Wrench in the Works

June 25, 2017:

Wakanda's sudden statement on the matter of the Winter Soldier throws a significant curveball at Matt Murdock's defense strategy. Matt calls Bucky in to figure out just what the hell went on from the source.

Nelson and Murdock, Hell's Kitchen


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster, T'Challa, Foggy Nelson, Steve Rogers

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It's when the office phones light up like Christmas at Rockefeller Center that Matthew Murdock realizes something has gone sideways. Call volume after those first few frantic weeks has reached an elevated but manageable keel — there may be sudden spikes after a particularly incendiary segment on Fox News or a particularly scowly front-pager from the Daily Bugle — but the assistant and paralegal they've brought on are instantly overwhelmed. And Matt can hear the conversations — it's reporters asking for a comment on Wakanda.

"Hey Fog," Matt says, raising his voice enough to carry across the foyer and over the phone conversations with reporters to his partner's adjoining suite. "Flip on the TV, will you?" There was an attempt in those early days to have the television on in the background, but Matt found the constant clamor of the 24-hour news cycle too much of a distraction. The media matters, he'd told Foggy, but at the end of the day this trial will be decided in court.

Hey, from your lips to God's ears, buddy, Foggy had told him.

Matt pushes himself up from his seat briskly, hearing his own heartbeat in his chest, feeling his uncanny sense of equilibrium turn ever so slightly off-kilter thanks to a rush of adrenaline. His fingers graze the desk tap the doorframe, little guideposts that lead him into the lobby, where Foggy turned on the TV and cranked up the volume. Whatever his powers, screens are a genuine challenge for Matt. He can't see the press conference that's currently running live on every major network in the country, but he can hear the words of a king well enough:

"While I deeply wish to share with my brothers and sisters the world over the details of this tragedy, it is not appropriate for a King to speak with any reverence the name of the condemned and the accused. I will cede the lectern to the appointed leader of those brave Wakandan men and women who are responsible for the investigations of this affront…"

"Holy shit, Matt."

"Yeah, I know."

"We're are fucked."

"I'm calling him."

"Why? So he can sell us some more bullshit? It's over."

"Just — look, just give me a sec, Fog."

Then he's reaching into his cellphone, telling Siri: "Call Bucky." It rings, it rings, and at the moment of pickup, the very urgent voice of Matt Murdock will come through:

"Barnes, are you watching what I'm watching?"

"Yeah," is the succinct reply. "Give me fifteen minutes."

That is Bucky Barnes, assuming that Matt Murdock wants to see him right the hell now.

He's nothing if not punctual. It's almost fifteen minutes on the dot before the familiar tired figure of James Buchanan Barnes is ushered into the spare legal offices of Nelson and Murdock by the very harried-looking assistant. His eyes are dim from lack of sleep, his features tense and drawn, but his back is still straight and his head up. Old habit, from years of military discipline.

"I ought to have guessed," he remarks, as the news coverage drones on in the background.

Bucky assumes right, though he'll have to slip past the swarm of cameras and news vans that, given a fresh angle seem happy enough to descend on the once little-known offices of Nelson & Murdock with a vengeance. It's only Matt and the support staff there in-office; Foggy has gone to find a quiet place smoke — a new habit — saying that he wouldn't be able to contain himself if he saw Barnes right now.

"Can you punch him for me, Matt?" Foggy asked before he left. "Like, a good one right in the nose? Because I bet that sad sack would actually let you if you asked him."

"Go cool off, Foggy," Matt had told him. But the truth is, Matt was only a little less incensed, and a lot better at hiding it. He's standing in the foyer 'watching' the television with his head tipped downward and away from the screen itself, hands planted on his hips. The press conference itself was a short affair, and now comes the inevitable parade of legal experts and talking heads to opine. When the door opens, Matt angles an uncharacteristically sharp look at his client. "Really?" he asks sharply, eyebrows arched high above the red shades. "Well, at least that makes one of us. What the hell, Barnes? How were we blindsided by this?"

Sliding past the news vans and cameras is child's play for someone like the Winter Soldier. He eases around via the rooftops, slides in a window a few floors up from Murdock's actual offices, cracks his way past a few doors that really aren't supposed to be opened, and slips down a few stairwells that probably haven't seen traffic in months.

That's the easy part. The hard part comes after he walks in the door.

When a blind man makes an effort to shoot you a sharp look right in the eyes, shit is real.

Barnes has no particular defense to make of himself on this point. He folds his arms and leans a shoulder against the nearest wall, watching the TV, taking in the blathering of the talking heads. "He's wrong," he says quietly. "I had nothing to do with any of that. I've tried to tell him, repeatedly, but Wakandans never listen to any voices except their own. I didn't think they would honestly enter this, because it's 'some other country's circus' and they never did respect much except their own customs and laws. Now it's going to take Jane throwing evidence in his face until he backs off."

His eyes flicker. "I ought to have brought it up," he admits. "Old habits die very hard: you know something, never say it unless asked. I don't… am not used to sharing everything I know. We were working on just canceling it out."

Very few people know the extent to which the mild-voiced Matthew Murdock is in actuality a boiling cauldron of rage. A few people look past the mild-voice and see the quiet confidence and understated swagger, but the anger? A handful of people on this earth know it — or at least are able to attribute it to him rather than the red devil he gets up as. Bucky is among the rare few who has ever caught a glimpse of it in daylight, seen there in the tight jaw and coiled frame that suggests, however seemingly improbably, that Matt is considering taking Foggy up on his last request and socking his client in the face.

Instead he makes a hard jerk of his thumb to his office when Bucky's done talking; the direction is clear. Then he pivots to the twin desks in the foyer, and his two aides. "We have no comment at this time," he tells them, "but get deadlines for the AP, Reuters, and the Times." Then he's striding into his room and slamming the door shut once both he and his client are within it.

"The King of Wakanda thinks you blew up a conference in his kingdom," Matt fumes. "Because you were there. In Wakanda, while it was happening."

He knows Bucky is telling the truth. His bullshit detector is superhuman, unparalleled, and the former (?) assassin's heart wavered, never rushed, never skipped a solitary beat as he laid out the truth as he saw it. It should make it better, but it doesn't. "I don't suppose Jane has any of this evidence handy?" Matt says as he circles his desk to stand behind his chair — though he finds himself too amped up to sit. "Because King T'Challa, for all that he's proven himself a grade-A asshole, isn't the audience I'm worried about right at this moment."

It is the first time Bucky has seen Matt Murdock angry. But make no mistake — he sees it. A lifetime of work requiring an observant eye means that little escapes his gaze. He has already seen several layers to Murdock, over the course of their short (to his knowledge, anyway) interactions.

Now he adds a surprising well of rage to the list of his observations.

It keeps Bucky sober and watchful. Not because he thinks Murdock will act recklessly, but because he is aware that this is socially a tense situation that he needs to handle correctly.

Once within the office, Matt doesn't sit, so Bucky doesn't either. He holds stance in silence, his posture calling to mind a military man awaiting a reprimand he knows he deserves. "Jane loves science," he says, of his presence in Wakanda while it was happening. "And there was science going on. Unfortunate line-up of events…"

He shakes his head. "Jane is mid-search for that," he says. "She had a talk with the king recently about her intent to gather it."

He is silent a moment, before — seeming to think this necessary before things proceed further, he says, "I'm sorry, Matt. It's your livelihood on the line. This should have been thought of earlier." His mouth thins. "A lot's been happening since the last time T'Challa tried to personally execute me."

Matt listens in silence to the Bucky's explanation of how he came up in Wakanda, the current state of play, and a graceful apology. It is, oddly, the last part that truly sets the lawyer off.

"Jesus Christ, it's not MY livelihood, it's your life!" Matt throws back in equal parts anger and exasperation, right before shutting his eyes tight and raking one hand hand through his hair. He has to date been nothing less than a diligent, tireless advocate on his client's behalf, but it is - perhaps - the outward first sign of how deeply invested he's become in the case, its outcome, and Barnes' own fate. There's a long beat before the lawyer draws himself up into his formerly dignified bearing.

"Look, James," he says, tone suddenly weary. "We're not just trying to, you know, poke holes in the prosecution's evidence, that kind of thing. That's not enough in this case. We're — the only way to win this is to tell a story. A story about the man you were, what they did to control you, and maybe most importantly, how you found yourself again. Any hint of wrongdoing after Ozone Park upends that narrative." Which may explain why the last time Matt ever registered annoyance towards James, much less anger, was upon confession of the Hydra cell hunting he'd pursued with Jane.

His fair Irish brow suddenly knits, as he adds in sudden afterthought: "How'd you get away from T'Challa?"

Bucky blinks as Matt goes off. It is the only outward concession he makes to the sudden expression of rage. His expression remains calm otherwise, though it skews sharply towards showing the outright exhaustion he truly feels.

"It's both," he concedes, but with that subtle stubbornness to his tone — familiar to Matt from having heard it in Steve Rogers' voice, as well — that suggests he still thinks Matt's career path a little more important than the ultimate disposition of his life. It is not a secret that he does not feel his own life to be worth any more than any of the others things that ride on this trial, and not even the repeated exasperation of those who feel he should be valuing his own life a little higher than he currently is can get him to stop.

Matt's outburst reminds him that there IS a guilty voice in his head that knows how devastated so many people would be if he died — Jane at the top of the life — but at the same time, whenever he closes his eyes, he can feel children dying at his hands again. Can feel the phantom pain he's suffered, over the course of a life unnaturally prolonged into a nightmarish and torturous existence. Can feel, deeply and viscerally, how hard it will be to ever feel normal again, and how impossible it sometimes seems to ever reach a point where life is not a titanic struggle just to find five minutes of pleasure to hold the hours of fear and paranoia and lurking triggers at bay—

He refocuses slowly on Matt's eyes, and realizes he's been staring blankly for the last half minute. With an effort, he transparently returns from some distant headspace far away from the present time.

"I know," he says heavily, as Matt reiterates that it will be a story that acquits him, and that life-saving narrative can bear no jaunts of mischief after his rescue from Ozone Park. "I made some… choices… that don't square with that kind of narrative. I was…" I am, "…angry."

How did they get away from T'Challa?

"The first time," he relays, "was the actual event. I tried to open a conversation at the time, but stuff was already planted to frame me, because they locked onto me instantly and they were shooting to kill. I had to leave the goddamned country. The second time we were — " ah, fuck, " — we were in Germany, and he attacked Jane and myself with a hovercraft there. We had to run for it again."

Matt's eyes are there for Bucky to find; he'd cast the shades onto the desk in irritation towards the end of his rant. The eyes are a rich, dark brown, unfocused but endlessly expressive of his often conflicting feelings: here lingering anger, there nagging sympathy, and over all of it frustration and exhaustion stemming from too many sleepless nights tackling a case that seems to sprout new tendrils at every turn.

I was angry, Bucky tells him, and Matt relates — as he always has. He doesn't have the weight of dead children on him, or years of torture and abuse, but he's no stranger to regret, guilt, and rage. There's something else, something on the periphery of his conscious thought that nags at him — some connection he should be making but isn't — and is certainly ill-equipped to do so in the moment. What he can do — or start to do — is move past reflexive emotions and start to think purposefully about the future.

"A hovercraft in Germany," Matt repeats flatly, trying to wrap his mind around the over-the-top insanity of it all. "That — means he knows about your trip to Germany." Another beat, a grimace. "It also means he's not really one to care about extradition treaties. Even if we win this case, he'll come for you unless you can give him a reason not to."

Who are you kidding, Matt? Foggy's voice echoes in his head. We're not winning this case.

"Alright, Barnes, if it wasn't you in Wakanda," murmurs the lawyer as he plants his palms on the desk, "who was it?"

One glance into Matt's eyes sobers Bucky into silence. It's the exhaustion that really gets at Bucky, more than anything else. Guilt weighs heavily back on the man's demeanor, guilt to be the cause of such stress and sleeplessnes in the young man's life. Hard enough that his livelihood is on the line, without the case in question being such a monolithic many-tentacled beast.

In the end, Bucky has no excuse for what he did after his rescue. No excuse for the actions he took that make it so hard now for Murdock to square up a neat narrative. No excuse but that he was angry… and there is a slight pause there in which Murdock seems to relate.

Then it is gone. Gone into talk of such farfetched things as hovercrafts. Bucky winces a little in apparent apology at the nonsensicalness of it all. "Yeah, he doesn't really care about borders, much less extradition treaties," he says. "He won't care if I'm acquitted. In his mind, I won't be acquitted in the eyes of Wakanda, and that's all that matters."

He shakes his head. "That's why Jane is searching for whatever she can find to prove that it was Hydra." His eyes are level. "Because that's who it was. I was confronted by a man who said Hail Hydra to my face."

Matt can tell at once that Bucky is speaking the truth. And it tracks. Hydra, the real tentacle-monster in this story, is very much alive. And just because their plans for Bucky failed doesn't mean they've forgotten about him. How could they? They're reading the headlines and watching the news like everyone else. No, they'll want revenge, or else a useful patsy — squeezing whatever use out of their investment in Barnes they can get before he shuffles off this mortal coil.

Matt dips his head, closes his eyes and brings up thumb and forefinger to lightly pinch the bridge of his nose. There's resignation in his posture, but it doesn't signal defeat. It's something more subtle: an acknowledgment that this round was unequivocally won by their varied opponents: Archer, T'Challa… Hydra. The fighter goes down — but not for the full count.

"On the upside," Murdock says as he raises his head back upwards, eyes lidded and tone world-weary, "if Wakanda wanted to add your charges to the mix here, they would have played this differently. My guess is that Archer was as blindsided by this as we were. But we still need that evidence — you need to be publicly cleared of all this as soon as possible."

A beat. "Does Jane — need anything?"

"They couldn't reclaim me," Bucky says heavily, confirming Matt's realization. "So they figure if they can't get the Winter Soldier back, they can ensure no one else will have him. The trial isn't a guarantee, so they'll do one better: get Wakanda out for his blood. They set this one up pretty good. Even if I get acquitted, I'll probably be executed in Wakanda anyway."

He smiles dryly. "That's how they think. It's the kind of thing I might have been sent to orchestrate myself, in the past."

The expression is brief. He lapses back into thought as Matt finds some silver lining to this all. "Nah," he says. "They're not interested in actually throwing in charges in the trial. That'd be suspiciously like participating in a justice system not their own. They'll only decide to back off under their own terms."

And that's where Jane comes in. Speaking of Jane…

Bucky's eyes turn somber as he thinks about whether Jane needs anything. There's a lot of things Jane needs, sure, but on this topic in particular… "I don't know that she needs anything to do this except time," he says slowly. "Time and space to work."

There is a pause. "But I know what she wants, and it's Hydra blood. I doubt she'll take long at all."

"Look, no one's getting executed," Matt says in half-hearted dismissal, pushing himself to an upright stand while Bucky outlines how Hydra plans to fool-proof their sabotage of his life. There's a few heartbeats while Matt quietly chews on the fact that some members of Hydra may, in fact, be getting executed if hundred-pound Jane Foster has anything to say about it. His 'star witness' on the efficacy of Hydra's conditioning techniques, and the gradual progression of the Winter Soldier back to Bucky Barnes.

She helps him regain some of his humanity, while she loses a little of hers because of him. That's love, right there.

The lawyer straightens his ruffled jack with a tug. "Well," Matt finally says while he plucks his glasses back up from the tabletop, "If she does find anything, tell her to give me a call before she does anything with it." It's a wildly outlandish thing to say for a half-way ethical attorney. Really, Matt should be dissuading Bucky, Jane, and all his friends in vigilantism in all its forms, but even if he were inclined to put up the pretense, they are running out of time and options.

No one's getting executed, Matt dismisses. Bucky grimaces a little at his own choice of words. "They'll try to execute me," he amends. "But if Jane has her way…"

He falls silent. It's rather transparent he's thinking things along the same lines as Matt is — that Jane is selling pieces of her own humanity in order to give him back pieces of his own — and the troubled look in his eyes suggests that this is an argument they have had many times and which Bucky has historically always lost.

He doesn't speak about it aloud. He just nods slowly as Matt insists that Jane call him posthaste before she does anything with anything she finds. "I'll make sure," he says. "So shit like this doesn't blindside you again."

In the background, the news coverage drones on. "I figure you can explain how the intel was gathered, when she finds it." It's not an if, to Bucky, where Jane is concerned. It's when.

Bucky assures Matt that he won't be blindsided again. That when evidence is found, it will go right to him, so that… Matt can then come up with a clean, neat story for how said evidence was found. The lawyer rolls his useless eyes upward a little before re-donning the spectacles and restoring some of that cool, unflappable (if slightly rumpled) front he presents to the world.

"That's my job, isn't it?" Matt says in a tone just a touch too caustic to fairly be called 'dry.' The anger has mostly abated, been mollified by the facts as relayed and the simple fact that Bucky Barnes will, no matter how much he has a right to the anger he just confessed to, always be harder on himself than anyone (outside of Hydra) could ever be on him. Still, the peace is a fragile one — a scab, not a scar.

Matt draws in a deep, cleansing breath to reset himself, a lesson that has become rote reflex at this point. "Let me handle the press on this," he says to Bucky. "You just — keep your head down, okay? No surprise vacations to fucking Genosha."

James' demeanor closes down a little at Matt's acerbic response to his assurances. It is a studied sort of blankness that overtakes him, a sort of quiet that Matt himself would be well familiar with as attendant to the act of getting oneself firmly under control. The kind of stillness you get out in the middle of a frozen-over river, hastening to the other side and praying the ice does not crack.

Then it passes on into the more regular, placid thrum of a heartbeat, the even breathing of a man at rest. "Yeah," he says. "It is."

He folds his arms. "You don't have to ask twice on that," he says. "I'm real bad around press. They require patience and tact, and I have neither right now." And while Matt might not pick up the eyeroll at mention of Genosha, he's unlikely to miss the derisive light exhale that hisses past the other man's teeth.

"Not likely," he says. "Only thing to do now is keep attention off Jane."

Composures are regained and roles seemingly re-established as the two men face each other across the span of desk. Bucky reasserts control of himself by shutting down, while Matt does the same by regaining some of his prior clip — he's all brisk professionalism as he finally eases into his seat. "I'll handle my end," Matt says of the press, or of his job, or both, with quiet certainty while he reaches for the braille display to begin composing how many emails for the afternoon and a good part of the evening.

But not before the lawyer is turning his focus towards Barnes. "You handle yours, James," says the lawyer with an evenness the last hour of conversation almost certain belies.

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