Interrogatories

June 07, 2017:

Matt Murdock's witness interview of Steve Rogers shines a spotlight on the hero's competing responsibilities.

Law Offices of Nelson & Murdock

A modest law office in Hell's Kitchen.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Peggy Carter

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The sun is finally beginning to set on a beautiful — if unseasonably cool — June day in New York City. Most people have had the good sense to leave work by now — whether it's home to their families or off to a beer garden or Met's game. But wearing one hat or another, Matthew Murdock has always done his best work at night. And as long as he's holed up in his third-story suite of that ramshackle Hell's Kitchen office building, the cameras are there too, encamped just outside in their logo'd vans.

It's fame by association. Nothing Matt has (publicly) done is worth the scrutiny suddenly being applied to every aspect and seeming hour of his life. And in truth he's not so much the subject of fascination as who he might be talking to. Will it be the Winter Soldier? Strange — it's rare to see him come and go — or his mad scientist girlfriend? Is it going to be U.S.A. Archer, come to make a deal? Or is it going to be —

—well, Captain America.

The front door of the building will buzz when any expected visitors announce themselves, allowing access to an ancient elevator that leads to dingy hall that leads, in turn, to a doorway with "Nelson & Murdock" in frosted glass above the knob. Opening it will reveal a mostly empty three-room railroad spread, and it's only a few moments after that front door will open that a scruffy, charcoal-grey suited Matt Murdock will appear in the doorframe of his office, with a brief, slight, but welcoming smile.

"Captain Rogers, I presume," the blind man says. "Thanks for coming."

For Murdock, the presence of Rogers is unique, but for different reasons than most. When the door is opened, there is the smell of something like sweat, but slightly cleaner and almost energizing? Likely an after effect of the super serum and its ability to process toxins at 'super human' speeds. Leave it Rogers to even have showy sweat. Particular perspiration aside, the man is indeed here, dressed in rather simple civilian attire: tan cargo pants, a loose fitting short sleeve button up that appears to be blue, and footwear that walks the odd line of boat shoes and dress shoes. He also wears a dark blue ball cap and sunglasses, which he is in the process of removing when the door is opened. This time, the hand is not extended as he 'learned' from his previous mistake. "Indeed. Anything to help the man who's helping a friend." While the blue eyes of Steve survey the room, he doesn't actually make a move to enter unless offered.

Whatever his peculiar qualities — stranger by far than even Captain America's sweat — there's very little that's showy about Matt Murdock. He's the picture of modesty, really: the small and largely empty office, the unassuming voice, the demeanor that's deferential and conciliatory — right up until it isn't. Well, no. That white slash of a smile is showy, for all that it's a brief thing, and tired. These hours working on behalf of Bucky Barnes aren't all that billable, but they still wear on him. "Glad to hear you say that, Captain," he murmurs dryly from his position near the far doorframe of his office. "Come on in. Can I get you something? Water? Coffee?"

Taking a few steps in, Steve beams back his own smile. It flares with an intense photogenic warmth, every bit the poster child he was designed to be. "A water would be great," he admits. He cranes his head around, trying to see if he find evidence of the case as he knowingly takes in the details of an office of humility that meets an unspoken standard.

As most worried about a friend or a family member, Steve's eager to learn what he can of the legal proceedings. It seems civility and manners temper any bluntness from the War Hero for the time being. "I hope you've been well," he continues, his smile fading to see the all-too-obvious signs of fatigue. "I'm sure times like this have you burning the wick at both ends."

There is, indeed, a small case of water bottles in plain view on the countertop of the kitchenette adjacent to the foyer, and while Matt is perfectly happy to play the host, he also recognizes the absurdity of a blind man playing fetch. "Ah, yeah, of course — there's a bottle to your left," the lawyer says. "Come on back to my office."

To questions of his own state? Matt's lips tip dismissively downward and he shakes his head. "Just fine," the lawyer says, as if this were any other day of any other week. "But staying busy, yeah. Come on back with me and take a seat, if you don't mind." And he'll turn to do so before the Captain's even started, finding the regular touch-points of wall and chair and table with brief, deft brushes of his hand to guide him around to his favored chair at that flimsy wooden desk he's made his home-away-from-home.

He settles into his leather seat with a relaxed repose, sightless eyes obscured by dull-red lenses. "How are you?" he asks in turn, and though the question is lightly couched, it's clearly a weightier than simple courtesy. "I imagine you haven't had this much public attention cast your way since — well. Since you woke up."

Steve gets the water as requested giving a quip of "I remember when we drank our water and didn't mind if it tasted like lead" with a brief chuckle as he makes his way back; it's a shameless attempt to ease the tension that is within Rogers himself if not the room as a whole.

As he comes back, Steve is memorized by how Matt is conducting himself as he witness the end of the seemingly mundane odyssey to the chair. He's interacted with the blind before, but he is always impressed by the confidence that they can carry themselves and how they conduct themselves in a world that many would feel had dealt them an unfair hand. Rogers takes his seat a couple seconds after Matt does.

"I've lived a good amount of life in the spotlight, both literally and figuratively," the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan admits. "I admit it's sometimes a relief that I'm encouraged to stick to the written responses I've been counseled on. I'm used to cue cards and when it's something this emotionally charged, it's good for me to have my lines memorized." Blue eyes flicker down as Steve processes fully, as if he never really had a chance to despite being asked so many times by so many. But Matt hits that unique position of being 'in the know' and 'not someone who Cap feels responsible for'. "It's hard, but definitely had worse. I'm just preparing myself for the trial. Sure there is going to be a lot of… things in it. Trials tend to be rather good at causing everyone's life to be dragged out at length. I want to be prepared for this, but I know that a lot of it is just taking it as it comes and trusting in the advice of others."

"Yeah, New York water is a lot cleaner than it was in your day," Matt says with a careless shrug of his shoulders from his vantage on the chair. "But some people prefer the bottled stuff." Like the people, for instance, with tastes so sensitive that the fluoride used to clean and treat the system makes tap water taste like toothpaste, comes the unspoken and wry addendum.

But then his whole body is suddenly active and engaged in listening to Steve Rogers tell his story, his lips quirking in a close-mouthed, sympathetic sort of smile when Steve confesses that it's been tough. "Being under indictment is one of the worst things that can happen to a person," the lawyer offers after a moment. "But having someone close to you — a family member, or friend, or a loved one — indicted isn't far behind. There's a sense of powerlessness — and yeah, concern about how public it all is. The Scarlet 'I', I guess you could call it."

Matt takes a slow breath and exhale, fingers drumming briefly on the table between them. "I hope you understand that — even though you've been called as a witness by the prosecution, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you talking to me. Defense attorneys need to interview witnesses, really, to do their duty by the clients. So with that in mind?" Another smile — brief, close-lipped. "Will you allow me to ask you some questions?"

In the brief pause that comes between the talk of Indictment and Questions, there is a slow exhale from Rogers himself. He can only manage one word, his eyes staring toward the surface under Matt's fingers as if it were a distant horizon.

"Yeah," comes the unequivocal agreement, barely spoken a whisper.

Soon after, Matt goes into business after checking on Steve's welfare as an empathic soul. Rogers is still looking at the table, only breaking out of the semi-fugue at the final question, snapping to have his gaze look to the shaded eyes before him. "Sure," he states, taking in a deep breath, straightening his back in the chair as he attempts to ready himself for whatever is to follow.

Steve Rogers gives his assent to dive down the rabbit hole, and Matt says a simple: "Thanks." As if it were a remotely simple thing to answer these sorts of questions. He leans forward in his chair, lacing his fingers together and setting his elbows on the edge of the desk he leans over. "Really, I'm just getting up to speed on all the facts." A beat. "There's a lot of material to cover," he adds in dry understatement.

"I suppose — there are three beats, thre I want to talk through," the crimson-shaded lawyer says before his head angles ever so slightly to the right. "The first is when you knew Bucky Barnes was not just alive, but not himself, and how and why you knew it. The second, is when you recognized Bucky had regained his mind, and how and why you knew it. And the third —"

"Well," the lawyer says apologetically, "those first two are a lot to chew on. We can get to the third part after."

A brief smile is given toward Murdock as he attempts to make light the mountain of information and literal history he has to research in order to make his case. "A bit," he agrees with a flash of a smile, the only attempt of mirth before things get serious.

There is an uncomfortable shift in Rogers' posture when the questions are revealed. After all, while it's one thing for Matt to ask these, to understand that the prosecution will start with such things is troubling. "Well, about six months after I had been, well, recovered and brought back into active duty, it was uncovered that the Winter Soldier was attacking people related to magical book. Various heroic sources told me that they believed that Barnes was not only alive, but under control of some outside influence, as they had stated that he didn't know who he was, who I was, or any real personal information about himself. After he had attacked a woman linked to the book, I was able to verify those facts for myself. If you want dates and reports, Peggy Carter is likely the woman you want. As you know, the three of us have shared history, but she was handling the investigations for SHIELD. I'm not sure exactly we'll be able to share since, well, national security is going to tie into a lot of the finer details."

Rogers' words are slow, intentional, and seemingly intentionally vague. It's clear he's being defensive of his friend, even now in this 'safe place'.

Another deep breath is given, as if cleansing himself from the first question to the second.

"About three months ago, we were able to find the device that gave Barnes the commands to hurt people. HYDRA, a known terrorist organization, was found to be there as well as if was some sort of facility. However, location and details of the mission are classified. I'm not sure what will be cleared for you or not. Either way, while attempting to get to Bucky and the machine in question, I confronted him. In that time, he remembered my name, showed remorse for his actions and remembered who he was." There is a short pause, Steve clearly not too thrilled with sharing nor what this seems to suggest from how the war hero tells it. "I know it's a hard case," he concludes awkwardly, his gaze case down as if blame is about to be assigned.

His sunglasses may obscure all those tell-tale cues around the eyes, but the rest of Matt's aspect and posture convey active engagement with Steve Roger's halting recollection of the last tumultuous six months. But they don't convey much more than that. He's a man given to subtle expressions by nature, and trained to school his face to neutrality by profession — and chances are he'd be a damn good poker player if he could actually read the cards.

"You just confronted him, and it all came… rushing back?" Matt says with a loft of dark eyebrows over the rims of his glasses. It's the sort of open-ended question that invites elaboration.

The admission that the case is a hard one — along with the note of apology — the lawyer leaves for now untouched on the table between them.

While the smile had long since worn out its welcome, Steve's straight line of lips begins to turn into a frown. Cap's used to being grilled, but it's on things he's familiar with: who is he dating (or not dating), what are his feeling on American culture, the nature of man and their relationship to superheroes, how things used to be, and all things related to those subjects. He never felt as if his character was to be impugned the feeling rather alien. In the end, it's likely a good thing such things happen here rather than in the courtroom so he's comfortable with it before the eventful questioning. He adjusts himself in the chair, as he readying some sort of fight while still seated.

"I suppose I oversimplified it somewhat," the Avenger adds as he glances off to the side. "As I said before, multiple people came up to me. Some stated that magical means had allowed them to see who Barnes was and helped him recall. Others had just recognized him in the fighting. When I had interacted with him on those select few times, he had already begun to have glimpses of the man he once was. My fight with him and the conversations we had later, showed him who he was. However, HYDRA soon came after him and things became more…. Complicated."

A dismissive hand wave is given in response, eye contact still not given. "I'm sure that someone else has already given the details on that fateful HYDRA attack," Steve states in an uncharacteristic attempt to divert responsibility, likely for reasons already discussed.

It's safe to say Matt's pointed, if softly spoken, questioning of Captain Rogers is partly (partly) intended to do exactly that: accustom Steve to the skepticism he will inevitably face from both U.S.A. Archer and even jurors. Certainly Rogers should expect Archer to grill him harder than Matt Murdock is currently doing. But the lawyer's line of questioning has other roots too, to judge from the way Steve's evasions bring Murdock's lips into a thinner line and prompt one hand to open and flex — telltale signs of irritation otherwise masterfully masked by a fair-skinned veneer of composure.

"Captain Rogers," the young lawyer says after a moment, a touch of weariness in his otherwise mellow, everyman tone, "Sergeant Barnes isn't going to take the stand. In fact, he isn't going to say one word in his own defense — not to the jury, not to the press. There are good reasons for that. Personal reasons and strategic reasons. But."

The words that follow are quiet and grave, but not entirely unkind: "That… leaves a vacuum," Matt continues, the two red lenses fixed on the dressed-down superhero as if the eyes behind them could see not just him, but all the way through him. "You've already seen it on the TV, haven't you? On social media. People are calling for his blood, Captain Rogers, even if they don't have a damn clue what they're talking about. And because the man won't speak up for himself, that just leaves his lawyer — and his friends — to make up the difference. If we don't tell James' story, don't articulate all the terrible things he was put through and forced to do with clarity and conviction, the only ones who will are the ones who mean him harm. Do you see what I'm saying?"

It would seem that if the conversation proceeded with the back and forth and Rogers' need to share, Steve would do everything he could to avoid the topic at hand. He just needs to keep going to get to the end of this all the plates still spinning without letting one drop and shatter.

The talk of Bucky refusing to defend himself causes Captain America to look back toward Matt, his blue eyes piercing. It's clear that he's both concerned by this fact, yet ultimately unsurprised. When Steve's attempts at evasiveness fail, he tries what is definitely something he's skilled at, open transparency.

"I've read the reports, listened to the shows. A few of them have called, asking for me to speak. But a lot of them, well, they just want a 'them' to lash out at with the rest of 'us'. It's just what people do these days." A breath is sucked in. "There is a lot that comes up with me taking the stand. I understand I'm his friend and I will do everything within my power to protect him. But I've taken oaths as well; both as a man within the United States military and as Captain America." Each plate is listed, given the firm gravity and respect each Steve feels is earned. "To protect the moral integrity of this nation, to safeguard the secrets of this nation, to do all I can to respect and not undermine the United States court system by abusing the powers given to me. I don't want an innocent man to suffer for the sake of the issues listed, but at the same time, I can't ignore them merely to save someone close to me."

The tension of the room seems to be audible for a moment, but it's seems the cricking is merely Steve being a hair's breath from crushing the chair arms within his steely grip, not out of anger, but something that one would think would be anxiety if not for the fact that his tone is unshakable and his posture pristine. Or maybe he's just living up to the classic line that states: Courage is not the absence of fear, but merely the ability to act in spite of it.

Recognizing how close he is to ruining furniture, Rogers releases his grasp, attempting to settle himself back in a vain attempt to get comfortable. "I know you likely don't find it an excuse, nor would I want you to, but those are my reasons just the same. I am trying my best to work with you." There is a short pause, as if feeling projected disbelieve upon himself. "I really am," he adds softly.

Safe to say that all that tension Steve expresses so subtly is plain as day to the blind man. He can hear it in the creak of of the wooden chair under his tightened palms, in the telltale elevation of the heartbeat, in the too-perfect posture of the certified American hero. Matt — quietly cynical about most institutions, his own country among them — is less impressed by Steve's mantle of heroism than he is by both the composure and understated honesty the man exhibits under trying circumstances.

Good grief, he's the real deal, Matt Murdock thinks to himself, with grudging admiration.

Of course, that doesn't mean he's going to go easy on Mr. Rogers. Not hardly.

"I understand you have many things to consider, Captain," Matt says in his soft wont to Steve Rogers' assurance that he's trying to work with him. "Many competing responsibilities and roles. But if I may be frank — for one, there's no ethical bar preventing a military officer from commenting on a court case, or preventing a witness from discussing his testimony with the prosecution, the defense, or even the general public. As for Captain America?"

Now Matt leans forward in his chair, fixing all his quiet intensity on the man across from him. Passion creeps into his voice, providing a hint of what it must look like when he's in the courtroom. "America is in the midst of shaming itself, Captain. The Adminsitration has all the evidence it needs to know Bucky Barnes was brainwashed. Archer, the Secretary of State, and the White House all know he was left for dead, know he was tortured and abused in a way no POW has been before or since, and they even know he broke free of that conditioning and has been trying his best to atone and hold himself accountable. They're willing to try him anyway for the sake of international politics. You say you're trying to balance defending your friend and being Captain America. But if being Captain America means what I've heard it means — standing up for the little guy and fighting injustice — that conflict may not be as fraught as you might think."

Closing argument made, Matt leans back against his chair with an audible thud. "Now," he adds with a quiet sigh, "that isn't to say I'm asking you to divulge classified information. What can be said and what can't be said will all be hashed out with the court before you ever take the stand. But in the mean time? Nothing stops you from vouching for your friend's character. And frankly, he needs that right now. Needs you, Rogers."

As Matt explains what Rogers has to fear or more importantly what he doesn't have to worry himself over, the Super Soldier nods. "I see," is all that is said initially, taking in more than just the information, but the thoughts of a man who seems jaded by all the 'current' America has to offer.

In the wake of those words, there is silence. It isn't one meant to be rude or to stonewall. Rogers merely takes the time to think, to process, to work past this thing. While Steve is a smart man, he knows he is far from perfect and is clearly letting the words sink in to fully articulate a response to what is being leveled at him. The words of Bucky's treatment weigh upon him. Still, the conviction in his voice never wavers, even if it takes him a great deal longer for the train of thought to continue.

"If it's legal and appropriate for me to represent my friend, then I will throw my weight publically behind him," Steve declares calmly, his voice stating his decision as if it were a law of nature. "I don't think I need to explain how much of a friend he is for me, or what I'd be willing to do for him. He fought to defend me when no one else would before the war, fought with me as a brother in arms during the war, and has done everything he could to regain the identity stolen from him by his enemies. Bucky Barnes is like a brother to me and a far closer to family than people linked by blood. He's a good man who's been given a bad hand; I figured out of all the people who could understand that, it would be someone accustomed defending those left to rot by the system."

It seems like Cap is getting a little wordy, as if he crafting a speech in the long silence. Knowing his usual style, he just might have.

"I know it seems like I'm trying to find an out, but I just need to do the right thing. This thing needs grace and as you said, if Archer, and people in the government are trying to make Bucky out to be a patsy, that means I'll have to make Captain America untouchable even when trying to protect Barnes," Rogers continues, his gaze firmly upon Matt as he leans forward slightly. There is intensity in those eyes, not one of malice or hate, but merely of pure resolve. "I am not going to let my friend down. I am not going to let my nation down. I know it's possible do all we need to do without compromising either. We both know it's possible, it's just a matter of getting there."

All that pomp and fluff stated, Steve settles back. "So, I'll answer questions and defend Bucky's character to the best of my ability, which will hopefully be as easy as you claim with your 'pre-courtroom discourse'. I've taken oaths to protect certain information. Some of the friends I referred to you /haven't/. That is why I've referred them to you, it lets both sides gets the information without putting myself in a worse position than I'll already be."

Rogers appears to be stubborn, that much is certain, but like many that believe in ideals, he feels he's fighting for something better. The thing that makes it more different than extremist on social media or talking points on television is the balance of humility, Steve's understanding that he is merely a human trying to represent and defend something that is perhaps above his ability, trying to turn around a nation that seems entirely convinced that the only thing that needs to change is everyone else around them.

Matt offers the full weight of his attention as Steve Rogers lay out the reasons for his reticence. He's a quiet and empathetic presence throughout — the latter a valuable quality for a lawyer, and freely quality offered to most who come through this office — even if it comes to Matt more easily in this conversation. Captain America may not hide his identity from the world the way the Devil of Hell's Kitchen does, but there's still a duality and tension between Rogers' public and private life that the lawyer-cum-vigilante understands all too well.

And the corners of his lips lift, quirk ever so subtly, when Steve talks about what a friend James Buchanan Barnes was to him before the man's literal fall from grace. "I appreciate all of that, Captain, more than you know," Murdock offers in his soft-spoken and deliberate tone when Steven is done. "I understand the difficulty of your role, the tension inherent in it. I'm not suggesting you have to share details of what happened to Bucky, or any of what you've experienced over the last half-year, with anyone right now. Not even me. But —"

Matt's hands spread again as he adds a quiet, wry: "While you don't need to explain to me what Bucky Barnes' friendship means to you, the rest of the world might be due for a refresher. Even if it grew up on stories of Captain Rogers, Sergeant Barnes and the rest of the Commandos."

The lawyer summons a cleansing breath that flares his nostrils. "And when it comes to the facts? May I suggest that you will have a clearer view of what you can and can't say when the trial has begun in earnest, and you're closer to the stand. And that when you have a better sense of those contours, we should talk again. Sound good?"

Mr. Rogers, it seems, is not the only person in the room possessed of dogged determination and sense of purpose.

Mirroring Murdock, the First Avenger gives his own exhale before he rises up. "I suppose so. "In the meantime, I'll see if I can get a public appearance or two that will be favorable to me. I believe Jess has a friend in the business, I'll see if I can talk with Miss Walker, get some needed air time to as you said 'remind America what it needs to know'. Maybe a few other places if I can." As much fun as dealing with the ultra right or ultra left groups might be for Cap, as Murdock said, it's about getting the word out even if that means he has to answer a few unrelated questions on American policy or what he considers important in the first date.

The tone is clearly not amused, but considering the situation, it would be close to impossible to have Steve comes out of this feeling pleased or even assured.

"While it's clear we won't be seeing eye to eye on some things, you can know that I do respect you and what you're doing. From what I can tell, I'm extremely grateful that you were willing to accept the case and have the full confidence that you'll do everything you can to prove Bucky's innocence. Thank you."

All that said, Steve turns to make his way out, unless stopped by Murdock for final words or thoughts.

"Yeah, Trish Talks," Matt Murdock says dryly with another twitch of his lips as he pushes himself to a rise following the creaking sound of a chair that suggests Steve is doing the same. "Syndicated. Good choice — I'm a fan."

Then Rogers is saying that there may be points where they disagree, but respect remains. Murdock bends his lips downward and nods, nonchalant. Whatever he moonlights as, his professional life exists in an adversarial system where not seeing 'eye to eye' but still looking for points of agreement where you can is the name of the game. "You're welcome," says the one man recklessly putting his professional life in the balance to the other man whose legacy, brand, and mission are suddenly in the hazard for the self-same reasons

"Just one other thing, Captain," Matt adds as he stands there behind the desk. His head dips downward as if the eyes behind those red shades were fixed on the table — though of course they can't be. "You're right that I'm committed to saving Bucky's life. So when I tell this story — it's going to have to be the story of a POW caught behind enemy lines. It's going to have to be a story of a man who was left behind, and is still somehow paying for that even today. I won't cast blame, I won't defame — and I mean no disrespect. Truly. But it's the story the jury — and America — will need to hear."

If someone had keen hearing, they would almost be able to hear the entire body of Captain America tense all at once. The mention of Barnes being left as a MIA instead of searched after reminds him of the wound that Rogers still feels. After all, both Bucky and Steve sacrificed all to save the world. The only difference is people were willing to spend millions to find their investment of the Super Soldier, while Barnes was just another good man.

The response is soft, barely a whisper. "I wouldn't have it any other way. Good night, Mister Murdock."

And muted farewell, Cap makes his way out of the room.

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