Ethical Quandaries

February 10, 2017:

Kinsey Sheridan (Six) and Matt Murdock go on that date thing they'd planned before Matt was brutally incapacitated and hospitalized, and so two people spend a few hours getting to know half of one another, pretending all the while that that half is all they are.

Hell's Kitchen, NYC

Matthew Murdock's stomping grounds.


NPCs: Assorted personalities of Hell's Kitchen.

Mentions: Foggy Nelson, Tony Stark, Rocket Raccoon

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It's been twenty-four hours since the snowstorm swept the city, which means you're in that sweet spot where the sidewalks are once again navigable, yet the snow piled up in heaps on the streetsides is still a (mostly) unsullied white. In these pre-twilight hours Hell's Kitchen lacks the menace you'd expect to find reading a Ben Urich story; it's more of a vintage throw-back to a time when New York was a little seedier but a lot more interesting. Fewer Starbucks and Trader Joe's, more family-owned storefronts. You might expect to find a neighborhood like it in Brooklyn or Queens — but in Manhattan, right next to Time's Square's madcap vortex, it's a minor wonder of the world simply for its mulish resistance to the currents of the times.

The bar he sends her to is — well, not Josie's, at least — but still well short of posh from the look of the unassuming blue awning out front. Within? A snug, clean(ish), low-lit shrine to boxing, with obligatory pictures of Ali vs. Frazier, Tunney vs. Dempsey, and a host of athletes famous and obscure in moments of alternating glamour and violence. Regulars dot the room; leaving it peopled but uncrowded by a rush-hour madness.

This time there's no waiting — he's early, already seated at one of the two-person tables positioned a good distance away from the cold that sweeps in whenever there's a new entrant. It's the end of a Friday, so he's in his scruffy-chic work wear: slim-fitting grey suit and a white and unrumpled oxford-cloth button down, though his tie either abandoned over the course of the day or eschewed altogether. And, for what it's worth, he looks entirely himself: no weight-loss, no pallor, no bruises or scrapes. He's his usual, inscrutable, bespectacled self as he listens to Nina on the jukebox and traces some idle, indecipherable symbol on the plywood table-surface with a single finger.


There is no sense in arriving ten minutes late, but Kinsey does. It's a calculated ten minutes: she wants to arrive and find him already waiting, sidestepping any thoughts or reference to the last time she waited for him at a Hell's Kitchen bar. A fresh start, in an unnecessarily overthinking sort of way.

There's also, perhaps, no sense in taking the time to dress up for a night out with a blind man, particularly when it's ostensibly just going to involve a meander around his stomping grounds, but Kinsey's done that, too. Jean leggings dark enough to be nearly black, an obscenely soft cashmere sweater in rich plum, flecked with tiny chips of something that has a silvery, hematite-dark glitter, heeled knee-high boots the color of hot cocoa and a complementary leather bag. It would be something of a stretch to say she's 'done' her hair, but she's gathered it up behind her head in a series of loose and interweaving twists, the wind already having done some work on her walk to tease strands loose of those pinnings. Cosmetics that he won't appreciate, either: cared-for brows, subtly stained lip gloss, dark soot on lashes, shimmer on lids. Those things are for her, mostly — for her confidence, a kind of ritual. Something to put her in the right frame of mind.

The warm scent of the oil dabbed on the inside of either wrist is probably more for him, though.

For anyone else, that scent would be the first thing to announce her as she brushes past the next table over, carrying with her the sharp tang of the smell of snow and the cold air that still clings to the coat she folds over the back of the empty seat waiting for her. Matt, though, probably heard the distinctive, impossibly-quiet sound of her prosthetics from a full block away.

"You weren't kidding," is the first thing she says, stopping behind her chair to look him over. "You look pretty good for a guy who was in a coma."


Yeah, he heard her coming. In fact, it may have been at about that marker of a block that he relaxed himself into a boneless, contented lean just sly of a slouch. There'll be no other tell that her presence is detected until she finally speaks. And then? Chocolate eyebrows draw upward as his whole face registers a dry amusement; even with the glasses anyone could tell there's a twinkle in his eye. "Oh, yeah?" he asks. Lips bend downward. "I guess I feel pretty good for a guy who was in a coma," he says dryly, and mostly means it.

Matt places a palm on the table and pushes himself upward to a rise from his chair. And while he obviously can't look her over, he still conveys a brief sense of taking her in before he steps forward for a quick and welcoming hug. "Glad you got in OK with the snow. What can I get you?"


There's a little wave of something like relief when he steps in, offering her the hug she'd wanted but wasn't sure it was safe to initiate. She's affectionate by nature, but it seems impossible that he could be so completely restored to himself as to make embraces possible, let alone comfortable. Her measured smile widens in a quick flash of pearl, one lean arm hooked around his shoulders as she tilts into his hug, the other hand clasping the outside of his arm. It's a reminder of how bizarrely solid he is for a man of his profession. Where the hell does a lawyer find the time to get into that kind of physical condition?

And more than that: how on earth did he recover from the obscene injuries he'd had so quickly..?

"Oh no you don't," she says as she lets go of him. She reaches for the back of the chair she's intended to occupy, dragging it out. "Tonight is 'Kinsey sees Matt's neighborhood' night. You tell me what you think the inside scoop is on the good stuff, and I'll go with that. We'll pretend I'm not a filthy tourist from Gotham."


Not just solid but strong and steady in a way that seems patently unlikely for a man who endured the grievous injuries she'd seen with her own eyes in filmy medical scans. Matt is not hiding the ball, the way he otherwise might and often does with his own abilities. There's no obvious attempt to conceal the miraculous nature of his recovery; though admittedly he doesn't know just how familiar she is with the nature and extent of his injuries.

He sees more than blind people do, what with his hodgepodge world-on-fire radar, but it's those other senses that drive both the end product of his cobbled-together sight and his strongest impressions of the world. It's almost fair to say that he hasn't really seen her at all before that brief point of contact, and if there's hitch of breath then, perhaps it can just be attributable to his no-longer-existent injuries. When he parts his smile is mostly close-lipped with a hint of white. "You'll follow my lead, is what you're telling me," he says when they break, less a question than an expansive interpretation. "Alright, Jersey girl." A flash of a smile, fuller this time, and then he's off to the bar, feeling along the edge of it, making a quick order, paying up in cash, and bringing back two foamy, amber glasses of what's on tap. He holds one out in her general vicinity to grab. "For seeing the neighborhood this isn't a bad place to start," the lawyer says as he waits for her to take her drink from his hand. "Not my usual spot, but it's got character."


"Just this once. No promises after this," Kinsey cautions, of her willingness to follow his lead. It's a riposte without much significance, the token assertion of independence that one might expect from any reasonably spirited young woman in a big city, without much more substance than that. While he's putting in orders for drinks she settles into her seat, sliding her chair up to the table and arranging her coat on the back of her chair so that it blocks the majority of the inrushing cool air as people come and go. She hooks one knee over the other beneath the table, leans into her elbows with her hands raised and half-laced, and braces the point of her chin against the knuckles of one hand as her gaze roves over the pictures on the wall, the patrons who are — one can tell by the way they interact with the staff, and with each other — as much a feature of the bar as any of the things on the wall.

The hovering glass in her peripheral vision tugs her gaze back. She relieves him of the glass with a bright, "Thanks!" and waits for him to sit before she continues, "It's not? I'm surprised. It seems custom-built for you. You said your dad was a boxer, and you spend some time with somebody who spots you at a boxing gym. Really nailing down the whole spectrum of Irish-American tropes, Murdock. Next you'll tell me you can drink like a fish. Which — I'm just gonna toss this out there right now, so nobody gets surprised — I can't. I mean, I really can't. This is probably all I can safely have." And she shouldn't be having that much, either. Alcohol does not get along particularly well with the hardware in her skull.

But…it'll probably be fine. Right?


"I… can… drink like a fish," Matt admits, his burst of a laugh almost abashed as he reaches for the back of his chair so that he can ease down and set his own glass of ale down on the tabletop at the same time. "But to complicate the cliche — I kind of need to be in a space I know really well, or have a forgiving friend along for the ride." This is no lie. Alcohol interferes with just about all of the carefully cultivated senses Matt Murdock needs to do what he does, not to mention his sense of control and independence besides.

Still, he'll raise a glass. "Cheers to lightweights," he says, dimples showing, before taking a slow drink from his glass.

"Besides," he offers as a dry aside. "Introducing someone to your bar is kind of a big step."


"I'm pretty forgiving," Kinsey says, the brilliant crescent of her smile renewed by his own self-deprecating laugh, "But I'm not 'holding your hair for you while you get sick' forgiving. I'm a sympathetic puker. Sorry." Her shoulders shake with the laugh she keeps mostly to herself, though he'll hear it in her breath. And as they settle into these rhythms, as laughter enters into the equation, the rate of her pulse gradually begins to slow, too; she isn't sweaty-palms nervous, but her nerves are distinctly aware that she's Doing A Thing With A Guy for the first time in — well, who knows how long, really.

She reaches for her glass, hoists it, and meets his toast, then brings it to her…nose? To sniff it. This is a pattern that will repeat itself across the span of her acquaintance: she is tactile, particularly for a sighted person, a reflex linked no doubt to that irrepressible curiosity of hers. The desire to know and experience everything has somehow produced the habit of sniffing everything new to her that she's supposed to eat or drink.

Her first sip is tentative, but she follows with a second, and then slants him a wry look. "I'm flattered. I'll try to make a good impression." Leaning forward, she drills red-painted nails lightly against the condensation-slick sides of her glass and considers him with narrowing golden eyes. "Now you've just got to learn to brawl in the streets and develop a fetish for potatoes and you'll have the stereotypical collector's set."


It might seem a haughty gesture to some, treating a glass of beer like a sommelier treats a hundred dollar sniff of wine. He is stridently working class; almost contemptuous of wealth; with all the passion and at least some of the politics of a communist. Still, a passing and irrepressible flicker of respect crosses his features when he hears her sniff that glass of craft ale. He has any number of chips on his shoulder, but curiosity and appreciation for the senses will do nothing but earn points.

Speaking of points, and the calculus of their time spent together. "Wait, sorry, why are you flattered? We're not there yet," Matt says, either of making a good impression, his bar, or both. "Give it a few hours." The tap of colored nails on glass seems not to bother him a whit, and of brawling in the streets, he says not a motherfucking word. But when she mentions potatoes, he can't help but laugh. "Oh, my God, Kinsey. A potato fetish sounds like the worst fetish."


"Oh, I see. Well…I'll try to make a good impression whenever. But remember, I did warn you, I'm not going to be any good for a pub crawl. You'd wind up having to drag me. It'd be terrible."

The lack of a response to her joke about brawling causes an inward wince. Maybe he doesn't appreciate being called stereotypical, Kinsey! She rallies with aplomb, however, dousing that momentary failure of wit with a more substantial swallow from her glass. "It sounds bad," she agrees, "But I don't know about it being the worst. I — you probably don't spend a lot of what little free time you have browsing the internet — " And why would he? It's not the most accessible medium for the visually impaired. " — but trust me. That is a long, long list with a lot of contenders for the top spot."

She ought to know. Her actual, literal consciousness has made contact with the boards of 4-chan before. There had not been enough hot water in her loft to return her to feeling clean after that little expedition.

Leaving the conversation idling on the subject of kinks seems like another miscalculation waiting to happen, so she ushers things right along: "Is he here somewhere?" One of her hands lifts, gestures loosely toward the walls, an uncensored movement disconnected with whether or not he can see it. "Your dad."


If he's truly offended by her joking about his heritage, he offers little evidence of it. "Fair enough," Matt offers gamely when she sensibly protests the pub crawl, his lips quirking at their corners. And then he's taking a long sip from his beer glass, before a quiet, speculative: "We can skip Josie's this time around, maybe." There's something else he's about to say — a second part or addendum to that sentence, it's clear, but for now he keeps it close.

On the matter of sordid internets, he — almost coughs into his beer. He's no innocent, but even if you can take the boy out of the Catholic school…

"I'll take your word for it," he offers dryly, bringing the napkin underneath his glass to wipe at his mouth. "While I wonder what the hell kind of browsing you've been doing."

If only he knew.

Then she's asking about his dad. "Yeah, he's here somewhere," Matt says with a glance around the room, as if he might be able to spy the photograph somewhere and point him out. "Eastern wall towards your bottom right, I think, if Jimmy hasn't moved it. And… I'm pretty damn sure nothing in this place has moved in, like, fifteen years." The subject matter may may prod and poke at old wounds that never healed quite right, but his tone stays consistent: quiet, wry, assured. "I mean, dad was no Ali —" a beat, a puff of fierce, fond, and exceedingly proud breath, "but he held his own."

"I'll spare you a tour of his old gym, though, even if it's relevant," he adds with a brief little chuckle. "The place is a dump, and you don't need to be gawked at by a bunch of meat heads."


'This time around,' Matt says, and Kinsey's smile changes its character, shrinking but warming, momentarily shy — a look that she carries off well enough, considering she's so rarely in a position to feel bashful about anything.

"I think I'm just gonna let you wonder," she says of her browsing habits, lifting her glass. She takes regular sips while he speaks, surprised the next time she glances down to find that she's already had a third of the glass. She sets it very carefully aside atop the coaster, lacing her fingers in front of her to keep her hands off of it, give herself time to see how that plays with the nanofiber netting laid across her brain tissue.

He gives her reason, anyway, when he directs her attention toward the place his father has been enshrined. She twists around sideways in her chair to look — she finds the eastern corner unerringly, without thinking — but she doesn't leave him at the table. "Anybody brave enough to get into a boxing ring is an automatic badass in my book. Unless they can't box and they're just trying to prove a point, I guess." From the bottom right of the eastern wall, her gaze rainbows across the displays, pictures of people in palettes that mark the photos as being from various eras, all images of men in their physical, fighting prime, most shining with sweat, mouths puffy with guards, in gleaming, gaudy satin-finish shorts. "I was always tempted to try it. Going to a boxing gym. They have a lot of those in Boston, as you'd expect. They still train boxers, but they also put people like me who wander in wearing yoga pants and a clueless expression through the training routines. Toe taps on the side of the ring, jump rope — well, you know. I had a friend who loved it. Totally brutal. I could never do the real thing, though. I…have an aversion to being hit in the head." She says this sheepishly, as though it's something shameful to admit when you're sitting in a bar devoted to the glory of the sport. But it's also deeply practical: too many knocks on the head could push her brain through that neural net like a boiled egg through an egg slicer. Boxing is definitely off of the menu of her life.

As she swivels in her seat to face him again, she slants him a wry look. "You don't know if they'd gawk."


She makes her comment about boxers, good and bad, and he flashes his most genuine smile, temporarily disarmed. "That's so funny — that's just what he always used to say," Matt replies, rueful, appreciative. "You know, as a kid I'd always be trash-talking the fighters he went up against, especially when they beat him, because being a ten-year-old kid, I thought he was like this god among men. But he hated when I did it. Told me that anyone who steps into the ring and puts on the gloves deserves respect." Battlin' Jack is spoken of entirely in the past tense, and if that doesn't give his status away, the wistful trace in Matt's tone should do the trick for most reasonable observers.

But Matt is determined not to let this meeting between them become a meditiation on tragedy and loss, so he hones right in on her quip to sidestep that particular track. "Let's call it an educated guess," he asks archly of gawking before taking a sip of his half-gone beer before cracking another quick chuckle. "Foggy — that's my partner — tells me that I've got pretty good intuition about — ah — stuff like that. Though… I guess he could have just been humoring me all these years and I'd be none the wiser, would I?"


Kinsey, ever perceptive, could not possibly overlook the little signs that lead one to conclude that Matt's father is no longer living. It sheens the conversation with a different quality, touching the humor she hears in his voice with tender nostalgia, the painful fondness of remembrance. There are a lot of people who would find that kind of emotional complication uncomfortable, but for Kinsey it's sweet, just another piece of something precious. She studies his expression raptly, soaking in the subtleties in his expression and the sound of his voice, painted against the backdrop of this neighborhood church to the great art of pugilism.

"But I haven't met Foggy," Kinsey points out archly, the curl at the corner of her mouth gentle and feline, lashes lowering over mossy, gilded irises. She settles properly into her seat again, once more hooking one knee over the other beneath the table, mindful to avoid kicking him on accident. When he speculates about whether or not Foggy is humoring him, she breaks into a full laugh, and as usual it's earthy and warm, the way it tends to be when she's not putting on airs. "Intuition, huh. That's either a tremendous blessing or a terrible curse for you, and I can't decide which." She finds herself reaching for her glass, and after a beat of conscious consideration decides that it's safe to have another sip. "How did you meet Foggy, anyway? Law school? And how did he get the name 'Foggy?'"


Matt's eyebrows pop up in mimicry of a helpless shrug at the question of blessing or curse, red-tinted glasses winking reflection of the dim ceiling-lights behind her. "I guess, from my point of view, it shouldn't really matter much in the end, should it?" It's a question, not a conclusion. And of course it does, to him, for a host of reasons.

But then the subject is turning to Foggy, and he's cracking a grin and ducks his head. "His family gave it to him early," Matt says before summoning the beer glass back to his lips. "He, uh, snores pretty loudly," the lawyer says in tones fit for confidence and conspiracies before taking a sip of the beer and bringing it down to thirds. "So they started calling him the human foghorn." He grimaces, almost pained. "And of course I learned that for myself my very first night, freshman year of college. He was my roommate. Turns out we both grew up in Hell's Kitchen — but I was in parochial school, and he was in public, so we'd never actually met before then. Guess the undergrad department thought our backgrounds made us a good fit." A beat, and then a rueful addendum: "Or they wanted to keep all those Hell's Kitchen boys in one place where you can watch them."

He speaks with undisguised, unapologetic fondness of his long-time friend — right before he stops himself. "Look, I know this is supposed to be a look at my neighborhood and all, but we're talking way too much about me. I just realized I don't know anything about your Bostonian family, aside from the fact that they got themselves out of Southie and take the odd trip back across the pond. Come on, Kinsey Sheridan — give me the goods."


Matt shrugs with his eyebrows at her musing, and she shrugs with her shoulders at his conclusion — not that she thinks he's able to see it. "I suppose," she says, sounding candidly unconvinced.

Whatever reason she thought might be behind Foggy's unusual nickname, the one that Matt gives her is not it. The laugh that follows is bright and sharp enough that she's compelled to cup a hand over her mouth, eyes narrowed with brilliant amusement, brows knitted in open sympathy with this man she's never met before over his extremely unfortunate origin story. "Oh no," she says, voice muffled by her own fingers. "Oh that's— I'll pretend I don't know that, whenever I meet him." When, not if. Even if things with Matt don't work out in some grander sense, she has no intentions of relinquishing whatever affable thing they've managed to build between them thus far. It seems a safe prediction, to her. "And you finished law school with even less sleep than the average law student. They should let you put that on your CV."

She takes another sip from her glass, and partway through arches one manicured brow at his demurral. "I like talking about other people. I think I mentioned once before, but as interesting as my life might sound in the big picture sense, in the day to day, it's pretty…regimented. Not very exciting." It's more an effort to caution him against expecting much of interest than any kind of refusal to spill the proverbial beans. Articulate fingers play over the sides of her glass as she considers where to begin, her head tilting to one side, the loose strands of dark hair framing her face tilting to briefly shadow her lowered, contemplative gaze. "Well," she says slowly, "My whole family's in the military, or retired from that. My father was a Marine infantryman who went NCO and my mother was in the coast guard, actually, in the reserves. She was an electronics technician. After dad retired, he went into business with my uncle, and they opened a private security outfit. A lot of my retired relatives wind up on that payroll once they're not in active service anymore. My family's always had a little bit of political pull because of who they know in the DOD, but I think the firm's really tilted the scales in that direction. They spend a lot of their time having dinner with people. Networking."

She quiets for the span of some heartbeats, eyes distant, thoughts playing across a broad spectrum of memories. "They were so proud of my career. They're — they still are, I shouldn't say it like that. Dad especially. Getting wounded doing your job is— well, you can guess. He respects that. I think they worry that I'm wasting my potential now, though. I have to keep telling them that, no, I'm actually pretty content with the garage." She lifts her head, returns hazel eyes to blank, red lenses, and draws up a relaxed, accepting sort of smile. "'Course, they don't know I sometimes get jobs like 'fixing rocket boots,' so maybe that's understandable." After a pause, she knits her brows together in an expression of feminine petulance that carries over into her voice. "I think dad wants me to eat crow and tell Stark I'll reconsider the job offer he made me years ago, but I'd rather pull out my fingernails with needle-nose pliers."


Matt's whole body conveys active attention as she begins to speak: a subtle forward lean in his seat that stands in stark contrast to the lazy repose he adopted when the conversation focused on himself. Much of his secret life may be martial, may require discipline, but it's as far removed from the realities of military life as you could picture. He is, in general, not a big fan of the military as an institution; there were no Captain America posters hanging in his dorm room at the orphanage. His lips press together when she talks through her family's likely feelings about her current state. "It's hard, sometimes, to convince people who care about you and your future that you really know what's best for yourself," he offers. "I've run into that a couple of times with some of my mentors." Whether they were DAs or blind senseis, as it were. "But, yeah, I'm sure they're proud of you. They sound like good people."

There's a lot to admire in the thoughtful equanimity he perceives from her about her circumstances; certainly he's someone who values the resilience in the face of adversity. But it's when her tone takes a turn that his bushy chocolate brows again draw upward, this time in surprise. "Alright, Kinsey, I'll bite," he says dryly, brow crinkling. "What's up with you and Tony Stark? Seems to bring out some strong feelings. Bad offer?" Whatever she says, he's predisposed to side with her, skeptical as he is of playboy billionaires.


Affection softens her. "They are. They're strict, but…they were always fair."

And then…

And then they're talking about Stark.

The full shape of her mouth dwindles on itself, pressed into a bloodless line, and this time when her lashes grow heavy over her eyes, they do so with a narrowing that's far less charitable than the sort inspired by her good humor. "Hmh," she says, a sound pushed out of her on a puff of breath that really, before she ever begins to explain, gives the entire vague outline of that relationship's contours. She lifts her glass, takes a long and unhurried pull, and then sets it aside, dropping back to rest against the back of her chair abruptly enough that it squeaks. "No, it — it was a good offer. A great offer, actually. I wasn't even finished with high school. He scouted me. It helps that my family has some overlap with his industry. Most people would probably kill for that kind of offer, but he was just…so…" She pauses, turning her head hard to the side, nails skating over the tender hollow behind the hinge of her jaw while she bores her gaze through the far wall. "So him. When I told him I was going into the military like the rest of my family — I mean, that was never up for negotiation, that was always going to happen — he laughed at me. He seemed to have this idea that I'd have moral or ethical objections to working for anybody who might use my work in combat situations. He thought I was— he treated me like I had no idea what I was doing. Like I couldn't possibly know what I wanted at that age." She pushes her chin forward, a stubborn look that recalls, no doubt, the one she'd worn during that meeting many years earlier. "So then it became a matter of principle to spite him. He's friendly with my parents, so I run into him every now and then, and he makes it a point to bring that up every time I see him. 'How's that job working out for you, Kinze?' Her imitation of Tony Stark leaves a great deal to be desired, but there's enough of him in it to make it clear whom it is that she's aping.

Slender arms fold across her middle, and then she snaps her head back to the fore, lances Matt with a cautionary look that he can't even see. "He's an ass! And he over-designs everything!" There's a moment of hesitation then, and a grudging admission: "He's brilliant, don't get me wrong, but…" The fire returns. Her eyes flash. "Being smart isn't everything."


Matt leans back in his chair as he listens to Kinsey fairly well rant about Stark, taking the opportunity to nearly finish off that beer in lingering sips while she recounts what sounds to be a nearly decade-old grudge against the billionaire technologist. He looks a little bemused, perhaps unprepared for the intensity of her reaction. But he's hardly dismissive — and even gives a good natured and quiet chuckle at her attempt at an impersonation. After all, an insufferable but badass would-be mentor who tries to take you under their wing at a young age and then botches the whole thing with assholery is a phenomenon he's intimately familiar with.

Which makes it easy for Matt to offer a dry: "Jesus, Kinsey, he sounds like a real dick." A beat, and then he's allowing some subtle notes of mirth to slowly creep into his voice with each following word: "I only know what I've heard on the news, but I was never that impressed either. I mean, hell, you showed me last month that I could be Iron Man if I wanted to be." A brief, prompt nod, and then he's raising the remainder of his glass. "Fuck Tony Stark. Am I right?"


It's fair to say she didn't expect that degree of — what, support? Commiseration? Something about that makes her momentarily abashed, reaching for her own glass and indulging in a self-deprecating laugh. "Sorry," she says, though she clinks her glass against his anyway, and drinks to the sentiment without reservation. "Maybe there's a good guy in there somewhere, but he's hidden under five hundred layers of know-it-all and a thick icing of smug bastard. I shouldn't let him get to me, though."

By this time, the alcohol is finally beginning to interact with the peculiar changes to her neurobiology, a metabolism fuelled by her brain's excessive default consumption of energy ushering the effects along. They'll come quickly and go quickly, and they seem to hit her all at once — just enough to ensure that talk of Stark can't quite cultivate tension in her shoulders, and that her body feels warm and limber, not boneless, but loose.

All of which he can no doubt sense, to some degree or other: changes in her bloodstream, in her temperature, heart rate, posture. The tone of her voice, her diction. Her enthusiasm, sudden and bright. She doesn't drink anymore — this is the first alcohol she's had since the accident, actually, save for the glass of wine that taught her she ought to avoid it — but it's easy enough to see what kind of person she would be, if she were drunk: the laughing, affectionate, silly, prone-to-doing-things-on-impulse kind. "So that's the beer. It was good! Good choice. I feel like I'm better-equipped to deal with the snow, now. You had something for that, right? Some kind of neighborhood adventure? Because I'm totally ready."


Matt shakes his head and his index finger at once after he's finished off his beer. "No, sorry, fuck him," he says in emphatic deadpan as she softens her diatribe. Support, commiseration, and more than a little bit of ribbing — but it's good natured enough.

"Yeah, local beers to start and then a little walking tour was all I really had in mind," he says as he pushes the beer forward to the center of the table, though he'll wait for her to get up before he pushes himself to a stand and grabs the folded walking stick that's been propped neatly against the wall beside him for the extent of their conversation. "Although I thought I heard somewhere that you hadn't had Indian food in a while. If my competition hasn't beaten me to it, I can think of a few good spots that make a damn fine paneer."

The beer has done its work on him, too; loosening the knot in the shoulders that's been there for the last few days, which has nothing at all (or very little) to do with his grievous injuries.

He doubles down on his stance of support, and Kinsey laughs appreciatively, though she's compelled to cover that with the back of her hand, as though the irreverent pleasure she takes in it were unseemly — which, to be fair, it might be. She's in the process of standing and unfolding her coat — hip-length, a little like a peacoat but not nearly as heavy, with the added benefit of a hood — to pull it on over her shoulders when he mentions Indian food, which has her spinning around to look at him, lips parted and eyes wide with eager anticipation. "I hope you're not joking about that! That is my favorite comfort food." Graceful fingers make quick work of her coat's buttons, and then she reaches for his elbow, a light touch warning him that she intends to take his arm before she does it, cautious about his center of balance.

"I still haven't gone to dinner with the raccoon, if that's what you're getting at," she adds, to the consternation of one of the patrons at a table they pass. He cranes his head around to look at their retreating backs, brows knitted, wondering if he heard what he thought he heard. "They haven't been back to pick up the boots yet, either. For all I know they got arrested in space by…" She gestures with her free hand. "Space cops, I don't know."

At the door, she disentangles her arm long enough to reach for the door and push it aside, being situated on the side closest to the door hinge, and clearly not caught up in the formalities associated with which of them is supposed to be doing what. "So what's the first stop on our walkabout?" she asks, dark brows slightly arched, her head turned enough to aim gilded eyes up at him.

Nobody has ever sounded that excited about a tour of Hell's Kitchen before. Nobody.


He's donning his own jacket then; a thick charcoal-grey wool topcoat, and takes her arm with a slight smile of appreciation. "Wow, you mean we may get to keep the boots? Hell yeah," Matt says as they are walking out the door, as if they were joint-owners of the alien merchandise. He's quietly amused at the sudden, infectious enthusiasm Kinsey seems to have for everyone and everything now that the beer has hit her. Lightweight indeed he thinks to himself wryly.

Some enthusiasm needs to be tempered, Matt decides. "This excited about a walk around mid-town? Yeah, you're a tourist alright," he quips back at her. "It'll mostly be some shops and a little bit of history, and some good food at the end. And there are two ways we could do it. Down in the streets themselves, or up on the highline — you know, that suspended walkway that runs along the West Side Highway. That'd give you a nice bird's eye view of not just Hell's Kitchen but, well, everything I guess, though the winter wind coming off the water would be pretty bad — even for a Bostonian." His far hand comes around to trace lightly along the forearm she has encircling his, feeling the peacoat's fabric. "And especially with a coat that light."


"What is this we stuff?" Kinsey asks archly of the boots, tone playful. Her first exhale out on the street is a wreath of pale mist, and she feels the cold as a lick of the winter against the end of her nose more than anything, a whisper over the high bones of her cheeks that draws color into otherwise fair skin.

Which diminishes, but does not entirely eliminate, the color that follows his examination of her attire, because it takes her some moments to understand what it is that he's doing in the first place — until he says what he says, really. Until that moment, it's an exploratory gesture that she isn't prepared for, one that earns a blink and a glance in the moments before she feels heat creep into her cheeks. The blush redoubles once she grasps that she entirely misunderstood what was happening, and her laugh contains some exasperation with herself. "I, uh, tend to run hot," she admits. "Fast metabolism, or something. Until after I eat, anyway, and then I'm always bizarrely cold. But let's stay on the streets! …Unless…" Hesitation, debate. She worries her lower lip. "Unless you think the highline is better. I don't know. I don't know!" She jostles his shoulder gamely. "You're supposed to tell me. These are your stomping grounds. Show me the things that made you want to stay here for your entire life, and open a practice here, and…you know. Nobody sticks around the place they grew up without good reason. Show me your reasons."


"Oh, come on, Kinsey," Matt banters back to her 'we' comment with a smile, a puff of white wintry air as he, in his own idiosyncratic way, surveys the twilight streetscape around them. "You know this is all just me trying to get into your rocket boots."

But then she's asking him, with enthusiasm, to show her his reasons for staying and he ducks his head, at once feeling flattered by the open curiosity in his life and world while at the same time wrestling momentarily with the request. The real reasons that drove him to stay in Hell's Kitchen have their deepest roots in the tragedies that he has privately declared off-limits for the evening. But he has enough love of the neighborhood and its little crooks that narrows that he can walk the line. "I think I can do that. We'll definitely stick to the streets, then," he says as he tips his walking stick forward from his feet to lightly strike the chipped concrete of the sidewalk. "Make a left," he tells the woman on his arm, before adding dryly: "Says the blind tour guide."

Left will take them west down 44th Street, walking alongside piles of snow and littered debris. The streets in Manhattan are perpetually crowded, but at the onset of night the foot-traffic begins to thin. "If you like movies, this is where some great ones come from," Matt begins as they make their trek. "It inspired West Side story —" he says, and then his tone takes on a few notes of mirth, "…and Gangs of New York, though that came out in '02, so I missed that one. Read the book, though."

Another young couple walks by them, his arm around her shoulder; warm, hushed Spanish whispered between them. They cross a ragged panhandler slumped against the street, and a taxi-driver waxing his windshield. "And if you noticed that both movies are about organized crime, you're on to something," Matt says with a twitch of his lips as they near the corner and the broader thoroughfare of 9th avenue, where streams of cars plow downtown. "This has always been kind of a rough neighborhood. Mostly Irish, especially when I was growing up, but lots of Puerto Ricans too. More of a mix now."

For a man who was recently, purportedly stabbed walking these streets, he does so with the same assuredness his voice conveyed on the phone. Privately, though, he's watchful, mindful of both the companion and his arms and any details that speak of any hint of danger. He said she'd be safe with him here, and it is a promise he means to keep.


Kinsey rolls her eyes gamely at his arch reply, but the smile stays in place, comfortable and relaxed.

She turns them left. They must be blessed this evening, because every crosswalk they arrive at seems to tick over from red to white for them a handful of moments before they reach it, allowing them to stroll more or less unimpeded.

"I like movies. I'm pretty behind on them, though. You know how it is, when you have a demanding job. Sometimes I'd get home and not have the energy to get invested in something, especially not something heavy." She watches the couple near them, listens to them as they pass by. Quietly, Five translates the snatches of overheard Spanish — unnecessarily, as it happens, as it's the one language aside from English in which Kinsey is completely fluent. She'd love to claim that she's fluent in Gaelic. Her relatives across the pound would no doubt disagree.

Homeless always earn the same response from her: guilty avoidance. Apologetic looks. The same song and dance as most New Yorkers, really, who understand that if they gave to everyone who needed a hand-out, they'd swiftly be penniless…but still, that plight never really gets any less difficult to witness, and wrapped as she is in her warm clothes with a belly full of beer and the prospect of Indian food later on, her guilt shines in her like a beacon. The city has yet to strip her of that facility for compassion.

"So, what, Irish mob? I thought that was pretty much over with, these days. Whitey Bulger's in jail, everybody turned snitch because he supposedly did…"


"Oh, yeah, they're kind of a spent force in the City too," Matt is saying of Irish gangsters as they stroll, as one does on a date, the taps of his walking stick on the ground lazy and almost perfunctory. He may be the guide, but he's sort of enjoying letting her take lead of their physical progress and step them clear of obstacles. "I meant more the make-up of the population when I was growing up. These days we're a full on melting pot, or mixed salad, or whatever you want to call it. I guess that's true for the gangs, too," the lawyer adds with a little shrug of the shoulder adjoining hers. "Lots of different ones operate out of here. The docks have always been like a shady siren for assholes."

"Which means," he's adding wryly as they pass under streetlights that are gradually picking up the slack for dwindling day, "that I could tell you decades worth of macabre stories stretching back decades. A few blocks south on 39th Street was literally called Battle Row by the Times back in the day." A pause. "The day being the 1880s, but still. I ate that stuff up as a kid, the local history. Gang wars and ghost stories; it's strange what rattles around in your head from youth."

He'll point out little haunts along their walk. For instance, the nod of his head over towards a basement storefront they pass by. "That's Sticks over there — pretty decent pool hall," he says, as if he actually plays.

"They keep saying the neighborhood is on the verge of change," Matt says as they walk by a pack of rowdy, raucus teens geared up for a long night. "But honestly, they've been saying that since the 1980s, and if it's happening, it's taking its time," he says as they pass by a boarded up apartment building that must be a hundred years old or more, elegant red-brick walls sooty and run-down by time and lack of care. "People have been trying to gentrify it for decades. But Times Square is literally Disneyland, and Hell's Kitchen is still Hell's Kitchen, with all its gangs and ghosts, tenement houses, dive bars and old-timey pubs." It's said with a measure of affection, even if it's qualified — knowing.

"My old house is on the next block," he adds, sticking his walking stick forward. "I lived with my dad in the basement floor of a townhouse."


If he'd harbored any doubts about what she'd said over the phone — that she finds fascinating all sorts of things that other people might not care about — they're probably handily laid to rest by the rapt attention she gives him as he spells out small things about the neighborhood he's lived in for his entire life. And she is listening. The corner of her mouth quirks when he mentions Battle Row.

"Boston had one of those as recently as the sixties. The infamous Combat Zone," she says, a bit grand in her delivery, her free hand splaying and sweeping out to the side in front of her, as though painting the picture of a marquee — not, of course, that she's aware he's able to observe that in any way. "Where all of those morally bankrupt perverts went to see Chesty Morgan perform." The wry tone of her voice mocks the prudish sentiment of the words themselves: 'oh noooo, sex, whatever shall we do!' being the general sentiment. "Among other things."

And then: "Oooh, I love pool."

Which is probably because she's absurdly good at it, for reasons wholly unfair to anyone. Precision control through robotic limbs and an AI capable of calculating angles provide a not-insignificant (though hardly foolproof) edge.

He'll feel her twist just enough to give that old, boarded-up building a long study as they pass by it. A completely empty building this close to some of the most valuable property in midtown astonishes her. "I can't believe nobody's managed to do it. It's…eerie. Really strange. Sort of beyond belief, actually. Somebody's got to be seeing to it that things stay like this. Don't you think? There's no way it would just spontaneously remain locked into character. Not when everywhere else is changing so quickly."

When he mentions his childhood home, she cranes her head to look, then turns it in his direction, studying what she can see of his expression from his profile.


What can she glean from him as he says those few, spare words about the place where he grew up? She's noted in the past that his expressions are subtle, hard to read. But having now spent more than a handful of hours with him, it's easy to detect a shade of wistfulness on an admittedly emotionally muted palette. It wasn't a great home; it was cramped and spare. But it's the last home he saw with his own two eyes, and it, like its chief tenant, was taken from him by violence at a tender age. Some part of Matt would trade his swanky, neon-washed penthouse for that basement in a second.

"Yeah, I think it's safe to say that there are interests that would prefer this neighborhood not be filled with people who have much in the way of power or a voice," he says, choosing to answer her question rather than dig into talk about his old house. "And that those interests exert a lot of influence to make sure the neighborhood stays mostly the way it is. Not that the gentrifiers are much better — that apartment building we just passed is the Windmere. A landlord bought it in the 80s, harassed the tenants and moved in drugs and prostitution to get them to leave so he — I don't know. Destroy, rebuild, flip? Evade rent controls. Either way it backfired. They all moved out, yeah, but the whole thing got bogged down in the courts for years." Matt's politics are a strange combination of idealism and cynicism. He's driven by a powerful sense of justice, but is deeply skeptical of almost every institution you can imagine.

"We should play sometime," Matt adds as they're crossing the street. "Pool, that is. I need a little direction."


Kinsey takes in his ruminations in silence, and she's still silent for moments afterward. The neighborhood around them reminds her of photographs of the boroughs in far earlier phases of the city's growth, when that diversity was plentiful but segregated into cultural communities and businesses more colorfully reflected the nearby inhabitants, catering to their needs with items that recalled the places from which they'd come. She isn't romantic enough to view those periods through wholly rosy lenses — racism, sexism, classism, it was all there, and in many cases infinitely worse than this crass contemporary age — but there's still a sense of loss for her, contemplating the things dwindling into the past in favor of a more ubiquitous landscape of the future.

Solemn thoughts that cause her to double-take when she processes what he's said, lips parting, mouth practically hanging open as she pries at his taciturn face with hazel eyes like crowbars. "You…sorry. Wait. Please feel free to tell me that I'm an insensitive asshole for asking, but how does that work?" A pause, thoughtful, eyes narrowing. "Am I an asshole for being surprised? Is this a thing that most blind people do that I never realized they do because my privilege has made me oblivious?"


He pauses in their tracks, turning to face her as they stand there on the street corner. "Yeah, no, you're absolutely an insensitive asshole for asking," Matt Murdock says in perfect deadpan, his pale features seemingly crack-proof in the face of her crowbar glare… right before he giving a quick chortle that immediately undercuts the words. "So, my dad taught me before the accident," he explains good naturedly, all pretense at indignation discarded. "And I was pretty good, too. But like I said, I can't play on my own. I need a lot of direction. Literal hand holding. And even then I wouldn't bet money on me or anything. But for fun and laughs? I'm up for almost anything." His lips quirk at their corners as he very deliberatively reaches up with both hands to remove his crimson-tinted glasses, revealing a brown-eyed gaze that, for all that it's ever so slightly mis-targeted, fairly well sparkles with mirth. "Thought I'd proved that one to you by now, Ms. Limitless Possibilities," he adds quietly.

A pause, and then he's lifting his chin behind her. "Indian's across the street and around the corner. What do you say. You still down?"


The color drains out of her face when he deadpans. She'd told him to, and she doesn't regret telling him to because she'd absolutely rather be told than continue to blather on cluelessly on topics she knows little about…

But she's mortified, nonetheless.

And then deeply relieved, and exaggeratedly indignant.

What color fled her face moments before returns in spades, cheeks growing hot. She untucks her arm from his so that she can punch him in the shoulder with all of the impotent lack of strength one would expect from someone of her general physical description.

"You ass!"

She draws a long, deep breath and huffs it out in a cloud of roiling white. "You're pretty brave, pulling that and then trusting me to help you win a pool game!"

The gesture that follows quiets some of her fabricated uproar. She isn't quite sure what to make of it, and in classic Kinsey Sheridan style, she's going to overthink it, probably. She knows from having asked that he generally prefers to wear them, not only because of sensitivity to light but because they offer him a barrier between himself and the world — a way to level the playing field, so that he's not freely seen while he himself sees nothing at all. She understood that then; she understands it now. Is it a gesture of trust? Is it an apology for scaring the hell out of her with his deadpan?

What does it mean?

Five chooses that moment to stir. (Does it actually matter?)

No, Kinsey supposes after a moment of thought. I suppose not. She can't meet his eyes, but she does look at them, taking in what they have to offer — things it would be difficult to discern otherwise. It's shocking, just how much those lenses occlude. "Evidence suggests you're game, but one night of rocket boots is hardly a data set, Mr. Murdock. The sample size is going to need to be much bigger before I can draw any conclusions I'd pin my name to."

She threads her arm through his again. "Which is to say, yes. I've been promised Indian food and if I don't get it I'm going to be extremely disappointed."


That chortle becomes a full-on laugh when she slams a fist into the shoulder of the blind, recently near-dead attorney. "Oh, come on, Kinsey, I'm just messing with you a little," Matt offers, though whatever scant contrition may be found in that — apology? explanation? - is likely undercut by what comes next: "For what it's worth, at least I couldn't see your face when I said it." And while that is strictly speaking true, it's also very fair to say that the drain and surge of blood along her sculptural cheekbones was incentive and reward for the man who sees more than he shows.

The gesture with the glasses is what it is: a unilateral disarmament, perhaps a telltale recognition of the fact that he did invite her up here to get a better look at himself and his life. He folds them with one hand, placing them carefully in the front pocket of his jacket.

"You'll get any and all data you need from me to reach a full and fair conclusion, Ms. Sheridan," he lies with breezy aplomb as he takes her arm and the pair make their way across the street, down the steps, and to the doors of the red-awninged restaurant where he'll (try to) open the door for her.


"I am an ice queen," Kinsey sniffs, when he offers her that arch consolation. "Completely untouchable by your attempts to fluster me. I took your criticism with — with perfect grace." She lies unrepentantly, though her tone doesn't really expect him to believe her.

Their luck at street-crossings miraculously holds, long enough for them to reach the other sidewalk, and given he knows his neighborhood like the back of his own hand — better, possibly — she can't really be surprised when he finds the handle and opens it for her. She lets go of his arm and steps inside, fingers already toying at coat buttons, her cheeks and the top of her nose flush with color brought out by the bite of winter. The wind has taken it upon itself to tease more of her hair loose from the pins holding it up, and as they wait just inside, she takes a moment to try to blindly corral everything back into place — to no real effect.

"It's Doctor, technically. If I wanted to punish you with formality," she says, mostly because she's uncertain she's ever said as much, previously. "Not that it really matters, anymore. But if you're ever having a difficult time falling asleep, you can try to dig up my thesis."

Except no, he can't, because the whole thing has been retroactively classified. Not that she knows that.


"Oh come on, now you're just showing off," Matt quips back on being informed of her doctorate as they enter the well-trafficked, slightly kitschy Indian spot, with its lamp lights and red walls, its wicker chairs and white table cloths. He folds up his walking stick and begins doffing his overcoat, draping it loosely over over one arm. It looks almost impossible that they'll get a table, to judge from the diverse crowd of young people, off-track theater goers and regulars loitering around the foyer, and the sizing up the young maitre d gives the pair suggests he seems inclined to agree. "Sorry, it will be an hour and a half at least," he says when Matt asks for a table for two, signaling the potential for extreme disappointment of one Kinsey Sheridan.

And then:

"Matthew Murdock!" comes another, older voice. A stout, smiling, mustachioed man in his sixties pushes his way through the throng. "Matthew, come on in!" he says before grabbing the lawyer's free hand and giving it an enthusiastic, borderline fierce shake and a clap on the lawyer's back before eyeing the younger gatekeeper. "Let's get you and this lovely lady a table."

"Hey, Vikram," Matt says with a flash of an appreciative, client-ready smile. "Thanks, that's so great. Sorry, I know it's a theater rush."

Vikram, the ostensible owner, rolls his eyes, looks to Kinsey and points his stubby finger at the lawyer. "This guy apologizes too much. You may know this by now. The man who got me out of the stink I was in with the bank gets a table whenever he wants." With his shades on, only the smile would register; but glassless Murdock looks practically sheepish at the ribbing, a touch of color splashing his pale cheeks.

And then Vikram's leading them to the back of the restaurant to a quiet-enough corner table. Matthew will, assuming Kinsey allows, reclaim her arm somewhere along the way. "That's a really nice perfume," he says quietly as they approach their designated table. The compliments he can reasonably provide are few and far between; he'll give them where he can.


Is she showing off?

Maybe a little.

"I worked hard for that," she points out, mildly arch, though in a distracted, good-humored sort of way. She's looking at the mass accumulation of would-be diners with the practiced eye of someone who knows how to evaluate waiting times, and her rough calculus is not encouraging. She isn't surprised, then when they're given a long estimate. She turns her head to look at him. "We could always—"

What she would have suggested as a means to occupy their time may never be known, though, because there's suddenly a bounty of enthusiasm interjecting. She pivots on the ball of her foot to take in the onrushing bundle of energy that is Vikram, hazel eyes sparking with amusement and what appears to be an instant liking of him, particularly once he starts shaking Matt's hand as though it were his only job for the evening, and going on — loudly, for her benefit — about what Matt was able to do for him. She flicks a bright glance at her — date, it's a date, Kinsey — and on seeing him blush breaks into a low and almost incredulous laugh. Vikram gets one of her most winning smiles for the trouble. "That's very kind of you," she says, as they're expedited through the line. As they're guided into the restaurant, she makes a point of avoiding eye contact with the crowd still waiting by the door. Why sully the good mood with feeling guilty?

She pauses and then slows when she feels fingers on her arm again, glancing over. Lips part, close again, and it is a shame he can't see what passes through her face, then. It isn't anything so biologically evident as a blush. It's a look of surprise and appreciation, but also something thoughtful. She'd had her reservations about agreeing to go out with him, and for good reasons. She'd committed in spite of them because — quite apart from his appealing personal qualities — she believed it an important experiment for her social life. To try her hand at normalcy.

She isn't sure what she expected. Not this, though. Not that she'd enjoy herself this much.

Her smile is slow, close-lipped, and her lashes half-mast. "Thanks, Matt," she says, and means it.


Matt can't see her face, but as is almost always the case, his other senses come to the rescue. The tone of her voice when she offers that brief and quiet thanks seems more than enough to quirk at the corners of his lips.

Then they're arrived. Matt completes his typical ritual: he feels for the back of his chair, folds his coat over its back, carefully establishes his folded walking stick against the side of the wall. All of it gives Vikram time to lay out their menus and, far more importantly, Kinsey time to able to take her own seat so that he can fulfil another one of chivalry's frivolous functions. How he knows is no mystery — these are creaky chairs even for the svelte — and as he eases himself into his chair he looks up at at the restaurant's proprietor. "Thanks again, Vikram. Seriously."

Vikram smiles, open-mouthed and toothy, and slaps the young lawyer on the back. "Any time. Enjoy yourselves!" His keen-eyed, playful gaze cuts from Kinsey back to Murdock. "Ah, Matthew," he says with a knowing, rueful and thoroughly dramatic sigh as he puts a hand on the man's wool-suited shoulder. "She's much too pretty for you. She'll break your heart." He chuckles, flutters his fingers once at Kinsey, and then he's gone.

Matt gives a brief, silent, helpless laugh at the last minute non-sequitur. "Vikram's a character," the young man says, explaining the obvious as his hand searches the table for his menu. "Good guy, though." One heartbeat, two, and then a dry: "And I guess Foggy's theory gets another data point."


Strap of her purse hung over the back of her seat, coat folded over on top, Kinsey is well settled in and crossing her legs under the table by the time Vikram delivers his parting remark. She draws her shoulders up and turns her head, a shift of posture that almost dodges the insinuation, but she gives him a wry smile, too — typical bashfulness provoked by compliments from a stranger.

She's reaching for her glass of water, closing slim fingers around it and bringing it up to her lips when Matt adds onto that moment, and she lowers her glass and fixes him with a dry, entertained look that he can't see. "Please. What was he going to say? 'Ah, Matthew," she imitates, leaning forward and keeping her volume low, "'This one's not so good. Throw her back!'" She sits up again, lifts her glass, gestures carefully. The ice clinks against the sides. "No way." One very long sip later, she lets all of the air in her chest go in a protracted, satisfied sigh, and then turns her head to cast her gaze around the restaurant's interior, bringing up condensation-chilled fingertips to toy with a lock of dark hair that's loose behind her ear. "This place must be pretty spectacular to have a wait like that one."

A few beats later he's on the receiving end of a curious look. "How long ago did you represent Vikram? Had to be recently, right? You've only just gotten started, right?"


Matt laughs at her impersonation of the enthusiastic restaurant owner. "I minored in philosophy back in college," he says, in apparent non sequitur, as he searches for and finds his own glass of water. "And there was this one class — epistemology — that had the undergrads just tripping at the notion that their senses were fallible or imperfect, or that what they saw with their eyes might not reflect things as they are. 'Dude… you mean the table I'm looking at might not really even be a table?' And I was just like: 'Yeah, well, welcome to my fucking world.'"

"But," he adds archly as he summons the water glass to his lips, "my take is that Vikram would have just kept his mouth shut. Sorry, I'm gonna have to trust my gut on this one."

To her question, the lawyer twists his lips a little grimly. "On the case, though, yeah, he's overstating things a bit," Matt says quietly, carefully, and in as vague terms as attorney-client privilege will allow. "We only took him on six weeks ago, and he's not out of the woods yet. But for clients feeling desperate, even delays, deferrals and new possibilities can feel game-changing."

A pause, a sip of water. "He also makes a mean paneer, like I said," Matt adds with a slight smile. "Or whatever you want, really: samosas, curries, you name it. What's your pleasure?"


The mental image of a class full of starry-eyed Philosophy-majoring freshmen rises in Kinsey's mind eye, and produces a sudden, unexpected laugh that has her lifting a hand to cover her mouth and hastily set her glass down. "Only freshmen. Honestly."

There isn't much else that she can say about Vikram's remarks without unduly prolonging a conversation about her own looks, so she concedes her side of things with an audible sigh, exasperated but not unpleased. It would be a stretch to call her vain, exactly — she spends a lot of the day covered in automotive fluids and wearing less-than-lovely clothing — but she's not without vanity, and that whole exchange has left her with more than enough pearls of flattery to pull out and peruse at her leisure later.

Shapely brows knit while she listens to him discuss Vikram's recent woes. "I hope everything works out." After a pause, a small half-smile. "Especially if he makes a mean paneer, or mean anything else. I like all of it, myself. I'm a korma girl when I'm feeling sorry for myself. It's the ultimate comfort food. But let's get the paneer!" She turns her head to one side, looks at him out of the corner of gently narrowing eyes, white teeth pinning her lower lip. "How do you feel about spicy food, Murdock?" The tone of her voice suggests that this is a test.


"He'll be alright," Matt answers of Vikram with some of the same quiet certitude he had for her safety in his company over the phone.

And to her — question? Test? Task? He answers with a prompt: "Hell yeah." Though he offers another deadpan just as quickly: "Wait, naan counts as spicy food, right?"

He admits a crack of a smile, shrugs. "My potato-farmer heritage didn't exactly predispose me to it," Matt admits, "but yeah, I'll can a vindaloo now and again." Says the man with a supremely sensitive sense of touch paired with a powerful endurance. Starched sheets may be like sandpaper on his skin, but he also gets punched, kicked, and most recently gutted by magical tendrils like a champ. He can handle an overpowered curry.



He cannot see the flat look she gives him, but he can probably somehow sense it in the air, even without any biofeedback, when the pause is longer than it needs to be. "Matthew. We are going to have to work on your relationship with flavor. I love my ancestors as much as anybody, but there is /more to life/ than potatoes, beef, and sausage. That being said? Don't try to be a hero, buddy. You know how that's gonna end." She settles back in her seat, stretches her arms out along those of her chair, and dons a smug smile. "Since you said there's going to be a next time, we have the luxury of time! We'll start you out with white-people spicy, and gradually move up. The mango lassi will keep the top of your skull from blowing off."

Her next question is sudden, related as it occurs to her: "So what did you think about Philosophy? I can understand why you'd have wanted to take it. It's complementary with your profession. Semantics, right? And you're a moral attorney, as I recall, but I'm not sure that most Philosophy seems concerned with morals, exactly." She narrows her eyes, tracing a fingertip over the worn end of her chair's arm. "I'm struggling through Pirsig's 'Lila' right now. I'm still in the DEO's book club." Her throat hollows out as she drags in a deep breath for a sigh. "I don't think it's the kind of philosophy I like."


'Don't try to be a hero, buddy,' she says of the brave face he puts on towards curries and vindaloos she has no reason to suspect would be a hell of their own sort for Matt's sensitive palette. Or, for that matter, reason to suspect her advice has any applicability beyond Indian cuisine. But for both reasons it wins a quirk of the lips from one Mr. Murdock — an expression that widens into a full bore smile as she goes on, but which loses none of its wry character.

"Oh, I suggested that there would be a next time — before I knew you were a sadist," Matt banters back, adopting an indolent repose on that coat-covered chair. "Guess it's a good thing we've already established I'm a masochist, I guess. Fine, sure, spice it up and bring on the lassis. I'll put myself in your hands."

It's only then he'll take up her question. "Haven't read Lila. I did read Zen, but who hasn't?" Then his fair brow furrows. "And I don't know! Maybe you've been reading the wrong kind of philosophy. Science has sort of been edging it out for a while, right? Answering a lot of the metaphysical and epistemic questions the white-beards and college freshman batted around for centuries. It's really the ethical and political stuff that science can't touch, and what I always found the most interesting anyway."

Then their young waiter is coming to introduce himself, pad in palm, and asking if they'd care for anything to drink.

"Oh, I think we're ready to order Arjun, thanks," Matt says with a flash of a smile, though the smile he swallows can be heard in the arch tone of his voice as he adds: "The lady here has it all figured out."


He consents to have his sinuses engage in noble battle with a panoply of spices, and Kinsey brings her hands up and claps twice, a theatrical flutter of excited applause, hoisting her shoulders and allowing the lazy curve of her smile to widen and sharpen, enough to nearly suggest dimples. "Adventure," she says, obviously delighted.

When he continues, one of her brows drifts upward, describing an elegant line of thoughtful surprise. "Edging out philosophy? Hm. Maybe pieces of it. The machinery of perception is something we're continuing to delve into, and — sure, alright. Identity and consciousness, there are neurobiological and neuropsychological studies for those. But science gives birth to new fields of philosophy, as well! The field of neuroethics is so incredibly new, and when I was—"

Arjun's arrival perhaps mercifully intercepts the rapidly building steam of her passion for the previous topic, evident in the way her words gathered momentum and her tone began to range across more musical registers of inflection, radically different from the softer subtleties of her usual speaking voice — things he'd notice even if the bright gleam in her eyes and suddenly animated expression may have escaped him.

Not that she particularly minds. If she's going to be interrupted whilst proselytizing, doing so with the promise of Indian food is likely the best choice.

"We'd love an order of the saag paneer, please. And…a murgh makhani, an order of plain naan, mango chutney, two mango lassis…" She stops, 'um's. "And jasmine rice, if it doesn't come with..?" The smile she has for the waiter is small and eager, the look of a kid in a candy store. "Thanks."

Once he's taken the menus and departed, she watches his retreat for a handful of his steps and then returns hazel eyes to her tablemate, whom she regards in thoughtful, lip-parted silence for some moments. Her expression softens around a smaller smile, and he'll feel the vibrations in the table as she sits forward again, turning her hips on an angle in her chair to avoid kicking him as she slides to the edge of her seat and folds her forearms on the table's edge. "You know," she says, the shine and flash taken out of her tone in favor of something more contemplative, "I remember sitting in my intro to philosophy class, listening to my professor talk about the great Greek thinkers who formalized the field, and as interesting as Socrates presumably is, what I remember thinking at the time was…" She unfolds her arms and looks down, straightening and flattening her hands but setting them on their outer edges on the table's surface, parallel to one another, as though containing something between them. "Here are these men who thought there was something worthwhile in studying the nature of existence, especially as it relates to the human condition. They devoted their whole lives to that, and they cut closer to the quick of it than anyone before them. You always hear that the Big Question for humanity is, 'What's the meaning of it all? Why are we here?' But even in college, I never — I didn't identify with that at all. I never asked myself those questions because they didn't seem like the kind of questions that could be answered. What they were doing — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, everybody else after that — was trying to answer those questions in some roundabout way. Even the nihilists, right? Because otherwise there's no point to philosophy. You can still sit around and discuss morals and ethics, but granularly, on the individual level, those systems are compromised by fallibility and the uniqueness of circumstance. As soon as you step away from evaluating ethics on a mass scale it gets vastly more difficult to have a point, doesn't it? Because things are subjective, and the more the small details matter, the more unclear things can be. You tighten your focus enough…it's like…like magnifying pixels. What you thought were black and white turn out to be made up of smaller things in a shocking array of different colors, in different configurations."

Silence, for two beats. She lets her hands fold inward, palms down onto the table, eyes still trained there. "Philosophy and ethics are so comforting, because they make so much logical sense — most of the time. I like that. The scientist in me wants a world where those boundaries remain clear and evident, always. Only it doesn't turn out to be like that when you look at it closely, does it? The organic world is steadfastly messy."


/Butter chicken,/ he thinks with a wave of relief, entirely internal but acute. One bullet dodged, Matty.

When she's done ordering, Matt lifts up his useless menu for Arjun to take from his hands, but his focus remains on the woman in front of him. Her enthusiasm — for Indian food and philosophy alike — is charming, almost infectious. And even if he can't see the glimpse of dimples or flash of a smile, he picks up a lot. Each shift in her posture, the planting of synthetic and organic forearm alike on the table, and even how they shift position to illustrate her train of thought as she speaks.

Not to mention the cadence of her voice as she weaves through thoughts about both the meaning of life and the study of that meaning. He smiles faintly but appreciatively, nodding his head now and then in agreement. "Yeah, totally," Matt offers of her commentary on the line of great thinkers from Socrates to the present. "I think they probably realized that most of us go through life with certain assumptions about the world and our place in it, gained by default or inherited tradition, and that those unquestioned assumptions inform how we answer the more every day, granular sort of questions. How we should treat each other, and how we should organize ourselves as social animals. Without at least questioning those assumptions or trying to answer those bigger questions, we're all just — well." A smile, even a burst of a chuckle. "Fumbling around in the dark."

Lassis come quick, with assurances that their dinner will soon follow. "Thanks, Arjun."

As his hand searches for the glass, he lifts his chin upward towards her: "So, Doctor Sheridan. This thesis of yours. What was it on? Would I be able to follow it?"


Kinsey watches his fingertips carefully quest for the side of his glass. She would assist, but there's every chance that moving it would just cause more trouble than it alleviated.

"Most of the time, I feel like that's exactly what we're doing." She reaches for her own glass, dragging it closer and sucking the straw just enough to have a taste of that sweet, tart confection. "Fumbling around in the dark." She lets two beats pass, and then smiles a little, knowing and abashed. "Maybe that's just me, though."

His question surprises her, though it probably shouldn't. That ghostly little smile realizes itself more fully, but she's momentarily evasive in spite — or maybe because — of her obvious pride, turning her head to one side and spending a moment fussing unnecessarily with a loose strand of raven-dark hair, sliding it behind the shell of her ear with her worrying fingertips. "Oh. Well, maybe you would; I don't like to assume. If you're very keen about theoretical physics. It was — it dealt with the quantum mind group of hypotheses. The— there are controversial assertions to the effect that classical mechanics don't handle or explain consciousness. That is, the 'hard problem' of consciousness. That isn't really the direction the paper was aimed in, but that was the field. At some point, working with advanced system software designed to analyze battlefield data, I got interested in neural networking, artificial intelligence, and then I started to explore the possible applications of handling consciousness as information, and vice-versa. Qualia as electron states…"

She pauses, curves a sheepish half-smile. "I — you know, I'm sure that makes no sense, really. The short-short version is that posited that consciousness and quantum mechanics could be integrated — already were integrated, on some fundamental level — so that mind, thinking, sentience, could be handled like data." She squinches her shoulders in, a small, tight shrug. She feels she should add something to that, but isn't sure what, so she leans forward and puts her straw in her mouth instead.


"Really not just you," Matt says quietly of fumbling around in the dark, brown eyes glittering with humor and reflected lamplight as he claims the stem of his glass between two fingers of one hand, his straw with two fingers of the other, and takes a sip.

But then he's listening. Lawyers — good lawyers, at least — need to be able to assimilate and assess even technical information from unfamiliar rapidly. Quantum mechanics, theoretical physics, and the mysteries of consciousness might well test those limits. But Kinsey's explanation, by turns eager and halting, gives Matt at least a rough outline of the scope of her work. Luckily, Matt's always been good at making do with rough outlines.

"I — ah — I think I get it," Matt says, echoing her sheepish self-deprecation. He mulls the matter a little more, and then talks his way through the concept: "So, like, the smell of apricots or a sudden pang of anxiety suddenly become manipulable, transportable, transferable things. And even more complex thoughts and mental states do too." His head draws backward at the audacity of it all. "Sounds… pretty wild, Kinsey. Cool, but wild."

As promised, dinner comes quickly, Arjun with plates in hand: chicken makhani, steaming paneer, it's all laid out before them unobtrusively as their conversation winds.


What Matt does is not merely grasp the outlines of what she's saying, he extrapolates from that to practical applications, and so of course that thrills his tablemate to pieces. Her smile turns practically incandescent. "That's it exactly. And networkable, as well. Connective." She glances up and to the side as the food comes, scaling her smile back to something more appropriate for pairing with her 'thank-you,' but he has the bulk of her attention, and though she leans out of the way to make setting dishes down easier for Arjun, she doesn't lose the thread of what they're discussing.

'Wild,' he says. She pushes her lassi away and reaches to begin spooning rice onto her plate, then paneer.

It's her entire life now, really. Inside of her skull is a quantum ouroboros: her mind and Five's, chained together like a wheel, a closed-circuit system — at least, for as long as she fails to connect it with anything else. Because of it, she can recall watching her own insensate body on a respirator in the hospital through a camera in the hallway before she'd even woken up to begin the process of figuring out what had happened to her. She's felt the skeleton of a massive construction crane as though it were her own, experienced the muscular sensation of flexing hydraulics, her mind expanding outward into non-native systems, interpreting them as biology. She was, very briefly during the auction, an entire opera house.

Her smile turns a bit funny as she looks down at her plate, the rich rust color of the sauce from the butter chicken that she pours over the rice. Steam rises, tickles her nose. She sets the spoon back in the shared dish and sniffs. "Yeah," she agrees, some of that hidden thinking evident in her tone. "Pretty wild."

There's just a little bit of silence, then, before she asks that question she's been meaning to ask. "So, over the phone…you told me I could grill you for details of your misadventure while you act — I think you said 'smug and coy?' I haven't done that yet."


She isn't the only one who has so-far restrained himself from prying. And the tone of her voice provides more fuel to his speculation about the aforementioned 'mysterious accident' that left her unable to continue her old job, in her own words 'permanently changed' without any visible suggestions of that change — at least to the ordinary eye. She preemptively demurred any inquiries of the kind months ago, chalking it up to confidential, top-secret information. But this conversation, that tone in her voice, is his first flash and barest glimpse of what those sorts of changes might have entailed. He lets it go without pressing, even if it runs counter to his own powerful sense of curiosity.

He waits just a scant amount of time after she's done serving herself before making his own go at it. He feels out the edges of the plates with his fingertips, detecting their contents by scent or the give of the food in question against the spoon. He fills his plate slowly, deliberatively, but skillfully — neatly sidestepping what might be a minefield of table manners. The result is a savory, serviceably arranged plate of Indian food. Yes, the saag paneer may run into the butter chicken a bit, and the rice may be haphazardly spread — but it's good enough to eat.

And then she's pressing him, and he's ducking his head in a brief sign of bashfulness. "Speaking of 'pretty wild,' I guess," he says of her inquiry. A pause, a little sigh. "I really can't tell you much, and not just for bullshit reasons about your safety. That was kind of the whole point, really." The fingers on his left hand drum on the tablecloth briefly as he considers his words with care. "I guess what I'd say is that I got into an argument with some very scary people over the scope and contours of attorney-client privilege," he says finally, slowly. "They wanted information from me, and I wasn't inclined to give it, and shit went bad." He swallows then, sense memory of that inching, worming penetration of his skin and perforation of his organs prompting him to resettle in his chair. "I — was in really bad shape. Like, could have gone the other way shape. Later… I got some help from my client," he adds, lips twitching upward. "The sort of weird shit you read about in the papers. And now — I'm better."

He chuckles, sighs again, and takes a spoonful of food. "I really do wish I could say more. It's a helluva story."


Large, clear eyes watch him while he sort-of-kind-of explains. He gives her enough to hint at forces beyond the mundane — that 'weird shit in the papers' that they both refer to so often — and her chewing of the bite of food in her mouth slows gradually. She swallows it down, but there's still a lump in her throat, because the urge to tell him everything comes over her so suddenly and so powerfully that it shocks her into stillness. It seems to her to come out of nowhere, blindsiding her, though giving it some thought, she supposes it's just the sequence of events — his questions about her work, followed by the sense that he can't tell her what happened to him because it touches on the secret and purportedly 'weird' lives of his clients — people who might be, she supposes, like herself. It's the first time there's ever been any real sense for her of the size of what's held in secrecy between them (believing, of course, that she is the only one sitting at the table with a secret life). Likewise, it's the first time she's ever felt genuine regret over the way in which that secrecy has a hand in their interactions. Before, it was easy to write her deceit by omission off as an effort to protect everyone involved, which it certainly is, but…

It means there are things he doesn't believe he can tell her, and there she is, sitting there, unable to put a hand on his and say, it's alright, Matt, I understand, because that's me, too.

She isn't going to tell him, but the onrushing urge is so strong that parts of her respond as though she were, with the dizzy, heart-racing sensation of someone standing at the edge of a high cliff, looking over and down and realizing that the smallest, simplest movement could change everything for them forever: just a single step. Contemplating the potential of it, merely a breath away from reality.

"I bet," she manages, when the vertigo passes. For some moments she flounders, sharp eyes wandering his affable, handsome face, at a loss. She's hearing Jessica Jones in her thoughts, of all people.

'The line is this. If the secret threatens to hurt them? Directly or indirectly? Physical or emotionally? It's time. And you just say…look. I didn't tell you before because we were not there yet. But we're there now. I have this thing going on with me. I want to make sure you hear it from me and from nobody else, but it's scary, and I have to be careful.'

They're not there now, she decides. For the first time, though, she wonders if she doesn't hope they might get there.

"Matt, I hope you're serious about there being a next time," she says, not tentatively, but with delicacy. "I'm rusty with this kind of thing, but…it's nice. To just…" She turns her head, looks out into the busy cheer of the restaurant. "…do something like this again."

As usual, she processes the faults in her guileless honesty split seconds after the fact, snapping her gaze back to him and letting herself have a rueful, crooked smile. "I mean…with you, specifically. Of course."


Her internal struggle is mostly invisible to him, and what signs of anxiety or anticipation he can hear in the pattern of her breath, the beat of her heart, or even the hard swallow of her food could be ascribed to empathy, to concern — for himself, for herself in relation to being associated with a man who draws that kind of attention — or really any number of things besides a debate over whether to divulge her secret life and liabilities.

For all his perceptiveness, he has no idea what almost hit him.

And besides, what she follows it up with is more to catch his attention, casting his eyebrows upward in surprise and winning a smile that betrays just a little too much for typically subtle and circumspect man: it contains pleasure, relief, and even a grace note of thoroughly amused exasperation when she once again sticks her foot in her mouth.

But then, because he's Matt, he adds with a shake of his head: "Nah, I was just going to let the brilliant, funny, and yeah, sometimes adorably awkward former fighter-pilot and scientist with the great voice just slip away," he says dryly, before adding: "Come on, Kinsey, of course I want to see you again." Not for the first time he wishes he could meet her gaze; being unable to lock eyes with a dinner-partner is among the litany of complaints of his condition, and he feels it acutely now. He hopes that the warmth it conveys, even if untargeted, is enough.

A beat, and then with a flash of a smile: "So. Where to, then? I can take New Jersey Transit to Gotham this time — you've come up twice now already. Should we do rock climbing? Parachuting? Motorcycles?" He reclaims his fork for another bite.


He didn't catch the one and only time he made her blush because they were on the phone at the time, and however sensitive he may be to the microexpressions of the body language and voices of those around him, some things simply don't translate across an open phone line. He'd have to be having a very off day to miss this one, though, dawning as it does in rose hues across her cheeks, climbing the side of her throat and splashing over her collarbone. Not quite from head to toes, but close enough. Whether her heart literally or only figuratively skips a beat she couldn't say — he'd be the one to ask about that, probably — but she does momentarily forget to breathe, remembering once she brings up one hand to scrub gently at one hot cheek.

The blush has its origins in several sentiments. The obvious, sure, and then also —

"Adorably awkward..?" The words are a little bit strangled, squeaked out of a tightening throat. She isn't sure if she's touched or relieved or embarrassed. Probably all three.

Not that seems especially troubled. Given a choice as to what she wants to linger on in everything he said, she's the sort who's going to choose to focus on the good things, and there were plenty of those. She reaches for her glass of ice water and takes several long sips, letting her face cool and hopefully doing something about her voice. …He said he likes her voice!

He proposes several options, and her immediate, enthusiastic response is, "Yes!" She doesn't specify which of the three, and there's enough of a silence to imply she meant all of them, which she does eventually confirm. "Let's rock climb to the top of a cliff, then — " Gesturing, with one hand: zoom. " — ride a motorcycle off of it, and bail at the last second with parachutes." She sounds serious, and her expression is entirely neutral, save lasting whispers of color on her skin. All but for the amused upward flash of a glance she aims at him as she tucks another bite of her food into her mouth.


"Sometimes," Matt allows, repeating his qualification but not retracting the overall assessment in the slightest. Indeed, his grin is a brilliant thing: wide and triumphant. He out-and-out laughs then when she deadpans her acceptance to not just one but all three of his farcical follow-ups. "Fine, fine," he says with a dismissive wave of his free hand. "I've probably tempted fate enough for one year," he adds, because Matthew Michael Murdock is a lying liar who lies.

He takes a bit of his paneer and jasmin rice, washing it down with a quick swig of lassi. "Besides, it's Gotham, so you don't even need to court danger, really. The Riddler or the Penguin could always hold the place up while we're eating," he goes on — and takes a beat, and then knocks on the wood of his seat. Another beat. "We'll figure out something. I like Italian."

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