Exorcism, Interrupted

January 24, 2018:

Zatanna Zatara, Jessica Jones, and Matthew Murdock meet some roadblocks in their attempt to cast out the demons inside Kinsey Sheridan.

THE GARAGE

The only sign on the broad outdoor exterior reads 'GARAGE' in large letters of backlit, machined metal, and there are several bay doors leading into what turns out to be a hangar-sized space, one entire warehouse converted over to servicing vehicles of every description.

There are polished concrete floors and large hydraulic lifts, banks of tool chests and peculiar armatures of equipment hanging from the ceiling. In spite of the breadth of space, the interior feels cozy, somehow — maybe because of the graffiti covering the walls end to end, or the small personal touches like prints, papers, photos and mementos hung here and there. Speakers dot the length of the space, and during business hours there is almost always some sort of rock playing loudly enough to drown out the whine of heavy equipment.

To the right side, a secondary interior building has been cordoned off from the main body of the warehouse. The door is located up high, just beneath the roof, and accessed via a set of metal stairs.

The roof itself is able to telescope open to admit smaller, personal aircraft as necessary.

Characters

NPCs:

Mentions: Tony Stark

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Gotham is cold, slushy, gritty, and dark.

What else is new?

It escaped the blackout that its slightly less shadow-clotted neighbor across the bay endured, so business here continues as usual in just about every location, and in some places the boon to business from well-heeled refugees from New York has actually made the city livelier than usual.

The waterfront is still busy but cheerless, as most ports tend to be. The Garage is shuttered completely and has been for over a week now, a sign on the door explaining that it's going to be closed until further notice due to 'ownership illness.'

When the appointed time and day arrive for that vague description to be given a more specific sort of shape — amongst the sorting-out of many other details — the front door is open in spite of the 'CLOSED' sign, and Kinsey is sitting in one of the unimpressive second-hand chairs located toward the back of the vast space near the table with the coffee on it, abutted up against the interior building in the back right corner. There's music playing as usual, but it's quiet.

Days after Matt and Kinsey had their meeting at Fogwell's Gym in Hell's Kitchen, the lawyer phones his lady-friend to tell him that he has, as promised, enlisted the help of Jessica Jones and Zatanna Zatara to discover what exactly has befell her and the A.I. residing in her skull when it ran afoul of Jane Foster's super-virus at Stark Tower. Jessica Jones because she's one of the few who knows both Kinsey and Matt's secrets, is well connected, and is an inveterate problem solver. Ms. Zatara because Matt knows for a fact that Jane was mucking around with bad magic before she ever lost her soul to a giant bear, and it's not a stretch to imagine she was combining sorcery and her already prodigious scientific expertise here.

The trio will arrive at the appointed hour at the garage, with Matt Murdock in the lead and only paying cursory service to the fiction that he is an ordinarily-abled blind man. The bespectacled Manhattanite walks with purpose, and as soon as they're through that 'open sign' the cane is briskly folded and tucked away in the side-pocket of his charcoal-gray topcoat. "Hey, Kinze," he says in greeting, paired with a brief, slight smile. There's no attempt to wait for her to signal her presence to him, or engage in any of the usual kabuki.

They're among friends here, after all.

They elect to take more mundane transportation, which is just fine with Zatanna Zatara - New York as of late has been caked with fell magic to the point that some time away from the maelstrom that has encapsulated Stark Tower comes as a relief.

Not to say that Gotham is any better weather-wise. The bleak city is the worst during the winters where it seems darker and colder than almost any other city in the eastern seaboard, at least Bludhaven had its glittering havens of irresponsible debauchery to beat back all of it, rendering it a little more hospitable than the City of the Bats.

She arrives clad in her signature black clothing, with her hands buried in her pockets, the only spots of vibrant colors on her are her pale blue eyes and the crimson scarf wrapped around her neck and keeping the lower half of her face buried, though signs of life are apparent by the way her breath mists through the cashmere.

"Kinsey, yeah? Nice to meet you, I'm Zee."

Friendly as ever, and young. Not even out of her teens, yet. There's a glance at Jess, before she shuffles in whenever the rest of them are invited inside, mulling over the bits and pieces of what Matt and Jess have managed to impart on her along the way.

As it happens, Jessica Jones had been in Gotham. She picked up a new missing person's case, and though most signs point to 'it is weird' her own sense of due diligence means she is ruling out every last conventional explanation before she goes with 'oh yeah, totally, Mab, Queen of Unseelie Fairies.' This has meant days of rehash interviews at an exclusive boarding school, of tracking down the police detectives who worked the original case, even venturing, much to her own displeasure, into Gotham City's sewers. She made good use of the open invitation Zee gave her to stay at Shadowcrest, rather enjoying the fact that it was warm and lit and has that bathtub she likes.

She was more than happy to pick Matt up at the train station, though if Zee wasn't going to portal them she had to rent a car. Because what brought her to Gotham came with a fancy car and driver, and she's been enjoying her newfound Adventures in Flight all over town. But she did not suggest, both because it would have been awkward and because it would have been hazardous to their health, that she try carting them around the Gotham skies by way of transportation.

She is dressed in a black trench coat and jeans, boots, her ratty grey scarf, fingerless gloves. It's too cold even for her beloved leather. It is too cold even for her. "Hey Kinsey," Jessica says. She makes no bones at all about studying her friend closely, trying to take a read on her. "Looks like your demon encounter percentage is rising too. I didn't know it was catching, I swear."

Hazel eyes rise to the door as it opens, but it's not necessary. Kinsey's been watching them since they came within range of the endless arrays of sensors with which the outside of the building has been subtly outfitted.

It's typical for her to shed her working clothes and put on casual but comfortable clothing whenever she's expecting someone, but it doesn't appear she's bothered: even pulled back into a clip her hair looks limp and slept on, unwashed since the last time she woke up — whenever that was — and the sweatpants and sweatshirt are not the sort of thing she'd usually be caught wearing for company. She looks tired, the shadows beneath her eyes — which seem distracted, or at least slightly distant — delicate but made especially evident by the stark, sterile brilliance of the interior lighting. She still finds a smile for the three of them, and lifts her hand to greet Zatanna. It's a thin, stiff smile, but it exists.

"Nice to meet you, too. Thanks for coming."

Her attention ticks toward Jess with a reprise of the upturn to either side of her mouth. "Inside of Stark tower's network is the last place anybody would expect to find something like that."

He finds himself improbably relieved by those simple, if strained exchanges of greetings. Even though he just saw Kinsey two days ago, the lawyer had very little idea of what to expect when they arrived. To call it an evolving situation is an epic understatement.

And so he's watchful too. Not in the way Jessica Jones is, precisely, but he has his own way of taking his girlfriend's temperature. Literally, in fact, by virtue of the palm he tries to rest on the young mechanic's shoulder when he comes to a stand beside the old chair she sits in. Other things filter in that way too: the pace of her breath, her pulse, and likely much more. Once upon a time Matt called himself a walking med-lab, and he wasn't exaggerating much.

Of course, the hand isn't just to monitor her vitals, not from the way he tries to give that shoulder a gentle squeeze. There are any number of jokes he could crack, about Tony Stark or demons or all the rest. And any other time, he probably would. But at this particular moment he's so single-minded that not even gallows humor will do. "I filled Jess and Zatanna in on the basics," he explains in that quiet, careful cadence of his. "It seems like some kind of magic was at play at Stark Tower — so it was the right call to get you, ah, checked out."

His eyebrows lift slightly as he asks. "How are you feeling?" It's a weighted question. It's been days since they saw each other, and Kinsey is by her own account a work in progress as the virus reshapes the houseguest in her head.

She doesn't remove her jacket when she steps inside, though she does unwind her scarf to reveal her face, letting it hang around her neck as she ventures further into the garage. All the technology she finds within are items that she curiously glances at, but considering the note of urgency in Matt's tone when he called, he probably wants everything to go underway as soon as possible.

"I can start taking a look at you once you have a seat," she tells Kinsey, pulling her gloves off her fingers and stuffing them in her back pocket.

And out from the same confines is her obelisk, made out of what appears to be glassy black rock - it's a newer construct, stronger than her old one which had cracked during the Stark Tower debacle, simultaneously a more delicate and more powerful instrument for her magical work. There's a brief nod of acknowledgment at what Matt says about being filled in the basics, a rueful smile curling up on her own mouth.

"We managed to bring Stark Tower under control a few days ago - SHIELD with some assistance from the Titans." With a whispered word, the tip of her obelisk flares with blue-white light, crackling faintly with small arcs of scarlet energy.

Once Kinsey is ready, she'll direct the light towards her. "I don't know how much help I would be with the actual computer virus. Programming is a little out of my skillset. But if there's corruption like what we found in JARVIS' mainframe, I can try to purify it and leave…uh….the more technically inclined experts to do their thing."

With the nitty gritty getting gotten down to, Jessica Jones stops quipping. She does, however, pace a little bit. She sort of situates herself, at last, in a guard position. If doing this is going to bring horrible demonic things down on their heads, she decides she can best serve by being well-placed to punch them, or douse them in Holy Water, or any number of other things which the full-time PI, sometime apparent demon hunter can do.

Well, wait. What other things? Punching and holy water. That's what she's got. Kicking and headbutting too, but those are all in the theme.

"Zatanna's one of the most incredible wizards alive, Kins," she says, adding reassurances where she can. "If anyone can handle the weird angle of this, fix it, or mitigate it, it's gonna be her." Or John, but you get one and to some extent you get the other. She crosses her arms, fully in pitt bull mode now.

If anything can be said for Kinsey's vital signs, as perceived by Matthew Murdock, it's this: they are weirdly regular. Steady and slow is good, but organic bodies are prone to all manner of little hiccup and fallibility. Right now, a person could set a watch to the regular rhythm of her heart and breathing. The change to the way she smells is stronger now than it was before, and not just because she's probably been sitting in the lab, focused on work things — it's a body chemistry change.

Her body temperature is significantly lower — where he touches her on the shoulder, anyway. Whether he can perceive it or not, the same can't be said for her head.

All she does is nod when it's confirmed that there was magic in use at the tower that night, but the question requires an answer. It isn't quick in coming, her expression inscrutable for the length of the silence that follows, and when she does finally give one it borders on meaningless. "Alright." Another small nod. No smile, but her tone is quiet. "I'm alright."

Zatanna moves things right along, and Kinsey does sit when she's obliquely told to, but she side-eyes the dark-haired magician and a note of unease creeps into her expression. Green-gold eyes tick from one of them to the next. "I'm not sure-" Pause. "I don't know what will happen if you…"

The look Matt receives is long, plaintive with things she doesn't seem to know how to express, which is in and of itself unusual. "We- I don't understand what it's doing to…"

Does Zatanna know about Five? In her lap, Kinsey's hands tighten together, tension white-knuckling the hands of the left one. For Matthew, there's a sudden sharpness of anxiety in the air, perceptible in all of the broad spectrum of his senses. Her pupils dilate. "Maybe this isn't a good idea."

Safe to say Matt notices that wild temperature variation between Kinsey's cooler-than-normal body and the heat radiating from underneath her tangles of dark-dyed hair. And it makes a sort of grim, intuitive sense: that whatever is happening as Five changers, and her brain or that 'neural net' or whatever changes with it, energy would be drawn there at the expense of everything else. But still, to notice these physiological changes in her is unsettling. His jaw tightens at its hinges, shifts left and right. "Liar," he murmurs when she says she's alright, and that's said only half in jest.

But then she's suddenly afraid, and he can tell she's looking up at him imploringly, even if he can't see that quiet and pleading look in her eyes. This, too, stands to reason. That spike in survival instinct she'd mentioned, fight or flight responses and a sudden need for secrecy, safety. "I told them the basics," he repeats softly, slowly removing his spectacles and coming down to one-knee beside her chair. "She knows that there is an A.I., and that something's happening to him. She just wants to look, for now. We need to see whether there is anything magical going on in there, and then we can decide how to deal with it. But isn't knowing safer than not?"

"Thanks, Jess. No pressure there," Zatanna quips, winking at the private investigator. Good humor lights up the blue of her eyes, but it doesn't pour it the way it usually does - she can read the room and whatever has happened has taken a toll on the subject and Matt.

The sudden hesitation from Kinsey, however, has her pausing in her preparations. She doesn't interject, letting the two of them converse, though there's a glance over at Jessica. "So how long has this been going on anyway, do you know?" she asks, conferring with the older woman quietly while Matt and Kinsey hash this out.

Jessica looks back at Zee, and she frowns thoughtfully. Zee's handling it well, and she tries to figure out what she, in particular, might say to smooth the waters here. At last she looks over at Kinsey and says, "Look um…when this crap took over one of Tony's it didn't fully get resolved until I hit it with holy water. It's a double-sided problem. Zee knows what she's doing, and any…" She glances at Matt, knowing Matt will be aware of her glance even if he can't see it…

Her brow furrows thoughtfully.

"And anything Zee learns will absolutely be held in confidence. It's going to be okay. You're going to be okay. We'll find a way to handle this."

She's really not good at this. So at the end of it she just sort of runs her fingers through her hair. Everyone else already gave reassurances, what the Hell is she doing exactly? But there they are anyway.

If she could, Kinsey would probably be crawling out of her own skin. She's good at controlling her desire to fidget and squirm, but the urge seethes underneath the surface, and the way her eyes continue bouncing between the three of them looks much more like an animal that feels cornered trying to anticipate threats than a young woman paying attention to the reassurances being handed to her by two people she trusts explicitly and one person that they trust explicitly.

Every muscle in her throat is visible when she swallows.

The reassurances must find a foothold in her logic if nowhere else, because after a few moments she closes her eyes and grasps the sides of her chair's seat. "Okay. …yeah. But maybe, uh. Maybe you could, um. Restrain me."

She sounds very calm about that suggestion. It's gently spoken, at all odds with the implications of the words themselves.

"Just in case."

Matt can sense the terror coming off Kinsey in waves, see the internal struggle at the execution of a plan they had agreed upon just days ago. It summons up new wells of sympathy and worry in the young lawyer. But eventually she assents, with a calm tone that belies every other physical and chemical signal you'd expect to see in a cornered animal. Even more, she admits that she may need restraint to move forward with the plan.

He has no idea what's happening to her, and it terrifies him. But the face he puts on his brave, if awash with with a muted sort of sadness as he nods, once. "Alright," he says, squeezing her shoulder again before making for some zip ties on a nearby counter that he finds with — well, who the hell knows how he finds them.

He returns in seconds, and takes one arm to bind, and then the other. The line of his jaw is tight; it feels like his teeth might grind themselves to paste. "It's been going on since the day the Tower fell," he answers to Zatanna, finally. Though he himself only found out about it two days ago — that part he leaves out.

"Apparently they looked and didn't find any sign of the virus still in there," he adds grimly. "But whatever changes it set into motion are, uh, still happening." Those restraints set in place, he comes to a stand, just behind her, and sets both hands lightly where her shoulders meet her neck.

"Alright, well….just to warn, I won't be much help on the electronic side of things, but I can poke a little to see…"

Zatanna pushes away all the tension she can feel rippling over the room; once Kinsey is restrained, she takes a few steps forward, the obelisk in her grasp. Curling fingers along the stone, her other set of fingers fan out, hovering, but not touching Kinsey's face once Matt is finished with her work.

Lashes kiss over her cheeks, whispering a few words that causes the obsidian instrument in her hand to vibrate and its glow to materialize - brighter than before, purer than before.

Her ephemeral control extends; she does nothing to poke and prod at whatever might be affecting Kinsey just yet, but she does attempt to look for corruption, and gauge just how deep it goes.

It's not a comfortable thing, watching Kinsey ask to be restrained. Jessica Jones gets a look of sheer sympathy on her face. Kinsey Sheridan does not trust herself because some damned foreign thing is in. Her. Head.

She crosses her arms, helpless and frustrated, and finally looks away. Part of it is her 'guard duty' schtick. She wanted to be here to support, to know, to help if she could, to solve problems, but right now there is only the waiting on behalf of a friend she's come to care very much about, whom she is in fact quite protective over.

And the god awful thoughts that trail around facing all the realizations those restraints bring front and center both about what is happening here and who, inexplicably, inconceivably, made this happen, however directly or indirectly. For reasons Jess can't even begin to fathom or understand or make sense of.

Her mouth tightens, she forces herself to look back at Kinsey a second later. She doesn't repeat her reassurances; now she wants to be quiet and avoid distracting.

Pulse and breathing elevated but still eerily regular — more like a machine than a body, really.

Kinsey doesn't look at any of them after Matt turns to retrieve the cuffs. She's the one who made the suggestion, but she doesn't want to be restrained (and that's probably why she thinks she needs to be). She has to squeeze her eyes shut to stay where she is as he binds her arms, organic and synthetic alike, and once she opens them to find Zatanna getting closer with that — what is that, is that a magic wand? For real? — she just shuts them again anyway.

Not that it matters much. There's a piece of her still floating around in the electronics of the garage, and it sees everything.

« This could very well kill her, » Five says, a smooth, masculine voice that pipes up over the speakers that dot the length of the garage. It makes his voice omnipresent, saturating the whole space. Quiet, pleasant, but distinctly artificial.

« If not by throwing her body into shock through a sudden change, then potentially through erasing pieces of corrupt information gradually replacing her own brain's functions. If it doesn't leave her with brain damage. Are you very sure you know what you're doing? »

For all the time he's spent with Kinsey, their near-year's worth of a relationship, Matt Murdock can count the number of times he's spoken with the artificial intelligence that shares her skull with the fingers on one hand. Outside of moments of crisis or necessity, Kinsey's creation and perpetual houseguest has kept out of sight, if not out of mind. To hear him now is not necessarily unexpected, but it does set Matt on edge.

Not that his arguments aren't persuasive to a young man already worried about his lady-friend. The prospect that they might make matters worse — kill her, incapacitate her, drive her fully mad — looms large, especially when they are dealing with such limited information. "We're looking, Five," he says, evenly but but with conviction. "The same as you've been doing. You've been been monitoring yourself and her, trying to understand what's happening to you. But your tools might not be able to see everything. This could provide data that could help all of us."

The hands at Kinsey's shoulders rest there, gentle but firm. "It's okay," he says softly, this time turning his voice just to her. "It's going to be okay. Trust me."

She doesn't listen.

She knows that the nature of the magic inside of Six is demonic and those of their ilk often mingle falsehoods with the truth. Zatanna performs her own mental calculus here - either this happens and she makes her best effort, or she leaves this problem for another day and there may not be anything left of Kinsey to save. From where she is standing, she doesn't see many options left.

She feels her way around the construct, following the path of magic and nothing else. Her control blossoms further, mushrooms into the link that she opens up between herself and Kinsey…

The corruption is deep, much like what she has encountered in Stark Tower. She had purified the encompassing darkness with brute force, but that is different. Inside a person's soul requires a more delicate touch.

She says nothing; at the moment, she can't trust Five. It's in his code after all. But once she reaches out with intangible fingers to start performing the work…

Her body goes still. The sharp focus in her ice-blue eyes go blank.

She is unable to describe what is happening because she is suddenly in the defenses. Deep within her inner world, the thing that has invades Kinsey takes a leap in another attempt to possess another body.

Nothing to indicate that something is wrong, but her defenses are up and it manifests in a white-blue glow that starts from her eyes and starts to permeate through the rest of her - like magical antibodies meant to keep demonic influences at bay.

For her part, Jessica Jones jumps.

She knows about Five, but she didn't know he could talk outside Kinsey's head. She's never talked to him before. She looks wide-eyed around the room.

But this? This is good. This is a witness she can interview. She sort of…turns to face where she thinks it's coming from. Trying to be polite to the AI. "Hey, Five, it's uh. It's Jessica Jones," she says, still not sure what he can see or hear. "Is it okay if I ask you a few questions?"

She gives Zee and Matt a glance, the look on her face says she feels kind of out of her element. Or like an idiot. A great deal like an idiot. Maybe a great deal out of her element. But…bullish as ever…

Can it hurt? To ask questions? Now she throws a look at Zee. She should have asked Zee before asking that. She scrubs her fingers through her hair again, uncertainly. But he's right there! And he has insights nobody else has! And…and Zee is glowing and probably can't come to the phone right now anyway.

She hitches a quick shrug. Right. Trying to interview the AI, it is. Unless Matt stops her.

« Looking is not what you were discussing. You were discussing making changes. There is a distinct difference. When one is dealing with quantum physics, that statement may not even be true. Observation is capable of affecting outcomes. You are extremely unprepared for what you intend to attempt. »

There's no response from Kinsey at all to the touch on her shoulder, but the muscle in it is hard as a rock. She keeps her head down and her eyes closed, buckled in on herself. Fighting the urge to fight back, possibly. Dealing with Five, possibly. It's impossible to say.

Jessica's address of the AI concentrates his voice within the speaker nearest the detective, clear evidence that he's able to see all of them.

« Yes, Ms. Jones. I know who you are. I am happy to answer your questions, though I suspect Miss Zatara may shortly become a more pressing concern for all of you. »

"I think we're all in agreement that changes are going to have to be made sooner and not later," Matt says to the — well. To the room, or the disembodied voice that occupies it. "Let's figure out what we're dealing with, and then we can figure out the whens and the hows."

He keeps his hands light and steady on Kinsey's tense frame as he observes, the way only he can, the interplay between Zatanna and whatever she is finding in Kinsey. He may be less adept at that than most — what's the blue forming along her eyes and frame to him?

But Five's words do set him off, tense his own frame and set him on alert. "Five, what are you talking about?" he says, urgency growing with each consecutive word in the question.

Perhaps.

Or perhaps not.

It takes several long, silent minutes before Zatanna responds again, shattering the attempt to take over her mind, because while Kinsey will require a more careful touch, she does not have the same concerns with her own body, especially with the Blood of Isis frothing out from the scarlet core it makes within the endlessly swirling maelstrom of her ridiculously powerful soul to defend its host body the moment it registers a threat. It takes some effort, but given she has no compunctions defending herself from demonic influence, she finds the root it tries to plant into her consciousness, and with a curl of her lips and a baring of her teeth, shatters it with a magical fist.

Fingers twitch on her side, and curl into her palm. She withdraws from her examination of Kinsey, and glances at the rest.

"Five's code is saturated in the Demon Bear's signature," she says, reaching up to knuckle away beads of perspiration from her forehead. "When I tried to purify it, it tried to rewrite me also…but not directly. Not the most scientifically inclined, here, but I think it needs a human mind to transfer the virus into another. It took a path through Kinsey's consciousness and into mine while we were linked."

Jessica's head does whip towards Zee, but…Zee is fine. "Transfer," she says. "Not just copy, but like move?" That question is for Zee; just trying to understand.

She tilts her head back up at Five. Well not really, he is everywhere. But.

At more or less where she has decided he is.

She likes AIs. She really does.

"What's this experience like for you, Five?" She winces. Now how can that help? But it's the first thing she thinks of to ask. She knows what humans who encountered the Demon Bear…well. Got. But what about the infected AIs? "I gotta say, you sound way better than poor JARVIS did."

She glances at the others again. She's just winging it here, but so much of her problem solving is that. Asking the best questions she knows to ask, and winging it.
"No… not exactly. Think of it like demonic possession, only somehow coded digitally but still needs human elements to execute Like, whatever Kinsey has, it needs to have human consciousness for it to render another mind as its slave," Zatanna tells Jessica, before turning to the speakers and giving it quiet but wary eye.

Five, what are you talking about?

« Viruses, » Five says — and maybe it's just one's imagination, but there seems to be an edge of long-suffering patience to the cadence of the AI's delivery, « Are contagious. »

Very luckily for everyone involved — and probably everyone not-involved, too — Zatanna is equal to the task of ending the threat to herself, ensuring that Five's warning words don't become the prophecy they could have.

He answers Jessica's question instead, as though the beat prior had never happened. Standing beside Kinsey, Matt will hear her silently shaping the words in precise synchronization with the AI's broadcasting voice.

« It is not inordinately unfamiliar. My personality has been in a state of perpetual change since the accident. The process is accelerated by comparison but not entirely alien to me. While we have only theory by which to work, JARVIS has never to my knowledge coexisted with a biological platform. Most of our hypotheses revolve around this unique scenario providing a buffer against the changes, or perhaps as a modifier to the nature of those changes. »

A brief silence, and then:

« Does that conclude the activities for this evening? »

Zatanna confirms Five's threat, and what they almost had on their hands — not one but two possessed bodies, and one of them possessed of incredibly powerful magic gifts. That… would have been bad. Matt lets out a breath he didn't even know he'd been holding, and he blinks a few times as the adrenaline coursing through his blood tapers off. His brow furrows on Zatanna's reply to Jessica's question. "Before, the demon-code… thing, could only take over machines or A.I. Kinsey opens up new doors."

Indeed, she seems to be doing exactly that right now, as she thoughtlessly lip syncs Five's voice… in what may be the single most disturbing display of symbiosis between twenty-something Gothamite Kinsey and her A.I. Matt Murdock has witnessed to date. One of my primary concerns is that he might actually become the dominant personality, of the two of us. Take over the driver's seat, possibly. Now, after that display, it's a fear Matt very much shares.

"Five, you need to let her go right now," Matt says through clenched teeth, murder in the Catholic boy's eyes. "Or it's going to be hard for us not to treat you as anything other than a problem to be solved."

He turns his attention to Zatanna. With his glasses off, that perennial defense against the world's scrutiny, his face is practically boyish — and in this moment, every bit as vulnerable as when he lay in that Metro General hospital bed almost exactly one year ago. Anguish and determination play out across expressive features in equal measure. "Five's not wrong that we don't know what 'purifying' the code will do to him, and to Kinsey," he says. "Everything about them stems from an accident they don't even understand. Are there other options? Ways we can slow this train down, or stop it from progressing further while we try to find Foster?"

He can't even bear to call her Jane.

She falls quiet as Matt rounds on the AI, but when addressed directly by the ginger lawyer, Zatanna turns to regard Kinsey trussed up on her seat, lifting a hand to scrub the back of her neck as she thinks.

"To put it in layman's terms," she says. "What I can do is command it to stop spreading."

It is a little more complex than that, but that is the gist of what she can attempt to do.

"The demonic influence is strong, but I'm afraid I don't know enough about code and quite frankly, I don't know enough about where Kinsey ends and the AI begins and vice-versa. I've never had to exorcise someone who's essentially half machine. Magic is something I know better than Jane does and I suspect that's why she elected to use this sort of method - she knows there are people who exist who can simply unravel pure sorcery and it's difficult to find anyone who holds a mastery in both technology and magic."

She flexes her fingers absently. "I can get Reality to go along with me and I can tie that spell matrix with my own life - think of it as giving the universe a collateral to hold onto in exchange for a 'stay' in execution for a soul. Which means that so long as I live, it won't spread any further than it has."

After a pause, she looks over at Matt. "Or I could tie it to yours."

Ages ago, Jessica Jones asked Kinsey Sheridan if she could help find information on the accident. Kinsey was convinced that Jess would have to do illegal things, or that she'd draw the DEO's attention and ire, or that she'd bring the DEO down on Kinsey's own head. And Jessica had stepped aside.

Now she furrows her brow thoughtfully. If half the problem is Kinsey and Five don't even understand much about themselves…

She has contacts she did not have a year ago. Boatloads of them. And now she stands there trying to figure out if she can leverage them. But if she does it wrong, it will be one more wrecking ball thrown into Kinsey's life. One more that she caused while trying to help. It might well be a conversation to have both with Matt and with Kinsey when this is done. Or with Matt, Kinsey, and the impatient Number Five, who is alive and ready to start singing Los Lobos Kick Your Ass from the sound of it. Only a lot less harmlessly and innocently than she remembers it going down in that movie.

"Or you could tie it to mine," Jess suggests out loud. "First and foremost, I'm immune to control these days. Second? I'm really damned hard to kill. Not that I love the way our whole lives for the past year have been the different ways souls can be sliced, diced, and traded, but."

Matt nods a little at that Zatanna's analysis of the situation. It meshes with his own: Jane's always been too clever for her own, or anyone else's, good. It makes perfect sense that she'd rig the game, crafting a puzzle only she could solve. Since Kinsey first told him about what happened, and they decided who must be the culprit, there's never been a doubt in Matt's mind about where it would end.

Zatanna offers a lifeline — time. Leaving Kinsey still in dire straits, with Five barely on — or maybe just off — his leash. But at least it won't get any worse. "Do it," Matt says at once, even before Zatanna offers an explanation for how, and further offers two suggestions for who will be on the hook for it. His bushy eyebrows shoot upwards when she lays out the mechanism, and he turns his attention to Jessica when she offers a third option.

"You're both amazing people, you know that?" Matt says with a puff of breath, appreciation plain in his quiet tone. "But immunity to control doesn't seem to matter much here — just staying alive. And though you wouldn't know it, I can be a pretty damn good survivor when I need to be." Lest anyone laugh at that, he adds: "It's just that most of the time it's not my primary objective."

It's a paradigm shift for him, really. Normally he's diving headlong into impossible odds. Laying low, keeping his head down? Focusing on staying alive while others play the hero? Wildly out of character for the man the papers call 'Daredevil.' All of that may explain the shift in his jaw, the lowering of his chin, the sense of wrestling with a decision. "And it frees up those with real, useful powers to go on offense and take on that fucking Bear. Let me handle this part. It's the smart move — and it's," he gestures down to the restrained woman in front of him, "my responsibility."

"He's right, Jess," Zatanna tells her. "So long as the collateral stays alive, the matrix will hold."

And this is why she offers the option to Matt; she doesn't say it, but considering how she has to participate in the gambit against the Demon Bear, she cannot guarantee her survival either, though she certainly has plenty of impetus to stay alive also despite being in the front lines anyway. Pale fingers lift, to gesture for Matt to come forward, resting a hand on his shoulder. The other, she extends to Kinsey.

"This is gonna feel weird," she warns both, flashing Jess a quick smile before lashes drop, kissing her cheeks.

White-blue sigils slowly carve into the floor at her prompting, circles forming under Kinsey's seat and also under Matt's. Arcs of energy thrum along the perimeters of each, sparks flying before they flutter off into the ether; fireflies under the harsh, glaring white light illuminating the garage.

Lips move, with words barely heard - though even if people could, they would be utter gibberish; an incantation recited backwards is another added complexity to the already considerable cerebral gymnastics she has to perform during ritual spellwork.

She may have described it simply, but it is not. To bend reality to her whims requires both care and good will, and in this case, some kind of sacrifice, because the lynchpin of the bargain rests on another, and Matthew Murdock is not exempt from the rules of Fate either. He has no Zatara exception that he can boast.

The minutes tick on - an hour…two hours…

….but once the matrix cages itself over the spreading contagion and seals it within, she engages the locks and weaves Matt's soul into it, and only when that is finished that she lets go. The light show fades, and she lets out a small exhale - her breath coalesces into mist inside of the garage, flecked by hints of glowing scarlet.

"That should do it. I don't think I need to tell you what you need to do, yeah?" The last to Matt, brows winging upwards to her hairline.

There hasn't been any response from Kinsey at all since she and Five ceased participating in the conversation. The tightness with which she's keeping her eyes closed suggests that she's not unconscious, just not focused on anything happening in the room. The silence from both she and the AI resident in her skull implies the two of them might be at loggerheads, or-

Who knows, really? Who knows what that interior life is like?

She doesn't respond when the ritual begins, either, save that there's a very quiet creak from one of the zipties around her wrists.

It seems to go on for an eternity.

By the time it's over, she really is unconscious. Her head lolls forward in the chair she's bound to, her posture slack. It's probably little wonder; her body's been under constant (if slow) siege since the night she was exposed to the virus and there's really only so much it can be expected to weather without the need for rest. At least all of her vital signs seem normal, even if they remain bizarrely regimented.

She'll have to thank Zatanna some other time.

This is gonna feel weird, she tells him, and he rolls his brown eyes ceiling-ward. "Yeah, par for the course tonight," he says ruefully. If you had told him a year ago that he would be in Gotham, getting his soul tinkered with after participating in a botched exorcism of a cyber-demon that had taken possession of his cyborg girlfriend, newly-minted member of the bar Matthew Murdock would have laughed, and then tap-tapped his way to the other side of the street to get away from you. Hell, that's the sort of talk that could get you kicked out of the Catholic orphanage where he spent his formative years.

But if he's a man entirely out of his depth, at least the waiting is something he's equipped to do. While reality is being warped and woven by Zatanna, Matt can bring his mind to bear on a single point, in this case the too-steady heartbeat in Kinsey Sheridan's chest, and let the rest of the waves of magic rise and fall uninterrupted, barely observed.

That should do it, the witch tells him, and Matt is blinking open his eyes — out of instinct and reflex rather than need. "I need to get her to bed," he says as he drops back down to one knee and begins loosening the zip-tie on one wrist. "And then? I need to keep myself alive." But first — while, Kinsey can't thank Zatanna at present, Matt can. "We owe you one for this," he tells her as he rises from his crouch, legs stiff from standing for hours. "Risking yourself like that, and figuring out a way to stop this and keep her safe. You're one in a million, Zatanna Zatara."

There's a small smile at Matt's gratitude.

"Take care of her," is all Zatanna says, before she takes a few steps back. Somewhere behind her, a rip tears into their present space, expanding into a portal that leads into an alley - somewhere in Brooklyn. "And if anything else happens that you think I can help with, you know my number."

With that, she pulls her scarf back around her neck, and slips through the wormhole she's made into the ether, the thing spinning shut behind her and leaving the two alone.

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