Fault Lines

April 29, 2018:

The thing Kinsey and Matt have built between them has always been constructed atop strange, uneven foundations, and they've marveled more than once that it's weathered any storms at all. When Daredevil's life is torn suddenly asunder by the terrible machinations of a murderous impostor, it causes seismic ripples that threaten to tear that fragile monument to hope apart at every seam.

Fogwell's Gym

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's been five days since Kinsey Sheridan has heard a word from Matt Murdock. Not a call, nor text, nor email. That in itself isn't unheard of. They are busy people who still largely live in different cities, and each of them have a full professional and extracurricular life outside of their relationship with each other. But even if she indulges in that comfortable fiction for a while, it's impossible to sustain when the J. Jonah Jameson rolls out his editorial leaking horrific news about the fate of various women Matt has saved, and the fact that Daredevil himself is considered a prime suspect by the authorities.

Even with that news broken she'll find nothing but radio silence greeting her attempts to reach him. Calls to Nelson & Murdock will be greeted by their receptionist or law clerk, who says he's 'out sick' and should be back on Monday. Can she try again later, or call his cell?

Which is, of course, dead. Has been for days.

But a woman of Kinsey's singular talents could still track him down, should she choose to use them. He's not staying at his spacious, garishly lit bachelor's loft. When she finds trace signs of him with all the considerable skills at her disposal, among them access to all the city's security cameras, they lead her back to the newly acquired property he told her about just a few weeks ago — Fogwell's, his father's old and dilapidated boxing gym, where a number of truths held between them were let loose into the musty air.

The property itself is boarded up, closed for business, gated and shuttered. A little ingenuity will be required to get inside, and once there she will find the place a work in progress, even if what it is transitioning into is as-yet unclear. The air smells of new paint, the blood-soaked matt at the center of the ring has been replaced with fresh white canvass, and the sagging and tattered ropes that once enclosed it have been replaced with clean, firm lines of red. The pictures — all that history — has been taken down (at least temporarily) to allow for the moment, leaving blank white space.

Or what appears to be white in the dark of the room. The lights are off, but that doesn't mean no one's home. Not where Matt Murdock is concerned.

-

The moment she's inside and the door or window she used to make that happen is closed, she stands in the semi-dark, heart beating quick and hard in her chest. Breathing elevated. Because she's afraid for him, sure, but that's not the only reason. Shadows that have nothing to do with the quality of light in the facility haunt the space just behind the neutral of her expression, a face that was never meant for keeping secrets.

She stalks toward the main room as eerie feelings wash over her: she hasn't been here since that first time, when nothing had been normal and everything had been difficult. It's a strange way to feel about the place you first told someone you love them, but then that seems, in its way, appropriate to everything they are. Nothing about them has ever been straightforward or typical.

…except all of the things that have, she supposes, stopping in the middle of the room with the ring and frowning at nothing, brows daggered down.

"I hope like hell you're still here," she announces to the silence. Should have brought her helmet. Shit.

-

"I'm here," a voice sounds across the expansive chamber. His voice. It's as softly-spoken as usual, just loud enough to carry the distance — though it's thicker and heavier too, sounding almost drugged. Slowly his broad-shouldered silhouette takes shape from the direction of the locker-room. In the shadows of the space he might as well be garbed in the blacks he used to wear while he scoured the city of crime, but his slow-footed close of the distance between them reveals that it's only a black t-shirt and some dark jeans.

He's six or seven feet away from her when he finally stops, but even at that distance and even in this light, she can likely make out the violence done to his features. A nasty bruise along where his jaw joins his chin, so dark that even the shadows and his stubble can't hide it, and another gracing his strong right cheekbone. The interior wounds are just as prominent — they're raw enough and deep enough that he couldn't hide them if he wanted to, not even with a devil mask or a pair of red shades. Days worth of private anguish has changed the very shape of his face, subtly twisting the planes and angles of his boyish features out of their usual shape.

He lets out a sigh. It's tired, ragged. "You shouldn't be here, Kinze," he murmurs.

-

It's a delicate moment, and Kinsey is not quick to fill it with words. She's quiet as he emerges, and she doesn't close the distance, either: she slides her thumbs into the scant space afforded by her jean's back pockets and looks, instead. Catalogues the hurts she can see, and makes guesses about the ones she can't — though she wouldn't have needed to look at him, at all of the ways he's been skinned by recent events, to know they're there. She'd just know. She knows him well enough for that.

He can't see the wince in the shape of her eyes, but he'll hear the long, indrawn breath she takes, and the slow, deliberate exhale. "Let me worry about me," she says, when she's sure she has control over the things that he's likely to hear in her voice. She feels a lot of things in those moments, but she isn't interested in sharing all of them. Relief, though — she lets that one stay.

It's still moments more before she says anything else. "We don't have to talk about it. Or anything. But I'd appreciate it if you let me stay for a while. …You left me wondering. It wasn't great." You left me wondering contains the faintest, barest hint of the anger involved in that — a complicated feeling that had time to build on itself as she went through the laborious process of trying to find him — but it's gone after that. Set aside as unimportant, or inopportune, or — who knows, really. "I mean. Not that I don't get why, but still. I'd just like to stay. For a bit."

-

Let me worry about me, Kinsey tells him, letting him keep some of the distance he'd put between them. He actually smiles a little then, just a little crook of one corner of his lip. "That's about as likely as you not worrying about me," he throws back.

"And yeah," he adds quietly, putting his (bruised) knuckles in his front pockets, "I know," he admits. "It wasn't great." The words that want to follow don't come. Saying he's sorry would be disingenuous — he isn't. His carefully thought-through reasons for not bringing her in on the last few days were sound ones, even if the premises upon which that whole perfectly logical architecture had been founded were faulty at best. I didn't want to make you party to multiple homicides, he could tell her, but that would mean going into the fact that he'd set out to kill half-a-dozen or so people — even if they weren't the ones the papers are now accusing him of slaying.

Then she asks to stay, even for a little while, and consequently forces him to acknowledge even that isn't the full picture. Yes, he's been telling himself that he kept away from her because he'd wanted to protect her: from the men doing this, from the things he'd intended to do to them. But being seen right now — by anyone, really, but especially by her — draws from a seemingly bottomless wellspring of shame. He feels it now, surging upward like bile in the back of his throat. Even during that long stretch of the Barnes trial, when he'd kept his distance from her, Matt would never have imagined not wanting to see her — that standing in front of her would cause something like physical pain rather than comfort. But in this moment, it does.

Still, she asks to stay, at least for a little while. He runs a hand through his shaggy head of dark hair before giving his laconic assent, spoken at barely more than whisper: "Okay."

-

"Okay." His word, repeated quietly. Making that agreement official. Kinsey studies him for a few silent moments more, then turns her head, hazel eyes wandering over the lack of anything on the walls with which she could in theory pretend to occupy herself in silence: the room is a blank slate, so much of the character of its history swept clean however temporarily in the name of a new beginning. For her, anyway. That he came here rather than anywhere else — to the place in which he made, makes, something new of himself — isn't lost on her. For him, she has no doubt all of those missing things are still present in some way, down to the last rusty drop of blood on the floor.

It's really only the ring, now, but as a boxing ring is still something that sits well outside of the boundaries of her personal experience it'll suffice. She turns slowly in place, and after a moment crosses the distance between herself and that superficial mystery, a hand lifted to hold one of the ropes as she tilts down and slides between. Up onto the platform, where she sits and looks, then stands and looks, doing a slow circuit of the perimeter. Trying to imagine what it must feel like to be standing there, limited to that space, and the only other person in it is bent on knocking you out cold.

Her fingertips trail the top rope while she goes. And true to her word she says nothing, leaving the silence untainted for him.

It seems unlikely she expects anything about that to change, as once she finishes that brief tour of the ring she stands in the center of it, then settles onto her backside, and then onto her back. Just…there. Like just being there is enough.

-

He watches her step into the ring as only he can, as some slow swirl of sensory input surging upward, then winding its way around the four corners of the boxing ring he grew up with. Spent whole days beside, first watching his dad spar and practice, then pretending to study his braille while continuing to watch, beginning to do the hard work of turning the sounds and smells and shifting particles of air he felt into his own unique map of the world. It's that map she traces a circle in, and from his unmoved position there beside the ring he watches her do it in silence.

He's normally been comfortable with silences between them. He picks up so much of the world that it's never truly quiet. And in times past he's felt like he's had whole conversations with her where they've shared a space together but not said a solitary word. But this is not one of those comfortable and eloquent silences by any stretch — not for him. He feels that same sense of pressure being applied to a raw and open wound, which means that eventually, something has to give.

He swallows hard there by the ring, head bowed, hands in his pockets. "I saw him, the man doing this," he murmurs, both for something to say and because — insanely — he needs her to know he didn't do the deed himself. On some level he knows she would never, ever think that of him, but another part of him desperately needs to affirm it. "I — almost stopped him from killing the last one." The quiet words are bitter, and hitch on almost. "And I got a name for him. Ikari."

-

There's another long stretch of silence to greet his decision to speak. Or the content, perhaps, of the words he chooses. In the meantime her eyes travel a ceiling no better designed to provide her with things to look at than the repainted walls, though there are shadows hanging there, and she watches some of those.

"Do you want me to help?"

The question is asked neutrally, without much expectation of an answer one way or another. That cannot be anything but intentional, but whatever her feelings — whatever her hopes — she's keeping them to herself.

-

Do you want me to help?

Yes. God yes. I have a line on Fisk. A meeting he was supposed to have with the Russian brothers — it may be canceled if he realizes they're off the grid, but still worth scoping out. Better is the lead that they were keeping tabs on him, and figured out he was visiting an art gallery in SoHo on the regular. You can stake that place out, and once you get a lock on him you can follow him camera by camera and make a map of his life. That's what we need. Add me in to the mix for recon inside his house; all I need is a building address and every conversation he has is mine. We can collect the evidence and take him down and put him away for good.

Do you want me to help?

No. No no no. I need to do this on my own. I am going to find Wilson Fisk, because no amount of evidence we collect is ever going to be enough to put him away. He'll kill witnesses and threaten jurors and buy judges and somehow get off the hook. The only way to beat Fisk is to kill him, and I can't take you down that road with me. I can't let you lose //your soul.// Or even your life. Everything, everyone I try to help dies. Why shouldn't that immutable law of the universe apply to you, too?

And so it goes, that internal war she sparks within Matthew Murdock, seen only in the sudden tension of his frame when she poses her very simple and straightforward question. "I —" he says, to say something, and it's almost like a coin toss — he doesn't know where it will land. He shuts his eyes tight; it's reflex more than anything at this point. Finally, he says: "I think that's a bad idea."

-

There are a lot of things that Kinsey could say about that, knowing him as she does. Guesses she could hazard. Hypotheses she could make, objections she could raise. At this point they've danced around issues like this enough that he could probably guess the shape of some, or even most of them.

She doesn't do that. Whether her choice is better or worse probably depends on one's point of view.

"Why do you think that?"

-

She asks a simple and straight-forward follow up question, and does it more gently than any lawyer on cross-examination would. Even still his face, already taut with emotion barely held in check, briefly wrenches. Matt draws in a sharp breath through flared nostrils, his head still bowed. "Because I'm going to get you killed," he whispers, though it's loud enough to carry thanks to the echo of the largely empty chamber.

"Or," he adds, just as quietly, "Take you down a road you can't come back from."

-

The sound of her next long, measured inhale would be audible even without senses like Matthew Murdock's. Twice as true for the exhale. "So…that's it for us, then?" She says these words gently, too, every syllable laden with compassion, but no apology. They hang there in the air, stark and uneasy, for full handfuls of heartbeats before she follows the question up with anything more specific. "I live a dangerous life, Matt. I could die on any given day. The possibility of losing me has always been there. You, too. You could just…not come home one night, and I'd never know what happened to you, probably."

This pause is brief, but a beat all the same. "It's possible I might make some decisions I can't walk back, too. I might think I have to. I might actually have to." The sound of skin on canvas rasps in the stillness as she raises her arms along the surface of the floor, out to either side of her shoulders. Raising her knees, feet flat on the floor she's laying on, as though she were stargazing instead of staring up at the webworks of cracks in that remote ceiling. And in spite of the words she chooses, her voice remains soft, appropriate to the stargazing she isn't actually doing. "You can't control that, and you never could. You didn't do this, Matt. It's not your fault that there are fucking awful people in the world. You made it better. They made it worse again. It's only cause and effect coming from their point of view, and they are the last people I would want to share a perspective with."

Another brief pause. "I love you, baby, and I love that you want to protect me. I feel safer with you around than any other time. But you…you can't keep me on a high shelf. Literally can't, because I've got my own life and things that I need to do. Plus, if you start trying to put everyone you care about up there, pretty soon you're gonna be alone. And while you're trying to carry the whole world on your shoulders like that, the rest of us will still be inconveniently exerting our free will, trying to choose to get involved, because there are no guarantees in life and all you can do is try to make something of your time while you're here, and sometimes that looks like helping the person you care most about with important work, even though you know the risks."

-

After long minutes of silence and short, probing questions, Kinsey Sheridan lays out her thoughts on Matt Murdock's predicament and how he's handling it. There's a lot to absorb in a short time. She speaks with the voice of an equal, and her words carry reason, wisdom, and compassion. She says things that on any other day, in any other moment, he might have accepted. Some of it he'd even like — she feels safe with me. To a man whose cornerstone was protecting others, it's hard to imagine sweeter music.

But in this precarious and unsettled moment, he can't adopt that perspective she's managed to reach. I could die on any given day, she tells him, and it's just one sentence in a cogent stream of thought meant to finally convince him that the world, and the people on it, including the small circle of people he loves, are beyond his control.

Instead, that track plays on repeat in his mind, at full blast, with context cut. And, of course, it's paired with, of course: So…that's it for us, then?

"The Rashnakov brothers are downstairs," he says wearily as he dips his head backwards, turning blind eyes towards the same ceiling she's watching. "Tied up in the basement. And I would have —" his breath hitches before he continues on, vehemence building in his quiet voice. "I would have killed them if Bucky and Jane hadn't stumbled in. Jesus, I almost killed them anyway." There's guilt in his voice, though it's complicated by a very grim sort of regret that suggests at least some part of him wishes he'd gone ahead with it anyway. And I know I have to — I have to kill Fisk if I want this whole nightmare to finally stop."

His bruised jaw juts. "You've tried to keep me out of your fights, Kinze," he says with exasperation, weariness, affection. "For God's sake, can't you let me keep you out of this one?"

-

It's a lot to take in.

It's not a complicated concept in essence. There are bad men doing worse things, and Matt nearly killed them for it. Simple. Easy to understand for any student of human nature, however amateur.

With a different emphasis, however — Matt nearly killed them for it — it becomes complex by dint of the weight that carries in the mutual thing that they are, a stone in the flow of a river that causes currents to change, unavoidably. It's less the fact of the thing than the impact of it she's weighing, in those silent moments, staring upward.

Not for too long, though, leery of being silent for too long in the wake of a confession like that one.

"I think the key word in that last piece is 'tried.' I tried. At what point have I ever succeeded?" The words are not without amusement, but it's subdued. And, having said something aloud, enough to drain further silence of misunderstanding, she lets herself be quiet again, thoughts rolling over the turbulence caused by that split in the river.

Eventually, she sits up. "If I really thought that killing him would stop all of this, I'd…" She hesitates. "I'd probably have suggested it already." The admission does not sound proud, but it sounds honest. "I just don't think it will. Maybe he has to die, sure. I don't know. But it's…it's like an infection. It's spread all through all of these other systems, with deep roots, and we want to purge that, you know? All of it."

-

That long pause, coming so soon after Matt bared the full extent of his failure — not just his inability to save those women but the literally damning moral collapse in the aftermath — can't help but send that anxiety and shame he feels in every cell of his preternaturally attuned body spiking upward. If she could hear his heartbeat the way he can hear everyone else's, it would sound like gatling gun.

They say this is what relationships and intimacy are about — revealing your true self to people, warts and wounds and all. That's almost certainly why Matthew M. Murdock hasn't had exactly two to date in his twenty-seven years.

But she breaks that silence with humor, thankfully, though it's a dry enough sort and he's in dark enough depths that it only draws a twitch at one corner of the man's lips. It allows him to relax, and to focus on the words that come next — which is good, because they're words he needs to hear. "An infection," Matt repeats on the wings of an exhausted outward breath. "I'd always compared it to a snake. Cut off the head, and the rest dies." In fact, he has elevated Wilson Fisk to the figure of mastermind, attributing to the man a level of metahuman control and agency over dark doings in Hell's Kitchen that the crimelord would almost certainly find it flattering.

Kinsey's metaphor: of a spreading infection, suggests that whatever evil Fisk has wrought on Hell's Kitchen, the corruption would outlive him. The police officers and judges he's bought will stay bought, they'll just be in the pocket of someone else. The thugs he's brought in and fostered will find new capos to work for. The drugs he's created will still live on the streets, because a market has been created for them.

"So it's like a RICO case," offers Matt, grim enough to sound unconvinced. But even in this moment where he's being carried on waves of anger and guilt and shame, he's too respectful of her insights to just shut her down. He engages her, walking to the side of the ring and laying his arms down on the edge of the canvas. "But here's the thing, Kinsey. We had Fisk last year. We had his drug manufacturer willing to testify — and do you know what he did? Fisk bought off a nonprofit to complain about SHIELD's jurisdiction in order to get him transferred from the Raft to Rikers, and then he was 'accidentally' exposed to peanuts a few days later. Even if one of the Russians are willing to testify against him and everyone else in his operation — Fisk will just find a way to silence them."

-

Arranging the fold of her arms atop the bend of her knees, Kinsey watches him leaning where he is, quiet and listening. "A snake is one organism, so of course it dies when you cut the head off. Fisk is not. And yeah, if we turn him over to the law and just dust our hands off and wait around for the system to work, it'll probably fail, because he's corrupted it. But you know actual, literal magicians, Matt. You have resources Fisk is definitely not prepared to deal with. They could probably zot him out of existence remotely if you bring them his hangnail, or something, without ever having to risk anybody getting hurt, but I still don't think it would work."

It's a moment, but she eventually slides toward the ring's edge on the side he's on, sliding her calves over the edge to dangle, arms folded on the low rope now, instead, into which she leans. "Protecting your witnesses, on the other hand? Maybe temporarily putting him into some kind of trance state so he can't issue problematic orders, or…? Maybe they could. Who knows? But first we've got to be comprehensive, and here's why: it's not even just about bringing the bad guys to justice. It's also about the health of the host body, right? The city is sick with this infection. You show it where it was weak, how the sickness started, and you give it the chance to create defenses against it happening again. You have to mobilize its awareness of the problem in the first place."

-

Matt's jaw was already set to cut through the soft skin along its line, but it tightens that much further when she mentions magic as one potential solution to Fisk. "I know my magician friends have done a lot for me," he admits quietly, and his lips twitch as he softly adds: "And for you." There's a silent 'but' that hangs in the air for a heartbeat, and then he give sit voice: "I still don't trust it. And I don't even want to think about what will happen when Fisk inevitably counters by hiring those magical gangsters I tangled with." The ones that left him gutted in a hospital bed.

She relocates, scooting over to the edge he leans upon, legs dangling and leaning forward against the sloped ropes. Something about her proximity — her fragrance, the thrum of her heartbeat or the rhythm and cadence of her breath — causes his brow to knit and his frame to tense. For all that she's handled this encounter deftly, he still registers as a wounded animal, with his back against a wall. But he muscles past his fight or flight instincts, swallowing hard before repeating, "Awareness." A beat, and then in quietly: "I've been, uh, thinking about that. The editorial came from Fisk — one of his cops on the take. The FBI agent investigating all this believes me. I think, at least. I think I convinced her."

Thinking about that encounter summons up memories he'd rather suppress, and it registers in a visible wince. "So I think we need to start getting the truth out ourselves. Build relationships with the press, give them things they can use — they're like favors." A pause, and then a rueful: "That's something I learned about during the Barnes trial."

-

It takes a great deal of self-control for her to keep her reaction to that first objection to herself. She closes her eyes, presses her lips together, and sets her immediate thought aside so that she can hear what he's saying when he says the words. Not that it improves on the moment: this is how she finds out that he was being investigated by the FBI. That he already had that conversation; that it came and went, and she was never told.

Eventually she lifts a hand, rubbing gently at her own face. The eyes stay closed. In the end, all of the restraint in the world isn't enough to keep her from saying what ties itself into a knot in her stomach, like a clenched fist. "There's no guarantee he won't hire those magical gangsters again anyway. You don't trust magic, presumably because it's magic and you don't like or understand it. You don't trust the system, and with better reason, because it's provably been corrupted by a terrible man. You don't trust the two together, even though arguably the one would help the other to do its job — or me, I guess? Or all of the combined resources of the people you know. It's just Matthew Murdock on a one-man mission of vengeance? That's what you're willing to put your faith in, right now?"

The exhale she pushes through her nose is too sharp to be considered a sigh — something tense. "I know you're hurting. I'm not- I'm not telling you not to. I know you need to fix this, and I'm not telling you not to feel that way, either — that you shouldn't have some part to play, or it wouldn't be your, you know — right. Your due. But I am not going to sit here and let you nay-say solutions because you see things down every road you're not sure you can control. I'm pretty sure faith is an even more important a part of what you tell me you believe than martyrdom or guilt ever were."

She turns her head, then, jaw set, to look off to one side, away. Her arms fold, her murmur somber. "If you wanted a girlfriend who wouldn't call you on your shit even when you're having the worst week of your life, you picked the wrong triple amputee."

-

Kinsey vents, offers Matt some tough love, and even appeals to his professed faith. She's right about a great many things, among them this: he is hurting, perhaps more than he ever has before. None of that matters much to Matt. Because, like any wounded animal, he'll lash out when he feels attacked, and in this moment has never been more willing (or eager) to isolate and alienate those close to them.

To wit:

"Wait, I'm sorry, is this the same woman who ducked me for a week before letting me know she'd been attacked by a demonic virus?" he throws back, pushing himself off the edge of the canvass with sudden vehemence, walking backwards with precision and confidence the vast, dark space. "We both know that none of the excuses you sold me about quarantines and due-fucking-dilligence would have stopped you from making a phone call that first night after Stark Tower. At the start, when you still had yourself but knew enough to know you might lose it, you made a choice to keep me out of it. Just like you told me you didn't want to drag me into your DEO stuff because it was all stemming from 'your' choices. You've tried to protect me just as much as I try to protect you, and you're just as secretive about it. You want to call me on my shit? Fine. But you are full of plenty yourself."

He pivots, places his hands on his hips as he lets out an exhale tinged with anger. "You know who didn't have a choice?" he says to the empty air in front of him. "Those women. The only thing they did was be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and get saved by a guy who was dumb enough to think that a goddamn mask would protect innocents from retaliation for the things I did. And now they're paying the price." He points downward to the concrete floor of the gym, and rasps, sounding like the devil without the mask: "I fucking killed those women, and I'm done killing people who don't deserve it."

Back turned, he lifts his chin, inhales through his nose, taking in the fresh paint, her scent, the waft of old blood from downstairs. His face tightens and twists before he lets out what's been building in the pit of his stomach: "It was a mistake, letting you in. You should go."

-

Cooler heads might prevail another night, and wiser ones would probably never have taken things in this direction in the first place — but Kinsey is what she is, and blood will out. He's not the only Irish in the room.

He reverses, she grasps the low rope of the ring and slides out from beneath it, back onto her feet. Because it's a fight, suddenly, and it doesn't make sense, to fight sitting down.

"The difference between my choosing not to ask you to break the law with me to find out about what I am, even if I'm not hurting anybody, and you trying to keep me out of this so you can revenge murder a fucking gangster, is so — so incomprehensibly vast that if you're seriously going to try to compare the two I wouldn't even need you to say something as stupid as 'I killed those women' to know you're not thinking clearly."

She throws both of her arms out to either side of her, incredulous. "'I killed those women?' Is that the line you're feeding yourself so that you can give in to this bloodthirsty hate thing you're feeling? Is it easier for you to sacrifice the rest of what you used to think was important if you convince yourself you're already beyond redemption? Because if you killed them then it's already too late, right? No reason to stick to those hard, moral lines anymore, because you're already a lost cause? And what would that even mean, Matthew, if you actually let yourself believe that? For the future. That you can never help anybody ever again, the way you helped those women, because some fuckass from Russia might make them a target to get to you? So we shouldn't bother helping the other ones. Because bad things might someday happen to them, anyway. Jesus Christ."

He can't see her, but he can probably hear her heartbeat, a hammer in her chest, battering at her ribs. Maybe he can feel the flush in her cheeks, on her throat. He'll hear it when she folds her arms, too. "So was it a mistake letting me in here? Or letting me in at all? Matt?"

-
She's right about a lot of things, but this most of all: Matt Murdock is not thinking rationally. Caught in an epic downward spiral that reckons with any of the emotional maelstroms of times past, and with all his considerable powers of self-recrimination and loathing brought roaring to the forefront, he can't begin to accept what she says. Neat and tidy logic has nothing on the wicked whispers he's fed himself since childhood. Wilson Fisk can't know it, but he's sliced into the flimsy scar tissue Matt Murdock keeps under his carefully-tailored suits with a surgeon's precision.

Unfortunately, it's not blood that seeps out of these wounds, but bile. Had he not wounded her, and had she not struck back, it might be different. He might be able to explain his own neuroses in a way that she could, if not accept, at least understand and contextualize. He might be able to tell her a great many things.

Instead, escalation. His jaw juts, and anger flashes in sightless hazel eyes at the accusations of hypocrisy, the implication that what he's feeling and what he's decided is actually Matt Murdock giving himself the easy way out. "Not Russians, Kinsey," Matt says with a quick slice of his hand through the air between them. "Anatoly and Vladimir couldn't pull this off. They don't have the connections at the NYPD, or even the imagination. Fisk. Have you ever heard of a mob boss building a mutant-genome pharma empire in dilapidated private prisons? Heisting data from the DEO and hiring a small army of hackers? He's not a some gangster, he's the devil. And he won't be stopped with fairy dust and subpoenas."

Her final question — whether it was letting her in at all that was a mistake, or merely letting her in the door — sends his nostrils flaring, his head ducking downward. There's a moment's pause, before he makes a decision. It registers on his expression, grim but resolute, before he whispers: "Take your pick."

-

It would be understandable if that were the moment everything capsized: her face crumpled, her eyes turned away, a quick and silent exit. The bang of the door behind her, an audible bit of punctuation on the rambling, stop-and-start sentence they are.

And it does wound her, as it's meant to: her expression closes, and there's a delicate tremble in the shape of her mouth as she bores holes into the shape of his back with her eyes and feels her cheeks turn hot. He's not the only one in the room with scars, and most of hers are fresher than she likes people to remember — those few people who know they're there at all. The collapse of her social life and its tentative resuscitation are still raw nerves circling the void of the hole shot through her life in that laboratory, and the temptation is there to believe what he says. That she was a mistake. It wouldn't even be the first time she'd had that thought, during his absences and silences, or the moments their half-step-different ideologies generated bright, brief sparks of tension.

For just one moment she wobbles on the edge of letting herself cave to that belief. Letting it be the signal she needs to give up on it, him, and resign herself to a different sort of life — for a while, if not indefinitely.

And then her jaw tightens.

"You don't believe that," she says. It's not a question. Her voice is thick, tight around the knot in her throat, but firm. "I don't believe you mean that. Not my Matt. I don't know whose voice that is, but it's not yours. Some ex-lover? This Natchios chick you had me digging up dirt on? Maybe some old, shitty teacher or bully? Somebody who cut you down when you were a kid? Whoever it is, they're wrong, and you're adopting their…wrongness. Wilson Fisk is not the goddamn devil. He's a man. Which you should be grateful for, because that's how we're going to get him. Men are fallible. The most wicked men in existence were just fallible assholes who thought they were doing the right and righteous thing. You might want to remember that."

She does turn her head then, face still aglow with unhappy heat. "I'm gonna go, yeah. But lest you start patting yourself on the back about how you're somehow saving me by pushing me away, let me just say that the minute I walk out of that door on your say-so, I get to handle this situation however I think I need to. You don't get a say in that, anymore. And if I want to turn up on his fucking doorstep? I will. That's what happens when you shut people out, Matt — they make their own choices about how to deal with it. You can't put them — you can't put me — on a shelf and expect me to stay there."

-

She tells him that not only is he lying to himself about his mission, and the clear and demonstrable failings that inspire it, but that he's not even speaking with his own voice. That he's giving air to some abuser from his past. Begins, really, to poke around the edges of the re-opened wound. He rounds about to face her, sightless eyes livid. "You don't know a goddamn thing about me," Matt says with all the vehemence he can muster. "You never did."

And then she's saying that his half-baked gambit, to alienate her so she'll stay away from him, from this, will backfire. That any self-satisfied attempts to protect her with cruelty will fall short. That he'll fail there too, essentially. And if I want to turn up on his fucking doorstep? I will. "What, are you going to go ask for a job?" he says with a little lift of his chin, dragging old fights up into the ring.

He opens his arms, a fighter inviting a punch. "You do what you've gotta do, Kinze. And so will I."

-

What can Kinsey say to that? His insistence that she doesn't know — that she never knew — the real Matt Murdock? She wants to say: you're wrong. She wants to try to articulate it: what she sees in his eyes, sometimes, when they're together. Those eyes that no longer fulfill in the traditional way the purpose for which he was born with them, but still manage to be a window into the depths of his soul — and outward, too. A window into the depths of other people's, it seems, with the uncanny knowledge his strange condition allows him to peruse.

She can't, though. Because she thought she knew him once already, and could not have been more wrong. A single night on a Hell's Kitchen dock showed her that he was, if not a completely different person, then a person infinitely more complicated than she'd understood — a person adjacent to the self she thought she knew.

So she's still quiet, as he takes the jabs that follow. In those moments she becomes a bottleneck for the thoughts — the counter-arguments, the accusations, the furious ripostes — that want to find purchase on her tongue, defeated by the gradual crumbling of her will to fight through it. Shaken, maybe, by that first piece — the uncontestable truth of it, knowing she can't know for certain one way or another if she really does know him, after all. Believing that she does…but not being especially practiced in the art of belief.

"You do what you've gotta do, Kinze. And so will I."

"Yeah, you've already made that pretty clear," she says to the floor as she looks down and rakes her fingers back through her hair. She turns, tugging her hood up, and starts for the door; she fights tears mostly because she doesn't want to give him what she suspects may be the satisfaction — more fuel for the pyre of his self-recrimination — but she suspects it wouldn't matter even if she managed the trick. He has a way of sniffing things out.

"And here I always thought I'd be the one who broke first. If you come to your senses, maybe consider getting out of the hero business. It's an ugly world. Not everybody is cut out for dealing with that."

-

Like most lies, what Matt says to Kinsey has a grain of truth in it. In their year-long affair she's discovered things about Matt Murdock that almost nobody knows, gotten closer to him than arguably anyone else. They shared so much, with each risking their life for the other. Yet somehow there are still glaring details about his life of which she has no earthly idea.

Because, of course, he hasn't told her.

Still, that kernel was deliberately weaponized and delivered with precision by a man hell-bent on not just isolation but self-annihilation. Not even all of Kinsey Sheridan's reason nor affection, nor Jane and Bucky's knowing and hard-won commiseration, have so-far been able to steer Matthew Murdock from the course he'd set for himself the second he'd begun stalking up those steps after the black-masked assassin who is one-by-one murdering the women he'd saved. He's on a path he can't shake himself loose from, which only convinces him further that it's the very path he was meant to be on all along.

She turns to leave, but delivers a final parting blow when she suggests that his brand of heroism is too brittle, too easily warped. That he was never cut out for this work to begin with. He has no retort for her as she recedes, in part because he's suddenly, impossibly weary, but also because he doesn't even disagree with the woman he's nearly driven to tears of heartache and frustration.

The door shuts behind her, echoing through the nearly-empty expanse, as well as the chambers of his oh-so sensitive ears. But it's Kinsey Sheridan's parting words that truly linger. He's not a hero. He never was.

Maybe it's time to stop acting like it.

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