What We Are

July 24, 2017:

Figuring that out? An ongoing process.

There's some shop-talk, too, and in the end it helps to hold everything together, even if nothing's clearer in the end than at the beginning.

The Garage

It belongs to Kinsey. It's big. It's in Gotham.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jessica Jones, The Winter Soldier, Tony Stark

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Two months. It's been two months since the last time Matthew Murdock walked out of the garage entrance he now approaches as his Lyft pulls away, with the summer sun still burning bright at five o'clock on a Friday evening. He's dressed down from his usual lawyer's fare: faded jeans and an unmarked grey t-shirt. Were it not for the off-color glasses and the vestigial, entirely unnecessary walking stick he's already folding up, he'd look like he was here for a job instead of —

What is he here for? What was he ever?

Regardless of the answer to the question above, he's not unexpected. He wouldn't drop in without announcement. He emailed to say he'd be interviewing a witness for The Case in Gotham today, and he'd love to see her and catch up — knowing all the while how unforgivably lame that sounded after all they'd been through, and all they'd seen.

"Kinsey?" the man's voice calls out in a cavernous echo that sounds above the bluesy rock on the radio.

—-

It hasn't been a silent two months, though it has been…quiet, at least on the interpersonal front. His ongoing professional concerns — calling them that is laughably underwhelming — reign supreme, and Kinsey is just as leery of burdening him with any feelings of guilt about the unavoidable lack of time to spend as she is of interfering with a case that sounds, from what she's been able to glean — not only from the news, but from other alternative sources — like one of the most complicated ever to be fought in a court of law.

So, for two months, things have been…quiet. Quiet, peppered with occasional indications of her ongoing existence, signs that she's thinking of him, cares: sandwiches for his entire office, small notes with absurd doodles in the margins, usually responding to something in the news about the case, though not always. All of them were intended to get a laugh, or at the very least a smirk. It's a periodic, careful trickle of gestures that say she hasn't forgotten. Things intended to make him feel better, not worse.

It makes it seem much better on the outside than it has been on the inside.

Everything ended with the abruptness of a summer fling — those hot-weather stretches of blissful oblivion that come to a sudden, screeching halt, chilling in time with the air that signals a return to school, a flight back home. The first two weeks had been fine: the timing, she'd said, and laughed. Unbelievable!

The two weeks after that had been enough time for doubt to set in. Maybe they hadn't had time to put themselves back together again before life rose up to kick the door in and spirit him off on some other adventure. Maybe he'd find, off on his own, that he preferred that to the nest of complications she'd become. Maybe —

Tonight the Garage is as it always has been, though the widespread symptom of empty bays appears to have been cured in the time of his absence. She's taking more customers again, signaling a change to — what, exactly? But she's not buried with her head underneath a vehicle, covered up to her elbows in grease. He warned her he was coming. She showered and put on unstained clothing. Decided to play catch-up with some work that doesn't involve heavy machinery or delicate robotics.

Pretend to play catch-up, anyway. She is nervous, and trying not to be.

Enough that the sound of her name carried by a familiar voice creates a silver icicle of adrenaline in her stomach. She closes her eyes a moment, then peels herself away from the workbenches along one wall to wind toward the front of the building.

She looks —

Like Kinsey.

She sounds, smells — and with Murdock's prodigious senses who knows, maybe she even tastes — nervous. She's trying hard not to seem it, though she must remember it wouldn't matter. Or maybe, in the moment, she's forgotten. "The conquering hero returns." She stops shy of him, uncertain. Does she hug him? Are they hugging? Are they — what are they?

Her head tilts. "You look pretty good for a guy who probably isn't getting a whole lot of sleep."

—-

"Nice thing about the shades is they hide the bags under your eyes," Matt quips with a full-toothed flash of white that he finds comes easily to him, but it still has a grace note of grit. He refuses to let this fall apart under the weight of time and accumulating awkwardness. He's going to fucking Green Lantern his way to resolution on this one —

—whatever that resolution may be.

And so he puts out his arms. Goddamn right they're hugging. They'll always hug, he tells himself. You can't be that close to someone and just pretend it never happened, or worse, vanish. You can't abandon people. What the hell kind of dirt-bag person are you then?

And then they are hugging, his arms banded around her back, and besides the cocktail of nerves he probably picked up half-way across the garage floor to see her, he registers the immediacy of her in ways that braille-read emails and voice-read texts can't begin to manage. The lines of her body, the trickle of her hair on his neck, the warmth of her cheek, the delicate jaw and high cheek bone. It summons up a million memories, even if they'd only been dating for about four months, all told. He lets out a quick breath. "You look a lot better than the last time I saw you," he murmurs wryly in their brief embrace.

Though of course he's not looking at her at all. He doesn't have to.

—-

That smile of his hits her right in the chest. It's familiar, reassuring, and contains a vague ache, complicated for her even if he makes it look uncomplicated for himself. He hugs her, she hugs him back, and then three beats later tightens that hug, giving in to everything that hasn't been and isn't being said. For a moment her stomach escapes gravity, does a dizzy twist, and her heart races. Arms looped up and over his shoulders, it'd be perceptible against the chest of any man, no superpowered senses required. Horrifyingly she feels for just a moment her nose and eyes begin to tingle with sentimental tears, only to be spun away from that edge by his quip and into laughter instead, like a little tornado of emotions. She still sniffs once, but the smile lingers, and so does the relief. It's maybe going to be okay.

"Yeah, I bet."

She starts to let him go. Changes her mind. Tightens her arms one last time, then presses a chaste little kiss to his cheek, something on the shy side — which is probably telling. Kinsey isn't especially shy. "It's good to see you."

Underneath all of that, all of the things that make up the sensory field that is the woman he knows, there are new things, too. Different kinds of oil and chemical smells. Metal shavings. Sawdust, of all things. Copier ink and other office scents. And cologne. Faint — someone she spent time with earlier in the day — but evident, more than a passing encounter on the street could account for. Client, maybe. Friend, possibly.

He'd never guess the truth.

Not unless he's met Tony Stark.

—-

Kinsey doesn't opt for half-measures; she vaults into the hug and holds tight for long beats. He reciprocates, palms tightening and readjusting on her shoulder-blades as he draws her closer in turn. At the same time he feels the rush of her heartbeat, tastes the ever-so-faint spike of salt in the air, and feels in his own self a heady rush of staggering relief and exultation followed swiftly by a sharp pang of guilt. He didn't (consciously) intend for things between them to reach this precarious point, or to leave the woman who had literally taken a bullet for him waiting so long.

Then she's kissing him — on the cheek, improbably — and finally detaching, and it's only then that he catches, really notices the spice of expensive cologne amid the natural cocktail of fragrances that mark her as singularly as her fingerprint.

SHIELD treating Anonymous like a friend, not foe for now, said Jessica Jones' files of Kinsey Sheridan, with Matt only subbing in her name because they'd grown close enough he could fill in some of the blanks. Not sure what she and Stark arranged, if anything.

And then he knows — without, of course, knowing anything at all. That knowledge strikes him with the cold bite of aftershave, leaving him bewildered for a fraction of a second, pulling momentarily away as if, absurdly, it would let him see her more clearly. "Ah, yeah," he says, regaining his footing and adopting some of that casual demeanor. "It's really good to see you too, Kinze. I'm, uh, sorry everything got so damn crazy."

What's he talking about? The trial? The docks? Or what came after? Take your pick, perhaps.

—-

"I missed you." With her hands on his shoulders, standing there and smoothing down his sleeves as though he's wearing something more formal than he is, it sounds apologetic. She doesn't leave him waiting for an explanation.

"I wasn't going to say that. Not because I didn't mean it, or don't. I do. Just because, you know — I get it. With everything going on, and how important it is, and I didn't want you to feel bad and you're the kind of man who apologizes for bleeding in front of people, but I just — I did. Do."

Hazel eyes lift from where they'd fallen to the center point of his chest, lambent and searching beneath worried brows, though the rest of her seems to have found some sort of equilibrium after that initial emotional parabola.

Nothing else immediately stumbles into her mouth to be said, in this awkward parade of things that two months have made strangely difficult. Plenty of things have happened, but sometimes those things are so huge that it seems impossible to begin to unpack them in a moment like this one, where so many things are crowding in as it is. Instead, somewhat to her own surprise, she says, "I'm really proud of you!" The words ring like the tolling of a bell with sincerity: girlish, bright. "You're probably tearing your hair out, but it's…what you're doing. It's really…" Enthusiasm remains, but words fail her. Lamely: "Really something."

She lets go of him, half turns, gesturing needlessly over her shoulder with a thumb. "Do you, uh, want some coffee? Are you — do you have to go right away, or do you have time to…um…"

—-

I missed you, she says with her hands on his shoulders, summoning up a powerful and sometimes contradictory mix of emotions in his chest: euphoria, guilt, affection, anxiety. Some of those even play out on his subtle features, at odds with the picture-perfect half-smile he'd been holding on to up until those words crossed her lips. He brings up one hand to gently graze the back of his knuckles against the warmth of her cheek; he may not be ordinarily blind, but he has the blind's preference for touch as a way of communicating emotions and reading those emotions in others.

"No, it's — it's ok," he assures her, and for a moment he believes that's true. "I — missed you too."

The trial comes up, and he rolls his eyes behind his glasses. "Tear my something out," he agrees with mock-exasperation. "It's a beast of a case, and we are only just now coming on our trial date, but thanks. For the moral support, and — everything." A beat, and then a more enthusiastic: "Sandwiches included! God, I thought Foggy was ready to propose to you when that tray came in."

She turns to needlessly point to where the coffee-maker is, and Matt flashes another brief smile. "Yeah, no, I'm not in any rush. And, ah, I've been known to enjoy a cup of coffee from time to time." A beat. "As long as I'm not putting you out."

—-

She's too perceptive not to notice his mixed response. Matt senses everything — that's his gift, and his curse. Kinsey doesn't sense the beyond, but she senses what's there, with less filter than most, and remembers it all.

There's a hot pulse of misery buried somewhere underneath the genuine joy at seeing him again. It's rooted in confusion, a feeling of helplessness that she's been able to mask, until now, with the conviction that he's keeping his distance because he has no choice, and she's letting him because it's the right, and adult, thing to do.

It's much harder with him standing right there.

There's a twinge even in the laugh he gets about Foggy's enthusiasm. It's a real laugh, full of real affection, but even that thought adds to the cumulative uncertainty, coming bundled as it does bundled with memories of the dinner they had the night she met his affable partner, and immediately given him cause to regret it by devolving into geeky bonding.

It's a relief to turn away and move toward the back of the space, wave her hand breezily, as though none of that were happening inside of her, some alchemical reaction she doesn't have a name for or entirely understand yet. She tries not to think about what that means, that he thinks his visit might be an inconvenience.

"Matt. When have you ever?" Behind them both the garage doors begin to roll closed, as they've done every single time he's ever been here. This time, though, he's armed with the knowledge that they aren't automatic, after all. "You're letting me put off work for a little while. That's basically doing me a favor."

—-

"Yeah?" he asks when she wills the garage door shut and wades deeper into the garage. "You know me, always happy to help." That, at least, is mostly true.

Up to now they've been improbably good at braving past the calamities that marked their romance — almost by sheer force of will. Perhaps it's a shared mulish streak born of their Irish heritage. Their first kiss was really an act of defiance at fate, coming as it did after a demonic tech startup made a ruin of a date for which they'd both had high hopes. The dizzying, sparkling weeks of infatuation that came after were cut short by revelations of all they'd been hiding from each other, but even those revelations, for all their complications and potential for disaster, seemed like they might be a catalyst for something stronger and deeper. But all of that was itself cut short by a bullet, and her convalescence, and then the trial — and really, most of all, by time.

And now Matt is finding, as he follows her lead without benefit of his walking stick or showy fumbling , that no matter how much he rehearsed these moments in his mind, it's harder than he imagined for willpower, hope or expectation alone to close the distance imposed by those months on their own. Maybe forcing it is the wrong the tack.

"How are you feeling?" he asks sincerely. "You seem so much better."

—-

She prepares the coffee automatically, unthinkingly, hands made for fine instrument work gliding through the motions with little direction on her part — like one of her drones. The rest of her thoughts continue to circle the moment in a whirl that's all fire one moment and ice the next, for all that she tries to ignore the ongoing hubbub. "The first three weeks were rough, but it was better after that. It's not much to look at now, to be honest. A lot of vitamin E and some top-notch lotions later, and it's probably going to be hard to tell there was ever any injury at all."

Mostly true. The welt is still the faint rose hue of new scar tissue. When that fades it will remain as a slight depression in her skin that won't require honed senses to detect via the fingertips.

"The rest is…"

Behind her eyes, flashes of the interior of Stark Tower, where she spent her morning working on a project that isn't a project. Other images superimpose: Jessica's worried face, a kneeling robot. "Complicated." She turns to face him on that word, smiling, but it's a wan smile shot through with apology. "As usual. Things have been changing for me…fast. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet." She extends one hand, holds out the mug containing his coffee, and as she draws a breath she reinforces the smile, bolsters it for his benefit. "Everything is fine, though. I think. No need to worry."

—-

The first three weeks were rough, she says — and he can't help but remember that he was only there caring for her during the very first of those before he flew off to his own little island. Guilt surges again, for all that she's absolved him of it. And then she's going on, saying how soon it'll all just be a speck, a slight indentation, barely visible to those with eyes to see it. "So bikinis will be back in season next summer?" he quips with a wry half-smile.

To the rest, her explanation that things remain complicated and are changing quickly — Yeah, for you and me both — the young lawyer ducks his head and nods a few times. There was a time when he's hide as much of what he knows from her as he could possibly get away with, but those days are, for now, pretty much done after he saw how close it came to getting her killed. "Yeah," he says, clearing his throat. "I — ah. Don't freak out, but I heard a little something about that. It's part of why I came to check in."

He accepts the cup of coffee with a deadpan: "I think we share a mutual friend from Hell's Kitchen, Kinze."

—-

He'll have only the most fleeting glimpse of her smile before it's concealed by her mug. "If not this summer. It's too hot for layers."

All of which presupposes that she's going to have the time or inclination to while away the hours on a beach somewhere. None of that seems even remotely likely, with everything going on, but it's a sunlit, pleasant thing to contemplate, and there are few enough of those in her life lately.

Witness:

Don't freak out, but

Not many phrases in the English language can make her tense up quite as quickly as those. Her fingertips pale where they press into the sides of her mug, their bloodnessness the only visible indication of an inner tension that rises in reflex to what he says. Her brows arch in pointless invitation to continue. "…Oh?"

And then he does.

She stands in silence after that, trying to process what she's being told. There's a chilly feeling underneath it all, unfortunate but inevitable dread. Fear that she may have misjudged Jessica Jones.

She swallows another measured sip of her coffee, cradling it in front of her collarbone. "Jess. I'm…trying not to freak out because you asked me nicely. It would probably help if you explained what you heard. And why."

—-

This reaction was one he expected. "Jess and I work together a lot," Matt says, his voice even-keeled and his composure steady. "P.I., lawyer, both dealing in a lot of weird shit. She's actually how I got the Winter Soldier case. Because of that, I do have access to some of her files, and a few days ago a blip appeared about something called a — uh, Decimux? — a murderer in Stark Tower, and a former government agent turned hacker called 'Anonymous' who is desperate not to be found out by their former employers. No one else could have put it together except me — because I know you."

Finally, all that said, he takes the first sip of his coffee. And after it's done: "You can trust Jess with your secret," he says quietly. "Even if it came to her by accident, as I'm sure it did. Mine did — and I do."

—-

Relief is instant and powerful, followed swiftly by bone-deep weariness.

The terror of being discovered has long since lost what little novelty it ever had. It is exhausting, and no small part of why she found herself with the strength to do what she swore she would never do, and fulfill the prophecy of a man she could barely, for years, stand to look at…by coming back to him with her tail tucked between her legs.

That's how he sees it, anyway, she's sure.

With a sigh that's more like an escape of air from a leak, she drops back against the edge of the table, widened eyes lidding, gaze cast down into the coffee she's no longer hugging to her chest. She sets it aside, destined to cool and be forgotten. "That makes sense. Sorry. I shouldn't doubt her like that, she's been nothing but good to me, but it's just. It's happening a lot. I don't think I've gotten my feet back under me yet after this last time."

To say the least.

She lets herself sit more fully on the edge of the table, hands to either side of her hips, and hazel eyes lift back up to rest on him. "Well, I won't sugar coat it for you — it's not great. It's not really — I didn't want this. But it's not the worst way things could have gone, and I…" Trailing off, she slips her fingers up into the hair near her ear to slide it behind the shell of one, pushing that shoulder forward in a half-shrug and turning her head to glance off toward the front door. "Should just be grateful that I had options. Probably."

From the sound of her voice she's not quite managed to make that the dominant emotion she feels when she's thinking about her new circumstances, but there's determination in it, anyway.

—-

With her faith in Jessica Jones properly restored, Matt listens quietly, absorbing Kinsey's roundabout explanation and description of her present circumstances. He takes a slow sip of his coffee while she speaks, which together with the sunglasses obscures some eighty-percent of his ordinarily opaque features. It leaves little enough room to glean what he makes of her circumstances or her choices. At least — until she outlines just how often she's being made. "Yeah," Matt admits after a swallow, with a sympathetic, almost commiserating smile. "You've had a rough time of it, Kinsey. No denying that."

He makes his way towards her, leaning face-forward against the space of table beside where she sits, with forearms planted on the the table's edge, coffee in hand, and legs at a slight diagonal. He turns to angle his features towards her, the quirk of his lips slight but fond. "Never let it be said that Kinsey Sheridan is not a world-class survivor, right?"

—-

For just a moment, in the weary emptiness that comes along with the numbing that follows every sudden shock of late, driven by emotional fatigue, things feel almost the way the used to when he would visit: comfortable, companionable. Even without a label, because really — when did they ever have one that fit, true to size?

Just for a moment.

Her interior response to what he says is different than the one she actually shows him, which is to smile, close-lipped but firm. "Right."

Because that, too, has lost its novelty, somewhere between the explosive detonation of her old life and the continuing failure of the new one to find equilibrium, and thrive. Enough transitions for a long enough period of time, and one begins to lose sight of where the horizon is, or any landmark that might tell them how far they've come.

"I've been trying to stay away from pursuing the things we were looking into because…" She laces her fingers in the slant of her lap, fidgets. "Well, you're so high profile right now, I'm sure people are combing your personal history looking for just..anything they can get to smear you, and I'm — I don't want to, you know…" Get caught, and fuck up your entire life, and several other people's into the bargain. "…do anything risky that might…" The words don't come. She lifts one of her wringing hands and waves them away.

"Unfortunately I doubt CGI is going to enter any kind of similar cease-fire."

—-

Her admission that she's shied away from exploring CGI for fear of having her cover blown and bringing Matt, his case, and his client down draws a sharp, short, but audible breath from the man. "Kinsey, I appreciate that, but you know I'm still dressing up in a devil costume and beating people on at least a semi-regular basis," he fires back with an equal mix of mild exasperation and humor. "I'm risky enough for the both of us."

But then his brow is knitting and he's wrestling, clearly, with what he's about to say next. "I have — I have worried that I've been to public and out there for you to keep the anonymity you need to protect yourself," he says carefully. Matt doesn't outright say that he's avoided her to protect her, but it seems an intuitive, implicit end-point of the logic. Because the publicity has certainly stunned him. His firm is a frequent topic of conversation on CNN, the New York Times is working on a profile, and that's not to mention stories in GQ and Teen-fucking-Vogue. Start typing in Matt's name and the autofill shows you 'Matt Murdock Winter Soldier,' followed by 'Matt Murdock married,' and 'Matt Murdock girlfriend.' His life has become a circus.

Why isn't Teen Vogue doing a story on me? Foggy had asked before Matt threw the magazine in his general direction.

"But you're right," he adds quietly. "CGI won't stop. Won't stop looking for you, or doing what they're doing. Neither should we — I even have a new lead, maybe."

—-

It's safe to say that the speculation about his private life in the public eye hasn't escaped the notice of the woman who would have been the ready, if not easy, answer to that question two months ago. As busy as things have been for Kinsey, it has been impossible not to think about. It's everywhere. He's everywhere.

His confession shocks her, and she lets it show. Eyes round, mouth drops open. "Matt! You — " Her brows knit, then smooth, then knit again. She can't decide whether or not to lay into him. The impulse is clearly there. But he's an adult, isn't he? And this is his profession, his case, and maybe he needs to be that to learn more, and — but —

In the end, it doesn't free her from that assumed mantle of responsibility — the one that's determined not to make things any worse.

She hikes her shoulders, sitting on a nest of buzzing words she gives no vent to, and instead directs all of that restless incredulity into the thing he holds out in offer. "What is it?"

—-

"Not as much anymore!" he assures her and protests at once, though he can't help but crack a little, private smile as he does — like a guilty child. He understands the risks, but for all the cautious and sensible demeanor he projects, Matt Murdock has always been at least a little bit foolhardy. He came by the name the city finally settled on honestly, and early. He told her that from the start. Besides: "My reasons are the same. People didn't stop getting into trouble and needing help just because I took this case, Kinsey. I can't — turn off what I pick up."

And then she's asking him about his lead. "A meta Jess ran afoul of a few years back," Matt says, all humor evaporating. "Mind control through pheromones — the same sort of thing the drugs found at Kelt's apartment did. Pretty much exactly. This meta — he ended up getting hit by a bus and sent into a coma. Police, for some reason or another, made it seem like the man had died. But we think he ended up in the care of CGI, and is being used to manufacture more of those pills."

A beat, a grimace. "Which, if you think through the implications of, are horrifying and lucrative. But if we can find this meta and where he was taken — maybe it leads us to CGI's labs."

—-

"Pheromones," Kinsey repeats, and both the flat tone of her voice and the flat look on her face speak volumes about her professional opinion about any kind of potent mental manipulation via that vector.

She's new to the metahuman club. She gets to be exhausted by all of the ways they defy conventional understanding of science. It's a world that magic exists in, and she knows the folly of expecting the world the work the way she was always told that it ought to, but..

"That doesn't surprise me at all," she says, of the implied police involvement in falsifying the telepath's death. "When I said whoever was behind this CGI stuff was scary, I meant really, really scary. Whoever they are, they — " She hesitates, then closes parted lips and lifts her hand, waving that away for now as a digression. "Nevermind. Honestly, though, as scary as that is and as wide as their reach seems to be? Cops on the take aren't the most careful. That's possibly good news for us. When it comes to digging up dirt through accounts that are supposed to be private, or surveillance or — that's me all over. Just point me in a direction and I can probably find us a guy who knows something."

Work speak eases some of her earlier tension, though not even remotely all of it. Enough, at least, that she can reach for her cup of coffee. She has no interest in the contents, but it's a social gesture that resonates with normalcy.

In the end, she just can't help herself, no matter what she's told herself about his adulthood and his agency. "Matt," she starts, as gently as she's able, "The point is that people are always going to need help and get into trouble. But there are other people out there who can help with that, you know? You know me, you know Jess — use us. Because you just committed to help this one guy who, and I'm just basing this off of what I know — really needs your help, specifically. What if you get killed? Or caught doing…something? What if they get footage of…I mean…you know this. I know you know this. You wanna protect people, I get it. But you are sorta doing that, with this one guy." There's more she'd like to say, but it edges up against the boundary of overbearing, even if they're honestly held opinions. She bites them back, arcing her thumb over the lip of her mug.

"One of the benefits of us being 'out' like this is that you have more resources now. You can use'em."

—-

"Yeah, Kinsey, I get that there will always be people in trouble, but I'm always going to have clients, too," Matt fires back, and while he doesn't raise his soft-spoken voice a single decibel, he literally gets his back up from that forward lean against the table. His unwillingness to back down easily from a point he comes by honestly from a mix of native-born Irish mulishness, a boxer's heritage and a lawyer's training. "I get that there's this tension between my job and the other stuff, and that the risks are even higher with so many eyes on me. I get it. But there are also times when I can only help Barnes by putting on the mask. You know this is no ordinary case, right? Hydra stormed my office and shot it up with tranquilizer darts when a SHIELD agent came to see me the other night. This asshole African king was chasing my client around wearing an adamantium suit and riding a hovercraft. Bucky doesn't just need a lawyer; sometimes he'll need Daredevil."

It isn't just a lawyer's argument; there's vehemence with which they are spoken that betrays real belief, and a deep-seated need to protect a man reviled by half of the country.

He turns his side to the table so that he can face the woman sitting on the tabletop next to him. "And I am using Jess for some things," he adds, though there's a hint of hesitancy there, either of using Jess in particular or because he vastly prefers to work alone. "I didn't want to bother you while you were healing, but I'm coming to you now. So. I'll give you the info on the 'John Doe' in the system, who went by Zebediah Kilgrave but was really named Kevin Thompson." Even behind the glasses, you can see Matt's sightless eyes roll at the moniker before he fixes his attention back on her.

"Just, try to be careful while you look, right?" Matt adds softly. "Like you said — dangerous people."

—-

Patience is among Kinsey's qualities by necessity. Science, even on the cutting edge, is a tedious, laborious, repetitive, plodding process that requires checking one's work countless times, examining every last angle to account for the variables that might render gathered data worthless.

She employs it now, extending a hand to touch him for the first time since that overwhelmed hug. She places her hand on his shoulder as he angles toward her. "I realize it's not the usual case. I know. I also know you well enough to know that if everything goes suddenly very wrong and somebody dies because you could've done things differently — " Pause. Small smile. "Hell. I know you well enough to know that if it goes wrong suddenly and somebody dies even when you couldn't have done things differently, it'd eat you alive." Her hand falls away. "Anyway, that's the last I'll say about it."

The small smile twists, tilts over onto a lopsided angle. Amused, sheepish. "It's probably vibranium. Adamantium's — nevermind."

He rolls his eyes, and she stifles another smile, this one sharper. "Zebediah Kilgrave, huh. You lucked out with 'Daredevil,' I think."

Cradling the mug in her lap with restless hands, fingers that wander the ceramic convexity, she sits in temporary silence, eyes somehow both sharp and soft as they flick across his expression. He cautions her to carefulness, and she lets that hang in the air some moments. "I try."

Another beat. Several. The somehow stubborn push forward of her chin is a tonal prelude to the subject matter she's about to introduce, gaze falling into the cup in her hands. "I have an arrangement with Stark. You know how I feel about him, but it's the only thing I could think to do once…all of that insanity happened. With SHIELD, the thing in Jessica's notes. So…" Small sigh. "I'm in New York pretty regularly. I can bring you information physically. If you have a drop site that's secure, we can do that. It's safer than sending you this stuff digitally, for now."

—-

She puts one warm hand on a solid shoulder and tells him she understands, recognizes the guilt and the special circumstances. His lips part, but then close.

The thing is, he's about to say, everything is a risk. Putting the mask on risks Bucky's life, but sometimes so does leaving it off. And risks a lot of other lives in the process. Whatever he does or forbears from doing involves trade-offs, compromises of principles, and consequently room for guilt when things go askew — as they inevitably do.

He declines to say any of that because then she's going on. First she's correcting him on weird-ass metals, to which he laughs softly and says with fondness, "Oh my god, you unbelievable nerd."

And then she's launching into what she's doing lately, the impossible choice she faced when she got pulled into a maelstrom and had her carefully built cover unexpectedly blown. The cut of his jawline sharpens as she speaks as he wrestles with several conflicting feelings about her new situation, but he swallows their expression. He knows the value of patience too, even if he doesn't always heed it. There's a moment to talk about Stark, and SHIELD, and Jessica Jones, and universe-eating machine gods, and Matt decides that this isn't it.

Instead, slowly and deliberately, he rises from his sideward lean against the table and circles to stand and face her, full front. He places his hand on the artificial one that cradles her cup and tries to gently pry it loose. "Well, if you're in the City already, I know a great sushi spot on 45th Street," he offers in his best deadpan. "Quiet. Intimate. The perfect place for an exchange of dangerous and top secret intelligence. And, you know… shumai." He allows himself a smile, at once wry and apologetic. "Kinze, look. I know my life exploded at the worst possible time. I know it. And I know we have a lot to talk about and to sort through. But I — missed you too."

A beat. A quiet correction. "Miss."

—-

You unbelievable nerd.

"I can't help what I am, Murdock! Besides, T'Challa's — "

Whatever the King of Wakanda is, she does not get to say. She watches him stand out of his half-seated lean on the table beside her, and she's so busy with it that when he reaches for the mug in her hands she blinks and looks down at the sudden contact. She releases the mug and lifts her eyes again, compliant but uncertain.

The uncertainty has very little time to melt before it shatters, broken to pieces by those next somber words of his. It's a hard left turn that she doesn't expect, and it slings her into an abrupt laugh, short and sweet and edged with something bashful. She presses her lips together tightly, stifling any others, and keeping the sound of her suddenly up-ticked heartbeat locked away.

Matthew Murdock can be extremely charming when he wants to be. The reminder hits her like a ten-tonne sledgehammer, dead center to the ribs, so that while he's amending that sally with more serious fare the whole of her is still faintly vibrating, like a struck gong.

Gaze turned up at him, open and clear as a spring, she looks nothing like what she actually is. There's nothing in her eyes that isn't Kinsey, though Five must be there in some capacity, no matter how small; there's no sign of the kind of person who could throw themselves at armed men from the shadows and try to squeeze the consciousness out of one of them with a prehensile alloy claw. Just a young woman with a complicated life, a lot of doubts, and the desire to find some safety or satisfaction amidst the noise and chaos.

"It's not like it was your fault," she says, obvious words that both of them understand but nevertheless ought to be said. She's been repeating them to herself like a mantra for weeks. "Some things are more important than…"

It still feels like a speedbump in her mouth. In her thoughts. They never needed specificity before. Not until they suddenly did, as something to hold onto in a sudden flood of vague, ominous questions.

She flicks her gaze away, then brings it back and summons up a small smile. "But I miss you too. I was looking forward to getting to know you for real."

—-

He's aware of course — has to be — that this, like all of their flirtations and little moments of tenderness to date, has a silent and invisible third party. It's a recurring thought that creeps up in stray moments when he's pouring through ancient and obscure caselaw on the crime of high treason — and it's usually paired with a visual of Hall 9000 from 2001 that's as sharp and crystal-clear as when he first saw the movie on DVD in… 2001.

Hello Matt. How are you doing, Matt?

And he's also assuredly remembers Six's sleek stealth, paired with the confession that she 'breaks the law a lot.' None of that is forgotten, and very little of it is resolved. Those concerns remain, it is safe to say, firmly planted in the back of his mind — even as he turns on that lightswitch of charm and makes a clear decision to try to bring them back into orbit of each other.

He keeps the prosthetic hand folded together in both of his as she once again absolves him of putting himself at a remove, shrugging a little at her conclusion. "Maybe I could have done better," he offers, because of course he does.

His smile widens, shows a hint of white. "You got to know a lot of me," he offers wryly, before his expression subdues. "The other stuff — I don't know, Kinsey. It's hard. I told exactly one girl in my life what really happened to me, and what I could do." A beat, a quick chuckling wince: "That was kind of a disaster. And I wonder if it hasn't gotten harder since I started.. using my powers this way. I'm not always proud of the things I do, even if I always have reasons for doing them. It's hard to show anyone the — you know." Darkness. Violence.

Slick, upping the psycho quotient. You're making a hell of a case for that date there, Murdock.

—-

Of course he does.

She rolls her shoulders gamely, and her eyes toward the ceiling. It's mute exasperation, but of an affectionate stripe, at least, and she's already pointed at his outsize capacity for guilt once today. No need to belabor the point.

His coy response gets another laugh, this one fuller for lack of any surprise. It's too much to hope that she would blush, probably. She tilts her head over to one side, dark strands drizzled against one raised shoulder, the look on her face briefly coy. Her eyes drop to the hands that cradle hers between them, and in the fleeting silence that follows, she presses the cushion of her lower lip between her teeth. "Yeah," she says, "I miss that too." She lances him with a look that glitters like a star, but the spark is short-lived.

Not because what he goes on to say kills her humor, but because it has priority.

"I do," she says, quietly. Her expression is neutral, unyielding, because it's full of the solid weight of fact. "I do know." Pale, slim fingers slide across the back of his hand atop hers, capping the pile. "Really well."

She sits with her own thoughts, some quiet decision arrived at and signaled by the eventual increase of pressure in her fingertips. "So…what does that mean?" Beat. "I can't un-know it — " Arguable! " — but I'm not looking to make your life uncomfortable, either."

—-

He can't see the coy looks, but he can hear some of it in the tone of her voice, and he'd be lying if he said he didn't feel a thrill when he heard — heard! — her lips caught betwen her teeth. His smile widens in turn.

But then they are wading into deeper waters. He says how difficult it is to open up, to share your secrets and your dark side — and of course she understands him. Possibly better than almost anyone else could. It's an incontrovertible fact that he acknowledges with his puff of a chuckle, his subtle smile, his faint nod. And it's also very likely one of the reasons he overcame his deep ambivalence and chose instead to try to rekindle a bit of what was. Matt has lived most of his life at a remove from the rest of the world, observing it and engaged with it but not feeling wholly a part of it. He's formed half a handful of deep connections in his life. The prospect of being understood by another person as well as Kinsey Sheridan could likely manage is terrifying and alluring at once.

Which is all to say:

"Nah, there's no turning back the clock," Matt admits as he draws the hand between them downward and to the side, allowing him to step ever-so-slightly closer and shatter the boundaries of polite distance between them, his fair, slightly scruffy countenance hovering just above her. "Which means the only real choice is to stop or to move forward. I vote for forward. Just — keep being patient with me, I guess." His lips curve up at their corners, as he adds a hushed: "And I'll try not to make a habit of testing that patience like I have the last few months. How's that for a deal?"

—-

Captive hand guided elsewhere, she lets go with the one she'd covered his with, and lifts it unthinking to place it in the shallow depression of his sternum as distance between them dwindles — the first unconscious gesture of ease with presence since he walked through the door and back, if only for a moment, into her life. Not that he was ever so terribly far away, but when it comes to physical distance, ten miles might as well be ten thousand when they can't be crossed, no matter the reason why.

"I can do that," she says, swiftly enough that she's either failed to give that the thought it deserves, or overthought her capacity for doing so over the last two months, when thinking was all she could do about it. Swiftly enough that she pauses, purses her lips, looks up on an angle at some meaningless part of the ceiling, and adopts a vaguely put-upon tone, not the least bit sincere. "I mean…I guess."

She's not the type to play those sorts of games, though — not even in jest. The look and the tone dissolve almost as soon as the words are out of her mouth, lashes falling to a heavy half-mast. She tilts forward at the waist, a movement that hollows out the small of her back, head tilting back, and her fingertips slide upward toward the neck of his shirt and curl, dipped behind the lip of that fabric. Not to pull, but to suggest something like that, an invitation enveloped in the whisper of breath that carries her next words.

"You've got yourself a deal."

—-

Kinsey all-too-quickly assents to his terms, even if she briefly pretends to begrudge them. He smiles: close-lipped but deeply appreciative. Most women, having learned the man they were dating had some secret life and then having their relationship put essentially on hold for two months would not be quite so forgiving. She has her reasons, and her own secrets, and it's been mentioned before that he may have pursued her in part for exactly that reason — but it still moves him.

The agreement comes in the form of a whisper, but she might as well be shouting for all that he reads the invitation couched in the subtle lean and the glide of her palm loud and clear. There are a lot of complaints any lady-friend of Matt Murdock might make — secrecy, dishonesty, chronic ambivalence and a powerful fear of commitment — but a failure to pick up on signals isn't one of them. Coupled with the fact that the elegant arc of her back — whether picked up through direct touch or his strange world-on-fire radar sense — might just be one of his favorite things in the world, it's no surprise at all that he's closing what scant space remains of the distance between them, stepping between her legs and bringing one hand to cradle the nape of her neck and another to rest at her side, before leaning down for a lingering and long-deferred kiss.

This part is so easy, he thinks. It always has been. Why does the rest have to be so goddamn complicated?

—-

Strange as it may be, the easiness with which this happens contributes, in its own way, to the difficulty of everything else. As though that shouldn't be the case; as though it means less for being front-loaded ahead of any kind of especially grave emotional stakes…though there's room to argue, one supposes, that that hasn't actually been true after all, and only seemed true. The stakes have always been mutually higher than either could have fully understood.

There's purity in it, though. That span of heartbeats pulls her backward through time to the span of weeks leading up to the moment that everything changed. They may have their secrets, and they may by necessity have to lie, but this, at least, is honest.

She winds her arms around his ribs and curls her fingers into the back of his shirt, creasing the material between, and her heart skips a beat as single shining thread of adrenaline stitches its way into her bloodstream. It's a moment of reunion, and sweet, but it's also a reminder that after a month of freely slaking every similar urge, he'd just up and disappeared for two whole months, like a sudden screeching stop at the end of a very sultry record.

It probably goes some distance toward explaining the faint glow in her cheeks when they part.

"You could stay," she says, theatrically casual, as though he might not have considered the option. Knowing, even as she says it, that it's more likely he won't even be able to stay for very long, much less overnight.

—-

A kind of drunken, joyous euphoria sweeps over him during the uncounted span of heartbeats that mark their reunion. The million-and-a-half impressions he marks with her sudden physical proximity is at once overwhelming and comfortingly familiar. Everything they shared since that strange night at Radio City may have been too pat in hindsight of all the treacherous terrain they must now navigate, somehow cheapened for its timing — but its resumption does, on his end, help bridge the months that he placed between them and at least some of the shifting boundaries imposed by all they've learned of each other.

Which may explain why their parting is only partial, if Matt has his way. He keeps his lips hovering just above hers, so that when she offers that nonchalant invitation he feels it in warm breath as much as hears its complicated nuances in his ever-so-sensitive ears. The hand at the back of her neck slides through tendrils of glossy black hair so that he can grace the soft plane of her cheek with one calloused thumb. "I'd really, really like that," he murmurs with one of those rueful, minor-key smiles of his.

"I, ah, left my stuff at a hotel in Crest Hill," he explains before pressing his forehead lightly against hers. "Didn't want to seem — I dunno. Presumptuous?" He seems slightly embarrassed by the admission — and the decision — in hindsight. Why he'd be staying in a hotel in one of Gotham's swankier, sleepier burbs rather than the city proper, or why he's staying there multiple nights, he doesn't deign to explain at the moment. Potentially because of what he breathes next: "But… I'm kind of giving zero fucks about my things at this particular moment."

—-

The gentle fingers in her loosely swept-up hair contribute to its natural tendency to want to escape all attempts to bind it, the little twist-around knot of a bun having drifted downward nearly to her nape.

Her gasp is tempered to account for the scant distance between them, but she widens her eyes and makes a show of astonishment. "Matthew Murdock, that sounded like a 'yes' to me. I might even like you enough to let you borrow a toothbrush."

It's not until after the impulse to quip that she actually takes the time to process what he said, and whatever the temptations in play, Kinsey is motivated by nothing else in her life so strongly as the satisfying of her own curiosity. He may not have meant to derail things, but —

"Crest Hill? Slumming with the Wayne family, are you?"

It's not that shocking. His profile has suddenly been elevated to ultimate public visibility, and Kinsey's got enough history with wealthy families — through the dynasty of her own — that she can think of scores of reasons he might have business on the hill.

"A lot of my clients come to me from that area. You should hear them sputter over the phone when they hear they have to drive their fancy luxury yacht cars down to the waterfront to get it serviced."

—-

"Oh, you know me," says the poor boy from Hell's Kitchen with a wry puff of a laugh that shows off two even, ivory rows teeth. "The Waynes are my kind of people." He seems at least outwardly untroubled by the detour from the seemingly inexorable trajectory of just a few moments ago. Though the moment is delicate it seems like a change in pace rather than a derailment. And besides, his disability taught him, among other things, to take his time and find value in moments as they come.

"No, it was a witness interview," the lawyer says with a slight shrug of his shoulders, and seems to find no reason to detach from the woman he's entangled with, even as they shift to talking shop. "This case has me talking to a lot of different types. SHIELD agents, heiresses, scientists, shrinks. You name it."

Naming those witnesses, even by their roles, summons them to the forefront of his mind and sends his brown eyes snapping instantly and tightly shut. "Jesus, Kinze," he exhales softly as he suddenly makes to derail the arc of their evening in truth, bafflingly giving rise to sentiments he's been bottling up and holding back, even from his partner-in-law. "I've got to win this one. This guy — he's so filled with regret, even though he was forced to do all of it. And now the people who left him in the cold — who fucking abandoned him — want to crucify him. I've got to save him."

—-

She never quite let go of the back of his shirt, and when everything gains gravity those fingers tighten, then splay and smooth whatever wrinkles they've been trying to press into the fabric. Even if he could read her expression, he might find it difficult to do so in those moments, watching him with his eyes closed as anxiety radiates from the words that spill afterward.

You will, she wants to say, but how can she offer pat reassurances when both of them know the future is uncertain…? She knits her brows, presses her lips together, still tingling from the moments that went before, sympathy writ in every line of her countenance. "You're giving it everything you've got. And you believe him. One of these other firms, these big, corporate — or anything government, really, I don't know if they could do what you're doing. Maybe in court, but out of it? You're a kind, compassionate person. Dealing with your client, dealing with the people close to him…the fact that it means this much to you? I know those things are going to matter. People are going to tell you things they might not tell anyone else." Her lips curve in a small, lopsided smile, pinned with rue or possibly apology. "I'm speaking from personal experience, obviously." The brief moment of humor wanes. "It's going to matter to everyone involved in the case, too. You can't fake that kind of passion. Anybody can bring the legal education to the table, but not everybody is going to use it in the same way, and if I have faith in anything it's that other people are going to know when you open your mouth that you're fighting hard because you believe. Not just in him, but in the idea that justice is something we can do for one another."

—-

Whatever he was expecting — if anything, really, since his near-non-sequitur was made without expectation of a response — Kinsey Sheridan's sudden paen to his efforts, his approach, his devotion, and his supposedly singular suitability to defending history's deadliest assassin was not in the cards, a fact that likely registers in the way his lips part and his eyebrows draw ever-so-slightly upward on a muted countenance. Her monologue leaves him speechless for a split-second. And after?

"Well, I'll tell you one thing, I'm pretty sold on you delivering our closing argument," he says to the woman he's still literally tangled up with, sightless eyes sparkling while his smile takes a turn for the rueful. "I know Foggy and I were going to have to flip for it anyway, so we should just go full third-party. Right?" Even those rare moments when he can open up are brief, quickly obscured by some brand of muted, wry humor — but it's impossible to disguise the appreciation he feels, and he knows it.

"Thank you," he says softly and more seriously, the sentiment paired with a brief kiss to her brow. "I mean that. And I sure as hell hope you're right." He himself has his doubts, which is why she was wise to distinguish all the things he brings that another lawyer might not. The fact that he is untried, and their firm relatively unresourced, is a fact which has weighed on him for months. Bucky could have done better. I only got this gig because of —

Shit.

A beat. "Oh, hey — how do you know Jessica Jones anyway?"

—-

It was probably inevitable that the only way he'd respond to her vote of confidence is with humor. She smirks, but it's a satisfied smirk. What she said seems to have found its mark, and she couldn't have hoped for any better. And maybe that is, like she said, because people can tell when you believe a thing.

Even the violence that night on the docks, with the Russians? Even the rage? She's decided it must have come from a place of outrage against the transgressions being committed. Matt would rebel if she said that was in its own way noble, but she thinks so: darkly noble.

"No thanks," is the predictable demurral, as she finally untwines her fingers from his clothing and lets her hands settle to either side of his waist, atop her knees. "I have absolutely no interest in becoming a part of that media circus."

How do you know Jessica Jones anyway?

"It was the night of the Charity Auction Gala in Gotham. The night I met Spider-Man the first time." Her eyes take on a splinter of distance as she remembers. "Whatever that first explosion of energy was, it basically knocked me…'offline,' I guess. I'm sensitive to electrical impulses. I think it effectively overclocked the neural net. I hit the floor like a ton of bricks. When I woke up I was behind the bar. She was putting me down. She carried me there so I wouldn't get trampled on."

She jumped across an entire amphitheater in one bound, actually, but Kinsey wasn't awake for the impressive specifics.

"When medical personnel got there, I made myself scarce for obvious reasons. Later she turned up here. She'd found me through the personal information in my clutch, and she said she wanted to return it, but she also…" Mouth opens, closes. "She'd also noticed something I did with the chandelier when I was, er, stuck to the ceiling, and asked me about it, because she thought she might be able to use someone with that kind of ability. She didn't know I wasn't — she had no idea I was hiding it. It scared the shit out of me." Eventually, she drafts a small, somehow wistful smile. "She's been nothing but good to me since then. She just has this really unfortunate habit of accidentally bringing bulls into the china shop that is my life. It's not her fault, but it's like — at this point I think it could be a running joke."

—-

Aside: Matt would object — vociferously — to any hint that what he did to those Russians was in any way noble, no matter how close she struck to his reasons. In Matt's moral universe, in the set of ideas he inherited and the tradition he was inculcated in, there's only one entity who gets to engage in righteous fury — and it isn't some twenty-something Manhattanite in a devil suit.

But that's an avenue of discussion for another day, as there are more than enough to pursue in the meantime.

Like Kinsey's winding discussion of how she first encountered Jessica Jones. Which happened — as it happens — at a swanky and ill-fated event both Kinsey and Matt were present for, just one week after he'd asked her out for a fateful cup of gourmet coffee. As she goes on to describe — with obvious if exasperated affection — Jessica's accidental discovery of Kinsey's very dangerous, very delicate secret, he wonders, and not for the first time, at how remarkably small the world can be… but it's far from the only thing he wonders at. Like how he can begin to broach the subject he's about to broach next.

He marshalls himself, despite the sinking feeling in his chest. The hand that was at her cheek slides down to the top of her shoulder in the three seconds it takes him to decide on his response. He summons a slight, fond smile as he says, "She's been nothing but good to a whole lot of people," he says, which might just be one of the highest compliments Matt Murdock has ever or could ever give.

And it's prelude to a clearing of his throat and a very deliberate sort of pause. "But… look, there's something you should know," he begins, knowing full well it's the sort of introduction that is most likely to set off alarm bells. But there is no tactful or disarming way to do this, and so the only thing to do is press on. "Jess and I — we've been through, just — intense stuff. And she developed, uh, feelings. For me." A beat. "Strong. Feelings."

And then he's quickly adding: "We only talked about it once, and I told her that — that I was seeing someone."

How many landmines can you drag a conversation through, Matt Murdock?

"Since then she's been — cool about it. But I'm, ah, a good read on people, and it's still kind of a thing. And since I now know that because the whole universe is roughly the size of a small town in Idaho and you two have your own thing…"

He tips his head upward and lets out a long breath that, while barely audible, fairly well resounds with exasperation, embarassment, anxiety, and no small amount of apology. "I just — I thought you should know."

—-

He's being awkward. The throat-clearing, the hesitation. She can hear the ellipses. The 'look' puts her on her guard immediately.

Oh god, she thinks, Jessica Jones is his ex.

'We've been through, just, intense stuff,' he says, and she revises her guess: oh god, they had sex after some kind of crazy incident.

Neither guess is correct, but the truth when it arrives is adjacent to those things, producing twin beats of quiet relief and guilt, the nature of the latter of which she'd be hard-pressed to identify without some thought.

Her lips quirk over 'a good read on people,' but she's quiet until he's finished speaking, and then for a few moments afterward, too. "I know how it is," she says, eventually. "The bonds you form with other people when you've been through something together are just…different than usual. Military, right? I get it." She shouldn't have to ask, and the temptation to assume based on the evidence — he's here, he's telling her — but the question marks that might linger in the shadows if she doesn't shine a light into those corners would follow her, she knows. So:

"I guess the question is…" Kinsey drags her lower lip between her teeth, pinning it a moment as she searches his expression with faintly apologetic, still-canny eyes. "Is that a mutual thing? Did you start to feel that way about her, too?" Brief pause. "Because if so, I'd really — you know, I'd just appreciate knowing, feelings being what they are and nobody can really control that, and then at least you and I could stay friends? Because I can totally respect somebody who just says that instead of sneaking around about it, if that seems like a thing that's likely to happen."

—-

She gets it, she says, and a wave of relief washes over him. He went into this conversation with only the vague outline of the relationship between Kinsey and Jessica. Jessica, it turns out, is among the small (but growing) handful of people aware of Kinsey's secret identity. 'Isn't she great?' Jess wrote him in a text when he signaled he knew her. All of it hints at friendship — or at least a close professional relationship — and dangerous territory into which Matt Murdock had blindly stepped into the middle. Her understanding does a lot to assuage his fears.

And the rest? It pauses Matt's lips to part and to, for half a second, leave him at a loss for words. But when he does find them, they seem steady, purposeful. " I'd put my life on the line for Jessica Jones," says a man who will put his life on the line for total strangers on a nightly basis, but it's still said with conviction — and a rueful affection he makes no attempt to hide. "I value my friendship with her — but that's all it is. And I may do a lot of sneaking around, Kinze, but not around stuff like this." His voice lowers a notch or two before he lets out a quick puff of breath. "The truth? We'd barely started dating when that conversation went down. But even then — I knew what I wanted. What I'd hoped we'd be."

—-

Realizing that Jessica Jones has felt that way about Matt for that long finally clarifies for Kinsey why it is that she feels guilty:

She doesn't know that she's in love with Matt Murdock.

She doesn't know that she isn't, but that's the point, really: she doesn't know. Things were careful and initially arms'-length for reasons related to her own recovery process, and though she's sure the feeling is mutual, and she, too, would put her life on the line for Matt — already has, in fact — they've had to tread very deep, very dark waters for a while. The trial muddied the waters, though they seem to be making strides toward clarifying a place for a new beginning.

It feels…selfish. To be with someone another woman apparently loves, when Kinsey is moving so slowly through those paces, learning as she goes, constantly asking herself questions and evaluating every step of the way.

She asks herself one now, just to see: Do I love him? Probing her own insides about it, sitting and looking up at him, she waits for something to arrive with the force of a lightning strike or the tolling of a massive bell, some kind of declaration from the heavens.

It doesn't arrive. But she feels, anyway, a wellspring of warmth and helpless affection, and he fans those flames when he says what he does, for reasons inexplicable to her but no less sweet. Her searching expression melts away, replaced with something more pliant, and with a slight backward tilt against the table's edge she gets her legs up and around his waist, hands lifted to rest atop his shoulders.

"You're definitely staying."

—-

Matt Murdock and Kinsey Sheridan share a lot. In this case, they share guilt — something Matt has quietly wrestled with for months — as well as uncertainty. If she posed that question to him, he'd be equally hard pressed to answer. Love has never come easy to Matt Murdock — the storied thunderbolt only struck him once, way back in college. There have been a long line of flings and hookups, but for myriad complex reasons of nature and nurture Matt has always had trouble forming deep attachments that come so easily to most people. That holds true here, but only to an extent — the intoxicating cocktail of affection, attraction, and curiosity he's felt for the woman who sits kiss-close to him right now has proven longer-lasting than he could have predicted.

And its effects are suddenly heightened when she envelops him — hands on his shoulders, long, semi-synthetic legs wrapped around his waist. His hands instinctively, reflexively move to either side, just above her hips as he steps in and closes the distance between him so he can feel the warmth radiating from her body. "Oh, you better believe it," comes a hushed, warm voice through curved lips that already seek out her own so they might continue the conversation without words.

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