January 30, 2018:

Kinsey Sheridan wakes up.

The Lab, Gotham City

Kinsey's secret lab beneath her garage in Gotham City.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, Wilson Fisk, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Tony Stark

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Kinsey sleeps.

She sleeps for sixteen hours down in the lab, and wakes up only because she's desperately in need of something to eat — and for the first time in a month or so, what she wants more than anything is meat and starch, heavy foods. With that out of the way she sleeps again — another eight full hours, in fact. For the duration of this time Matt has license to freely come and go from the Garage and the lab itself, but he's reduced to the archaic need to pass through various forms of physical security: Kinsey herself isn't awake to grant him access, obviously, and Five has yet to make any kind of appearance at all. The more pedestrian security systems of the Garage include keys, keycodes, and biologically-based identity scans — tedious, but effective enough for extenuating circumstances.

It's getting to be late afternoon of the following day when she finally stirs and seems unlikely to turn over and fall asleep again, and she sits up on the cot in the lab with a hand to her head, wincing groggily.

How does a blind man occupy himself in a room full of computer monitors?

It isn't the first time Matt Murdock has faced that question. The hours during which Kinsey slumbers recall that string of spring days Matt spent in the lab while she recovered from a gunshot wound taken on the West Side docks. Then, as now, he'd spent the brunt of that time in meditation, or what little of his training regimen the subterranean space would allow. When he goes upstairs to Kinsey's faux apartment, it's to shower. Basic tasks to keep his body and mind occupied, while the brunt of his attention rests on the vital signals of the young woman laying in the slim, single-person cot a few feet away.

If anything, this time finds him even more single-mindedly vigilant. The keys, keycodes, and other security measures are only bypassed to allow a quick entrance by a delivery man. A bullet wound to the abdomen is a scary thing, with any number of possible complications. But it's not outside the realm of his experience. This — everything that has happened to Kinsey since the A.I.s went mad in Stark Labs a month ago — is uncharted territory for both of them. And so he hangs on every heartbeat and every breath as if they were tea leaves he might read.

Because for all that Jane Foster called the procedure a success, told him flat-out that they had won and that the corruption had been removed, Matt has little to know idea what that means in a practical sense for Kinsey, Five, or the life that they were carefully constructing between them. So when her heart races itself out of sleep, when the cadence of her breath changes, when he hears the rustle of sheets signal that she's sitting up rather than merely rolling over, he's already rapt.

"Hey, welcome to the land of the waking," he says gently, forcing himself to banish apprehension and instead offer her a wry half-smile as he pushes himself out of the lotus pose on the pillow near her cot and brings himself to a slow stand. He's clad only in those loose black combat trousers that he wears out every night. His hair's a mess, his stubble has grown coarse and thick enough to stray into full-beard territory, and there are half-moon shadows under his hazel eyes.

"How are you feeling?" It's a simple question, mere conversation filler in other circumstances. Here? It's hard not to seem weighted with import.

She doesn't see him at first: squinting, eyes essentially closed, she fights with her own head in search of equilibrium. "Like I'm on the tail end of the world's worst flu," she says, voice rough with disuse. It's only one sentence — less than a dozen words — but it could not be more different from anything she's said since this whole debacle began. Dry and somehow self-deprecating, every last word in it is saturated with the emotional elasticity she's lacked. There's more in her follow-up, lashes fluttering in several blinks before her eyes lift, still hazy with sleep. The shape of her mouth changes, torn between concern and gallows humor with a light in her eyes that reflects both. "Jesus, Matt. You look as rough as I do."

It takes her a moment to swing her legs over the side of the cot onto the floor, a hand lifted to rake back into dark, sleep-tousled tresses. "Oooh. Maybe not. This headache is…astonishing. There are pills. I need the pills. In the- there's a medicine cabinet over on the wall. No, wait. First, just-" She lifts one hand, arm stretched upward, and waves him down onto her level.

Matt guards his expressions jealously. As he told her on their first outing together, half the reason blind little Matt Murdock started wearing shades was for fair play: if he couldn't see everyone else's expressions, why should they get to see his? But there's not even an attempt to stifle the wave of relief that washes over his features when he hears Kinsey talking like herself again. He doesn't have to force the smile that springs to his lips. He lets out a rare, bright laugh tinged with dizzy relief when she tells him, more or less, that he looks like shit.

Which is both true and not. Yes, he's been without sleep for days, he's unshaven and only marginally kempt. But any cursory survey of his frame will find something more than strange: his scars are gone. The long, raking wounds along his chest made by the much-mocked Wakandan 'laser panther.' The slender slash of a knife at his left side, and the ugly spider-web of scar tissue at his right shoulder. The topography of a year's worth of punishment and violence, not just faded but wiped clean off the map.

He's about to follow his nose to the medicine cabinet before she's summoning him, and lucky for her the blind man can sense, in that impossibly strange way of his, that her hand's outstretched. He walks a few paces over to her and makes to come to a quick kneel beside her, dizzy relief and lingering concern equal parts at play on his features.

It's nothing for her to slide off of the cot, down onto her knees so that she can wrap her arms over his shoulders to wind tight, and press her face into the side of his neck, eyes closed and brows knit. The feverish heat haloing her head is gone, and her fingers are just as sleep-warm as the rest of her, and though both of those things would've been possible for him to sense as she slept, consciousness hasn't shifted the balance.

Which is not to say that things have instantly snapped back into the shape they used to be, and some things may never do that, changed as they've all been by what they've been through — in some ways for the better, in some the worse, dynamics tilted and skewed in ways they have yet to fully grasp. The headache is a symptom of the more easily understood changes in her, but she remains burdened by her recovery in other ways, and the clearest evidence of that is her failure to notice the changes wrought on him by Jane's magic. "I'm so sorry, Matt. I'm so sorry." The words are pinched, forced to leave her throat around the knot that forms in it, and it's long moments before she feels it's diminished enough to continue, eyes pricked with tears. "I remember everything, but it all feels so slippery to me. Like a movie I watched, something that happened to someone else."

What 'getting Kinsey back' means is something Matt has put a lot of thought into over the last nigh-on 24 hours. There's no turning back the clock, and any trauma of this magnitude will undoubtedly inform what she thinks, how she feels — who she is. If Stick were here, he would probably say that change is the only constant, and that the idea that there is some immutable 'Kinsey' or a 'Matt' to begin with is just a polite fiction. But kneeling there with her, it's impossible not to feel that some kernel or core that was missing has been restored.

The enormity of it all has left him dumbstruck — the normally loquacious lawyer hasn't said a single word since he asked her how she was feeling. And even when the words come rushing up from his gut to his chest, he suddenly can't find the breath to give them voice.

Finally, he manages a fierce whisper in her ear: "Oh, Jesus, I thought I'd lost you."

'They grapple with each other there on the cold concrete floor, and every single piece of sensory datum — from warm fingertips to salty tears — is further grounds for relief. The latter especially so, since it points to an emotional range and capacity that was being slowly stripped from her by the demon's magic. The brief, stifled chuckle he gives when she apologizes to him can't be heard, but she can feel it in the shake of his unblemished chest. "Now you sound like me," he protests to her temple. His eyes are shut tight, his brow are knit, and his hands are hooked at her shoulders. "You're sorry? For what? You just — you were just trying to help and got mixed up in all this. I'm sorry."

I thought I'd lost you, he says, and the words send an icewater trickle down the ravine of her spine. Because: "I thought I had, too," she admits, words little more than breath. The strangest experience, even for someone whose entire identity was upended by the injection of a second personality alongside her own: to know that she's changing, be able to initially observe those changes, and then gradually lose the ability to do that as things fundamental to her self-image lose all shape and sense. To know she's different but not be able to catalogue how or why; to not be able to remember how she used to be at all.

For someone who lives so thoroughly inside of her own skull it was a slow and creeping horror made all the more horrifying by her ability to look back on it with clearer eyes than she had in the moment. How easy that is: to become someone or something else, all unwitting. It's not the first time she's worried about that, driven as she is to examine her own morals and ethics, but it's the first time it became such a pressing issue, something so far beyond her actual control.

"For things I- Five, and I, said. Or did, or…or didn't say. For the way you had to deal with this all on your own." She lifts her head, seeks his crown with hers, and her cheeks are feverish now but it's with the damp humidity of tears rather than anything more sinister than that. "Thank you for…" The silence is long. How can she total the ways he became the architect of her salvation…? From bringing Zatanna to halt the progress of her condition and Jane and Bucky as soon as they were Jane and Bucky again, to the way he stayed with her while she couldn't trust herself, to the way he refused to walk away at the very outset — to believe her when she was distinctly not herself.

In the end all she can offer, with a sniff, is: "Everything."

When Kinsey quietly admits her own fear at the last months' further splintering of her already fractured sense of self, Matt's arms tighten their band around her, as if they might keep her together with sinew and willpower alone. Matt's had a lot taken from him in his life, but it's almost impossible for him to imagine what it would be like to lose his own identity and consciousness. For all Stick's zen philosophizing, Matt's a Catholic at heart. He believes in the immutable soul, and from his vantage point, Kinsey was losing hers as much as Bucky and Jane were robbed of theirs.

She outlines the scope of her apology, and hints at an even longer list for her gratitude. Her crown will feel his shift as he shakes his head against hers, then draws it slightly back. He releases her from his grip, but only so he can bring his hands up to cup her newly flushed and tear-streaked cheeks in either palm. His expression is rueful, almost pained as he exhales. "Kinze," he breathes, his barely-heard voice filled with mock reproach. "'Thank you' is one thing you never have to say to me. I'd do anything for you." Never mind that he'd do nearly anything for nearly anyone — it's almost the defining characteristic of his particular brand of heroism. There's still a purity and finality to the declaration, and it owes itself to what he says next: "I love you."

It feels necessary, even cathartic, to repeat those words here, now that she's been restored from the funhouse version of herself he encountered in that gym weeks ago. None of it — neither the words nor the powerful sentiments behind them — erase what came before, but it does feel (to him) like the turning of a page.

It could just as easily be the prospect of having to meet his eyes as anything to do with the warmth of his hands on her face that compels Kinsey to close her eyes, the trembling curve of her mouth pressing thin to quell what wants to take hold of her. She remembers the day they exchanged those words, through a veil of interior fog and mist — like a partition between who she was then and who she is now, through which she can't any longer access the memory of what it was like to be that way. She'd listened to all of the new emptiness in herself, hoping those words would reverberate, cause some seismic shift in her ennui. They hadn't. They had meant something, but not even something that personally significant had been able to shake her loose from the muting grasp of the virus.

Tonight she utters a sound somewhere between a laugh and a choked sob when he repeats the words and they strike some interior quarter of her with all of the force of a hammer to a gong, leaving her dizzy — a thing not at all helped by the headache, or the grogginess, or the lack of food containing anything more substantial than sugar over a month's time. She burdens him with some measure of her weight, and manages to say the words, though they're tattered and hoarse. "I love you too, Matt."

It's when she braces her hands on his shoulders to kiss him that she realizes, all of a sudden, that there are changes to his body that are inexplicable. It's enough that she stops short, leans back, and looks uncertain. Given she's emerging from a window of time during which she couldn't trust her own thoughts and perceptions, it's probably not difficult to imagine why. "…what…?"

She's worn ragged, fragile, running on the flimsiest of fumes. Her body tells him so in a million different ways, not the least how she leans into his kneeling frame. It's asking too much of her, to bog them down in a weighty emotional exchange while she's only just regaining her footing. Time for all that later — after meds and rest and real food and a hot shower.

But he finds that when she repeats those words back at him, even if they're said amid a near-burst of a sob, he can't really bring himself to regret it. And he won't deny himself the kiss that's set to follow.

But it doesn't. Because it's then that she finally notices the stark and impossible erasure of a year's worth of violence on his body. "Oh," he says, grimacing a little at his own remembrance. "That's — that was from Jane's big ritual. I don't understand much of it, but I think her plan was to — uh. Re-order… everything. Solve for entropy, she called it." It's almost too big and audacious a plan for him to conceive of, or conceive of frail Jane Foster having. The realignment of all creation. "She was turning forest into ordered hedges like it was nothing, and I guess I — got caught up in it somehow."

"Solve for-" The words break off just as that pending embrace did, suddenly and completely, though in this instance it's because she's forced to bring her fingertips to massage gently the temporary crease between her brows as her eyes reclose, half-squinted. She shakes her head carefully. "That's…" Insane. Unnatural.

There are fleeting memories for her of the beleaguered, petite figure with the soulful eyes and aversion to eye contact, of exchanging philosophical things with a boogey-man out of American myth. Some part of her distantly grasps that a static existence might be the nonsensical, extremist end to a story in which someone lost too much, too quickly…but her head feels like it's being gradually compressed beneath a steamroller's forward cylinder and the ins and outs of that topic are something for another day.

"Nevermind. It doesn't matter. I'm just glad you're alright." Light as a feather, warm as sunlight, she lifts her chin to offer him a softer, sweeter kiss than the one that had been waiting in the wings — that, too, something that may have to wait for another day. Her need is officially dire. "Can I- would you mind getting those pills?"

I'm glad you're alright, she tells him, not knowing that she's summoning a swirl of sense memories of that strange, peaceful moment when he lay prone, defeated, bleeding out on freshly-fallen snow while pandemonium raged a few yards away. He acts like he's not afraid of death, but the memory of skirting that close to it is still enough to send a shiver along his frame that she can feel under her palms. "Yeah," he says softly, after that short, sweet kiss is done. "I'm glad we both are."

The request for those pills sees him startle, shake his head as if shaking off a fog. "Uh, yeah, of course," he says through a slight, apologetic smile as he comes to one knee and then a stand, offering her some support for her own rise if she wants it. "Let me grab them for you."

He's off then, making a quick pit-stop at her mini-fridge for a water bottle before he's making his way towards the medicine cabinet. "There's still half a slice of that second pizza upstairs for when you're hungry, but I need to go to the store to get you some real food now that you're — up." It had seemed too risky, leaving her here unconscious, even for a short grocery run. What if she woke up? What if she needed him? What if Five came out of whatever retreat he's in?

He swings open the cabinet. "Uh, what kind of pills? Shape, amount?" he asks, because he can't very well read labels.

Not typically the kind of person who wants to accept help to get back onto her feet, Kinsey doesn't hesitate. Advanced systems in her lower limbs automatically shift and adjust to enhance her balance, but it's still longer moments than usual before she finds it and trusts letting go of his hand. "There are only three bottles of pills in there, so if you grab all three I can sort through it." A ribbon of exhaled air leaves her as she sinks back down to sit on the edge of the cot, eyes reclosing. "Thanks."

In the silence that follows she polls her insides: she's hungry, but will it make her sick? Her stomach seems uncertain. "Maybe water and some time to let the pills start working, first. Then pizza."

Then silence. Every beat of her heart inspires pulsing spiderwebs of purple and red behind her lids.


Still silence.

Are you just angry? …At least let me know whether or not you're okay.


"Done," Matt says promptly as he opens the cabinet on the wall and swipes all three pills. He might be able to suss out an acetaminophen or aspirin bottle by smell, but this is easier. It's a short walk over to the mini-fridge to grab a nearly ice-cold bottle of water in his free hand — and then he's back to her.

For all his sensory powers, he can't hear her inner monologue, those one-way entreaties towards an entity that's currently giving her the silent treatment for reasons unknown. He does remember what she said in the foggy aftermath of Jane's procedure — that Five 'won't answer her.' And while the remark itself an unusual insight into an inner life that he's never been privy to, there's very little he could do to help her bridge this particular chasm even if he knew the full extent of Five's leavetaking.

What he does know is that she's still tired for all her many hours of sleep — and in pain, and thirsty, and hungry. Some of that he can start taking care of now. He circles around to sit next to her on the cot, offering the hand with bottles thrust between each newly smooth, unblemished knuckle — all those knicks and bruises gone as if they were never there to begin with. Once she grabs the one she wants, the water bottle will come next. "Sounds like a plan," he says of pills, water, and then (perhaps) pizza.

"Drink all the water. You're probably dehydrated as all get-out."

Curiosity paints her expression as she reaches out for the bottles and hesitates, briefly skating her fingertips over the bony comb of his knuckles. All of the small things she'd mapped — with enthusiasm and dedication — about his body have changed, rendered once more unfamiliar. It's a curiosity she'll indulge at greater length later, without a doubt, but the spark of it gutters quickly now, overridden by her need for what his hands contain.

She opens and then tightens her eyes into a squint, bottles rattling quietly as she rolls them over and examines labels, plucking the correct one from amidst the others and pressing the child-proof lid into one palm with a twist. Two large white pills shake out into her palm. "It's useful, being able to write my own prescriptions," she murmurs, tossing the reclosed bottle aside and reaching for the bottle of water. She palms the pills into her mouth and then swallows them down with a grimace, wincing in spite of plenty of practice. Her soft sigh contains rue. "Not legitimately, obviously. Still, though." Eyes reclosing, she presses the cushion of her palm gently over her eye, against her browbone and the headache behind it.

Right now he is a mystery to himself as much as to her, and he is deeply ambivalent about it. His frame is no Crossfit vanity project — it's a utilitarian body, purposeful: bone and muscle and skin. Each scar on his frame was a story, and every callous on his hands hardened him for the work he had ahead. Is what he has now, unblemished and smooth, enough?

Questions for another day. At the moment he keeps his focus fixed on the young woman popping pills next to him. "Yeah, I bet," Matt says with a smirk on being able to write your own prescriptions. "I hope you write yourself the really good stuff, at least." What she's describing is without a doubt illegal, even if it's a victimless crime, and in another moment he might even call her on it.

She closes her eyes, presses her palm against her aching forehead, and he winces. He's seen her headaches in the past, and how debilitating they can be. This, however, seems another order. "Come on, come here," he murmurs quietly as he sets the remaining pill bottles aside and shifts the angle of his position on the couch to sit behind her. His hands come up to her shoulders, padded by the sweats he'd bundled her far-too-cold frame in after Jane and Bucky had left.

He could have been a lot of things other than a lawyer-by-day-vigilante-by-night: a sommelier, five-star-chef, or perfumer. And, of course, a masseuse. Bizarrely deft fingers seek out knots of tension with unerring accuracy, applying precisely the right amount of pressure to undo them.

He has a million things he wants to say, questions he wants to ask. But they have more time for that than he thought they might thirty-six hours ago, and certainly enough to let her find steadier ground. "You know, I'd always wanted us to try a double-date with Jane and Bucky," he murmurs as he kneads, "but that wasn't exactly what I had in mind."

Her lips quirk to one side, but it's an absent, tired, almost unconscious sort of smile. "Good. Just not too good," she murmurs. Too good is dangerous for reasons wholly divorced from breaking the law in obtaining them.

She blinks her eyes rapidly, turning her head to look at him when he says 'come here.' It takes her a moment to resettle, and then another moment to gather and move out of the way the long, tousled fall of her hair, sweeping it over her shoulder, but the moment he puts his hands on her, her head lolls forward and a heavy sigh bleeds out of her. Her back is, not to put too fine a point on it, an absolute mess. It's possible to feel the dehydration and lack of food, the stress in muscles typically pliant but tonight taut and stiff, reluctant to fully relax.

His remark surprises a short laugh out of her, and that in turn gets a soft hiss of indrawn breath, blades of headache blossoming on the heels of it. "No," she agrees, without rancor. "Them either, I'm sure." She quiets for some moments, thoughts roving backward, stirring up the fuzzy cinema of what she remembers. "I hope they don't think I'm going to hold it against them," she says eventually, pensive and a little melancholy. "If anyone could understand all the ways that it wasn't their fault, it'd be me. I know how it felt. How it changed me. It's not their fault."

Matt is patient and methodical as he sets to work on recalcitrant muscles. They tell the tale of a body neglected, even abused, by a consciousness not fully used to inhabiting one. A month of nothing but sugar, and anyone's body chemistry will be a wreck. Thumbs make slow circles, fingers seek and find points of tension.

His smile is brief and apologetic when the laugh he wrung out of her strikes something pained, but it's his own turn to wince when she says she hopes Bucky and Jane don't blame themselves. And, what's more, offers herself as Exhibit A in why it isn't their fault. It underscores his residual resentment towards them and his guilt over it. How strange that he — of all people — should blame James Barnes and Jane Foster for something they did while their minds were not wholly their own. After all, didn't he spend months successfully convincing the world that it shouldn't?

"They'll think you should, even if they don't expect you will," is what Matt says after a long beat, hands still making their slow, steady survey of Kinsey's back. "Bucky was barely getting to a place where he could get over the Winter Soldier killings before all this happened… and Jane. I hate that this happened to them both. Again." He swallows hard, Adam's Apple bobbing before offering a soft, thick: "I hate that it happened to you."

For a little while her only response to that is to lift her hand and place it on his knee next to her, squeezing. Lost in her own thoughts, or drifting without thoughts at all and instead trying to allow the work of his hands to undo some of the damage wrought on her by a month of privations of varying kinds. In tandem with the pill she swallowed, eventually he makes progress; he'll feel — hell, he can probably smell — the influence the drug has on her, blood vessels dilating, muscles going slack.

She stirs eventually. "I should send them a letter, maybe." The painkiller isn't so strong as to leave her speech sluggish, but it subdues her voice, and her pupils are wide when she turns her head to look back at him, leaning into the flat breadth of his chest and craning her head to press her lips to his cheekbone. Most of the pinched look in her expression is gone. "It might be easier than having a conversation. I'll eventually see her around Stark tower, th-" Pause. "Shit."

Fingertips gently slide across her crown, eyes closing as the weight of everything the last month has left in shambles creeps in, giving her a glimpse of the work she'll need to do to get her life back in order. "We should let Tony know I'm alright."

Finally the stiff muscles in her shoulders and back begin to relent under the pressure of his hands and some prescription-grade painkillers. He smells the drugs that course through her, yes, but what captures more of his attention is the fact that her scent is more or less her own again — her body chemistry beginning to right itself from whatever bizarre changes her haywire mind had put it through. That shift had been, in its own strange way, every bit as unnerving as the subtle changers in her personality.

Her suggestion of a letter to stave off awkwardness gets no disagreement from Matt, and unlike Jessica Jones, he hasn't even seen first hand the sort of awkward, anxious meltdowns of which she's capable. "Yeah, if you want, I can pass it along," Matt offers with a little shrug of his shoulders, a flicker of a smile greeting her when she arcs her head to kiss his cheek. "I think I'm going to meet with them. They're — we were all really close." Past tense, either as a deliberate choice or Freudian slip. "I don't want to let this linger."

She says they need to let Tony know, and hints at even deeper concerns about a life suddenly brought to a screeching pause. "We'll let Tony know, we'll figure out what to do about any clients, it'll be fine," he reassures her, pressing his lips against her crown. His hands don't stop their work, though they do slow. "If my life can survive a six-week freeze while I'm off in Wakanda, yours can survive a month."

But then, will the life she returns to look the same as it once did? How much has changed after this strange travail? Thoughts like these may be what prompt him to ask, after a beat: "What's up with Five, Kinze? After Jane was done, you told us he went silent."

"Okay. Thanks."

Maybe she's just not as with-it as she could be, in the aftermath of her experience, or maybe — and this is probable — she decides it's best to act as though she didn't hear the way he couched his relationship with Jane and Bucky as something that belongs to his past. Either way, it doesn't get the arch-browed look it might usually get. No hint that she picked up on that at all, in fact.

"I'm sure it'll be alright. Tony will understand. It just exhausting to think about," she murmurs, straightening out of her backward lean enough to leave his hands room to do the work they're doing. Head bowed again, she lapses once more into silence — this one relieved, rather than pained, as the combination of massage and painkiller ease her headache — and it's just as well, because he asks her a question that leaves her probing the mirroring silence inside of her own head. The slight seam of iris evident between her lashes would remain distant and unfocused even without chemical encouragement.

"I don't know," she admits, and her voice is still subdued, but there's a smallness in it that has nothing to do with volume. "He won't answer me." Pause. "He's there, somewhere." Pause. "I think. It doesn't feel like before the accident. But I don't know. I don't know if he's angry or- 'injured.' I don't…" Softly, troubled: "I don't know."

I don't know, Kinsey says of Five's current state, prompting a wash of conflicting feelings in the man steadily kneading her knotted muscles. There's concern, at first. There had been all that ominous talk from the A.I. about contingency plans before he suddenly, bafflingly quieted and allowed Jane to finish her work uninterrupted.

There's also, underneath, a strain of quiet relief. How awful would it be if Five were damaged such that he never troubled Kinsey again? If he remained just some phantom background process in her mind. She'd lose some powers, but would arguably gain some autonomy, avoid the risk of anything like this awfulness ever happening again.

Deeper still, concern. She's clearly troubled, almost bereft, by Five's absence. And for all his complicated feelings about the A.I., and what he means and has always meant for her and the two of them, he can't watch her disquiet with ease or satisfaction. "Maybe he just needs a little time too," Matt murmurs after a long beat. "If he — if he stays like this, we can bring in Jane again."

And then there's a longer one still. "I — I've been thinking a lot about what you said at the gym," he says in that gentle, careful cadence of his, his hands working their way along either side of her upper arm. "About, ah, how I may have been holding you back from figuring some things out about yourself, even if I wasn't trying to or even realizing I was doing that."

"Maybe." She doesn't know. It's clear that she doesn't, to gauge by her tone; she allows for the possibility, but sounds- not unconvinced, precisely. Uncertain. Unable to rest easily on that assumption. "There's nothing to do but give it time and find out."

She doesn't hasten to fill that silence with words. It's early for her in the experience of once more being herself. Impulses and reflexes changed by a month of operating as someone or something else feel strange to her as they crackle and pop through her thoughts in answer to everything they talk about — like maneuvering with numb limbs. Clearly, these are part of her, but they feel new and strange and different, a little bit clumsy.

It's difficult. Particularly given the nature of what it is that they need to examine — all of these fragments of things scattered across the landscape of what they are by a storm they didn't expect. He holds up one of the most jagged of those, and she closes her eyes to the twist of something in her stomach.

She could say something about that, but what he said is that he's been thinking about it, and so, quietly: "What were you thinking about it?"

On the matter of Five she suggests patience, a cautious kind of wait and see. The man behind her has no complaints on that count. Five could never surface again and he would be perfectly satisfied. It's probably too much to ask for, especially as he remembers the corrupted A.I.'s parting words: She's not the only one who understands its sensible to plan ahead. Whatever contingency plans that altered version of the A.I. in her head may or may not have made, chances are they'll learn about it one way or another.

But that brings him, really, to the point she asks him to elaborate on. "I know you weren't yourself," he begins, a necessary qualification while he walks them through an emotional landscape littered with barbed debris. "But you may not have been wrong. And look, I don't know what you may have done or — or refrained from doing because of me. What I do know that I never, not once, offered to help you sort through what happened to you while you were at the DEO, even though I knew how much it meant to you. And that's on me."

He pauses in his massage, rests his forehead against the back of her head, and speaks into the tangled, glossy black tresses just beneath his lips. "Look, what you've done — what you've felt you've had to do — I haven't always been comfortable with it. I worry about you ending up in jail. Or ending up in a DEO lab somewhere. But all this has just shown me that what we don't know about your — condition — can hurt you. Us."

"So… I want to help."

But you may not have been wrong.

And that's the piece that made it painful, of course: enough truth in it to wound. Kinsey sits quietly with those thoughts, trying to remember the impulse that drove that remark from her lips, out into the air like a loosed arrow. It's enough preoccupation that she's listening to him with half an ear, and her silence when he finishes speaking has more to do with her delayed examination of the sentiments she heard but didn't process fully than anything to do with her reservations.

…Though she has them. Of course she does.

The first answer is the sensation of her hand, rising in a careful stretch above and behind her shoulder, passing splay-fingered over the top of his head and down the curvature of the back of it. Affectionate and tender, inevitably more straightforward than anything that will follow.

"I also told you it didn't make sense to endanger your reputation," she points out, gently. It's an objection dressed in stilted unease, because it had come from the same place as the near-accusation that preceded it, and as a foundation upon which to build any argument it lends some validity to the implication that he ever held her back — a thing she's not sure is true. Or, rather, if it's true, and perhaps it is, she used to view that as a probable benefit, rather than a flaw. "Which is true."

Quiet, for a moment.

"Fisk has connections to the DEO. Had. Had them, until-" Until he murdered that agent. "But going after him the way we are, maybe that's something we can leverage. Two birds, one stone. He has the information I was trying to take from that train."

She echoes the point she made at Fogwell's gym more than a month ago: that by following down the path she chose when she created Six, he could be throwing away his burgeoning legal career and the not-unimpressive life he's built from nothing at all. "And as I think I've told you before," he says ruefully, as he slings a bare arm around her stomach to try to draw her into a full backwards lean against him and perches a stubbled chin against her sweatshirt-padded shoulder, "I put my reputation at risk every single time I put on that mask." It's an uncomfortable truth he doesn't often visit: the fact that being just a little slow, a little careless, could bring his world crashing down — and his law partner's world too, for that matter.

But: "Some things are more important," he says with a little shrug of his shoulders she'll can't see, but she'll be able to feel against her frame. "You're one of them."

Still, she offers him a middle-ground. Pursuing Fisk may open pathways to the DEO, she says, or even yield the trove of data she committed multiple federal felonies attempting to obtain. "That sounds like a place to start," he says. It's a lawyerly statement if there ever was one, feigning acceptance while refusing to concede his original point.

"You do the thing with the mask for yourself, though. Because you need to do it. Even if it's also for the people you're helping, and even if it's because they compel you to it, it still begins and ends with you. It's different than putting yourself in that position on my behalf." It's a counterargument that she softens with the slide of nails on his scalp, fingers gently threaded through his tousled hair for as long as she's speaking, after which they fall away again: too tired to keep her arm up.

Either she's too tired to process the implicit open-endedness of his last agreement or she's too tired to kick up a fuss about it, but she relaxes backward into him in the wake of it. It'll prohibit the massage, but the body heat he has to offer is just as welcome in the chilly sterility of the lab. The support, and the superficial feeling of safety, too, in being sheltered by a body broader and more durable than her own. "We're behind the curve now. Too many other things intervening. I'm almost afraid to look and see how much he's gotten done in the time since I checked on him last."

It's different than putting yourself in that position on my behalf, she tells him. He can understand the sentiment intellectually. Were there positions reversed, he would almost certainly feel the exact same way, and he knows it. But he's not her, and the same feelings of protectiveness that leads him out onto the rooftops every night to defend his beleaguered neighborhood redouble on her — especially now, where she's been at her most vulnerable.

Even though they've resolved nothing, the conversation has reached a point where both of them can feel as though they've made their points and positions known, and outlined a potential path forward that could satisfy them both. It'll do, for now.

"Maybe he has," Matt allows absently of Wilson Fisk. Absently because he feels a sudden surge of relief at the warmth of her body against him, though it's relief of a different origin from her own. Her ice-cold frame and over-heated head was one of the end-stage signs of her strange condition, and to feel her as she was is another reminder that the waking nightmare of the last few weeks is over. "But remember, the whole city was shut down for weeks by that storm. That probably put a crimp in Fisk's plans too."

He draws in a breath and then brings his hands to her upper arms to give a quick, vigorous rub up and down. "First we're going to get Jessica out of that — thing," he says, briefly gritting his teeth. Sometimes it seems like there's no end to cleaning up the Demon Bear's wreckage. "I need to reach out to Zatanna about it. And maybe Cage — a rescue mission should bring him out of his doldrums. After that's done… we can get our eye back on the ball."

"Some, probably." That, of Fisk's plans being cramped. She can envision others which might benefit from a collapse of the grid, particularly knowing that he's dealing with someone of her particular set of skills. Lack of conviction colors the words, but also something like resignation. There's no sense worrying about it now.


And, as Matt rightly reminds her, they have other, more pressing concerns — first and foremost Jessica Jones. "God, I hope she's alright," she murmurs, barely more than a whisper. Her eyes unfocus, gone distant with her thoughts, until he mentions-

"Oh. Luke." There's a pause, but it's brief. Some of her alertness creeps back in. "Matt, do you trust him? Luke?"

"Jane and Zatanna both insist she's fine," Matt says of Jessica Jones, and while there's no skepticism in his voice there's still a thread of something — quizzical. Even baffled. Despite all the weirdness of the past year, matters of magic remain far above his paygrade. "We'll get her back." That part, at least, is said with greater assurance.

And then she's jumping on his off-hand mention of Luke Cage, and asking whether he // trusts// the man. Matt's lips quirk at their corners. "I do," he says, with his brand of quiet conviction. "He's solid, and I don't just mean in all the obvious ways. Beneath all that unbreakable skin the man has a core, and a code he lives by." Then, a wince. "In fact, I — uh. Told him about myself. We needed to have a candid conversation about the arson, and the insurance investigation. All of that. Telling him made that easier… and it just felt like it was time, you know? We're in this together with him now."

His jaw shifts rightward before he offers more, this time in a slightly apologetic tone: "It's the sort of thing I would have touched base with you about first, but… you, ah, you weren't yourself."

Her brow creeps upward over that revelation, intrigued. Matt guards those secrets closely, so the decision clearly carries weight. "It's your secret to decide what to do with," she murmurs, gently enough to alleviate any thought that she might be sore that he didn't involve her. Mellowing again, taking the news about Matt's decision and adding it to simmer alongside whatever it was that prompted her to ask him in the first place, she lets the blanket of painkiller sedative settle over her again. Those other thoughts remain hers to keep for now, but she offers him something else, the product of sudden curiosity: "How's that going? The bar, and everything? Is he-? Have they started construction, yet?"

Of course, she knows that Luke was — is — a felon; she dug up that information herself. Still, she asks. Presumably she has her reasons. "What did the investigation turn up?"

"The investigation didn't turn up anything," Matt says flatly, while keeping her lightly encircled in the band of his arms. "That's why I wanted to have a frank talk with him. If he filed for insurance, the company would have investigated for arson. Any investigation would have quickly revealed that there is no Luke Cage. So he didn't file."

His ambivalence about Luke's course of action — taken from his own counsel — would be clear to anyone who knows him well. The origins of that ambivalence too: advising an escaped convict to avoid action that could expose him skirts — and maybe even transgresses — all kinds of legal norms. "Eventually I want to see about a long-term fix for him," the lawyer explains with quiet regret to the woman in his arms. "So he can stop hiding. Even if it meant a short, negotiated stint in jail, it might be worth it. But there just wasn't time."

A beat. "As for the bar… I think Rand'll pick up the tab once Luke comes around to letting him do it. I don't think he's there yet, though."

The silence that follows all of this is significantly longer than the usual thoughtful silences, even taking into account the fact that Kinsey is floating on a cushion of narcotic haze. When she stirs she takes the time to wind her arms beneath his, then array her forearms over the tops of his own, securing his hold on her with light contact. She only speaks once she stills again.

"You know there could be a Luke Cage, if you wanted there to be." Soft words, followed by another silence, this one brief. "I can make that happen. If you want. If he wants."

Her head tilts over to the side, just enough for her to angle a verdant eye up at him, pupils dark and wide. Advising Luke to avoid exposing his precarious status skirts legality, but this outright shatters it. She doesn't pretend otherwise. But she watches the side of his face curiously in the wake of asking — curiously enough that it's almost pointed.

She watches his haggard features, sees the wince and subtle play of a shifting jawline while he silently mulls her offer. It's a long moment before he finally speaks. "Yeah, I know," he murmurs at last. And how could he not? He's fully aware of Kinsey's prodigious talents for bypassing security and playing fast and loose with the complex and sensitive data systems on which the modern world relies. She could rewrite history, making Luke Cage the real man and Carl Lucas nothing more than a memory.

"The problem, as I see it, is that no matter how good of a job you do, Fisk will still know who Luke really is," Matt says eventually, opting for practical concerns over a debate over ethics. "I'd prefer a solution that leaves Fisk holding nothing over Luke's head."

Prefer, the man says, leaving he door ever-so-slightly ajar.

Regardless, it's unlikely she's offended him with her suggestion of far-reaching fraud, says the little kiss he lays on her temple. "We should get you that food," he whispers. "And a bath. And maybe a walk around the block. Sunlight is a good thing! I don't want to think about how long you've been cooped up inside."

"Mmm." It's not disagreement, because Kinsey doesn't disagree; his observation is sound. But it's not wholesale and unreserved agreement, either. "I take your point. I'm not sure that any such solution exists. But…" She lifts one of her hands off of his arm, then lets it fall, a dismissive gesture. "We can worry about it later."

In favor of more immediate concerns. More immediate even than Jessica Jones, trapped inside of a crystal by means beyond Kinsey's experience to understand: "Food sounds good. And a bath." The breathy longing as she articulates item number two on the list comes along with a near-closing of her eyes, so potent is the desire to soak in hot water.

The last item, though, draws a crinkle of the nose. It's so stereotypically the response of someone of her generation, connected via every kind of lifeline to technology, that under normal circumstances she would feel a twinge of self-consciousness at conforming so predictably to the cliche. Not today, though. "Maybe…maybe we'll save the walk for tomorrow."

That rueful admission from Kinsey highlights for Matt yet again how, despite both being well-educated, twenty-something Irish Americans from the East Coast, he and Kinsey Sheridan are polar opposites in so many respects. He's a vigilante; she's a hacker, thief, and just-admitted purveyor of fraud. She hides her disability behind her abilities; he hides his abilities behind his disability. She embodies her generation's fixation with technology and lives lived online and on screens; he has no use for touchscreens and, for all his white collar profession, lives a life rooted in the physical, tangible world.

Those tensions finds their way to Matt's wry expression when she nixes the walk: aimless aimless eyes close in a brief expression of muted humor. Holding her there, he's seized by the sudden thought that on paper they should not work at all, and relieved by the fact that they do — and now more than ever, it seems.

"Yeah," he murmurs with wry contentment, bowing to her agenda for the day, but for the moment unwilling to move an inch from where he is. "Yeah. It can wait."

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