Background Check

September 10, 2017:

On one of Matt Murdock's calls to check in with Kinsey Sheridan while he's abroad in Wakanda, fighting to exculpate James Barnes (again), the topic of conversation turns to his history with Elektra Natchios; her sudden, startling return; and what that could mean in an immediate sense for the people close to him.

Not discussed: what it could mean in the long term for the young woman closer to him than most, and whether or not it's worth it to ask your girlfriend to dig up dirt on your ex, even if she is possibly a Hydra assassin.

Wakanda/New York City

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Elektra Natchios, Dr. Jane Foster, Jessica Jones, The Winter Soldier, Tony Stark

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Kinsey Sheridan's cell will ring early evening, with dusk is just starting to slip over the eastern seaboard. The number that registers on her ID should be familiar enough from Matt's last few calls he's made since he headed out overseas on his ill-advised quest to free Bucky Barnes from his latest wrongful incarceration. With the time difference it must be after midnight in Wakanda. But then, Matt always has kept the oddest hours.

He's kept the last few conversations between them light and reassuring, devoid of details from the investigation itself. Likely because, for all the security protocols and procedures they talked through before he shipped off, he still doesn't trust that every word he says and ever character of every text isn't being monitored and decrypted by Wakandan intelligence. Mostly, he's said, he just wanted to let her know he's alright and to hear her voice say just about anything: details from her day at the garage, whatever bitching she'd care to make about Tony Stark, et cetera.

And he tries to keep that tone in the voice that greets her when she picks up, insofar as he can. "Hey, there," comes his affable, slightly wry voice through the phone from half-a-world away, doing an admirable job of keeping out the tension and strain. "Now an OK time?"

—-

It's fine weather in New York for an evening commute. The world is tilting into a new season, and the temperatures increasingly pleasant — low seventies, this evening, and plunging. Not the bitter chill waiting in the near wings, but enough to make Kinsey Sheridan glad for the jacket she's wearing over her blouse and skirt, hose and heels. With her purse over one shoulder and her other hand occupied with an impulse-buy beverage — something hot and caffeinated, probably over-sweet — she's standing in a cloud of similarly well-dressed bodies en route to better places than the office, waiting for a light to change at a crosswalk. She's putting her contentment down to the change of climate; autumn is her favorite season by a long shot…but if she's honest with herself, she's gradually beginning to settle into this new routine of hers, and it feels good. The stability, if nothing else.

«It's Murdock,» Five says, as the tiny earpiece she's wearing chirps at her.

The loose, easy mood she's in transmits through the sound of her voice, carrying with it the shape of the smile she lets herself put on. "Sure is, unless you mind a little bit of background noise." Across thousands of miles, over thin threads of data, the familiar sounds of New York on a Friday evening find him where he is. "How's tricks?"

—-

"Not likely," Matt says, of minding. And how could he? Forget Kinsey or Elektra, New York City has always been Matt Murdock's one true love. The noise that carries over with the signal is music to him: rushing cars and honking horns, and six different languages he can make out in the background conversations that swirl around a commuting Kinsey Sheridan. It's glorious, but also poignant. Outside of a summer clerkship for the Metropolis DA, he's never been outside of New York for this long before, and all at once the armored man standing solitary at the jungle's edge feels the ache of homesickness in his chest.

An innocuous question — a simple status check — summons a host of other feelings to the fore. "It's ok — a little rougher than when we last talked," he says. There's no inward debate about whether or not to be forthright, as there all too often is when Matt is having a serious conversation with anyone at all. Candor is, for once, what the moment requires. "Jess was — attacked. We think it was HYDRA. She's gonna be fine — fast healing and all — and she says hello. But we thought you might be able to help us out on your end."

—-

No one else would hear the little intake of breath from Kinsey, soft as it is and set against the tapestry of sounds to choose from, but Matt will. The light changes and she falls into step with the rest of the people around her, seeing little enough of the urban landscape as her focus turns inward, toward the voice in her ear and the bad news being carried on it. "Oh no. …God. Those people are just…" She presses her lips together, silences herself to listen to the rest of what he has to say.

Tension and worry, as easily stirred up in her as the first smattering of dead, crispy leaves in the gutter, smooth out when he asks for assistance. "Yeah, of course." Eagerness in her voice. Relief. Something to do. Some way to be part of what's happening, however small. "What do you need?"

—-

He hears the worry in her voice, the eagerness to help make a difference, and it prompts the first smile that's touched his lips in nearly a week. It's slight, and sad, but it's still born of affection. "We have a name for the assassin sent after Jess," Matt says quietly, closing his sightless brown eyes to the humid night air. A beat, and then he adds: "Her name is Elektra Natchios. If you could look into her. Financial records, chatter on the net, whatever you can find."

And, of course, he knows one piece of information she'll almost sure to find: random tagged photos of the two of them together floating around on the social media accounts of Elektra's trust-fund friends from forever ago. Which is why the only thing to do is…

"But there's, uh, more," Matt adds, and he can't begin to keep the weary, ragged woundedness out of his voice this time. "I know the assassin's name because I — knew the assassin. Elektra." He's had to do this twice now, and each time was a grueling exercise in disclosure from a man who treasures his secrets. Now, with her, where the stakes are higher, every part of him resists. "I know it sounds crazy, Kinze, but — I knew her from… college? She was the — she was the girl. The girl I told about my gifts." It was an off-hand comment, made months ago, that he'd only told one woman in his life before Kinsey about what he could do.

It hadn't ended well, he said.

—-

As Matt feeds Kinsey information, Five is automatically taking that information and relaying it through the systems in the lab underground, beginning to set wheels in motion. Elektra Natchios finds its way into the advanced algorithms that plumb the depths of everything digital, a military-grade net for trawling the darkest reaches of Al Gore's Series of Tubes.

"Sure. If there's something to find, I'll find it."

She has questions. Things she needs to know. She'd ask them, too, if not for the shift in tone, a bruised quality in his voice that stills her tongue. A few moments later he explains it, and it stills the rest of her, too. He might hear it: like most sudden stops on a busy New York City sidewalk, hers goes over about as well as a lead balloon. Someone walks directly into her from behind. There's no apology, just an annoyed hiss of air. Kinsey takes two, three steps off to the side, the shoulder of her jacket scuffing the cement wall of a building. Not saying anything yet, because of a sudden bottleneck of thoughts, most of which he could probably hazard a guess about.

"Yes," she says slowly, eventually. "It does sound crazy." Pause. "It's a crazy world." This pause is longer, as she teases at the loose ends of threads connected with this sudden disclosure. "I have a lot of questions, but I don't think it would be smart to ask them while I'm out in public. Tell me this, at least: is she tech savvy? And why do you think she's with — you know. That outfit."

—-

"Sorry," Matt says as he hears her navigate foot traffic across a Manhattan avenue. He rakes a hand through his hair while he uses the time she takes to gather her questions to marshall his own thoughts. "And yeah, of course you have questions," he says, his feet carrying forward to kick-off a pace. "I'll answer all of them. Full transparency."

And she starts with two. To the first, he rolls his eyes upward. "She didn't seem all that tech-savvy when I knew her," he says, wracking his brain for any memories of Elektra Natchios discussing computers, or smartphones, or apps, during their courtship. No — she'd always seemed so much more old-fashioned. Like a woman out of time. And yet…

"But when I knew her she was a socialite, not a serial-killer," he admits, tone quietly bewilidered and defeated. "She had a lot of resources, though. Her family was insanely wealthy, and her father was the Greek ambassador to the U.S. before he was —"

A beat. A grimace. "Before he was murdered. As for why HYDRA — it's just a working theory right now. We know they're active in Wakanda, and are likely behind the original bombing Bucky is accused of. No one has more reason to want to keep us from finding the truth."

There's more to be said there — not only about why he thinks it's true but why he hopes it's true, but he finds himself holding back despite himself, and immediately hating himself for it. Full transparency indeed.

—-

Just a theory. Kinsey's eyes remain distant, hazing over the moreso as she mulls over what few scraps of information she has. Around a single incongruent thought, her brows knit. "Not that I know a thing about being any kind of Greek debutante assassin, but if I were in her shoes, I don't think Jess would have been my first priority. Wouldn't you think she'd be looking for Dr. Foster instead? Tipping Barnes' network of contacts in Wakanda off about her presence without already having Dr. Foster in her custody seems…weird. I can't really think of a better bargaining chip, given what came out about their relationship during the trial, and as dangerous as Jess is, Foster's a legit genius, and someone that group has some direct experience with. They'd know how bright she is. What kind of risk she could represent." She finally stirs from her lean into the wall and lifts her cup to her lips, though she doesn't taste the sip she takes at all. She begins to walk again, too, but slowly, and she stays close to the wall and out of the way.

"How much of what she is now was true of her back then? I hear you, that she wasn't, you know — but was she…dangerous? Physically? Did she have a…a second life, even then? College couldn't have been that long ago for either of you. Did she pick up all of those things in less than ten years?"

—-

"Elektra knew capoiera, muay thai, escrima, and maybe half a dozen other martial arts six years ago," Matt says with a weary exhale. "She could always defend herself. And yeah, she had her hard edges for sure — but never like this. And no — no second life." A beat. An irritated amendment: "That I knew of. Neither of us did back then."

"And she did go after Jane first," the man asks as he continues his pace by the moonlit edge of the jungle, some thirty feet from where the aforementioned doctor's car is parked. "Didn't injure her, but shot her car off the road south of Birnan Zana. I stepped in, and we fought. I drove her off — but not before we recognized each other." The resonances between what happened in Wakanda a week ago and what happened on the docks of Hell's Kitchen months ago — two masked figures meeting in the heat of battle and suddenly realizing all their unmasked lives share — aren't lost on him.

"After that… after she ran off, she doubled back, headed into town, and stabbed Jess with a sai," Matt says, a sudden tightness creeping into his quiet voice, born of equal parts guilt and rage. "And another meta who was with her — huge guy, unbreakable skin, but she still knocked him out."

—-

Kinsey tchs softly. The list of martial arts is impressive, but it also means the field within which someone like Elektra could have honed her abilities is much wider. She had much less distance to travel in that period of time, halfway to being a weapon already.

The story that follows earns another knit of Kinsey's brows. She holds her tongue long enough to examine it thoroughly, but further thought doesn't change the impression she gets. "You 'drove her off?'" Pause. "So…okay. She was able to take out a man with impenetrable skin and Jess Jones, whose suite of abilities we know involves strength enough to use a telephone pole like a golf club, but you ran her off? On your own. Or with Dr. Foster, I suppose." Two immensely powerful metahumans lost to this one assassin, practically speaking, but Matt — essentially human for all that his abilities are fuelled by honed senses — and Dr. Foster, a scientist who must weigh, altogether, as much as a large dog…?

"Are you telling me everything?"

—-

"Yeah, well, I guess I punch above my weight," Matt throws back to her skepticism, though there's a sardonic edge to what would ordinarily be a breezy double-entendre.

His jaw juts, the line of it shifting as it moves right and left while he weighs his next words. "I'm trying to tell you everything, Kinsey, I really am," he says, schooling his voice to evenness, stripping it of the tension he feels in his frame. "But it's complicated. I think she was every bit as surprised at realizing who I am as I was at realizing who she is. We were both off balance that whole fight, and yeah, she ended up bolting. I guess I hoped she would have bolted right out of the country — or maybe broke out of her HYDRA programming, if they'd done to her what they'd done to Bucky."

He swallows hard. "But then Jess happened, and now I'm done hoping. I just have to stop her."

—-

Another crosswalk, another light. Kinsey is just one figure amidst a host of others — people chatting about their lives, so ordinary and straightforward; the dinners they're going home to have, the asshole coworker in the next cube over who chews audibly, the movie that came out this weekend and oh, god, they're so totally creeped out by clowns…!

In Kinsey's ear, the man she's in a relationship with — stop and start, across a baffling series of events that most people would consider socially apocalyptic even in isolation — is telling her that his ex is trying to kill people he's friends with; that she might be a brainwashed agent of HYDRA, an ancient, globe-spanning organization dedicated to ruining everything for everyone forever, and it is, quote-unquote, complicated.

She suppresses the sigh that wants to follow. Does what she's beginning to appreciate her mother did for years, in a relationship with a man whose life presented more than a typical freight of difficulties, as professional life impinged upon the personal: shepherd her tone, reorient through the noise on the pressing business of the moment. "If there's anything to find, I'll find it. I'll get it done as quickly as possible. In the meantime…do me a favor? …Be careful. Whatever you were, she sounds incredibly dangerous now." Pause. Cautious, and quiet: "Keep your guard up, is what I'm saying."

—-

They are a pair, these two on either ends of the phone. Kinsey Sheridan is on the sparkling, still-sunlit streets of Manhattan in her chique, sleek business wear, looking for all of it like an up and coming metropolitan — all while carrying on a conversation that borders on the surreal. Meanwhile, the outlandish costume and persona Matt had once been relegated to nighttime sweeps and leaps over city rooftops have become his second skin.

She can't see him or see how he, despite all his attempts at self-care, has been reduced to a dishelved, grizzled, and exhausted mess. She can't see how he dips his head when Kinsey summons her better nature and, despite all the clusterfuckery, urges him to caution — or how guilt lines the familiar crease between his eyebrows. But she may be able to hear at least a little of it in his voice.

"Thank you," he says with quiet sincerity — both to her acceptance of the task and the well-wishing — before he adds a dry: "Trust me, I know how fucked up all this is. And yeah, I hear you. My eyes are wide open." Which is a joke on one level, and then another, and then maybe a third underneath. But he can't leave it there. She intends to kill all your friends, Jess had told him, laid up in her hotel bed with the stab wounds to prove it."You be careful too. I don't know how much of this is coincidence or not, or what's driving Elektra, or those people might or might not know about me. Until we do, just — see if Five can be extra vigilant. OK?"

A short beat. "I miss you, Kinze," he murmurs.

—-

It would be difficult to call the little sound that comes across the line 'laughter,' or maybe even 'amusement,' though she appreciates the — joke. Such as it is. Acknowledgement, perhaps. A credit to his wit. Certainly nothing entertained by the situation, on his behalf or on her own.

The latter becomes important almost immediately afterward. He cautions her and, however gently it's done, it gives her a moment of pause. He's always concerned with the well-being of the people around him, but this is different; this involves Five. This recommendation is security-based, a sphere of caution that exists outside of herself.

She doesn't take it lightly.

"I will. The Garage is…" For one moment she tunes more fully into the world around her, flicking a look at some of the pedestrians nearest her. "…very safe. I'll keep that in mind on my commute, though. Maybe Stark can help me with that." Physical combat has never been her strong suit.

She's almost unaware of the tension gradually mounting, like snowdrifts accumulating, until that final sentiment throws light on them by melting them again. A knot of it unbinds in the space behind her sternum, the tight cable of her spine eased as something lets go. "I miss you, too." Pause. "I'm still here if you need me. I can be there anytime. It's not as immense as it seems, the world." Humor, and rue. She knows he won't ask. This pause is longer, and the question to come has no humor in it at all. "Are you going to be alright?"

—-

Even over the phone he can tell she takes his words caution seriously, and he feels the leaden weight on his shoulders lift perceptibly. Which isn't to say his reaction is entirely one of relief. "Sounds good," Matt says of approaching Stark for further protection, even in extremis doing his mightiest to sound casual and utterly unthreatened by Kinsey's genius billionaire playboy of a boss, who also happens to be a superhero, and a powerful enough one to dispense with the double-life on which his world depends.

But then she's offering to come see him, and he feels himself tugged in two directions. On the one hand the prospect of abandoning his lone-wolf crusading has never sounded so sweet — but all his reservations about bringing her over on this quixotic venture have only been amplified by the disastrous encounters with Elektra. In the end, as she correctly predicts, his protectiveness wins out. "Nah, I've got this one," he says in tones that, for all their weariness, are still warm and wry. It's a gentle demurral to her offer and an answer to her question all in one. "Let's stick to the plan. Some sand and sun after this is over — and then when I'm back home we can suit up together and take on all comers."

—-

"I'm counting on it! On both counts. I found the perfect swimsuit. Lots of completely unnecessary little straps everywhere. You're going to like it. …Assuming it doesn't turn into a completely unfixable tangle in my luggage." And as long as she can figure out how to put the damn thing on.

"I'm holding off on the rest of it, though it's difficult. I don't like sleeping on this, so the sooner we're off and running, the happier I'll be. But don't rush, and just — get back safely. Alright? I'm counting on that, as well."

The silence appended to this lingers, not because she's toying with any weighty thoughts or how to deliver them but because she's run out of things like that to say, and having him there on the other end of the line is a little luxury she's reluctant to part with.

Still.

"I'll let you get back to it. The moment I know anything, I'll call."

—-

Matt's chuckle is quiet, but carries across the line and the thousands of miles between the sometime couple. "Sounds like something to look forward to," he says softly of swimsuits with straps. And it does. Matt Murdock has never been a lay-about. He burns the candle at both ends and lives not one but two lives with a minimum concession to sleep. But after the marathon of the Barnes trial, the shock of Wakanda, and this latest battle with old ghosts he thought long since exorcised, a stretch of sultry languor sounds like heaven.

But first thing's first for this Catholic boy: purgatory. She tells him not to rush his return to grapple with CGI and their assorted troubles back home; to focus on getting back safely. "Working on it," he replies through a slight, tired smile. "And thanks again, Kinze — I mean it." A brief beat then of his own reluctance to hang up before he offers a final: "…'night."

And then, with a click, he's gone.

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