June 17, 2017:

Matt Murdock interviews his key witness for the defence of Bucky Barnes. Jane spills everything she's been bottling for six months.

Jane's Apartment - Brooklyn, NY


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Many

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

For a man assaulted by a constant deluge of sensory information, day in and day out —

— the more residential corner of Brooklyn is a bit of a reprieve. It's certainly not Manhattan, and sure as hell isn't Hell's Kitchen, the streets lighter with traffic, the pedestrians sparse and few on the streets, and early evening to a sunny spring day, most of the din and noise are the distant sounds of dogs barking or children laughing on playgrounds.

A few hours ago, Jane Foster — when asked by Matthew Murdock whether and where she'd feel most comfortable — held a long silence on the phone. Then, with the reluctant pause of someone who does not like to ask much of others, and is far too used to side-lining her own comfort, she admitted she'd prefer her meeting with him in the safety of her home. It was confirmed that Bucky Barnes, who shares her home, would give them privacy. She has a space up on the roof of the building where she tries — through Brooklyn's light pollution — to telescope the stars. He will use that space to smoke and look out on his old neighbourhood — and think.

Her home is a small apartment within one of Brooklyn's countless brownstones, and any ring in is met with Jane Foster's immediate reception.

Little known to her, they've always met in neutral spots, with Jane sparing little detail about herself and Murdock safe behind his mask —

He gets a glimpse into the private life both of Jane Foster and Bucky Barnes. She opens the door to a small, cramped apartment — sound amplifies a little too close — that smells of brewing coffee and last night's pan-fried steaks.

"Hi," is all Jane has to offer to Bucky's lawyer, all with her usual eloquence. Every inch of her marinates in anxiety. "Come in, I — coffee?"

Matthew Murdock is indeed learning more about Bucky Barnes and Jane Foster than he could ever have imagined when they first met on that first night of blood and mayhem in the alleyways of Hell's Kitchen. At the time, he felt little more for Jane than exasperation, and regarded Bucky with an understandably wary eye. Now, after the exchanges of gratitude, favors, and the odd body-blow, all of it over half-a-dozen meetings littered with coffee and donuts, and after he's been forced by necessity to pry into and examine every nook and cranny of their histories and private lives he can manage for this kamikaze legal mission…

What does the compact, upright, grey-suited man who knocks on the door of that Bay Ridge brownstone feel? Any number of things, but foremost: weary, worried, and fully cognizant of the fact that the lives of these two rest in his hands, to shelter or drop.

Very little of that concern is communicated in the affable, barely-toothed smile Matt Murdock offers Jane Foster when she opens the door. "Hey," he says simply, the tone light but still courteous. "Yeah — ah, coffee smells — uh, sounds great. Thanks."

And then he's folding his walking stick and making his way into the space, one hand grazing the side of the wall to keep him anchored. "Where's Bucky?" he's asking, casually, despite the fact that they'd agreed — or rather Matt had insisted — that their preparation happen without her boyfriend and his client present.

Even to a man who cannot see — that particular sixth sense probably comes without fail. The sensation when someone is watching you.

Jane Foster, in all her shock and grief, barely gleaned a good look at Matthew Murdock inside that cloistered room in the Raft. Now is as good an opportunity as any, and feels for her the first time she really, really gets to see him for the first time: young, good-looking, with something disarming about his face. And he's blind.

Closing the door after him, lingering in that familiar should-she, should-she-not way people do around the visually-impaired, uncertain if she should offer him guidance inside, or if it's more polite for her to allow him independence, Jane holds silent.

At least, he asks a question she can answer. "Up on the roof," she admits. "There's a place up there to sit. Doesn't quite break his conditions. He's going to have a smoke and come back in when I ask him to. He has good hearing, but he shouldn't hear us. At least, if he could, he would have said." Jane Foster's infallible trust in the honour of Bucky Barnes.

She rubs uneasily on her opposite wrist. "I hope that's all right? If not, we can find someplace nearby." The insinuation currents Jane's voice: she doesn't want to displace Bucky. Doesn't want to inconvenience him in any way.

Wading deeper into her apartment, she makes the six or so steps to the galley kitchen that tucks into the living room, which exudes the familiar sounds of someone hunting for mugs and pouring coffee.

Jane glances back out. "Help yourself to the couch—" A beat. "Um, I'm sorry, should I — do you need — "

He absorbs the fact that Bucky is on the rooftop above them with equanimity, suggesting he either trusts Barnes, her, or both. Or maybe he's just careless.

The truth? He can hear James' feet scuffing on the rooftop, smell the cigarette smoke, and is pretty certain he'd be able to tell if his similarly super-powered client were able to listen in on them just from how he reacts. In other words: not careless

"We'll try not to keep him up there too long," Matt suggests as careful footsteps carry him into the room. She haltingly offers to help guide him, but the truth is that cramped spaces, with all their little nudges and cues, are the easiest for even the ordinarily blind to navigate. It's the vast reaches of empty space that can lead people off course. "Nah, I've got it," assures the lawyer in his easy, everyman way. And he does, in fact, find the couch deftly enough, feeling along the back and its armrest before easing himself into the cushion and planting the folded walking stick beside him.

"I'm glad we were able to find the time for this, though," he says as he listens to the sound of soft footfalls, of clinking mugs, of coffee poured into mugs. For all his quiet tone and courteous demeanor, he's still a man: brown oxford shoes plant and long legs spread to occupy more space than they strictly need, with hands planted on either thigh. "It's never pleasant," he's saying as he waits for her to circle around from the kitchen area to his orbit, "but some witnesses in your situation feel empowered by prep. One thing I always hear is that the worst part of having someone you care about indicted is the feeling of powerlessness. This — preparing for your time on the stand — is something you can do to help James."

Not wishing to accidentally offend the man potentially keeping her boyfriend out of the execution chair, Jane leaves Matt to navigate her small apartment. She sees to the coffee, movements rote and mechanical, speaking to the state of her mind by the fact she forgets to ask how he even takes his; etiquette does not occur to her.

She stares straight through both mugs, briefly a million miles away, as she prepares them with only milk, no sugar.

Muted steps, that of a small, light-footed woman, carry her back to the living room; she sets a mug audibly down on the table in front of him, and chooses an armchair that sits her at his right.

Jane settles but does not get comfortable. She is noisy with restlessness, her fingernails lightly scraping on the porcelain of her own mug. Never pleasant, indeed.

"Whatever time you need, Matthew," she says, wanting to force some sort of false informality to forego last names, though her full use of his first name fails that even in the end. "I will give it, OK? Anything to help. Anything I can do."

Jane stares down at the coffee she has not yet tasted. She listens to Murdock's words as they roll over her. Preparing, he says. "I can do that," she promises hollowly. "I assume part of this is you needing to know everything. At least everything I can tell you that happened to James, to me."

She makes his coffee as he likes it: milk to soften the acidic bite, but absent the cloying, processed sugar that seems to suffuse just about every edible in the modern world. Not that he would protest what she gives him, even if he'd been unlucky. Even new to this, he's familiar enough with people at their worst to register all the signs that these last few weeks have undone the woman sitting at a diagonal from him.

"Please call me Matt," he insists dryly, lips twitching at their corners as he brings the mug up to his lips for a sip. "The nuns at my school called me Matthew." School, orphanage, whatever.

But then she's pledging to do anything she can do to help the man he loves, and all the wry humor and affable courtesy that marked his fair features melts away. In it's place is a cool and collected brand intensity. "You telling me your story is the start of it," he murmurs, leaning forward in his seat, elbows planted on his tights, coffee cup cradled in his hands. "And then I tell you what testimony with me and with Archer will be like, along with the tips and tricks of it. And then — "

Then the real work begins, he thinks to himself, while saying:

"Then we'll practice a little."

"Matt," Jane repeats, while her eyes absorb the way separating milk runs cloudy cirrus lines over the surface of her coffee. The pad of her ring finger traces its rim edge, absent, back-and-forth. "I'm Jane."

He already knows. Still, she wants to say it. Pretend like it's a bland conversation between two friends not yet met.

She retreats back into her mind for a moment, pictures nuns, pictures — a child at a Catholic school, she supposes. The child that will grow up to defend James Barnes from lethal injection.

When he shifts forward, it finally lifts her faraway eyes, gaining enough cognizance back to explore the lines of the lawyer's face. She so badly wants to ask him his age. Would he be younger than her? "That makes sense," she replies, a strange docility to her voice. A willingness to trust, through Murdock, a coarse, procedural understanding of the legal system.

Every bit of Jane's voice is alien to that rushed, excited way she's spoken to him before — to the Devil of Hell's Kitchen — rationalizing the mathematics of his kinesthetics, digging into the engineering of his suit…

"I want to ask first. At least say…" Jane begins, audibly uneasy. "A lot of this… I haven't told anyone. SHIELD promised to give me time, and… I haven't talked…"

Her voice stutters out for a pause. "Only James. And not… you have to promise me. I —" There's a catch among Jane's words. Syllable hooks on something she'd rather not want. "Whatever helps, helps. But the rest… it stays with you. Only you."

Jane agrees to his rough agenda for their session, but quickly follows up with a halting request — plea? — for privacy. Matt's lips press together in sympathy. A lawyer is one of those select professions — priest, therapist — leadened by the secrets of others. They see people at their most vulnerable, and those in Matt's line of criminal defense will sometimes hear terrible things — things the world should likely know.

And like a priest, or a therapist, lawyers are expected to shoulder those secrets to their grave without complaint. Matt may owe his client's girlfriend no special duty or privilege, but professional training and personal inclination make him a practiced hand at keeping secrets. And so the twenty-something seated in Jane Foster's apartment building will dip his head in assent. "You've my word that what's said in this room stays with me unless you say otherwise," he says with quiet conviction, even if, he thinks to himself, part of his job will likely be to persuade her to share at least some of those secrets of her own volition.

But they'll get there.

"My understanding," he says in a gentle sort of prompt, "is that the story starts in this apartment. Yes?"

For a silent ten seconds, Jane Foster's brown eyes search Matt Murdock's face. All she does, all she knows, is to seek facts, look for evidence, and in his face she tries to find something to resolve or disprove the promise he gives her.

She just met him. She has spoken to him for all a handful of minutes. There are those she trusts and have never told this. People she knows have lain down their lives for her; people to whom she owes unspeakable debts. People Jane loves, and yet still cannot talk, would never tell —

— because it is not their place to know.

And here Jane sits, prepared to confess her past six months to a stranger. The only reason she consents is he who smokes one floor up.

The prompt, even gentle as it is, brings the woman to another stretch of silence. Jane's eidetic memory needs no time to go back, but still all the other parts pause to brace. "Yeah. It was the day after my birthday. I came home from working, and the Winter Soldier was here. In my kitchen. He held me at gunpoint. His arm — his left arm — was damaged, and he… knew I could fix it. He knew enough of me, who I was, what I did. He made me go into the bedroom. I had — I'm an engineer. Astrophysicist, but I've built all my own equipment. He knew that somehow. The Winter Soldier allowed me access into his arm, so I… it was weakness in the wrist joint. He had to overcompensate reaction time: it was frying wires relaying sensorimotor data. Fallible design, shortsighted — reductionist, really, to conceive anatomy as your original blueprint, something to be reverse-engineered."

She makes herself stop there.

"Sorry. I talked to him, the Winter Soldier. All through the night. I once watched a movie where someone talked with a captor to make the other guy empathize. I hoped it would work. He listened. He wore a mask. I thought I was going to die, but he let me live."

Most of being a lawyer, or a priest, or a therapist, is the ability to listen and make the other person feel they're being heard. Fortunatley for Matt Murdock, who relies on his ears more than almost anyone on Earth, has that gift in spades. He's a quiet, unobtrusive, and empathetic presence while Jane lays out that first fateful meeting with the Winter Soldier, but still somehow conveys the sense of active and engaged attention. The latter part isn't really a challenge, since he hangs on her every word.

"That must have been terrifying," is all her seemingly mild-mannered ally and interrogator offers at first, and only after taking a slow sip of coffee and setting it back down on the table. "I'd be interested in digging deeper on what you talked about with him that night," the lawyer adds musingly, "but we can come back to it. So you fixed his arm, and he let you live, you say, and then he — left? Disappeared the way came? What happened next?"

Terrifying, Jane thinks.

It was. She remembers how that gun barrel felt, pressed against the back of her head: cold, hard, constant. She remembers telling herself, over and over, that if she went into her bedroom with him, she would not be coming back out. She wasn't ready to die.

Those thoughts reflect against the lenses of her eyes; Jane's heartbeat is slow, methodic. No spike of fear changing her body chemistry; she's not reliving those emotions. She's counting them, like a pulled old hand of cards, remembering every face and every suit.

She still does not drink her own coffee. It's forgotten inside her hands, warming them, also a sensation her mind is too far gone to feel. "Just left," Jane answers, voice soft with recollection. "A couple days passed. I didn't tell anyone. I should have. There was a reason I didn't: my contract with SHIELD. They took my work once before. Back in New Mexico. I figured they would again. They'd cage me for my own protection. They'd do something constraining and counterintuitive and… and unacceptable."

The tips of her fingers dig into the sides of her mug. "I never said anything because I was sure I'd never see him again. But he came back to my lab. There's no security. One of my rules with SHIELD. He also knew enough about that, and was trying to use my terminal as an access route into their intranet. I made a deal with him to bar him out. You must think so many things about me," Jane blurts out, nervous and weary both. She's never told anyone this. Never wants to tell anyone this. Even it sounds weak to say aloud. Even she cannot speak the words to conceptualize how complicated it /was/ — it is. "I told him I'd upgrade his arm, because I could. I can. The Winter Soldier accepted."

Another part of Matt's training — the training that came at Columbia, not in the abandoned and decrepit remains of Fogwell's Gym — is to hold differing and at times contradictory versions of the truth in his mind at the same time. It's not an easy skill to learn, but it is a vital one for anyone who needs to spin a story — or two — in their client's defense. And so when Matt listens to Jane talk through the circuitous rout that led to her tentative detent with the Winter Soldier, he's able to see both this strange friend he made wearing his other face and the weak-willed, traitorous monster U.S.A. Archer could depict to the jury.

"I think you were in a really tough spot, Jane," Matt says softly, patiently, and not unkindly, as he sits back in his cushioned seat and allows his hands to rest on his thighs once again. "But what I think doesn't really matter, not in the end." A verticle crease forms in the fair skin just above the metal wire that bridges the lenses of his shades. "So you didn't just fix his arm. You improved the design. Made it more effective. And I — I assume he found that valuable. What happened then?" In these situations he'll sometimes feel like he did as a kid cuddled at his dad's side at bedtime, urging the broken-nosed boxer on to the next page of the story.

It is not such an outlandish comparison, he thinks. Many bedtime tales — the originals, not the Disneyfied versions — are dark indeed.

"A lot more effective," Jane concedes, her voice thinning out — stretched on the rack of what's to come. "It's the reason, in the end, why Hydra wanted me."

She looks down on her own coffee, no longer steaming, slowly cooling inside her hands. Finally, the woman reaches to set it down on the table, no taste for it, no stomach either, freeing up her hands to immediately loose them into fidgetting. She thinks on Matt's words: he thinks she was in a tough spot. He sounds free of judgment, and she hopes. She hates the way it sounds. Hates the way it even sounds to her own ears. Rings of some Stockholm Syndrome story, and to witness her with James Barnes —

— they'll think her a victim, and him a monster. And it's not like that. It was never like that. He's the victim. And she is…

"After that, he… uh, saved my life. He's saved my life a lot. More times than I can count." And one of those times even Murdock was partially a witness to, wearing another face, pretending another life —

"The first time was in my own lab. Two men, he — the Winter Soldier told me they were hired out. For my work with SHIELD. He killed one right in front of me. The other — I didn't see that one." That kill. Jane bites pensively down on her bottom lip, eyes full of memory. "I didn't tell SHIELD of this either. I didn't want to be restricted. He didn't want me restricted. I know I should have. I had months where I thought back on that, and wondered why I didn't. If I felt unsafe, I would have. But I didn't feel unsafe around him. He scared me, but I didn't feel unsafe. He talked to me. He would say things like growing up in Brooklyn, and then he wouldn't remember. He took off his mask and I saw his face, and he was just a man."

Something itches at the corners of her mind; her hands rub restlessly on the tops of her legs, before Jane can bide no longer and must speak. "I want you to know right now: he's never hurt me. James has never hurt me. The Winter Soldier never hurt me either. Not once ever."

A lot more effective, she tells a man who, though she cannot know it, has felt the blunt force impact of her improvements up close and personal. Jesus. Archer will have a field day with that alone. He'll wave pictures of that John Doe with a hole punched through his chest in front of her and ask her if this was Bucky's doing, hers, or both. That's what I'd do if I were him. Jesus.

Professional concern and personal sympathy rise in equal portions in his breast as she pins not one two new bodies on the Winter Soldier that Archer couldn't even manage in his indictments, but for now, the picture of tranquility holds. His frame is largely still save when he reaches unthinkingly forward for his cooling mug of coffee and finds it with searching, only briefly fumbling fingertips. "But the Winter Soldier," he begins quietly, stipulating to her sharp line of demarcation between the assassin who forced herself into her life and the man she now cohabitates with, "did take you, forcibly, to people who hurt you. Yes?" His lips press together, the subtlest expression of sympathy imaginable, but it carries. And then, softly: "Can you tell me about the time leading up to that, Jane?"

And Murdock asks the million-dollar question. It snuffs Jane into a brief hold of perfect, helpless silence.

She wants to bend up her knees and hug her legs to her chest. She wants to pace. She wants to go out onto the fire escape and beg James down from the roof so he can hold her hand. She wants to go be alone in her room. She wants this to stop. It's already so much, and she thinks, she remembers —

— those hands on her throat, metel and flesh, as he bent down to kiss her. His tasted of the cold.

"Hydra took me," Jane corrects, her voice light, thin, tight. "This is what everyone needs to understand. It wasn't him. It was them. They just got to him first. They empty you out, and fill you up with them, and it's…"

Her voice catches. Her hands needle her fingernails onto her opposite wrists. Jane lets go, breathing in slowly, hearing some fractal shape of Matt's last question. She nods her head, forgotting already that he cannot see it. "He stopped by here. A lot. Always in secret — I worked on his arm. We would talk. I wanted to know who he was, so I talked to him."

She looks away, out the window. "He liked the stars a lot. I used them to reach out. I encouraged him to my telescope to see. Something happened, and he… he broke. He started asking for Steve. He shut down. Then he took off. I did some digging and — I found his face in the Smithsonian's website. I actually — before Christmas, just before… I found Steve Rogers. I got him in private and told him about James. He wasn't — as shocked, and was following his own lead. We were both worried about losing a way to get to James. We weren't even sure what — I didn't want to force them to meet in case we'd never see James again. He didn't either. I wanted to wait until James trusted me more to set up something. He had torture on his body. It was electrocution burns. I've had it happen to me enough in my field to know, but the extent — they were /hurting/ him. I was trying to figure out some way to get him away from those people, and that's when the Gala happened."

They empty you out, and fill you up with them, and it's…

He hears the catch of her voice, the dig of her fingernails into her wrists. She didn't just fix his arm, Matt thinks. She improved it. And it's why they wanted her.

They took his mind, his will — they almost did it to me too, she'd shouted at him in the confines of the Raft. And now he understands what she meant, and he feels something cold in his chest, hears his own blood rushing to his ears with his preternatural senses.

"Let's… back up just a second," Matt suggests gently as she prepares to go barreling into the madness and mayhem of the Gotham gala. "You said Bucky broke. And then he started asking for Steve. And then he shut down, and took off. Can you — can you elaborate? What did that look like?"

The truth? For all the remarkable light she is shedding on facts, he has some rough sense of the arc of Bucky Barnes and James Foster. It's the interior struggle between the Winter Soldier and Bucky that he is needling at and needs to understand, as much as one can understand an un-psychotic break after years of trauma and abuse.

Memory, thought, word — all threatens to spill from Jane Foster in a worsening deluge.

She's never told a soul any of this, none save for James Barnes whom suffered the story equally at her side. Never discussed much of these parts out loud with anyone, not even him, much left implicitly quiet between them. And while Jane does not want to share this, would have gone and lived out her full life never breathing a word —

— levees crack, and a tide comes she realizes was not even there. She does not want to speak any of this aloud, but it feels so liberating to get it out.

Enough that she freezes up, painfully self-conscious, when Matt carefully, delicately arrests her from that blinding momentum. Jane goes silent, her eyes focused and riveted back on the lawyer, trying to take as much as she can from his features in a desperate bid to wonder what he's thinking — thinking of her. It's a selfish, terrible thought, and she hates thinking it; the relief he cannot see, cannot see her, how weak she must look before him.

"He broke," she repeats, her words slow, careful as she makes a deliberate mental rewind. Jane swallows, forcing her restless hands back into her lap, fingers twined together. "I took him up and showed him —" her star. Vega. She stops before sharing that. It's unnecessary, and no one needs to know. That's just for her. Just for James. "The winter stars. I wanted him to look back. I told him stars are looking on old light. And he…" Her brows furrows with recollection.

"He wasn't the Winter Soldier. He was confused, and — scared. He kept asking for Steve. He was asking if he was OK. Then he… wasn't. It was a few seconds. Then he didn't talk at all. He didn't respond to me. I wasn't there to him, and I didn't know what happened to him. He just went back to my couch. He slept, and shook, and I watched over him. I didn't sleep. He woke a few hours later, and he was calm. He asked him about — he didn't seem to remember. He left. I tried to stop him. I couldn't."

With his glasses on, with his guard up, Jane will find Matt Murdock's features more than a still and receptive pool of water. Were she to see behind either glasses or guard? Weariness, with a gracenote of shame. After all, Matt is prying into their private life in a way few would ever dream or dare, and his only defense is that he's trying to save it. She outlines the moment in which the Winter Soldier — temporarily — began to come undone, via weeks of regular human contact and a bit of stargazing. He was confused and scared and asking for his oldest friend, she says, unresponsive and eventually passed out. And then he woke, and then he left.

Simple, right?

Matt draws in a deep breath and sets the now-cold mug back down on the table with with finality. "Thanks," the lawyer says quietly, unwilling to press too much farther on what he senses was a pivotal moment — at least for now. Instead, he gives her permission to forage onward once again. "So he began to come to himself, you discovered who he was — and found Rogers. Meanwhile, he was still returning to them, and they were hurting him, and you were working out a plan forward."

Suddenly his brow furrows. "You, ah, should get to the gala — but first I've got to ask. Does he still have the wounds? From the electrocution? I understand he heals more quickly than most."

One more personal question, this time about Bucky's body and her familiarity with it. But the contours of their history and the life they're living now are his defense, and to fail to press every angle and opportunity is to fail them both.

It's an apt synopsis by Murdock; Jane cannot dispute it.

Even as it confuses her endlessly to hear her own private confessions, that what she's never told a soul, tightened into crib notes. "Pretty much," she answers feebly, trying to blink through a brief pang of lightheadedness. She rubs a hand through her dark hair, but does not lean back into her armchair. She remains sitting up, a tight little hundred-pound knot.

The question about his wounds gives her pause. "You mean right now? No. He heals clean. Any scars you find on him are — from a long time ago."

Finally, Jane leans over and take a first mouthful of her now-cold coffee. The need is more to wet her parched throat than anything else. "The gala was in Gotham over New Year's. I received an invitation through my work. The Winter Soldier visited me. We were in… sporadic contact at that point. I never saw him consistently. I know for certain he was nearby at times. He had a way of being around —"

Her eyes drop. "When I needed him. I left my curtains open for him. I left a light on. He wasn't a danger to me then. I think I felt like I was more a danger to him. I was so afraid of doing — saying something to scare him. He'd disappear then and I'd never find him. He came in one night before the gala and — something had happened to him. A girl… she's now a friend of ours. She managed to locate and give him photos taken of him back when he was James Barnes. He came to me to help him understand it. He couldn't make the connection. I sat with him and talked. I showed him the information I got — I let him read my laptop. He read all about himself. I won't ever forget how he looked, seeing his own face, and he —"

Jane's mouth tightens to a thin line. Now her heart quickens. "It broke my heart. He couldn't remember. I wanted to try more — he — that invitation to the gala, it snapped him back. It was so far-fetched — some mission, killing some Nazi who deserves it, I don't know. I said yes. I just didn't want him to disappear again. I guess I believed him too. I wanted to — I needed to see what they were making him do. I needed to see something."

A flicker of disappointment registers on Matt's ordinarily guarded features when Jane says that there's no sign of those electrical wounds on Barnes. There are enough signs of the physical torture Bucky endured — the lack of an arm, for instance — but fresh scars would provide physical evidence that corroborates Jane's testimony about the abuses inflicted on this strange man she saw sporadically but 'left the light on for' like one might… well. A lover.

Jane may be his most valuable witness. She's also, he's realizing with each answer she gives, his most compromised and vulnerable. And further realizes with a gnawing in the pit of his stomach that both their lives, whether they realize it or not, hang in the balance.

She can't give him the evidence she wants, but her answer does give him leads to pursue, precious questions that may yield exculpatory answers. His lips press together in sympathy when Jane recounts, with a quickening heartbeat, both Barnes' wrestling with his own life and her reaction with it. "How do you mean, snapped him back? Snapped him back into what, and why? And… what's this girl's name? I should talk to her too."

Snapped him back. Jane pauses audibly, a glance turned on Matt, not expecting to be questioned on that specific part of her rehash. She takes significant time to derail and re-track her thoughts, running treacherous course through all her restlessness and unease. "Back into the Winter Soldier," she explains. "Probably poor wording on my part."

She rubs noisily at the back of her neck. "It's hard to explain. I saw… glimpses of James. Even on the first night I was held at gunpoint. As time went, those glimpses were more frequent. Or — longer. It was like lucidity, but it wasn't like… like waking up a man and watching him fall back to sleep. It's far more complicated. They emptied him out and gave him a new normal. And when things feel abnormal, we find normality and run back to it. Most people go home. He went to… whatever they gave him. The mission, I guess."

Jane goes quiet, something hanging in her words like that thought is not finished, at least not for her — though it unnerves her more to speak of it. Murdock's questions provide more than sufficient trajectory to go on. Her eyes soften. "Zatanna Zatara. She's a college student in Gotham. A stage magician on the side. I'll have her get in touch with you."

Hard to explain, she says. How a man can criss-cross between identities, or enter this strange liminal realm where both inhabit his body at once? The lawyer nods a little in understanding. "I get that. But for all that they emptied him out each time he went back, did there seem to be a cumulative impact to your time with him? And the time others spent with him? Or was it more of a two steps forward, one step back matter?"

And then she's naming one of those 'others' who spent time with James.

"Ah, yes, I know Ms. Zatara," Matt says, the brief and wry twitch of his lips somehow managing to convey worlds of affection and regard that are instantly at odds with oh-so-professional way he refers to the performer. "She —"

Saved my life twice-over and is one of the literal handful of people who know who and what I am, and one of the few of those whom I trust.

"— gave me her card. She's also one of the people Archer alleges that Barnes kidnapped. Don't worry; I'm due to follow up with her soon."

A brow quirks. "Speaking of Ms. Zatara, can you tell me a little more about the gala, and your read on Bucky throughout?"

Cumulative impact, he asks.

That question gives Jane true, honest pause. Hers is an honest heart, and her answers always come immediately. For this one, she searches. What is her impact on James Barnes's life? Vast, he has told her, in terms of trying to hold himself together. He has told her he would be dead without her help, her constant grounding.

"For a while, it seemed the latter. The back-and-forth thing. I like to think I helped. Helped show him that all he knew was — wrong. They… called him a dog. The Winter Soldier referred to himself as an object, a thing. I like to think that others, and myself maybe, helped him consider that he's a man. The rest, though, I couldn't do. There were two linchpins I find in this. The first was a… decision he made for himself. To try to hide from Hydra, and spend the time learning about himself, even if he couldn't remember. The second was Steve Rogers. He may never have found himself again without Steve helping him."

But then Matt Murdock goes on to reveal he's met Zatanna Zatara. Jane looks at him; though he cannot see her eyes, her silence conveys transparent surprise. It lasts a moment, before she relents; of course, she thinks. Zee is that type. The type that makes New York City feel like a small town.

The alleged kidnap mention, however, draws Jane back into that withdrawn silence. "The Winter Soldier did, yes. I wasn't there. I heard about it long after."

And then the gala. "It was… crazy. I didn't — have much — things went to hell pretty fast. This is going to sound insane. There was a book there, and Zatanna can talk shop better about it. James once said touching it did something to his mind and memory that day. Sliced the fog? And that Nazi sorcerer — Muller, or Steinschneider, or whatever the hell his name his, he has a lot — opened an Einstein-Rosen Bridge and pushed me in. I was going to die on another world. An ice world. And there was a giant. James came and saved me. That was James."

They called him a dog. Bucky — as the Winter Soldier — referred to himself as an animate object. But, she tells him, Bucky made a decision to try to find himself. And had an assist from his oldest friend, the legendary Captain America. At that news Matt let's out a puff of breath through his nose that's all consternation. Murdock, desperate to find evidence of Bucky's evolving mental state he could present to a jury, spent nigh on hours trying to pry answers from a circumspect Steve Rogers — an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. The success he did have — convincing Steve to throw his weight behind Bucky publicly — pales in comparison to the prize of actually swinging a jury.

Baby steps, the lawyer tells himself.

And then he's hearing about the gala — the gala he was at. The gala he saw Bucky and Jane at. It was a shock at the time, seeing the pair he'd encountered in a frantic Hell's Kitchen brawl in those swanky environs, and he was on his way to approach them before all hell literally broke loose. It's a good thing you didn't, he thinks. Otherwise you might end up as a witness for the prosecution.

"Zatanna will be able to explain what happened," Matt says slowly about Jane's adventures in another world, and how James rescued her. "Though you might have to describe what happened over there, and how James saved you. That she can't speak to with first-hand knowledge."

It's madness, really. Hoping any of these outlandish stories will land with a jury. He saved her in an alternate dimension. They all saved the world from becoming a 1984ish nightmare. It may well be true, but who would believe it? Where's the proof?

Matt lets out a short, quiet breath to punctuate the thought. There's nothing to do, really, but press onward, and see what bits of the truth can be used or made relatable:

"And after he saved you? What then?"

That too-sharp exhale from Matt: it draws Jane's eyes but she asks nothing of it. The infinitely-curious Jane Foster, she of the infinite questions — does not pursue right now. A little too broken for that.

"I can do that," she says instead to the lawyer's insinuation that she'd need to relay that story aloud — to the public. Her slow, modulated voice speaks to how she remains calm, her thoughts and voice relatively clear, and her spirit centered — for now. Just remain in the safety of relaying fact after fact after fact. "Whatever helps."

Her telling silence what follows is Jane's own unspoken agreement: not sure if the mad stories she has to tell will particularly help anything. It's hard to believe. She believes, but she's been there, and she's always been different. Believing things killed her professional career.

But Matt prompts her to continue. Jane, afraid that pausing too long will entirely lose her momentum, keeps talking. "SHIELD saw me with him. Before, he'd been careful, and I'd been secretive. I don't have the greatest relationship with them. I sure wouldn't have trusted them with him — I still won't. I was under surveillance, and James came back for me. He was hiding from Hydra, and didn't like SHIELD sniffing too close to me. They didn't take me in for questioning; I'm sure they wanted to use me to lead to him. I left them a message I was taking personal time out of town, same to Erik Selvig. He's, uh, a family friend — he's working in Oslo right now. Anyway, James snuck me out and we hid in an apartment building about to be torn down. We spent days there. I tried to help him sort his memory. We went through everything. His life together, everything I could dig up on the internet. Nothing was clicking for him."

She is quiet a beat. "But that was him. James. Even being unable to remember a life you see right in front of you: it would have driven me crazy. He was so patient about it. I never felt unsafe with him. Never do." Jane looks down at her hands in her lap. "It went on long enough that we worried I'd be a missing person, or — something. I didn't want to encourage SHIELD to bring in the police, so he took me back. I convinced him to finally go see Steve. And — he didn't want to. He was petrified of him, and not… for the reason you'd think. There was something there he was afraid to confront, and I was pleading him all that time we had together to see Steve. He went, and then — that's when everything happened."

She agrees to share her story, if needed, and Matt gives a firm and appreciative nod. He's ever cognizant of just what defense witnesses put themselves through — risking public scrutiny and laying bare private memories to save those they care about. It's an act of courage, and Matt won't let it go unnoted.

Jane elaborates on the period following the disastrous auction in Gotham, and Matt listens carefully for any new facts he can use to complete his picture of Bucky Barnes' fateful and dramatic arc through late 2016 and into the present. There are fascinating tidbits to be found — James' gradual transition from an object to someone actively, if patiently, sifting through a life he no longer remembers in search of personhood and autonomy. That part, if it can be teased out in testimony and turned into a narrative the jury can make sense of, could be valuable. Even the mental image of it prompts a quirk of Matt's lips, appreciative and just shy of fond.

Of course, the most relevant new information is the most potentially damaging and disquieting: SHIELD's monitoring, and Jane and Bucky's evasion of them. And it's all hinging on a meeting with Steve Rogers. Matt leans forward in his seat once again, adopting that hungry pose with his elbows planted on his thighs and his hands clasped tightly together. "So," Matt murmurs, "he went to go see Mr. Rogers. And — then?"

"I didn't hear from him," Jane answers almost immediately, her voice clear, her words as true as she can remember them. "We were in contact. On my phone. On one he used. I waited a day. I didn't want to press. I assumed he was spending all that time with Steve. I assumed he had his memory back. I assumed they were taking back all they lost over seventy years. They're brothers. They're family."

She tries to venture a look on Matt, but finds she cannot, cannot risk a single look at his hands, his body, his face — without losing everything. Every bit of composure that keeps her talking, keeps her calm, keeps her here. "But he wasn't. They got to him. They found him, and took him, and put him in their machine. They didn't make him forget this time. But they still took his mind apart."

Jane stares down into her lap. Just there. Look nowhere else. See the detail of her jeans. Count the threads of the fabric. She rubs absently the skin behind her left ear. "I thought James came back. He told me to come with him. I went with him. We stopped at my lab first. I wanted my research. I would take it with me. Then I ended up with them." Each sentence is machine-gunned. Fact after fact after fact.

Now, as their conversation's winding circles approach the center of the story's maelstrom, Jane can't even bear to look at Matt. She boils her words down to bare bones, stripping them of emotional content in some desperate bid to maintain self-control. But all of her nerves and the powerful currents of emotion are naked to him through half-a-dozen nonvisual cues she can't possibly be aware of. He sees everything.

Another surge of sympathy rises in him, but he can't allow himself to indulge in it. At the end of the day, he's not her priest, or her therapist. In this moment he can't even allow himself to be her friend, as he has been in his other life. To do right by Bucky and Jane, Matt must play the part of the gentle but relentless inquisitor, poking and prodding a pair of people who have each suffered too much of exactly that.

Even as her scattershot commentary grows terse, she still gives him little nuggets. Bucky came back for her, himself but not himself — a shift seemingly at odds with his prior conversation with Bucky in the office. He makes a mental note of her observation, tucks it away for a later conversation. For now, for the sake of Jane's endurance as much as anything else, it's important not to lose momentum. To wit:

"Jane, I'm sorry," Matt murmurs, because even if he must play the part of interrogator, he can at least be a human being while he does it. "I — can only imagine how difficult it must be to recount all this, even if it's just to me. But I do need you to keep going, and walk me through what Hydra wanted with you. What they — " half-a-heartbeat " — what they did to you. I wouldn't ask if I didn't think it could help James."

And that's the rub — he's not her therapist. He's not her friend. He's a stranger, a virtual unknown, bearing her single stake of trust in that his professional interests disagree with James Buchanan Barnes suffering lethal injection.

And that's it.

Jessica trusts him, and Jane trusts Jessica, but that does not merit this barely-known Matthew Murdock unseen privilege into her life. She's not told anyone about this. Her last good grace with Melinda May has kept even SHIELD patient with their interview. She has only ever told James Barnes, and only sparingly — certain details framed in certain ways to try to support him through his rages and his guilts.

Jane Foster keeps this one to herself. She does not feel ready to talk about it. She doubts she'll ever feel ready.

She closes her eyes against Murdock's gentle pressings and his far softer sympathy. Again, she feels herself grateful he cannot see her. Dirty, rotten, monstrous thoughts, Jane knows, to wish a man his blindness if only for her own privacy.

"I know," she answers, light and airy, her voice a pulling wishbone. "I know. I want to help. I can do this."

She breathes out, deeply, through her nose. And she resumes. "A man there told me he job was to find people like me. Experts, I guess. I made the list. They pick them for compliance training."

Jane is silent a moment, her eyes staring sightlessly, fingertips still tracing the flesh behind her left ear. "They run a full physical. Then an interview. You have to tell them everything in your life, except they already know. They don't give you water, and you don't sleep. You have to do it over and over. And then you have to do it over and over when they —" Her words stop. "The drugs make it — I'm remembering more. I didn't much at first. It's coming back to me. In dreams."

Her voice is slow, measured, bird-bone hollow, but her heart races. "You have to tell them everyone again and again. I don't think they cared about that. It was about how long you last. Then you go into the machine."

Matt Murdock has been guilty of using his blindness to disarm and put others at ease for fifteen years now, parked neatly in a handicap spot that some would doubtless say he has no right to hold for himself. Even if he were truly psychic rather than merely preternaturally attuned and could read her so-called monstrous thoughts, Matt wouldn't begrudge her. If it makes her feel better that he can't see her at her most vulnerable, so much the better.

Especially since she couldn't be more wrong.

The fact is that he's watching her with every strange power of perception at his command, gauging the intonation of every syllable that passes her lips and the quality of every breath.

The content is horrifying — galling. 'Compliance training,' Hydra calls their methods. Leave it to a terrorist organization to make dehumanizing torture sound like an H.R. seminar. The banality of evil indeed, he thinks.

"So they make you repeat details and people in your life again and again, they give you drugs to encourage truth-telling, and then they put you in," Matt says, once again repeating her narrative back to her. It's an old trick, but an effective one — making sure he's gotten the broad strokes right while solidifying the narrative for the witness. And communicating, of course, that she's being heard — that she's not delving into all this awfulness for no good reason.

But of course he can't stop there. "What happens then, Jane?" he whispers.

To his amplified senses, the rake and rake of her fingernails against skin is a pneumatic hammer. Jane may just rub a raw spot on her own flesh to get at that worsening phantom itch.

What happens then? he asks. She goes very still. Her heart hammers thunderously. The air sweetens with corticoid hormones sweat off the skin: stress, fear, panic.

He smells salt the instant before Jane answers.

"Everything," she blurts out, and her voice cracks. She cracks. Tears streak down her face before Jane can even expect them, before she can even stop them. "They get into your head and won't ever come out again."

Fabric rustles as she shifts, and her next words come more muffled. Her hand clasped over her mouth. "I'm sorry," Jane whispers next, though offers no explanation why: probably apologizing for crying. Maybe for something else. Maybe meant for him. Maybe meant for herself. Maybe meant for James Barnes, smoking up on the roof.

It feels better not to see, and afraid of any accidental glances on Murdock, Jane squeezes shut her eyes. She tries to think to keep going, keep remembering. "It's a machine like a chair, and they strap you in. They stop — your head, it can't move. There's a — I saw — my brain. Like a structural MRI. They put this thing over your head. Around — around your head. I couldn't see. I could only look up."

Her jaw clenches. Keep going. "You can't move, and, they show you — " Jane pauses, remembering. "They put something into your mouth. You can't talk." And that is what jolts the first sob to catch between her words. That part. "They don't — need — talk. And then show you — things. Pictures. Colours. They say other things. Not that picture, something else. But if you think they're wrong, if you just think it, then… it hurts. It hurts."

They get into your head and they won't ever come out again. She's worried that she might catch a glimpse of man to whom she is divulging her darkest secrets, but there's no need. When Matt hears her say the words, tastes her tears in the air, he bows his head. The hard line of his jaw resets, juts forward as he wrestles with writhing waves of anger that tighten around his chest and knot his shoulders. As she goes on, outlining the chair and what happens in it, he takes off his red-lensed sunglasses with one hand while pinching the bridge of his beaked nose with another.

True fact: If nearly everyone involved in the torture of Jane Foster weren't already dead, Matt Murdock might very well walk out of the house without a word, don a devil suit, take up a baton, and finish the job. The impulse is there, but then he hears that hard-edged, grizzled voice that's been his silent internal coach for the last ten years: She's got no use for your anger. Or even your sympathy. Only helping James will help Jane. So focus, and do your fucking job.

When Matt looks up, his ordinarily obscured eyes are wide open. They are rich, brown, and expressive, unfocused but still communicating a sharp intelligence. "You don't have a single thing to apologize for, Jane," Matt murmurs at last, with quiet certitude. The conviction holds whether she's apologizing to Matt, to Bucky, or really to anyone else. "I'm so sorry this happened to you. It shouldn't — to you, or James, or anyone else.

There's a beat, and in that quiet beat he hates himself, because he has to keep asking these goddamn questions. "It's… important that I have the details right, though," he says, the note of apology plain in his voice. "They would show you pictures or colors — and tell you they were something they obviously weren't. And they would inflict pain on you if you recognized the image for what it actually was?"

He doesn't even need to say it: it sounds like madness.

It hurts even now. It hurts, even pale as a memory, that buries her head into her hands, fingers curled up through her hairline, and presses her shut eyes tightly against the heels of her palms.

All she thinks is she wants James here. She wants him, because it's her habit, and back in there he made her feel safe, and she needs him to feel safe again. But if she begs for him, the conversation is finished, and she isn't sure she'll be able to do this again — no, she can, and she'll have to, and she needs to do it now. She needs to do it for him.

Her head pounds with the panic she holds back; Jane tries to focus on something, anything to see her through the ache — and Matt Murdock's voice serves that well.

He tells her he's sorry, and something more than the words — something about the way he says them — slowly pulls her face out of her hands. She looks up, her raw, hollowed eyes met with his. Having never seen them before, his brown eyes, she loses herself to them. For this moment, they feel like a safe place in the storm.

Or anyone else, he says. She agrees. She's been trying to do all she can to ensure that with James. That, however, she does not yet say. "Thank you," Jane says instead, her voice brittle.

But there come more questions. She breathes in to prepare. "Yes," she answers. "Some — I remember. They inject things into you. It makes you feel — I don't know. Red and blue, I remember. They showed me red and it's supposed to be blue. If you think anything else, you hurt. You always hurt. It goes on. It feels like weeks. You don't go anywhere else, you don't do anything else. You are just — red and blue. If any part of you thinks: the pain goes in you. Goes in and doesn't come out. And then —"

She goes very quiet. "I still have to ask James, sometimes, the colours of things. They started to put things into me, and — just before you go to sleep, or when you're not thinking of anything, that's when you hear them best. I get confused. I've never told anyone this but James. I've, I don't know, I've come to and my coat is on and I was getting ready to go somewhere. I don't know. Or I'm packing a bag. It doesn't happen often. Sometimes when I'm worried. It happened the other day after months."

Jane looks back up, even if he cannot see. Her eyes still plead. "I was in that for weeks. James was in that for decades. I can't — I was there for weeks and they broke me. But I'm not a victim. He is."

They broke her. She still feels the pain, still hears voices, still finds herself acting on auto-pilot walking down the hall, putting on a coat to go who-knows where. For that last part especially, it takes all of Matt's not inconsiderable powers of self-control to maintain his poker face and continue to project the calm, receptive empathy he knows she needs right now. If she doesn't need his pity or his anger, she needs knowledge of his growing concern about putting her on the stand even less.

"Why does it need to be one or the other?" Matt asks softly when she insists that it is he, and not she, that is the true victim in this ugly story. "It's not a competition, and you don't need to bow out of it gracefully, Jane. If I tell this story to the jury, Jane, you're both going to be represented as victims of the same evil force. And you're both, in your own ways, being punished by our government for it."

He reaches into the inner breast-pocket of his suit jacket with his free hand and draws out what looks to be a photograph, though it's currently obscured with the back facing her. "Just a few more questions, Jane, I promise, and then we'll start talking about — next steps." He gathers a breath and lets out a low but audible exhale. "Jane, one of the people James is accused of killing was a man in Ozone Park. We think it was a Hydra officer. In my hand I have a photo of him taken posthumously in the morgue. Do you think you can look at his face, and tell me if you remember him from your captivity?"

Even if there's no lingering 'compliance' measures rattling around in her subconscious, she's at the very least suffering from a severe case of PTSD. Bringing those memories back to life — showing her pictures of the people who tortured her, even if they're dead — it makes his stomach churn. "If you — if you don't want to look right now, we can save it for another time," he adds.

The lawyer poses a good question.

Jane drops her eyes; her wordless answer is she honestly isn't sure. Emotions are messy, irrational things, and hers chide her daily to feel fear or pain or stress when she lives with someone who has suffered so far worse. When all that's upset her life is a sliver in comparison with his. It feels wrong, like a betrayal on him, or an indignity to his past, to waste time bothered with herself. She feels constantly like James Barnes deserves better. "You're right," she concedes, ration trying to force its way through all the knots in her head. Even if it doesn't feel right, it sounds right.

She takes in the rest of Matt's words without argument, listening, her fingers fidgetting on one another. She pulls absently on her own fingertips, the restless motions only ever pausing to wipe at her own tears. Her sleeve cuffs darken damp.

Talk of the photograph lifts her eyes, Jane visibly thrown, off-balance and not expecting this particular bit of evidence. To see her, if he could, is a woman in this moment stripped of every last guard, raw and immeasurably vulnerable. Snapped open and ready to be husked of her marrow. Her eyes immediately dart to the photo in hand, the back of it revealing nothing to her. "I think I can," she answers him in a voice of glass.

Murdock gives her a way out, and Jane deeply considers it. She doesn't want to look. But what scares her worse is that unknown, the question of who it could be, and the reality that she will have to eventually see. It thought exhausts her to have to carry that question, and gird herself into this state of mind again. Jane just wants it over with.

"Let me do it now," she decides. Her hand reaches unthinkingly, forgotten in this moment as many he cannot see, though the gesture he can read in its hundred amplified scripts of rusted fabric and stretching human tendon. "I can do it."

All Matt needs to do is hand Jane the photo. In one look, the lawyer has his answer.

Jane is silent a full, slow ten seconds. Her eyes stare down on the face of a man's corpse. She takes in every detail. She opens her mouth to answer him, or tries, but she has only breath enough for the first sob that wells up. She covers her eyes in one hand and breaks down.

The corner of Matt's sightless eyes tighten when she assents, and if she had his acute sense of hearing she could no doubt hear the hitch in his breath as he feels the extended photo tugged out of his fingertips. Those ten seconds might be relatively silent to another, but Matt registers the flurry of sensory data — some of it chemical, ephemeral, almost impossible to describe to another — that ultimately crescendos in that first sob. Something cracks in his chest, and his face — ordinarily so composed — is a brief picture of sympathetic agony.

You asshole, he berates himself, while the rational part of him counters back: It was now, or on the stand. Better now.

She's hunched over, hand over her eyes in a free-fall, and the interview is officially over in his mind. Or at least tabled. There's nothing to do but try to be a decent human being to a woman who has been brutalized — traumatized. He pushes himself up from the couch and, with the very bare minimum of fumbling required to pass as a blind man, closes the distance between them so that he can kneel down beside her armchair and attempt to place a comforting hand on one shoulder.

The photo falls from her fingers, let go as if it were scalding — something Jane Foster can bear to touch for moments.

And also because she needs both hands to find and hide her face, buried messily in the tangle of all her fingers and curling knuckle joints, as the woman draws in on herself, tries to make herself little, and weeps. A raw, broken sound comes out of her, half-muffled by her hands, helpless and in pain, unable for a moment longer to pretend control — to hold it in.

Jane tries to murmur words between her sobs, and they sound awfully like attempts to apologize, because she wants to — because she's never cried for anyone like this, save for James, in a long, long time. She has not broken down for a stranger since Hydra forced her to, again and again, between their pharmaceutical cocktails and their pain and their patient, repeated questions. Even though he cannot see, she still tries to hide her face from him, still tries, in some distant want, to hang on to the scrap of dignity she has left.

She does not hear Matt approach; does not notice she has until that light touch of his hand. A painfully small woman, its bone fits neatly in his palm.

Jane does not jump, but she does tense briefly, too far lost in her own memory and own mind, before she relents back to the present — tells herself she is safe, in her apartment, with James up on the roof, with the man sworn to fighting for his freedom — trying to give her sympathy. And comfort.

"I'm sorry," Jane finally manages, the words a rasp, as her hands lower from her face. She's wasting his time, she thinks. The interview may be over for him, yet she still tries to soldier on. "He was — yes. He was — there. He hurt me."

That first startle was to be expected; she's six months and a hundred miles away and he's a relative stranger to her, no matter what strange friendship they've kindled when he wore his other face. He expects it and rides it out in the hope that the light touch of his palm is in the medium-term a balm rather than a cause for alarm.

"Please don't apologize, Jane," he says quietly, his face a pained grimace as he hovers near her, his arm forming a bridge between them. "I'm the one who should be apologizing for — for forcing you to revisit memories I'm sure you'd rather forget. I promise we're almost done with it." For now, he thinks but does not say. Because there will be more — so much more. Practice and prep questions and a gruesome, brutal mock cross-examination that he's already dreading. But he's keenly aware that they are reaching the limits of what she can take right now. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

"Did you see," Matt asks softly, "did you see James kill him? Others saw the aftermath — but you were in the room when it happened. You were the only one aside from James who could see what led up to it. And knowing those details, those facts — that's important, Jane."

It is a balm. It's far more a help than Jane first realizes; it's the only grounding that keeps her from calling out desperately for James. For begging poor Matt, over and over, to please find Bucky Barnes up on the roof and urge him back until she can center herself again.

Human connection is a powerful thing, even among veritable strangers — however one now who knows something about Jane Foster she's only ever told one other.

Kindly, gently, he doesn't want her apologies; instead, Murdock wants to offer his own. Jane lets a soft, humourless rasp of breath go, the sound twisted under the uncontrollable way she trembles. "Not forcing," she needs to tell him, needs to make this part known. "I want to. I can't lose him." There is a pause, and she adds quietly, because she's already confessed everything else, "I love him."

But one more question. Again, Jane goes quiet. She stares through her burning-raw eyes, one hand curled into her hair, using her tiny wrist to smear away fresh tears. She breathes, in and out, into the anchor of his hand. And she tries to remember.

"I don't…" she whispers, voice rough from crying, from memory. Uneven memory, frayed and patchwork, only ever coming back to her in dreams and triggers and… and this. "I was in the machine. Could only see up. It was… it hurt. It wouldn't stop hurting. And then it did." Jane goes quiet for a heartbeat. "I know James killed him. But I don't think I saw it."

However much of a headcase Matt Murdock can be, he is steady in times of crisis — at least other people's crises. It's part of what makes him an effective advocate, punching above his weight and experience level. She musters her courage and powers through the sobs and he remains right where he is, a solid rock to ground her through these last questions.

She can't lose him, she says. She loves him. At that, Matt manages a smile that, however slight and wan, conveys worlds of sadness, sympathy, and appreciation. "He's lucky to have you, Jane Foster," the lawyer says gently. And then he adds in quiet, wry tones: "Even if he's been unlucky in just about everything else."

And while he won't let it show, he registers that Bucky's unlucky streak holds steady as Jane strikes out in her last question. If Jane could have testified that she saw the man at the controls of her fucked-up torture chair, or better yet, brandishing a gun at Bucky, it could be enough to quash a murder charge that may prove stickier and more problematic than the others. But he won't betray that fact, not for an instant, in part because he knows just how powerful the lure to perjure herself might be if he did. "Got it," is all he says, sliding his hand from the top of her shoulder to the side of her upper-arm. "I know you answered all this for him, Jane, not for me. But I still want to thank you for it. I — I think we should probably pause here, and do the prep session another night."

Or series of nights. Getting her used to telling this story, psychologically preparing her for telling it publicly and enduring the crucible of a cross-examination — all of it will take time. Fortunately Foggy's briefs and motions are slowing down the train, giving them some breathing room to get their hands around this beast of a case, and everyone swept up in it.

His brow creases. "Does that sound alright to you, Jane?" he asks of the ragged woman in front of him.

Lucky to have her. Jane Foster hopes. Hopes that is enough to balance everything else that's happened to him. Is happening to him.

Will happen to him.

There's an audible reach of her arm and a scrape of turned paper; Jane takes back in hand that photograph. Her arm shivers, but she holds it so she can see.

That first look was a despairing recognition. This time, she tries to confront that post-mortum face of a man who haunts her still, staring wordlessly, pensively into those quiet features. It helps beyond belief to see him dead — truly dead. James took him from the world and he will never return.

"He was a monster," she asides whisperingly. "He deserves this. He's in my nightmares — all the time. He was always talking to me — every time. Every time they — did it. He still talks. Maybe he'll stop now."

Jane lets it go, her hand falling slack. She animates to Matt Murdock, turning a look to the lawyer still kneeled by her armchair, his hand on her arm. She barely knows him, yet she is grateful. Especially when he requests this may be over — at least for now. Until another day.

"It does," she says, sounding exhausted. She stops herself from apologizing again; how she wants to, over and over, until he forgets she cried for him. Unbeknowst to the dilemma running the young lawyer's head, she instead takes a detour back into her own.

"I should —" Jane begins, though something arrests her. "There's something else I want to saw. While I'm here — thinking this. Two things I want you to know."

Jane takes a deep breath and lets it go. "They lied to James while I was there. It wasn't him, they fucked with his head — but there was something enough that they told him it was painless. He only saw me out of the machine after they cleaned me up, so it was like they wouldn't hurt me. They didn't put scars on me. They… drugged me up. There were times he was there, and he… hurt them if they touched me wrong. He was there with me, in that cage, and he kept me safe. I've told him this, that if he wasn't there… I only survived it because he was there with me. It would have been worse if I was alone."

Her hands fold. "The second one is… harder. They didn't just make me feel pain there. They made me feel happy too. And relief. And grateful when they made the hurting stop. I told them anything. Maybe I would have done anything too."

Matt is prepared to give Jane her dispensation, a brief reprieve from revisiting old trauma — but she surprises him. She doubles back to bring up more of her time in that awful subterranean complex, and all because she thinks what she says will help James Buchanan Barnes. The so-called 'Man Without Fear' admires the hell out of her in that instant.

But will what she says truly help him? It's not until the very end of what Jane's speech that the lawyer cants his head. "Those sessions — with the pictures, and the cards," he says slowly, carefully, "they'd show you them over and over again, telling you it was something different. And when you thought wrong, you'd feel pain. And then… eventually, you'd see what they told you to see… and the pain would stop, and you'd feel relief."

He swallows — it was a punch in the gut just to say. Imagine living it, Murdock.

"Is that," he whispers, "— do I understand you, Jane?"

Jane stares down at her lap throughout Matt's entire recitation of her words, her brown eyes mirroring the dark place where memory keeps her. She does not move save for the way her arm still trembles under his hand — trembling from stress and restraint both, holding so much in as much as she tries to keep so much out.

Does he understand her?

Her head moves in a stuttery nod. "Yes," she answers. Word for word.

"It hurt so much," she has to say, has to defend herself, unsure and afraid even Matt Murdock may be judging her for weakness. For the traitor that David Archer seems to think her. "You can't breathe. Or speak. Or think. You wish you could die, but you don't. You stay alive so it can happen again. When it stops, you feel relief. And then happy. You're so happy."

Her eyes lift on that photograph of the dead man. "He," Jane speaks of it, her voice twisting into a knot, "was always there. He'd say he was proud of me. I felt so good. I hate him."

That perception is fluid and mutable is truth Matt Murdock knows better than almost anyone else on Earth; but even he balks internally at the prospect. Torture so grueling that the mind mis-reads the world's cues to protect the body from brutality.

But to her protestations — it hurt more than he can fathom, it hurt so bad she wished she would die — he gives her arm a squeeze that says 'Not necessary' and 'I'm so sorry' in one eloquent gesture. "He's gone now," Matt says of the man her beau punched through the chest. "And you're safe from all of them, thanks to Bucky and your friends. That's part of what the jury — the world — will need to know before this is over."

He swallows again, hard, cords of his neck and adam's apple all tightening. "Thank you, Jane," he whispers. "I know this was hard. But it helped. Will help." The smile that follows is close-lipped but engaging, even fond. "You should get some rest, though. And I've got a few more things to handle back at the office. Alright?"

He's gone, promises Murdock. Jane turns her head to look on him in a raw moment of undisguised hope. Her haunted eyes want to believe.

"I hope it helps," she answers feebly. "I feel so helpless right now. I'll do whatever you need of me for James. I'll try to — I'll try to think of more. My memory isn't — I haven't been thinking of it a lot. I'll tell you if I remember anything more."

Every inch of her exudes exhaustion; it seems only to deepen when Matt bids her to rest, something the hyperkinetic and insomnia Jane Foster feels like she hasn't done properly in months. Maybe if this turns out, maybe if James is exonerated, maybe if no longer his own country wants him to die — she might let herself sleep. Just for a little while.

"All right," she answers. She pauses. "I'm trusting you. To save James."

In a case of firsts, it's the one line he's actually heard before: I feel so helpless. The loved ones of the accused always do. They cope in different ways, of course. Some try to play lawyer, dreaming up defenses. Others rage and rail and vilify the prosecution. Still others fall to despair. But at the source of it all is that sense of impotence and futility — the knowledge that a person you care about has the Sword of Damocles hanging over them and there is very little you can do about it.

And from Jane Foster or anyone else, that sentiment never fails to break his heart just a little. It's part of why he does what he does.

Which is to say, said heart has already cracked a little when she brings the Hammer of Jane down on it. I'm trusting you, she says. To save James. Matt is used to carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders — or at least the weight of one dicey neighborhood. But carrying the weight of Jane Foster's hopes and expectations, that truth and justice will win out and Bucky will walk free, feels like a new order of responsibility. He bears it without open complaint, with one more flash of his tired, close-lipped smile. "We're going to save him together, Jane," is how he chooses to answer her, projecting a quiet confidence he almost sells himself on.

"I promise."

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