There were more reporters waiting than he’d invited, the day before. Rather more. Matt could tell that much before he crossed the courthouse foyer, his answer to the complaint delivered. A game smile bent over his face, sliding away as he tapped over the floor. Here we go. Into the ring.
Stepping through the doors, he made his way down the stairs, through the press of questions and microphones. Turning as he hit the sidewalk, Matt offered a measured, courteous smile as they swarmed forwards.
“Good morning. And thank you for coming. I greatly appreciate your time, and consideration.”
He waited until the noise lowered to a dull, whirring, clicking roar.
“To begin with - I want to offer my heartfelt sympathy, and that of the entire superhero community, to the people of Los Angeles. We respect and mourn your pain. And we understand your anger, and your desire for redress.”
Matt let that settle for a moment, with all the weight he wanted it to have. Seeing as this, this was the point where he expected to start pissing them off. More.
“Councilman Stein believes that he has a remedy for you: a civil suit, holding the heroes in this city responsible for all damages suffered during the attack of the being known as Thanos. In addition, he’s seen fit to put pricetags on the legal names of those heroes who have maintained a secret identity. In other words, he would memorialize your losses by setting an extremely dangerous precedent, and kicking off a reckless campaign that offers no real benefit to his case, the lost, or those in mourning.”
He was glad of his sunglasses then, hiding a wince he couldn’t help as they all burst into noise, shouted questions. Anger, indignation, sheer surprise. There was an entire range of upset, sparking through those voices. Leaning against his cane, he lifted a hand, gesturing politely for quiet. They made it back to a dull hum in a few moments; quicker than he’d have anticipated. Good. Still interested in listening. Matt was about to continue, but stilled, fighting to keep a smile from flickering over his face. Succeeding, just barely. Despite the scent on the air - jasmine, roses. Elektra, here. She hadn’t left after all. He’d been so sure… Matt forced himself to focus, through the stunned, nearly giddy relief.
“Effectively, a victory for the prosecution would see the defendants punished for being superheroes - for using their extraordinary skills and powers to try to protect others. Consider that, please. Consider what message that would send, in an age where more and more people are developing superhuman qualities. Many of them are young, left unsure of where they fit. And afraid. I certainly was.”
That came out perfectly even, starkly honest. Maybe it’d mean something, coming from The Man Without Fear. That stupid name they had for him. Such a joke.
“Those feelings are justifiable, when superpowered persons continue to be met with fear, hate, and violence. This is what those children are faced with, as they try to decide what to do with their abilities, who they want to become. Every one of them could grow into an incredible force for good. But if Mr. Stein makes his case? If this court decides that superheroes are a danger to society… that would tell those young people that the world isn’t about to accept them, or the help they can offer. It’ll be made painfully clear that regardless of how they use their abilities - for altruistic purposes, or selfish, malicious ones - the public, and the law, will only see them as a menace.”
“That would be an irresponsible, destructive statement to make. And a disappointing conclusion to this trial, when what we have, here, is a chance to make a positive change, to lay the foundation for a more open relationship between superheroes and the public. That’s an opportunity I’d like to believe in, and I’ll do everything I can to make it a reality.”
Up on that corner, across the street. Matt nearly smiled, pinpointing Elektra’s snarky mutter. A peanut gallery of one; to say he was grateful for it would be a colossal understatement.
“Regarding those bounties.” His tone gained an edge, at that. “If any public outings result, Mr. Stein and those responsible will have endangered the safety of not only the individuals in question, but their loved ones. Their families and friends, anyone they happen to be near, when their enemies come for them. And they will come. That’s not a matter of speculation, or alarmism; I speak from experience.”
Matt had to think of Foggy as he said it, that guilt as sharp as ever. There’d been so many close calls during those last few months, back in the Kitchen - inches and seconds away from being too close. Concussions and stitches and scrapes that easily could have been so much worse.
“I imagine that Mr. Stein would defend his offer by asserting that superheroes bring greater dangers down upon the public, and must be held accountable. In response, I would reassure him that it’s entirely possible for heroes to participate in legal proceedings without surrendering the privacy and protection offered by a mask. And I’d predict - with absolute confidence - that those greater dangers won’t stop coming. They’ll continue to arise, here, among us, and they’ll arrive from other worlds, other universes. When they do, this planet’s superpowered citizens will continue to be our best defence.”
The rumbling had started up again, more of a snideness to it, this time. Mutterings about Thanos, losing, some defence. Another reaction he’d been waiting for. He spoke over it.
“It’s true that we weren’t able to contain Thanos - but, at extreme risk to ourselves, we did manage to distract him from further attacks on the civilian population. Our intervention prevented responses that would have cost more lives and done more damage, with no greater guarantee of success.”
Thanos crumpling tanks like tinfoil, vaporizing entire platoons, bursting warheads over the city centre; Matt left those scenarios to the imagination.
“If Mr. Stein has a better alternative in mind, I genuinely welcome him to present it. Until that comes along… you’ll have us.”
This had to be the quietest they’d been, since he started. Whether the lull was good or bad, he couldn’t say. But at least he had their attention, if nothing else.
“Perhaps that’s not much of a comfort. There will be times when we break, when we fail. But we’re committed to our cause - to protecting those who need it, and righting what wrongs we can, in a world where there’s far too much injustice and pain. And that’s not a fight that we’re about to give up on.”
“Thank you very much, again, for your time. I’d love to take questions, but I’m afraid I’ve promised my first interview to Kate Bishop. You’re all welcome to get in touch after her article goes to print, tomorrow.”
They surged forward anyway, of course. But Matt’s attention was entirely elsewhere as he edged away down the sidewalk, declining comment. He could shake the press, easily, and find Elektra, up there. Explain why he hadn’t been in touch, what he’d thought, when he found her roses. Thank her for - for staying. He’d… Matt snapped around, a certain click snaring his attention, between the cameras and phones. One he had taught himself to listen for; the hammer of a revolver, nocking back. Half-lost in the jostle and chatter at the front of the crowd. He jolted toward the sound the second he recognized it, pushing reporters back, out of the line of -