T2C: The Rehearsal of Jessica Jones

July 31, 2017:

Matt Murdock takes the role of the prosecutor and asks some hard questions to prepare Jessica Jones for her time on the stand.

Nelson and Murdock, Hell's Kitchen, New York

Sometimes, they have pizza.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Captain America, Trish Walker, John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara, Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Matt Murdock schedules the last of their prep sessions two days before Jessica Jones is set to take the stand. A warm up, was how he'd casually described it on the phone. She could swing by his office towards the end of the workday; he'd order a pizza from one of the better traditional by-the-slice places that litter Hell's Kitchen and fuel and fortify many a late night binge for its residents or visitors.

And by the time she'll find it's already arrived, there on the empty front desk, a few bottles of mineral water set up beside it. Matt, for his part, is in his office, hunched over his braille display as he scans some deposition note. You don't need supersenses to tell he's been enmeshed in the work for hours, days weeks: his heather-blue suit jacket is thrown over his chair, his sleeves are rolled up mid-forearm, and the stubble is strong with him.

When he hears her cross the threshold into his office he'll call out through the doorway: "Hey, Jess. Come on in."

When she arrives it's in something that smells of Trish Walker's closet; the silhouette of the modest business dress and the clip-clip of pumps which add an inch to her height, rather than the clop-clop of boots which don't, say that she's taking this 'warm up' seriously enough to dress just like she'd dress on the stand, trying to get right into the headspace. Here's hoping she doesn't drop pizza on the overpriced dress. The lines of her hair speak of a recent cut, waves and whirls falling to just above her shoulders, now, brushing them lightly. Vanilla soap mingles with make-up.

It smells a bit like she's been around Bucky and his cigarettes fairly recently, too.

She swallows in apprehension as he calls her in, takes a deep breath, holds it for five seconds. She lets it out for five seconds too.

It doesn't do a damn thing to stop the twisting in her gut, or the sudden sweating palms, even though she'd held on to humor and even confidence on the way over here. But now she's that much closer to this, and now the anxiety creeps right up on her like a stalking thief.

As usual, she tries to act like none of this is happening, keeping her tone casual. "Hey, Matt."

He's working his ass off, but that's no particular surprise, she observes, exhaling sharply. She turns a chair out of habit, intending to straddle it, before she realizes what she's wearing.

"Shit," she mutters, then turns it back, plopping down into it with absolutely zero grace. She spends a moment trying to figure out what the Hell to do with her legs in the narrow A-line of the dress before she finally just lets out a scoff and plants them firmly in front of her.

And then she adds, "Sorry." And then a second, "Hey," as if she's forgotten offering the first one. And then:

"It sounds like you've been kicking some ass in there."

Matt pushes his rolling chair away from his desk and himself to a full stand as she enters the space in her out-of-character getup. He can't help but have noticed she's changed the way she dresses since picking up new, well-to-do clients, but the sound of Jessica Jones in heels is so removed from his own experience of the P.I. that he reads this as what it is: her bid for a dress rehearsal.

He smiles, slightly but warmly, when he turns to face her. You've been kicking ass, she says. "You've been listening to your sister," Matt quips back dryly as he makes his way to the front desk and grabs one of the mineral water bottles. "Whose been on fire on the air lately, by the way. Tell her thank you from Team Bucky, will you?" He tosses the bottle her way once she's done straightening herself on the seat.

"You've been talking to James," he notes — let's face it, creepily. "How do you think he's holding up?" They talk almost daily, but Matt has always found it's helpful to get an outsider's read of a client. Especially when most outsiders can pick up on visual cues he can't, regardless of his super-powered senses.

"How are you holding up?" he adds, leaning against the front of the desk.

She catches the water bottle expertly and twists it open, taking a long, deep sip of it. That is actually helpful, easing some of her anxieties just a little bit. "Well, her feed is the only one that hasn't managed to explicitly piss me off at least once yet," she says dryly. "But I will tell her, thanks."

It is a little creepy, him just knowing that, and she tilts her head in a clearly thoughtful expression. They'd touched upon some of what he could do, of course, but in his typically circumspect way he had painted all of that in some very broad strokes before he'd ultimately changed the subject, and she'd thought she'd gotten the whole of it. It fills in a blank for her, or at least sharpens a line, helps her quickly develop a slightly better understanding of what he can do. One that's neither here nor there, for the moment.

How is he, the lawyer asks, and she gives that answer some serious and perhaps even uncharacteristic thought before cracking her teeth to render an opinion. "He's…Bucky," she says. "'I gotta be strong for everyone else,' so I'm going to smoke, make bad gallows jokes, and worry about everyone but myself. I'd— probably read all that as a net positive, fix the dial solidly on 'as good as it gets' right now."

How is she holding up? The question produces a burst of sick tension, like someone about to go perform at a spelling bee with a gun both to her own head and the head of someone she cares about. She rubs sweaty palms on the side of her dress, as if the skirt were a pair of jeans capable of withstanding such abuse.

What she offers, in airy tones— well, in tones as airy as her hard-bitten alto is even capable of getting, anyway— is this: "I'm ok. These shoes are shit, though."

It's true that Matt tends to understate his powers with the small circle of friends and associates who now know of them. But he's in the final rounds of the biggest fight of his career, with both sides having gotten in their share of points and neither on the verge of a KO. He's tired, worn thin, and willing to put the circumspection intended to put others at ease aside.

But that won't stop him from registering a combination of wry humor and muted concern at how Jessica describes the current state of both herself and Bucky Barnes. More for herself, really — she's right that stoicism and gallows humor is the best you could expect from James. But the spike of her heartbeat and the sudden sour tang of adrenaline and cortisol in the air is enough to win a few notes of muted sympathy from the bespectacled attorney.

He'll still bark a short, quiet laugh at her crack about the shoes, though. "Coutroom dress codes are the worst," he admits with rueful good humor. "Trust me, I don't love showing up every day in a dark suit in August."

He presses his lips together. "Well, I ordered us food, but it can wait as long as it needs to. That's why God made microwaves, right? I guess what I was hoping to cover today was a quick refresher over the main highlights of your testimony — the things you most want to bring out on my cross and, ah —"

Half a heartbeat.

"— address some points Archer may plan to bring up on redirect. Sound good?"

"Yeah, I'm not that hungry, sorry. I should have said so on the way over here, but that sounded like just— being a poor guest. And maybe I will be afterward," Jessica agrees, relieved that she's not going to have to eat after all.

She has a fast metabolism. It doesn't run nearly as hot and as hard as Bucky's, say, or Captain America's. It usually goes into overdrive when she's injured, as her healing factor ramps up and demands more calories. And if she decides to, say, do something like finding a liquor store and drinking it, well, her body just burns it up. But she doesn't have to pack it in when she's not injured, not if she doesn't want to, and often she does not, in fact, want to, flip-flopping regularly between loss of appetite and stress eating. Today it's the former.

He mentions he doesn't love showing up in a dark suit in August, and she admits in a dry, distracted murmur: "I always wondered how guys in suits didn't just walk around as one big bundle of sweat."

But that's a stall, and she knows it's a stall. They could make small talk about suits and shoes and any number of other things all night, but it won't change a damn thing about what's ahead. It's a measure, in fact, of where she's at mentally that she's willing or even able to make 'small talk' at all. Usually she's the one who just ends up right back at work, but this time he gently directs them there.

She puts the water bottle aside and clenches both fists over her knees, hard enough to hear the shift of the bones beneath her skin. Better that than the chair, though, or anything else she might squeeze with that strength of hers. There's a brief but distant burst of chagrin, but it's quickly gone. Today, despite her efforts to play at being fine, she retreats behind old, familiar walls. Retreats, and starts desperately aching for the security blankets she's denied herself. Especially the booze. If he had Jack Daniels on offer instead of pizza she might not be able to hold to her hard-won sobriety today.

Behind those walls, she offers the only answer she can manage right now, the one that produced the chagrin. A simple: "Yep."

That monosyllabic word — even if it contains worlds of anxiety behind it — gives Matt permission to move forward, and he does with a little nod of assent. Here we go, "Look, a lot of this stuff we've been over, so I won't belabor it," he begins… as he immediately proceeds to belabor it. Lawyers!

He continues in that quiet but purposeful cadence of his: "On cross, and even on direct, the single most important thing you can do for James is lay out — in vivid detail, so that people can see it — the exact moments leading up to the death of the Hydra officer in Ozone Park. You're the one with Barnes' affirmative defense in your pocket, Jess. You saw what he was doing to Foster when you and James came upon him, and what James put a stop to with his fist. The murder of the John Doe is the only murder that arguably might not fall within our mens rea defense. But if he did it to stop a violent crime, it gives James an out. So you need to be tight but vivid in how you describe it. It's important that we don't even give Archer the appearance of slip-ups or contradictions. Right?"

She chuffs a slight laugh as he proceeds to do what he just said he wouldn't, but she nods her head. "Right," she says. "Though…okay, so."

Now she sharpens a little bit, because this is a softball of sorts. It also gives her purpose. She has the affirmative defense in her pocket.

It had helped, when James had said this was also not all on her. Not all in her control. But having a definitive bit to latch on to like that grounds her.

"Okay. Tight but vivid."

She takes a deep breath, lets it out.

"I was directly behind James when we made it into the room where Jane was being tortured. John and I were the only ones immune to the alternate reality effect, having gone through it before, and he was hurt. I had just used the EMP to deactivate the nanites we strongly suspected were in his head. When I got to the room, Jane was locked in this horrible machine."

At first, as she begins this narrative, she's almost…not wooden, but too matter of fact, as if she's reporting facts that happened to someone else, a long time ago. But now emotion slips in: outrage, sick fury, sadness. "I can't even describe how this thing looked. John Doe was screaming at her, calling her a cunt, telling her she was going to suffer. Just as we entered he threw the switch. She started screaming her fucking head off. I can't call it anything but torture. Sergeant Barnes reacted precisely as any trained soldier would react. He took out the threat so we could get her the Hell out of there."

A beat. "Shit. I shouldn't swear. But is that okay?"

There is probably no universe in which some of those words will not make it into some part of her testimony. But she'll try. "Were there contradictions?"

Matt Murdock may not have working eyes to fix on Jessica Jones while she recounts the final stages of the fight to reclaim Jane Foster, but she can probably still feel the weight of his attention on her. His features betray characteristically little until she's well and done. And then?

"It's good," Matt says with a slight smile, encouraging, and even chortling a little when she hems and haws over her language. "It's really good, Jess. And yeah, it's fine to repeat the words the HYDRA guy used, but try to avoid the rest. It'll just get you gaveled by the judge. You don't want her to upset the flow of your story over — well. Bullshit. Trying to keep them out of your speech might help you keep an even keel, too — we use expletives for emphasis. Really, to convey passion. Which is good! But being mindful of your language might mellow you out a little up there."

He pushes himself up from his half-recline there on the table, the pace of his steps at once slow and purposeful but seemingly aimless in direction — like a lawyer circling a witness stand. "Now," Matt says, seemingly switching gears in the span of heartbeats. "You said you used an EMP because you thought there were nanites controlling Barnes' behavior. But your belief that James Barnes was under mind control came before you'd heard anything about little microscopic machines poking around his brain, isn't that right? Can you tell me when you first began to suspect the Winter Soldier was not in control of his own actions?"

This vulture circling is nervewracking.

Which is probably the point. Jessica had never noticed it before, her first two court cases. Because she hadn't cared. She was up there to share case findings, and fuck them if they didn't believe her.

This is different.

She has a vivid imagination— it's one of the assets she brings to the table as an investigator— and she can see Archer doing the same thing.

Vivid and concise.

"After Zatanna had three or four encounters with him. I was working her case, so we were comparing notes a lot, and he was part of that case. Once she described the symptoms: like— bits of a person floating to the surface, only for the behavior to shift and change, sudden statements offered in unnatural tones— I knew that was what was going on. Even before Zee matched his face to Smithsonian exhibits. It's just really f—"

Deep breath. "That sh—"

"Sheeeeeries of symptoms," she adds, transforming the cuss into another word badly, but managing, "is distinct."

Matt may be (slowly) transitioning from a friendly prep into a mock-cross, but he can't help but crack a smile when Jess holds herself back not once but twice from cursing. It's quickly swallowed, however, and the deliberative pacing that so unnerves her continues. "So you took these trace signs from the assassin — erratic behavior, sudden exclamations — and came up with a theory you thought fit your observations."

He pauses, pivots to turn and face her. "But do you have any background in psychology, Ms. Jones? Neurobiology? Even, I don't know — counseling? Anything that makes you an expert on the 'distinct sheeries of symptoms' involved in mind control?"

Softball questions are over, apparently.

Apparently so. And Matt will feel the sudden response. The surge of fury, the roaring adrenaline, the sheer defensiveness. Her ears roar, her heart thunders, and her muscles tense like she wants to leap out of that chair.

Softball questions are over, and who she is seeing there is not her friend Matt Murdock, but the hated David Archer. Especially when he quotes her directly, right down to the slurring slip up.

Hours upon hours of meditation practice have helped her mental health to be sure, but even though she takes the requisite deep breaths, she can't get there. She can't get to Tibetan bowls and gentle pools of water. There is no Zen.

But she has to keep calm. And at least, she's good at faking emotion if she has to. It's a pretext, right? A pretext that she doesn't want to leap up and punch something into outer space, which she now just absolutely assuredly does. Talk about passion.

"I do not have an academic background, no," she says, and there could very well be ice crystals forming on her words. The bite of the cold, sardonic, rude woman who she used to present to the world every waking moment of every day is assuredly back, though she doesn't raise her voice.

"I do, however, have an experiential background that does indeed make me an expert on the distinct series of symptoms involved in mind control."

There is an unspoken 'asshole' there at the end which rings out loud and clear, but…at least it remains unspoken.

She swipes up that mineral water and takes a sip, knowing that she's allowed to do that much on the stand. A little physical cooling to go with the mental cooling she is more than struggling to achieve.

To say he feels her mirroring shift in mood and attitude is an understatement. The surge of anger alone is almost palpable, but he doesn't let recognition register; his features remain opaque and impenetrable. "Ah, yes, of course," he says, allowing himself a faint, patronizing flicker of a smile. "You actually went to the police about your experiential background with mind control several years ago, didn't you? You told them there was some psychic metahuman you ran afoul of. Isn't that right?"

Jesus, this is hard. This is taking her straight back to 2014, when she had just pulled enough of herself together to go crawling to Rafferty and Wycke and spill her story as best as she could. The anger collapses, replaced with something else, something sick and small. Her skin crawls.

But that's a little easier to hide, that feeling of being sick and small and filthy, than the anger. The anger is more comforting, this other thing more concealable.

"I never speculated on the nature of how his abilities worked, but yes, I filed a report."

She can't think of a damn thing she'd better add to that, not one piece of information that it would be wise to spill. She decides on that count, she's going to keep it short and to the point. There's no denying that she filed that stupid report.

Safe to say Matt registers that internal change in her too, however subtle, and greets it with a corresponding sinking feeling in his own gut. He hates this. He hated doing it with Jane, and doubly hates doing it with Jessica. But he knows that, one way or another, this is coming for them anyway — and to shy away from it, to leave them unprepared upon the stand — is to do them a profound disservice. And so he presses onward.

"No, you didn't speculate as to the nature of this — Kilgrave's? — powers in your report… which will be submitted in full as evidence," Matt says, both a mock-barb and a very real warning of what Archer may try to pull on the stand. "But isn't it true that in that conversation with police detectives you did describe, at length, how you — supposedly against your will — engaged in numerous crimes on behalf of this mind controlling metahuman? That you cohabitated with him for more than half a year?"

He takes a hard swallow of what tastes, to his rarefied pallette, like bile.

For a moment the world tilts and spins on its axis, and Jessica reaches out to grab the arms of the chair, trying with all her might not to cant dizzily to one side. She exercises her very real control over her own abilities to ensure that there's not so much as a splinter out of place though. She focuses on her breathing, and for a moment she can't answer.

Birch Street, Higgins Drive, Cobalt Lane.

Jane Foster, pale and wan and afraid, revealing everything to everyone. Bucky, gravely offering to kill the guy if he ever showed up again.

Five people in her life know about this. Trish. John, because she had to tell him. Jane and Bucky, because she didn't want them to be alone. Matt, because this trial forced it.

And now the world will.

You will not panic, Jessica Jones. Not today, and most assuredly not on the stand.

She swallows and straightens, and looks out to where she imagines the jury will be. She looks out, and she imagines meeting their eyes.

"I can lift a car over my head," she says, and her tone is oddly…gentle. She holds up a hand. "It's relevant. I'm answering. Captain America can perform all sorts of magnificent feats. Superman's out there. There are people who can make copies of themselves, there are people who can stretch their arms and legs into weird configurations. Telepaths. People who move things with their minds. People who breathe underwater. So I'm baffled as to why anyone would have trouble understanding that there are people with mind control abilities."

Her voice only shakes a little around those soft and gentle tones. He's not the only one tasting bile. It is a damn good thing she didn't eat any pizza.

"In my conversation with the police, I described a man going by the alias of Kilgrave, who used his own specific meta ability to keep me prisoner for 8 months. He kidnapped me off the street. I did not cohabitate with him. I was his prisoner. He raped me. He forced me to commit acts of self-harm. He forced me to commit crimes. He forced me to watch while he tormented others with his powers. And for all my strength, for all my power, I was completely helpless to stop him. These things happened, counselor, whether NYPD chose to take me seriously or not."

Everyone will see. Everyone will know. She is a fraud, she is a piece of garbage, she is a…

No. Stop. Fuck that.

She is fighting for her friend's life. Period. She presses a hand to her stomach and slowly exhales. Every muscle in her body is shaking even more than her voice was, she at least manages to hold to her calm. This is the part she said over and over again in her apartment. She said it to her therapist. She wrote it down. She made herself look at it again and again, and contemplate everyone in the whole god damn world knowing about it. And that moment is nearly here.

But she'll be damned if she gives this win to David Archer or to Zebediah Fucking Kevin Fucking Thompson Fucking Kilgrave.

She just wishes she could stop feeling like she'd rather run screaming to the nearest cave while she does it.

Even while he's pressing her harder than he ever has or ever would want to, he's rolling her answers over in his mind. Where are the holes? he thinks to himself. Where would Archer strike? How will this answer play with the twelve men and women who will decide it all?

He feels so much of her internal struggle it seems like it's happening in his own breast, and with it a surge of all his powerful protective instincts. But he fights past it, refocuses his attention on the narrow questions and objective at hand. This is for her. This is to protect her, fucked up as that is.

"It's true that this world is full of incredible things," Matt admits as he turns to face, to round on her. "But the thing about Superman flying, or Captain America twirling his shield around — or even you lifting up a car if you'd care to show us — is that we can see it. With our own two eyes. But mind control? No one can see mind control. Just like no one has ever publicly attested to seeing Zebediah Kilgrave but you. So I guess it really comes down to this: how do we know you didn't make it all up? Or, at the very least, fell in with some con man and created an elaborate, supernatural justification for your own mistakes?"

"Jessica, why should we believe you?"

That question isn't quite as awful as Sizani's blunt, cruel, 'Did you enjoy it?'

But it's still pretty awful.

The truth is, Jessica is more than aware that Matt is doing this to help her, and it's safe to say she will never hold it against him. It's akin to taking her into the ring and sparring with her with all his might so she can save her life or the life of someone else later, even if it hurts in the moment. It's also safe to say in all her practice she never thought of this one, because for a moment she's just stunned, poleaxed. She has no idea even how to answer, and the steady litany of


runs through her breast in time with her heartbeat.

She takes issue with at least a part of the question— they at least found a fucking John Doe meeting her exact description that they wanted her to believe was fucking dead, but that seems like dangerous territory if Matt doesn't lead her there on cross.

Can she defend her own character? No, that's— she just— no. And then the answer comes to her. Some of her snark returns, and she says dryly, "Now you sound like you're giving me a job interview, counsel. You should believe me because I'm saying all of this under oath. Are you accusing me of perjury? I'll sit and take a lie detector test right in this courtroom if you want. I begged the cops to give me one in fact, that's in the police report you'll so kindly be submitting to evidence too. And if being under oath isn't good enough, then what the crap are we doing here? Why ask me about Ozone Park, either? Why ask the Weiss family about how I saved their lives? Why bother having witness testimony at all? Do we need to bring the Bible back? I'll stick my hand on it and repeat the whole thing. You can't see air either, but we breathe it. You can't see love, but we feel it."

And then she holds her breath, just as if she's there. Did she fuck that one up? She supposes Matt will stop her and let her know if she did, but…

It's not just a good answer, it's a great one — combining righteous indignation with honest vulnerability and just a dash of barely-concelaed contempt. There are a few tweaks Matt would make, and they'll get to them — the talk about air and love will turn off some of the jurors, for instance. Better to just end it by asking whether they need to bring the Bible back. He'd walk her through the answers, but then he'd lose the momentum these sorts of grueling cross-examinations have, and she needs to feel that too.

And besides. However good her answer was, he's not done yet.

"I haven't accused you of lying, Jessica Jones," Matt says with a little shake of his head, a 'who me' shrug. "But I have to ask. Isn't it true that, after making your report, a court required you to see a psychiatrist? Are you currently receiving any kind of mental health care? Are you on any kind of medication?"

She relaxes a little bit when he doesn't stop her. Rest assured she'll take every one of his coaching tips when he gives them. And now they're in what is, for her, frankly much easier territory. While being painted as the Crazy Woman is not exactly pleasant, it just doesn't stoke up the fires of self-loathing that the rest does. She lets her hand drop from her stomach, suddenly aware she's been pressing it there the entire time.

"Yes, the court required me to see a therapist. Dr. Shannon Brown diagnosed me with PTSD."

A condition which does not occur in a vacuum, but Jess decides not to point that out.

He makes his dig about medication, and she says, "I am on a special SHIELD-blend serotonin-reuptake inhibitor, adrenaline-inhibitor, and dopamine enhancer which is designed to keep up with my body's tendancy to gain an intense tolerance to any drug I am exposed to for any long period of time. In layman's terms, like 72 million Americans, I take an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medicine. This is also combined with an equivalent to the PTSD drug Prazosin, which mostly controls nightmares and allows for restful sleep."

Well, it's easier territory until it isn't, because she suddenly has to wrestle with a surge of self-disgust at odds with her next words, turning her tone a bit grim: "Nobody forced me to take those things. In January, inspired by Captain America, who taught me there was no shame in asking for help, I chose to begin seeking treatment so I could move forward."

And now everyone gets to know that too. How she couldn't just get over it. How most of the progress she's made is in large part because she pops a pill every morning. It felt okay back when it was a secret.

It feels…icky. Talking about it now. Especially knowing clients, future clients, and many of the people she values and cares about will hear all this, too.

She may feel gross — and she's not alone — but she held her ground and fought back, something Matt is sure will win points with the jury. Because, as he instantly drops out of character to say: "Point of fact, five members of the jury are taking something for anxiety or depression too." His brow creases as he hastens to add (ruefully), "Wouldn't recommend citing that stat, though."

For the first time since he began this impromptu inquisition he allows the contrition to show through. "I'm sorry about all that, Jess," he murmurs, taking a step towards the chair where she's seated and dropping to a knee to hazard a smile. "But if it's any consolation? You just solidified yourself in my mind as the single toughest person I know."

She stares at him blankly as he drops out of character, for a moment having trouble switching gears.

And then she gives a slight, helpless laugh. "Yeah, I sure won't," she murmurs.

He takes this knee, apologizes, and she realizes it's over, that they've just been through what he thinks the worst of what she's going to get on the stand will be. Everything else is just details, just him fixing it on cross as he'd put it, him helping her tell the stories of Bucky fighting his compulsions.

He compliments her, and she's left both stunned, then warmed. It straightens her back and squares her shoulders naturally, gives her a rush of elation similar to the one she had when he called her a hero so many months ago. There are things she values, things she wants to be, and it's very true that 'tough' is right on that list. Up near the top, in fact.

"Thanks," she says, maybe a little bashfully, but still with the air of someone who is gonna kind of hold on to that one. "I think that's probably one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me. And— don't apologize, okay? I…fucking hate the unknown." Oh happy day, she's free to drop the f-bomb a bit for awhile. "Now it's not unknown anymore. Now I know I can do it. You did me a favor."

And just like that, her anxiety basically does indeed settle itself. Her voice takes on a teasing air as she tilts a finger at him. "But if you're really feeling guilty, hey, I'm starving. Feed the witness, Murdock, I know you're keeping that pizza around here somewhere."

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