Hostile Witness

July 03, 2017:

Matt Murdock stops by Alias Investigations to prep one Jessica Jones for trial. She reveals helpful information. He drops bombs…and makes promises.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, NYC

Now serving: legal advice and personal growth!

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, T'Challa, Spider-Man, Peter Quill, Juno Hart, Six, Peggy Carter

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Prepping for trial is actually not something that's all that foreign to Jessica Jones, though she's never cared quite so much about the outcome before. Past cases have put her in the witness chair, hired, as she's been before, on behalf of the defense. That doesn't mean it's not a little nervewracking, but…she at least has a little more of an idea of what to expect. Her heartbeat still reflects apprehension and tension alike, but perhaps not as much as it otherwise would.

She's pretty well ready for Matt when he arrives. Coffee's on. She does not have his impeccable taste in the brew, but neither is it bad coffee…it smells pretty standard, pretty run-of-the-mill. The place smells freshly cleaned, with a chemical-free lavendar cleaner instead of the harsher ones he would have smelled in the place when he visited as the Daredevil, a very recent switch offered for no doubt obvious reasons. If he was going to come to her, Jessica thought she might try to be kind to his nose.

The clean-up is really what she's been trying to offer to everyone these days. She throws a little cleaning rag into her hamper when it's time to answer the door, wipes her hand on her jeans, and says, "Hey, Matt, come on in, make yourself at home. Want coffee?"

The door — working sign and all — swings open to reveal one very punctual Matt Murdock. "Hey, Jess," he says, with the flash of a brief but entirely genuine smile for the detective. "Good to see you." With the office closed for the long weekend he's dressed down: a simple white oxford-cloth shirt and a pair of dark blue trousers. For all that he's burning the candle at both ends, and for all the very recent public setbacks for the case, he's made it a point to project energy, optimism, and confidence.

After all, as has previously been established, Matt Murdock is a damn good faker.

"Coffee sounds great, thanks," says the man in the doorway as he steps. Sensing no one else in the apartment, he dispenses with any of the searching or fumbling he might with someone unaware of his peculiar talents. No need to play up the blindness while he makes for a seat and sets his briefcase down beside him. "And thanks for taking the time. Sorry I've been sort of MIA. Swamped the last few weeks, as you might expect. How've you been?"

He'll hear her step to the cabinets, even as she lets out one of those soft breaths that often passes for a laugh, her tone warm as she answers him. "Matt. Seriously? You take on the Trial of Two Centuries case and you're apologizing because you've been sort of swamped? That's like saying you're sort of drowning, and apologizing to the person who asked you to jump into the deep end. Thank you for that, by the way. It means the world to me that you're on this."

She plucks down a pair of coffee cups and pours his for him. He'll hear the fridge open as she heads for it, grabbing a bottle of milk. Perhaps disturbingly, she sniffs it first to make sure it hasn't gone bad, because she doesn't remember how long it's been in there. Fortunately, the milk is fine (even to his nose). She adds a splash of it to his mug, stirs it up, and brings it over to him, her own safely in her other hand.

His sensitive fingers could pick out a sideways square logo on the cup, and the words: 'National Sarcasm Society' in big letters, just like the National Geographic Logo. Under that, in much smaller ones: '(Like we need your support.)'

And, in response to his question, "And— I'm okay. Focused. Happy to take the time. Happy to do whatever I can to help you shred Archer's case like old toilet paper." She takes the seat on her side of the desk. She's not faking this sentiment.

The laugh that meets her joke about his apologizing to the very person who yanked him into this media maelstrom is a good natured one. As much as he tries to keep his head down and focus on the work, Matt's life has changed in the past few months, no question. And it will continue to change — for better or worse, and largely depending on his performance in this trial. And it's safe to say he's acutely aware that the opportunities and pitfalls attendant to his taking this beast of a case are owed to her. "I was happy to take it," Matt says with conviction he doesn't have to fake. "Bucky is a good man who deserves a good defense, not to spend the rest of his life on a floating prison — or worse."

He accepts the coffee with quiet gratitude, a slight smile playing on his stubbled features when fingertips make out the writing on the mug. He sets it down on the table to let it cool a minute while he takes his phone out of his pocket. "Do you mind if I record our talk?" he asks. "It's easier for me than taking notes, and it's more accurate besides."

Regardless of her answer, he'll go on, right to business: "So, look, first thing's first. Archer has called you as a witness for the prosecution because he thinks the things you've seen will help his case. I know you know this better than most, but I've still got to say: there's nothing wrong with you talking to me. If anything, I have to be careful in how I talk to you, but defense attorneys interviewing prosecution witnesses is pretty standard. Right?"

His response— that he was happy to take it, produces some warmth inside of the PI. She'd had her grapple with knowing what she was asking him, for sure, once she had really gotten tuned in to what a risk he was taking. But…she'd also made this commitment that she wasn't going to dishonor him by apologizing to him for it, and she holds to that now. Nevertheless, the realization has made the corresponding appreciation grow.

"Sure, yeah, go ahead," she says, in response to his request for the recording.

"Right," Jessica says, as he lays it out for her. Dryly: "Frankly I don't give a shit, I'll tell you whatever you want and Archer can go fuck a cactus, and I'd have done that even if you hadn't just said that. I'm pissed off he called me. I should be a witness for the defense, and I feel like he did it just to see if he couldn't be as big a douchebag as possible to every single one of us." Her adrenaline and heartbeat rise in a way that indicates 'pissed' is actually the milder word for it. "And he's stupid anyway, cause I got nothin' that's gonna help him."

A ghost of a smile flickers across Matt's features when she tells him what U.S.A. Archer can go do with a cactus.

"He thinks, even with a host of hostile witnesses, he can shape your stories to his ends and preempt our defense," Matt says as he switches on the recording and reaches back for his mug. He's wary of the more seasoned U.S.A. — and determined not to underestimate him — but some skepticism of the strategy seeps into his voice, and his confirmed by what comes next. "It's a — tricky strategy, relying on so many hostile witnesses. Because he's at once relying on your first-person accounts, but also trying to impeach your credibility to counter all the things you'll speak to on why James wasn't ultimately culpable."

"For instance," Matt says as he sips from the mug, "I imagine he'll ask you some very straightforward questions about your encounter with James at the Weiss home, and try to limit your answers to those that fit his facts. Chances are he'll think just your straightforward testimony on that assault charge could send James away for years."

And he might not be wrong, the young lawyer thinks. Still, he says: "You should answer honestly. We're conceding that the body of James Buchanan Barnes did pretty much everything Archer describes. That's not — by and large — where the battle will be fought. Though —" his brow knits. "There is one count that I wonder if you couldn't shed some particular light on. The Hydra agent, that night in Ozone Park. Jane says she didn't see how it all went down. She was — well. She was locked away. Did you?"

"But you can fix it? Right? On cross? His bullshit? Bucky fought his conditioning at the Weiss house. Not as obviously as the second time I saw him do it, but…"

But then he asks about Ozone park, and her mouth snaps shut. For a moment, Jessica's heartbeat spikes and settles, like someone…Well. Like someone who has thought for months she might get some question about watching Bucky murdering a guy on a lie detector test, and like she's been trying to practice for how to beat it even before this whole trial thing happened. Something in the way Matt asks the question makes her hesitate though. Her mouth opens. Her mouth closes. She gives a swift intake of breath that erases all her anger.

He might see her head turn towards the recording. She's considering lying her face off, because she thinks the lie might help her friend more. With few qualms about committing the perjury if it in fact seems to be the right thing to do as she sees it. In the end though…she makes a different choice. At least in regards to telling Matt the truth. Slowly, carefully, "I was right on his heels. The only one close enough for a whole bunch of reasons. I saw the whole thing."

Then, slowly, "Is— is that a good thing? Or a really, really bad thing? Cause…" Even more slowly. "Nobody can actually prove I saw jack squat if it's a bad thing."

"Yeah, I can fix it," Matt says with the slightest of nods. Confidence. Optimism. Fake it till you make it, Murdock. His eyebrows lift when she mentions it as just one example of him fighting his conditioning. He wants to follow up — will assuredly follow up — but they are for the moment derailed by the question of what she saw that day Bucky Barnes got his soul back.

She asks him whether it's good or bad, hints that no one can prove she saw anything. "But they can — and will — ask you under oath what you saw," Matt counters quietly, sensing the hesitation in her voice and feeling its echo in the clutch of apprehension in his chest. If she is debating whether to tell him, chances are her answer is nothing at all he wants to hear. But want and need are two very different things. To wit: "We can talk through your options on what to say when you're asked," he says, keeping his tone even and mild, "but why don't you start by telling me the truth. Then we can talk next steps. Fair?"

"Yeah, totally fair," Jessica says, in a rather subdued fashion.

She stands up, gets the coffee pot. She is restless, needing to do something, even if it's as simple as topping off both their cups. "The only thought on his mind was getting Jane. Something had mostly snapped him back to himself, but you could tell that was his only anchor. I'd just leapt to shut down the brain-rewrite nanites that we suspected were in his head— do you have the research Red and I did on those?"

She continues without waiting for him to answer, returning to the coffee pot, figuring she'd better just get it out there.

"This guy, this Hydra fucker…he was so pissed off that we'd fucked up their plans. He was screaming obscenities at Jane. Used a few words even I won't use. She was all locked up in this fucking machine that was so crazy and scary looking that at first I was afraid to help get her out of it cause I was afraid one wrong move might kill her. I got to the room in time to see the Hydra agent throw a lever and she just starts screaming, so that's where I really look. Before I even have really registered that, Bucky…Bucky put his metal arm right through the man's chest. And all I could think was good, that's one less motherfucking mind-controlling monster in the world so like…I don't even really know if I'd have tried to stop him if I could have, Matt. I'm sure that makes me sound like a monster myself, but…you didn't hear her. It was a sound right out of nightmare. People shouldn't make sounds like that. Ever."

"I know a little about the nanites, but SHIELD hasn't been totally forthcoming with docs. If you have written research I can put in front of an expert, that'd be swell," Matt answers on the matter of nanites. No one, of course, wants to be waging their defense on theories out of a science fiction novel, but Murdock will take what he can get at this point. "And when you say you shut them down — I assume it was an EMP?"

But then he's listening, and listening, and listening while she's grabbing another pot of coffee and telling a tale on which the life of Bucky Barnes may hinge. His brow knits, especially when Jessica comments on the sounds Jane Foster was making from within that medieval torture device Hydra cooked up. He imagines the scene in his mind's eye — the only eye of his that truly works — and lets out a long sigh when she's finished. "Thanks, Jessica. That's — helpful. I think in this case it's fine to be forthcoming with Archer. What you're laying out — that the agent was acting aggressively towards Jane, that he was in the process of torturing her when Bucky arrived — all makes a powerful case for a defense of others argument, even if Bucky had at least some of his mind back by then. It's legal to use deadly force to stop the commission of a serious crime, and what they were doing to Jane was undoubtedly serious. There are some grey areas around the margins — Bucky had to believe that what he did was necessary to save Jane. Archer may try to argue that there were non-lethal ways to subdue to the agent… but given the circumstances?" He squints, mulls, shifts the coffee cup round in his hand. "I don't — think — the jury will buy it."

"Localized EMP, yes. How we got the research might be a problem, we kind of stole a corpse from Hydra after hearing the recording, but…we have it. Jane has it, I'll get a copy from Red, too."

He tells her what this could mean for the defense. That it could actually be helpful that she saw the whole thing. And she lets out a weak laugh. "Christ, if I'd known that…I thought maybe…I kept training myself to say nope! I just kind of saw this body, don't know what happened."

She sits back down as if she's a puppet whose strings have just been cut, relief suffusing her, adrenaline rushing into the wake of it that leaves her hands and voice paradoxically shaking now, after the fact. "How can they prove what Bucky believed or didn't believe anyway? I think he mostly just acted as he was freaking trained to act, falling back on that instinct. It's not like he stood there and assessed the situation."

Matt ducks his head and stifles a chuckle when Jess expresses her relief. It's a rare thing these days for Matt Murdock to be the bearer of good tidings, and he'll enjoy the moment as he can. "I wasn't going to let you go up there and perjure yourself," the lawyer says with a shake of his head. After another swallow of the coffee, he adds: "Worst case scenario, you could have taken the 5th, since a case could have been made that you were Bucky's accomplice. It wouldn't have looked good, but it would have prevented you from going on the record with something worse."

He feels that surge of relief and adrenaline in her and lets it play out, answering her follow up question with a lift and drop of his bushy eyebrows in the semblance of a shrug. "It's tough, yeah, but juries are asked to make calls about what's in people's heads all the time," he says. "Mostly it just gives them leeway to latch onto the outcome — the narrative — they prefer. Our job is to make sure our story is more compelling than Archer's. That's the only way we win."

He lets out a breath, and a smile. "Okay, so that's one critically important issue down. Next up: you said that the Weiss encounter was one example of Bucky seeming to fight his conditioning. Can you elaborate? And offer others that you personally observed?"

"Absolutely," Jessica replies. She takes a moment to gather her thoughts, achieving a state of utter focus once more. A sip of coffee.

"So first— the Weiss house. He had me dead to rights pretty quickly. My intervention got them out of the house, but it got me under his gun. He didn't kill me. He could have. But he didn't. I expected him to do that, or to drag me off for questioning. He didn't. He asked one question, which I didn't even answer properly. And he fled. Now…it wasn't dramatic. He didn't clutch his head or whatever. It wasn't enough to tip me off that something was wrong."

A pause, and she gets up, abandoning her coffee, focused but restless once more. "He told me later that he basically created excuses, reasons why he wasn't going to shoot me, or assassinate me and the whole family while we waited for the cops. That it would be messy, that it would create problems for him later.And…in my experience, when someone has you mind controlled, that's the only way you fight. You might not be able to get around the letter of your orders, but you can find your way around the spirit. So as far as I'm concerned, he fought like Hell to save my life that day. Cause it's not an easy thing to do, by any stretch."

She runs her fingers along the window sill. "The second time was more obvious. It was the day he led a Hydra team to try to take the Milano. Peter Quill's spaceship, which provably exists. By then I knew what had happened to him. The date was…" Here she pulls out her phone, clicks a times, probably to get into her files: "January 21, 2017."

She looks down, circles the room again, as restless as a wolf in a cage. "I just knew I could reach him. I damn near did. I leapt across the battlefield and touched his good arm. He swung around and…dead to rights, a second time. Gun, right in my face. I tell him— what I know. About what it's like. To have this cage of iron around your head. Because I didn't go through it the same way, but I'd been through it. I told him to keep fighting, as much as he could. Told him if he couldn't fight everything he could at least justify a retreat. Because again, I knew. You can subvert the spirit even if you can't break the letter."

It's a long story, and she pauses to say, "Sorry, I know I'm going on forever and half of it probably isn't even relevant but I don't know how else to tell this story. Anyway. He stops. Finger on the trigger. He can't look me in the eye. His hand starts shaking and he starts repeating his programming at me…but he's visibly struggling not to pull the trigger. Spider-Man pulls me out of the way after that, so you know, maybe my luck would have run out, but he was fighting it. And then do you know what he did? He retreated. That's what he did."

Matt listens carefully to Jessica's tale(s), making one or two mental highlights or notations to revisit later on in their conversation. But on the whole? "No, Jess, this is good," Matt offers — words of quiet encouragement for a P.I. who shares his tendency towards self-doubt and self-deprecation. "This is exactly the sort of thing I need to build James' defense. I basically have to create a timeline of his mental state, arcing from that first encounter with Zatanna to the break from his programming in Ozone Park. That's the story at the heart of this." A story, it goes unsaid, made far more complicated by allegations his bad behavior continued after his supposed redemption. In that respect the recent allegations out of Wakanda are devastating, even if they never get officially aired at trial.

He draws in a breath and sets down his mostly empty cup. "Let's talk a little about what the day might look like," he says. "There'll be direct examination. Which will be frustrating, I think, for both you and Archer. Chances are he'll ask for permission to treat you as hostile — which means he can ask leading questions and try to impeach the parts of your testimony he doesn't find helpful. Your faith in Bucky, your knowledge about what was done to him, and all the rest."

Matt leans forward in his seat, clasping his hands together and planting his elbows on his knees. "The single most important thing I can tell you is to remain calm, even if it seems hard. Chances are he'll try to bait you, because he knows that anger or irritation undermines your credibility in the jury's eyes." A beat, a very slight smile. "Do you, ah, meditate? If not, you might want to take it up in the weeks before your testimony."

The encouragement helps, releasing some of her self-consciousness. So does Matt's explanation of what he's doing, and why.

Does she meditate. Jessica lets out a snarf of a laugh. "I try. You got a good tip for how to keep your nose or something from itching whenever you do it? Cause that's what happens to me. Every time. Ohmmmm. My nose itches. Ohhhhhmmmm. Now my ear itches. Ohhhhhhm. Fuck! Now I'm hungry! Also I don't really do the ohhhhmms. But. If being calm is what will defeat this shithead…"

She makes her way back to the desk and sits down, something in her hardening. "Then I'll make it happen. If only because holding on to the image of him looking increasingly like an overwrought child while trying to bait me makes me feel pretty damned great."

A stab of sadness worms its way through her physiology seconds after that. "Bucky was the one who taught me about meditation in the first place. There's something fitting in the idea that I can use it to help save him. What else should I know? What else do you need to know?"

When Jess outlines her struggles with meditation, Matt outright laughs — a rare, bright thing that shakes his shoulders and puts crow's feet in the corners of his eyes. "I do, actually, have a good if counterintuitive tip my sensei gave me on that one," says the man who has been at it before it became en vogue among yuppies and corporate masters of the universe. "If just accepting the discomfort and focusing on the mantra or the breath or whatever your object is doesn't work for you, try taking your mind off the object and redirect towards the itch. Give it the same damn attention you'd give to the original object. It sounds weird as hell, I know, and it kind of makes things worse before it makes things better, but damn if it doesn't work in the end."

The good humor on his features ebbs a bit when Jess moves from relishing the idea of remaining unflappable in the face of Archer's questions to whether there's anything else he wants to go over with her. Because there is, even if he's been avoiding it and saving it for last. "Yeah, actually," the man says in that gentle, purposeful cadence of his. "In the files Archer handed over at the Raft there was Brady evidence, a witness list, and supporting documents for why each witness was being called." A long beat, and then a reluctant but grim and determined: "With yours… Jess, there was a lot of stuff there. Stuff that took place during the business with Bucky, but also — before. I think it was a warning to me about what he could bring up on the stand to get under your skin and impeach your credibility. You should be prepared for it."

His laugh is a rare thing, and it actually both startles and pleases her. "Got it," she says, with tones of one who will practice it as…aggressively as she does anything else. All in, whole hog.

She tilts her head in puzzlement. Then something hot flashes across her. Something cold. Her stomach sinks. For a moment her throat closes.

She breathes past it. Goes to the window. "Seven decades," she reminds herself, in a whisper not really meant for Matt at all.

She turns back to Matt, leaning on the wall of her office, folding her arms.

"Let me guess," she says grimly. "2014. My reports to the police. He's going to try to paint me as a mentally unstable liar, isn't he? Fuck him… No. Calm."

She takes a deep breath and exhales. Her nose immediately itches. She reaches up to scratch the shit out of it, almost savagely.

There's suddenly some real vulnerability in the way she asks her next question. She stops and starts again several times before she finally asks, "When you saw all that shit…did you think…?"

She trails off. Swallows.

"Nevermind. It doesn't matter. It's a shit show. Let's turn it into an asset. Somehow."

She says Nevermind, wants to move on, but he won't let her. He pushes himself up from his chair and approaches the window. "What, did I think you were lying? Not for a second," Matt says with ironclad conviction, snatching off his glasses and slipping them into the breast pocket of his shirt. "I knew — I'd, ah, had a sense for a long time now that you'd been through something awful. And when I read those reports… it actually filled in some gaps. So yeah, I believed it. I believe you."

The expression on his face takes a turn for the pained. "And yeah, chances are Archer will head for the gutter, yeah," Matt admits as he closes the distance between them and takes a seat on the edge of the desk nearest her. "He'll bring up the forced therapy sessions in '14, your request for psychiatric help with SHIELD. He may even say that you were perfectly predisposed to believe James' cooked-up story about mind control because it played into what he'll call delusions about captivity and mind control."

She's fierce as ever, angry and ready for a fight. Matt finds the reaction heartening, but it it's a fire that needs tempering. And so: "But I think if he goes there, the only thing to do is play it straight. We can prep your answers, but I think the goal is to get you to a place where you can answer those sorts of questions — harsh questions — about your history in a calm and deliberate manner that almost makes you a kind of expert witness on what it means to be —" a pause. He's urging her to prep public answers on the stand on matters he has trouble even broaching in casual conversation " — ah, to be controlled by others."

He can't see the grateful look that she shoots him, but he might feel that gratitude flood her from head to toe when he not only speaks with such iron clad conviction, but takes off his glasses so she can see it in his eyes. "You always have believed me," she says, softly, so very softly, though she doesn't say it till he's done saying everything. He's always believed her, and it's always been a big deal to her.

He fills her with courage, just like that.

He has her full attention, though she snorts a little at the psychiatric help, her tone dry, though weak. "Yeah? Am I allowed to quote the fact that 72 million Americans are also on anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication?"

She moves a little closer to him, bolstered by his physical presence now the way nothing else can bolster her, needing to draw close to him, though trying to do so in a way that won't make him uncomfortable. Needing to look into his eyes.

She takes a deep breath and forces herself to strengthen her voice, though it shakes, "Not only can I talk about what it means, I can talk about the 300 or so other people I watched go through it for periods as short as 5 minutes to as long as 5 days. That's how I knew, once James' symptoms were described to me, knew exactly what the fuck was happening."

She drains her coffee and pushes the cup aside. "I can do this. You believe me, and James had 70 years to my 8 months. I can do this. You should know I didn't tell the police the half of it. I…don't even… really know what I was trying to accomplish, going to them."

"Yeah, you can quote that fact," Matt says dryly of the millions who rely on medication to manage their moods. Truth be told, he should almost certainly be among them — but that's another conversation.

He can, in fact, sense her relief, gratitude, and growing confidence, even aside from her words. "Being able to detail and document those instances, where he commanded other people, will definitely be helpful," Matt offers, though with the unspoken addendum: As long as you can make the jury believe you. As long as he can't paint you as a delusional psychotic. As long as as long as as long as…

"And you went to the police for the same reason anyone does," Matt says with a shrug of his shoulders from that perch on her desk. "You needed help." He cracks a rueful half-smile. "And you didn't have your stable of super-friends at the time, so the police had to do." The smile fades as he rolls one shoulder into a shrug. "I'm just sorry they let you down so badly. Even with all that's gone on in the world, with Superman and mutants and Nu-humans, they still don't know how to deal with… well. With people like us." A beat. "Or people like him." That last sentence sees his jaw jut, his expression cloud, and something in his unfocused gaze takes on a distant quality.

"Yeah. And it was a double whammy. Nobody ever wants to believe someone who says they've been mind controlled. And nobody ever wants to believe someone who says she's been raped." She swallows. There. She's said it. Said the word. If she said it once, she can say it again. "Found out his real name. Recently. It's Kevin, Kevin Thompson. So generic it might not even help."

She watches the cloud come over his face, looks down again. "I think I could even find some of those people, though I don't know if they'd testify or not. A lot of them think I was like willingly with him because while sometimes he did the thing directly, sometimes he preferred to order me to hurt them. But I guess if we get even 1% it will be helpful? Cause seriously, it would be two, five, ten a day, and over eight months that adds up. Sometimes just petty shit. Comp this ridiculous $500 meal. You want to let us stay in your house. Whatever. Sometimes worse things. It's why he barely existed on paper. He just didn't have to. I even have a little physical evidence, I guess. Maybe. He ordered me to cut off my own ear once. He stopped me, but it was deep enough to scar even me."

She exhales. "And you should know Reva Connors didn't die in that bus crash. He ordered me to kill her. And I did. I know why Bucky feels like half the time that he is guilty. This was why I couldn't turn away. From any of this.Why I got back in the game, even though the last time I tried it was just before Kilgrave picked me up. It took me a long time to realize I wasn't a failure. He was. Cause he could have chosen to help people too. At least he's dead now. But knowing it had happened to someone else, no matter the differences in the mechanics of it? I couldn't just say…well, there's lots more important people than me on this now, I'll just go back and take a few more photos of a couple more cheating spouses. I just couldn't."

Jessica Jones peels back the curtains on her eight months of hellish captivity and enslavement under Kilgrave, and explicitly confirms what had been tacitly understood about the nature of that enslavement. Forced to hurt — even kill — others. Forced to give up herself. Even having spent the last few months obsessing over the idea of mind control for this case, it's hard and painful to fathom. Matt closes his eyes and folds his arms as protective anger roils him and sets an even harder line to his jaw. He feels, as he so often does when his rage sparks, a sudden and powerful need to punch the living daylights out of someone. Where's Turk when you need him? "God, Jess, I'm so sorry," he says, his voice thick with emotion. What else is there to say, really?

It's a long beat of silence before eyelashes part, adam's apple swallows, and the man continues: "I don't think other victims of — ah, Kevin's — would help much, or even be admissible. He's not the one on trial, and they weren't controlled by the same means as James. Though it's something we could consider if Archer makes a huge point of calling your testimony into question." His tone is flat, distant and distracted, as if his mind were on something else entirely —

Which, of course, it is. It's currently engaged in an inward debate, the contours of which go something like:

You have to tell her.

It could destroy everything she's gained. Send her spiraling.

She has a right to know.

She's already shaky on this stuff. It could kill her performance on the stand.

Archer was sending a message — EVERYTHING in that doc is fair game. What's to stop HIM from sandbagging her with it on the stand to wreck her in front of everyone?

It is, alas, the very crude but prudent last point that wins the day with Matt, rather than any principled stand. He summons a breath laden with weary resignation and foreboding and pushes himself up from his half-seat there on the desk so that he can enter her orbit, lay one hand one each shoulder. "Look, Jess, there's something else in those docs I found," he says, his voice gentle and grave. "Something you need to know."

So much for being the bearer of good news, Murdock.

He steps forward, lays each comforting hand on her shoulder, one of the few men alive, even now, who can do this without spooking her. One of the few people in fact, thanks to Xihunel's latest blow. On any other day, her heart would be leaping to be this close to him. But on this particular conversation, on this particular day, at this particular time…she goes cold. Because she knows that he's not going to tell her anything good.

She steels herself. He'll feel it. It's not unlike a boxer tensing for a blow. Stubbornly, her chin lifts. The silhouette of her face and head indicating that she is again looking directly into his eyes. All of his powers of steadying and stabilizing her have been brought to bear now, and she draws on them.

She clenches her fists directly at her sides. He might well hear nails digging directly into flesh. But as with everything, she barrels ahead, refusing to flinch.

"Tell me," she says.

Matt's face, a portrait of minor anguish, still manages to briefly register fondness and regard when Jessica steels her spine and asks him to let her have it. She might be the strongest person he's ever met, he thinks.

There's no use in delaying it or drawing it out. This is a band-aid that must be ripped off. And so he does, albeit in that quiet, even keel of his: "The police, the ADA, they lied to you about Kilgrave — Thomas — whoever he is. That bus put him in a coma, but he didn't die. They were afraid that if they let you know he was still alive, you'd come hunting for him. Try to kill him."

But it can't just end there, with a laying out of the horrifying truth to sit between them. The hands on her shoulders give a supportive squeeze as he urgently adds: "Look, I'm going to track down what happened to him, where he's being kept now, so that we can keep tabs on him. Maybe even find those witnesses of yours and put together a powerful enough case to have ready for if he ever wakes up. Get SHIELD involved. We'll figure it out, I promise you. You're not alone, Jess. It's not like before."

For one moment she's just dizzy. She reaches up to cling to his wrists instead of allowing herself to slide to the floor, careful, though, of her grip. She can't even think about how she really ought not; she just does so, like he's her one and only life preserver. It's not as bad as it could be, the way her heart triples in speed and takes up residence somewhere in her throat, the way her ears start roaring. This hot button has, in fact, been hit several times now over the past months, through various cases. So she doesn't scream, or cry, or even punch the wall. It's not even as bad as the one she had in front of Peggy, perhaps because he's there, holding her upright.

He's quiet, he's all even-keel and anchor, and so can focus on breathing. She's glad he's talking, because it gives her what she needs to find her way back, as does that gentle squeeze to her shoulders. He lays out how he's going to handle this for her, and for all her brave mental thoughts of late that she's totally got this 'being in love with him' thing under control, she sure feels it now, distantly through the spirals of an almost silent panic. Which is another reason why she ought to let go, but for the moment, she just can't.

She says back to him what he said to her. "I believe you." It's the first words she can manage.

And then: "How could I not? You became my hero ages ago. I won't do anything stupid. I'll— I'll be okay. I think I might have built up an immunity to his shit. Someone else tried it on me earlier this month and he couldn't do it. We just can't let Kilgrave hurt anyone else. We can't. If he gets out…so many people are going to get hurt if he wakes up and gets out."

Matt lets out a little puff of breath that shares kinship with a chuckle when she calls him her hero, shrugging the mirrored compliment off. But her belief — her faith in him — that he'll accept readily, like every other burden the overgrown altar boy has taken on in his life. "We won't let him hurt anyone again," he assures her in words barely above a whisper. "I've got a friend who is frighteningly good at tracking people down and getting into systems. We'll find him, and we'll watch him, and we'll be ready."

He is normally so quietly mindful of their proximity, the depth of her feeling, and his own commitment never to lead her on or make their complicated friendship that much more awkward, but here at least he'll let this half-embrace linger. After all, he's aware that he's all that's holding her up. "I can also try and get that idiot of an ADA disbarred at some point, if you want," he adds darkly. "They even forged a death certificate — it's madness. But I'd rather we focus on the future, honestly. Helping who we can, and stopping anyone else from getting hurt."

She swallows and nods her head. She takes a few more deep breaths.

And starts the process of peeling her death grip off his poor wrists. "Forget Castellano," she says quietly, shaking her head. "It is madness, but the only one who can possibly come out of that looking crazy is me."

She manages to slowly release her left hand. Her breathing and heart rate aren't normal yet, but they're closing in on normal. She sounds tired, and drained, but also resolute.

"Your focus is where it needs to be, and it's where mine's gonna stay. Protecting people. And we've got enough on our plate. We've got Bucky to think of. I went through this. It sucked. But Bucky, Juno, they had lifetimes of it. Fate gave me a taste so I could help them. That has to be my takeaway— and Bucky's the one whose head is on the block right now."

She finally drops her right hand. She reaches up briefly to rest her hands on top of his, squeezing her thanks, but then she steps away from him, ready, at last, to hold herself up. "Being the best witness I can be? Helping however I can? It's my best, biggest fuck-you to all of 'em. Hydra, Kilgrave, all of 'em. So I'll be practicing this like I'm preparing for the fight of my life."

She scrubs her fingers through her hair, then steps to the fridge and opens it, withdrawing a small water bottle. She sucks it down, then chucks the bottle. If the motion is shaped a bit like taking a shot, it is, nevertheless, just water. "I'm going to try use my connection to the King of Wakanda to try to get access to the investigative files conducted by his Intelligence forces. I'll bring you copies if I'm successful. Wakanda doesn't give a shit about our justice and will probably try to be a whole other flavor of problem later, but at least that way you won't be sidelined by anything that might find its way from those files to your case. Bucky didn't fucking do that shit."

She goes over to her sink, now, bending down to splash water on her face, and on the back of her neck. "Can I help in any other way? Background checking potential jurors? Anything?"

She detaches and he feels some of the blood rush back to his extremities; his wrists won't bruise, but they are reddened where her palms gripped him. He nods his simple assent to her very practical plan: focus on helping people, the client whose life hangs by the most slender of threads.

"Oh, Wakanda cares about our justice," Matt counters with dark, gallows humor. His jaw has set back into that hard, angry line. "You don't drop a bomb like that ahead of a trial unless you want to tip the scales. That was your king trying to sway the media and potential jury pools against Bucky, pure and simple." Murdock's barely-concealed contempt for playboy billionaires and corporate titans has deep roots in his working class upbringing; what must he think of monarchs? "But yeah, anything you can do to help me get ahead of that mess would be amazing."

He circles back around to the phone, which is still recording. He shuts the app down, and makes a mental note to erase the last half of their conversation when he gets home. Meanwhile, she's offering to help further Matt can only shake his head. "You've done plenty, Jess. I'll handle voir dire. I'm, ah… pretty good at reading people. You just — practice, right? On your own, first, and then we'll go over it together closer to the day of."

"Hey, he's not my King," Jessica says, holding up her hands. A statement that might end up being a bit ironic later.

But that's all she has to say about that for now. She, with her middle-class and very WASP early upbringing, her weird later brush with adoption into a child star's home and her years of self-imposed, self-destructive poverty just sort of fits in anywhere with little trouble, a quality that is essential to doing her job.

She chuffs another silent half-laugh. "Yeah, I know you are," she says, in response to him being good at reading people. "Not disparaging that in the least. Just…doing things is easier than not doing things." She grimaces at her own statement, inane as it is, but figures that he'll get it. It's not like her tendency to need to take action and right now god damn it isn't pretty familiar to him by now.

She sobers, though, as he speaks of this upcoming 'dress rehearsal.' "But you're right, practicing should keep me busy enough. I'll be ready."

"Nah, I get it," Matt says of the impulse to do something with a flash of a smile that shows some of the white in his teeth. It's one they share, after all. "Any intel or help with the Wakanda stuff would be huge, honestly. It's — complicating things." Says a man with a knack for dry understatement.

He takes his glasses out of his pocket and slides them back on, and his own finely polished mini-mask once more firmly in place. "But I'll let you know if anything else comes up that I could use your help with." He slips his phone into his pocket and turns in her direction giving her one more assessing once-over. "You sure you're alright, Jess?"

"You'll know what I know the moment I know it," she promises.

She feels a flash of appreciation for his lingering concern, even as her physiology briefly suggests an answering smile of her own, one that flashes across her face in a mirror of his own. She hesitates, taking stock of herself for a moment, more because she's not sure what the honest answer is than anything else.

"You know…even a month ago this shit would have knocked me on my ass for weeks. But…"

What she feels is a sort of…wonder.

She didn't even have to do her grounding exercises. Neither the street names nor the people. Perhaps because one of the major names on the list was right there with her this time, but…she didn't have to.

What's changed? The stuff she's seen? The fact that people need her and she can't afford to let them down by falling apart? Simple exposure? The fact that she's broken down and been taped together again and again until something has strengthened inside of her, bolstered and pushed on by all those litanies of impossible kindnesses she's recieved over these months?

Is she just burying it? Is she sitting on a ticking time bomb that's going to explode? Or does she dare to believe that maybe, just maybe, she's…found some of the god damn grace she so envied in Bucky himself? Was it Matt, promising her she wasn't alone, laying out the exact steps he planned to take to make sure that there would be no repeat of her oldest and worst nightmare?

Or has she changed?

A little of both?

She lets out a soft, incredulous laugh that still carries that quality, that quality of just…intense wonder, as if she'd been wandering around with a broken leg all this time and has only now discovered that she can walk again.

"Yeah," she says, slowly. "Yeah, Matt. I really think… I am. Thank you."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License