July 31, 2017:

In a recess during Jane Foster's testimony at trial, Bucky and Matt converse about Matt's strategic choices on direct. Matt makes a decision regarding his most guarded secret.

United States District Courthouse, Eastern District of New York

A historic federal courthouse on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Steve Rogers, Jane Foster

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

A short recess was called between the direct and cross examinations of Jane Foster, most likely because of the state of the witness after the final question from the District Attorney. It was an opportunity for more people than just Jane to take a break, however.

It's not exactly encouraged that the defendant go talking to witnesses, especially during trial, so James doesn't talk to Jane during the recess, much as he wants to. Instead he excuses himself from the company of his attorneys, and vanishes as the Winter Soldier is wont to do. There's really no assurance that he will come back, which makes the prosecution antsy, but after all, he's been out on bail for weeks and weeks and hasn't run yet, so they let him walk out.

It wouldn't be hard for a man of Matt Murdock's senses to find his errant client, once the time to fetch him back draws close. He's avoided the grandiose front entrance of the federal courthouse, with all its packed rows of media waiting for any glimpse of anyone connected to the trial. Instead he can be found out back, near a service entrance, seated on the steps and unheeding of its dust collecting on his suit. He's got the jacket off due to the heat, the garment slung over his left shoulder.

James Barnes is one of those men for whom age seems to be more a fluid construct than a definite number. Sometimes he looks and acts his apparent age of thirty, a young man in his prime. Sometimes he acts younger, as if to recapture some stolen youth. Other times, however, he wears all one hundred of his years, the look in his eyes belying his physical age.

This is one of those times. He's working his way through a cigarette, his back slumped, his gaze abstracted and far away. He looks an encapsulation of every veteran of every war, in the downtime between battles: weary and blank-eyed, avoiding thinking too hard about what has passed, and what is to come.

The bar against defense counsels talking to witnesses pre-cross is even more severe than that of defendants, and so Matt Murdock spent most of the hourglass' sands in quiet conference with co-counsel, debriefing the direct examination of Jane and settling on an ostensibly final list of questions on cross that will, with luck, rebut Archer's attempts to impeach her judgment and character and present an alternative narrative surrounding diminutive scientist that the jury will find more appealing. It's only when the appointed hour is nearly half-spent that Matt and Foggy realize their witness is taking his fair share of time alone. Matt suggests he'll go track him down — and while it's a seemingly preposterous suggestion — Foggy doesn't have the heart to make a joke about it. "Yeah, sure buddy," he tells his blind friend. "Tell him to get his pasty ass over here or Leong will flay it herself. Of course, the same goes for you, so don't take too long. Okay?"

He doesn't take long at all. Even though the courthouse is teeming and jam-packed with novel sights and smells, Matt knows his client well enough to hone in one the empty spaces where a man might look for some much-needed solitude. And so it's with twenty minutes left to spare that the back door opens and Matt Murdock appears, walking stick in hand. He knows he's found his target thanks to a host of intangible indicators as precise as a fingerprint, but because of the endless kabuki that is his life, he can't let himself show that he's found it. He'll take a few steps forward, tap-tap, tap-tap, to see if anyone says a word.

There is a very particular bundle of sounds and scents that signals 'Bucky Barnes' — the periodic sigh and smell of smoke, the sound of mechanisms articulating and steel plates clicking, and the everpresent tang of the considerable amount of metal that comprises his left arm. Once all the crowded places of and around the courthouse are ruled out, there's only a very few places left to search, and only one contains that melange.

It's funny how they have gotten this far in their odd relationship with Bucky still none the wiser about his attorney's interesting alter ego, and therefore without any awareness of his attorney's unique talents. Thus it is when he notices Matt, he stirs obviously, alerting his presence with a quiet, "Murdock," in deference to the other man's blindness.

Even if he's a little pissy right at the moment.

"The bullshit due to start again?" he inquires. It's an interesting choice of words, given that before now he has made something of a point to avoid leveling insult against the justice system or the court itself.

"Hey, James," Matt says when he hears that voice, as both footsteps and surveying walking stick come to an instant halt. In the courtroom, in front of the jury, Matt uses either "Sergeant Barnes" or "Bucky Barnes" — the first playing off his military career and the latter placing his client squarely within Captain America's well-known narrative. But in private, over the last six weeks, it has become 'James' —

likely because that's what Jane calls him.

He turns in its direction to face the sitting man squarely. Matt is mostly himself, if a bit more polished for the sake of the trial. He's wearing a nicer suit than his typical scruffy-chic fare, ditched the stubble, and is finally wearing a proper dress shirt instead of those collar-buttoned oxfords. His aspect is always hard to read, thanks in part to those red lenses, but affability and weariness both register on a casual scan. "Yeah, we're getting close," the lawyer says with a faint nod, hefting the walking stick in one hand. "But you've got enough time to finish your cigarette. Mind company?"

Safe to say that even without supersenses he could register James' saltiness, the jabs at the justice system. He can likely guess at (some) o ftheir underlying cause. But he doesn't address them directly. Not yet.

The man before Matt Murdock has many personalities and even more names, and has gotten used to being referred to as any number of different things over the years. He was James to his family as a young man, Bucky to his friends and to Steve, Sergeant Barnes in the war and Winter Soldier after he fell. As the Soldier, he had dozens more names trailing that single personality like a macabre train: Yakov on the few books he needed to be on, Yasha to a certain Black Widow, and codenames in all the countries where he has killed, few of them complimentary. At least, not complimentary other than in an acknowledgement of how many he killed, how eternal he seemed to be, and how much fear he sowed.

As a result… choice of name to use is an interesting and extremely individualized choice anyone who comes to know James Buchanan Barnes must eventually make. Matt Murdock, for his personal use, picks James.

James responds to it, at the least, though Murdock's query if he wants company garners only silence at first. He puts his cigarette back in his mouth, assesses his lawyer in one look of his blue eyes, assesses himself as to whether he actually does want company, and eventually taps audibly at the open spot on the steps beside him, the ring of metal on concrete a guide for Matt to find his way.

"Fuck of a question Archer closed with," he says, eventually, smoke curling from between his teeth. "Fuck of an angle he took."

Matt hears the rap of that metal arm on concrete, and notes the difference in this new slimmed-down, more /human/ variant. Replacing his arm was a genius move, and not at all his or Foggy's idea. Jane Foster is a miracle worker, he says silently to himself, with the weight of personal experience. He'll follow the sound and, with more care than is strictly necessary, lower himself onto the steps — fancy tailored suit be damned. "Yeah, fuck of a question," the lawyer echoes softly. He lets that repetition linger in the air a while longer before he adds: "But she knocked it out of the park, James. She really did. She was aggrieved, but not angry, and brought it all back to the core truth we're telling here. You could tell she nailed it just in the way Archer didn't even have a follow up."

Matt draws in a long, cleansing breath of outdoor air, even if it's of the downtown Brooklyn summer variety. "I know that couldn't have been easy to watch, though. But her part in this — her direct part — is almost over."

Coming closer yields a new sound, very subtle but there: the hum of the holographic display that renders his arm human in appearance. It wasn't James' idea, either, really; he's gotten so used to seeing silvery steel when he looks left that the idea he could have something human again never occurred to him. No, the idea was all Jane's. Many things about this trial have been all Jane.

In the end, that's part of the problem, for James.

He listens in silence as Murdock answers. Smoke trailing from his cigarette is the only thing about him that moves. "I was waiting for you to object," he says. "But I guess she had to be put on the block to get the right effect, didn't she?"

He shakes his head. "I wasn't going to have her suffer to buy me my freedom. Not a shred."

Ah, Matt thinks to himself as a deathly still Bucky Barnes lets loose some of what's seething inside him. It doesn't surprise him — in fact, it's the most understandable thing in the world to Matt Murdock, who shares many of Barnes' protective instincts. He was expecting this to be a day that challenged the relationship with his client, but he expected it, if anything, to come a little later. Might as well address it now.

"Sometimes there isn't really a play to make," he begins in the careful, quiet manner he favors. "Jane was always going to get a question about where her loyalties lay, and why she's still with you after all you've been through." After all you did to her, he should say, but knows better than to. It likely comes through anyway.

"The most I could have done," Matt goes on grimly, "is gotten him to rephrase his question in a way that was slightly less assholish. But after my last objection — that was a close call. And you have limited capital on objections with both judge and jury. Pull that trigger too often and you're the asshole." He doesn't angle a look at Bucky — what on earth would be the point — but there's nevertheless a sense that he's shifting his strange focus onto his client. "But also?" he says with a little shrug. "Yeah. The jury needed to see her stand up to him. See her strength. If they get the sense that she's fragile, or easily cowed, it — "

It makes it look like she was cowed by YOU, into who knows what sorts of things? It plays into the Stockholm argument.. "It's not good for us. And by us I include Jane, by the way. You know as well as I do that if this thing goes bad and she didn't feel she'd done everything she could to save your ass, she'll spend the rest of her life hating herself. Among other people."

If James is one thing, he is fairly direct once he does decide to act on something that is bothering him. He could wait until later, but later the moment would have already passed. Now, it seems it's going to be.

Murdock, at the least, instantly understands, perhaps due to the innate similarities at the core of both men — the urge to protect that begs to take on burdens to spare them from falling on other people's backs. Particularly the backs of those that they have personally taken under their wings. Murdock casts a wider sort of net than James, admittedly — the latter was always and likely always will be a man of rather personalized loyalties — but the base impulse is the same.

He listens in silence as Murdock explains his reasoning. Periodically, he takes his cigarette from his mouth to exhale smoke, mindfully keeping the stream of it downwind from the attorney. It is almost assured that he hears every one of those unspoken implications, but he evinces no outward reaction. The sensibilities and privations of the 1930s bred laconic, stoic men.

At the end, after a slow processing of the logic, he only says, "Makes sense, I guess." The bleak guilt of his tone is his only concession to all those unsaid awkward insinuations. A sharp inhale accompanies the admission, followed by a sigh. "You've thought about this all real in depth, seems like. Prepared to cancel out all the… shit I did."

He doesn't look at Murdock — what's the point indeed — but his tone of voice connotes the same thing as eye contact when he says, "We really owe you. However this pans out."

Matt Murdock is perfectly still when he listens to Bucky Barnes' grateful reply — perfectly. Not a breath, not a flutter of a lash, not a twitch of his finger — just a heartbeat that sings slow and steady. Among the gifts Matt received in trade for his sight was a rather exceptional control over his own body. So when Bucky's done, and when Matt draws in that deep breath that seems to expand his whole frame, the contrast is all the more stark. It looks — sounds — like a decision being made.

"Yeah, let's not worry too much about who owes who what, right?" Matt says after the trailing exhale, as he pushes his free hand into one knee to lift himself to a rise. His brief, close-mouthed smile feigns nonchalance before something more serious takes over his features. "I can't make you promises about how any of this will end, James. But I can promise that no matter how it does, I'll watch out for Jane. On the stand and after."

A beat, a squaring of shoulders that need no pads. "I always have, after all. Even before this trial started."

Then the blind man reaches down, offering Bucky a hand to hoist himself up.

James hasn't got senses like Murdock, that's for sure, but he's got good ones, and he can feel for himself the utter stillness of the man beside him as he speaks. The sudden contrast, when Matt finally draws breath again, brings James to glance sidelong at him, wondering at the odd air of finality to the gesture. Like a door closing — or, perhaps more aptly, being opened.

His gaze, when he glances up at Matt, is curious as the man makes a promise. No matter how things pan out, he can promise he will watch out for Jane. Not just on the stand, but afterwards. He always has, even before the trial —

There is a distinct pause. The offered hand goes untaken, and not out of rudeness, but out of the confusion that Matt can hear spinning up in the other man through the audio cues of his sudden stillness, the slight increase in his heartrate, the distinct silence that indicates an intensity of thought. What does he mean, before? They never met before —

Except they did, didn't they? It hits in a sudden click of disparate pieces slotting together. There was a man who fought with an eyeless cowl of a mask. A man whose grace in combat did not seem to rely on sight, who did not seem to even see his feints, but reacted only to the base intent. A man who has pulled Jane out of trouble before. It was impossible to see or put together without this connective remark — who would ever imagine a blind lawyer to have anything to do with a shadowy vigilante?

"I was wondering," he finally breaks his silence, taking the offered hand with his right, "why in the hell you took this case."

Recognition flares, dazzles like a lighting streak, and Matt Murdock smiles — almost chuckles as he pulls Bucky upward with strength a disabled white-collar worker simply should not possess. He's surprised by his own reaction. Point of fact, Bucky is the third person he's willingly confessed to about his powers, and the first since ever putting on a mask. It's easier than he thought it would be; the terror dispels once the act of deciding is done.

"I took the case because I trust you, James," the lawyer says, his voice quiet and even. "I wouldn't have taken it otherwise." Because, after all, Matt Murdock in his own way received a first-person view of who the Winter Soldier had been, ready to execute all those thugs out of nonchalant hand, and the man James Barnes is now — with his own similar but markedly different 'fingerprint.' He saw the before and after like no one else, because he sees like no one else.

"Come on," Matt adds with a casual clap on James' shoulder. "We're gonna be late. The three of us can talk about it later. Coffee and donuts sound good?"

True to form, the way Bucky reacts is… understated, a reaction without being a Reaction, a response that does not call too much excessive attention to what has been revealed. It is perhaps, part of what makes it easier to ride through, once the decision is made. Half the time, the worst part of dropping a bomb is trying to anticipate the ensuing shockwaves.

Wry understatement is a language both Matt and James speak.

Besides, there's something else to it, something James reads in, anyway: this is a death confession. A thing Matt affords him before his possible execution. He is grateful, in his way, for the gesture — for the trust Matt says he has in him, a moment later — and that comes through clearly in his voice. "You've seen all my history," he says, in a rare moment of candidness. "So you know… how much you saying that means."

He takes Matt's hand a moment later. The strength the other man has is a definite surprise, though James' shock only lasts a moment before it turns rueful. Of course.

But he has to laugh when Matt says all three of them can discuss it later — over coffee and donuts. "One request," he says. "Offer Jane the donuts before you tell her."

For bestowing his most closely guarded secret, Matt Murdock receives in turn a rare moment of emotional honesty from Bucky Barnes, and for all of Matt's aforementioned capacity for wry understatement, he gives the moment the weight and honor it deserves. There's a solemn nod, of course. "Yeah, I have seen all your history," he admits in a tone that, for all it is characteristically quiet, subtly sounds with understanding, regret, and empathy. "And having seen all of it?"

A beat, a musing downward bend of his lips. "I still think we can win this fucker."

His laugh echoes Barnes' own, a low-voiced thing that shakes his shoulders. "You've got yourself a deal, soldier," Matt Murdock says of surprising Jane Foster with donuts before hefting his walking stick in one hand and stepping forward to claim that door with a newfound — or at least newly revealed — deftness and sureness of purpose.

"Let's go to work."

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