RCMH Disaster

March 25, 2017:

Kinsey Sheridan and Matt Murdock go on what was intended to be a fun date at a live show. They're quickly separated when a clandestine effort to summon something monstrous culminates in widespread panic. Of course, being separated leaves Six and the Devil of Hell's Kitchen free to do what they do best in trying to contain the outbreak of insanity, but by the time the worst is over, there more questions than answers…

Radio City Music Hall

It's very fancy. People perform things there.

Characters

NPCs: Jay Motley

Mentions: Jessica Jones, Spider-Gwen, Jane Foster, Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [https://youtu.be/oRzD0GrEA9Q Lights On -- FKA Twigs]


Fade In…

Owning and operating any business is a time-consuming occupation. One might theoretically set their own hours, but only within certain limits. Clients have needs, and those needs arise according to no set schedule, and for as long as a person wants to be able to buy groceries and keep the lights on, concessions must be made. In the case of Kinsey and Matt, each the shepherd of a fledgeling business, this has meant something of a slow simmer for whatever careful construct they've been building between them, neither able to guarantee anything more than one night a week in the four weeks since that first outing.

They've managed to eke out at least that much time for a certainty, though, and those weekend days are something Kinsey's quickly grown to look forward to, to the extent that the last two days of the regular work week have become a trial of patience. Any quick 'I'm in the area' lunches nabbed between have been practically spontaneous and last-minute, but efforts are being made to try, and that seems to be almost as satisfactory for Kinsey Sheridan as any amount of availability. The thought really does count.

Tonight is special by those casual standards, because they've acquired tickets to a performance at Radio City Music Hall. The performing artist is a genre-bending, English-born, half-Jamaican powerhouse of R&B talent with the kind of fringe style and outre sex appeal that were destined to make her a star. Her meteoric rise has failed to escape even Kinsey's notice, and when a conversation on one of these weekly interludes circled inevitably around the subject of favorite musicians, an offhand mention of the upcoming performance produced instant plans. Last-minute tickets for the thoroughly sold-out show were gotten by Kinsey…somehow. She was wryly elusive when asked, and suggested that having government connections had its uses. She could tell him, but then she'd have to kill him…etcetera.

She meets him outside of the venue, a bundle of excited energy, dressed for the event with an eye to contemporary fashion she doesn't often have reason to indulge: black suede, over-the-knee stiletto boots with four inch heels, chic and figure-hugging grey jean leggings, a tunic-length white shirt, an over-wide scarf wrapped as a cowl in a dark, muddy green color, a slim-fitting black leather jacket, and a slouchy, oversized, distressed black leather purse. The crowd that gathers outside of the venue is young and aggressively stylish, and she actually manages to blend in. She probably pulled that loose-braid ponytail updo off of Pinterest.

"Matt! Are you ~excited~?" She always speaks before she touches him when they meet, a courtesy to let him know — she thinks, anyway — that she's there, so that it doesn't startle him when she reaches for him. Tentative hugs have turned into comfortable ones, and begun to slip past comfortable into energetically silly, the way she recklessly tilts her weight up onto her toes and into him evolving out of her growing trust in his center of balance. She busses his cheek with excessive cheer, then draws back and crinkles her nose, smiling sheepishly and lifting one hand to wipe her thumb over the outside of his cheekbone, where she's left some of her lip stain. It's very, very pink. "Oops. Lemme fix this. Sorry I'm a little late. I had a thing." The 'thing' was an incident in her laboratory that resulted in a contained fire, actually, but no harm, no foul, right?

—-

She'll find him near the front of the crowd thronging the still-closed doors. For his part, he can catch the now-familiar whiff of her perfume and the telltale beat of her heart coming half-a-block away, but waits until he actually hears her voice call him out before he can lets the swath of a smile desperate to find expression come to the fore. It's an act of will, managing his reaction, and he's noticed that each time grows more difficult.

"Excited?" he repeats, incredulous, as his features instantly light up, and as the arm not handling his walking stick opening to welcome the effervescent embrace he knows by now is inevitable. He accepts her weight easily enough, especially as he slides that arm around her lower back for some support. "I still don't know who you blackmailed or strong-armed to get ahold of these tickets, lady, but I'm sure as hell glad you did," he adds as they disentangle. He can feel with exactitude the contours of that hot-pink imprint of lips on his cheekbone, but he doesn't seem to mind in the slightest, his smile widening if anything as her thumb scrubs most of the blotch away.

He will never be fashion-forward; it's far too risky for a blind man. But his minimalist style and well-textured taste serves him well. A slim-fitting racer jacket overlays a t-neck black t-shirt; below it is midnight-blue denim, well-fitted but shy of skinny, and a nice pair of low-heeled grey sneakers. The biggest giveaway that he's given more thought to his appearance /this/ night than in their sometimes hurried lunches or walks is the hair: often floppy and windswept, here it's freshly cut and newly styled into a rugged, almost rakish sweep that is complimented by a somehow perfectly calibrated stubble. Make me look badass, he told the stylist, an act of faith on his part that's almost on par with his sporadic trips to the confessional booth. Faith was rewarded, though the styling won't last long beyond a night's sleep or the donning of the sock.

Then the doors are swinging open, and Matt can hear the footsteps shuffling, reorienting to begin a march inside. "Good timing! Guess that's our cue, huh?"

—-

It takes her a moment in all of her bubbling anticipation of the show to actually take in that he's gone to unusual lengths to groom himself. In her present shoes she's basically of a height with him, so rather than having to tilt her head back to study this new look of his, as usual, she places her hands on the outsides of his shoulders at almost arms' length as she leans back to get a better view of the whole picture, boyishly infectious smile and all.

Matt's a good-looking guy. She knows that. She has not historically thought about it to any great degree because the possible complications involved in dating anyone have overshadowed everything for her, and indulging attraction or physical chemistry has seemed like poor decision-making. She could not afford to get attached, the jury being out on whether or not any of this was a good idea. It isn't typical of her peers to be able to compartmentalize their thinking in that way, but it's a skill she learned quickly in the military, where the vast majority of her colleagues were either grizzled career veterans…or strapping young men.

Time and accumulating history are eroding the demarcations, though, as she grows attached in other ways and for other reasons, and as she lets herself have one frank, assessing, objective look at him, the revelation strikes her all at once: Matt is a babe, actually.

"Jesus, Matthew. I guess the reason you're such a nice guy is that you can't see how hot you are, huh? You'd probably be such a dick if you knew." The stylist is a keeper, probably.

She releases him, but only so that she can take his elbow, the better to keep them from being separated in the sudden press of bodies that slow-motion surge toward the doors. When he mentions the tickets, she flashes him a smile, knowing and smug — entirely wasted, of course, though the look communicates into vocal tone well enough. "As usual, it's all about having connections." In this case, the 'connections' were fiber optic and allowed her to slip into a database that didn't belong to her in order to arrange for a tiny mix-up — but she isn't lying, exactly.

As they file in with the rest, she does that thing that only tourists do, and cranes her head back to look up, taking the whole thing in. "Y'know, I've never actually been here."

—-

A keeper? Matt's thinking about giving his stylist a 100 tip next time he goes, at this point.

He's gotten the better of her more than once, so it's really only fair that the tables get turned. Chocolate brows launch upward in surprise at the unexpected praise, and there's a brief surge of red on his fair cheekbones. He probably has a better sense of his place on the spectrum than her joke suggested — within five minutes of meeting his college roommate and future BFF, one Foggy Nelson was making Matt physically uncomfortable with paens about how he was a 'really, really good looking guy' — but it's so far removed from his own frame of reference. The last time he looked in the mirror, a goofy nine-year-old with a bowl-cut was looking back at him.

It's also the first time that she has paid him a compliment of any of the kind. Four dates now — or six or seven depending on how flexible your view — and he's stretched the notion of being a perfect gentleman to its limits. It owes itself less to any habitual 'niceness' — God knows he's been forward enough in other circumstances — than to his thus-far undisclosed awareness of at least -some- of what she's been through. He made a decision early on not to push things further than she was comfortable with; to let her set the pace, as it were.

Of course, now that it's starting to pick up he won't complain. He tries to play off the moment of bashfulness about his features with his brand of deadpan. "Wait, I'm really good looking enough to be a dick and get away with it?" he says with mock-incredulity as he accepts her hand on his elbow and as they make their way into the admittedly impressive space. "Man, Kinsey, way to give away the game. From here on out? Matt Murdock: total bastard."

Tickets are claimed as the couple makes their way inside. "It's a pretty cool venue," he replies to her observation and moment of tourist-like gawkery. "What seats did your top secret connections land us, anyway?." A pause, a flicker of a smile, brief but good natured. "Not that it matters much to me."

—-

"No. Nope. It's too late! You've been nice, so you can't just change it up all of a sudden, it won't work. I already know."

The crackle of energy around them is practically physical. New York is lively on most evenings, doubly so on a weekend, and here at the shining heart of one of the city's cultural staples there's something like a vortex of possibility. It's dark but early, yet, the evening stretching vastly out ahead of everyone, unformed and limitless in its potential.

"Of course it will matter for you. You know, acoustically it's going to sound different depending on where we sit, so I had a look at the specs of the gear she's been touring with," Kinsey tells him, leaning her head in to ensure that she's heard over the raucous babble of conversation, her eyes forward. "Massive stacks of speakers and loads of bass, so I thought a little bit of distance from the stage was a good idea. Center on the floor, but right in the middle of the hall, really. You've got earplugs, right..? I've got extras if not." Once through the doors the tight press of the crowd disperses enough for some breathing room, and in short order they're through the lobby — Kinsey resists the urge to gawk — and trickling down one of the long aisles.

The sight of Matt's cane and Kinsey's eager study of the theater's grandeur are together enough to bring an usher swooping in to guide them to where they need to go, bringing them to the proper row. "You're the fourth and fifth seats in. Enjoy the show."

"Thank you! We will!" Kinsey says, but by then the usher is long gone. It'll be a while yet before Kinsey adjusts to the pace of life in Manhattan.

By now he'll know — after the movie they caught, one evening — that she's going to insist he seat himself first, closer to the inside, because she's confessed to feeling unreasonably guilty whenever she has to get up to use the restroom and forces people to stand up and let her pass. Entire lamentations about the size of her bladder may have been involved. Once he's seated she tucks herself into the seat beside him and, with a surge of bravado inspired by the ambiance and her own high spirits, she reaches out and claims his hand, slender fingers insinuating themselves into a loose interlace with his with a speed, delicacy, and nimbleness that says she may have missed her calling as a pickpocket. Legs crossed, she absconds with that hand, shifting it to rest atop hers against the promontory of her knee. It's the organic hand, though, that arrays fingertips atop his knuckles, lightly capping the arrangement. She knows that it's silly to turn her head and casually look elsewhere — it's not as though he can see that, right? — but she does, playing the moment off as entirely unworthy of remark, an effort that fails spectacularly because of what he is. Hummingbirds have heartbeats like that one. …At least her prosthetic hand doesn't perspire.

Once she's overcome being deeply impressed with herself for summoning up the courage to do what she just did — which is ridiculous, really, in this, the Age of Tindr — she observes, "I think every single person in here is looking at their phone." Which seems true: the entire audience seems made up of tiny flecks of screen glow.

—-

"Oh, I've got 'em," Matt says, boy-scout-level prepared for this one as he picks out the case containing his pair from his jacket pocket. They're professional-grade, custom-molded, and practically mandatory if he ever wanted to indulge in his long-standing love of music in the flesh rather than mediated by speakers or earphones without losing his ear-drums and losing one of his anchor-points to this world. It's worth it — the precaution, the expense — because for him that energy Kinsey senses as an almost-physical presence truly is palpable. There are five-hundred heartbeats in this room, and even despite the phone-fixated audience at least a hundred and fifty conversations filled with laughter and giddy anticipation. He smells the booze, the weed, the cheap cologne, even the clinging vestiges of cigarette-smoke he normally loathes — and finds it all nigh on intoxicating. A contact high.

The sensation of delicate fingers interlacing with his does and the deft abduction of his hand does nothing to dampen that effect, sending his heart fairly well lurching in his chest — not unlike the way it will when he's leaping from a rooftop, with nothing but his unnatural sense of balance and echo-location to tell him he's not going to end up splattered on the pavement below. He tries to play it cool, too — there's no startle, no snap of his head over to hers. Just a very subtle twitch at the corners of his lips; a smile (barely) suppressed. And maybe — just maybe — the slightest of squeezes in unspoken reply after they've settled into this new arrangement.

Jesus Christ, we're holding hands and I'm giddy. What am I, twelve?

She makes her wry observation, and one that echoes his senses — even if he can't sense the light, he can hear the currents of electricity, sense the heat emanating from LEDs and lithium batteries. It's impossible, really, to speak in a normal tone of voice and be heard above this din, which leaves two options: shout or lean in. Borrowing some of her boldness, he opts for the latter. "I believe it," comes the wry reply from lips hovering a few inches from her ear. "Immunity to social media is kind of a fringe benefit of my condition." A pause, and then: "So they're looking at their phones. What are you looking at?"

—-

Dimly, across a span of some years — more than five, all told — Kinsey remembers what this is like, the zero-gravity, stomach-flipping tension of the uncharted waters of Something New. It's like a drug, really, completely intoxicating and absolutely every bit as dangerous as any substance on earth. Is a drug, in fact, or several, the scientist in her points out: right now, if someone were to take a peek into the electrical activity in her brain, they'd find the limbic reward pathway lit up like Rockefeller Center at Christmas. Right now, she knows she's coasting on a potent cocktail of dopamine, serotonin, norepinepherine, oxytocin, vasopressin, and any number of pheremones triggered by the aforementioned neurotransmitters.

None of which knowledge can touch, really, the subjective experience of the thing. It may be that the early, heady days of anything are so outlandishly good in order to ensure that there are repeat performances throughout the lifespan of any organism — particularly in the thinking creature of man, capable of dwelling on the less magical periods of settling-in that inevitably follow, not to mention bad breaks — but, Kinsey thinks, as her date leans over and directs words and breath over the sensitive shell of her ear,

Who the fuck cares /why/, really?

As the house lights dim just enough to encourage loiterers in the lobby to filter in and find their seats, she allows herself a smile as bright and white as a popping flashbulb.

And then she processes what he actually said, and that blissful feeling of coasting stumbles, because the truth is she wasn't really looking at anything, preoccupied with other senses.

She grapples for something. It isn't difficult. "Everything," she lies through that smile, turning her head only the merest fraction of an inch, aware of how close he is. "The little things. The way the place looks, the people coming in." After a beat, she utters a short, silver little note of surprised amusement. "I think there are people here doing some kind of Jedi cosplay. I swear to god I just saw robes."

The lights flicker again, and then they really do begin to dim in earnest. "Aw. It's too dark to see where they went, though."

—-

That's the first time she's lied to me, he thinks, suddenly struck by the thought. It's a tiny one, totally innocuous, but difficult to miss when her traitor of a heartbeat is this close. It's not the fact that she gave a white lie that is a surprise; it's the fact that she's managed this many weeks of sustained contact hiding as much as she has from him without lying before now. How'd she get away with that?

Respect.

He's offering her a smile, visibly unphased by the train of thought — though distracted enough by it that he nearly misses what he'd hone in on in any other instance. "Wait," he says after a beat, returning to whisper again in her ears. "You seriously saw guys with robes? Three options: cosplay, Hare Krishnas, or they're part of the act." It's a lame joke, told in part because there are a few more he can rattle off based on the last surreal four months. New York's a crazy place. You can see cosplay in the subway, much less at a musical venue. Besides, his magical gangsters wore suits, and the undead sorcerer that blew up the Gotham auction was in full-on Nazi regalia, right?

Still, the off-hand mention gives him pause, prompting him to cast his senses away from the person on whom they've been almost single-mindedly focused for the last half hour and towards the wider crowd — likely fruitlessly.

"Guess they're about to start?" he adds, to keep the conversation going until the music cuts it short.

—-

The simple truth is that Kinsey is not a proficient liar, and she's absolutely aware of that fact. She's lived most of her life with a largely open heart and virtually no interior life to speak of, nothing hidden away from prying eyes — nothing more than secret hopes and shames. Until a year ago, she'd never had anything /to/ hide. It became very clear to her, very early on in her interactions with her colleagues, many of whom have ties to the field of intelligence, that trying to lie was a non-starter: inevitably, most of them could tell that she was being evasive. Trial and error taught her that lies of omission consisting of things she does genuinely believe were far safer. The habit has stuck. She always /means/ to learn to lie well, but it's not the sort of thing that's easily practiced.

Her alter-ego simply wears a full helmet and calls it done.

She tchs at him, feigns disappointment. "I know what Hare Krishnas look like. I'm not a total shut-in. No, they were brown, maybe? It was already a little dark to tell."

Before she can answer him about whether or not the show is about to start, the show…well. Starts. Almost no-one else, even holding her hand, would feel the involuntary tightening of the artificial fingers curled through his, the kind of inadvertent muscular action of any person who feels a thrill of anticipation pass through them, the way she does when the lights drop into darkness completely. It shouldn't be possible for an artificial limb to do that, but happens anyway.

She slips her unclaimed hand away to retrieve the earplugs in her jacket pocket, tilting her head one way and then the other to put them in — he gets gently whipped in the face with the end of her ponytail in the process, and she does not even begin to notice — and while she's following that up with removing her scarf he has plenty of time to unfold those preternaturally honed senses of his out into the darkness, to take stock of what's there.

She's not joking about the phones. It seems as though every person in the theater is actively using one, and that doesn't change when the lights go down, either. If anything, a few more screens might light up, cameras turning on to stream the event or snap pictures for thousands of iDol accounts. Beyond that unusual density of social media activity, it's perhaps difficult to say. The diversity of New York makes it difficult to sense oddities in large crowds, with almost as many scents, languages and emotions as there are people in the audience to have those things. Once, sweeping his focus across the room, he'll catch a handful of ominous words:

…be ready to begin. Pay attention and record your observations carefully. This is not the laboratory or a focus group, we don't know…

But then the deep, viscera-quaking fist of a dark bassline drops on top of the ambient noise of the room, and the words are swept away in the avalanche of sound that follows, from the first melodic notes of one wildly popular song to the roar and shrieking whistles of the audience when the spotlight cuts on and the curtain sweeps open to reveal the siren everyone's come to see.

—-

Later, Matthew Murdock may feel a private pang of guilt over his first reaction to that disquieting snippet of conversation he detected, which essentially amounts to:

Oh, come ON! Really? Really?! Tonight?!

He grips the case of earplugs tightly in the palm of his hand, the focus of an internal debate. With them, he will stand a better chance of preserving his hearing in the long-run — whether you consider the long-run the arc of the evening or his life — but he'll also limit his ability to catch more data points of sensation emanating from the throng in the short term. The bassline seems to make up his mind for him, prompting him to hastily open the case and put buds in one ear, then the other.

He could bolt, feign illness, and try to catch more amid the crowd; but that would mean leaving her in the midst of what could be anything — or nothing — at all. So for the moment he keeps his posture, just another music-lover in the crowd. His hand stays within both of hers, returning her anticipatory grip with preemptive reassurance she doesn't know she'll need, but that he has an inkling of suspicion she might before the night is done.

The crowd whistles and whoops and applauds its approval; Matt waits for the music — of one kind or another — to begin.

—-

Kinsey takes his gesture of reassurance as one of enthusiasm as the show begins, which wins him a glance and slightly tender smile of the kind that says she's pretty well swept up in it all: the evening, the show…and him, too, in a way she hasn't really let herself be until tonight.

So, yeah. Of course. Of course shit is going to go horribly, horribly wrong.

For just a little bit longer, Kinsey can remain mercifully oblivious to the gathering storm clouds on the horizon of the night. Hazel eyes reflect the light show on the stage like gilded mirrors, her attention rapt. The first couple of songs are all right up at the top of the list of her favorites, and she is absolutely over the moon. The mood in the room is nothing shy of electric, but given the headliner in question it's a sultry electricity, dark and seductive. That mood ripples through the room like a silk sheet.

It's during the uproarious applause that follows the second number that he'll sense something shifting in the air. It's difficult to put a finger on at first — a building pressure that isn't pressure, the way it feels to stand close to a power station and a massive block of transformers. It has no distinct source. It seems to be coming from everywhere, a thrumming localized in the audience itself, reverberating back into itself as it grows, like the self-feeding oscillations of a bridge in an earthquake.

Matt has encountered magic before. It has a smell not unlike ozone, and not long after he gets the first faint scent of it, somewhere down close to the stage, he'll get another one, stronger, that one from behind and some distance off to house right.

Insofar as he'll be able to tell, he's the only one in the room who has any idea that anything is happening at all…right up until everything turns upside-down.

In the moments just before that happens, what he will feel — what he will sense, implausible as it is — is the way the twisting, accumulating energy rising from the audience suddenly draws sharply into the ocean of smartphones, causing countless batteries to overheat. Many screens go dark quite suddenly. Those that don't become foci for the magic in the room, crackling lances of invisible power — unsensed by most — linking together in some kind of pattern, a network extant too briefly to be traced.

Immediately afterward, there is a sudden series of popping sounds as pockets of air are suddenly displaced throughout the venue, and things just…appear.

Multiple things. He'll feel their arrival as they burst from one plane of existence into another. The scent of sulfur is sudden and for Matt, at least, almost overpowering. There are scaly, serpentine bodies, inhuman hisses. Someone screams. Early confusion begins to percolate as heads turn to look, though there's no alarm yet. On stage, the performance continues. There are heartbeats left before the world descends into that special pandemonium of crowds.

—-

It should be a moment of anticipation, excitement, even triumph. But Matt sits patiently through the sultry songs of one of his favorite musical acts beside a captivating woman he's been courting in one way or another for nearly three months — and all with a growing and untraceable sense of dread. Though it's really that first waft of ozone that has Matt taking a hard swallow, suddenly thrust back months in time, to when a similar smell heralded serpentine tendrils skewering him in some dingy, deserted alleyway the Kitchen is famous for. God damnit, he thinks to himself, right before things take a turn even stranger than he might have guessed.

Black magic channeled through cell-phones is at once a surreal and perfectly appropriate notion to Matt Murdock, and it's safe to say he'll never look at his Siri the same way again. But it all happens so fast that it's just before it all goes to almost-literal hell that Matt leans over to his companion and says: "Kins, did you hear that scream? And that — something doesn't feel right."

He doesn't wait for her to respond, he's physically pulling her up then by the hand they've had clasped together for two numbers now.

And then it isn't right — not right at all.

—-

The scream has Kinsey turning her head to look, just like everyone else, but the room is dark, and she doesn't see anything especially strange — a couple of shadows in the aisle near the source of the sound, outlines she assumes are people seeing to whatever the problem is. 'Did you hear that scream?' he asks her, and she looks at his profile, outlined in colored light for her. "Yeah…"

Something, he says, doesn't feel right.

It strikes her as being a little outlandish as statements go: one scream in New York on a weekend evening barely rates as worth her attention anymore. After tonight, though, she may never question his intuition again. She blinks as he rises and makes a small sound of surprise as she's hauled to her feet in the very next moment, surprise quickly replaced in her expression by bafflement and concern. This time, the sudden vault of her heart rate upward has an entirely different character. "Whoa — Matt, what's wr — "

The break happens quickly, as it tends to. Later, Kinsey won't be able to describe where the chaos began, though Matt likely could (it begins when a body flips over the first balcony railing and tumbles into the audience in the section behind theirs)…only that suddenly it seemed everyone was screaming, and everything consisted of movement, bodies heaving in masses and waves in the dark. She feels a hand plant into her back and roughly shove her as the people in the row behind theirs begin to bottleneck in their haste to escape into suddenly crowded aisles. It tips her forward, jams the tops of her thighs against the back of the seat in front of hers, causes her to collide with the person who stands up, and they turn around and shove her the other way, terrified and trying to defend themselves from what must have felt like an assault. Kinsey wobbles as she twists to the side, and would have lost her balance entirely if not for the hold he has on her. Her eyes are wide, head snapping one way and the other as she tries to make out what's happening, trying to determine where the danger is so that they can get away from it. She can't tell — people seem to be moving in all directions — and that frightens her far more than the fact that something is wrong in the first place. And Matt is blind. He's depending on her to get him out of here safely.

She hadn't known how much she'd adjusted to civilian life until this moment, recognizing the way the blind panic of the crowd found its way into her, as though she's like them. She isn't, and not merely because of her accidentally acquired abilities. She was military. She was intelligence. She worked with the DEO, for god's sake. She wasn't a field agent, but she went through training just like everyone else.

Just remembering that is enough to trigger the transition. A single smooth movement hooks her purse strap over her head to cross the short distance between one side of her neck and her underarm on the opposite side, the only way to secure a bag with a strap that short without having to use her hands. She needs the free one to do what she does next, which is gently but firmly push the person standing in shock beside her toward the end of the row, leaning into them with her shoulder when they refuse to move save to stumble along in shock at her urging. "GO!" The hand in his tightens with carefully moderated pressure, her arm straight and kept close behind her.

Somewhere in the room, there is a single note of organization amidst the confusion, though few have the ability to sense it. It becomes clearer as the figures on the stage balk in response to what's happening in the house, the music ebbing: somewhere in the venue, no more than a handful of people are chanting in a language other than English.

—-

Kinsey finds her resolve; Matt is briefly gutted. He hears the man fall over the railing, hears smack and crunch, the cries of pain and alarm. Did I do this? he asks, thinking of those two rounds of music he sat through, suspecting something was amiss but unwilling to make some excuse of being sick to his stomach, or getting a migrane, all for fear. Fear of —

—well, abandoning the woman at his side when danger is afoot. It's a classic dilemma for heroes: whether to put affection for a fortune few above the good of the nameless many. But Matt's new at this game, and so it's not a dilemma he's faced personally before, or at least not so starkly. He's briefly filled with an only marginally related but almost overpowering need to abandon pretenses that mirrors Kinsey's similar impulse from weeks ago. It would be so easy to suddenly snap into action, to drop the charade of Matt-the-helpless-blind-dude, especially because the more effort and time he expends on that bullshit, the less he spends on actually helping people. So people would know what he can do.

/So/ /fucking/ /what/? He should vault onto the seats, parkour to where he hears that droning chanting and kick some sorcerous ass. Because if there's one thing Jessica Jones impressed on him, it's that you've got to get these fuckers quick, before they get you.

He won't, because after a moment of self-flaggelation he sees other avenues. He's casting his attention outward towards the bad guys, yes, and to the stage now that the musicians are balking, but he's also scouring the seats. There, five rows up, a hoodie abandoned. Beyond it, a scarf haphazardly thrown over the back of a chair. Those aren't castaways by terrified hipsters; they're a costume in the making, entirely serviceable for a chaotic venue flooded in flickering electronic weirlight. And they're headed slowly but surely his way.

—-

Kinsey proves to be remarkably willing to employ a judicious use of elbows and shoulders in her determination to get both of them clear of danger. She could barely even be considered flyweight by boxing standards given her build, designed by genetics to be agile and fast rather than powerful, but adrenaline is a powerful thing, particularly in combination with self-control.

She cannot know it, but as she wedges their way through the disorganized tangle of fleeing bodies, her train of thought is not unlike that of the man she's pulling along tightly behind her. Not in the sense that she feels any guilt about what's happening, but because she knows that she might be able to help, and isn't certain how she's going to manage to do that when she needs to ensure that Matt is safe. He is — he remains, in spite of the sudden turn of events — her priority, above and beyond anyone else in the theater, and it would not occur to her to turn her attention anywhere else until she knows he's out of harm's way.

They lurch forward at irregular intervals as she finds gaps in the press and crush of other people, processing crowd movements with an unnatural degree of success. Five assists: she sees patterns in the noise, benefits from prediction models run on the fly by the AI she shares her skull with. It would be easier for her to visualize with her helmet — it translates signals and information, even the sort that originates with Five, to graphical displays on the helmet's internal HUD, highlighting things in her environment that she perceives but doesn't necessarily realize she's perceived — but even without it, she still has an edge over the blindly panicked people around them.

All of which ceases to matter when a massive figure swirls up out of the crowd just ahead of them in muscular coils of sleek scales. Like a naga, the demon's lower body is that of a serpent, but the upper body is a woman's, bare-breasted but impossible to mistake for human. The size is wrong, the fingers too long, the eyes black, the teeth sharp. It wrenches upward, its arm whipped along a crescent arc to hurl someone away, and at first Kinsey takes the sudden outpouring of noise wreathing the monstrous form to be horror. Anyone would assume as much.

It is, and it is not.

Half of the people amidst those seething, scaly loops are turning on one another in violence, but the other half are mad with desire, and there is no comfortable separation of the place where the two impulses meet. Bodies grapple, wrestle, struggle, but it's impossible to tell the purpose of any given embrace: to kill, or copulate? One moment, one thing; the next the other. Madness, in short, induced by proximity to a very particular kind of Hell's handmaiden, devotee of a very specific Lord of Hell.

Kinsey knows little enough about the occult. She is aware that magic exists, but her focus in the DEO was technology, and needless to say her only interest revolved around the place where magic and technology occasionally meet. This?

She stares just one moment too long at the incomprehensible tableau unfolding in front of them. Long enough for a whip-like tail to surge up out of the shadows and lash across them as the demon continues to churn the sea of humanity around it into a frenzy.

It sends people tumbling back down the aisle. Someone lands on the link of their hands, breaking it apart, and the next thing she knows the tides of the crowd are turning, and she's losing Matt in the press of bodies.

—-

"KINSEY!" Matt shouts as he loses her, desperately casting his senses outward to find her heartbeat, her scent, her voice, the click of her heels on the floor — anything. He was planning to take his leave of her before, don his mask and be a hero, but no that he knows what he'd be leaving her /to/ the idea is incomprehensible. Because —

If Kinsey is agog by the display, Matt Murdock is doubly so. Not just because of the ghastly and enormous demon — it is horrifying, to be sure, but he did just fight a snake-woman two weeks ago — but because of the effect that this new threat has on the crowd. Murdock has glimpsed humanity in all its ugliness; he sees the dark impulses most people try to hide as they attempt to conform to the dictates of society and every day life. Flares of hate, surges of attraction; he's privy to them all, unfailingly seeing what's just under the skin.

But nothing at all prepares him for the raucous, shifting seascape of emotion and action that the demon inspires in the crowd. It's human id unleashed, both side's of passion's coin. The wild and erratic flurry of temperatures, heartbeats, gasps, and cries — it's everything he's seen underneath brought to the jarring forefront. And it's getting closer.

Ordinarily, Matt would be down for close-quarter combat. He handled that sword-wielding snake-woman well enough. But when the sea of varying shades of red he sees is so thoroughly concentrated around the naga, he convinces himself better of it. He has more skills and strength than anyone in this crowd, it's safe to say; if he loses control, people will suffer. So he allows himself to be born back by the crowd as he keeps his distance, tries to get a fix on Kinsey amid the riotous tumult of humanity, and searches for a lifeline: either a weapon at range he can use, or signs of men in robes he can bludgeon into submission and much-needed answers.

—-

Even though she can't see him any longer, she can hear it when he calls her name, shouting to pierce the din, and it fractures her heart. Oh god, she thinks, Oh shit, he must be terrified, he'll be trampled to death or torn to pieces by WHATEVER THE BLUE FUCK THAT THING IS, oh god…!

"MATT! MATT, HANG ON! I'M — " Coming to get you, she wants to say…but she isn't, though not for lack of trying. She's fighting against the tide but she's quickly losing ground, jostled backward as the half of the swarm she's pressed into understandably veers away from the titanic thing in the aisle. She pushes and shoves, curls desperate, slender fingers into jacket lapels and shirts to wrench people out of her way as best she can, but for every forward step she takes the crowd thrusts her back at least three. Frustration boils up in the space behind her ribs, and she utters a short sound of furious, frightened impotence as she's forced to yield to the momentum of the mob. She's wasting time trying to do things this way. It tears her apart to turn her back on where she last saw him, but she has to find another way.

"Oh god, oh god, oh god, please let him be okay, please, please — " She's barely aware of that whispered mantra, shot through with a tight, high-pitched note of anxiety and spoken to the cadence of her fresh efforts to move with the crowd she's become trapped in. They're retreating toward the now clearing stage. Maybe she can get a higher vantage point, see out over the crowd, and then — and then —

And then what, Kinsey?

Anguish twists through her. I don't know. I don't know! I'll think of something! I'll…I'll use the lights or the speakers to subdue the crowd, or…

(There is a drone in your purse.)

In the midst of everything, Five's collected whisper arrives as something of a shock. Kinsey's lips part. The memory of having tucked the small sphere into the bag days ago resurfaces through the haze of biochemicals dumped into her bloodstream and set on fire.

While Kinsey struggles to twist her purse around enough that she can get her hand into it, searching for the drone…

…Matt will hear her go silent, her whispered mantra fading out. The lack of it allows him to get a fix on the chanting, though, no longer close to the stage. At some point between the dimming of the lights and the outbreak of madness they moved, probably prudently, to one of the balconies just overhead, beyond the reach of the violence and no doubt to obtain a bird's eye view of what's happening below. One of those chanters remains absolutely terrified.

—-

He hears a train of whispered worry — worry that cuts at him — and then silence. But silence could mean anything. Silence could mean someone's clubbed her on the back of the head or she's suffocating in a sea of people or —

And then, through his own raging internal monologue, he hears the unholy chants from up above. He knows it then, feels the inexorable conclusion with a twist in his gut:

Those guys are the real game. If I'm going to save her, I have to leave her.

Coming to a decision, even if it must be made with a hard, bile-biting swallow, makes everything easier. He has a mission now; an opportunity to let the proverbial devil out.

One could, conceivably, push one's way through the throng desperately trying to reach the exits at the back of the venue and take the stairs… or one could be the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. People are going backwards and forward, but he goes sideways, pushing unceremoniously — though with silent apology — past people in his way, be they scrambling for the exits or curled into frenzied balls at his feet. The eyeglasses come off and the walking stick is discarded as he makes his way down the row and snatches another hoodie, this one black — because it's a concert, and there's always another fucking hoodie. He throws it on, zipping it up as he storms for the side-walls of the orchestra, which include elevated, almost stair-step platforms leading up to the box seats… and above them, too.

Time for a little parkour.

—-

The theater is a veritable minefield of cast-off items. There are purses, shoes, coats, scarves, bits of broken chair, fallen human beings. No shortage of supplies for a man desperate to cobble together some means of concealing his identity, and no shortage of things he could arm himself with or throw, though it would be too much to hope for anything like an actual weapon.

Whatever is happening, it must be happening throughout the entire facility, because the house lights have yet to come up and the light show on the stage is still progressing right along, timed to accompany a performance that's no longer happening. It offers some amount of cover for individuals with clandestine agendas, for better or worse. No one notices when Kinsey draws a smooth metal sphere from the depths of her purse, feeling her fingers finally brush against the hard, solid weight of it amidst the rest of her jumbled personal effects. They close around it and draw it free, and not a single soul sees her lift her arm over her head to toss it, or the way that it — dully gleaming — fails to succumb to gravity, a sphere only a little bit larger than a baseball improbably hovering in the dark.

Kinsey's consciousness fragments, a splinter of her awareness inhabiting the drone. Within it, that part of her zips very suddenly upward, a tiny circular lens swiveling amidst the dizzily interlocking elements that make up this intricate swiss army knife of a reconnaissance unit.

She looks for Matt. The drone glides with effortless grace back in the direction she's come from, finding the point at which they were separated. From a tiny pinhole in the alloy shell, a green wedge of web-like lasers spits out, sweeping with machine grace over everything in that vicinity, looking for any sign of him as it winds up and down the rows being quickly abandoned. The drone's interface provides her with a radically pared-down iteration of the HUD she would have in her helmet, enhancing her ability to see in less-than-ideal lighting, drawing her attention to environmental elements of note, and she scans these with intent focus. Come on, Matt. Where are you.

She doesn't see him. What she does eventually find, though, is a discarded walking cane.

Icewater floods her chest cavity, rolls into an avalanche that piles heavily into her stomach. Maybe it isn't his, she finds herself hoping, and immediately she crushes that denial: Don't be stupid.

She dimly feels people jostling around her still, carrying her along toward one side of the auditorium, but fury channels more and more of her attention into the metal sphere she's piloting. It whines as it banks on an arc and circles back around, bearing down on the position of the creature responsible for having separated she and Matt in the first place. Her teeth grit, nails pressing hard crescents into her palms. Kinsey's view from within the drone blurs as it drone shrieks after the demoness, pinwheeling into a tight, harassing orbit around her head that its target nevertheless fails to notice, until the spherical shape of the drone alters, unfolding like some sort of industrial night blossom, and the drone bares its teeth — figuratively speaking.

The first assault comes in the form of a dart containing narcotic agents, enough tranquilizer to down a three-hundred pound man in less than three seconds. The second, followed up swiftly on the heels of the first, comes as a battery of lasers that are meant not to map environments but to cut, capable of slicing steel plate like butter.

The creature does not seem to even notice the dart, but it most certainly feels the lasers. They open weals in the flesh of the hell's handmaiden from which fetid black ichor begins to run, and the thrashing, serpentine figure unhinges its jaw to let loose a banshee wail that incites fresh spasms of panic in the masses of humanity still largely tangled on the main floor. Taloned hands with too-long fingers slice and scythe the air in an effort to capture the drone, its predations on the audience momentarily forgotten.

Above, five figures in robes with hoods huddle on the far corner of the first tier balcony, four of them chanting, the fifth…

The fifth on a laptop, tracking rapidly scrolling data, making furious entries according to observations of the activity below.

—-

He'll take the scarf, furiously wrapping it around his features as he rushes down the aisle for the far wall, eventually making a full off-white mask of his face in grim parody of the Spider-woman who webbed him just a few weeks ago. He throws up the hood to complete the picture. It's not the sock, or whatever Jane Foster may have cooking for him, but it will do in these extreme circumstances.

Her sudden silence gnaws at the pit of his stomach. Silence could mean she's gotten away. Or that she's got a hand over her mouth or a hand around her throat or even that, mind stolen, she's too busy strangling someone else to keep talking…

It's these thoughts that build a fire in his chest as he strides towards the wall and vaults upward towards that first box seat with the grace of an Olympic athlete and a fleet-footed stealth that would make Stick proud. They are grim spectrum of possibilities that don't — for all that he knows about her — begin to conceive of what she's capable. Not even when he hears the angry shriek of the naga, or feel the heat emanating from the — what, exactly? Flying disc that has decided to do combat with a minion of the underworld. Not even then will he begin to attribute that act of defiance to her.

One box seat, then the next, each rung on the stair relying on a leaps, somersaults, spinning flips, all feline grace — save for the one or two times when he falls slightly short, grappling with the railing as he pulls himself up a rung to continue again. Five box seats bring him to the opposite corner of the first row from the… What? Cultists? Magicians? He still isn't sure. Jessica's advice to rush the magic users before they can do what they do is moot, but he can claim the spirit of the advice. He creeps, knees and torso bent, to a row of seats higher than the clustered cultists and then across. And then, when they're within distance, he leaps like one of the horrors they summoned. Cat-quick punches, spinning kicks, at least one throat-jab, and a head butt are attempted at the cluster of men beside the man documenting the horrors below.

—-

Even in the chaos, someone was bound to notice the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. No one, no matter how deeply they might want to escape the boiling violence down below, can be spontaneously inspired to feats of such athletic prowess, and while his legend is still in its infancy, moments like this are what will propel him into the public eye.

He's not noticed by the figures down near the railing on the balcony, a decided drawback of deciding to include hoods in their uniform of choice: peripheral vision suffers for it. They're also ill-prepared to withstand an assault of any kind, let alone one as sudden, brutal, and thorough as the tornado of restrained violence that the Devil of Hell's Kitchen becomes upon the moment he enters their midst. It's laughably easy for him to incapacitate the chanters, and telling that it isn't until he's putting down the last of the four that the fifth realizes that something is amiss and looks up from the stream of information that floods upward on the screen in front of him, his eyes wide and round.

Here, then, is the source of the terrified biofeedback he's caught traces of since the show began: the man's heart is racing, his skin slick with perspiration. Fear hangs on him like a sour shroud, his brown eyes wide behind the lenses of wire-frame glasses slightly more mundane than one might expect of a card-carrying cultist of some stripe or other.

He's young. Very young; in his early twenties, perhaps. "Oh shit," he says, "Oh sh — " He twists around to put his back to the wall, clutching the laptop against his chest. Jaw slack, he stares at his fallen comrades in shock, and then in growing unease, flicking an anxious look over the railing of the balcony. "They're n-not chanting anymore, that's — oh shit I don't know, I don't know what that's gonna do to the spell matrix, it's — oh god please don't kill me!"

Kinsey, through the drone linked with her will, busily continues to dismantle the infernal invader, mercilessly carving swaths of meat from its lithe contours. The effort to pilot the drone is more considerable than usual, given the speed required for her to keep it dancing just out of the reach of the demoness. One miscalculation is all that it takes, and then suddenly Kinsey's staring down into the maw of the monster, given front-row seats through the drone's camera of the fangs with silver saliva bleeding off of their razor points, and the corrugated interior of the creature's throat, before the feed goes dark.

The demon swallows the drone, which collapses swiftly back into a perfect sphere.

People all around her are spilling up onto the stage in search of safety that may exist within the wings, rough hands seeking to climb over her when she isn't quick to follow suit, too distracted with the business of managing the drone. Someone curls a fist into her ponytail and hauls on it to peel her out of the way, yanking her head back. She utters a wordless cry of pain and surprise, and her hands fly up and latch into her hair closer to the scalp than the offending fist…but this exchange proves to be ultimately beneficial. A husband and wife near her, already on-stage, catch what's happening and by the grace of god decide to intervene: the husband plants a boot on the offender's face and pushes them backward, while he and his wife reach down to get hands beneath Kinsey's arms and haul her upward onto the stage as well. Her preoccupation with the drone looks not unlike the kind of unresponsive fugue induced by shock.

She feels the edge of the stage slide past her legs as they drag her up, sees the blinding brilliance of the strobing overhead lights as they turn her over and pair up to drag her further away from the stage's edge, but her thoughts are on the beast in the aisles, and the darkness enveloping the drone.

No one can hear it, but something in the tenor of the drone's whine changes. It begins to spool upward from inaudible thrumming into higher registers, with no indication of stopping.

—-

Here under the slow slide of blue strobe light, with bodies strewn around him and another in the offing, Matt Murdock has fuly transformed into that force of nature he adopts when he sets on his mask of choice. He's let the Devil out. "Oh shit is right," he vents fiercely through the cashmere scarf, the suck of breath after that angry exhalation making the off-white contours of his face seem like some ghost, a death mask or phantom apparition come to visit all sorts of terrors on the boy who has helped raise literal Hell. He grips the young man's shirt with both fists as he hauls the — boy, he's a boy, really — up and to the railing of the balcony, pushing him up against the ledge so that his legs no longer fully touch the ground. "Oh God is right."

A shove then, a threat to catapult the kid — he's just a kid — right over the railing. "HOW?" he shouts, nearly as enraged as if he were possessed by the naga herself. "How do you stop this?"

This is no accidental choice of pronouns. The young man the black-hoodied, white-masked Matt Murdock has nearly hoisted to his death has just been conscripted.

—-

The kid is wiry, ungainly, and he's holding onto the laptop for dear life — right up until the terrifying man with the ability to wreck four people inside of that many seconds drags him around and shoves him up against the railing until his feet leave the ground. Instinct takes over, then: he lets go of the laptop so that he can desperately clasp his assailant's wrists. The laptop topples out of his arms and hits the ground; the distinctive sound of plastic pieces of its outer shell shattering off and skittering across the floor will go unheard by everyone but Matt Murdock, along with the skitter of the hard drive platter and the delicate sound of the screen cracking.

The kid kicks with his feet, curling his heels back against the balcony wall as some sort of brace. All of the blood has drained from his face save for two spots of feverish color high on his cheeks. The situation is beyond anything he's capable of comprehending, from the ongoing events below to the fact that he's being threatened by a man wearing a cashmere scarf over his face, the oddity of which only serves to underline for him how little he understands about what's happening to him. "I — I don't know! I DON'T KNOW! I'M JUST AN INTERN, I'M NOT EVEN GETTING PAID FOR THIS!"

Survival instincts kick in seconds after that, predicting that 'I don't know' may not be a sufficient answer to keep this maniac from sending him over the edge. "I think the — I think the chanting was k-k-keeping the spell matrix stable, keeping, keeping the Imports anchored here or…or maybe it's uh, maybe it's keeping the door closed, oh my god I hope that's not what it was, I should've paid more attention during meetings but they're so, so EARLY…"

—-

Let's be clear. There are two things about which Matt knows next to nothing: magic and computers. In the Catholic orphanage where Matt spent is adolescence, D&D was a straight-ticket to the streets, worse in the eyes of priests and nuns than booze or drugs. And Matt's dad was too poor to buy him a computer when he had sight, and after he lost it — well. While Matt is proficient enough at using modern technology with the help of the right tools, the world of touchscreens is one thing genuinely beyond even his unusual capabilities.

A threat involving magical smartphones is something that the Devil of Hell's Kitchen is uniquely unsuited to grappling with. He doesn't know anything about imports, anchors, matrixes, chants, or spells. The kid might as well be speaking Punjabi. But Matt has picked up enough to begin to grasp that the destruction of the computer, the incapacitation of those men, may have just closed certain doors — or even made the problem worse. It just makes him angrier, anger at himself turned outward in what is sure to be a terrifying manner.

"THEN WHO DOES KNOW?!" he shouts, almost threatening to send the boy over the railing for real and good before tossing him against the front seats. While he torments the intern, he's checking the other four for heartbeats, breathing, signs of consciousness or alertness amid the chaos.

—-

WHO DOES KNOW.

"Th-th-th-th —" The kid barely dares to uncurl his hands from around Matt's wrists, daring only to peel his index finger up to point, angling his eyes toward the fallen chanters. "Th-th-th —"

They do, presumably. He never quite gets there before he's tossed aside for his uselessness, stumbling backward into the row of chairs and staring pale-faced at the man who works through the vital signs of his compatriots with such brisk efficiency. At least he seems to know better than to try to run.

The men on the ground are still completely out cold: Matt Murdock is extremely good at his job.

And while he's checking to see if there's something to be salvaged from that scenario, the kid has time to look over the balcony and really see what's happening, and maybe it's the combination of fearing for his life alongside the fear he'd already been feeling that prompts his change of heart, but whatever the reason, he finds himself — much to his own surprise — sitting up just a little and saying, "They were just chanting the same thing over and over, though, I mean…I don't…I could try to do that! Or I — um, you know, I bet I could call the…call dispatch and maybe tell them what happened, that they got taken out and things are — I mean maybe they have a way to shut it down, it's just supposed to be some kind of trial…? I never wanted anybody to get hurt, I thought…" He opens and closes his mouth like a fish, unable to articulate exactly what it was that he thought.

Meanwhile, down below:

The demoness, having ever-so-briefly returned to the pursuit of turning the audience against itself, ceases to do that with a sudden scream piercing enough to rupture the eardrums of the handful of people closest to its writhing mass. The scream devolves into a retching, gurgling sound, black liquid bubbling up out of its maw, for reasons that become swiftly clear: the white-hot sphere of Kinsey's drone as it emerges from the front of the handmaiden's chest cavity, hissing, spitting, and smoking as it burns its way out, cauterizing the wound in the process. The massive figure topples, all of its internal mechanisms reduced to char and ash, the drone glowing like a small star in the darkness — a star that leaves behind a comet-trail of blue smoke as it streaks upward. The white fuselage passes through hues of pale blue, lurid red and brilliant orange as it begins to cool, and once Kinsey is sure the beast has been properly felled, she tugs that small shard of herself back and out of the drone, reorienting herself to where she is. High above her in the darkness are deep shadows, bars, pulleys — flys. She's backstage, and being tugged toward a side door that…fails to open.

"Fuck!" That's the man who helped to pull her up and over the edge of the stage. "Locked?!"

"No," Kinsey says, then clears her throat and tries the word again, pushing her voice through the noise: "No, it's not locked — " It is, though. " — there's just a trick to it, it's…hang on…" It takes her just a second to get to her feet, and then she leans into the door, pushes, sends a subtle impulse through her fingertips into the magnetic locking mechanism. The bolt clicks aside, the door opens.

She's not sure what's said to her in thanks because opening that door sets off the fire alarm, and because countless bodies begin pushing to pass through it and out into the street near the loading docks.

—-

Matt's lips curl in contempt under his mask; his attitude towards others and the world itself hardens under any mask, it seems, even cashmere. Simultaneously, he feels a surge of relief as he hears the death-throws of the naga, the sound of the fire-alarm signaling an exit door has opened and the rush of footfalls towards it. Both events give him space, a tiny bit of leeway and space to take risks, like:

"Call them," he growls at the boy, rounding on him and looming fiercely above. Option number two beats having the kid thoughtlessly continue whatever his peers were doing, especially when what his peers seemed to be doing amounted to turning Radio City Music Hall into a combination of an orgy and a slaughterhouse. Calling central command for these assholes was risky, but it also offered opportunities. To wit: "I want to see that finger hit every digit and then I want you to put it on speaker so I know they're on the line. And kid? If for whatever reason this goes bad, those keystrokes are the last you'll make for a while. Because I swear to God I will break both your hands. I'd sell them on a solution."

—-

The kid in the robe flinches enough that he nearly falls off of the row of seats when the Devil of Radio City Music Hall rounds on him that way. If he could materially recede through the solid matter wedged into his back, he surely would. Wide eyes remain locked to the frighteningly featureless blank of the fabric over his antagonist's face, and when he receives the full breadth of those instructions, complete with outlined consequences, he nods vigorously enough that the glasses on his face almost shudder right off of his nose. "Yeah, yeah, okay, I just — I have to get the phone and it's — " He slooooooowly lifts a hand, pointing at his robe indicatively. "So I'm gonna, reach in my pocket, okay? Please don't flip out…"

Whether he's permitted to do that at that same glacial pace, or Matt Murdock decides that getting the phone out /for/ him is the more prudent option, once he has it in his hand, he makes the call. Or rather: he makes several attempts to make the call, because his hands are shaking so much that he misdials twice and is forced to clear the number and start over again. Once he finally gets the string right, he thumbs the speakerphone button and places the call.

The contact list header for the call is not particularly revealing: 'Office.'

The voice that comes on over the other end of the line is male, sarcastic. "Ghostbusters, whaddaya want?"
"H-hey it's, uh, it's me," the kid says, keeping his eyes locked to the man with the mask.
"Jay?" A pause. "What the fuck? Aren't you — "
"Yeah I am, I mean I was…I am, I just — "
"Ho-lee shit. I mean, the boys and I were pretty sure you were gonna get shit-canned before the year was out, but two months in is just…"
"No, it's — "
"I mean jesus christ, dude, they're gonna see this call in the logs and woooo, your ass is — "
"Look, shut the fuck up and listen to me for a second, would you?"

It's immediately obvious that this dishrag of an intern has never spoken to anybody in the office like that. Sarcastic Guy on the other end of the line drops off into immediate silence, though there's a rustle and creak, as though he's holding the phone to his chest or covering the mouthpiece. When he fails to say anything else, the kid continues:

"Everything here is fucked. The other guys got knocked out, the terminal was broken, there's no — they didn't finish doing what they're doing here, man."

"Holy shit. How?"

The kid, Jay, stares at Matt Murdock, eyes widening frantically. What do I tell them?

—-

Matt knows what Jay has in his pocket before he reaches for it, and certainly by the time his hands clasp it — there's no need for any more heavy-handedness than the vigilante has already attempted today. He lets Jay make his fumbling call; he even hears (and remembers) the sequences of tones in Jay's final, on-the-mark dial-in, and 'sees' the pattern of movements that prompt that successful ring.

He listens to the exchange between the kid and his asshole of a co-worker, and as the conversation draws to a tipping point, he brings himself down to a crouch beside the intern sitting on the floor, and brings his cowled face kiss-close to the young man's profile. "Tell the truth," he whispers fiercely in Jay's ear, in a grim parody of the more intimate gesture he'd performed with Kinsey one half hour and another lifetime ago. "Tell them I did it, but that you hid while I did it. And that you dropped the computer."

Kinsey Sheridan isn't the only person who knows from experience that the best lies are rooted in truth, with only the slightest of modifications.

—-

"There was a guy," Jay blurts, hurrying to fill the uncomfortably prolonged silence on his end once he's given directions as to what to do. "A guy with a mask, like a full face mask, a big…fuckin'…scary guy, he just…I mean he took them out like BAM."

"Jesus christ," says the guy on the other end of the phone.

"But it was dark, and by then the Import was, you know…messing with people downstairs, people were running all over…" He hesitates, clenches his teeth before he continues. "I got away, mixed in with some people but I dropped the laptop, man."

"You WHAT— "

"And everybody's still out cold. Shit's getting out of control, the readings on the terminal were — "

"Shut up. Shut up! Shit!" After another long pause, the voice on the other end of the line comes back, angry and, if Matt is any judge, now also scared. "Just…hold on. I'm elevating this shit, this is way above my pay grade."

"No! No!" The kid panics. "There's no time for that shit! It takes us thirty minutes to have meetings to decide when we're going to have meetings! By the time they — look, just…I need you to do me a favor. Take everything offline for like…I don't know…ten seconds."

"Is that a joke?"

"No, I just…it's gonna take the spell matrix down, and we can make sure we don't get Imports we don't want. This is supposed to be a fuckin' trial, right? This is already WAY out of control, you're gonna…people are gonna have a hard time looking the other way on this if it doesn't stay contained, we're not even — "

"God damnit."

The kid holds his breath, trembling. "C'mon man. You know I'm right. If you — listen. If somebody comes down on you for this I'll take the heat okay? I know you're recording this. Just PLEASE. Timeline for responders arriving was — "

"Shut up! I know the estimates! Jesus, what a cluster." Pause. "Fine. I'm taking it down. I swear to god, Jay, if this is some kind of — "

"IT'S NOT."

Five seconds later, every mobile phone containing the iDol app across the entire breadth of the city of New York spontaneously reboots.

That thrumming Matt's been sensing since the first signs that something was wrong abruptly clips off, lapsing into mundane silence.

—-

Matt listens, and listens, taut as a bowstring as the phone conversation continues. At one point his fists begin to curl, resignation setting in to leap below and battle whatever needs battling with his fists and — perhaps — the saving grace of Zatanna's ward that hangs underneath his neck. But when the great reboot happens and the thrumming sensation abates, the tension that has been building within Matt Murdock's frame since the warning signs started suddenly begins to seep out, replaced by relief. Still crouching by the boy, Matt takes a hard swallow and then pats the kid's shoulder twice in a gesture that seems to straddle the line between congratulations and lingering threat. "Good," he whispers to Jay. "Now wrap it up."

—-

The kid flinches as he's touched, and again as the voice on the other end of the line comes back: "I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that if you don't come back with that laptop, you're gonna be in a much bigger fuckin' mess than the unemployment line."

"I — it fell on the floor, there were people running ev — "

"Then you get your ASS in there and you FIND IT, or just hope you get trampled to death if you can't!"

Jay's adam's apple bobs as he swallows. "I gotta go," he says, but the other person on the line has already hung up.

Jay just lets the phone fall out of his hand, waiting to see what his fate is going to be.

—-

Matt deftly catches Jay's phone before it ever hits the floor, palming it and thrusting it into the pockets of his jeans. Whatever happens, the kid isn't getting that back. "What is it they want inside that laptop, Jay?" he asks, bringing himself to a looming rise over the child whose fate he holds in his hands. He's cognizant of the decision's weight; the ethical implications. He won't take a life, but will he consign some stupid kid to getting murdered? Even if the kid signed up for — whatever this was?

Of course, finding out 'whatever this was' is the first step towards reaching any sort of conclusion about his obligation to save the young man's ass from the frying pan. "What the hell were you all doing here?" Another sweet of his attention — both of the space itself and of the four fallen figures beside them for signs of life. What happens next is too delicate for stray observers.

—-

The smallest gesture from Matt is enough to make Jay flinch. He watches the masked figure inexplicably catch the dropped mobile phone with a resurgence of fear over the impossible, and shrinks back into the row of chairs behind him as Matt rises again.

"I-I-I dunno really, I mean I — it was all really vague in the meetings, they cycle temps all the time! The way they were talking I thought we were, I thought it was some kind of publicity stunt, a flash mob or some kind of like, viral marketing thing — I didn't know this was gonna happen like this! Or maybe it was supposed to be something else and it just — and it turned into this instead, maybe something went wrong! It's new, the thing, the software, it's new, just a data-mining start-up that contracts out to gather information about users. Like targeted advertising, you know? It's nothing, it's statistics, I don't know, and then we got here and they started saying all of this weird shit, and I don't know, man, I just…I just graduated!"

There are twitching signs of life beginning in at least two of the individuals sprawled unconscious on the balcony. It's unlikely to be long before at least one of them regains consciousness.

—-

The Devil of Hell's Kitchen listens to the boy's halting answer in looming, motionless silence; threatening on the outside, internally agog. Matt has long had contempt for the bros of Silicon Valley, but demon summoning makes Uber look like a model corporate citizen. After Jay's reply, there's a long pause where the masked-man seems to be openly unapologetically deliberating on his fate and those of the four slowly-awakening internet-startup cultists.

You should hand them all over, the kid included, to the police, Matt Murdock thinks. That other part of him instantly dismisses the prospect. Have the police ever been /less/ suited to dealing with a situation? What would they be charged with — chanting? And Matt is every bit as likely to face arrest and exposure for assaulting a group of Ren Faire oddities.

"Come on kid, get up," he says as he extends a black-gloved hand. "Here's what's going to happen. You're going to go get your machine, and you're going to save your life and your job. Because, Jay? You work for me now."

A beat. "What's the name of the company? The software?"

—-

It is not an easy situation to attempt to maintain control of, to say the least. Jay is cooperative in the moment because he's afraid for his life, but there's no telling what he might do when he's out of immediate danger — nor what his compatriots will do to him. But there are decisions that need to be made, and while the city's emergency services may be necessary to clean up the immediate physical consequences of what took place, there's little enough they can do to even understand what happened, let alone prevent it from happening again. If anyone understands what is or is not prosecutable, it's the man in the cashmere mask.

It takes Jay longer to get up than it should, in part because it takes him several moments to process what he's being told. He can probably be forgiven for opting /not/ to put his hands in the one he's offered, after having been threatened with broken hands more than once in that exchange, but he is, at least, compliant. When he's told to get the computer, he crouches down to pick the externally damaged device up, hugging it to his chest as he rises. He doesn't seem surprised to be told he's now under the masked man's control — only resigned, willing to do or say or agree to anything it takes for him to save his own hide.

"And who are you?"

His adam's apple bobs when he swallows. "Auspex," he says, weakly. "It's called Auspex International. But I don't think it's actually, uh…international."

—-

There are risks to innocents — or relative innocents — with each and every potential avenue. And on the other side, missed opportunities abound. Matt has weighed those risks and, for better or worse, made his choice. "I'm the devil you don't know," he answers in that low, gravel-tone he adopts when wearing his blacks. This costume is admittedly less imposing; or perhaps more for being that surreal. "What's your name?" First and last."

"And I'll find you when I need you," he adds. "Your 'friends' will probably wake up soon. Up to you whether you want to be here when that happens."

And then he's stepping backward, deftly sidestepping debries as he makes his way back towards the aisle and turning to sprint to the back of the gallery for the exit.

—-

Matt will sense the moment that Jay contemplates whether or not to lie. It's a hesitation, an uptick in his heartbeat, a change to the cadence of his breathing. He does not want this man in the hooded sweatshirt with the scarf around his face to know his last name — as though that might somehow protect him. He must realize belatedly that it's far too late for that to offer him any kind of protection, because he yields the information with a heavy voice. "Jay Motley."

He stands where he is even as the masked man retreats, wholly subdued; it's not until he's told he has a choice about whether to stay or go that he finally regains some of his agency, daring to take his eyes off of Matt to look down at the pile of bodies. it doesn't take him long to make his decision: he has no desire whatsoever to be there when they wake up. He waits just long enough to be sure his assailant is gone, and then he, too, bolts for the exit.

While Matt was thus engaged…

Kinsey slipped away into the bowels of the theater. In the darkness of the backstage area she'd placed a hand on a fuse box and spiralled out of herself like a firework, exploding into fragments that chart independent courses along interconnected electrical systems. Her consciousness raced along wires and cables, enfolding the shell of the architecture like veins or nerves, exploring concentrations of power. In her mind's eye a map forms — not a map of the building but of the grid it contains, luminous webbing signifying objects in real space…an effect not unlike viewing the (considerably more macabre) works of Honore Fragonard or Gunther von Hagens: matter flayed away, only the nervous system of the space remaining.

With this rough map she determines the likely location of the security office, and through a back door disappears into utilities corridors. Pale fluorescent lights flicker unsteadily, cultivating an eerie horror-film effect that leaves her wary as she sneaks through the halls, heels clicking softly on laminate flooring. She peers cautiously around corners, moves with as much silence as possible, and on opening the doors to the security office quickly pivots around to slip inside, drawing the door closed with utmost care and quiet.

When she turns around, assured that she's alone, one of her hands flies up to cover her gasp, moss-gold eyes wide.

There's so much blood.

One security guard, sprawled on the floor and unzippered from pubic- to collarbone, most of him flung carelessly onto the floor.

Kinsey closes her eyes against the vertigo that threatens to twist her head off. It isn't the gore, precisely — her work required the study of various effects on tissue, and she's no stranger to dissected cadavers — but the violence of it that crushes the air out of her chest, causing a hot-cold wave of sickness to sweep over her. She bends forward with her eyes closed so that she doesn't have to see the mess any more closely, because she's afraid that if she doesn't get blood to her head, she'll faint.

It passes more quickly than it feels as though it passes. Expression buckled around her nauseous distaste, she girds herself and carefully places the toes of her heels on bare floor between patches of splattered red, precariously crossing to the security desk. A cursory glance later, she tugs her sleeve over her finger and presses the tip of the gloved digit to a button on the bank of equipment, ejecting a series of memory cards containing video footage for some unknown amount of time. She takes all of them; there's no way to quickly discern which might have the footage she wants.

With those in her pocket, she wastes no time in getting the hell out of that room, retreating back the way she came. She pauses only once as she goes, when she thinks she hears something disconcertingly large somewhere in the hallways behind her…but though she freezes in place and looks backward, holds her breath until she sees spots, she sees nothing.

She's just one of countless others who pour out of the opened side door backstage, out into a New York city that seems unaccountably sane. The first sirens announce themselves at a distance, but all of her attention is on the flood of humanity emerging from the theater. To one side, injured are beginning to accumulate, and she shoves her way through the confused, milling crowd, heart in her throat, uncertain whether she wants him to be there or not, because if he's there at least she would know where he was, and if he isn't there's no telling if he's still inside or lost in the crowd or —

He isn't there. Relief arrives in a rush, but adrenaline still feathers her stomach. She cups her hands around her mouth: "MATTHEW MURDOCK?" The people nearest her shoot her a startled, unhappy look that she wholly ignores. "MATT?"

—-

She cries out to a swelling sea of humanity, and after seeing that fallen walking stick in cast on the floor of the theater it's a fair question of whether her date ended up among the trampled or bisected victims who will emerge from Radio City on gurneys and shrouded in white plastic body-bags.

Good, then, that it's only a few heartbeats after her second shout that she gets the echo she's looking for. "KINSEY!" comes the loud, clear voice from behind her. He's not immediately visible in the growing throng of refugees; it will take both of them some searching to find each other in this crowd. When they do, a tight-faced but seemingly uninjured Matt Murdock is one hoodie lighter, one pocketed smartphone heavier, and not alone. A skinny young man — late teens, early twenties — with a trendy but disheveled haircut and a denim jacket — has presumably found the blind lawyer at some point and is playing the part of the Good Samaritan by guiding him slowly through through the crowd from behind, one hand on the back of his shoulder. The compassion at once touched him and filled him with guilt, as it always does. Meanwhile, accepting it — keeping up this fiction while every impulse told him to push his way through the crowd in a desperate dive to find his companion — has tested his patience to its limits within minutes.

But nothing is feigned about the powerful currents of emotion that wash over his features. Those are plainly visible — even bespectacled as he is. Anticipation, relief, and something almost hysterically giddy. "Kinsey, is that you?!" he shouts to the crowd.

—-

She hears her name slice through the buzz of voices like a knife, and spins in place. "Matt?!" She would not be capable of telling anyone how long it took her to actually find him after that, or give any accurate accounting of how many people she inconvenienced in her rush to do so.

And then she does find him, he and his voluntary assistant, and the cracking way she says, "Oh, Matt!" as she winds her arms tightly around his neck announces the sudden opening of the floodgates, allowing the gnawing fear to catalyze into expressable emotion. She squeezes her eyes shut, pressing her nose and lips down into his shoulder, and even if he were not the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, he'd probably still be able to feel her heart racing, a thrumming tension singing along all of the lean lines of her. She can't help the prickle in her nose or the sudden liquid heat that announces the arrival of tears: she's never been stoic, for all that she might feign it when she puts the helmet on and tries to become someone else. Her voice turns just that little bit hoarse, frayed by the knot in her throat. "Oh my god, I was so worried. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I let go."

She's unwilling to let go of him completely, but her eyes open as she lifts her head, and after impatiently wiping away the tracks of moisture on her cheeks, reaches out to place that hand on the Good Samaritan's arm. "Thank you so much."

—-

As Matt is swept up in her embrace, he finds himself echoing her again: "Oh, thank God," he whispers fiercely. He's steady even with that heedless rush, proof of the powerful center of gravity that she has been gingerly testing these past few weeks. Not that he's any more careful than she is: the arms that band so tightly around the middle of her back betray more of the strength they contain than he is ever likely to show when not wearing the mask. A helpless, if frayed, smile spreads across his features before he delivers a forceful, possessive kiss to the top of her dark-haired crown. It's a viscious feed-back loop of guilt; hers over abandoning him in his condition prompts guilt from him for being less than entirely honest about his condition. "Please, please don't say you're sorry," he says, not as a nicety, but with genuine fervor.

But that's an undercurrent, almost a grace note, compared to the overwhelming relief he feels that she herself is alive, safe, seemingly unscathed. "I'm just — I'm just so glad you're alright. I thought I'd lo — that you'd —" He lets out a helpless puff of breath, the lawyer momentarily unable to finish a thought and at a loss for words.

In the midst of all this outpouring of emotion, his companion steps back, giving the couple a little space, if not anything remotely like privacy. And when she finally opens her eyes to regard him, he seems almost sheepish. "Hey, no problem, lady," he says, putting up his free hand. "Glad you two found what you were looking for." He gives a clap on Matt's leather jacketed back and a, "Good luck, man. There's some crazy shit out there, right?" Matt raises his head, turns his profile to regard the kid — though without letting his grip on Kinsey relent in the slightest. "Yeah, no kidding. Thanks a million I mean it." And then the kid is turning back into the crowd.

—-

She utters a short, heavy little note of tear-stained laughter when he tells her not to be sorry, because what can Kinsey possibly think, but that Matt is trying to absolve her of what happened for no other reason than that he's just…nice? Too nice to want her to feel that guilt, even if he might have been trampled to death. Even if he'd been entirely at sea.

"Yes," she sniffs, with another self-conscious bubble of laughter for the stranger who rescued her date. The words 'crazy shit' are the most absurd understatement imaginable. "You be safe."

And when he goes she looks at the man she's clinging to, and it causes her to fold all over again — not just because of what happened when they were separated, or her anxieties about his safety, but because of everything that happened after that, all of the things that took place when she was flying on fear and the urgency of necessity, the vault doors of her emotions slammed closed to allow her to work. The monstrous whatever-that-was, the dizzy assault with the drone, the rough hands near the stage, and more than anything, more than any of that, the security guard she knows is still laying on his back in a pool of his own blood, all of his organs slopped out onto the laminate tile beside him, in dark room off of a hallway full of flickering lights.

One hot, damp cheek presses against the side of his throat as she lowers her head to his shoulder and turns her face inward, nails biting lightly into the leather that spans his back. All of her playing at trying to be some sort of hero — if perhaps a hero who occasionally breaks the law — and she couldn't do anything for any of that, really. Couldn't help the one person she really wanted to. What use is that?

When that next rush of tears passes, she lifts her head and leans back enough to cradle the sides of his face with careful hands, the pads of her thumbs light just below his cheekbones, shining, too-wet eyes ticking over his countenance and then downward, checking. Looking for injuries, torn clothing. "Are you alright? Did you get hurt at all?"

—-

If Matt could hear her internal monologue, he'd — well, first of all, he'd royally flip his shit. After that, however, he would laugh at the notion that the woman who felled the giant snake demon wreaking havoc on the concert hall proved herself anything less than a hero tonight. At least her fate-assigned enemy will no longer trouble innocent victims. The four sociopaths Matt (arguably) stopped will more than likely walk the streets free and easy, all so that he can play a longer game that has a high likelihood of not panning out at all, and probably getting that poor dumb kid killed anyway. The so-called Devil of Hell's Kitchen has never felt less like a hero, and that's all without the benefit of Kinsey's knowledge of the butchered security guard to weigh on his conscience.

But her scrutiny of his outward aspect, which he'd feel the weight of even without his heightened senses, finds him entirely unscathed — without blemish, scratch, or bruise. And he'll even hazard a slight, reassuring smile. "Hey, Kinsey, I promise — I'm fine," he says, just loud enough to carry over the crowd. "I got swept along with the rush, yeah, but there were some good people who stepped up and helped."

Sirens are blaring, the space around them is growing ever more cramped as more people from inside come out. Thousand voices weeping, cursing, calling out to find one another. Matt hears the hundred shades of anguish, smells the reek of fear, tastes the salt in the air from nearby tears.

"Let's just — let's get out of here," he says in a split second decision. "Want to crash at my place?" A beat, a grimace followed by a swift shake of his head. "I didn't mean it like — I can sleep on the couch. I just. I don't want you on some fucking train to Jersey after all this."

—-

For Matt, the welter of traumatized humanity must be like some kind of overpowering, inescapable hell of sensation, but for Kinsey, it barely even seems to exist, edged out by her preoccupation with his condition and the chemical aftershocks of having come through whatever the hell that was in one piece.

He reminds her, though, when he tells her they should go. She turns her head and casts her gaze out over the sidewalk, taking in for the first time how much more crowded it is than it was when she found him. It reminds her of the awkward way she has her purse slung around her neck, and she takes a few moments to fix that, drawing the strap up and back over her head, and then placing it over her shoulder, one of her hands cupped over the place the strap was biting into the gentle slope of muscle between neck and shoulder. "God…okay. Yeah. We should probably get out of the way," she says, the moment he proposes they go.

His amendment comes as some surprise, because that's the last thing she's thinking or worried about, really — not least because they've long since achieved whatever equilibrium allows her to trust that he's not some sort of sleaze putting on a convincing, gentlemanly front. Had all of that remained unspoken, she'd have assumed as much by default. All this time, and he's been nothing but accommodating, taking all of his cues from her.

If he'd just kept that to himself, she'd have collapsed on his sofa after half an hour of sitting around, hyper-aware of being in his home and pretending that she wasn't exactly that, but he doesn't. He makes it a thing, like invoking the name of something, and for Kinsey the world seems to revolve to a slow and grinding not-quite-halt in which everything seems hyper-real, like, like —

If asked to describe it, she'd say 'like one of those bullshit gaming quicktime events where you have to push the right button quickly enough or you fail' because she is a /nerd/, so it's probably for the best that nobody is actually going to ask. But much like a quicktime event the stress of realizing that there's suddenly a prompt on the screen creates a moment of wordless internal panic, because there's never time for thinking, only time to react. That is by design — at least in gaming.

She watches herself make the decision almost from outside of herself, like the slow-motion fall of a lit match into a vat of volatile chemicals — which is more or less what she is.

There's nothing in her quiet sniff or the swipe of fingertips under her eyes to warn him about the way she reaches for him, touch light on the back of his neck, so that she can lean in with lashes that lower heavily over obstinately leaking eyes, part her lips, and with slow, velvet tenderness close them over his in a kiss that tastes like tears.

Not a long one, and as these things go a thing of relative innocence…

But it still changes everything.

One of her hands tucks into his. She sniffs again. "Let's go."

—-

Like many of Matt's less obvious actions, the uncharacteristically awkward blurt has its origins in guilt. This particular brand owes itself, at least in part, to his Catholic upbringing. Going to a sensually charged concert with a date and bearing certain hopes — if not quite expectations — about how the night might wind, and then being confronted within an hour of arrival by a murderous, all-consuming lust demon can do a number on a kid raised in a Catholic orphanage, fed daily the notion that such hopes are in and of themselves damning.

You can take the boy out of the Catholic school, but you can't take the Catholic school out of the boy.

In fact, he's so busy berating himself for betraying any hint of the borderline insane ruminations of his mind's basement over the last few hours while she's distraught and crying over real shit that he misses entirely the chain of chemical signals that would at any other time tell him in bright neon that something significant is about to happen. It's not even until he feels delicate fingers on the back of his neck that it begins to dawn on him what's taking place. That's just enough time for his eyebrows to shoot up in surprise and for his lips to part, either to meet hers in kind or to ask a question that never finds expression, silenced as it is by the tender, almost bittersweet act.

A full-body shiver sweeps over him after they part from each other, as if his frame were casting off some of the tension it's gradually accumulated over the last few hours. But when her hand finds his, it's steady, warm, and ready with a squeeze of affection and reassurance. "Yeah," he echoes quietly. "Yeah. Let's do that." And then he's following her lead out of the throng of victims and voyeurs clustering on the Manhattan sidewalk.

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