Nascent

December 26, 2016:

Kinsey agrees to have that coffee with Matt, and they discuss the impact that suffering through a major accident can have on one's life.

Metropolis

A coffee shop. A fancy one.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Rocket Raccoon, Peter Quill

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

WHEN LAST WE SAW OUR — heroes?:

Matthew Murdock had been facing down the distinct possibility that the young woman to whom he gave his number was only humoring him, what with how she didn't write it down in any format. Uncomfortable. And as she doesn't text or call on the first of the additional two days he says he's in town, those suspicions probably initially seem founded.

She does text on the second day, late in the morning. The number has a 617 area code, as promised.

The text reads:

'In the city to deliver something. Coffee? Not fancy; in work clothes.'

—-

It's another twenty-five minutes before she gets her reply: "Sure, I know a place. I'm free around 4 if that works for you." And below it, a downtown address.

Whatever the ultimate timing they decide, Matthew Murdock will be at the appointed place about five minutes before then, seated on one of the benches outside the glass-and-steel front doors. His hands are stuck firmly in the pockets of his sturdy overcoat, his red-handled walking stick propped beside him like a companion all its own. His head is tipped slightly backwards, there to rest against the glass windowpane, chin lifted and circular shades staring upward — almost as if he were sky-gazing.

—-

There are no heeled boots to announce Kinsey's arrival this time — not that he needs something so obvious — as she is, when she arrives, as dressed down as she warned she would be. Shell-toe Adidas sneakers, fitted black jeans (the better to disguise the amount of oil and grease on them), what looks like a faded t-shirt that used to be dark green beneath that faux leather jacket with its zip-in hoodie liner. There is a grey shadow smudged on one of her cheeks — dust, or maybe some of that grease that didn't quite want to come off in a wash. Her hair is wind-tousled even in the fat, loose bun behind her head, wisps threatening to consume even the pencil she's stuck there and forgotten about completely.

Even in his overcoat, he's approximately ten times better-dressed than she is this afternoon, and in Metropolis in particular her casual dress singles her out as being either a tourist or someone so low on the working totem pole as to be beneath the notice of most.

It suits her just /fine/.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

—-

He won't allow himself the smile that wanted to crack long before she spoke, back when he first caught the familiar whiff of windborne machinist grease coming a block away. But when she does, he allows it full white-toothed, crinkling expression. "They'd better be worth more than that, if I'm going to keep myself afloat," he counters as his head angles to where her voice comes. "Though these weren't: I was just thinking about the summer I spent here. First time out of the City, really." Parochial at heart; a perpetual New Yorker. "Anyway, this was one of the places I thought was interesting."

He brings his hands down to either side of the bench beside him and pushes himself to a stand. It's true she's more effectively slumming it than he is; underneath the topcoat there's the barely visible collar of a button-down brown-and-blue gingham, beneath it the tail ends of good dark jeans draped over the ankles of leather chukka boots well worn by time and use. But it's still a far cry from the stodgy fare from a few days before. His hair is similarly disheveled, more a persistent feature than anything born of carelessness of the moment. Whatever the nuances of his condition, hair upkeep is obviously a /challenge/.

There's a question here at every meeting of this kind: hug, handshake, or comfortable distance. Matt, however, seems to offer what at first seems a throwback to an earlier time — a gallant, elbowed-out extension of his arm that looks nothing so much like a gentleman preparing to lead his lady to the dance floor.

And then he turns that image on his head: "Mind walking me in?" he says, tone laced with good humor.

—-

The man deduced through the sole of a man's dress shoe that a divot in the sidewalk was a bullet hole, and Kinsey does not believe for a moment that he needs help through the door, but she plays along. Why bother to show up at all, otherwise? She lets herself have a half-smile and a roll of the eyes, but she takes the elbow and dutifully shepherds her companion for the afternoon through the doors.

The fingers of her left hand, the one that circles his arm? Have a pulse.

"So you grew up in New York? You don't sound like you grew up in New York." Then again, she doesn't sound like she grew up in Boston, either — /and thank god for that/, she thinks.

—-

She indulges him, and he's grateful, not the least because with that brush of fingertips he fills in some blanks he's been mulling over for nearly forty-eight straight hours now. "Hell's Kitchen, yeah. I don't know. New Yorkers sound like all kinds of things," Matt's saying in that quiet, deliberative tone of his as they make their way through the doors, "but it's true that I don't talk like my dad did. I spent a lot of time in schools with teachers from all over, I guess." He could try for amusement — ape that working class brogue that sang on street-corners and filled his house for years — but he can't bring himself to. But he can rib back: "You don't exactly sound like you came out of Southie, yourself. Is that where you're from, or…?"

And then? Then they're inside a laboratory, or what might be mistaken for one. The room is spacious, framed with oak and hulking industrial slabs of metal. There's a broad counter, behind which are a host of bubbling beakers, flasks, and decanters; black brew bubbles in some that happen to be perched above plumes of writhing flame. Even the baristas fit the theme; their aprons resembling more a workman's than a chef's.

Deeper in the cavern, beyond the counter and a broad communal table, a set of more conventional cushioned chairs around small stainless steel tables.

—-

"Just because I'm Irish, you mean?" From the dry, arch quality of her tone of voice it may briefly seem as though Matt Murdock has put his foot in it, but she follows up the question moments later, all semblances of pique having fallen away. "My family used to live there, a few generations back. No surprises there, I guess, with a name like Sheridan, but then you'd know all about that, wouldn't you?" She pauses, narrows her eyes at him as they stop in the one-person line at the counter. "/Matthew Murdock?/"

He never did give her his last name. It would be ominous if she didn't explain, some silvery thread of amusement strung through the retelling. "There aren't many legal practices opening their doors in your area code, and none consisting of two partners who've only just passed the bar." There's a beat, and another of those tilts of the head to confide something, playful. "Old habits die hard. But Murdock can be Scottish too, can't it?" The person in front of them finishes paying and moves off to find a seat. She eases them up to the counter. "Cafe latte for me," she tells the barista, whether or not that's heresy here, in the world of what looks like cold-brewing equipment.

—-

She wins a rare laugh then — silver, bright — as she explains herself. "Someone's been doing their due diligence," Matt says with genuine appreciation as they approach the counter, although somewhere in the back of his mind another voice is chiming in: /How much has she been reading up on, exactly?/

After all, his whole Dickensian life has unfolded in the age of hyper-local journalism and the internet, where the story of a boy who tragically lost his sight while saving an old man from a speeding truck went briefly viral before being quickly forgotten. Harder, perhaps, to find other headlines: obituaries for Battlin' Jack Murdock, survived by a single son, Matthew; some blurb about him graduating summa cum laude in a weekly periodical for the visually impaired. His mind ticks through the possibilities before he makes his own, simple order: "Medium black, thanks."

"Could be Scottish, but it's not," he admits wryly as he leans the walking stick down on the counterside so that he can fish for his wallet in the breastpocket of his coat. "Working class Irish, former choir boy, the whole bag." A beat, and then a dry: "Except for the accent, I guess."

—-

Kinsey retrieves a fold of bills from inside of her jacket, intent on paying for her half of things, which is just another little thing to add to an accumulating pile of character traits. "Confession," she says, of due diligence: "Somewhere between Picatinny Arsenal and the Knightwatch, I did a stint with an intelligence agency. TECHINT, but you pick up things from other departments. Like low-level paranoia, I guess." Her tone is self-deprecating as she slides her bill across the counter.

"Shame, that," she says, of the accent, and slips into perfect mimicry: "I've relatives in Belfast, an' can fake a hatchet wee accent if needs must." She abandons it quickly, though, laughing. "We used to visit when I was a kid. I was always a little bit sad that it didn't stick, but we didn't spend enough time there. I always thought it was beautiful. My dad says it sounds criminal to him, though." She sighs, accepts her receipt. "That's probably the Southie talking."

—-

He makes no protest about her paying her share, sliding his own pair of bills across the table towards the barista with a murmur of thanks before returning his attention to his companion's remarkable mimicry. It prompts another smile, open-mouthed, though there's a subtle shift in his aspect at her sigh, as if the remark that prompted it struck close to home. But all he /says/ of her father's observation is a quiet, wry, "Yeah, I've heard that one too." The moment passes, and then: "Anyway, sounds like you have deeper roots there than we ever did. The Murdocks were potato famine stock, who only came over because there was nothing left for us back home anyway."

"So," he says breezily as he grabs his walking stick with one hand and extends the other towards her again, "I assume, since you're here, I passed your rigorous background check and, as a non-serial-killer, I'm fit company for coffee. That being the case… want to find us a seat, Kinsey?"

—-

Kinsey pockets her receipt, turns her attention fully to the man with the cane and the glasses, the subtle expressions. "This way."

She's fairly good at guiding, or would be if he actually needed such a thing. She doesn't tug, doesn't change his center of balance, and she aims him at a table for two such that his walking stick finds the legs of the chair long before he does, all angles and trajectory and timing. Talking, meanwhile: "To be honest, I didn't dig very much. A lack of criminal history would only mean that if you /were/ a serial killer you haven't been caught yet, and I wasn't interested in what kind of grades you got in school. You passed the bar, so that's implied, right?"

Leaving him at the back of the chair, she rounds the table and draws her own out, drops into it with a kind of boneless, careless grace, downzipping her jacket and shrugging it off onto the seat back behind her, inside-out. The shirt has all of the stains of her profession, no doubt a banquet of aromas for a preternaturally sensitive nose: it smells like a garage, of course. The subnotes of jet fuel suggest she wasn't kidding about personal aircraft.

"Besides, if I'd found out everything about you that there was to know, there wouldn't be any point in joining you for coffee. Life has so few mysteries in it anymore. You can check IMDB for an actor's name you can't remember on your phone, anywhere, anytime. You can wikipedia virtually everything there is to know, as long as you're comfortable with a wide margin of error. Sometimes it's good to leave a few corners with question marks in them.

—-

He needs very little indeed, but he goes through the motions out of both performance and old habit. He was not /always/ so en-abled as he is these days, and the light two-fingered touch he gives the back of his chair before he circles it, or the care with which he leans the walking stick along the side of its back, hint at at an existance in which those matters of angle, distance, and trajectory have tremendous real-world importance.

"Or, if not leave them, at least raise those question marks face to face," he's saying by way of dry agreement as he unbuttons his overcoat and folds it carefully in half, setting it on one arm of his seat. The cotton shirt and jeans are neat; not as neatly pressed as his suit, but unwrinkled and unstained despite his travels. He lowers himself unhurriedly into his seat, smiles faintly, and brings two fingers up to his left temple to grab the frame of his glasses.

"On, or off?" he asks: the tone confident, casual. "The glasses take up a lot of space, I know, but some people find the lack of focus a little off-putting. Up to you."

—-

The table rocks, little vibrations as she leans forward into a fold of forearms along its edge. Cushioned, the artificiality of the one side is disguised almost to the point of imperceptibility. "Exactly. At least then you're going on the adventure for yourself."

His question has her leaning to one side, head tilting, a look of assessment sliding into place. She remains quiet for some moments — maybe in indecision — and comes back with a question of her own: "Do you usually prefer one over the other?" It might have been a polite courtesy, deference to his feelings, but the way she says it suggests she's more interested in why he might have a preference to either, a question laden with curiosity.

—-

Matt lips quirk downward as the question is thrown right back at him. He feels its weight beyond matters of simple nicety, and in the space of a few heartbeats thinks through at least half a dozen facile one-liners he could use to deflect and redirect the conversation, and then makes a sudden and firm decision to reject all of them in favor of candor. "A lot of blind people, including myself, are still sensitive to light," he answers even more slowly and deliberatively than is his usual. He's always careful with his words, a characteristic that predated but was undisputably heightened by his legal training. "That's why I started wearing glasses — pretty much right after the accident. And I'll admit that, after a while, it became a comfortable little piece of insulation for an angry kid. I couldn't see the rest of the world, so why should it get to see all of me? Later it became more of a matter of habit."

"But I'm the one who asked you here, Kinsey, and you're the one who has to look at me," he adds, allowing a little bit of that earlier humor to creep back into his voice with that mild confession made. "So I'm fine either way. Especially since this is a coffee shop and not a club. Not likely to get too many pulsing lights thrown my way, right?"

—-

So it was an accident. That fills in the blank for one of /Kinsey's/ questions, and tugs a note of sympathy out of her that she does not deign to share verbally. "Leave them on, then," she says, though as a matter of /preference/ she'd have preferred them off. The lack of cues around the eyes, microexpressions, is sometimes unnerving.

"I…know what it's like, trying to adapt after a serious accident. I don't think anybody should begrudge you whatever comforts you can take. Or your anger, for that matter." Her sneakers slide over the floor beneath the table, forward enough for one to drop over the other, ankles loosely crossing. "I wasn't a kid when I had mine, though. I don't know if that would've made it easier or harder for me." She thinks for just a moment, and then discards the line of thought. "Not that it matters."

The barista appears out of the general quiet din, sliding ordered coffees into place. "Cup's at your two-o-clock," she says, picking hers up.

—-

Question asked, question answered, and Matthew Murdock nods his simple assent. If there's more to be found about his feelings regarding their exchange to be gleaned behind those glasses, she just missed her opportunity to find out.

Meanwhile, he's measuring her carefully as she talks around an accident he suspects was far more horrifying than she lets on. It's one of the several (conflicting) reasons for what an invitation that he has a gut feeling was ill-advised. Forget anger or comfort, could anyone begrudge him, of all people, a strong curiosity about someone who has endured debilitating injuries and overcome them with the help of benefits they then hide from the world?

Well, Foggy probably could. Foggy could begrudge him a lot when it comes to women.

"Thanks," Matt says twice, first to Kinsey and then to the Barista as his hands close around his steaming art-deco cup before taking up the thread of their conversation. "I don't know, to be honest. I suspect it wouldn't have mattered. I would have loved a few more years of sight, to let the memories of the visible world crystalize a bit before I lost the chance to make new ones. A bunch of people told me it was some kind of blessing that I lost it young — I was more malleable, they said. Better able to adapt. But I think people, young or old, can adapt to all kinds of things if they put their mind to it," he says, his tone quiet and reflective, absent much in the way of immediate tension. Matt Murdock may have a host of deep-seated anger issues; but anger over the /accident/ no longer even makes top 10. "The young just have more the benefit of more time to work through it all."

He brings the coffee right up to his lips, lets it hover there, where just the aroma at that proximity can give him a brief euphoric contact high. "It's the putting your mind to it that's the part not everyone can manage," he adds before taking a slow sip. "Which is why what you did — moving forward like that, making a new path for yourself — is so impressive."

—-

Kinsey is an attentive listener. She holds her steaming mug in front of her, just below the level of her face, and she lets that little curl of sympathy tendril into something more substantial as she listens. Her entire professional career has pivoted on the fulcrum of an imagination that rarely perceives boundaries, and it turns its considerable strength to the task of envisioning him as a boy with what scant few scraps of information she has. The picture she forms is defined more by its missing pieces than its character, but it is /human/.

Those musings play into what he says, giving rise to a conflicted expression that she directs down at her mug, slowly lowering it to the table. Lashes cut crescents against her cheeks, gaze shaded, her thoughts directed at the steam rising from the surface of her drink, and inward. She draws a long breath and holds it, catching her lower lip in her teeth, and it slides mindlessly back out again over the long, protracted moment before she exhales again. Her brows slide together just the smallest bit. "Have I?" Rhetorical, and soft. "I wonder. I had to eat, like most everyone else, and I have a trade I'm proficient with. I couldn't recover what I lost, so there wasn't much point in dwelling. But I'm —" Her mouth opens, stays that way, closes. More time, more silence. "I'm still trying to figure out what happened to me." There's a pause, which she ends by tapping one fingernail (fairly short, because her profession does not allow otherwise) against the curving ceramic handle of her cup. She lets the line of her jaw rest in her free palm, braced on an elbow, and shoots him an apologetic smile she knows is pointless affectation in the company of a blind man. "I really am."

—-

The coffee's still there, right underneath his cleft chin, unsipped and forgotten despite its potency. Matt's attention — and his considerable powers of observation, sideways as they may run — are trained instead on the companion across from him as she softly and haltingly explains her current state of distress. It was inevitable, really, that her twinge of sympathy finds a mirror. /Confusion/ in the aftermath of the accident — dizzying, baffling — this he remembers well enough, especially given deluge of sensory data that poured in to fill and surpass the void left by his sightless eyes.

"It took me years to learn how to accept the doors that were closed to me and focus on the ones I could still open, so you may be a quicker study than I am," Matt offers wryly when she's done. It's a lie — he's never been willing to leave a door closed in his life — but at least it has its origins in kindness. The kindness comes across, at least: his features, so often guarded, register an empathy that even a pair of tinted shades can't hide.

In the pause that follows, Matt sets down his suddenly remembered coffee cup, untouched. He speaks again, gentle: "But Kinsey, what do you mean, figure out what happened to you? What are you trying to understand about it?"

—-

Kinsey — and by extension Five — is very good at noticing things that other people miss, but her ability to discern falsehood is still only human. She accepts the kindness for what it is, appreciative, and murmurs something vague and self-deprecatingly dismissive, turning her head off to one side.

His follow-up question has countless effects, though she can't possibly realize that he's privy to all of them. Her heart skips a bit — literally — and her pulse rate elevates. Her breath shallows. The pressure of her fingertips on her mug increases in a single tick of pressure, provoked by memory. Her throat dries, and to cover for that she lifts her mug to take a sip of it even though it's still too hot to drink. She isn't afraid — not exactly, the changes are not that intense — but there is a definite quickening, sharpening.

"Everything," she says, finally. There's a very long pause. "I don't think I'm the same person I was before it happened, but I don't know what that means. For me."

Every last one of the words she says is true — or at the very least, she believes them.

—-

They are each the other's work in progress; barely formed silhouettes that have yet to take anything like definite shape. But each divulgence, vague or halting as it may be, adds another pencil-stroke of definition to the portrait. Matt accepts her roundabout answers, and the layers of psychic damage they suggest, with the faintest nod. "You didn't tell me much about what happened to you," he answers slowly, "aside from the migranes, but I think I get where you're coming from." For as much as they might share in common — more even than they know — he can /perhaps/ be forgiven for in this moment only the slightest sliver of a clue.

"Having changes forced on you that don't just affect where you're going or what you can do, but your sense of self — it sounds scary," he goes on as he leans ever so slightly forward in his seat, allowing his forearms to rest on either end of the table between them. "I don't know much about brain science — not really my field — but I have to think that getting past something like that has some overlap with other kinds of recovery. Every day you live your life as best you can, you test your limits, and you constantly take stock. In the end your life — interior or exterior — may not look exactly like the one you had before." His smile may be slight — most of them are — but it, along with the tenor of his voice, contains worlds of reassurance. "But maybe that's okay, too. There are lots of ways to live and be in the world. Trust me, I know."

—-

"I couldn't tell you even if I wanted to," Kinsey says through a candid smile that returns motes of personal energy to eyes previously mired with the ghosts of her contemplation. "I bet you've seen some pretty intimidating NDAs in your time, but the DEO…" As she gradually acclimates to his blindness and stops being so concerned with what she needs to do or not do, she's returning to an open easiness of expression whether he can watch it or not, and her smile braids together both knowing and gentle resignation. "But I can say there was an explosion, anyway. I think my odds of surviving weren't very good, so…on the balance of things, headaches aren't so bad."

Finally plucking her cup up again, she brings it to her lips and looks out over his shoulder at the rest of the room, allowing herself some moments of silence before delving back into the heavier substance of the conversation.

"For me, the diversity of modalities isn't reassuring. It's what I find frightening. There are more ways to be that I don't want to be, than ways to be that I do. I had a great life, Matt. Really. And it was getting better all the time. You know? I had…" One of her hands leaves her mug, the fingers of an electronic surgeon clasping something invisible in the air in a loose fist, her eyes narrowing. "…/promise/, in my hands. Potential that felt limitless. And I had to sign that away. It doesn't belong to me anymore." She draws a long breath, slowly exhales it in something less than a sigh. Her hand recups her mug. "My life isn't /bad/. I'm lucky. And lucky to have it. But I wish I knew where I'm going."

—-

Concerns about what to communicate and how Matt would disabuse her of, if she were to voice them. He may not be able to see her grasp the ephemeral promise of a future lost to tragedy, but he can hear the clench of her palm, just as he can hear that note of resignation she registered with a smile. Those alternative avenues to observation and understanding are even more available to Matt than most of those robbed of sight, and it's registered in the way he regards her as she reflects on the path she was diverted from. For all that the eyes behind his glasses are aimless and unfocused, Matt somehow conveys a sense of active attention and engagement as she speaks, right down to the forward lean with his elbows resting on his thighs. His pale brow is slightly knit, his hands clasped around the porcelain cup.

"Yeah, I know," Matt admits at the last, his tone as it often is — measured, gentle, deliberative. "There's a big difference between rejecting a path you don't want in favor of limitless opportunities and being denied a path you did want, even if the remaining opportunities are identical." There's a pause as his jaw sets, resets, a beat of contemplation and — perhaps — reservation. "I know first-hand what it's like to have a lot of the things that underpinned your life snatched away. It's sometimes /literally/ disorienting, and I'm sorry it's happened to you. There aren't easy answers — if there were I imagine you'd have been smart enough to find them already. Really, Kinsey, it may just take /time/, as frustrating as that must sound. Experimenting with different paths to find one that puts some of your talents to, if not their best use, at least an adequate or interesting substitute. I have to imagine they're out there for someone with your training and gifts."

—-

Kinsey listens to everything that he has to say, watching people around them and sipping from her slowly cooling cup of coffee, gradually reaching a more comfortable temperature. When he finishes, she ducks her head. Thin strands of dark hair slide out of the loose bun slash curves across her countenance. "There are a lot of options out there for somebody with my training and gifts. Also mostly scary."

She gives that a beat, lifts her head, laughs a little. "Ahh, I don't know. I think that's enough maudlin for me for one day. I think there are social rules about getting too personal when you meet somebody for coffee and I'm pretty sure that I just broke all of them. And I'm talking about myself /way/ too much. Why don't you tell me something about /you?/"

—-

"Hey, don't apologize," Matt says dismissively, waving his hand as he sits back upright in his seat and crossing one ankle over his knee. "Especially because I think I actually started all the maudlin with talk about blindness and childhood accidents. Besides, I wouldn't have made the invitation if I didn't want to get to know you better."

His brow wrinkles, his smile takes a turn for the quizzical. "Huh. So what are some non-tragic facts I can share?" he asks musingly. "You actually know a lot about me already: born, raised and educated entirely in New York City. Recent law-school grad. In town for a meeting with a mentor, actually, who told me point blank that my partner and I are committing career suicide by turning down job offers at a big firm that would have paid extremely well… but probably would have put me in danger of mortal damnation." One of his shoulders rolls casually, dismissive of the prospect. "I'm excited enough by what Foggy and I are starting that I'll label that non-tragic for now."

"Your turn," he says with a lift of his chin, a close-lipped smile. "Non-tragic fact about Kinsey Sheridan."

—-

"So you're a moral attorney, then?" Kinsey's tone is enough to convey arch humor, even if the look on her face is written for him only in hues of boiling fire, nuances lost. "Mmm. I'm going to be fascinated to see how that works out for you."

In spite of the tease, there's a little shard of approval buried in there somewhere, audibly so. Peculiar, coming from someone who worked in military technology, perhaps, but — nevertheless.

"Non-tragic fact, about me." There are lots of those. Kinsey knows there are. In the moment, though, she can't seem to dredge up anything that she thinks is shiny or unusual enough to be worth telling someone — at least, nothing that she'd be /able/ to tell him, closely guarded second personas being what they are. And that revelation in itself gives her pause, because it plays back into their earlier conversation about who she is: so much of what she believes in about herself is now relegated to this small, fortified, bounded personality, the rest of her life painted in utilitarian hues: garage work, food, sleep. Very few friends, or at least very few friends she can see, most of them former colleagues and therefore constantly at work. It paints the picture of a very lopsided life for her — one she's not sure she knows how to correct or reshape.

What does she even do? With herself? With her time? With anything that isn't /work/?

The pause is awkwardly long, and she knows that, acknowledges. "I…am realizing that I don't lead a very interesting life, actually. I run the garage, I run, I…" Everything else: tucked behind the doors. Property of six. She laughs, self-conscious. "Okay. Maybe that's part of the problem, huh?"

—-

At that light ribbing Matt has the decency to look abashed. "Look, I did reserve the right to re-label it as tragic down the line," the attorney says with a helpless spread of his hands, light winking off the rim of his sun-glasses. "And… when I end up the first law grad in Columbia's history to die of starvation, you can join the host of I-told-you-so-ers."

"Seriously, though," he really can't help but add, and with real conviction to match, "I do think that there's a way to do this job that puts people first, but that doesn't involve some big bureacracy or a threadbare nonprofit chasing foundation dollars. A private practice in the public interest." It may be a pipe dream, for sure, but Matt sells it like — well, like a lawyer making his opening statement. At least he seems to recognize it, from the apologetic smile that spreads across his features as quickly as he's done. "Sorry, a little earnest, I know."

He seems unconcerned by her disclosure that she has… well, no real friends or interests. "So you're going through a boring patch," Matt says dryly. "Been there. Talk to any 1L and they'll say they spend their days studying, sleeping, and consuming calories. In that order. But the work itself? The clients, the jobs. Interesting? Or interesting enough?"

—-

Kinsey is shockingly ethical for a human being who devoted her time to figuring out ways to keep people alive, and help them render other people less alive, for a living. Matt's plans for his practice therefore earn him only a continuance of that approval, and more privately the hope that it works out. The world could really use more of that. She could really use seeing more of that in the world.

And he is merciful with regard to her confession — even manages to find a toehold onto something she can discuss. "I have a friend from gradeschool who grew up to work in a salon. She says that almost all of the cuts she gives are the usual 'an inch off of the bottom' stuff, or doing somebody's roots, you know…nothing exciting. But she lives for the people who come in and ask for something different. That's where her heart is. And she gets just enough of them to make doing the rest of it bearable. That's…basically me. I change a lot of oil pans," says the young woman who discovered a means to transmit human and machine consciousnesses back and forth across limitless distance using quantum mechanics, "But every now and then something interesting comes in. Case in point: the other night a bunch of aliens came in and asked if I could fix their rocket boots." She smiles, amused. "That was a good night."

—-

There is coffee — great big cups of it — that sat mostly untouched as the pair has weaved their way through the conversation. Somewhere along the line Matt realizes this fact and brings the cup up to his lips for a brief sip — and at exactly the wrong time, just as she's segueing from a charming analogy about her childhood friend to aliens and rocketboots.

Matt coughs into his cup as the coffee goes down the wrong pipe, even as he lifts up a staying palm to dismiss any fears that he's actually /choking/. His hand fumbles for where the napkin should be next the serving plate, which he brings to his mouth to wipe off some of the hot liquid he can feel dribbling down his chin.

/Smooth, Murdock./

Silence as he carefully dabs his chin and puts the napkin back alongside the coffee cup on the table. "Somehow," he says, understated and mild — almost deadpan — in his incredulity, "I get the feeling you're not talking about people whose visas have expired."

—-

Since he spares her the necessity of being worried about his asphyxiation, Kinsey opts for the other available response, which is to let her amusement linger. Shoulders tremble once in a laugh nobody else in the world would be able to sense by any means other than sight, perhaps.

"You don't believe me," she says, a statement rather than a question, albeit not a surprised one. "The boots are still at the garage. Maybe I'll let you give'em a spin before I give them back. We could, uh…" She lifts one hand, gestures with long, expressive fingers. "Tether you to something on the floor, I don't know."

Hard to say whether or not she's joking, and in any case she continues: "World's full of things most people don't know are real, as it turns out. Universe is a big place." She lifts her cup, mostly drains it, sets aside the dregs. "And I would love to wow you with some of that, but that's…also…maybe part of my NDA."
This conversation has taken a turn for the deeply weird. Matt might simply dismiss the mechanic as a crackpot — unhinged somehow by her accident — were he not palpably aware of the hyper-advanced technology that has facilitated her recovery from that accident. And were his life not a case study that the deeply weird does, in fact, happen. Still, it's hard not to regard her with anything other than unmistakable (and surely understandable) skepticism. "Pretty comprehensive NDA, to cover the mysteries of the universe," is all he offers at first, before bringing the coffee to his lips for a long, stalling sip.

—-

By the time he's done with that drink, he's recovered the entirety of his composure and most of his dignity. He's also come to a decision. "Alright," Matt says with another spread of his hands, a note of a challenge in his ordinarily equanimous voice. "If you're serious, Sheridan, why not? They called me the neighborhood daredevil, once upon a time. And my father always said I'd make his hair go white before he turned fifty. I don't have many opportunities for thrills these days, so I'll take them where I can get them."

'Pretty comprehensive NDA, to cover the mysteries of the universe.'

Kinsey Sheridan's friendly smile slides just slightly to into feline territory, the curl at the corners cheshire, the tip of her head downward to regard him from beneath crescents of lash coy. "I did say it was government work."

She doesn't expect him to /actually/ take her up on it, so when he does she laughs, but she seems pleased, anyway. "Now I'm going to have to figure out how to make sure I don't get you killed on my property," she muses, sitting back and tapping one fingernail on the tabletop several times. The wheels are already visibly — or maybe audibly — turning, the challenge no sooner identified than she begins to pick it apart, unable to help herself. "Maybe I'll modify a toddler harness. You know. With the leashes?"

/That one/ is probably a joke.

—-

Toddler harness. With leashes. And alien rocket boots. A beat of deadpan, pregnant quiet follows while Matt digests Kinsey's proposal - followed by a swallowed smile. "Jesus, Kinsey, I don't even know," he says in notes of mock-apology as he leans back in his chair with a wince. "It's all a little fast, don't you think? From coffee to straight to, 'Come over to my place so I can leash you to a harness and show you my alien technology?'"

He jokes, obviously. But even still, Matt at least seems to entertain the idea, eyes slimming behind the glasses as if he could picture the outlandish scenario in his mind's eye. The image is so preposterous it draws out a brief, bright, rare laugh. He scrubs the parts of his face not obscured by his round-rimmed shades, leaving ruddy red marks in their wake. "I imagine that flying, tethered, on rocket boots - alien or not - would feel absolutely amazing and look totally ridiculous," he finally offers in a tone that is at once and equally amused and bemused. "But I spend a lot of my life looking at least a little ridiculous. If you can handle it, I can probably handle it."

Probably.

—-

Someone else might have taken that as a step too far, but Kinsey laughs without any guarded reluctance whatsoever. "I'd love to be able to tell you that's the strangest thing I've said this week, but…"

/Eh,/ says the shrug she doesn't know he can sense. "I'm sure I can handle it. You should've seen some of the get-ups I had to wear when I was working as a test pilot. You think 'test pilot' and you think 'sexy,' right? Top Gun, athletic people at their physical prime, high-adrenaline, pulling off impossible maneuvers and then landing and heading off to the bar to drown in— you know. The adrenaline thing is true, but honestly, you spend a lot of time looking like you're an actor wearing one of those ridiculous mo-cap outfits, skintight with little dots stuck everywhere. Monitoring equipment is low on the cool-factor."

She notices the wince. She noticed the scrapes on his knuckles, too, and she wasn't going to ask about that — what if he ran into something? He's /blind/. It would be rude to ask, wouldn't it? — but paired up with the wince, her curiosity, vast as the universe, finally gets the better of her.

"You're a little bit scuffed up, huh?"

—-

"Pilot, too?" Matt asks, eyebrows popping up above the eye-glass rims. "Kinsey Sheridan, you've had a lot of lives, haven't you? But I get your point; most jobs aren't nearly as glamorous as they are from a distance. That's certainly been my experience." Whether it's billing 80 hours a week in a sleek sweatshop or leaping from rooftop to rooftop in a homespun ninja suit with a rag pulled over your eyes. A beat, and then: "I… don't actually have to wear one of those Andy Serkis suits for this, though, do I?"

He grazes his yellowing knuckles with literally scuffed and cracked fingernails from his other hand. "Yeah," he says quietly, literally shrugging it off with a roll of one shoulder. "Those new Citi-bikes around are great, or so I hear. But some of the tourists who rent them don't really know what they're doing, and the city doesn't take much time to teach them. Got hit by a man riding on the sidewalk."

Every word of that is a lie, and as if in punishment for the sin, Matt is visited almost immediately by an apparition: the face of the man those knuckles bruised themselves bloody on. Big, oafish, bulbous nosed and swollen-lipped. His imagination even fills in the visual details his ruined eyes couldn't take in on the wintry night, giving his victim jaundiced-eyes that betray the host of internal damage the man had already wreaked on himself with whiskey before Matt had ever gotten to him. The savage beating was Matt's first official act of vigilantism, in service of the four-year-old daughter the MTA worker had horrifically abused. At the time it had felt thrilling, empowering, as if he'd found his proper place in the scheme of Creation. Then came the questions: quiet, nagging, insistent. And here they come again:

/What if she did it, Matt?/, comes an internal voice entirely unlike Six's little friend, existing entirely within Matt's consciousness but somehow palpably real to him. /What if she isn't some borged up bounty hunter or an undercover DEO agent, but it's actually door number three and she had something to do with the theft? Suppose you play detective find that out. You going to do to her what you did to him, tough guy? Isn't that what you do to criminals, now?/

He musters a smile. "Occupational peril of working in mid-town, I guess," he finishes. "So, what's my window here? When are these aliens of yours coming to pick their goods back up?"

—-

"Ah," Kinsey says. And even from that single syllable, he'd be able to tell that she doesn't believe him.

Because you don't scuff your /knuckles/ by falling down when someone hits you with a bike. Or if you do, you don't scuff them like that. Not unless you decided to pick a fight with the sidewalk after the fact.

Which is not to say she thinks he was in a fight, either. He'd never see a fist coming, he'd have a black eye, probably. People love to swing for the head. She has no sense of why he might need to lie, only that he has lied, and in the grand scheme of things she's so preoccupied with her own clandestine life that she doesn't assign much importance to it. People lie: fact. Maybe it was something embarrassing, who knows. It's enough to keep her from asking any more questions, at any rate.

"They get them back when I call them and tell them they're ready…which will be soon, probably. In a week or so. There are some parts that were badly bent that I've had to outsource because I couldn't fix them myself, and some of those materials are…" Hesitation, silent laughter. "You know. There are elements we don't have on our periodic table. I can't just wholesale it. It takes time. So you've got a little bit of time, anyway, but if you don't get back to me…well, the guy who owns them seems nice. He might let you have a go even after I give them back."

The corner of her mouth twists upward, a feline expression that pairs well with eyes that lid in mischief. She's doing it on purpose, now: "You can meet his friend, the sentient, bipedal raccoon that specializes in demolitions."

—-

"See, now you're just making fun of me," Matt says with a long-suffering sigh. The tease allows him to shove some of the internal conflict aside, to slip into the relatively easy back and forth of casual conversation with a pretty girl in a coffee shop. "But sadly, I'm all out of coffee to spit." He brings up a finger to scratch the bridge of his nose speculatively. "Only way I'd know for sure is by feeling the raccoon's face while it spoke — does it speak? But asking an extraterrestrial raccoon with a penchant for blowing things up whether I can feel it's face seems like an awful idea."

The timetable she presents is a challenge, and one he wrestles with silently for a moment. "I could probably get to Gotham sometime in there," he says musingly. "My partner and I are trying to narrow in on an office space, and we have a lot of meetings agents lined up. But let me see what I can do; it sounds…" he chuckles again, allowing some incredulity to trickle back into his voice, "…like an experience."

"But," he adds with a slight smile, "even if I can't swing a trip back that quickly, let's find something else. This was fun. And I'm sure you've got a few other vehicles worth a joy ride. I don't mind being a passenger."

—-

"Oh, he speaks, alright," says Kinsey, thinking back to the night that she watched a sarcastic raccoon in a rather stylish jacket stand around on the opened drawers of her tool chests, picking through her equipment like a toddler who can't keep from messing with everything in reach. "And from what little I know about him, I am pretty sure that putting your hands on his face would be a high-risk activity, but what's life without a little bit of danger?"

She tilts back in her seat, draping one slim arm — the one that's real from shoulder to fingertip, as it happens — over the back of her chair, one jean-clad thigh slid over the other in a loose cross of the legs. The other hand remains near her more or less empty cup, more for something to do than aught else, fingertips given to periodically giving it a twist where it sits, spinning it around in time with whatever her thoughts are. Whether he accepts or not is entirely up to him; she shrugs a single shoulder, remembers to make that official: "Whatever works."

But then he's asking her to get together again, and this time…

This time she does hesitate, and isn't sure why. She fancies herself cosmopolitan, a creature of urban landscapes, comfortable flitting into and out of casual dating situations where nothing at all is serious and everything is for fun, and usually that's true. And, on top of that, this doesn't even seem like a date — just the same kind of seed that turns into a friendship in the awkward environs of a city.

They share things, though. Significant things, that altered the course of their lives, for better or worse, and while he may have sorted his decades-old circumstances, at least as far as she knows, she's nowhere even remotely close to knowing which way is up with regard to her own. There is every chance she isn't the person she thinks she is, or that he does. And this is the first time, actually, that someone new has tried to reach out to her since her accident — someone who knows her as Kinsey first, rather than as Six. All of her colleagues have been necessarily set aside, her old social webs placed at a remove.

This, forming new connections, no matter what they are, no matter how innocent or platonic — how does she do that? Can she balance that?

She doesn't know.

"Sure," she says finally, almost a snap-decision forced by the fact that the silence was getting too long. "Yeah. I appreciate the…the advice. It was good to talk through it, a little." She tacks on a little note of humor. "I don't actually own a car, believe it or not. But I'm sure we can figure something out."

—-

Point of fact: they share more in common than either of them realize, even a certain cautious ambivalence. Matt, for his part, is every bit on the cusp of becoming as the woman across from him, and the shape of what he intends is as indefinite as the red, cauldroning blur his senses make of the world every day. Nevertheless, he is contemplating, really already taken that first inexorable step towards, what is surely a mad and pointedly solitary venture with a likely martyr's end in sight. It's not exactly a great time to be striking up new social relations of any sort with out-of-towners, especially with a (potentially dangerous) unknown quantity, and he knows it.

But she's a puzzle, whose experiences he thinks may resonate with some of his own, but also suggest a world outside of his limited range of experience. And he is curious. They're alike in that, too.

So he presses forward, if carefully, and gives her the time she needs to make up her mind. When she does, his smile is slight but genuine. "Yeah, of course," he says of advice in the quiet, measured tone he tends to favor. "Anytime, Kinsey. Wish I had better answers for you; truth is I sometimes feel like I'm just starting to figure it all out myself, you know?"

"And yeah, I think we can manage some mischief, even without the benefit of alien raccoons and their rocket boots," he adds as his smile widens, shows teeth. "But this is a workday for you; I should let you get back to it - and to Gotham."

—-

'You know?'

"I know."

She's grateful that he lands on humor as in his closing remarks. It's easy. "Yeah…unfortunately. I probably should get going." Uncrossing her legs, she rises from her seat with that same impossible fluidity of movement, subtle enough that even people without his senses are sometimes given pause. For Matt, it's a symphony of complex sounds and vibrations, the virtually inaudible whisper of complex robotics, the flocking habits of nanotechnology. She plucks her coat from the back of the seat and threads her arms into it, slim fingers caught up a moment in fussing with the zipper, which she takes all the way up, preparing to adjust to the bite of the cold. "Otherwise, there'll probably be more mischief than I would like. Not the fun kind. But thanks for taking the time to meet me, and, um…"

Pale, gold-green eyes linger on the man seated at the table. /This is a huge mistake,/ she thinks.

(Statistically likely,) Five answers.

"Well, you've got my number." It's not an elegant good-bye, but for all her alien physical grace, she is not a particularly elegant person. She's a /nerd/. A military nerd, so a nerd with discipline, but /still/.

As she moves around the table and his chair, she gives the padded arch of his coat-clothed shoulder a light press of fingertips, and then with a swirl of scents related to the garage she spends her time in, she passes, and is gone.

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