battery of examinations. It'll be pathetically easy for Matt to tell how much that freaks the other man out, just thinking about it. His heartrate jumps immediately, fear sweating the air, breathing shallowing. His hands audibly shake a bit, before he gets them under control.

"I understand," he says, with considerable effort.

Definitely can't go on the stand, Matt thinks, and not for the first time as Bucky admits that he remains an unreliable narrator of his own life, and observes what even the intimation of further examination does to him. What a wounded creature they've made of this man.

He brings the mug of cooling coffee to his lips for another long sip as he reshuffles his thoughts — and allows Bucky a few moments to recover from his sudden bout of nerves. "You can walk me through how things went down with the Hydra officer and we can talk through best defenses together," the young lawyer offers in his quiet cadence after he's set the mug back down.

Three heartbeats. Then: "You're going to have to rein in any extracurricular activities for the next few months," Matt says slowly. "For your own good and because —" his jaw tightens in sudden remembrance, just one of the tell-tale signs of coiled anger taking hold of the supposedly mild-mannered attorney. "I should tell you about a conversation Archer and I had after the hearing. Mr. Archer was… not happy about the bail, even with the chip. So he told me after the judge's ruling that if you strayed one mile outside the perimeter, even for for a minute, he would — target your friends. Charge Ms. Zatarra as an accessory to some of your 'recent killings', find dirt on Mr. Constantine and Jessica — and charge Jane with treason."

Matt levels his hands on the ground. "Archer is a Grade A asshole. But don't think for a moment he doesn't have the power to do it, Mr. Barnes. Now's the time to keep your head down."

It is almost Pavlovian how automatic the fear response is to any thought of medical examination. Fitting, given how much Bucky Barnes was mentally conditioned, in so many other ways. It takes him a moment to get himself under control, a few moments in which Matt makes the instant decision that this broken man and all his scattered memories cannot go up on the stand. He would be torn apart. The inconsistencies of his own recollections would be exposed and picked to pieces.

No. Best keep Archer as far from him as possible.

Tactfully, Matt changes the topic. Bucky looks down at his hands in his lap, a little subdued now that he knows examination is in his future. "I'd just regained some sense of who I was. I was about to shoot Steve and I couldn't. I ran off instead. The only thing I could be sure about was Jane. I found her strapped in that conditioning machine with that man cranking up the voltage on her. She was screaming. So I killed him." He does not look like a man burdened with regret about that.

The regret does return when Matt tells him he absolutely CANNOT engage in any more extracurriculars, because Archer has threatened to go after his friends next should he not comply. Something between astonishment and an anger to match Matt's own wars in Bucky's expression, audible to Matt in the anger-race of his heart and the short breaths he takes.

"Son of a bitch," he swears. "He could do it anyway, but he won't just for the leverage. Son of a bitch."

His head turns aside. Contempt and resignation compete in his voice. "All right. Fine. He wins on that."

Matt's head lifts and his nostrils flare when Bucky relays the tale of the unnamed Hydra agent's death. "It may or may not be imminent enough for the law," says the lawyer with a lawyer's favorite answer: 'it depends.' "But," he murmurs in addendum, "it's probably more than enough for a jury. Did Jane see you do it, and why? Did anyone else?"

And then Bucky is admitting defeat, giving Archer the win — even if, Matt knows, it is also in Barnes' own interest to comply. Matt dips his head ever so slightly in acknowledgment of the concession. There's a pause as he ticks through the list of questions he wanted to get through tonight — there are dozens of others that can wait, that can be handled by Foggy or Ariana in the marathon-sessions of trial preparation that Bucky barnes is due for. Yet a major one remains outstanding — and that's what Matt gives voice to: "One more question, Sergeant. According to Jones, you turned yourselves in to SHIELD after Jane was freed," Matt says with a downward bend of his lips. "So the government — or at least some segment of the government — knew of your return. I suppose my real question is… why the delay? Why did it take four months between your rescue from Ozone Park and now for a U.S. Attorney to come legal guns blazing? Do you have any thoughts?"

It depends, comes the classic legal answer. Bucky grimaces a little, an expression that deepens at the follow-up questions. "I don't know what Jane saw. She was pretty insensible at the time. I don't know if she even knew I or anyone else was there. But… a number of other people saw it. Well — the aftermath. When I made the kill, I was alone."

And then Matt relays probably the only thing that could get Bucky to calm down his wild vengeance-seeking ways: the fact that Archer is more than willing to go after his friends in retaliation for him putting even an eyelash over the line. He swears, he growls, but in the end… he acquiesces. No more funny business. Not while he's under scrutiny, anyway.

The last question Matt has for him, however, is not one that Bucky has a ready answer for. He is silent for a tellingly long amount of time, looking at the floor, contemplative. "I couldn't say," he finally has to admit. "SHIELD is secretive. They might have wanted to keep that information close to the chest. I was a scourge to them for decades, under Hydra. The Winter Soldier was a rather personal case for SHIELD."

He shrugs. "Might just be it took that long for foreign powers to become aware of me. Might be foreign powers were the only ones who really had a stake in putting my head on a pike. I served, in the war. I was an American martyr for decades, or so one look at popular culture tells me. The US government crucifying one of its own? Hard sell."

Forget lawyers. Intelligence operatives are the true masters of 'depends.' Look at how Bucky spins a host of maybes, a shifting shadow-mesh of diplomatic possibilities that could have led to this moment. Perhaps, he suggests, it merely took this long for some of the foreign powers Barnes wreaked havoc on to apply pressure — pressure that might even drive Vice Presidents to take an active and ongoing interestin the case.

Matt lets out a quiet, cleansing exhale. This will be ugly, comes the obvious conclusion.

"Hard sell is right," Matt says of crucifixion with the faintest of nods. For all his soft-spoken demeanor, his subtle expressions, his youth, there's a solidity and quiet confidence about the man who sits across the table from Bucky Barnes. "And we'll make it that much harder. In the mean time, why don't you get some rest, Sergeant Barnes? I'll show you the back door, and we'll pick up again in the morning."

That's right. The morning. Because this — this is now Bucky Barnes' life. Welcome to it.

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