Thought I Knew You

May 03, 2017:

The night after Daredevil has a harrowing experience pursuing leads about CGI, he returns for a taste of vengeance. That same night, Six decides it's time to begin digging more deeply into the activities of certain CGI-owned cargo docks.

It was bound to happen sooner or later…

Cargo Docks, Hell's Kitchen

See above.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

After a dreadfully long winter of unforgiving temperatures and seemingly ceaseless snows, spring has arrived. It seems to have done so kicking and screaming, drenching the skyline with petulant rains and constantly threatening to turn right back around and freeze the place up again, but there are spates of merciful weather to be had, and tonight is clear if perhaps a bit on the chilly side. Overhead only periodic swabs of grey cloud interrupt the featureless dun-black of a sky with stars that cannot compete with the ambient glow of the metropolis, and only faint stirrings of of a mild breeze wander through the city's heart.

Climes are always more extreme on the water. There's a bite at the port that doesn't exist further inland, and the breeze hasn't been diffused. It buffets with sudden insistence before subsiding again indecisively, not quite a full wind.

While it would be misleading to ever call any port 'quiet,' these infant hours of the morning are the quietest it ever gets. Tonight there's a singing tension just beneath the surface of Business As Usual — which isn't actually as usual as business here tends to be. There are more people present, and those people are more vigilant. It poses unique challenges for the lithe figure crouched in the heavy wedge of shadow provided by an HVAC unit, atop a roof just across from the access gates to the port.

The featureless, glossy black faceplate of the helmet reflects little of the ambient light from within that cocoon of darkness, but within it exists a dazzling display of ghostly illumination. Night-vision, heat sensors, infrared, EMF, ultraviolet views all fade in and out. Complex sensors and lenses buried within that slick, uniform surface allow her to pierce distances with high-resolution zoom, probing the far corners of the shipping yards, and those she has no angle on are easy enough to see with a jaunt of her consciousness out into the nighted air, into some security camera or other, scattered for her like little stars across the grounds.

Two men pass down the line of the seawall, and on the elevation map being compiled by the AI in her skull, displayed in overlay on the interior of the helmet's faceplate, little glowing, colored threads follow along in their wake, adding to a growing understanding of patrol routes. Tiny specks represent other postings, updating on the fly as employees move from one place to another.

—-

Little could Kinsey know that she is late to the party, much less that another figure was crouching in the self-same shadows not forty-five minutes before her, waiting for the sun to set over the Jersey shoreline before he leapt, swung, vaulted, and creeped his place into the labyrinth of containers that make up the Hell's Kitchen docks. And he did so utterly unconcerned with the increased security, the small legion of upticked heartbeats and grinding jaws and swish of leather and fabric against a vast array of holstered weaponry that his madcap adventure last night has surely precipitated.

"Did you hear? He's dressed as actual devil now," a thickset man in his slate thirties is murmuring to his companion as they patrol one alleyway between the cans ten feet beneath the red-clad-man's creeping figure, semi-autos in hand. "In naming him, we gave him power."

"What. Power to join the fuckin' Village Halloween parade? Get the fuck outta here," quips his partner right back, a wiry tight-jawed twenty-something, accent straight New Yorker. "Far as I'm concerned, fact that he let the 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen' shit go to his head proves he's just a wannabe supe. Straight fucking C-list. Wait until the Man starts fucking around with Jersey and gets the Batman on our case before you start pissing your pants, yeah?"

The Devil, belly flat on the cold steel of the can, creeps and reaches out with his senses for whatever these fuckers are protecting. It's arguably the worst time to be doing this. After the specatcle of the evening past their guard is clearly up. But after whiffing the the vile shit these men are sunk hip-deep in, he is past caution. He wants to hurt some bad men, and he didn't meet his quota last night. He searches from one can to the next, with nothing but focus. Oil in one can, booze in another, mostly innocuous pills beyond that. Oh, and a massive trove of heroin further on. Each yields its little telltale signs to him, and each frustrates.

No one here to save tonight. Shame about the two-dozen dangling on meathooks you found the night before. Guess it's just their bad luck you weren't there when they actually needed you, right, Matthew?

—-

Have you got them all?

(If I have not, I would be unaware of having missed any.)

The faceplate doesn't frown, but the face within it does. Touche. Show me the blind spots.

Across the planes and angles of the pale blue topographical map, areas suffuse with red: atop most of the inactive cranes, up and down several of the sides of them, certain corridors between cargo containers, certain routes across the tops of them. Five's near-nonexistant margin of error displays itself in the way the red areas diminish toward the edges of those container tops, where he's calculated for the height of the patrols that have passed by them, to compensate for any increase in line-of-sight.

You have the data ready?

Cargo manifests and bills of lading for the specific docks described by the documents she obtained from CGI begin to flicker past in the periphery of her right eye, a silent confirmation. Good. Let's go take a peek into a few of those boxes.

When she moves it's as though a scrap of the shadow she's been concealed within has peeled away. Long lines and sleek curves all organic, interrupted by geometric elements too rigidly precise to be natural: Six's prosthetics do not even attempt to pretend to be real limbs of any kind. The spike heels produce no sound, telescoping shocks and advanced polymers attenuating all vibrations — even those produced by sudden impact, as when she drops that single story to slink into the alley she and Five have determined is their best approach. One temporarily shorted street light later and she's inside the perimeter of the docks, moving with pantherine purpose and fleet care toward the water and the containers stacked there, awaiting the arrival of the vessel on which they're intended to sail. In the darkness and behind the helmet she is a perfect simulacrum of emotionless finesse, a ghost, a phantom, something right and proper to the night.

Behind it, inside of it, she feels the way she always does: heart racing and her thoughts honed to a diamond edge by the thin thread of adrenaline steadily being fed into her system, simultaneously so very vulnerable and absolutely invincible.

And free.

—-

She is exceptional at finding blind spots, navigating deftly through the shifting lines of sight of these men on patrol. Her phantom figure could doubtless steal in, steal a peak, and steal away within minutes. She doesn't even sound a footfall, which is not something her twin-infiltrator can boast, for all his psuedo-ninja training. Daredevil makes noise, inevitably, though he's so attuned to the sounds that emanate from every point of contact his body makes with earth or object, that he's even more cautious than the average cat burglar.

But there are some sounds that can't be hidden — from him, at least — by even the most sophisticated technology. She may be augmented by machine, but she is human, and the entrance of her heartbeat onto the scene makes its subtle impact on his own three-dimensional, topographical, ever-shifting map of the seedy docks. It's far enough away that he can't detect much more than its presence, but it does speak to a new player suddenly on the scene, having entered through none of the usual checkpoints or channels. It's fact interesting enough to merit some inspection.

And so, carefully, he brings himself up from his sprawled position on the can's roof to a crimson-shadowed crouch, and then a crawl towards can's edge.

Their means of maneuvering are impossibly alike: if he can be said to see at all, it's as if he sees from above with the whole world laid before him. The fierce — and ongoing — debate of armed men passes by and a gap opens up that allows him to slide swiftly and sleekly down to the ground. Ten feet forward, one right, one left, one right again, and then another thirty-so feet forward — that will bring him within range of this suddenly piqued object of curiosity. One patrol between them, another just beyond his target.

It's risky — it's all risky. But it is, he thinks, manageable. And so he walks, keeping to the shadows of the cannisters, soft-soled on the concrete.

—-

Advantage: Devil of Hell's Kitchen.

She watched for a very, very long time, long enough to give Five every opportunity to take stock of people present, viewed through a wide selection of different windows, including all of those sensory elements. In fact, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen was very much a part of that topographical map that she and Five constructed together: still and silent atop a cargo container, he is still alive. He still radiates heat. But a stationary stroke of heat atop a cargo container does not necessarily read as 'supernormal' — it reads, to a young metahuman with only a year of experience and not quite enough intelligence about the environment she intends to recon as 'port employee sneaking in a nap.' Without any major and obvious weaponry, he would not have triggered Five's parameters for identifying threats.

All of which is to say that once she's inside of the labyrinth, that map makes several assumptions entirely based on her period of observation: it continues to display presumed paths of patrolling bodies and locations of those which have remained largely stationary, circled at a distance to represent whatever distances they may have wandered in that time. Once she's no longer actively observing, no modifications or updates to those patterns are made unless she has eyes on them. It is possible while she moves for her to extend a small piece of herself outward and link with one of those security cameras, but it leaves her physical self dangerously less alert. Emergencies-only. For this reason, she isn't aware of it when that napping blot of heat slips away from the cargo container and moves to intercept her trajectory with too much speed and agility to ever pass for the thing she believed it to be.

Which is not to say that she's without the means to make an excellent go of things. That helmet contains countless different kinds of sensors. For instance: aural sensors fed through Five as an intermediary to protect her hearing can identify from a significant distance footsteps, voices, heavy breathing, jingling keys, and a host of other auditory cues within specific registers — nothing so preternaturally sharp as her curious pursuer's, but enough to provide advance warning. Those don't help her here; his circuitous route avoids delivering sound into the canyons between the cargo containers and he's in place well before she's close enough. Only the patrols register on these.

It's the advanced radar ping that comes through for her. Periodic, capable of penetrating objects within a modest but sufficient distance, and presently set to do so at intervals of ten seconds.

Closing in on his position, a single pulse briefly sketches wire-frame phantoms over every object in her field of view, roughly conforming to the shape of a body she did not know was there until she was no more than twenty feet from its hiding place.

Her heart lurches in her chest, cramped around an icy, silver bolt of pure shock. She gasps — the helmet screens that sound entirely, filters and synthesizers tuned to avoid transmitting accidental vocalizations — and stops dead, all of that forward momentum arrested completely. Her thoughts snap across the map display, a swift secondary route planned and executed all within the span of a heartbeat: she pivots noiselessly and cuts away to the left. It's a route that can take her where she wanted to go previously…

But it's also a flanking angle.

—-

Whatever advantage Matt Murdock might have gained over his stealthy quarry is lost almost instantly as he closes in. Not just because one of her wonderful toys finally delivers for her and singles out his approaching form, but because the realization of what — who — he's pursuing strikes him with sudden and violent force just seconds before her radar reaches him. It finds him frozen there in the shadows like some gothic monster out of a statuary menagerie. The predator becomes, briefly, a deer in the headlights.

Six's identity is betrayed by half-a-dozen telltale signs. The familiar fragrance of soap and shampoo, the heartbeat whose rhythms he's come to know in varying states of excitement and rest, and even her movements — here outright alien rather than some preternaturally graceful facsimile of a human being's — but even in their difference from the mean they provide one more datapoint that leads to an inevitable conclusion.

Oh, my God. It's her.

He feels a half-dozen emotions in cat-quick succession. Shock. Anger. Worry — for himself, for her. But above all is an acute sense of bewildering loss and sadness that he doesn't — at this particular moment — fully understand the origins of, even as it threatens to overwhelm him. It shouldn't hit him as hard as it does. The signs were all there, and he'll obsess over them later. For now, though? He needs answers to the questions he should have been asking for months now, and he needs to get her out of this deathtrap. Whatever she is, whatever she's capable of, and however he may feel about either, his protective instinct is powerful enough to the tidal pull of mixed emotions.

He feels her coming. She wants to flank him? Fine. She'll get to face him. He moves to intercept, heart thrumming, breath ragged in his chest, and — in the heat of the moment — briefly unmindful of a patrol whose path is straying dangerously close to their point of intersection.

—-

Who is that?

(How am I supposed to know?)

Adrenaline is doing what it's supposed to, lining out her limbs and climbing her spine with hot-cold flames, distending time into taffy…but it's a lacquer over calmer thoughts. Orderly, logical, pragmatic, strategic. The inside of her head has prodigious insulation: military training, test piloting, a character predisposed to thrive in pressure situations. And Five, of course; there are times when the place where she and it overlap begin to blur and run, the mood of one influencing the other — if Five can be said to have a 'mood.' It is, in spite of its capacity for independent thought, logical in the way of most machines — most of the time.

So this diversion, a little digression from the predictable, arrives as a shock but casts only minor ripples into her focus. It recalibrates her priorities, but it would be misleading to say she's shaken. Unexpected things happen virtually every time she sets foot into any of the tri-cities as Six, and she views them the way she views most challenges: as a whetstone against which to hone her edges.

That is all about to change.

A broad-shouldered silhouette seems to simply appear out of the darkness, painted in hues of low-light jade — moving so softly that all of the sophisticated aural sensors in the world were not enough to warn her. Virtually tireless legs — half of them do no biological work, after all — are moving in the liquid roll of dead sprint when it happens, and her sudden stop ought to have her skidding and stumbling, scraping boot-heeled feet along the ground. None of that happens. She half-twists her body to the side, leaning back, and plants one foot ahead of her. Complex machinery soaks the inertia, her whole form dipping into that tension and rising again, a wholly inorganic movement. And that is how she stays, slim arms extended to either side for balance, hands splayed, leaned back and poised with perfect stillness the way a startled doe will stand in the moments before it decides to take flight. Light winks in sharp sparks off of certain elements of the right one, and drools down the glossy slick of the faceplate — an emotionless screen to her identity that is, in this time and this place with this man, entirely useless.

Behind the pitch darkness of the helmet her eyes are wide, her breathing hushed. The overlay of the helmet screen shows her Five at work: a mesh rolling over the exposed half of the figure's face.

Who the hell is that?!

(Partial facial profile available. Searching…)

Everything about her trembles in readiness to escape at the first sign of aggression. She does not move.

And then that aural equipment of hers picks up the sound of footsteps not too far from where they are, as the patrol enters the circle of viable detection, and she does move: that helmet moves ever-so-slightly in the direction of the patrol.

—-

Here, as Six, her nightvision paints his hulking, crimson-and-black silhouette in shades of jade as she tries to identify him by nothing more than the slant of a jaw or lips currently stretched into a grimace held somewhere between frustration and despair. For him? Six or Kinsey, she's forever part of his tapestry of fire. He knew her for a certainty before he ever got this close, but this new proximity gives him a chance to glean differences between this new form and the one he's grown so familiar with: the rounded helmet, the limbs that make no attempt whatsoever at counterfitting the original parts they replace, the movements even more alien than the preternatural grace she casually exhibits daylighting as a garage mechanic. He absorbs all those details in an instant, but it's three more seconds of shocked stillness on both their parts before the angle of her head finally allows him to register the ominous footsteps above the pound of his heart against his ribcage.

His head angles, the way a cat does listening to a far-off sound, and the motion is rooted in the same instinct — detecting predators. A ragged sigh escapes his lips; the fight he feels — knows — is inevitable hasn't even started yet, and already he's exhausted. "You shouldn't be here," the Devil tells her in a quiet, urgent rasp. "They're thirty feet away and getting closer. Run."

And they are. Two corners of a can and they'll be in sight.

—-

The cage of her ribs expands and collapses, long breaths drawn slow but deep, released in the same way. In the winter her exhales would have been vented for him through the slots in the low front of the helmet as clouds of white mist, an affectation that only heightens the alien alterations to shapes he otherwise knows with no little intimacy; in this more temperate weather they fail to exist at all, even the sound of her breathing dampened by the helmet's sophisticated systems.

Until he tells her she shouldn't be here.

The sound of that exhale reads loud and clear, a soft, white-static hiss of incredulity. It stands in for the thought she doesn't give verbal life to, a quick, sharp dart of a thought, pure instinct: And who the hell are you to tell me where I do and don't belong?

(Vocalization obtained. Speech recognition software identifies subject as: MURDOCK, MATTHEW MICHAEL. Margin of error statistically insignificant. Metahuman dossier: Devil of Hell's Kitchen: will be amended to reflect up to date intelligence.)

In action films during sequences of frenetic energy filmmakers often slow time to the point of absolute suspension, particles hanging beautifully in the air as the camera revolves through the blossom of an explosion, a salacious tour of the unfolding catastrophe for rapt eyes in the darkened theater. Much the same happens for Kinsey in the femtoseconds following that cognitive announcement.

Five…

(Statistically insignificant.)

That's not possible.

Five fails to respond, and even in the diamond-bright spike of adrenaline that plunges through her like a spear thrown by the Almighty, straight through the chest to affix her to the ground where she stands, she understands why he says nothing: he doesn't have to. She can hear the desperation of denial in her own thoughts, but the truth resonates off of fragments of memory that had, until now, been individual, unassembled: the Devil of Hell's Kitchen turning up in the opera house; Matt's bizarre hospitalization; his bleeding head, the deferral of his explanation. His ease and comfort with the rocket boots, how quickly he'd adapted. His body.

The helmet has horns, Kinsey. Remember? Daredevil. When he was a kid. He told you.

Less than a half a second later: No wonder he was trying to copy the data off of the drive.

The complexity of her reaction defies taxonomy, ten different flavors of contradictory thing seething together in the sudden cauldron of her stomach, lines of shock radiating outward from a core that suddenly feels like a dynamo. Her hands suddenly curl, fingers organic and synthetic curling with unequal force into their respective palms, though the tension travels only up the sinuous line of the arm she was born with. Unlike Matt, her unique cerebral condition allows her to process a great deal with conscious intent in a very short period of time — cognitive multithreading — and she has time to think about how she feels about what she's just learned. There are things in her that wobble around the notion, things she's not sure are entirely fine…

But the bedrock of it all is sympathy, and a relief so profound that it frightens her.

Her backward lean eases, still springy and prepared to vault her elsewhere, but no longer so wary; she straightens, bends one knee, cocks one hip, and tilts forward at the waist just enough to deliver a sibilant, silk-smooth response.

"Not leaving."

For the man in the mask, certain things will be apparent to him about that voice that it may be no one else could sense: it isn't Kinsey's voice. That soft, melodic whisper, very faintly feminine — an upgrade after her encounter with Spider-Man, who told her that her scream as processed through the helmet sounded like Transformers having an orgasm, which was SO not the effect she was going for — is entirely synthetic, reproduced by software that processes what she says and fabricates it from scratch: probably a security measure against being identified in the very way she's just discovered who, and what, he really is.

In spite of that refusal, she does move, and she moves with liquid swiftness and an acrobatic flexibility that not even Matt ever had the opportunity to discover. Two long strides and a leap send her up the side of a cargo container, hands planted on the upper edge. She disappears over the top in absolute silence, slides onto her hip and leans forward, hands braced to either side of her, chest-down. Consciousness slingshots out through the shadows to find eyes on their location.

She's waiting for the right moment.

—-

Her internal response to this revelation, and that entire cascade of thoughts and emotions that follows it, is largely invisible to him. He has no more reason to believe that she knows his secret than she has reason to believe he knows hers. All he hears is the response — a flat rejection of his advice/demand — and in that utterly foreign, artificial voice. Followed, of course, by that improbable vault upwards and the nearly silent — even to his rarified ears — landing on top of the can. God damnit, he thinks to himself, even if he finds he's relieved by her sudden withdrawl from his physical proximity. He can still senses her, pinpoint her with near exactitude above him, but her remove allows him to regain his bearings, reorient himself, and focus on the moment at hand instead of plumbing through four months of a relationship with this woman he barely knows at all.

And the moment does, indeed, require focus.

It's too late for him to make a break for it. For all his physical agility, a vaulting leap on top of a ten-foot high container is beyond him. He'd have to climb up, or use the grappling hook embedded in one of the two batons holstered at his thigh. Either approach would be time-consuming, noisy, and even despite his obvious worry for Kinsey Sheridan — he knows in his bones he came for some bloodshed, and even under these radically different and far more dangerous circumstances, he won't shy away from it. He aligns himself straight-backed against the side of the container, right on the edge of the final corner the pair of Russian gunmen are about to round, and he waits — footfalls and heartbeats come closer, closer, quickly attended by the acrid smells of cheap cologne, cheaper vodka, and cigarettes. He waits until they're almost on him, just rounding the corner… and then he's on them.

She's seen him in various elements — soaring around her garage in rocketboots, buffeted by panicking crowds, to name just a few — but what he brings out here is worlds apart from the careful, deliberative movements that have marked most of her time with the blind attorney. Ferocity is the word for it: the way his fist lands not once but three times onto the skull of the first patrolman in a quick and brutal succession of jabs, or the way the stunned man is suddenly thrown into a headlock while the Devil delivers a sweeping kick against the other, who even now is scrambling to bring up and fire his unwieldy Kalishnikov. The first one, headlocked, is wheezing for breath even as Matt throws him over his shoulder and onto his compatriot, sending them both sprawling onto the concrete.

The second, even as he's going down, has the presence of mind to shout: "ETO D'YAVOL!"

It's a cry that sounds among the warren of containers on the pier, and is soon met by echoes around the docks, each a call to action as the Russians unholster their weapons and stream through the docks, shouting:

"D'YAVOL!"

"D'YAVOL!"

—-

Two. Two is something they can handle. There are two of them, after all: one each. Simple arithmetic.

That isn't what ends up happening. What ends up happening is that there's a sudden explosion of hushed noise in the valley between two aisles of illicit goods, and when Kinsey slithers forward to the edge in frictionless leggings and a military crawl to see what's happening, what she sees is —

Even having accepted that Five's analysis is correct, it defies her ability to comprehend it, so surreal by comparison with the man she knew — thought she knew — that all she can do for long and useless moments is stare with her lips parted and her eyes wide, locked open and unblinking until they begin to sting and water, because blinking means she might miss something he does.

So fast. So fast, so fucking fast and strong, and…/brutal.

It shouldn't, but it pours gasoline on the already merrily burning fire of her rushing pulse and heightened senses, fingers of something terribly seductive trilling their way up the bone-laced ravine of her spine. It shouldn't, but it's just…so…

Hot.

"D'YAVOL!"

The first cry goes out, and all of that slowly incandescing interest is suddenly doused with ice water. Answering cries are quick to break open the stillness of the night, echoed along countless corrugated steel corridors.

Shit. Shit!

(Strategic withdrawal is still possible.)

You want me to LEAVE HIM?

(Vocal analysis suggests that he is not entirely pleased to see you, Kinsey.)

Fuck that, and you! And him too! I'm not just — oh god. Tiny dots all over her HUD's overlay ping into existence as from her lofted position the aural sensors begin to pick up movement of nearby individuals, most converging on their position.

Bring the Valkyrie's systems online.

(Initiating.)

With the first two collapsed into a Devil-made heap, she slides up to the edge of the container, forearms folded along the edge of it, and looks down at her boyf — at the Dev — at him.

"You seem popular around here." That's going to need a conversation later. "I've got a quick way out, but it'll be— " The pause marks the moment she flicks her gaze to a portion of the HUD, where the Valkyrie's systems checks are ongoing. "— five minutes? …Ten. No more than ten?"

An eternity, in a cargo yard full of angry Russians with automatic weapons.

—-

'Brutal' is a good assessment — especially of what she sees next from her perch above. It would be almost clinical, the methodical way he delivers swift kicks and punches to the heads of the twin fallen foes at his feet until they are well and truly unconscious — that is, if each vicious blow that lands on the groaning pair of Russians weren't so clearly driven by something far more primal.

Most people when hearing a voice above them would angle their head upwards to catch a glimpse of the speaker. Matt, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, Daredevil, whatever you want to call him — feels no such need even with all his pretenses of being an ordinary blind man temporarily abandoned. His demon-helmed head stays level, facing towards the direction where the brunt of the next round of assailants are just over a minute away. "Yeah, we kind of got off on the wrong foot," he says of his superfans with a nudge of his foot, kicking one of the Russians off the other so that he can grab one of the automatic rifles and break it in half with one clean, sharp movement.

How many are descending upon them? Too many to count, heartbeats and voices bleeding together — at least nine to his north, another four coming a little further away from the eastern gate. Whatever his residual anger about those people, his confusion about Kinsey, a quick escape appeals to the rational side of Matt Murdock's mind. "Thanks. I… can make ten work," he says as he stiffens his back and holds the base of the broken rifle in one hand, one of his metal batons in the other. Then he's summoning his breath and… charging?! Yes, charging, closing the distance between himself and the crowd to the north, the broken but of the rifle raised and hurled towards the head of the first silhouetted figure that appears in his line of — whatever. Which it strikes, unerringly, bringing the man to his knees and then the cold concrete and drawing curses from the crowd.

Of course, that's just one. The rest are prepared, and even with all of his seemingly unhuman speed, it will be critical seconds before Matt can close the distance and engage in the close quarter combat that makes those rifles borderline useless. The sky lights up with sparks as three men bring their weapons to bear and fire right in the Devil of Hell's Kitchen's direction — and for all his zig-zag bobs and weaves, no one's that fast.

Jane did tell him to give his armor a stress test.

—-

In my experience, she wants to say, and does not, because that kind of thing isn't appropriate to Six, Every foot that gets put up somebody's ass is the wrong foot.

She winces as she watches. The final blows are arguably necessary to the purpose of ensuring that neither man gets up again quickly, but there's relish in the act that she cannot parse: is it sheer enjoyment of the violence involved, or vent of frustration, or…? The viciousness of it still plays on all of her mixed feelings, stirring the pot of things she's had to set aside as events gather momentum, careening like a cannonball toward…what? Some manner of end, the nature of which she can hardly speculate. Violence on a massive scale, it would seem.

Her heart vaults into her throat as she watches him bolt toward the thick of things. When the shooting begins she can hardly abandon the cargo container fast enough, the same prostheses that helped her to make the ascent assisting with the silent descent. Within the bounded cage of her ribs she can feel her pulse hammering like a timpani drum, massive beats that threaten to shake her apart at the seams. They're shooting at his silhouette, there are so many of them, the muzzle flares are lighting up the dark air and there's no way, there's no way he isn't going to be shot, and she's not fast enough, and she sure as hell isn't durable enough to intervene but oh, god, she has to try. She has to.

She takes off at another of those nearly-soundless dead sprints — faster than someone depending entirely on meat to get them where they need to go, but by no means superhuman because of course she's been putting off attaching the rockets — and on another flanking trajectory.

Load up the battery buster suite.

(What if Murdock is carrying a mobile phone?)

The thought arrives as an unwelcome distraction as she slides around behind the ever-tightening knot of 'port employees.' Triangulate, Five. Hack the phones if you have to and find out if one belongs to him but right now, just this very second, I need you to be very…

She slips around the edge of the cargo container, circling the fringe.

Very…

One more turn, and she's staring at the back of two of his would-be assailants.

QUIET.

Her leap onto the back of the first one seamlessly conceals the thrust of a needle from the artificial wrist into his neck, and its administered heavy dose of a chemical agent. His companion turns, muzzle of the gun already lifting, and Six gets one long leg wrapped around the waist of the man she's tackled, the other hinged high, hips twisted enough to lash out with a sidelong kick. The prosthetic's heeled-boot foot transforms in flight, splitting apart into three taloned, jointed segments not unlike the foot of a bird of prey; these latch around the body of the weapon and bear down with tremendous force. The barrel groans, begins to bend. The fingers caught in the middle do not fare as well.

—-

No phones accompany his nighttime adventures, not even the extra flip-burner he'll carry with him in daytime hours that contains the select few contacts he's made as Daredevil. That's for a very simple reason: any time he's out in the mask, he could die. And what then? Whatever he has on him can be hacked by industrious minds like Kinsey's, and whatever numbers he's dialed or saved can be traced, and whoever is found at the end of that merry chase is doubly vulnerable because Matt Murdock won't be around to defend them. He can play fast and loose with his own life, but the lives of others?

Case in point: how he volleys into nine assailants, heedless of how three of them are firing round after round of gunfire into the night air, or how four more are advancing with a wickedly-long knife here, a crowbar there, and lastly a sturdy revolver far more likely to strike true than the scattershot spray of those automatic weapons. Some of the projectiles inevitably find their target, but Jane Foster's work — after that initial catastrophic failure against Xihunel's fury — holds up. The impacts will blossom bruises on his shoulders, along his abdomen, on his right thigh, but the armor holds up and the man's drive, fueled by equal parts rage, mule-headed obstinacy, and masochism, propels him past those impacts and into the thick of the fray.

Which isn't to say that he's invulnerable, or insensate — not hardly. Matt feels things deeply. In fact, he experiences the polar opposites of pain and pleasure more acutely than just about anyone on Earth — but a will that is cultivated as assiduously as the rest of his frame gives him a monk's detachment. He's less able to distance himself from what he does to others. He feels ribs creak and give way in deference to his fist, feels capillaries burst where his elbow strikes a temple, feels the crunch of cartilage as his baton shatters a knee. Relish and revulsion cycle through him with every strike, every sweep of the leg, every balletic spinning kick.

Two more down, groaning, bleeding, gasping for air, and another on his way to joining them…

And then his heart catches, freezes for one, two, three seconds as he recognizes the new entrant to the fray. She's as effective as he is, and her methods are far more subtle, but that's not a reality he can absorb in the moment's heat. All he processes is the danger she's in: a fact that at once redoubles his driving rage and sets him off balance, leaving him just barely ducking the slash of that knife and outright catching the crowbar across the back of his head. The Russian who wields it is big and meaty, but he's no Aztec titan: the helmet holds, even if it leaves Matt jarred and stumbling for a heartbeat after.

And the count? Four down, four and a half remaining — and at least another four on their way.

—-

Five's update comes quickly enough: (Murdock does not appear to be carrying a phone. Prepping suite.)

Teeth gritted against the pained outcry of the man whose hand she's busily mangling, Kinsey finally rips the weapon away from him with that clawed foot and drops it on the ground, lashing out a second time to get segmented joints around his throat. She's careful to moderate her pressure then — she doesn't want to kill anyone, though she's shocked to realize in the moment — with Matt being assaulted, the sound of a crowbar landing against the back of his head enough to snatch half of the air out of her lungs — that she's very willing to break that taboo tonight, and all it will require is for someone to give her a reason.

The man she chokes does not. Bleeding and in pain, he may even view the loss of his consciousness as a small blessing, but he isn't the first one to collapse — the narcotics work their magic on the first man and he drops out from underneath her like a sack of wet cement, tilting over backward to land atop her, pinned there by one of her legs. The twist of her limb wrenches the second man off of his feet in an ungainly sprawl, and he fights her for some moments on the ground in a token way, one of his hands badly injured and incapable of helping.

Seconds tick by as she watches the progress of the software suite's loading. Mere seconds, though they feel like an eternity. The muscles of her thigh burn, continuing to fight against the struggling, writhing Russian on the pavement, stubbornly clinging to consciousness.

(Suite ready.)

FIRE IT OH MY GOD FIVE DO YOU NOT SEE WHAT I'M DOING?!

(Initiated.)

Technical specifications on multiple mobile phones are altered in an instant. Ions do things they are not supposed to, demands are made by the processor that should never be made. This, too, takes full seconds that spool out into interminable null time for Kinsey, but eventually bears fruit: multiple phone batteries explode in a contained burst of battery acid. Some of them, depending on make and model, will inevitably catch fire.

—-

There are few things Matt Murdock can't sense within the fifty-yard radius of pandemonium that has overtaken the Hell's Kitchen piers. He can hear the the shallow but steady breath of the man he choke-held minutes ago, he can smell the cold sweat of fear on at least one of the gangsters as he realizes that not one but two costumed freaks have descended upon them. He can even feel the ripples in the air as that crowbar looks to strike him on the temple and lay him low, which is what allows him to raise an armored forearm to block the incoming blow and deliver a savage whack to the Russian's ribs in kind, breaking two on impact.

But hidden from Matt altogether is Kinsey's conversation with her counterpart, and so when heat begins to bloom in the pant-pockets and jackets of the remaining three gangsters, when those blossoms flare out and the acrid scent of battery acid comingled with burning flesh reaches his nostrils, it catches him, it is safe to say, by surprise.

What the actual fuck?, he thinks, as their remaining foes — at least in the immediate vicinity — drop to their knees or begin to scream as bursts of flame flare from their pockets. Little enough time to fully dwell, barely enough time to scan Kinsey for any sign of injury, as three more larger brawlers assigned to the main gate break into a sprint towards their position at the sounds of agony from their compatriots. Matt shakes the fog out of his head and draws the second baton from its sheath, adopting a straddling pose of perfectly poised defiance .

Still, dryly ask: "ETA?"

—-

The woman in the helmet is no more injured than anyone would be after taking a slow, easy spill backward onto the ground, and while her hip is tiring of holding directed tension to pin her second target, he is swiftly succumbing to a lack of air and blood to the brain. Her temperature is elevated, her breathing surprisingly level given the rate of her pulse — which is also slightly less than one might expect. Her limbs are not as long as some, the quantity of muscle it's required to service with freshly oxygenated blood also less — minor but real benefits of her body composition post-accident. Familiar to Matt, at least, for wildly different reasons.

The trick with the phone is handy in a pinch, but it probably won't deter all of them for long. It depends entirely on where the phones are kept; anyone with a phone in a front pocket is probably going to be out of commission — spraying battery acid into anyone's groin is a strong deterrent — but coat pockets may not be as dissuasive, and the downside of underhanded little tricks like that is that people tend to get very, very angry in the aftermath.

With the man gripped in her mechanical foot going lax, she finally pushes at the deadweight of the man on top of her, rolling him off. She releases the second man's throat, lets the clawed configuration collapse back into its default arrangement — there are whisper-soft clicks as locks engage to keep it that way, things that only someone like Matt Murdock can hear. She kips to her feet with liquid grace. She has no advanced training in combat — she was given some training with the Knightwatch, but spent most of her time in the lab — and most of what she's able to do she learned the hard way, in the test kitchen of her life as Six — but her acrobatics have the kind of polish that suggest a lifelong interest in gymnastics.

There's no time to savor the sound of the havoc her software is wreaking on the opposition. Other boots are pinging her sensors and coming fast. A quick flick of the eyes tells her what she needs to know about the Valkyrie.

That synthesized voice, cool as a still spring and smooth as silk, seems at all odds with the moment's tenor. "Two minutes."

Knees slightly bent, she turns to face the direction from which the sound of approach is coming, hands slightly out from her sides, fingers moving a little, as though they could taste the air. "Three more," she says — needlessly, though she cannot possibly know that — before she disappears back the way she came. Not to abandon him, but because her advantage depends on stealth and surprise; she's no match for any of those incoming reinforcements in a stand-up fight.

—-

They are both getting an advance class in what the other can do, and this brief lull between bouts of violence gives Matt the scantest space to process it all. Her foot — or rather the prosthetic that serves as her foot right now — rearranges itself back into neat order with a series of quiet clicks, after which first states the obviuous and subsequently vaults away into the black. He sighs, ducking his head, cricking neck to the left.

I could die here, comes the familiar pang of fear as hears the clack of six racing, heavy footfalls bearing down on him.

He fights through it, and finds he does it more readily than usual by simple virtue of who he thinks he's fighting for. Their battle-cries of fury would serve as a ready enough homing beacon for even a true blind man, much less one who could measure and locate each of them by the race of the individual heartbeats alone. Each is half-a-head taller than Matt, but it doesn't stop him from launching into a flying kick against the first-in-order and knocking him backward. It also doesn't save him from the savage fist laid against his abdomen that sends him staggering bac by the second-in-line. He is, save for his peculiar powers of awareness, not remotely superhuman. What he's won and achieved is the result of training, and as with any conditioning — it has its limits.

He feels bile creep up in his throat as the blow lands, driving him back against the can. He grunts in fury, sending the baton heading toward's his assailant's shoulder before his wrist is stopped mid-flight by a meaty fist and the man's knee is suddenly in his gut. He gasps for breath, ragged, before he summons enough will and strength to plant his feet along the wall behind him and kick himself around the man facing him in the strangest of acrobatic flanks. It serves well enough, allowing him land a savage and — were it not for a bit of restraint — killing blow across the man's jaw and temple. He hurtles towards unconsciousness…

Just as the third compatriot comes up from behind and wraps his arm around Matt's neck, driving his knee into his back.

—-

In the chill darkness of the shadows filling the canyon between containers, Kinsey aims her wrist away from herself and the spent cartridge of the narcotic ejects to make room for the next in a tight ring of the same, loading the way a revolver round would: slid from a cylinder, ready for use. The gesture looks composed, a tiny, controlled movement, practiced and smooth, but inside she's five-alarm fires and the adrenaline in her system is beginning to take its toll: human beings aren't meant to sustain that kind of edge for long. Her thoughts, so orderly and efficient before, have begun to hitch around too many points of data that need considering. The advantages of multithreaded consciousness have limits, and those limits push up hard against the way the brain was designed to deal with sensory information: most people filter the vast portion of it as an autonomous function of the thalamus — sensory gating. Those with less well-equipped filters tend to be autistic or have some other expression of neurological behavior that gets easily overwhelmed by too much happening at once. Kinsey can process more than most people at once, but Five also draws her attention to everything that seems relevant, and at the present moment, engaged in pitched combat in the dark, everything seems relevant to Five — who is just as invested in her continued survival as she is. With time she's improved her threshold for dealing with it exponentially. There was a time not so long ago that she was incapable of spending time in crowds. But this?

It's a test. An endurance trial. Never is that more true than when she circles around the back of his newest opponents to see him being choked by one, the other still standing now potentially in possession of all the opportunity he needs to gut Matt like a fish.

She'd thought she'd understood panic when he was lost in the swarming, rioting music hall — thought that was the limit of the fear she could feel for him.

She was wrong.

Something in her snaps, breaking through years of carefully cultivated military discipline. She bolts forward, strides lengthening to almost unreasonable spacing, and springs like an Olympian hurdler onto his back, arching her spine to throw her weight backward and make it difficult for him to advance on his target. She wraps her artificial arm around his throat and jabs him with not one but two of the syringes in her wrist, a quick calculation based on estimated body weight…

And he doesn't go down.

And Matt, Matt is…

Oh god I'm going to have to kill him, she thinks, with a weightless sickness in her stomach. I have to, it's him or Matt or ME—

But she doesn't have to kill him. Does not kill him. That honor belongs to the first man she drugged, having roused himself from his stupor and crawled to the end of his alley with his rifle in hand to aim hazily and pull the trigger. It passes through the heart of the man on whose back she's riding, a one in a million shot. He's dead before he knows it. His chest erupts in a wildfire of redslicked fabric.

It goes through Kinsey to get there, though.

She feels it like a hard slap low on her left side, then an intense sting. In those first few moments she doesn't understand why she feels suddenly faint: did she get herself with one of the needles on accident? It's the sensation of ribbons of heat descending down the her back and the crease of her hip and thigh that tells her what happened, and she briefly — thanks to shock — marvels at the thought. She'd always wondered what it might feel like. Now she knows.

She and her not-so-noble steed hit the pavement, and mercifully he falls forward this time, giving her some sort of cushion in the landing. It isn't until she begins to bend her knee on her wounded side and plants that foot, puts some increment of weight on it to stand up that she gets a dose of real pain from the wound, and it takes her breath away. The foot skids out backwards instantly as she flinches away from it, a graceless forward fall back onto her stomach from only an inch or two of height, but it's followed by a second attempt — this one more successful. There's no time to be in pain.

Everything erupts into noise and light, then. The water of the harbor begins to sheet and smooth in an oblong shape in the midst of small wavelets, then rises and sheets across sleek, black contours. A massive shape hoves out of the water and vertically into air that shudders with the force of rotor chop from four massive, independently moving rotors. Water streams like liquid silver from the surface in the port lights for the few seconds the canopy is rising and visible, and then blindingly-bright floodlights kick on beneath each actively extending fin of wing, blotting out all sight of the VTOL craft.

(The Valkyrie has arrived,) says Five needlessly — needlessly enough that even in her present state, Kinsey wonders, surprised, if he isn't indulging in a moment of theater.

—-

Matt feels. He feels the iron band of an arm around his neck, feels the panic and euphoria of oxygen deprivation, feels the thick knob of a knee ground into his spine, and feels it dip, dip as his assailant is suddenly weighted down by the sudden reemergence of one Kinsey Sheridan. He feels the assailant stiffen as he's stabbed not once, but twice, by tranquilizers that would put down an elephant… and feels his resilience and redoubled rage at the very affront. And then —

And then he feels — hears, smells — the bullet glide not through one body but two. No. No no no no no no. Fuck NO! His cry is ragged and wild even as the giant behind him finally slackens. He's dead. Unequivocally dead. Meanwhile, the woman whose side was shot through registers as very much alive, even if she grapples with pain, fear, and shock attendant to her injuries. But that still leaves two-dozen down, one to go — the one right in front of him — whom he dispatches with a savage strike of his remaining baton, blood pooling from the wound on his head. He may die, he may not; it's a flip of a coin — and right now Matt Murdock couldn't care less. Especially as he hurls the bludgeon at the dazed man who just shot-through his — his —

The already-downed shooter's eyes snap shut and his neck goes limp when the baton strikes him square in the forehead. And it's only then — when the remainder of their assailants are unconscious or too debilitated by pain to do more damage — that Matt turns his attention back to the heartbeat he's been tracking with trepidation all the while. She's struggling to her feet, and now that these assholes are down she'll have some help, a hand around her shoulder and a frame to lean on as he tries to bring her to a rise beside him, even as the Valkyrie rises from the waters to their west.

"That's — some ride you've got there, lady," he breathes in a broken, breathy quip as he tries to draw her along towards it, past the debris and the downed men. When they near it, he adds in a fierce whisper: "You're gonna be OK."

—-

There's one thing to be said for electing to wear mostly black, and it has been said before, surely, by many others: at least it makes it more difficult for them to see you bleed.

She doesn't want to accept his help when he offers. Rather: Six doesn't want to accept it. It runs against every aspect of the lone operator image she's cultivated in that persona, tampering with a psychology that is emerging as strangely independent of the one she inhabits most of the time. It seems dissonant, inappropriate, to show any kind of weakness, because Six is not human. Six is something other. Something Beyond. A robot, an android. Something.

But Kinsey Sheridan is all too human, and it's Kinsey that makes the concession. The prosthetic that lifts to drape over his shoulders feels nothing like the one he's felt there numberless times before, all alien angles and infinitely lighter, utilizing military-grade materials to achieve its strength. The fingertips still clasp his shoulder in the same way, for all that they're not really hers: gently, and in the same place.

His quip gets him a strange white static burble of sound, the filter's take on a breathy laugh, followed by a clipping of her throat as it closes around the pain that laughing causes. The helmet turns as she looks at him, and even this close it's still impenetrably black and glossy, reflecting his own masked face back at him as a distended parody of itself. "She has a certain style."

The Valkyrie edges forward until the blunted, rounded nose hovers over the cargo dock, and a panel in the underside slides open, dim red light spilling out of it. A heavy-test nylon strap reels groundward, loops stitched along its length at intervals for hands and feet. She releases his shoulder to get her hand around one of them.

"Hold on tight."

It's advice that she means literally rather than any kind of pat cliche, because the Valkyrie doesn't wait for them to be inside of it before the nose rears up and off to one side at a steep pitch, rotors pulling it backward and away, out over the water being churned to milky froth by the dancing air — and taking them with it, dangling below. It gracefully pivots, banks hard, levels out, and then dips its nose like a helicopter to put on speed and race out toward the horizon and an empty stretch of water, and as it does this the line they're clinging to begins to reel them upward. As they're drawn through the hatch the icy blades of the wind suddenly drop off into stillness. The hatch slides noiselessly shut below them, sinks near-seamlessly into the floor again, and virtually all outside noise disappears completely: it is bizarrely silent inside of that craft. It would be easy to believe it weren't moving at all if not for the subtle vibration that travels through the floor.

The red running lights of the Valkyrie in stealth mode don't provide much illumination, painting everything the color of blood and deepening black shadows, but that no doubt matters little to her unexpected guest.

The interior is spacious enough to be a modest dropship, but very clearly retrofitted to serve one person and one person only. The immediately evident rear half of the craft contains supplies — including a standing rack of prosthetics of varying types. Full sets. Some look like the ones he's familiar with, oddly grotesque in their realism; some look like the ones she's wearing. Some look like neither. Like prototypes.

There are cases marked as though they contain missiles. There are lockers. The very back has a small bunk for one with a safety net that clips to the overhang above it.

The cockpit is dark, but from midships appears to be a glistening galaxy of lights in different colors. It's also unoccupied. The chair is…unique, molded to fit a body. Cables dangle from the headrest.

She lets go of the strap and turns, taking two limping steps into the back of the Valkyrie before she tilts into one wall, catching herself with her mechanical hand. Tiny claws spit from the fingertips just enough to bite into the wall's surface and keep her from falling — sheer reflex.

"Why don't you welcome our guest, Five?"

(Are you very sure? The last time I greeted one of your passengers — )

I'm finished with lying. I've had enough. And anyway, he's going to see… She hesitates. She hasn't had time to grapple with the fact that he was clearly able to anticipate his attackers. Sense…see…the limbs anyway. Just…do it. It's time to rip this band aid the fuck off. I'm bleeding and tired and I want to know why he — I just — just do it.

Five's computerized voice emits from the speakers, polite and serene: "Welcome aboard The Valkyrie, Matthew Murdock."

—-

When that hobbling trek and noisy, swinging ascent into the ship's interior done, the masked man surveys the scene around him in his own singular way. He gleans the outline and intricacies of the prosthetics — so many, who knew there would be so many? — and the cases of weaponry, which give him three heartbeats of pause. He takes note of the layout built for solitude, the pilot's seat and headrest with its strange array of plugs. And he wonders, not for the first time tonight, what he really knows of this woman at all.

And that's all before she introduces, in her roundabout way, the other man in her life.

Five is worried Matt will blanche or startle when that disembodied voice sounds in the chamber. He doesn't — perhaps in part because the suit, or the persona he adopts when he wears it, really does tamp down on outward displays of anxiety — or perhaps because he at first regards Kinsey's technological marvel as little more than a souped-up Siri, unworthy of real note. It almost certainly has to do with the distraction prompted by that scratching sound of metallic fingertips searching for support, and — just maybe — by the use of the man's real name.

Ordinarily that casual name-drop would knock the breath out of Matthew Michael Murdock. But in this moment, with his lover bleeding out and clinging to the wall to stay standing, all his anxieties about his identity temporarily fade into the backdrop. "Thanks," he murmurs to the voice in the room — with either nonchalance or distraction — before he brings both hands up to lift off his crimson half-helmet and lets it rest in the crook of one hand. His dark-brown eyes are as unfocused as ever, neither squinting nor searching in the low crimson light as he makes his deliberative, careful way to stand right behind her. The gaze may be vacant, but the typically placid, stoic features are alert, awash with powerful currents of emotion that don't lend themselves to ready identification.

"…are you okay, Kinze?" he whispers as his hand — gentle, but assured in its aim — comes to hover just above her wounded side.

—-

She'd been on her way to one of the rear secure lockers, a cubby containing medical supplies that she has thus far in her career only needed for minor cuts and scrapes — nosebleeds more than anything, really, and an enormous bottle of Excedrin for associated headaches. It's the first time she's needed it for anything more substantial, and as she leans heavily into her hand, knees bent and shoulders rounded forward, it seems to her an absurd oversight to have placed it so far from the retrieval line — and on the top row of lockers, too. What had she been thinking? Another wrinkle to iron out in her system, another unforseen detail in the existence of Six. For all of its closeness — ten feet, maybe — it seems in those moments very far away. Blood loss and her body's hyper-intensive use of sugars whenever she uses any of her abilities are conspiring to make her knees turn to water.

It's pride that keeps her upright. She's strong, determined. Her body is wounded but her will is still intact, and she knows already, entirely on instinct, that he's going to be judging her competence for a life like this one, tilted on the scales by his own protective instincts — if he can even bring himself to accept it.

A very open question.

She doesn't want him to see weakness in her.

She can feel the air currents behind her change, growing dense as he closes in, and her eyes open, her helmet turns to the side, a smooth, dark profile. She sees him in her periphery but also in a small video feed from the interior of the craft, viewing them both from above and behind.

The sound she makes when he asks that question and the heat of his palm radiates into the thin, peculiar material of her bodysuit is a burble of something like static, a breathy laugh, maybe. "I always wondered what that would feel like." He'll see and hear and maybe even feel her ribs expand several times as she takes shallow breaths in the pause that follows, then: "It hurts more than I thought it would."

Slowly, she lifts her hands toward the slant of the helmet's lower edge, the organic one trembling, slim gloved fingers containing enough tremor that it takes her a moment to reach back and prise several cables out from where they snake underneath and plug into…something. Her head. They plug into her head, into tiny needle-sized ports in the bony curve behind her ear, through skin that isn't entirely skin, polymers grafted to flesh, virtually indistinguishable from her own: the same thing she skinned her prosthetics with, on a tiny, dot-like scale. Once they detach she hooks her thumbs beneath the helmet and lifts, pushing it up, off. The interior, briefly glimpsed, is a complexity of half-seen images before it goes dark on sensing that she isn't wearing it anymore. She lowers it, half-drops it on the narrow bench seat that runs the interior of the hull on that section of midships.

There is no dramatic waterfall of dark hair: she keeps it pinned up in a messy, utilitarian twist, ends secured with bobby pins that glint dully in the running lights.

But it's her, anyway. It's definitely her, any final denials or lingering doubts obliterated finally and forever when she turns around with a heavy limp and reaches for either side of his face to clasp the ropy muscle that joins throat to shoulder, her own expression — lily-pale with blood loss — twisted with a sudden surge of emotion that she has no name for. A cousin of grief, maybe. The tears well up quickly, fat droplets swift to fall.

"I wish you had told me," she says, voice gone tight and hoarse. This is what she wanted even moments ago, but now that it's happening her heart is pounding, her knees are already like rubber, and the momentous weight of it hits her like a ton of bricks. "I wish I had told you and I came so close to telling you so many times but it wasn't safe, Matt, it wasn't safe to tell you and it's not safe now that they've seen you with me, it's just going to get worse and maybe if I'd told you you wouldn't have been there tonight and I wouldn't — we wouldn't — " The words tumble out of her like rushing water, eventually breaking up over the rapids of silent, hiccuping sobs that hitch her chest. "Oh my god, they were going to kill you!"

—-

She reaches out to cup his features with both hands — one organic, the other nakedly mechanical. He feels the warmth of the first, the cool touch of the second, and shivers. Anguish — detectable now, beating out competing emotions and rising to the surface — tightens his jaw and draws back his lips and forces out a brief puff of bitter exhale from his lips. He wants to push back, to tell her (rightly or wrongly) that he's survived worse, that he would have been just fine and she shouldn't have inserted herself — but however strongly he feels it, what good would it possibly do to say it?

"Shhh, shhh," he offers instead in wordless reassurance before making to deliver a fierce kiss to her pale forehead. A few beats later, he's admitting in a fervent, halting hush: "I — I almost did tell you. That — that morning after the concert when I gave you that necklace, the ward. I wanted to give it to you — it made sense — but what I really wanted to show you was the mask." He feels the rattling, bone-shaking sigh in ever millimeter of his frame, before he murmurs a fierce: "I'm — so sorry."

For lying to her? For letting her get hurt? Take your pick.

Her pallor won't register for him, but the hand that hovered above her side comes to rest some inches above the point of injury, taking stock of breath and bloodflow, searching for hitches in breath that might suggest punctured organs, damaged ribs, or stray bits of projectile still lodged within her. None of those options save the first seem especially likely. A high velocity round through the abdomen can do shockingly little damage, as long as it doesn't pierce something vital or nick the lining of the intestines in a way that leads to internal bleeding or infection. Blood loss is the biggest killer, which is why the cooler half of Matt's brain reasserts itself and says:

"We can talk about. About all of it. But right now we really need to patch you up. Like, right the fuck now."

—-

He kisses her forehead and it only makes her cry harder, lifting her gloved hand to cup it over her mouth and squeeze her eyes shut as though she could stop the tears through pressure, holding her breath and locking everything into a vacuum. It makes her cry harder because it makes her feel so stupid for keeping it from him for this long, thinking he might not be able to accept it — her — and justifying that by saying it would keep him safer if he didn't know. And it might have, but how much safer? Did she miscalculate the formula offered to her by one Jessica Jones? To tell someone her secret when it became important for them to know?

Whether it's his tone or her need — physical or emotional or mental, the need to reclaim some control over the situation, over her emotions, over anything at all — she sucks a deep breath as a sniff and opens her eyes again, too wet and bright, to nod and chance a brief glance up at him — it makes no sense to hesitate to look at him, he's blind but then — is he? Is he really? How can that be possible? Every rule she thought she understood about him has been broken. Case in point, the hand hovering over the place she's wounded: tissue damage only. There's bleeding internally but it's not the gushing sort that indicates the bullet clipped anything critical, just the kind of bleeding that happens when a person gets shot.

Bringing her wrist to her mouth she clips the edge of her thin glove with her teeth and then strips it off so that she can wipe tears off of her face, out from underneath either eye. Damp skin glows as the red lights gradually transition up toward something golden and more natural, brightening the interior — for her, not for him. "The locker on the end," she says, taking her glove from her teeth. "On the top row." It emanates a quiet magnetic sound as it unlocks, and the door pops open by about half an inch. Kinsey sinks down, her weight dragging on his shoulder for a moment as her legs give out in a controlled melt onto the bench seat behind her, beside her helmet. "It has medical supplies in it. …Dumb. Should've put it closer to the hatch. Never really…never really thought about it."

Five cuts in: "The Valkyrie is now twelve nautical miles from shore."

Head tilted back to rest against the wall, Kinsey's eyes close, her brows very faintly knit. "Alright. Good. We can stay here for a while, just…stay on top of sweeps."

"And if we are pursued by hostile Russian agents into international waters?"

Kinsey's lips press together, full curves into a more bloodless line. What she wants to say, after toinight, is sink them.

"Then dive and we'll deal with it later."

"Understood."

—-

Matt tastes the salt in the air as Kinsey's eyes overspill, and his breath hitches a little in his chest. The pain she's in — physical and emotional both — he'll inevitably own and claim as his resonsibility. That much should be readily apparent from the misery etched on his fair, stubbled features when she hazards that brief glance up at him. But here, with her bleeding out in her own ship, he can't allow himself to be swept away in should-haves and self-recriminiations. There will be more than enough time for that soon enough. Instead, he'll provide a rock-steady shoulder of support while she lowers herself down to the seat.

He, of course, is not the only one who is breaking preconceptions tonight. She speaks, and the ship seems to obey her every whim, doors unlatching and the disembodied voice of the ship computer asking her questions and carrying out her orders like something out of Star Trek. He'll do the slightest of double-takes when he hears the latch open, but will quickly pivot and make for the locker in question with more confidence in his movements than he's ever dared show her before. He opens the door, quickly rifles through the supplies, and eventually pulls a small medical kit out.

"Those Russians are gangsters, not military, or like, Borris and Natasha… so I wouldn't worry too much about them following us with a warship or anything," Matt is saying quietly as he walks back and kneels directly in front of her, kit in hand. "We're… gonna need to get your shirt and jacket out of the way, Kinsey."

—-

"Russian gangsters," Kinsey says, a murmur more to herself than for any other reason. "Working for CGI? Working with CGI?" It's difficult to think her way through things just at the moment, but she can't help how she's wired. She toys with that thought as she listens to him search a locker for something specific — something medical, which only brings to mind the day in his office not long ago that she'd taken care of his bleeding head because she'd believed he wasn't able to see the stains for himself. It throws her for a loop all over again, with the feeling of a rug being yanked underneath her feet. Not hard enough to topple her, but hard enough to keep her off-balance.

She opens her eyes again as he sinks down in front of her, and with a nod lifts her hands to the lapels of her over-jacket to begin undoing fastenings to peel it back toward her shoulders, away, down.

The place that her prosthetic arm joins her real one — just above the elbow — is no longer blurred into near-invisibility by whatever polymer she used to recreate the texture, warmth, and yield of skin. It's strictly utilitarian in this model, padded with some sort of reactive gel for comfort where alloys meet flesh, and extensively reinforced in its attachment to her body with a web of straps that connect with the lightly armored over-the-shoulder vest that hugs her body from bust to hip height. Too lightly armored for assault rifle rounds: she was obviously not planning for heavy resistance.

All of the points for securing that layer to her body are on the side. It takes her a little time to unbuckle and uncinch things, releasing the over-the-shoulder straps so that the whole thing collapses off of her onto the bench. The layer beneath is not unlike what he started out wearing early in his career, a slick, fitted bodysuit layer of a material that looks like spandex, and isn't. The hole in it — in the front, where the bullet left her body — is large enough to see glistening red wound edges on fair skin.

She doesn't bother to try taking the suit off. One index finger spits the very end of a claw out, and she uses that to slice an ample opening in the material. Easier than trying to wrestle herself out of long sleeves, by far.

"How?" Inevitable, that question. "How do you do it?"

—-

"Not sure yet," is Matt's simple answer to her apt questions about the connection between CGI and the Russian mob as he tries to help her disentangle herself from her clothing. "But they're definitely connected. Some of the Russians I've seen around before were at another CGI holding." %RAn obvious question, maybe, and certainly one that he should have expected sooner rather than later, but it still takes him two long heartbeats to respond. In no small part because it's only the second time in his life he's ever had to explain it. "It's… a long story," Matt says slowly as he removes his crimson gloves, opens the kit, and finds the tools he'll need to do his work: sterilized gauze pads, tape. "Brass tacks? I'm blind. My eyes are useless. But the accident that took them away from me gave me other ways to make sense of the world. I can't see, but my sense of taste, touch, smell, hearing, even proprioception — they all shot through the roof."

His gaze, ever unfocused, takes on an even more distant look as he continues — though his hands are deft and steady as they bring the gauze pad to the exposed wound at her side and tapes it up. "At first I didn't understand what was happening to me — the hospital sheets felt like sandpaper, the smell of the disenfectants, the people — it was all too much." Then it's time for the back side, he'll navigate to the side so that he can find the right angle before attempting to similarly bind up her exit wound. "It took weeks for me to adjust, months to learn how to literally filter out the noise. And it was a full year before I learned everything I could do with my gifts. And that only with help from someone who understood what I was going through."

He'll try to claim a seat on the bench beside her, try to keep one hand on either side of her injury. "Pressure's the most important part, really."

—-

Kinsey manages a twist of the lips to one side when he tells her it's a long story. "Looks like I've got time."

She's silent while he begins to try to assemble these confounding pieces of his life, jigsaw fragments of something enormous, and it's almost as interesting to her to hear how he puts them together as it is to hear the details themselves, because she's long thought about how should would explain her own condition if the need arose. Jessica Jones got pieces, but Jessica Jones doesn't know about Six — only that Kinsey is good with computers and able to manipulate electricity at a touch. It's so much broader than that, Kinsey hardly counts that conversation (save in all of the ways that matter, all of the most dangerous ways).

She only breaks her silence to hiss in a breath as he places gauze on her first wound, and then again over the second. She'll bleed enough to stain both even before he begins to put pressure on them, and that pressure causes her to knock the back of her head gently against the sidewall of the Valkyrie, tilting it back and her chin upward as she holds her breath and squeezes her eyes shut, fighting not to make a sound. To be strong, because she desperately needs him to see her that way, rather than as someone playing a game she's not competent enough to play.

His words are hauntingly familiar — especially his recollections from the period of his hospitalization. Familiar enough that they cause uneasy chills to walk their fingers down the line of her spine, floating her stomach on a cloud of something tense.

"That's how I remember it too," she says, when she's sure that her voice will resemble itself, the layers of pain peeled away from it. "I knew something had happened that I didn't understand, even before I woke up. They put me in a medically induced coma to help me survive, but I was…in there. And one day I found myself someplace I…" Words fail her. She remembers how it had seemed to her altered mind then, incapable yet of making sense of electronic impulses, Five not yet wholly integrated with her: like being submerged in a multidimensional starfield, with no control over her movement through it. "Someplace I didn't understand. There were lights, but I had no eyes, it was like a…daydream, or…" In the brief silence as she tries to collect her thoughts, she lifts her hand and places it tentatively atop the one on her abdomen. She is cautious to use her real hand — something she's never had to be with him, before.

"I found out gradually that it was the ICU monitor because of changes to my biofeedback, but it took my winding up in the hospital security system before I understood. Security cameras in the halls. I had eyes again for the first time in months. I couldn't go very far at first, it exhausted me, but by the time they were almost ready to wake me up I could travel the whole floor I was on." She lets her lids open just a little, fans of lash lifting slightly from pale cheeks, gaze unfocused on the floor across the aisle. "Saw my own surgeries. That was wild."

There's a long pause, and then she tilts her head to let eyes drowsy with shock train on his face. "That was a year ago for me, but you — that was when you were young. You told me. But you can't have been…this…" She gestures between them, "For long. The DEO didn't have you on file. I would have remembered."

—-

She tries to be strong for him, but Matt can feel in his palms and fingers the arc and twist of her writhing muscles away from the pain radiating from those twin pressure points. His gut instinct is to relent, but that would be a disservice to her, so he keeps the hands on either side of her steady and firm as he listens to her recount experiences that resonate so deeply — almost eerily — with his own.

And yet there are differences. For one, her time trapped in her own comatose body, her recounting of which sends prompts a surge of symapthy from a man who has always hated hospitals, and always hated being out of control. The other difference is the nature of her talents: Matt's experiences with computers and technology has been necessarily limited these past sixteen years. The idea of someone's consciousness being able to enter ICU monitors, security systems, or anything of the kind is a point of minor, unvoiced astonishment. But it was all right there, wasn't it? Just what she'd laid out in her thesis on their first date. "Consciousness as data," he murmurs dryly. "Pretty wild."

To her own question, his head dips. Confessing the what's of it all was easier than he expected, especially when those experiences so quickly found their match in Kinsey's. The why's, however, give him pause. "I only started this late last year," he begins softly. "I - I knew my dad would hate it. Even before the accident, he didn't wanted me to be a suit-and-tie wearing professional. Practically forbade me from taking up sports. I resented him for it at the time, but he just… wanted better for me, you know? So I tried not to do… this. For him."

He sighs, grimaces, shakes his head, and adds in rueful addendum: "But this city, Kinsey. It's like the world's largest emergency room. Almost every time I step outside my apartment or office, I can hear people that need help. I can smell smoke from a fire taking place a mile away, hear the fear in the voice of robbery victim five blocks down. The first time I put on a mask, it was to ah, — confront — a guy in a building near mine who'd been abusing his own child, and who bullied his wife into lying to the police about it. I only knew enough to call the cops on him in the first place because — I could hear it. And when that didn't work…"

He draws in a breath. "I had to take matters into my own hands."

—-

Consciousness as data. Pretty wild.

She can hear her own voice as a memory overlaid atop his own, and her brows knit as she succumbs to a very short, mostly-silent laugh, righting her head again, eyes up at the ceiling, then closed. Her expression seamlessly blends humor, rue, and something near to regret. "Yeah," she says, quietly. "Pretty wild."

She's silent while she listens, but not passive. Her brows crease together again more than once as he attempts to explain how his second life emerged, crafting it from the building blocks of whatever strange gifts his accident gave him — and they are strange. Senses that delicate — she tries to imagine what that would be like and fails, knowing only that it would reduce her to drooling catatonia.

"When I said that's how I remember it, I meant…what you'd said, about everything being too much. Your senses. I was suddenly sensing everything around me. Things weren't being filtered. But…what you're describing, that kind of sensitivity…" She lifts her hand off of his, threading her fingers back into her hair and swallowing, throat clicking, dry. "How do you even focus? I wonder if you've developed mitigating neurological pathways. There's so much we don't know about the limits of neuroplasticity…" The pause is thoughtful; what comes afterward is not, necessarily, though it makes a bid for rueful wryness. "I guess that explains why you're the booty whisperer."

For a moment she tugs her lower lip with her teeth, visibly debating whatever words are gathering on her tongue. Her head tilts again, eyes reopened to regard him, and if it isn't the blood loss or the hour or the delicacy of the subject matter then there's some other reason for her eyes to be that soft, hung with something heavy that translates into her tone. "Matt…people are always going to need help. Every city is a parade of tragedies and you can't…you can't fix them all. But you're trying to make things better. And I don't know your dad so…" The full curve of her mouth presses into a thin, bloodless line. "So I'm just guessing here, and maybe this isn't appropriate, I don't know." She was going to just come out with it, but thinking about it gives her pause enough to ask, instead: "Can I tell you what I think?"

—-

"But you obviously learned how to filter eventually, right?" Matt answers back when she peels back the curtains a little further on her inner life. It's not rhetorical — it's an honest question attendant to a great and growing list to help make the connection between the triple-amputee in the hospital bed she was after her accident and the badass cyborg with a stealth ship she is a year later.

The rueful ribbing she gives him prompts a little roll of useless brown eyes, but also strikes at something true. It's impossibly strange, how close they've become without actually knowing about the most important parts of each other's lives. And then realizes with startling clarity that this was, all along, a feature and not a bug in their relationship. He had the advantage of knowing she was keeping things from him, even if he only had an incomplete picture of what those things entailed. That knowledge gave him permission to hide the secrets he is only now slowly divulging by necessity.

It's part of why you picked her, Matt. Right from the first goddamn handshake.

"We're all more malleable than you'd think," he continues on the matter of neuroplacsticity, trying to set aside thoughts that the roiling waters of his mind are allowing to drift up to the surface. "The, ah, man, who taught me how to fight also taught me to meditate. That was kind of a revalation. Being able to hone in on one thing — whether it was my breath or the sound of someone else's heartbeat, it didn't really matter. And you don't try to block out the rest. You accept the noise, but keep coming back home. When I picked up that trick, it was a breakthrough. For a lot of reasons."

She's saying a lot of things then, that touch on the core of who he is and what he thinks he's doing. He gives her a good hearing, his searching brown eyes betraying his grappling with a multitude of thoughts, if not their content. There's a lot he could say, but he won't, because first he has to answer her question.

And the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a gentle, wry: "Go ahead, lady. Hit me with it."

—-

"I'm…learning." Hesitation occupies the space between the words, and hearing it she's quick to amend: "I've come a long way. Crowds don't bother me anymore. I'm up to two drones without walking into anything. I was piloting the Valkyrie when she picked us up."

But.

The word never crosses her lips, but it hangs there nevertheless, something to spite her eager protests. "I still have a lot to learn, though," she admits, more quietly. Meditation. Focusing on one thing. She's training herself to actively do precisely the opposite of that very thing. They probably do not, she thinks, make meditation courses for people who want to focus on several things at once.

Still, she can recognize the spark of potential there, and she files that away with other things to be considered when there's room to breathe. "I wish I'd had a mentor," is what she murmurs, a little wistful. It probably hadn't been all sunshine and rainbows for Matt — tutelage almost never is — but a lifeline, maybe…

He gives her permission to say what she wants to say, and even the permission itself has weight. She's suddenly not so sure this is a place she's meant to tread.

Everything else is in the bonfire tonight, though. If not now, then when?

"You know me, Matt. If I say something that's out of line, I want you tell me I'm being an idiot." Disclaimer made, she bites the inside of her cheek, tries to order her thoughts against the floating feeling that accompanies blood loss.

"From what you've said, it sounds like your dad didn't think he had much choice about what he did. Not that he hated it, exactly, because — remember, we were out at dinner, and you told me that he said everybody who got in the ring deserved your respect, when you'd talk trash about the guys he was fighting? So there was something there he respected, anyway, but he thought — he was your dad. You were better than that to him. Kids idolize their fathers." She pushes a short breath out through her teeth. "God. I know I did Maybe do. Plus…Irish, boxing…there's that whole…subculture…" She gestures meaninglessly, turns her eyes to focus on the opposite side of the aircraft. "It would be so easy for you to have wanted to follow him into it. Even anything like it. But I don't know…" She wants to shift, uneasy, but she can't. "I don't know if he would have hated what you're doing. You passed the bar, you — you know? And then when you decided to get into the ring last year, finally, it wasn't because you had to, it's because you chose to. You have choices, you just…" Her gesturing hand extends into the air in front of her just a little, fingers barely moving, as though she could lift the texture of his life directly from it. "You chose to make things better for some people. And even if he didn't want you getting shot by Russian gangsters on a cargo dock, because what dad ever does? — then at least, given what you've said, he'd have to respect you for getting into the ring. He told you to remember to do that. It still counts if it's you that's in there."

She swallows again, and her hand makes a quiet sound against her thigh when she drops it. "You and your crazy guilt. You apologized to me for being wounded."

The pause that follows is only brief. "I've tried to tell myself my parents would understand. I know…well…no. It's different with me, with my parents. Really different. But the feeling of betraying something they gave you or wanted for you, even though you know you have to do what you're doing, that part…I understand."

—-

Matt's eyebrows loft upwards when she tells him she'd been piloting the ship that picked them up — all while stumbling across the piers with him, gutshot. Impressive is the unspoken but easily registered sentiment.

And he is — predictably — quick to push back sighs wistfully for a mentor, though not before he'll give a deep-chested, frame-shaking chuckle. "Trust me, Kinze, you don't have any reason to be jealous of me on that count. However much he taught me, Stick was — is — a sonofabitch."

And then she's offering her perspective, which sees Matt's expressive gaze register equal parts appreciation, apprehension — and something far less easy to define. Her perspective offers the opportunity for forgiveness, or at least reconciliation, with his father's ghost. It's a compassionate, realistic, and emminently practical point of view that — were he to adopt it — would almost certainly improve his life.

He can't, or won't, for reasons he's still, for all their disclosures over the past hour, unwilling to divulge. The roots of his guilt run deep, and she's touched on one of the larger tendrils in her speech. His jaw tightens, and if she could hear his heartrate, she'd note it going a mile a minute. Enough of that anxiety and conflict is present in his voice to register, though. "Maybe — maybe you're right," he says slowly, hazarding a brief, lame attempt at a half-smile. "I'd like to think so, at least. Chances are he would've… called me an idiot and a sucker to my face. Maybe been proud of me in private, sure. Who knows? But I still think that, no matter what — it, this, would've made him sad. Me getting bloody the way he did. Thanks, though — for the encouragement."

And then he turns her attention to her afterthought, which narrows in on some of his own nagging questions about all… this… around them. "Why?" Matt's brows drip quizically downward. "Why do you feel you're betraying something they gave you? Because you left service?"

—-

She can't hear his heartbeat, but she can see what happens to the muscle hinging his jaw, and her expression shifts, hangs itself on — not regret, but something like that. She no longer knows if her small smile and downcast gaze are things he can sense or not — can he hear the movement of her muscles? Sense the change in the air as her lashes shift position..? — but it comes and she lets it, and keeps her thoughts about his demurral to herself. It's already more than she'd intended to say, but as her follow-up suggests, there are personal pangs bound up in her perception of his situation.

He asks, as he almost inevitably must. The small smile lingers on, retaining some of its rue and wistful character, and her eyes remain downcast, but this time everything about her is turned inward in open regard of the thing at the very core of her strange situation.

When she does finally speak, it's in a tone of voice coated with memory. "My parents are such patriots." She utters a little note of mirthless humor. "Especially dad. He was proud of me when I declined Stark's job offer. I don't suppose there are too many people out there who could say the same. The Sheridans are all military, of course. Just another rising star in the family tradition, that was me." She pauses, stitching her brows together, eyes distant. "I was…" Pause. Even though he has secrets that could destroy her now — worse, infinitely more dangerous to her, than the nature of her work and the iron-clad NDAs that she virtually had to sign in blood — she still, even after all of this time, feels uneasy compromising that operational security.

"I was designing systems for DEO officers to use. Five was the iteration of the AI I was working with when the accident…happened. I thought I was helping. Building something that would keep people who protected other people alive." She turns her head, slants her eyes down at the sleek, upside-down helmet on the bench next to her. "I was wrong. So now, their little girl is maimed, sure, but they could probably get past that. Battle wounds, like I told you before. It's what I do, though. It's not…it isn't straightforward like what you do, Matt. I'm not out there turning in abusers and putting out fires, and…" Her abdomen tightens under his hand in spite of the pain, reflecting tension that builds internally. "I can't fix what I got wrong without breaking the law."

She turns her head away, then. "A lot."

—-

Matt's lips quirk upwards when Kinsey describes her parents' fierce pride, their patriotism. Patriotism is normally not an emotion that illicits strong feelings one way or another from Matt Murdock, but he's looking at the pair with her eyes now, and in a way that sheds as much light on her as it does on them.

Then she's describing her work — that 'can't tell you or I'd have to kill you' business she mentioned over coffee months ago — along with a brief mention of the extent of her injuries. The man kneeling before her can't give her arm the reassuring squeeze he wants to give. Those hands are already too busy keeping her blood bottled up at both ends. And besides, any gesture of sympathy would be short-lived after that last confession.

What did you expect, Murdock? She's no wannabe hero like you; she was always either a thief or a spy. You knew it from when she brought you those stolen CGI docs. Hell, you knew it from when you shook her cybernetic hand outside the Manhattan skyscraper that had just been cased. You're going to cry about it NOW?

He doesn't, of course. Cry, that is. He struggles to keep his features neutral, and the hands at her side stay firmly in place, with only the tensing of his fingertips against skin and skin-tight material alike betraying any of his internal struggle with this new revelation. It's five full heartbeats before Matt speaks, and when he does, his voice is tight but carefully schooled to neutrality. It is a tone that withholds judgment. "Can you tell me what you got wrong? And — why you have to break the law to fix it?"

—-

The tightening of his fingertips might be enough. It's a very long time before she speaks again, though by that time her voice is moderated as well as it had been before.

"Five is…"

"A fully working artificial intelligence." Five's voice. Machine-based, artificial. Smooth, pleasant to listen to.

Masculine — if perhaps in a slightly androgynous way.

"…Yes. Fully sentient…for a given value of sentience. It has no emotions of its own."

'Its.' She hears herself say that word, reassuringly neutral, and knows precisely why she's doing it. She's always referred to Five as 'him' inside of the privacy of her own skull because Five was equipped with masculine speech synthesizers from the very beginning. Stripping him — it — of even that arbitrary gender feels bizarrely unethical. Knowing that she's choosing to because she's afraid of frightening Matt off only compounds the feeling of transgression.

"I was developing AI like Five for the DEO. Every DEO officer would be equipped with an AI like Five, linked similarly to the way Five and I are linked — able to send information by thought. Communication, battlefield situational information based on interpreted sensory data. These AI were intended to link together and exchange that data. It would have virtually eliminated critical gaps between acquisition of combat intelligence and tactical response. The DEO only hires vanilla humans into its Knightwatch squads, ostensibly to avoid conflict of interest with metahuman agendas. When you pit normal, everyday humans — granted, the cream of the crop, combat-wise, but still very, very mundane — against people like Superman or Spider-Man or…" She gestures vaguely, summing up the whole of their hidden world in that impatient gesture, "…they need every edge they can get. I wanted to give them that edge. I believed in what I was doing."

Her throat outlines her swallow, the play of muscles and sinews beneath pale skin. She dips her head some moments after that, looks down at her fingers as she picks at blood dripped onto her leggings. "You probably find that very naive. I trusted our government. I believed in the system, in its…its desire to serve the people, all people. I never thought it was infallible, I'm not an idiot, but I was always taught to…I wanted…"

She coasts into a helpless silence, but eventually something in her hardens. "It doesn't matter. They can't be trusted with my work. It's going to cause more harm than good, and I'm the only person who can fix that. Beyond that, they have every last piece of information about what happened to me. All of the post-accident information, everything from my time in the hospital…" She brings her organic hand up and rubs her face, eyes closed. "I didn't tell them what I was because I wasn't sure they'd let me go. They have no idea. I can't just…ask for highly classified materials. I'm a civilian. If they find out what happened, I feel pretty confident I'm going to wind up spending the rest of my life being vivisected every other Tuesday, but I need to know what I am. What this is. Whether or not they can use this to hurt other people. And now…"

Anxiety forms a sudden fist in her stomach. "Now some asshole named Wesley with this impossibly clean public record is sniffing around, asking questions, and Spider-Man's friend might get hurt just because Spider-Man was seen in my company. Once. Just once. I can't — they threatened his family. I don't know who these people are, all I know is that he works for CGI. I have two choices. I can turn myself over to this guy, or I can find out what CGI is, why they want to find me, how to protect Spider-Man and his friend."

Her determined tone slips at the end. "I…offered to turn myself in. Spider-Man didn't want me to. I don't want to. I don't want to wind up on some metal table in the lab I used to work in. I mean…I'll do it, if it comes down to it, but…" Her artificial hand turns palm upward, astonishingly complex fingers splaying open, curling closed, opening again; she watches it, and eventually it's clear that she's not going to continue that sentence.

—-

She bares her deeply conflicted soul, and it's no wonder that Matt's own reaction is complicated. He is torn between two — no, three — competing and mutually exclusive impulses. The first is to grill her as brutally as any lawyer cross-examining a witness on the stand, asking any and all of the two-dozen follow-up questions that her story practically begs to be asked. The second is to reassure her, let her know that he'd fight fifty-Russians, do battle with ruthless criminal empires, hell, even fight a jumped-up god just to keep her from the fate that she alludes to. He's done all that in the last week anyway. And the third is, of course, to cut and run once he's sure she won't die tonight.

But when she's finished, one thought comes to the fore, and he hears it in the voice of one Franklin Nelson, Esquire:

Congrats, buddy! Your robot girlfriend invented Skynet. Hell, your robot girlfriend might BE Skynet.

And, followed quickly on its heels:

What's this thing with her and Spider-man, anyway?

"I'll help on the CGI front," is what Matt finally says. "I — don't understand what they want, but I have some of the pieces. What they're willing to do to get what they want is bad enough. The rest, your beef with the DEO, and your — condition…"

It's a long beat that follows — an undisguised moment of deliberation as he weighs what his next move is visa vi the woman beside him and the three options before him: fighting her, loving her, and leaving her. He takes in a long breath, drawing in the varying scents of blood, sweat, and tears that have marked the evening — but also the complex bouquet of fragrances he'd associated with her before this mad nightmare of a night. And at the end of it, there's a weary exhale that carries a whiff of resignation.

"Some of those Russians might have seen you shot," he ventures quietly, in what might at-first appear to be a non-sequitur, but is in fact a choice — at least for the moment. "Which means they'll be watching ERs. I know someone who could arrange a quick fix, but she's out of the country. If there's a safe space we can get you… I can take a few days off work. Foggy will pick up slack."

His lips quirk upward at their corners before he adds, first dryly: "I'm… kind of a walking med-lab, anyway."

And then fiercely: "I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

—-

He'll help, he says.

Of course he says that. Of course he will.

It hadn't seemed like such a foregone conclusion before she'd told him, granted, but now that the moment has come it feels as though no other eventuality could have been possible, because that's Matt Murdock all over, isn't it? The man who promised her he'd keep her safe when they were walking the streets of his neighborhood just after his release from the hospital. She'd found that so endearing, then — before she knew just how dangerous he actually is. No wonder he'd said it the way that he had, with the kind of quiet confidence that eschews all bravado.

What comes after that sounds like the segue into a judgement. She braces herself for it: this is the government they're talking about. And not just any branch of the government, either — the one specifically created in order to manage people just like them. Dangerous, well-funded people.

He renders his judgement sidelong and slant. It's no guarantee that he's in anything for the long haul, but then that was never what this relationship was about, was it? It was an experiment from the very beginning — an experiment with the weakest of hypotheses: that she could manage to negotiate the difficulties of having two lives but still cultivate some sort of social life on the side, some little piece of normalcy. Maybe even something sweeter than that, something intimate and personal. They did that, in spite of the odds. And those odds…! So much steeper than she could possibly have understood at the time, and still, here they are.

It has to be good enough, then, doesn't it? To say that he'll stay — for now. Even if he doesn't clarify what that means for more than just the next few days, because those were always the terms of the arrangement, and it would be unfair to change them now.

Kinsey is right-handed. It's her right hand that was lost. The black and silver alloys of the very obviously mechanical prosthetic she's wearing are nothing like the warm, comforting synthetic materials of her usual limb, but they are still /part of her/. A different part of her — a part he's just found out about, and a part he may not be able to reconcile with what he thought he knew, but no less than the other set. Any of the other sets.

She's careful when she lifts it and reaches to cradle the side of his face. The movements are all hers, down to the very last quality: the spacing of her fingertips at the cut of his jaw's hinge, the placement of the pad of her thumb where it always sits, just beneath his cheekbone. It is simultaneously absolutely familiar and completely foreign all at the same time, but it is her /choice/ to touch him with the piece of herself he doesn't know.

And she leans, in spite of her wounded stomach, to tilt her head and seek his mouth with hers.

The voice that filters softly through the speakers of the Valkyrie's interior is precisely the same as the one that emanated from her helmet, synthetic, not hers. But it /is/ her.

"I know you won't."

—-

His promise is indeed limited. Their similarities run deeper than he ever imagined, but differences — in their approaches, methods, and goals — loom on the horizon. There is, at the very least, a good deal to talk about and understand before he can decide anything beyond the next few days of caretaking to which he's committed.

The pledge is also, however qualified, absurd. He just failed to keep her from harm rather spectacularly, and it may have been only the speedy arrival of the Valkyrie that left either of them alive for this revelation and delicate, incremental renegotiation of their relationship. But were she able to judge his heartbeat, she'd read it steady and true — he means what he says, for whatever the word of Matt Murdock is worth.

Still, she finds it compelling enough to accept, and greets him with the sort of tender words and gestures that wouldn't raise an eyebrow ordinarily… except that both the hand that graces his jaw and the voice that greets his ears are decidedly Six's, and not Kinsey's.

Matt's relationship with her prosthetics has always been complex. On the one hand, his hypersenses made out even her day-to-day versions for the high-class simulacrums they were within minutes. They were astonishingly good fakes, but still fakes. On the other, aside from that brief double-taking moment of WTF, he accepted them without any outward and very little inward fuss. As a product of her intelligence, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination, they were — as far as he was concerned — a part of her.

That's easier to do when the prosthetics are meant to emulate flesh and blood: when they communicate, however imperfectly, the texture, temperature, of the living article. But even if the cool touch of metal — or carbon, or whatever space-age material she's built these with — differs markedly from the hand he's allowed to grace his features in the exact same way dozens of times in the past, it still communicates something of the woman whose thoughts guide it. Just as the the synthetic voice — worlds apart from the natural tone he's praised repeatedly in the past — still registers her thoughts, her will — and her faith in him.

Even so, the metal arm, the mechanical voice, it would all be too much, even for Matt, were they not accompanied by all the other familiar sensations he's come to associate with her in the five-month arc of their relationship. The mixture of soap, shampoo, and her natural fragrance; the thrum of her heartbeat, even if it's more sluggish than usual; the warmth of her breath on the stubble of his chin as she leans closer. It's those anchor points, amid the dizzying rush of the new and disquieting, that he holds to as he meets her for a tender, soft-lipped kiss.

Through the uncounted moments that follow his hands remain steady where they are, on either side of torso, palms slick from applying relentless pressure to bandages nearly soaked through.

"So much trouble," he murmurs dryly when they part.

—-

Strange, to hear those words and feel as though the last time he said them to her — in his sunny kitchen, breakfast on the table and a whole lot of uncertainty being bravely forded through — was longer ago than it really has been. How long? A month — two at the outside?

It seems like an age.

She starts to laugh, the sound all breath, and winces. It can't quite sweep the relieved affection off of her face, or out of her tone as she murmurs: "I feel a lot better about your odds now, though."

Whatever kind of trouble she is, and the varieties are legion…she knows with a certainty that This Guy, whoever This Matt is, this Daredevil? He has a hell of a better chance of being able to survive any and all of them than the Matt she thought she knew.

"Take us home, Five."

There's a moment of silence.

"To the Garage?"

"No. To the lab."

The silence that follows that clarification is weighted with something unsaid, somehow, but the Valkyrie does eventually tilt and swing off on a new trajectory.

Much like everything else.

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