Making God Laugh

August 10, 2017:

In the aftermath of the Barnes trial, Matt Murdock and Kinsey Sheridan finally reunite to chart a course forward on the case of the mysterious multinational company causing so much havoc in both their lives. And then? Matt gets a text.

Law Offices of Nelson & Murdock


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jessica Jones, James Barnes, Jane Foster

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It hasn't been long since Matthew Murdock successfully defended James Barnes and saved his life in a court of law — a matter of days — and so the hubbub surrounding the case has yet to completely subside. For that reason, and because the man is due some much-needed sleep, Kinsey has yet to join him to celebrate that victory, though several bottles of champagne arrived at the office the very same day the verdict was read. A day later she shot him a text to say they needed to catch up about the research he asked her to do whenever he had a spare moment, and as she'd be in New York working at Stark Tower throughout the week anyway, it was easiest if they planned to meet at his stomping grounds. The decided-upon day arrives, and there she is, punctual as ever, and dressed entirely unlike she's ever been dressed in his company before — not that he can appreciate that, necessarily.

Today it's a black pencil skirt and a silk halter blouse with modest ruffles down the front, the latter watercolor hues of blue, green, and plum, worn beneath a lightweight, belted blazer with short sleeves. With her hair twisted up behind her head and a classic string of pearls ringing her throat, she's nailed 'white-collar professional' flawlessly — a reminder that she wasn't always covered in other people's car grease to pay the bills.

The briefcase she's carrying is slick, as well, more like a leather portfolio than the usual boxy number. She carries it close beneath one arm as she tock-tock-tocks her way down the hall to the office doors; the other hand holds a plastic bag containing a box of donuts from Sullivan Street Bakery. When she steps through the door she brings with her the smell of sugar and whatever delicate floral perfume she put on this morning, buy now for the most part a muted note.

"Hello? I heard there were conquering heroes here who needed feeding…?"

It has been a week at the offices of Nelson and Murdock. From the flurry of activity leading up to closing arguments to the grim and pensive purgatory of jury deliberations, to the shock and elation that followed the upset verdict, the place has been a hive of activity. Matt and Foggy, their paralegal and assistant, sometimes even the clients and star witnesses for the prosecution have all been in and out of the doors planning, plotting, strategizing, or even simply venting.

But in the aftermath, after a raucous celebratory bender of a night at Josie's? Relative silence. Not silence from the phones — which have been ringing off the hook with reporters asking for profiles and comments or prospective clients looking for some of that Winter Soldier magic — but the rooms themselves. A much needed vacation was due to Foggy, who had put all his famed legal writing to the test with an unending series of motions, briefs, and legal memos that tallied hundreds of hours. A much deserved few days off to their executive assistant, who relied on family for childcare in the grueling months leading up to the verdict. And for Matt Murdock?

He toyed with the idea of a getaway. Maybe something improvisational — romantic. Calling her up out of the blue and telling her he bought two airplane tickets to the Virgin Islands for that afternoon, and she was coming with him, garage and Tony Stark be-damned. Pack your bags, bring some sunscreen because they're both Irish and sure to turn some shade of beet in the sun, and prepare for a few sultry days of sun and sand. They deserve it, don't they?

But what Matt Murdock is finding is that people with two lives don't get to take vacations as most would recognize them. When one lets up the other picks up steam, and the most you can do is sneak a few moments where you can.

Hence why, the second he smells that perfume wind its way from the elevator, a grey-suited, buttoned up, but unspectacled Matt Murdock is already out of his chair, already walking over, and already greeting her with a grin at the door. "Just the one right now," he says of conquering heroes, as he slips an easy arm around the waist of her pencil skirt and draws her toward him. "But I have an appetite. Promise."

Kinsey flashes a smile and tilts her head to steal a brief kiss that turns, on consideration, into a second, which begets a third, and then it's close to a full minute before she satisfies enough of the sympathetic elation humming in the air to untangle enough that she can say, "Congratulations, Matt. It was a remarkable thing you did."

And, apologetic: "I need to put these down before my — "

Arms fall off.

She almost says the words, then realizes what she'd been about to say, and for the first time in a long time — after hovering on the knife's edge of internal indecision — comes down more on the amused side of things than the one where her regrets about the accident live. Her exhaled laugh attests to it. "Well, here." Not without some other regrets, she slips away and over to the nearest surface clear enough to accept both briefcase and doughnuts, the latter of which she pulls from the bag, laying the box open. Hands freed, she begins to unbelt the jacket, necessary for decorum (debatable; it's Stark Tower and Tony is known to come into work in board shorts and band t-shirts) but hardly welcome in the sweltering heat of midsummer. "How is he doing? Sergeant Barnes?"

Kisses are returned readily, enthusiastically, before she finally breaks off, praises him, and proceeds to train her secret secondary superpower of putting her foot in her mouth about other people's handicaps onto herself.

And then, after some internal debate, she laughs.

Point of fact: it took about six years before Matthew Murdock could joke good-naturedly about his disability. Admittedly it was a period punctuated by the death of his father and the usual pangs of adolescence, but the fact that Kinsey can reference her own loss after just one isn't a fact likely to escape him — and perhaps is responsible for his smile taking a turn from the elated to something more rueful and fond. "Thanks," he says as she slips away and sets the treats down on the table.

He turns to face her and greets her question with a little sigh and a shrug of his eyebrows. "He'll live," he murmurs wryly. And then quickly corrects himself. "I — I don't mean that to sound flip. It's just — yeah, it was a really good day. But he and Jane will be living with that stuff — the trial, the public spectacle of it — for the rest of their lives. It just shouldn't have happened in the first place." He meanders over to the front desk where she's set down the food, both to close the distance with her and to snatch up a donut with a deftness and precision entirely at odds with the first two months of their courtship.

"But thank you," he says quietly, more for the praise than the complimentary breakfast, before adding a slightly arch: "How was work?"

She folds her little jacket in half and drapes it over the back of a chair, then props her hip lightly against the desk's edge, reaching not for a doughnut but to pull the briefcase nearer and open it, glancing up at him intermittently as she withdraws several items from inside it — mostly techy things. A small tablet, a little round…something, dome-shaped on top. "I don't know, Matt. I mean…what happened to him shouldn't have happened, yeah. No way. But the trial? Maybe it's just because I'm on the outside of it, but…the man killed a lot of people. It was probably important to establish the facts of how and why." She tilts her head, and her lashes fall to half-mast, thoughtful. "It's easy to say that now that the jury's made the decent decision, isn't it? I'd probably feel differently if things had gone the other way."

It's remarkable how quickly she's adjusted to Matt's 'new' normal — his autonomy — considering how convincing a facade he can put up. His donut-picking doesn't even rate a double-take. The question he asks does, and then a small, Cheshire smirk. "Oh, you know. It's Stark, so, alternately maddening and incredibly exciting. He's still an outrageous asshole, but…" Something on the edges of that softens, though her jaw does something stubborn and she drops her gaze, brow arcing slightly as she finishes setting up. "He's brilliant, and he's doing me a huge favor." Two beats more, and she lifts her eyes and pins Matt with them, jabbing one slender index finger in a point toward the center of his chest, as though that matters. "But I'm holding onto my grudge! And he finds ways to help me do that all the time."

The sound of heels follows her to the door, which she closes and then locks before reaching out to flip off the lights. What she's prepared isn't for him — at least not in the moment. It's for her. It can ultimately be fed through the systems he uses to read virtual text — via the thumb drive she slots into the side of the dome-shaped device on the desk — but for now it's a visual prompt to help her navigate the information she accumulated.

"Before we get too sidetracked with celebrating your masterful victory and release back into civilized society, let me fill you in about what I've got. I think you're going to find all of this interesting, and I'm pretty sure that we've got enough to go on for now."

She suggests what he himself said to TV cameras on the courthouse steps — that the system worked. But what Murdock offered the media is slightly removed from his true sentiments on what happened to Bucky Barnes. "Most people with access to the facts knew the truth, even the ones who ended up prosecuting him," Matt answers with a brief, tight grimace — he's still filled with a measure of the righteous indignation that propelled him through the trial. "The feds let him bum around in Brooklyn for months before arresting him, and only did it because foreign governments started finding out and got upset." He lets out an exhale, still weary even though he feels like he's been sleeping for days. "Anyway — it's done. He's free."

On the matter of work at Stark Tower he says little besides a wry, "I don't doubt it." To which does he refer? Him being maddening, or exciting, or an asshole? That he's doing her a favor, or that she's holding onto her grudge — with help from him? Matt is — after that initial curiosity — altogether mum for now.
He faces towards the receding click of heels on his floor, acutely aware of the sound of the lights going off, the charge of electrical current as she makes to begins to make her presentation.

"I'm all ears," he quips, placing his hands on his hips. "But, FYI, Powerpoint is kinda lost on me."

"Mmmhm. One of these days I'll invent some kind of tactile hologram and make a ridiculous amount of money selling the technology to the porn industry," says Kinsey, tone distracted, as she flips the screen of the tablet on and flips through settings in one of the apps, "But for now, this is just a prompt for me. You can use the thumb drive on your computer later, though. It reads well as text."

The dome on the table responds to whatever cues on the pad, and spits out a veritable tree of holographic information — information she's able to interact with without the use of the tablet, which she sets aside. She loosely crosses her arms over her ribs, and after a moment of studying the array begins to bring various things to the fore.

"Let's start with CGI. Not long after I dipped into their network for information, the servers that were onboard the train I mentioned — " The one she robbed and then subsequently un-robbed, " — went missing out of the secure storage facility in New Hampshire. Not just one server, but all of them. Everything in the transfer that caught their attention. That's good news in the sense that they wouldn't have taken everything if they'd isolated which items in the transfer I was interested in, but bad news in basically every other way, not least because that storage facility is a high-security government repository for classified intelligence only. Having the pull to make something disappear out of a place like that? Not great. It does probably confirm that we're not dealing with someone currently at the DEO, though, because it would've been easier to get the information before it was cold-stored, not after. It's still possible, but I think it's unlikely. The situation with this Kilgrave guy is just more supporting evidence, but I'll get to that."

She lets her head cant to one side. Images and text whirl to the fore and recede again, flickering past at the speed of thought, reflected in hazel eyes.

"I know about the facility because it belongs to the DEO and I used it often enough myself, so it was easy to start investigating employees. I ran through the whole roster, but there was really only one likely candidate for involvement with an outside party. His name is Vernon LeGrasse. Weird markers in his personal files, strange transactions. Three failed marriages, all of them with alimony."

She reaches for a doughnut, and recounts the next bit as she picks at pieces of it gingerly to avoid getting anything on her clothing. She doesn't need the references for this: she was there. "Orders a cold press coffee at Starbucks at eight-45 in the morning every morning. At his desk at nine. Very punctual. He's been promoted to supervisor at the facility but he's in well over his head; he is not even remotely qualified for the job he has. Three ex-wives, as I said; six children. No other serious relationships to speak of; he seems to have some trouble with those. Eats at his desk, watches television alone at home in the evenings." The businesslike expression softens a little as she notes, "He does seem to be a good father, though. He puts in effort there. Never saw him miss a visitation once, and he's engaged with them while they're together." She places her glaze-sticky thumb in her mouth a moment, then continues on in that brisk, informative tone: "Possibly because he was bounced around foster care after age four, himself. Top of his class in everything he ever did. Definitely an over-achiever. Typical government specialist agent, honestly: great skills, very competent, a little bit shabby on the people side of things. His salary reflects that lack of upward mobility, which is what made it possible to sniff out the weird cheques coming from 'DWI Televised Productions' that are actually paying for all of that alimony, child support, etcetera." Her eyes lift again, a blaze of white coming to the fore: the man's financial records. "It's a 'consulting fee.'" Bank records shift, become phone records instead. "But he's never made any calls to anyone in the television industry. He also got a phone call the night I poked my nose into the servers at CGI. The number for that phone call is the same number Five and I tracked while in the system at CGI. This phone call."

Audio begins to play. The phone call goes as follows.

Nervous voice, female. "Um. Mr. F-"

A low cultured bass with a seething, gravely quality about it.

"You have very few slip-ups left to you, Cerulean. Are you sure you want to waste one on that? I don't give out mulligans."

"Er. No. No sir."

Mr. F: "Very good. What have you called to share with me this evening? It obviously has you quite rattled."

Cerulean: "Someone just fried the fuck out of the bunker. It had to be intentional but I have no idea how it was done. I was chasing- I think it was another hacker. Registered as vaguely feminine and humanoid on my VR display, moved like a person, not like code. I think she did it. Or he-posing-as-she."

Mr. F: "Interesting."

"Sir, she's still in the network…"

Unconcerned. "Yes, I'm certain she is. Follow the protocol. Contact your counterparts in our IT departments. Get the plugs pulled. Don't bring it up again until it's virtually unrecognizable and outfitted with better security."

Cerulean: "Yes, sir."

"The auxiliaries as well, Cerulean, not just CGI's."

"Yes, sir."

Mr. F: "If she fried the bunker she knows the bunker's location."

"Yes sir."

"Tiger protocol, Cerulean."

Cerulean exhales nervously. "Yes sir."


Matt listens to Kinsey spin out threads gleaned from her second life of subterfuge: some were acquired through the hacking of well-defended networks, others through direct or at least semi-direct observation. The tech-competent but hardly tech-savvy Murdock will spare a little bit of his attention just to marvel at the former intelligence operative at work, his lips bent downward in musing appreciation as she outlines her take on the most likely candidate to have stolen the servers on that train, and her estimation of the man himself. She's really good.

The rest of his focus is on the facts and analysis itself, and the treasure trove of leads and follow up it practically demands. A million questions spiral out from Kinsey's assessment, but all are held at bay by the arrival of the raw audio recording of the conversation between "Mr. F" and "Cerulean" that fills the empty law offices.

He hears it — the voice of the enemy. Confident and cultured, and to his sensitive ears brimming with barely coiled anger. This is, he's suddenly sure, the voice that's ordered the Russians arms, drugs, and slave trade. The voice that ordered the deaths of Dr. Kelt and the human lab experiments being hauled around by Vistoya trucking. The voice that is, quite obviously, keenly interested in the hacker he's been seeing the last six months.

He leans back, half-sitting on the front desk with arms folded across his chest as he commits that voice to memory — brands it in his mind. And then: "So you break into CGI's system," he begins, teasing out the sequence of events, "And immediately after Mr. F gives Vernon a call. You and I start mucking around in his world a bit over the next few weeks, and sometime in there Vernon lifts the servers you were after for CGI. Trying — I guess — to get what you were after. Information about — you? Your program?"

A beat. "I suppose it's too much to ask that we've got Mr. F's phone number," he says with a little grimace. He seems like the type to change them up, or to use a burner. But still — is there anything we can do with that number, even if it's gone cold?"

"The call you just heard was outgoing from CGI to Mr. F," Kinsey clarifies, side glancing at the floating GUI for the player that the audio came out of, gesturing loosely with a bit of doughnut. "It took place around the time they started pulling everything offline; Five and I intercepted it on the way out. The call to Vernon from Mr. F was later — something I discovered in his phone records when I went digging for more information about him. I have certain names, addresses, numbers, keywords, etcetera all flagged as part of a search algorithm I use when I'm doing a first pass over mass amounts of data."

She tucks the bite into her mouth, and it's not until she chews and swallows that she continues, "So yeah, we have the number. Whether it's still intact and in use I don't know, but we know that Mr. F used it at two different times. I haven't done anything with it yet because…" Pause. She draws in a breath and exhales, and her brows crease together. "Cerulean, this on-site hacker of theirs, mentioned having a VR rig. That's — I don't know how to explain to you how abnormal that is. Nobody hacks in VR, it's inefficient. There's no use in mundane terrestrial hacking for a graphical user interface of that complexity, because nobody's using systems that benefit from that kind of thing. The only reason I do something vaguely like that is because I need a way to interpret information when I'm in a system, because I'm actually in it. It's weird enough that it's possible they were anticipating my investigation and had some suspicion as to what kind of creature they were dealing with. If that's true, I have to be careful about what I virtually poke my nose into, because I don't know what monitoring they may be doing. Hitting something hard might let them know I'm looking, and it might give them forewarning enough to get rid of information or move pieces around, so I think we need to at least have a plan in place before I push any closer to this Mr. F guy. As for what he wants with me, or the data? I don't know. This Wesley character was specifically asking about me when he was harassing Spider-Man's friend at the Bugle, but that doesn't mean it's not the work he's after…it just seems unlikely. Maybe it's a bonus objective, but if he knew about the work, it wouldn't be difficult to isolate the proper server and drive. And he'd probably have been knocking on my door already — my name's all over those files. They're my files, I wrote most of them."

There's a brief silence as she tidies up her hands with napkins and a bit of spilled water from a bottle tucked in the briefcase. Then:

"So…I know you probably have questions, but I'm going to tell you what I picked up about Kilgrave first since it's a related mess. What I wanted to do was figure out who was involved, so I started with incident reports and footage. I also found an internal employee review and investigation that the bus company's insurance company did." Images in the air flicker and whirl, rotating through relevant documents. "The Responding officers were Janet Kelso and Jeremy Bennett. The accident's involved parties were the bus driver, Charles Wallace, and the two victims — John Doe, heavily injured, wearing a purple suit with a blue shirt…" Pause. "Seriously, he has the worst taste in everything. Carrying a yellow thumb drive, which is of interest; it's in the report but there's no mention of it after that as far as I've been able to see. Anyway, the other victim was Reva Connors, around whom most of the media attention revolved, as I expect you probably know. The report says there was a homeless witness to the incident. There's nothing detailed about them, but the responding officers may know who he is and how to find him. The homeless witness reported there being a female witness, described…" The document zooms so she can read the handwriting: "as being 'the one he yelled after like she was his dog, dark hair, pretty thing, fur coat.'"

Another flicker of documents. "I found the report Jessica filed, too, including the details of everybody involved in that. All the names. Looking through old traffic footage I found the EMT vehicle but couldn't match it to specific paramedics. John Doe was taken to Metro General that night, though, and the doctor assigned to his care was Dr. Isaiah Steagal." A medical license flips into place, and an image — ripped from a Metro General employee badge, it looks like. "However, that doesn't last long. Pretty shortly he's reassigned to Dr. Shane Parker, administratively shuffled to a forgotten wing of the ICU, and Dr. Parker is reassigned to head that wing. During his time there he was kept in an induced coma with drugs. There were multiple biopsies that appear unnecessary or at least unjustified in procedure records. In two-thousand-fourteen, his vocal cords were surgically removed, probably a response to Jessica's report. All this in spite of the fact that someone had a death certificate drawn up and shown to her — probably initially to keep her from breaking into the hospital to kill him, but once that was done it was pretty easy to keep him off of the books."

The next article, he may recognize. "May 4th, right around the time Daredevil sticks his foot up the ass of Vistoya Trucking, John Doe is moved out of the hospital altogether. An additional Aramark truck shows up to the hospital, but Metro General didn't order any extra food. He was probably shuffled out that way. That's the last update I have on him, or his whereabouts."

She pauses again, folds her arms loosely under her bust, and after a beat of thought glances at Matt. "I've got more. About his personal history and his family. Any questions before I carry on?"
It's a trove of information about their adversary; so many potential leads that at first Matt doesn't know where to start. "Yeah, we can sit on that phone number until we figure out a good way to make use of it — but it's good to have in our back pocket," the vigilante agrees before taking a bite from his old-fashioned donut, if altogether less daintily than his counterpart.

His reactions throughout her presentation are muted — though his jaw forms a tight and angry line when she references reports that the mind controlling metahuman was yelling at a dark-haired woman 'like she was his dog' that not even Kinsey's quip about his appalling fashion sense can shake. He'll sit in silence until she finishes her narrative on the not inappropriate fate of Zebediah Kilgrave, or Kevin Thompson, or whatever you want to call him, before he says anything. "So it sounds like we have two human leads here," he begins slowly. "Your man at the DEO, and this Dr. Parker. But — yeah, keep going. Let's get it all-out and then hash out the details."

His summary gets a short nod from her, and then she's launching back in without further delay, as ever bits and pieces of document scans, photos, or other information rotating in as she goes: "Kevin Thompson was born in nineteen seventy-five. Parents, Albert and Louise. He's British, so the bulk of this information was overseas. His records show he developed a serious brain disorder early-on that required a whole lot of medical intervention."

"His parents were professors at Oxford for a while, but the University won't talk about them. They both had PhDs with medical degrees, which is interesting, obviously. They seem to just disappear by the time he's four or five years old. In nineteen eighty-five Louise was admitted to a British hospital with third degree burns. Someone had burned her face with a clothing iron."

She lets that hang in silence a moment, lips pressed together.

"She wouldn't file a police report and neither she or Albert would talk about what happened. Consequently, Albert was almost formally investigated for domestic abuse, and then they just…disappear again. Nothing after that, that I could find. If they're still around, they have almost basically no digital presence at all. There might be more to turn up overseas in person, but I can access anything connected to the net, more or less, and I couldn't find anything."

A few more moments of cycling through files on the drive, and then Kinsey returns her eyes to the man himself, one-half of her face splashed with pale light, the other in blue shadows. "That's it. The report from Jessica is in there; I didn't cover it. I did forget to mention that the person who gave the order to draft the death certificate was ADA Yuki Castellano. She was responsible for having Jess…" Pause. Uncomfortable, this time; enough to put a small ding in her otherwise impassive, professional tone. " …involuntarily committed. Nobody believed her report when she initially gave it, and they wanted to prosecute her for it, which — Jesus. Overkill, right? But anyway, the details of that whole thing are really sordid and not immediately pertinent. Castellano and this guy Rafferty who took Jess' initial report, though, they knew the death certificate was false, so there's some leverage there if we need it."

Matt brings a hand to rub the back of his suddenly tight neck as he listens to Kilgrave's backstory, letting out a grim puff of breath when Kinsey mentions how the man's mother got an iron pressed to her face. He's seen a lot of humanity's worst over the last eight months since he started putting on the mask, but Kilgrave in some ways represents a new low.

There are other, more mundane, examples of human weakness to be found in Kinsey's outline, too. "Yeah, Castellano has a lot to answer for," Matt says, and means it from the irritation (anger?) seething just under the surface. He's already fiercely protective by nature, and seems nevermore so than when it involves Jessica Jones. Still, he recognizes that taking these folks on requires a measure of dispassionate analysis and so: "She's also the one prosecuting Martin Vescorsi, this ponzi scheme guy who seems to be backed by CGI. She's trying to change the venue for Vescorsi's trial right now — probably because the judge is dirty and on the take from CGI, from my read of the court docs you got in that initial raid."

Matthew sets the half-eaten donut on the table beside him and pulls off his spectacles so he can rub at eyes that, however useless, can still somehow itch and fatigue. "So we've got two threads here, right? There's figuring out why they're after you and stopping that — and it seems like the path there is through the DEO. And then there's stopping the rest of the evil shit they're up to, including these new meta drugs. And that thread probably runs through Kilgrave, Aramark, and IGH. And, eventually, once we've got a handle on it, how to bring down the whole thing. Mr. F included."

"Two different approaches, but whatever we do to address one will probably have an impact on the other one." Kinsey's short nod agrees with his summation, but her tone carries in it the acknowledgement of caveats. Some twice-unseen signal from her silences and erases the display of structured light, replaced with the sound of her heels again as she crosses to turn the lights back on. Unhurried now, less brisk. "My instincts say we ought to handle the wider side of things first. Kilgrave included. For one thing, solving their interest in me through the DEO just isn't ideal. At this point it's very unlikely that the CGI interest in me includes knowledge of my working for them. If they knew I'd worked for the DEO, they'd know which work they were looking for on that train. They didn't. They probably suspect it's among the possibilities, but if they could prove it they'd know who I was, and things would have gone very differently. It may be that I can't escape the DEO finding out what happened to me forever, but…I'd like to avoid it for as long as possible."

Lights on again, she pivots and looks over the office, green eyes pricked with gold all but unseeing of the particulars. Modest surrounds, for an office to achieve such an immense, landmark victory as the one he's yet to fully recover from. "Besides, digging around in the rest of their operations, we might get lucky and find out something to do with me in the process of figuring out the rest. They've already moved him, they know you're prying, getting close. They don't know yet that you're connected with me at all, though, and that's an advantage, too."

The show is done, lights turn on to reveal a relatively spare room, but Matt's brown eyes never flicker nor squint. Even with his handicap it's safe to say he notices, but he's too focused on the arc of her arguments to pay it much mind. "They may have heard about us fighting together on the docks," Matt says with a subtle note of regret, there from his backwards lean and half-seat on the front desk. His arms are folded tight across his chest, dark-haired head tipped downward in contemplation. It was an unforced error, and arguably on him. He shrugs it off — moves forward. "But we can be judicious about how we're seen together moving forward. I've been on the docks a lot without you."

But that qualifier aside, he gives a slight nod of assent to the overall thrust of her argument. "Killgrave, the chemicals and drugs, the abductions and tortures, the human trafficking… they've given us enough to go on, even without prying into your stuff," Matt offers, his voice quiet, grim, weary. He's may be extraordinary in the strictest definition of the word, but he's certainly not superhuman — and so far from fully recovered from the months-long marathon he's been running. "As long as you're comfortable with them having time to dig around in those files."

One arm unfolds, one hand stretches out, palm up in invitation. "We… got a sample of that shit, though. The stuff that — the stuff in those trucks." The stuff that made Matt himself, says the wry, weary cast of the features that look up from their downward cast and fix on her. "One of those trucks had to spill into the East River for us to do it, but we got it. Or… Jane did, at any rate."

The docks. Mention of that evening sends her thoughts spiraling backward through time toward the night in question: cold as it had been, bitter near the water, the overhead lights a glare her HUD ignored entirely. Picking vital signs out of the darkness. Flanking someone pursuing her.

None of the cold could have possibly compared with the splash of ice water she felt on realizing she knew him. On Five informing her he'd identified the man in the mask. Months after the fact her insides are still a welter of mixed and swirling feelings, muted but no less amazed for the distance between this moment and that one.

"If they check the footage from the security cameras, they'll probably see…what we saw. I think we looked sufficiently surprised to run into one another." Pause. She glances at the outstretched his. "Well. I looked surprised, anyway."

Slim fingers twine through his as she closes in again, silently weighing what he's said. "Do you have someone to look at it yet, or do you need me to begin analyzing it?" Another pause, a realization. "You mean Doctor Jane Foster? As in, Jane Foster, Einstein-Rosen etcetera? Who just happens to be — and I'm sorry, but this really threw me for a personal loop — in a relationship with the Winter Soldier? You have no idea, Matt. Following the trial, that — did you know before you got involved who she was? Her work? I have one of her academic papers framed on the wall of the garage."

"Yeah… no, I was surprised," Matt quips back dryly through a gallows half smile as she summons back between them all their winding road of secrets and revelations. "Just because I knew some things didn't mean I knew everything." For all that he understood from the very beginning that there was more to her than met, well, the eye — he still remembers the shock of recognition from her scent and her heartbeat on that unseasonably cool spring evening on the water — and the ensuing wave of sadness he still can't quite trace the origin of. "But I take your point. They won't think we're partners."

They're partners, right?

It certainly seems so when he takes her hand in his own, and they seem on safer ground when she suddenly fangirls all over Jane Foster, which sees him ducking his head and stifling a little chortle. "I didn't really know who she was before I had to research her for the trial," Matt answers as he teases out his strange relationship with Bucky Barnes and Jane Foster. "But I still knew her. I'd — ah — run into them both as Daredevil. Helped her out of a scrape and… well. Later she made me the new suit in thanks."

There's a laden beat, though he tries to literally shrug it off. "They're friends." Another, shorter pause. "You'd like her, though. We could all go out some time, maybe."

"I hope not, anyway." They had left together, but she'd been injured, and they know the Devil of Hell's Kitchen is a defender of the innocent. Must know, by now…

There's nothing they can do about that either way. If it becomes an issue, they can stage something, she thinks, following the line of her arm with bright hazel eyes, down to the link point of their hands. It won't fool anyone if it's easy to discover 'evidence' of conflict between the two of them, but it wouldn't be difficult to make it just challenging enough, particularly since she's certain there's a leak somewhere.

So goes the line of thinking within one channel of her multithreaded thoughts, the majority of the rest preoccupied with talk of Jane Foster, and the relish involved in being able to slide one of her arms over his shoulder, leaning in to take a very mannered sideways seat on his knee. (The pencil skirt won't allow for anything less.)

"She made your suit?" One brow wings upward, surprise and recalculation in the look it frames. Theoretical physics are an entirely different area of expertise from industrial materials engineering, ballistics, etcetera. She ought to know; her background includes some of both — for her work with military technology, and later by necessity, in developing the program that would give birth to Five — and it makes her a strange duck, to say the least. Finding that in someone else is beyond bizarre.

And then, realizing: "Were the horns her idea?"

She puts the question casually, pats herself on the back for how merely curious it sounds.


Those horns, though.

"I imagine they're probably pretty sick of other people right now, but I'd love to meet her. I mean…them. But her, mostly."

"They deserve a little peace and quiet, for sure," Matt admits as he hooks a hand on the slender waist of the buttoned-up, slim-skirted woman suddenly using his knee as a perch. "It's why I haven't raised bringing them in on CGI, though I think they're a good card in our pocket if things ever get rough."

And for all that he is understandably protective of Bucky Barnes and his lady friend, things could get rough enough to justify their involvement. For all Matt and Kinsey's mutual skills and relative smarts, they are up against a powerful and influential conglomerate that has so far hidden itself from all scrutiny while conducting a crime spree through Manhattan. Matt may have a hopeless martyr complex and a loner streak, but he's a realist.

All those considerations are almost enough to inspire more sober talk about what-ifs and plans of attack, but she's so close that he's suddenly drawing in a stretch of perfume — blessedly light enough not to cloy, enhancing instead of masking her now-familiar scent — and smiles faintly, briefly, but with undisguised relish. He leans in purposefully, with his lips hovering just above hers, kiss close, before the pale expanse between his eyebrows suddenly crinkles, and he murmurs:

"Wait. There are horns?"

Though Kinsey's first impulse is to nod when he suggests they consider bringing in the now-infamous couple as an additional resource — she can't fathom turning down a legendary assassin and role model in her own field — it's a nod that ends with her brows knitting, the eyes that train on him soft with the thoughts that follow. "They've only just escaped the frying pan, and you want to ask them whether or not they'd like a little bit of fire to follow up…?"

Token protest only. the quality of his small smile is one she knows well enough that her heart trips over its next beat the moment it appears, fingertips on the tailored seam at his shoulder tightening just a little. She turns her face inward and up, lowers her lashes, and mutes her answering smile, chin lifted just enough to offer him the curve of her mouth —

Which promptly becomes an entirely different sort of curve: a wide, puzzled smile. Her eyes lift again, her brows screw into a look of baffled amusement. "Matt…you put that on basically every night; how did you not know about the — are you messing with me? You're messing with me."

Matt would protest, really. She misunderstands pocket for back-pocket, kept in reserve on a need to know, need to rescue basis. But how can he quibble when she's being so —

The small smile which hovers above her own cracks and spreads as the game gives way to delight: eight months later and she's finally seeing through all of Matt Murdock's bullshit, and he loves it. "Maybe just a little," he murmurs of messing with her while a chuckle shakes his chest.

He still kisses her anyway: impulsively and with enthusiasm, fairly well laughing into it.

…all while his phone lights up with vibrations in his trouser pocket.

The roll of her eyes as her lids weigh heavy and close will be the last thing he sees before time turns to taffy, and countless other considerations — all of the unfollowed small leads, the question marks they have yet to fill in concerning CGI and their skeletal plans — dissolve, entirely. Kinsey isn't dressed for mobility, but she twists at the waist in spite of her sideways seat so that she can release his hand and wind her arm over his shoulders and around his neck with the one already there, clasp tightening, the better to press her chest against his and eliminate what scant distance is there. To feel the silent, perceptible shake of a laugh he's too busy to really fan the flames of.

…and the sudden buzz of his phone in his pocket.

She pauses. Doesn't lean back, just freezes wholesale, locked up and rigid, all supple pliancy turned absolutely still. Because really?

But of course it'll be a while before things settle down for him again, and of course after a case like this one, things may never go back to being the way they were. She's familiar with phone calls that need answering no matter when they come: from her own work, but also that of her parents, both of them slaves to the BlackBerry on family weekends that were never, ever sacrosanct.

So: she draws a breath, finally does sit back a bit, and tilts him a rueful smile. "You'd better get that."

The moments before that phone buzzes in his pocket are euphoric. Their brief, sweet reunion several weeks ago was more a gut check, a necessary pit stop lest the whole fragile thing they've built between them falls apart under the strain of the biggest literal and figural trial of Matt's relatively young life. This, where they're being both their daytime, twenty-something selves while sharing their darker truths and challenges — this feels like a game changer. Feels like a reboot, a clean slate, a —

He wants to ignore the thrum on his thigh, and will do his mightiest until she breaks the kiss and tells him to get it. He dips his head, having the grace to look equally apologetic and regretful as he reaches for his cell. Few enough people have it; this isn't some reporter, it's a client or Foggy. And if it's Foggy, he can tell him to kindly fuck off for the next few —

"Play the text," he tells his phone, though only after tilting his head away from hers. The phone obeys, but does so softly, still tucked there into his pocket, that there's no way anyone else could begin to hear the cool, crisp voice relay words sent by one Dr. Jane Foster.

Matt's presence, warm and steady and intimate despite the interruption, suddenly tenses. His jaw tightens, along with the bar of his shoulders and the whole rest of the frame Kinsey rests on. Blue veins at his temples show under suddenly taught skin and his unguarded eyes flash with anger, frustration, and even a flicker of fear — really, it's the look of a wounded animal.

"He took him," he murmurs, incredulous. The hand at her side clenches, unclenches reflexively. "Right off the streets of Brooklyn. That adamantium — vibranium — whatever — fucking tin pot dictator kidnapped him."

She can't — at least, not without the benefit of the helmet she wears when she's Six — hear anything from the phone in his pocket, but the silent signals from his posture say far more than the message ever could on its own. Her arms unband from behind his nape, sliding open until only her hands are on his shoulders, and then only because she tilts backward enough to really look at him, watching all of those things bubbling up in him. It settles a weight on her chest, fills the pit of her stomach with rocks.

She keeps that to herself with aplomb, right up until he tells her what's happened.

This asshole African king was chasing my client around, he'd said, that night he came to see her in the Garage after two months of inescapable silence.

Her eyes round, lips part, and then she presses them together, tightly, for a long moment.

"The Valkyrie's fueled up. She can't get us to Africa without a pit stop — " …or two… " — along the way, but if we start in the next hour, two hours…" She glances down extending her arm to reveal the shine from a ladies' dress watch.

He's lost in a fog, those first few moments after Jane Foster's text message plays out. The staggering injustice of it: a man who set out with the best of intentions and only wanted to serve his country wrongfully captured not once, not twice, but three times. The enormity of effort that went into freeing him from this last imprisonment, and the sacrifice so many others made: of their time, their privacy, their dignity, all for this?

It cannot stand. Matt's sense of proportion and justice, always strong if sometimes warped, cannot let it stand. And Matt is just about to say as much when…

…when Kinsey Sheridan beats him to the punch.

In his state of distraction it takes Matt a moment to fully process what he's hearing: that not only has she fully anticipated his next move, but offered to follow alongside him for a madcap and likely fatal rescue mission to rescue a man she's never even met. The realization, when it does come, sets the already off-balance Matthew briefly reeling. In that moment he feels something powerful moving inside his chest, just behind his breastbone, that forces out a long audible breath from his lips. He shuts his eyes tight and brings his hand around to the nape of her neck while his forehead seeks out her own.

"…you're amazing," he murmurs fiercely. "I — thank you. That offer means a lot. But you've got enough on your plate — too much. And I just can't drag you into all this on top of it. There… ah. There will be a lot of people, friends of Bucky and Jane, who will be all in on this. I'll catch a ride with them."

Kinsey's lips part as she's drawn in, too close to really make sense of his expression with her eyes, though she tries. He'll feel her brows knit, skin tightened against his as he touches his crown to hers.

At first it's only surprise. Her out-loud, next-steps thinking did not require a great deal of internal debate — not because she's infinitely selfless or even because she's blindly willing to follow him into the jaws of each and every hell. For a woman whose entire professional oeuvre has been built to military standards and set loose into a world more closely aligned with technological espionage than anything, this effort seems to her both feasible and just, layers of incentive over top of the importance it has to the man whose lot she's thrown her own in with. It wouldn't have occurred to her to do otherwise.

And yet.

Surprise dulls, then reshapes itself around the realization that:

"You…don't want me to come with you?" Her tone is a fountain of complicated things. Not wholly rhetorical, walking a razor-thin line between thoughtful contemplation and other less reasoned things, too many to count. She's striving against the temptation to let resignation wash over her. He's reliably kept her on the outside of his crusades. For lack of knowing, at least at first; then, she thought, by chance. But this time…?

The slant of her knitted brows changes, her head lifted away from the careful weight of his own. "Matt…I'm competent. I wouldn't get involved if I thought I would get in the way, or there was any chance I might screw things up…"

She draws away from him, confused by and thinking her way through his response. "Competent?" Matt asks, his smile brief, slight, and incredulous. "What? No, that's not what it's about," he assures her. So what is it about, Matthew Murdock? For all the flippancy of his reply, she'll find his features awash with emotion: lingering anxiety and anger, remorse, and some kind of inward turmoil.

She knows him well enough by now to see he keeps his feelings close, patterning over them with a veneer of callow charm, or retreating into brooding silence, or sometimes simply escaping for months at a time.

And he knows she knows this, can hear the threat of resignation in her voice. He can't actually meet her gaze, so he'll use other means to try to assure: the slide of a hand from the back of her neck to her shoulder, there to squeeze gently. He swallows hard, Adam’s apple tightening underneath the stubbled skin of his throat. "I'm not worried about you getting in the way or screwing things up," he finally says, voice quiet and intent, thick with emotion. "I'm worried about you getting hurt, the way anyone could — however skilled — could get hurt doing something like this. I want to help with the people that are dogging you, not put you at more risk."

Crow's feet come home to nest, crinkling the corner's of soulful, slightly-off eyes. "You're important to me, Kinsey."

It's only the surface signals that tell her he's fighting with something on the inside that keeps her from throwing her hands out to either side, eyes to widen with incredulity. She can't restrain the words that would have accompanied that display, though she keeps them quieter than they would have been otherwise: "Yeah, well, the feeling is mutual, Matt! On every count! Whatever you think you're worried about when it comes to my involvement? Multiply that by 'knowing how invested Matthew Murdock is in the condition of this particular client.' Whatever risks I'd be willing to take, I'm pretty sure you outstrip by a country mile, and when you leave me here — "

When, not if.

" — I'm going to be sitting here with all of those worries and then some."

Things behind her sternum want to push back at him to establish precedence; it's early enough in their working relationship that these interactions set the tone for everything that may come later and she has no intention of being sidelined or sidekicked.

In the end, something keeps her from it, though the tension of her frustration lives like a humming cable beneath his palm, where sleek muscle strings her neck and shoulder together. She dips her head, cupping her crown and closed eyes in a splay of fingers, chest locked around a sigh she won't surrender to. To keep him from feeling guilty. Because she doesn't want to be a burden; because he's been through so much, in the last two months, even if she couldn't be there for that, either. Maybe now isn't the time to push.

And maybe he'll wind up with his head on a vibranium pike.

Finally and quiet, with the bedrock certainty that this is the only way she's going to be alright with staying behind: "If you don't stay in touch and you don't come back, I'm coming out there, Matt."

She restrains herself, but still points out — all too fairly — that she is in the same position as he is. She could help, with all her powers. She could help evade or evade or even penetrate Wakanda's famous security, making up for the critical liabilities he brings to nearly anything having to do with computers or technology. And for all that, he wants to stop her for the sake of his worries while disregarding her own. It makes him a hypocrite, for certain… but then, he always has been.

And so when she grudgingly consents, even with conditions attached, even though she points out just how unfair and unreasonable he is being, Matt Murdock feels a wave of relief wash over him. "I'm staying in touch, and I'm coming back," he says with a brief, wry smile, his tone assurance and a grace note of gratitude.

His head dips contemplatively for a beat. "Or not, maybe," he offers with a little shrug of his shoulders. "There's a — there are these islands off the western coast of the continent. Cape Verde? Some of the beaches are beautiful, or at least the pictures of them I saw online sixteen years ago were."

His hand slides upward to rest again at the nape of her neck, thumb traced along the hinge of her jaw. "Remote, too," he softly adds. "Far away from CGI, and DEO, and Nelson & Murdock. A stop or two in your Valkyrie, I'm told, would let you meet me there. Just the two of us for a few days, a week. We could catch our breath away from all of our worries and messes. Just us."

Of course, he's by no means sure that his head won't end up on some Wakandan pike as a warning to other little-d-daredevils. But announcing his plans — the surest way to make God laugh, the Jesuits who raised him would insist — is the best he can offer.

He angles a look at her, even if he can't look at her. His smile is slight and wry. "…sound good?"

A single clear drop of something uneasily like resentment falls through the hollow spaces in her, to hear him grateful that way. And why? Why should she feel that way when she could have chosen to argue the point…? Because she felt the choice was a non-choice, perhaps? Or something simpler, maybe: that it underlines how much he wanted her to agree not to go.

Unflattering, regardless.

She's toying with that when he says Or not, maybe, and it triggers an entirely different set of feelings. Guilt, more than anything. Like his sensitivity to everything around him could have exposed that uncharitable beat of emotion, exposed her tractable nature for the grudging compromise that it is, rather than the more graceful concession she'd like it to seem to be.

Only that's not it at all, is it?

He comes back over the top with a suggestion that takes all of the baffled, everywhere winds out of the strange sails of her mood, and leaves her sitting there, speechless. So surprised, in fact, that it takes a handful of heartbeats before the engine of that muscle realizes it's supposed to be picking up its cadence, hastening her pulse along in time with a flush of warmth — affection, excitement, touched disbelief — that she simultaneously welcomes and faults herself for. As though holding on to her reservations about this arrangement is important somehow, and shouldn't be traded for compensation.

(That's cynical even for you,) Five opines suddenly, a voice she's become so accustomed to having only silence from in meetings like this one that it startles her the way it might had the words come from someone behind her in the room whom she hadn't known was there.

That Five is also right about that is a concern of a different order, with layers, but one for another time.

She purges all of this with a long exhale, venting what tension lives in the blade line of her spine to lean in and slide her arms back over his shoulders again.

"Sounds good," she agrees, because it does. Good, and exciting, and in some peculiar way challenging, as though it represented a hurdle to clear for two people who have yet to impose much shape on the fact of what they are — whatever that is. Like every memory they put down into their shared history happens in defiance of the unfixed, come-and-go exchange they began as, and have yet to achieve escape velocity from.

A soft breath and silken pass of lips over his thank him properly for that gesture, but it's not the invitation it would have been even ten minutes ago. Because, instead…

"I should let you get ready to go."

Matt Murdock, for all his remarkable talents, is no telepath. Or even an empath. The big emotions like fear, anger, and the rush of affection may make themselves known to him, but the sort of rippling nuances of emotion Kinsey experiences in the aftermath of his offer would be difficult for Matt to pick up on even if he could hear her internal dialogue with Five. All he picks up on is the pause in her heartbeat before it starts to race, a moment whose silence could owe itself to any number of origins — not the least including her presently stated worry over his foolish rushing off to Wakanda to take on its king.

And so when she give him that brief brush of a kiss and says she should let him go, he will let her, absent any debate or protest or further attempt at dialogue. Their disagreement — and what fault lines it exposes — is something he thinks can be put off, made up for, or otherwise properly addressed later. Who knows? Maybe, if all goes well, it can be.

He returns the brief kiss and nods a little. "I'll call you soon with details," he promises, the flicker of his smile apologetic.

"I'm counting on it."

Another tilt of the head, another capture of his mouth with hers, and then she slips off his knee and back to her feet, fingertips trailing lightly the cut of his jaw as she turns away to collect the little device that played the contents of the thumb drive. She slides the former into the briefcase and closes it, lifting it off the desk, and the latter she leans over to insert into his suit jacket's pocket, patting it lightly twice.

That done, there's nothing else to keep her. Her heels mark out her steps to the door, but that regular rhythm lapses into sudden silence as she reaches the threshold and turns her head, a verdant eye angled back, over her shoulder. Lips part, following some impulse to say something more, only for her to draw the lower between her teeth. Let the prospect of a future meeting in sunnier climes remain the last thing they'll exchange before he goes, she thinks. If they have to look forward to something because intervening time has gone formless again, at least let that something be bright and beautiful, rather than needless cautions. 'Be careful' never saved anyone's life, she's sure.

Walking down the hallway feels like once again sliding everything onto some high shelf for safekeeping, but at least the shelf, and the place reserved for this, still exist. For as long as that's true, she thinks, there's still time and a chance.

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