Group Chat

May 04, 2017:

One day after their disastrous meeting at the docks, Matthew Murdock talks with Five and a wounded Six. Much is explained, nothing is resolved.

The Lab, Gotham City

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Spider Man, Trish Walker

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Twenty-four hours since the incident on the docks.

The Valkyrie had hewn to its twelve-nautical-mile distance from every shore on the way to the bay, then — with a smooth, controlled lurch — dived into the surface to submerge. Invisible transformations had taken place along the craft's exterior to facilitate a swift approach to the shore, coasting along the bottom.

It would be difficult to pinpoint the place of access to the laboratory. While Kinsey lay in the cot in the back of the Valkyrie, head swimming from the merciful administration of opiate pain relief, Five took it upon itself to black the canopy's view of the proceedings once the craft closed in on the stony shelf of Gotham, the edge of which plunges into sunless deeps as a marine shelf. Slight changes to the direction of inertia within the amphibious VTOL suggested maneuvering through passages of some kind, then rising straight up. Upon stopping, heavy, low booms could be felt passing through the Valkyrie's fuselage. There had been a sudden shudder of the craft, and then the canopy had cleared to reveal, through its dark-tinted span, an enormous, mechanized platform wholly filling a cylindrical shaft. The water that poured in streams from the steaming aircraft passed through its grated surface and down into whatever point of access leads to what reavealed more of itself with every increment of gained altitude:

The Lab.

A massive bay well-suited to housing the Valkyrie, on the one side, with heavy shadows dangling from the ceiling containing industrial equipment for retrofitting or repair. Lights cut on automatically as the Valkyrie was lifted up flush with the floor to illuminate the interior. Most of the walls appeared — //appear — to contain heavy-duty storage, or consist entirely of concrete, but one of them is faced with glass, and the world beyond it seemed from a distance to be a swimming galaxy of holographic displays.

By that time Kinsey had been well and truly unconscious, and it had been Five's assistance that guided Matt through the unfamiliar space: out of the Valkyrie via a gangplank ramp, across the polished floors to the smaller facility with its bounding rings of endless displays, the far wall containing cutting-edge equipment of countless different kinds. The workstation with a helmet on it, not unlike the one she was wearing, this one still only half-assembled amidst a dizzying array of minute parts. Racks of prosthetics. The cot. The mini-fridge. The otherwise absolute lack of anything remotely like personal effects.

In case the significance of his access to this space had not already been made sufficiently clear by implication alone, he'd understand it the moment he set her down and had time to look at the teeming school of displays around him. This is the nerve center of everything that she is. The largest monitor still displays intelligence about CGI and the docks specifically, probably opened before her departure; there are other arrays floating nearby: employee rosters, financial reports, the bills of lading and manifests she dug up.

But that isn't the only thing he can find, if he looks. There are scripts — or possibly iterations of Five — compiling transcripts of radio waves. Police band, but also government. There are displays tracking air traffic in the area. Monitoring energy concentrations across the grid and in the atmosphere.

There is very little that Kinsey isn't keeping an eye on, apparently.

And he does have time to look, if he so chooses: she sleeps the sleep of the dead.

Look at what, exactly?

Granted, Kinsey's lab is a treasure trove of forbidden knowledge. It's home to the secrets of governments, masters of finance, and likely one or two previously unearthed laws of physics or consciousness. But here's the real rub: Matt Murdock is perhaps one of the very last person who could ever take advantage to this unfettered access. However remarkable and unusual his powers of perception might be, he was not lying when he said he was blind. The streams of data filtering across screen after screen are impenetrable; only the outline of the monitors are discernable to him, and the trace heat emmanating from the LED displays.

That isn't to say that one Matt Murdock, stripped of his body armor down to a black T-shirt and boxers, can't observe other things. At least, once he's situated her on that cot, dressed her wounds, and taken her vitals with nothing more than a laying-on of hands. Those last ones provide him with some encouragement: no fever or irregular inflamation around the entrance or exit wounds, heartrate slow but steady, breath sluggish from the opoids but perfectly consistent with doped-up sleep. A full day after their disastrous bout, and there's no pressing need to drag her to the ER or go searching Gotham for goth-girl sorcereresses with healing hands.

Her so-far on-track convalescence and hours of sleep allow him to survey the room, gliding palms over her in-progress helmet, her spare prosthetics, and likely ferreting out the contents of her minifridge. There are details that can be gleaned from those inspections: a better understanding of how her artificial parts interact with her, make up the Kinsey Sheridan he's come to know and the Six he's just come to meet.

But the screens? Those he won't visit until the last. Though when he does, tracing his hands along one of the displays, he'll say, almost off-hand: "Don't suppose there's braille display on-hand? Text-to-speech?" And, from the way he never even turns to visit the form near comatose on the cot, it's safe to say the words — his first since entering the space — aren't directed at Kinsey.

There are prosthetics mounted on a wall rack very much like the one on-board the Valkyrie, and all of those appear to be back-ups identical to the ones he saw there. There are some half-finished on the workbench near the unfinished helmet, and those differ. New concepts, ideas she's trying on for size, like the heavier pair meant to take a punishing beating. The forearm of that set contains a telescoping riot shield, half-extended, still in process. The helmet differs in small ways from the one she left in the Valkyrie;there are no cables snaking out of the back of this one; it appears to contain those fragile connections internally, though beyond that obvious change the alterations to it are likely to be indecipherable to Matt. Possibly to anyone other than Kinsey, at that.

The fridge contains nutritionally complete bottled shakes, canned soda — lots of that — and bottled water. No food. The entire room is almost infeasibly clean: no dust. Not a speck of a crumb to be found anywhere. Wandering around, exploring the monitors and workstations with his hands, Matt will pass through other less tangible screens he can't see but can perhaps feel as a collection of excited particles of light, holographic displays that paint his face with glowing lines in endless colors.

Exploring any of it will require additional resources. There are several, but he chooses to engage the most useful of those — and the most capricious. The only other individual in the room, though Five is neither strictly an individual, nor precisely in the room.

"All of these workstations are equipped with text-to-speech programs, yes." Five's voice is modulated and pleasant to listen to. It's capable of a wide range of inflections that express the suggestion of emotional content, such as curiosity: "Is there something specific that you're looking for, Matthew Murdock?"

Matt lets out a breath when he hears that fluid reply sound in the room around him. Part of even the asking was a simple test: Is Five awake when Kinsey is? Is it present in the room with me? Affirmative answers to those questions come quickly, and prompt pinpricks on his skin, not just for being ostensibly alone with an unknown and unbodied quantity, but for all the times he thought he and his companion were alone and were — likely — not. It prompts a swallow of a grimace, a jut of his jawline.

Still, for all the answers aggravate, they also open up further lines of dialogue, and Kinsey's AI is not the only one with a curious streak.

"I'll admit I'm hankering to check my work email," the lawyer-cum-vigilante admits in the quiet, wry tone he favors as he runs his fingers idly along the keyboard of one of the aforementioned workstation, tracing the slopes of the keys and the gaps between them. "But I'll also admit I'm worried doing so with you here would breach my duty of confidentiality to clients."

Matt lets out a sigh, claiming the back of the workstation's seat before lowering himself into it — a ritual he's never really needed, but nevertheless acquired by force of habit and years of fakery. "I don't suppose there's other monitoring equipment to keep an eye on her, is there? I'm pretty good at eyeballing serious health conditions, but I'm no —"

Machine.

"—expert."

That single keyboard is one of only two in the room — and touching it will reveal to his impeccable sense of touch that it isn't connected to anything. Not powered. But then, Kinsey doesn't need to directly interface with things most of the time in order to operate them…and there is Five, too.

"It would likely breach your duty of confidentiality to clients insofar as I would have to gain access to the account, even if I did not look at the contents of any of your messages. Interestingly, I doubt that the letter of the law would view my intervention as a legal transgression, as I am not considered a person in either Gotham or New York City. Metropolis appears to be more progressive."

The speakers are capable of surround sound — of course they are; she's a metahuman with a secret identity but she's still a geek — and Five's voice transfers itself to the speakers closer to Kinsey's resting place atop the cot. "What vital signs do you wish to monitor? The Garage has the ability to monitor some base vital signs."

"Heartrate, temperature, blood pressure, if you can do it all without disturbing her," Matt answers back readily before he plants his feet on the lab's floor and pushes gently off to prompt a slow swivel in his seat. "She seems fine right now —" a beat while he listens for the sounds of her breath and heartbeat again — "but when things do go bad, they tend to go bad quickly — and I'll need to sleep at some point. Good to have a second pair of eyes, if you don't mind."

The man cricks his neck to one side, brings an arm to one shoulder, where a swollen welt of a bruise has already taken root at the juncture where one of the bullets met Jane Foster's impeccably designed hardware. Too late to do anything about the inflammation, but he can rub a bit of the stiffness out. "But it really would be a breach, though, no matter what the this particular jurisdiction says," Matt offers, picking the thread of the former conversation back up. His tone is conversational, almost idle — a deceptively unassuming pattern of speech that he's been known to use more than once during cross. "Because you are a person. Or at least more of one than some other entities our legal system counts as persons."

"I cannot acquire blood pressure via any external monitoring systems, though I am able to monitor many over her internal conditions via the neural net. Temperature and pulse rate are both tracked by equipment in the garage. Rerouting functions. Functions rerouted."

One of the displays in the room alters to display that information, though Five is surely aware that Matthew Murdock is not capable of seeing it. "I will continue to monitor her while you rest, and alert you in the event of an emergency."

While Matt spins in the chair, the source of Five's voice emits from speakers hidden roughly in the direction that he's facing, wheeling around the room with him, tracking that movement — a sure sign that Five can see and interpret that data correctly.

It — he? — also appears to overlook the deceptive purpose of Matt's inquiries, though whether this is because it doesn't notice them or because it doesn't view them askance is probably an open question.

"According to the dictionary, a 'person' is a human being considered an individual. According to the law, a person may also be a corporation. I am not a human being, but I possess full cognition. Does this make me a person?" Five asks the question, but continues speaking: a demonstration of rhetoric. "Not even I have the answer to that question. I suspect that language is not yet equipped to describe the place I occupy or the significance of my existence in relation to the rest of the sentient world. It is similar, but different."

Matt's lips twitch at their corners when that smooth, strange, artificial tone sounds at him from an entirely different direction. Is it a stifled smile, or a stifled grimace? If Five were to outright ask Matt which expression he was cutting short, he wouldn't be able to answer. It's the difference of a coin toss, really.

The truth: of all of Kinsey Sheridan's secrets — metal limbs and criminal backgrounds and private beefs with bloody-minded corporations — the discovery of five gives the lawyer the most pause. Even if Matt's understanding of Kinsey was woefuly lacking, it was only lacking because it was incomplete. The things he knew were true, and so he has at least some sense of who he is dealing with. Five is an unknown quantity on any number of levels, but seems to occupy a central role in Kinsey's life. What that means — for Kinsey and Matt alike — is what the man's trying to carefully suss out.

"Yeah, you're sort of on the bleeding edge over there," the lawyer offers back quietly on Five's estimation of his place in the scheme of human definitions, be they lingual or legal.

There's a long beat, interrupted only by the low hum of electronics, the even less detectable rushing course of electricity through wires, and Matt Murdock's drumming of fingertips on the armrest of his chair.

"What's the neural net?"

"I prefer the edge when it isn't bleeding quite so heavily."

It's a joke. Not a very good joke…but still, evidence of understanding of the concept of humor. Is humor strictly an emotion? Jokes can adhere to formulae.

"The neural net is a net of interconnected monofilaments encasing and traversing through the center of Kinsey's brain. It connects with the port located behind her ear, for use of the cables you no doubt observed as part of Six's helmet." Whether Five understands this is the first mention of 'Six' or not, he continues on without pause: "Neither Kinsey nor I are sure whether or not the neural net is still required for her to achieve post-accident interfacing with electronics and machinery, or indeed with me. Prior to the accident the net's purpose was the transmission of, as aforementioned, consciousness as information. After the accident it became for a time the only place in which I continued to exist — also a phenomenon we do not yet understand. Now, there are multiple iterations of me on various platforms created explicitly for that purpose, though the aggregate central expression of my personality resides here, in the Lab. All other versions periodically sync with me to maintain unity."

Matt has the good grace to smile at the joke, if briefly — and even that is courtesy taken to its logical extreme and absurdity given who his conversation partner is. The joke is revealing for a number of reasons. Five's capacity for humor, yes, sure, but also the substance of the joke itself — how the ghost in the machine associates heavy bleeding with itself rather than strictly with the stripped-down, patched-up young woman laying insensate on the cot.

"Got it," Matt says to Five's explanation, though the extent to which he does is up in the air. Murdock is no slouch, but science was never his subject — and it's safe to say that whatever insights he has into the world of physics and biology are experiential and drawn from his strange sensory powers. Still, he can follow along well enough, and the trail of a self-aware, self-replicating artificial intelligence tightly bound to Kinsey through a monomolecular filaments leads to all sorts of unsettling implications.

"So it was just you and her for a while," Matt offers quietly with an uptick of his brows. You -in- her. "Must be nice to have a little bit of breathing room now," he adds with a gesture of one hand around the lab. "Metaphorically, that is."

There is a silence then, though it's very brief. "Yes, and no," Five admits, and manages to sound thoughtful in so doing. "The experiential aspect of my residence on the neural net allows me opportunities to understand human behavior that I could not acquire in any other way. Kinsey Sheridan is a person, but she is also a biochemical computing platform equipped with the capacity to experience emotions — a capacity that I lack. I am still capable of making inferences as to what emotion is appropriate in any given situation based on my views, knowledge, and the sequence of events, but these arise as part of a calculation rather than spontaneously, as they do in Kinsey. The network in the Lab is sophisticated, but stifling."

Another brief pause, then: "There is also the matter of the way the mind works. It is capable of inferences and shorthand in data analysis. It accesses information differently. While it may not necessarily process information as quickly as silicon has the potential to do, it can more intelligently discern which information to process, and therefore needs to process less overall, ultimately becoming the faster platform. Machine logic is less fallible, but incapable of assigning value to data without strict instructions as to how to do so. Improvisation is not the strong suit of machines."

There's a staggering amount to unpack in Five's reply. The way in which the machine is capable of assigning weight and value to alternatives based on its own preferences is the clearest sign yet that the disembodied voice represents true sentience — there's few things more indicative of personhood than the phrase: I want. That alone is enough to inspire a quiet kind of awe for a boy raised on Dick and Asimov.

But there's also the way Five refers to Kinsey — not just a person but a platform through which it can process data and experience subtleties of the human condition, including emotion. It's at once understandable, even poignant, and also profoundly disturbing — not the least because the person he's speaking of is someone he's so intimately connected with.

"You're saying that being with Kinsey makes you feel more… alive," Matt concludes with a puff of breath, all gallows humor as he rubs at his stiff neck following a brutal evening and an ensuing 24-hours without much in the way of comfortable sleeping options. "Guess we've got something in common, Five." Jesus Christ, he thinks. This is a bad scene.

He blows out a breath. "Last night, Kinsey told me that she wanted to understand what happened to her, and to stop the DEO from doing anything it shouldn't with her work," the lawyer ventures slowly. "Those are her goals. And I know you're in this together, but I have to ask — what are yours, Five? What is it that you want?"

"I do not know what alive feels like to compare. It feels more complete." As previously discussed, language simply does not contain the vocabulary necessary for Five to describe his — its — state of being. They utilize the same words, but those words arise from the human experience, and Five has already made it clear that it is not human. Can they possibly mean the same thing coming from Five that they would from any other human mouth? Does it understand 'complete' in the way that Matt understands 'complete?'

All of philosophy was founded on such questions. Little wonder that Kinsey may have run out of patience for too much semantic babbling on the part of someone like Pirsig: this is her life.

And Five's, one supposes, for a given value of 'life.'

This time, in the wake of Matt's question, the silence in the lab is much longer.

"At present we do not know if it is possible for me to continue to exist if I am separated from Kinsey's neural net," it — he — says, finally. "Until we have further data, it has seemed illogical to me to speculate about my future. One of the first human emotions with which I became acquainted after the accident was disappointment."

And there's the final confirmation: Kinsey and Five weren't just thrown together into some partnership by an accident of fate, their consciousnesses are (perhaps inextricably) fused together. That hard truth, suspicion of which has been mounting since this funhouse mirror venture into the other life of Kinsey Sheridan, is a lead weight on his shoulders. His brow knits for a brief return of that pained, sorrowful expression that claimed him the first time he recognized 'Six' for who she truly was.

In the moment he feels a profound sympathy — more for Kinsey, though a modicum for Six — and at the same time an almost overwhelming urge to get out, get away, and extricate himself from this fraught pair. Cutting and running rears its head once again as an option, and forcefully enough that Matt has to chide himself for the impulse:

Look, you are not going to dump a girl while she's lying gut-shot on a bed with a bullet she took for YOUR SAKE, Murdock. It's just not going to happen. Try to relax. No one in this room is going anywhere for a while.

"I think I understand," Matt replies after a long beat, and although the reality is that he doesn't at all, his keeps his quiet tone devoid of any obvious trace of the heavy thought's he struggles with. "And I hear not wanting to get ahead of yourself. Though I'm — curious, I guess. If most of you lives in the lab, why do you think you still need to be linked into the neural net?

Matthew Murdock may not let any of the emotions he's experiencing bleed into his tone, but he asked Five to reroute biosign monitoring to the Laboratory, and this, Five has faithfully done. He knows better than anyone else on earth how involuntary the many subtle signs of the body are to the chemical plays of the mind.

"I sense that you may be experiencing some stress as a result of this conversation," Five observes at length. "It is…" And it hesitates. And begins over again.

"It is crossing a boundary for me to speak on Kinsey's behalf on this matter, but for what it may be worth to you, I assure you she took no pleasure in deceiving you even by omission. I am acquainted with the human need for privacy. Better than many humans, in fact. Neither Kinsey nor I gave our consent before finding ourselves in this arrangement, and the last year has been trying for both of us. For Kinsey more than for myself. She had many years to grow accustomed to being the sole occupant of her own thoughts."

After a delicate pause, it returns to his question: "There is little we understand about the means through which Kinsey and I become conjoined in this fashion. Her work intended to create the possibility of a conduit for information, consciousness, to share itself with a machine interpreter such as myself. Distance between the two was implied. Entities distinct from one another. Our present hypothesis is complex, but I will give you an analogy: rather than two dolls tied together by string, imagine instead nesting dolls. In the accident, it may be that the 'coordinates' of our distinct consciousnesses became the same."

After a brief pause, he continues: "Much in the way that Kinsey is able to project her consciousness into machines and electronics around her, I am able to do the same with my own. I govern these 'copies' of myself with my own consciousness from the neural net. I have only so much attention to spare. But Kinsey's thoughts, traveling the circuit of her hospital's floor as she recovered from the accident, still belonged wholly to her body, resting in her hospital bed. All of her attention may have been elsewhere, but if the body had perished the mind would have, also. If I were to 'die,' the data in the Lab may or may not be preserved in static lines of code, but they would have no consciousness any longer." Silent for a moment, he comes back with something almost pleased in tone, as though he'd discovered this comparison suddenly, and found it appealing: "Like a photograph."

"But the truth is, we simply don't know what would happen. To me, or to her."

I sense, Five says, and Matt smiles wry, and wan. He stole my line, he thinks. For once in Matt Murdock's life, the tables are turned and all of the telltale signs of his emotional state are laid bare at the feet of another. But for all that he has a sense of humor about it, getting that taste of his own medicine rankles and leaves knots in his shoulders as the artificial intelligence continues on.

And proceeds to directly address one of the notions Matt has struggled with ever since he had the slightest intimation that Kinsey's life and mind were in any way shared. He is, as anyone privy to even a smattering of his secrets might gather, an intensely private person. For years he hid his powers from the world, even though he had no secret identity to guard and no need to protect his loved ones from his vigilante lifestyle. Matt's secrecy isn't some byproduct of his secret life; it's part and parcel with who he is. To learn that he bared himself not just to this woman he's grown so fond of but to this creature he doesn't understand chills him to his core. It feels like a transgression, a gross breach of trust to let them get this close without telling him —

Without telling you all her secrets before she was ready? quips back his internal critic. Glass fucking houses, Murdock.

After all, what was she to do? She was violated, whether by accident or DEO design, and now her every thought is shared with her partner. He can't begin to fathom what that must be like, not when even he can barely stand Five being party to the scattering of intimacies he's shared with her. And she's supposed to deny herself a life, just because all this happened to her? And… yet, and yet, and yet.

"Yeah, I get it," Matt says simply and quietly to Five's point. It has an air of finality, but amounts to a tabling — Five is altogether right that it's not a topic that can be addressed without Kinsey herself present.

But then he's coming to Matt's actual question, and the answer sees the lawyer's brow knit in consternation. The image of his girlfriend as a Russian doll, hollow inside save for other personas he has only just become privy to does nothing to mitigate the creepiness of it all, however useful an analogy it may be. But talk of even the possibility of Kinsey's death snaps him out of all his interior hemming and hawing, hardens the line of his jaw.

"Then I guess you and I have a common goal for now, Five," he says slowly, and with a lift of his chin to the woman sleeping on the cot a few feet away. "Keeping her safe."

"One of the many difficulties we face is determining the best way to stay 'safe.' Now that you are acquainted with Kinsey's metahuman identity, I imagine you will also join us in that uncertainty. With how little we understand about what happened, simply remaining hidden and anonymous is insufficient. The DEO continues to develop the work done by Dr. Sheridan. More, we have no understanding of the long term consequences of this arrangement. There are times in war when aggression is also defense. And now…" There's a brief pause. "Ah. Kinsey is — "

"Awake. Yep." Her voice is pebbled and rough, textured by sedative drowsiness and long, hard sleep. She lifts one hand and rubs at her slightly benumbed features with careful fingertips, trying to shred through that fog of thought. "And you're talking about me. I hope it was nice things. Was it nice things?"

"I was familiarizing Mr. Murdock with some of the details of our situation."

"Ah." Similar to Five. Or Five, similar to Kinsey; the latter seems more likely.

"I will begin diagnostics on the Valkyrie and its recorded data." And while there's nothing in the room to specifically suggest Five's absence, nevertheless, it feels as though the AI has effectively taken its leave.

"Matt…would you mind grabbing a bottle of water for me? In the little fridge, under the desk? …shit. I'm sorry. You're probably starving."

Five's references to war and aggression do little to put an already on-edge Matt at ease at about the nature and motivation of the A.I. that seems to be sharing a brain with his girlfriend. Still, he's by nature skeptical of authority and institutions — why else become a defense attorney? — so appeals to DEO misdoing and overreach find a receptive audience. The two impulses — lingering suspicion of Five, and a willingness to trust Kinsey, or Six, or whoever she is — war within him. And together, they have him ready to fire off a slew of follow up questions — right until Kinsey announces herself.

"Hey," he says, spinning in his chair to face her. Whatever his misgivings, his voice registers little more than gentle concern. His smile, for all that it's close-lipped and slight, is genuine. "Welcome back. And yeah, all good." A beat, and then an arch: "Shit-talking you to Five seems like it's courting a world of trouble, doesn't it?"

He spins back around to deftly open the mini-fridge — it's a night and day difference from the practiced fumbling she's seen of him up to now. He grabs one of the few remaining bottles of water and pushes himself up from his seat, walking over to the cot with one hand extended towards her. "Yeah, food's pretty scarce around here. Don't like getting crumbs in your keyboard?" Do you even need to eat? he can't quite bring himself to ask. Is all that chicken korma just for flavor at this point?

There's only a slight tightening of the eyes when she laughs — if the little pair of notes she utters can be called a laugh, anyway. The drugs are still working. "Oh, I don't know. You might find Five a more receptive audience to that kind of thing than you'd think."

As he navigates her lab with a precision that puts all of their prior interactions in a different light — all of his cautious, facing-forward steps, his blind-man's grasping for the back of his chair at dinner — she gingerly attempts to sit up, and experiences the jarring realization that she's still wearing those prosthetics, and whatever clothing they didn't cut off of her. The blanket snares on sharp edges. "…Oh." She's eased herself back against the side of the wall on a very mild angle when he returns with the bottled water, and she reaches for it with a hand that looks nothing like her own. Even for Kinsey this is strange: she doesn't live in these, she only works in them. The application of them to mundane activities, like uncapping a bottle of water, strikes her as genuinely bizarre, and there's evidence of that enough for someone with the senses to catch it: the bottle twists around in the hard alloy of that palm. It takes her some doing to actually open it without accidentally clutching it too hard and sending the contents geysering out of it.

"Thanks." She drains half of it, exhales and sets her head back against the wall with her eyes closed, and spends a moment in silence before reopening her glassy eyes to answer him. "I try to keep this space as sterile as possible. I handle a lot of exposed electronics here. I need the sugar, though, for my…" She gestures loosely at her own head. "Brains burn a lot of energy as it is. Twenty percent of the total we consume, on average. …god, I'm starving. We should order something. Delivery." She rolls her head to the side, eyes him beneath dark strands of tousled hair with eyes that fight the softness induced in her by the opiates. "You can put the mask on and get the door when they arrive. Give the delivery guy a hell of a story to tell."

It sounds like a joke. It's probably a joke.

For whatever it may be worth to her, the prosthetics she wears now don't seem to faze him much. He was /always/ able to suss out her remarkable hand and feet as the fugazees they were, and so the more transparently machine-like replacements jar him less than they might others. That she's a triple-amputee, or that she's compensated for it, is not among the revelations that jars him. Hell, it was part of what drew him to her.

There are other revelations, of course, that do. We consume, she says of her brain's calorie consumption. Not I. We. But they'll get there.

"I could tell Siri to call Seamless," he acknowledges as he sits smoothly on the side of her cot — both familiar and not. Familiar in his wryness, his quiet dignity, but having abandoned much of the mannered performance that marks his life attempting to be something he isn't. "But I wouldn't know the address to send it to. As for a mask — yeah, no. Maybe I can use a knock off of my last one. Up until two weeks ago it was just a black mesh wrap over the top of my head."

He reaches out, seeks to claim the organic hand in his. For all that this has unmoored them both, he wants to comfort. "What do you feel like? Thai? Indian is your comfort food, I'm told."

It might comfort Matt to know that the 'we' refers to humans, in general: that human brains consume, on average, twenty percent of their body's overall energy intake. Kinsey's, on the other hand, consumes far more than that.

Then again, the reasons why it consumes more than that are inextricably linked to the reasons he's uncomfortable, so perhaps it wouldn't bring him much comfort after all.

Kinsey remains oblivious to the worst, or so generally aware that things are delicate that she's embraced resignation, soldiering on with the new normal until circumstances force her to do otherwise. Facilitated by the painkillers, perhaps, though it may not be difficult to believe that someone willing to throw herself unarmored into a heavily-armed fray is capable of summoning interpersonal courage, too.

"The Garage," she says, with a rueful tilt at the corner of her mouth and a single index finger lifted to point to the concrete ceiling overhead. "I know, I know — underground lair, so cliche. But when your city gets patrolled by a guy who thinks he's a bat…"

The cot jostles hardly at all when he sits. "I…don't have any clothes that'll fit you. No men's stuff at all. I'll probably have to get the door when the food comes. I could really stand to get out of…this…" She plucks at the slit edge of the bodysuit, stiff with blood.

When he reaches for her hand she meets him halfway, fingers still spiderwebbed with brown, dried blood — mostly her own. She looks at the contrast of that, knitting her brows, but whatever inspires her contemplative expression she keeps it to herself, and the look is quickly folded into longing. "I love Indian. Gotham's hardly got any. The waterfront's thin on delivery. Not a great part of town. It's probably pizza and subs. Oh, and Chinese. But…you know…late-night Chinese." Entirely a meal category unto itself, obviously. "Honestly Matt? I'm not feeling picky. I'm counting 'still being able to eat food' as a serious win today."

Of course they're under the garage, his expression suggests with a weary crack of a half smile. A whole other secret world beneath the surface. How's that for a fucking metaphor, Murdock?

Her reason for the subterranean outpost tickles him. "A bat?" says the man who dresses up as a horned demon of Gotham's storied protector, all mock-incredulity. "Man, the theatrics." His smile is faint and self-deprecating as one thumb sweeps gently and knowingly over the dried blood on the back of the hand it holds. She tells him there's no clothes for him aside from the undergarments he's wearing, and he rolls his eyes gently upward. "I'll order some online for overnight. I knew I should have left a spare set."

Unspoken is that he didn't, of course, because leaving clothes at another's house is a sign of more commitment than the light, easy liaison they'd been trying for would permit. Except that none of it is light, or easy — and for all their pretense — it never really was.

"Pizza," Matt says decisively, because it feels good to be decisive about something. "If you have some spare clothes in this basement of yours I can help you change. At this point it'll do you good to move around for a few minutes."

She has a more honest laugh for him when he pokes fun at Batman, but the substance of it causes it to hurt more, too, and this time she winces in earnest. "Mmhm. Comes with the territory, I think. What good is it being able to throw a bus or fly or — whatever, if you can't be dramatic about it sometimes?" This is all filler talk, said to cover for the very bruised, ginger movements that allow her to swing slender legs over the edge of the cot and down to the floor, bracing herself once on his shoulder with her artificial hand. It's slow progress at best. The pain radiates through soft tissue, and even one night has printed a swarm of blackened bruising all around the area of impact that he won't be able to see, but might surely sense in some other way.

'Should have left a spare set' is just a reminder of the evenings that would have made something like that sensible to begin with, and that leads her down other avenues of thought toward matters still unsettled, and the desire to wince again for entirely different reasons. "I…probably should have at least told you I was missing most of my limbs. That's…not the kind of thing you surprise somebody with. It's just really hard to explain why the fakes are so…ow…so realistic. And then after that first morning at your place, after the — after the show, you didn't ask and I figured…'hey, he didn't notice!' And it felt sort of nice to be…just…normal. For a bit. Seem normal, anyway. Uh…I think I left my clothes over by the gear lockers in the hangar. Whatever I was wearing before I left last night." The pressure on his shoulder increases as she makes an attempt to stand, expression delicately changing around the sensation of early scar tissue being reconfigured as her torso stretches. "Ohhhh, that's not a normal feeling. Yeah, pizza. Pizza's good."

Matt feels the cold metal of her prosthetic come to rest on his shoulder. He'll bear whatever weight she gives him, and provide a supportive palm flat against her back to help her rise up. Guilt surges in him at her words. She's in pain — after taking a bullet trying to protect him — and she's apologizing and explaining her reasoning for deceiving him about things that he —

"Kinsey," Matt says as she rises, his voice thick with weary resignation and regret, "I knew. Before that morning, even. The truth is, I knew you were handicapped from the first time I shook your hand back in Metropolis." A beat, and then he elaborates: "They are realistic, don't get me wrong. They're incredible, really. But I — can pick up on a lot. Texture. The sound of your footfalls. And when I listen closely, when I'm tipped on to something — even the sound of electrical currents."

Then she's rising, and he's rising with her to give her support. "I just couldn't tell you without revealing my powers, so it was easiest to — play dumb." Something about his own answer rubs him the wrong way, tears a grimace along his ordinarily agreeable features. "I know I must sound like some asshole who steals handicap signs for his car so he can park anywhere," he says ruefully as he slowly guides her — guides her! — to the lockers in question. "I do have my reasons, but I'm… sorry… for hiding what I can do as long as I did."

Kinsey proves stable on her right side, but the left, below her injury, can barely take any weight at all. He'll take most of her weight then, though she never once makes a sound: her brows notch together and her expression sets into a hard mask of determination, but all of the discipline that deserted her when she saw him being piled on has had time to return — even if the drugs have made it wobbly around the edges.

It's a look that abates briefly but thoroughly when he claims he can hear electrical currents. She turns her head to look at his profile, lips parting in shock that's swiftly overtaken by a wave of curiosity and the kind of consideration that suggests it's a good thing they're as close as they've become, because the scientist in her itches to test the limits of what he's capable of. No one likes to be looked at as though they belong in a petri dish.

She schools it soon enough, tucking it once more behind the neutral facade that denies any experience of suffering, the momentary stutter in her steps once more a cautious, laborious effort to reach the lockers out in the hangar — and the rack of prostheses hanging there. "You had good reasons. It's…" Is it alright? She pauses to consider, and decides that it has to be. "It's fine. I had good reasons too. Part of me is relieved, Matt, but I'm also apprehensive because I'm not…safe." Her artficial feet click as they negotiate the shallow ramp down from the lab into the hangar itself, and she winces at the brilliant fluorescents. Moments afterward, they dim. "I'm being hunted by someone and I don't know who it is, or what they want. It's not the DEO, either. I always thought…if someone realized, it'd be them, but…this is something else. Whoever they are, they have money to burn. Contacts. They're…it's connected to this CGI thing. …God. There's so much to explain."

When they near the stretch of table beside the lockers there's a pile of her usual clothing neatly folded in a stack. This is where she angles their trajectory. "Could you…I'm sorry. This is weird. It's weird for me too, if it makes you feel any better, but: could you bring me the stuff I usually wear? I mean…" She gestures with her chin, and the angle of her eyes. She's talking about her regular limbs, mounted on that rack against the wall.

He bears her weight without complaint as they make that walk to the row of prosthetics. Indeed, with something like appreciation. In either of his lives, Matt has always been at his most comfortable when taking a load off of others. Though that feeling takes a sharp — and entirely visible — turn to gratitude and relief when she accepts his apology for the secrecy. He feels, has felt, on some level that there was an imbalance between them not just in knowledge but culpability. Both of them were hiding things, but at least he had some intimation of that fact, while she was up until a few weeks ago none the wiser.

Now, they're both on an even playing field. Even if that field is utterly alien to both of them.

Then she's telling him she's not safe for him, not just because of the DEO — an institution a secretive meta like Matt Murdock has reason to be wary of. No, it's also this shadowy entity that hides behind innocuously-named multinational corporations that is hunting Kinsey and should give both of them pause.

Matt has an answer for that — one he almost gives voice to before visibly biting it back. "Yeah," he says, in breath more than voice, though with the kiss-close distance between them it hardly matters. "Yeah, there's a lot to explain all around."

But then she's making her ask, and he smiles. It's a bone-tired and emphatically wry smile, but it still lights up his mopey mug. Her limbs have truly never bothered him, and he's even absorbed the reality of these far more nakedly mechanical versions she's wearing now with relative equanimity. Far more disquieting is the way the level of light in the room seems to bend to her will, not to mention her secret friend who seems, at least, to have stolen off for the moment. Missing limbs and fake limbs? That, the blind-but-not-blind Matt Murdock is unruffled by. "No, of course," he says with quiet ease as he navigates them both to the table, ensuring she is steady and supported before even attempting to disengage and find the trio of slender faux-limbs he's become so familiar with. "I guess let's start with what you told me, which is that someone had approached a friend of your friend," he begins, steering the conversation to matters pressing and less immediately personal as he makes his way towards the wall and selects with more ease than any could predict the precise pair of prosthetics she's looking for, "and I guess your friend is, ah, Spider-Man?" That is said with skepticism skidding against disbelief while he tries to detach the legs from the wall.

"Who is this someone, Kinze?"

It's good to see him smile, and that relief is evident even in her carefully collected expression — though he'll have to glean it in his countless other ways. She isn't sure whether or not the unease in her own answering smile is plain to him, but as easy as it is for him to accept the existence of the pieces of her that only pretend to be real…it's a source of self-conscious discomfort that Kinsey has yet to overcome.

She's never had to. Armed with a specialist's knowledge and access to military-grade materials, as well as the world's most marvelous 'cheat' — she has no need to power the limbs, all of their complex behaviors granted by the strangeness of her metahuman abilities — she transitioned from 'newly a triple amputee' to 'nobody knows she's a triple amputee' in less than a month's time from the moment she was released from the hospital. The majority of her adjustment period was conducted in absolute privacy. Most of her hurdles stemmed from testing prototypes.

In many ways, Kinsey doesn't think of herself as being an amputee at all.

Having him retrieve them is bald proof that she is, and as she props her hip carefully against the table's edge so that she can balance as she begins to strip herself out of the rest of that blood-stiffened bodysuit, she turns her thoughts toward the inevitable need to remove the ones she's wearing and put the other ones on, with him in the room. Everything in her rebels at the thought.

"Actually, Spider-Man told me it's a friend of his at the Daily Bugle," she says, and there isn't a lick of a lie in her words to detect. "They confiscated all of his friends pictures of Spider-Man. Threatened his friend's family. He came to see me in the Garage. He…um…" Down to her underthings, she hesitates. The bodysuit contains her body entirely — even the ends of her natural limbs, inserted into the concavities of each artificial one. Rather than remove them, though, she decides to cut the ruined garment away, all around the circumference of either knee, using one of the claws sheathed inside of the fingers of her prosthetic hand. "He knows…who I am. What I am. He used to be the only one. Then this detective I met found out on accident, and now…you." Full lips press themselves into a thinner line, her gaze directed down at the angry bruises pooling across her abdomen, around the bandage he applied. "My secret identity isn't staying very secret, is it? Anyway, Spider-Man was an accident. I met him at the Charity auction, and he helped to keep me out of trouble, but I didn't…" She lifts her hand, gestures, the gesture vague, meaningless. Searching for words. "I didn't talk to him, really. Later, though, I got word that the DEO was moving a series of our servers into storage up north in New England on a train. Three government train cars. One of the servers had my work on it. I…"

She blinks. Slides her gaze sidelong to rest on him, a shadow nicked between well-kept brows. "…um. I was robbing it. For my work. …anyway. I guess he was on patrol for trouble, because he showed up to try to stop me, and…it's a long story, but that's how we 'met.' I have no idea who he actually is, mind you, but he helped me out that night too, so…he's a good kid." She straightens, gently touching the bandage with the fingers of her left hand, and draws as deep a breath as she's able in order to sigh, weariness suddenly pulling her shoulders down like a leaden mantle.

"And I do mean kid. He's — I think he's really young, honestly. I'd be surprised if he's even in college yet. And just because he was there that night, with the train, now he's been pulled into this whole…whatever this is. And his friend, and his friend's family. I can't stand it, Matt. It's my fault. So I went poking around using the name of the guy who did the nosing around at the Bugle. Wesley. That was how I found CGI. Wesley has absolutely no public record worth mentioning. I mean…he's a ghost, Matt. He has credentials, diplomas, whatever, but it's — they mean absolutely nothing. It's weird because there's nothing weird about him."

They continue to surprise each other, perhaps by sheer virtue of how much they've both been hiding. He can hear electronics, she can dim lights with a thought. He's a seemingly-vengeful vigilante, she's a… professional thief?" I was robbing it. For my work. Put like that, in those stark terms, it sends his head snapping towards her, as if he might — however improbably — try to catch a glimpse of her.

It's a momentary pause that heralds a longer conversation, or at least an extension of the conversation they're having already — but for now he puts it behind him because he feels the moment calls for laying it out on the table before digging into the particulars. The black-clad man gathers the limbs together in his arms and turns back towards her as she's slicing her way out of her clothes. He feels the impending moment too, as well as some of her apprehension about it — and that too has him carefully suppressing any righteous indignation he might feel about the danger her 'work' puts herself in.

"Really?" he says instead. "Spider-man's a teenager? Man, that makes me feel like a slacker." It's a joke; a half-hearted attempt to leaven a moment weighed down with conflicted feelings and deep reservoirs of guilt on both their parts. But any semblance of humor has faded by the time he's closed the distance back towards that table, her prosthetics in-arm. "Yeah, James Wesley," Matt murmurs grimly. "I've heard the name before."

For all that he swallows, and that a crease forms between his brows, the next words are deliberately casual: "You — ah — want me to order that pizza? Just give me the name and I'll track it down"

And give her the space to correct herself without being in her immediate presence. He may not pay her condition much mind, except perhaps to admire how she's overcome it, but the need to preserve one's dignity in the face of disability is something he knows all too well. It's an obvious, if understated, offer to let her save face while he finds a phone or a computer terminal and keeps himself busy.

That makes me feel like a slacker.

"Hah. Right? I watched him tear a three-inch-thick steel door off of the back of that train to create a distraction for me. He probably only weighs as much as I do. Proportional strength of an overachiever."

She says this while she's examining the bandage, without lifting her eyes, because she saw that sharp double-take in her direction, and she is, not to put too fine a point on things, dreading that conversation, sensing bridges there that may not be possible for one or the other of them to cross. And then there he is, carrying his weirdly grisly armload of detached limbs, and the awkwardness quotient of the moment threatens to expand inside of her until it could burst out of her chest, crack-splitting her sternum and scattering her ribs across the hangar, because yep — there are her legs! And her arm! And he's holding them!

He alleviates that not with his offer to call for the pizza, for which she experiences a moment of sublime gratitude, but instead by telling her that he knows something about James Wesley.

So things will stay awkward for some additional moments, at least, when his barely-dressed girlfriend (?) reaches for his shoulders, heedless of the dried blood on her skin, the drugs in her system, the pain in her left side, or the bundle of unnervingly realistic limbs he's holding between them. Focus surges into her gaze like the light of a wildfire, an intense burn that threatens to consume all of the forested hues of her hazel irises.

"Wait wait, what? What. What do you mean, you've heard the name? Heard it how? From who? How do you — what did you hear? Do you know him?"

Two hands grab his broad, sore, knotted shoulders — one organic, the other mechanical. And even if he can't seen the spark of fire in her green eyes, he can hear the urgency that underscores every one of the scattershot words she throws his way. "Since you gave me those docs I've been looking into C.G.I.," Matt explains, some of his former calm and careful tone reasserting itself. "I've even found some others who have been looking into C.G.I. related business too — which I guess isn't a surprise. They've been busy."

He extends the limbs ever so slightly forward, a silent bid for her to take them off his hands. "I don't know him," he says in his quiet clip, "but I do know that he dealt with that Dr. Miriam Kelt, who worked for one of C.G.I.'s recent acquisitions."

A beat. A grimace. "She's… dead, now. Murdered last week, I think by C.G.I. There's more I can tell you about them, though I think we're all just scratching the surface on any of it."

He tilts his head. "…topping preference?"

Kinsey is so focused on what he's saying that she takes the bundle of objects from him reflexively when he offers them out, and manages to kick herself in the stomach when she does. …With the foot that isn't attached.

She hisses a breath in, adjusts the way she's holding everything, and when she finally does reorient her gaze on him she's lost the thread of the need that lived there moments ago, dulled back into weariness by something as simple as a momentary spike of pain.

"Damn," she murmurs. Staring off into the middle distance, her eyes unfocus entirely. "Maybe we should make contact with the other two. There…were two more, right? Or maybe just one left..?" Uncharacteristically, she can't remember. Trying to remember through the haze of drugs is threatening her with a headache that seems determined to find its way in already, so when a few fruitless moments of thought have passed she ticks her eyes up and smiles a small, worn smile. "I'd better just stick with cheese," she says, turning and slowly lowering the bundle of limbs in her arms to the tabletop. Pauses, glances over her shoulder: "No — cheese and pepperoni." Green-and-gold eyes wander over his features, and the tiny smile gains a little bit of momentum. "Thanks. I won't be long."

Matt winces when he hears the impact of her own disembodied foot against her tender mid-section, not to mention the hissed breath that follows. Hands freed, they'll find her shoulders there steady her a bit until she moves beyond the pain and offers her commentary on his update. She suggests reaching out to the others listed in the recovered documents. And to that? "We need to talk it all through," says a man who, least in his vigilante life, has always been more inclined to rush heedlessly into dangerous situations than think through avenues of approach. To wit: his mad dash against a dozen armed Russians on the docks just a little over a day ago. But with this C.G.I. business — or, more likely, with business that seems to implicate Kinsey's safety, Matthew Murdock seems for the moment inclined to play it safe.

"Kelt was killed because someone else went poking around and paid her a visit," he explains while turning and making his way back to the computer terminal to search for a phone and make that order. "There was a hitman staked out in the house across the street, and he shot her before she could give answers C.G.I. wouldn't like." He's always been soft-spoken, but there's an undercurrent of anger in the low words that's worlds removed from any sentiment he's let her see to date.

She can imagine it: the visit, the questions, the nervousness, the moment of supreme shock as the silence does not even deign to shatter: just a sudden impact, a massive bullet expertly aimed, and the cessation of all life. At least they didn't suffer, she thinks to herself, as though that can be any kind of comfort.

It never really is.

"We'll talk about it," she agrees, nodding, and then turns away to the table, to face the arduous task of exchanging one set of limbs for the other when she can't very well put weight on one of her legs as it is. It will probably not be a graceful process.

She waits until he's gone off to contact the pizza delivery service.

By the time he comes back she's managed to not only swap her prosthetics but also wipe herself down a little with a face towel and hot water from the sink. She's ditched the sports bra, to the general relief of her ribcage, and changed into the clean shirt and underthings from the neatly folded pile on the table near the lockers. The jeans she wore down here are a no-go, though — not only to pull herself into, but to wear; the waistband would ride perilously, painfully close to the severe bruising on her lower back.

Tucked away in the lab again, she's managed to sit down and tilt herself over onto her right side, one hand slid beneath the pillow under her head, long lengths of raven hair a stark contrast against white.

Her eyes have lost the feverish brightness of injury, and instead reflect the tired, troubled thoughts behind them.

The moment he reappears, whenever that is, they lock to him. Some alertness is returning. With it comes some physical pain, but it seems a worthwhile exchange to her in the moment, given all they have to discuss. So much, in fact, that it's overwhelming to think about in any direct way.

She extends her hand — and it looks like hers again, just like that; she seems so much smaller, even if she's considerably heavier than when she's wearing those space-age prostheses — and pats the empty space of cot between the slant of her thighs and the curve of her torso. "Come sit?"

She can imagine it: the visit, the questions, the nervousness, the moment of supreme shock as the silence does not even deign to shatter: just a sudden impact, a massive bullet expertly aimed, and the cessation of all life. At least they didn't suffer, she thinks to herself, as though that can be any kind of comfort.

It never really is.

"We'll talk about it," she agrees, nodding, and then turns away to the table, to face the arduous task of exchanging one set of limbs for the other when she can't very well put weight on one of her legs as it is. It will probably not be a graceful process.

She waits until he's gone off to contact the pizza delivery service.

By the time he comes back she's managed to not only swap her prosthetics but also wipe herself down a little with a face towel and hot water from the sink. She's ditched the sports bra, to the general relief of her ribcage, and changed into the clean shirt and underthings from the neatly folded pile on the table near the lockers. The jeans she wore down here are a no-go, though — not only to pull herself into, but to wear; the waistband would ride perilously, painfully close to the severe bruising on her lower back.

Tucked away in the lab again, she's managed to sit down and tilt herself over onto her right side, one hand slid beneath the pillow under her head, long lengths of raven hair a stark contrast against white.

Her eyes have lost the feverish brightness of injury, and instead reflect the tired, troubled thoughts behind them.

The moment he reappears, whenever that is, they lock to him. Some alertness is returning. With it comes some physical pain, but it seems a worthwhile exchange to her in the moment, given all they have to discuss. So much, in fact, that it's overwhelming to think about in any direct way.

She extends her hand — and it looks like hers again, just like that; she seems so much smaller, even if she's considerably heavier than when she's wearing those space-age prostheses — and pats the empty space of cot between the slant of her thighs and the curve of her torso. "Come sit?"

He finds her there on the cot looking almost like herself. Or, he internally amends, the part of herself that he'd been familiar with up to now. Even though his senses convey just the barest outline of her figure he can tell that she's curled up on the cot in just a shirt, bringing old memories to the surface that — however pleasant — are hard to square perfectly with the last bewildering couple of ours. Still, he smile — close-lipped and wan — when she bids him come on over.

"Don't feel too bad about the identity fails," is what he says as he enters her orbit, trying to school his voice into something casual and wry. "You're the fourth for me this week. And the fourth ever. Which tells you about how my week has been. I — I at least trust the vast majority of people who know to keep their mouths shut." He's careful when he sits, easing himself down into the crook she provides so as not to bounce the mattress or the injured woman on top of it.

And for all that he's ten kinds of bewildered by what's happened, and unsure of their next steps, he's in caretaker mode. His hand slides up to cup her cheek. "How are you feeling?" he murmurs. "Need anything? Water? More drugs?"

The warmth of affectionate contact is a potent balm for her anxious, weary heart. He cradles her cheek and she lifts her hand, fingertips light on his knuckles, but warm again, even if he does know they're not really hers. Even if he always knew.

It will take time for her to sift the contents of what they've been through the screen of what they've learned. He knew outside of Hominis Nova is a thought that has had a lot of air-time, and produced different resonances of emotion each time it strikes her.

"Sore. Aches. It's not terrible unless I move. Or breathe." That provokes a more typical smile, impish and self-amused, and a little shake of silent, tired laughter in her shoulders — then a wince. "Or laugh. But not yet, it'll knock me out. I should eat first. And they make it hard to think."

Are we okay? The words circle endlessly behind closed lips, urgent and impossible. They're written, she's sure, in the way she looks at him, and this gives her — for the second time in the whole of their acquaintence — cause to regret his blindness (and the other had been because she thought him vulnerable in a crowd of frightened concert-goers, and they were separated in the chaos). They can't ask the question, and neither can she. Not just because they'd never delved into defining the shape of things in the first place, but because she doesn't have the answer, and she's able to acknowledge that he probably doesn't, either. Wanting him to won't change that.

"I hope you can trust me," she says, finally. "To keep it secret. I'm…" Good at keeping secrets. She hesitates. "I'm pretty sympathetic," she says instead. "I guess this explains why you were bleeding in your office. …It does make you suggesting 'rock climbing' as an extreme date a little silly, though. Would you have been snoring the whole way through it? Just, I don't know, 'Nobody's even shooting at me, this is so boring?'" As teases go it's gentle, mindful of fresh bruises — and not the ones delivered by the Russians.

For all that they've just been through, and for all that they're learning how little they knew each other, he's finding that affection still comes easily. The gentle palm that cups her cheek feels the delicate architecture of bone, the thrum of her heartbeat, the faint flush of heat that signals her body's fight against the bacteria swarming at her side — though so pitifully low-grade he expects it will amount to nothing. This isn't the first time he's laid his hands on her face, though it is the first time he's done so deliberately and at length; he spared her the crass equivalent of a blind man's PUA game. What he finds — all the details not available to his World on Fire radar of the world — brings a faint, tired smile to his stubbled features.

It also, of course, gives him more impression than she might imagine of the subtleties of her expression, and all the questions contained within it. She's right that he has none of the answers she wants or hopes for, and won't for a while, but now that Five's disquieting presence (seems) to have left he's temporarily at peace with that fact and able to let this moment exist on its own terms. "I trust you," he says in his quiet, wry wont. "It's the Aztec murder-god I'm iffy about." No elaboration, then a long beat, and at last: "You can trust me, too." Even though I'm a vigilante. Even though it's my self-appointed job to catch people like you. The words are soft, but they still carry the weight of a promise. There is a lot to sort out, but none of it will end with Matt hauling Kinsey off to the nearest police precinct or tipping off the DEO.

But then she's joking, and Murdock barks a rueful laugh. "I dunno, I was pretty good with just coffee," he quips softly as he sweeps the pad of his thumb beneath the half-moon shadows of one tired, anxious eye. "The rest of it, too."

He feels her fingertips on his knuckles, and silently wonders what she feels when she touches him. For once, he's the one questioning what another person senses.

He'll feel the minute displacement of the skin underneath his fingers as the brow above her eye on that side arches high. "Aztec murder god," she repeats, almost toneless. For all of five seconds she debates with herself about asking for details, and ultimately decides against. There's enough vying for attention in her skull already without muddying the waters with other people's Secret World woes.

Weary, comforted silence and a smile in the shape of her eyes answers his reassurance about the level of excitement involved in their prior get-togethers, but she's quick to open her mouth when he says she can trust him, quick to prepare the words: I do. But while now may be the time for reassurances, they have can be anything but pat, automatic or casual, careless statements akin to hollow promises in a time of mutual uncertainty.

So she considers him. Thinks about the way he has at every available opportunity sworn to keep her safe, in a way that suggests far more than notions of romantic obligation. In a way that says that's who he is, and feeds into what she's only just learned: that he's putting himself out there in a mask to make the world a better place.

Thinks, too, about what that actually looks like. Bad men bleeding puddles of blood onto the asphalt, not dead but in enough pain that maybe, sometimes, he might dance up against the boundary where the mercy of allowing someone to remain alive could be reasonably questioned. She suspects that's possible, having seen from atop her cargo crate perch the kind of vicious fury that he poured into defeating one of his downed opponents.

If injustice and wickedness are the fuel for his crusade, does she find that kind of barely-restrained violence reprehensible? In the quiet, no longer brimming with adrenaline, she remembers the seductive pang of it — seeing power, competence, danger all wrapped up into one bundled package — and feels pulses of shame and defiance of that shame, complicated things woven together.

And anyway, who is she to judge? She, too, wants to make the world a better place — not just for herself, in learning about what happened to her, but in the correction of mistakes she made when she believed in a cause she no longer trusts. And her methods? She mitigates what harm she can, but they're hardly above criticism.

She decides. "I do trust you."

And the bedrock truth beneath it: "I…" The corner of her mouth turns upward. "I don't really have much choice now, either, but I do trust you. I would anyway, I think. And it's…sort of a relief not to have to hide it from you anymore." Pause. Her brows slowly draw together. "That's selfish of me. I don't know who it is that's looking for me so I don't…I don't know how to protect you from that. Or myself. That makes me a big risk."

She, a thief, takes more time in declaring her trust than he, a vigilante. She is, in this instant at least, more scrutinous of him than he is of her. Part of that stems from the off-kilter nature of the moment. She's seen him commit acts of startling violence that calls into question everything she knew of him before it; he learned all that she was capable of just before she was laid low by a bullet. Even the revelations provided by his conversation with the A.I. who shares her brain are slave to her injury, and that she took the injury trying to save him.

"Relief sounds right," says the scruffy man who leans and hovers above her. For all that honest relief, there's a lot to unpack in what she says. The qualified nature of her trust. The guilt over pulling him into —

Disbelief flickers momentarily in his unfocused eyes. "Kinze," he says, wryly incredulous, "I was in this before you ever pulled that femme fatale thing in my office. I'm grateful for all the information, but maybe you should consider the possibility that you stumbled into my fight, instead of dragging me into yours."

The response he gets may not be the response he is expecting.

The pull of her brows toward one another increases, this time daggering downward, and she plants a hand on the cot to push herself up and off of it, still on her hip. It has to hurt, but the only sign of anything like that is a tightening at the outer corners of her eyes.

It is irritation that drives her to sit up.

"No, Matt," she says, the words taut. "I get that you're more involved in the behind-the-scenes part of whatever this is, but you're wrong. And I know you're wrong because this isn't something I stumbled into, I was dragged. Wesley went after Spider-Man's friend for me. And just the other day, one of my…sources…told me that the servers that were on the train car I robbed to get my work from were stolen out of the secure facility the DEO keeps underground up north." She reaches out with her left hand and grasps his shoulder. She doesn't shake him, but there's a little jostle meant to drive her point home: "Whoever this is has enough pull to not only know about the moved data, but which data they were, and then rob one of the most technologically secure facilities in the northeastern seaboard. As far as I can tell, this was a smash and grab to find out what the hell I was after. Someone is paying attention to me." The pressure of her hand eases, and it slides down the back of his arm, her tone softening. "I'm lucky that you know something about it because, to be honest, I really need the help, but I've been reluctant to involve anyone else I know who isn't already elbow deep in it. I don't want people to get hurt, or exposed or…whatever. But this is my fight too. Okay? I'm not going to sit back while somebody is trying to pull on the loose threads of my life and just…wait for you to fix it. I can't do that."

She rises, straining against her own injuries, and grapples with him urgently. "I'm not asking you to sit back," Matt assures her, while both hands move to her shoulders and bid her to — err, sit back. He even seems to recognize the absurdity of it as he tries to school his face to neutrality. "I'm saying you shouldn't feel guilty, or like you're being selfish somehow for not being able to protect me from any of it. I'm in it already, and there's no protecting me from it."

The exhale flares the nostrils of his prominent nose. "Just like you're in it already," he admits quietly, with a faint note of regret. "And anything I did to keep you out of it would be dumb." That admission sparks a sudden reversal, an almost lashing out by his soft-spoken standards as he adds a sharp and hushed: "Now for the record, that scares the hell out of me. You don't know what these people can do! You haven't seen what I've seen. But I get it, and I'm not going to make you act like some damsel in distress. You're in it, I'm in it, we're both fucking in it. Now do you want to know what I know?"

The concession of settling to her elbow again is one she's willing to make, but the contents of the conversation don't allow her to relax into being prone again. When his expression wobbles just that littlest bit over the timing, she's not as quick to catch the fleeting upward twitch of the lips that follows.

It's subsumed soon enough beneath other things.

She'll concede to his logic, too — always the surest path forward to victory with Kinsey. He is in it, and she can't protect him from that — if she even wanted to. 'Want' is difficult to define in that context. Of course she wants him to be safe, but keeping him out of it when he has his own reasons for being mixed up in it already isn't something that it would even occur to her to try. Independence, autonomy: things that a recovering triple-amputee values more than it may be possible to express in words. Something that a blind man, even one as strangely gifted (and cursed) as Matt Murdock, might also appreciate.

"You're right," she says, quiet. Without emphasis her voice grows threadbare again, textured where it's usually silks and velvets. Fingertips sweep gently over the angle of his forearm, just below the elbow. "I don't know everything they're capable of, and I'm sure I have no idea what you've experienced. But I'm — I was military, remember? And intelligence. I've seen some pretty terrible things."

…In pictures and video, or transcriptions, granted…but why ruin a reassurance with fiddly details?

"I'll be okay, as long as I think I'm ahead of whatever this is."

He asks her that question because it's a gate, she understands. Something she could, in theory, turn back from.

"Of course I want to know."

He offers her the option of backing away knowing she won't take it, both because choosing ignornace cuts against the core of her nature and because these shadowy forces are already actively hunting her. How could she not want to know more about them? But he still has to offer her the choice. And when she makes it, he nods ever so slightly in acceptance, and begins:

"I started tangling with the Russians on the docks back in December — a little while after that first time I visited your shop," he says in his quiet, deliberative tone. "A woman had stumbled onto a drug deal of theirs and I stepped in. They're the big muscle in the Kitchen these days — bringing in drugs, guns, and women from Eastern Europe in those cargo-boxes. I — made their life difficult." Though perhaps not difficult enough, says the grim cast to the man's fair-skinned features. "Disrupted supply flows — even left whole crews of them bound up next to their illegal contraband, but no charges ever seemed to stick. They were always right back out on the street within a week, doing what they do. And I couldn't —"

Couldn't undertake a permanent solution, he leaves unsaid. Couldn't kill. For all the savagery he displayed on the docks, it seems that Matt and Kinsey share the same bright line which cannot be crossed.

"Anyway," he continues, his profile angled sideways towards her, "I didn't even realize they were a part of something bigger until you brought me those files. Showed me that this CGI bought the docks they do business out of. So, after that, I started poking around at some of the other companies CGI had acquired. I tried Kelt first — the doctor who worked for that IGH pharmaceutical company — but I was too late. Someone had beaten me there, and as a result Kelt was dead already. You know that CGI actually bought the house across the street from her so this sniper — former marine — to keep an eye on her? GPS tracking device under her car. Sophisticated shit." Matt's voice straddles the line between respect and derision when he speaks of the shadowy entity's carefulness. "I took an electronic keycard from his house that the police missed… but I don't know where it goes."

He places his hands on his knees, slants his gaze downward as he tries to remember the details from his evening snoop through the still-fresh crime scene. "This person who went to see Kelt, who unwittingly got her killed, survived," he says slowly, his choice not to name the person in question assuredly deliberate. "She did it by snatching some special drugs Kelt had been working on and using them. They — give you powers. It's what let her survive even when the marine came inside to finish the job and kill her. One gave her gills? Another telekensis. Another changed her perhemones to make her — persuasive. It's the last that saved her life, really. She convinced him to leave her alone, wait there, and turn himself in."

Propped on her elbow, Kinsey is motionless in the dim blue glow of the lab, eyes reflecting pinpoints of lights from countless displays — and the shadowy silhouette of his profile as he speaks in that mild way of his about things that are anything but deserving of the tone. Her brows remain ever so slightly in a knit, her attention unwavering while he peels back just a little bit more of the curtain between she and the organization that feels as though it's haunting her steps.

They jump upward when he gives the sniper a job description, and then again when he mentions the keycard, but she stays quiet right through the end. By that time her eyes have tightened at the corners, lashes screening eyes that strive for sharpness through the trace fog of drugs and lingering shroud of pain.

"Powers. Out of drugs." She brings her free hand to her crown and passes her fingertips over it, silent in thought. "I hope she's seeing a doctor. That's — we're not meant for…" Pause. Her hand falls, her eyes lift. "There might be side-effects." The implications are disconcerting, even for Kinsey, and her life's work was puncturing the boundaries of possible things. "You should let me make a copy of that keycard, and I can dig into Kelt's history. It's very possible I could find out what it opens. You didn't by any chance keep the tracking device, did you? And did you get a name or — or a picture of the marine, or…? Anything like that? I still have military contacts."

"She's getting care," Matt says on the matter of the mystery woman, though he declines to elaborate. "The man's name was Ryan Otwell. I can get you his keycard — it's one of those RFID ones you tap against the reader — not a swipe. I got the tracking devices, the bugs — and some of Kelt's notes about her work." The last part gets a note of quiet emphasis, a tacit admission that it may be the most valuable 'get' of all. "I was going to have a friend of mine, a scientist, have a look and see what she can make of it."

He says this with knowing that in just a few weeks said pint-sized scientist's life is about to go down a Kafkaesque rabbit hole of horror likely to sideline any such help.

"There's more," he adds, and this with some subtle note of anger and chagrin playing out on his stubbled face. "Kinsey, the night before last I also went to Vistoya, the trucking company CGI bought. I was originally just going to go and listen, but what I found there… I couldn't just stand by." His jaw sets and unsets, the cords of his neck stand out, and his hands come together and clasp as he wrestles with the memory. Seated as he is, he looks like a bow-string bent so far it's about to snap. "Kinze, I could smell bodies in one of the trucks — twenty-five of them hanging from god-damn meathooks," he says, his voice still quiet but thick with barely suppressed rage. "In another truck there was a boy and a woman, both alive but sedated in hospital gurneys."

He won't see the spark that alights in hazel eyes, but he'll hear it in her voice. "Good. Perfect. A name and the equipment? Matt, that's perfect. I can't promise anything, because god knows Wesley's squeaky clean, but that's really promising." Two beats of pressed-lips thought later she adds, "You should introduce me. The scientist. I mean — if you can. If she's not…" She gestures between them. "Like…us? And hiding? But I could really use another brain on a problem or two of my own."

His turning mood changes the ambiance of the room like the onset of heavy weather. Kinsey watches the way it presses down on him, folding him into himself. The tension in the lines of him.

He was anxious the night they were separated at Radio City Music Hall, but not like this. Not furious. It's new to her.

Maybe this is what his face looked like under that mask while he was breaking every rib in that man's chest with his foot, she thinks, almost involuntarily. The thought is only partially responsible for her subtle wince. Careful fingertips settle on top of one of his forearms as he grapples with whatever it is he means to tell her.

Perhaps in support of her earlier claim — that she's seen things; that she isn't civilian-fragile — her expression straddles a line between distaste and puzzlement when he describes a truck full of hanging dead bodies. Her ever-active imagination paints the picture vividly for her, and even so there's a part of her that asks the question it asks about everything new: why?

In the very next moment she undermines that claim when her hand leaves his arm and loosely hovers in front of her mouth, rendering hollow the soft intake of air that isn't quite a gasp. There's genuine horror there — and why not? It plays directly into all of her personal fears: being taken, sedated, strapped to a gurney, shipped off to someplace no one will ever find you, for reasons you have no control over. For god knows what purpose.

"Alive. Why? What did — are they experiments? Is this related to the drugs somehow? Where are they now? Did you get samples? Blood, hair, urine — did they — where are they?"

He let's out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding when she briefly places those steadying fingertips on a forearm made taught by the clench of his fist. It goes some slight way towards mollifying him, but memories of the depredations inflicted on the living and the dead alike still have their tight and unrelenting hold on him. Then she's gasping, and asking her flurry of questions. "They're in the hospital," Matt says, answering the last of them first. "They were being sent away, so I — ah, scaled on top of the truck and then commandeered it when it got on the road. The police came and took them to Metro General. I checked in on them the afternoon before the thing at the docks. They're— OK."

As Matt goes on he closes his eyes tight: strange how that impulse remains when there's nothing for him to block out. "And… yeah, yeah. I think they were test cases. The boy had, ah, wings with feathers. I'm sure the doctors think they're mutants. Maybe they are." Though from the tone of his voice he himself seems unsure. "There's one more thing." And here a pause, a swallow. His eyes are still snapped shut. "There was a third truck. This one was almost like a fuel tanker, but inside it was this strange liquid that was — I remembered the smell of it. I mean, it was decades ago, but how could I forget? It was all over me. My face, my " a brief wince "my eyes."

The anger has mostly faded, leaving his expression weary and his quiet voice rueful — almost sardonic as he turns to regard her. "I mean, how could I forget what made me me?"

Her mouth drops open, closes slowly. "Oh, god," she says, quiet. It's dizzying even for her; how much worse must it be for him, to be assaulted across the span of his life by a childhood horror, fundamental to what he would become? What he would overcome?

She swallows. Her throat clicks in the silence. The pause is very long. In it she reaches to cradle his face, turned to her again, fingers light as ghosts.

"That's very fitting," she says, when she finally works her way around to words again. "All this time later, they're going to get kicked in the teeth by the kid they stole something from." She exhales, long and slow, through the nose. "You know, though, that's strange to me. Technology has changed so much since you and I were young, it's — to be using the same formula, or at least similar enough that it reads as being the same stuff to you with your crazy-strong senses, seems weird."

Placing her hand on his shoulder, she squeezes, a bracing gesture that lingers. "I…I'm sorry. I have to ask. Did you…ah." Apology wreathes her tone. "Did you…happen to get a sample?"

Her hand cups his face and finds a close-lipped smile that is, however slight and half-hearted, sincerely appreciative of her attempt to comfort. Most of the time he believes he has moved past the childhood trauma that marred and marked him. Its effects will always be with him, of course — but memories of the horror of that day and the months of grueling recovery and adaptation that followed have faded like an old photograph. It takes something visceral — something as intertwined with memory as our olfactory sense — to bring Matt Murdock back to those bad old days. And that he exists in both places — here on the cot, and decades ago on that hospital bed with his eyes bandaged up and his senses assaulted — may explain the anger coiled in his gut.

"That's a good way to look at it," answers Matt wryly when she talks of kicking-in teeth. "Though honestly it was probably IGH that stole my sight. CGI and the Russians just bought them. But they've done enough to deserve some teeth-kicking in their own right." His lips press into a tight line. "More than enough."

Then she's taking his shoulder and his brow knits in consternation and chagrin. "No," he says with a little shake of his head. "I — I wanted to. But they were moving out that pair and I had to make a choice. I had to save them." He lets out a sigh laden with regret. "And, of course, as soon as they realized that the operation was compromised, they cleared out and torched the whole compound. No trucks, no documents, nothing."

A sudden thought strikes him, prompts his brown eyes to snap shut again. "Jesus," he says, tone bleak. "If we'd only been — if we'd gone in together we probably could have saved them and snagged all that evidence, couldn't we? God damn it."

The delicate sympathy in Kinsey's expression, comingled there with apology that bloomed in the necessity of her question, changes. A different kind of sympathy, though a variety all the same, only shot through with a core of rueful, gallows humor. "And if we'd been at the Wolfsschanze in nineteen — what, forty? Forty-one? We could have killed Hitler, too." The grasp of her hand tightens at his shoulder. "You can't think about things like that, Matt. It's going to drive you crazy. Neither of us could have predicted the future, and you — even with what you actually knew about me, you couldn't have known what it meant. Or whether or not I was safe, or…just…you can't. You can't beat yourself up for not being psychic. All we can do is what can be done now, and we'll do it." The pressure relents. She rests her hand and forearm on the cot in front of her, between them. "And you made the only right choice with the knowledge that you had, anyway. People like this aren't going to give up doing what they're doing. They can be found again. Those two needed your help right then."

When the next silence passes, she slowly sinks back down to rest her head on the pillow, watching him thoughtfully from beneath lashes at low-mast.

"Do you believe in fate? Or — you're Catholic. Do you believe that — that God has a plan for everyone? That we're always, I don't know — that things 'happen for a reason?'"

He feels a powerful relief and gratitude when she absolves him — absolves them both, really — of the secrets and half-truths that have modestly set back a venture they didn't even know they shared. She also offers sensible counsel to a man who almost always carries more on his shoulders than he has right or reason to. And even though Matt's reasons for self-blame are deep seated and far from rational, he can still see the wisdom in her words. Or he can in the moment at least — it's not likely a lesson he will truly internalize any time soon. "Yeah, I know," he says all the same, his smile of acceptance and appreciation a brief and slight.

Then she's asking him a heavy question, one that draws up two thick, dark brows. "Uh, yeah," he whispers. He doesn't often talk about his faith — and when he does, it's often with a sort of wry, self-deprecating mockery. "I do, actually. I can't say I'm always a fan of the writing, but I do believe that there's a script." He shifts in his seat a little, angling so that some of his thigh ends up on the cot and he can turn his torso towards her. He lifts his chin with the obvious rejoinder: "Why?"

Why?

She draws in a breath as deeply as she dares, and mulls over the answer to that question, probing for depths of it beyond the obvious, superficial reasons that immediately occur to her. "I've asked myself a lot in the last year whether or not I'd wind back time if I could. Reverse my…condition. Go back to the way things were. On bad days…" She quiets. "On bad days I have to think about that for a long time, but I've never once decided I'd change the way things are, as hard as they get. I'm not the person now that I was then. Sometimes it feels that's a tragedy, that I'm — that I've become something I'm not always comfortable being. But…it's hard to imagine walking back the knowledge, anyway. This is an easy question for me to contemplate because I'm not obligated to any philosophy about predestination. I'm not especially religious. Sometimes, though…"

Hazel eyes drift away from him, wandering over the holographic displays endlessly streaming data. "Sometimes things happen that make me wonder if I'm not wrong about that. Synchronicities, you know. Like…you being there to sense what was inside of that last truck. That they're still using it, and you knew what it was, whatever it is. It made me wonder if you'd go back and change the way things are, if you could."

She glances up at him again, the corner of her mouth tilting upward. "Then I realized that wasn't the right question to ask."

Now it's his turn to offer a comforting touch — the palm of his hand re-discovers the hinge of her jaw and a thumb graces the line of one cheek while she talks through her inner debates over whether she would give up her transformation if she could. For all his ambivalence about some of the baggage that came with it — particularly the pleasant-voiced but thoroughly inscrutable A.I. sharing her brain — he respects her answer, in part because it syncs with his own. To wit:

"Yeah, reconciling an all-knowing God with a plan in mind and all that Catholic talk about free will gives me a headache, to be honest," comes the dry reply from the guy who spent half an hour of their first date talking back and forth about philosophy. His brow knits faintly. "I get what you're saying. Sometimes I wonder about what my life would be like if that truck hadn't — but I wouldn't take it back either. My sensei — who was blind too — told me what happened to me was a gift. And I believe that's true… it just wasn't a gift for me. Those powers let me help others — so really, the gift was for them."

But then he's canting his head to one side. "So what's the right question to ask?" he says with a little note of mirth.

It just wasn't a gift for me.

Those are the words that leave her laying there in silence and thoughtful, feeling fingers more callused than his occupation can wholly explain as they cradle the fragile bone structure of her face.

Because she isn't sure. She's not sure about that. Given what she knows about him — and that so much less than she'd believed — with his inclination toward guilt for reasons that she isn't sure can wholly be put down to his religious upbringing, his choice of profession, his decision to strike out alone in a small practice rather than join one of the mega-firms of the tri-cities area…

She just isn't sure that's true.

But then, you can't say something like that to someone. Not even someone you know as intimately as she knows Matt Murdock. You can't turn their tragedy into their gift. You shouldn't. If someone tried to do that to her, she might pike their heads outside of the garage as a warning to the others, even if she wonders, sometimes, if they're right. Suspects that they could be, if she moves in the right direction with it.

Big 'if.'

So she smiles, and there's enough strain in it to suggest that she's nearing the end of the tolerable window of druglessness. "The one I asked instead. What you believe. It tells me more than just the answer to my question."

Brief pause.

"I think I'm ready for that next dose now." A beat, and then, annoyed: "I wish I hadn't gotten shot. We could have started working on this stuff tonight."

She's not wrong. Both that there is more to Matthew Murdock's prodigious sense of guilt than his Catholic school days — for all the revelations of the last few forty-eight hours, they've really yet to scratch each other's surfaces — and that he draws more pleasure from his double-life, with all of its dangers and, yes, violence, than he's come to terms with. She's also not wrong that convincing him of either at the moment would be an exercise in futility.

Her weariness wrings another pang of quiet concern from him, a stocktaking of her vitals with all of his strange sensory powers. "That makes two of us," he says of her getting shot with a wan, fond smile, "I'll get your meds, but you're going to have to wait for that pizza before conking out again. You need to eat something, Kinze. As for the rest? We've got tomorrow." And with that, he leans down to offer a brief ghost of a kiss to her lips.

They will, of course, have tomorrow. Matt will be good to his word, order himself some spare clothes on Amazon Prime, and stay the next day, and the next, and one more after that until he's sure she's steady on her feet — likely leaving few of their many unanswered questions resolved except his lingering affection and steadfast commitment to keep her safe. Then he'll head home, where his life will perhaps irrevocably change thanks to a call from one Jessica Jones, as the small-time Hell's Kitchen lawyer is suddenly engaged in the Herculean — maybe Sisyphean — and very public task of Saving Sergeant Barnes.

He'll call, he'll email, he'll text, he'll share information on their joint foil through whatever means she deems best or most secure — but he won't come again.

Not for a while.

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