Aftermath

June 30, 2018:

Daredevil and Six meet in the ruins of Hell's Kitchen.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's not until the early hours of the morning that the last of the fires in Hell's Kitchen are finally snuffed out. The sky may be purpling as day breaks, but a thick miasma of smoke and ash keeps visibility low. Most of Midtown has been cordoned off by the police, leaving the streets empty save for first responders — those with uniforms and those without — and the wandering wounded and bereft.

On the news they are calling it the worst act of terrorism to hit America in more than a decade, and amid the rubble and ruin of the obstinately working class neighborhood that had for decades struggled to preserve some of the seedy charm of NYC circa 1980, it's easy to believe it. Entire city blocks have been decimated; whole buildings have been either blown out or leveled. Among the ones that were outright blown apart was an old warehouse that had been refurbished into a set of big-windowed condos, home to a new wave of intrepid, obnoxious gentrifiers — and in one case, one of Hell's Kitchen's native sons who went to school and made good.

Matt Murdock spent the past eight hours flinging himself from burning building to burning building, trying desperately to hear heartbeats amid the sirens and the roaring fires. So few of them, but the rescue of each one seemed a titanic struggle against backdrafts and fallen roofs and flaming staircases and walls of smoke. By the end he's gone full circle, finding himself back at the ruin of his own loft. He sits there on the debris-strewn ground in the blown-out skeleton of his apartment building, back against a steel beam that's been blackened and warped by flame. He's decked in his reds, but they're so soot-stained they might almost pass for the blacks he once wore a lifetime ago.

He's still enough that you might suspect he'd passed out from sheer exhaustion — or worse, expired. But the simple truth is that, with the adrenaline that drove him for so many hours spent and the shock that kept him from being consumed by grief just beginning to ebb, Matt Murdock has found a comparatively private corner of his decimated neighborhood so that he can quietly admit and reflect on what seems to be a catastrophic and final defeat.

The hours have blurred together for Kinsey in a way they have not done for years — back when physicality was an everyday part of her life, and her wardrobe contained only government-issued fatigues. It's different, of course, in a crisis…but for her it won't be different until later. It was different when it began, and shock had ruled everything; later it will be different as she tries, and likely fails, to process the scale of the devastation and — worse — her own part in the fact of it. But in the middle, it's the same. The same as it was all of those years ago. That's what training is. That's what training does. Certain things get switched off, and clinical efficiency takes over.

She keenly feels her own comparative weakness. No Luke Cage or Jessica Jones, she has no doubt those two are out there even now, hauling heavy things, lifting walls to rescue people trapped in rubble, but Six? Six exists in a world that a person can measure in bits and bytes. She spent hours helping to move people, multitasking traffic coordination and hospital updates with searching for anyone she might be able to help reach medical assistance, but her body — what bits of it actually belong to her, as she'd said to Foggy — is not especially strong. Everything aches, and the places where straps bind her prosthetics to her body are raw, probably bruised. Everything she's wearing is streaked with ash, cement dust, sometimes blood. She can't even tell where the smudge inside of the faceplate is: she's been running other filters for visibility for hours now. Which is probably how she doesn't notice one very sooty Daredevil, leaned up against a girder, until she's almost on top of him.

This is her last stop, and the hardest of the lot. Because she's come to look for something, in the bones of the building he lives in. Praying, all the way there, not to find it.

But she does find it. Just, it's in better condition than she feared. She's half a block away by the time Five and the helmet's software cotton onto the vital signs, lighting up his outline, and she stops dead in her tracks. Through a dizzying wave of relief she thinks, he's alive, and then simultaneously some frightened part of her adds, now we can go home.

Her fingers twitch, like she wants to do that, but she doesn't turn around, yet.

She's here, he realizes when a familiar clack of metal boots on cement and her signature heartbeat announce themselves. It's an ice-water shock to his system, even though he realizes it shouldn't be. She works at Stark Tower, just a few avenues east on the other side of schlocky Times Square. Of course she'd be here trying to help.

And she isn't the only one who feels a jolt of internal conflict. In the wake of those murders weeks — months? — ago he made the decision to push her away. Told himself that it was cruelty put to kind purposes — that he was doing what was best for her, even if it hurt them both. That he had to be strong and make the hard call for her sake, even if she hated him for it. And even though enough people had reached out to him over the past weeks and sparked his own realizations about his true motives and imperatives, the sheer scale of the horror around them should prove him right.

This war with Wilson Fisk has had a higher body count than he could possibly have imagined when he started tangling with the Russian mob over drugs, guns, and trafficked girls a year and a half ago. How many more will it consume? She's done her part here, and now he should let her do what her spiking heart-rate tells him she wants to do, which is turn around and walk away.

But here, exhausted and beaten down by eight hours of unimaginable horrors that have frazzled his senses and left him in something like a daze, he can't bring himself to. He has lost nearly everything that it's possible to lose, and suddenly the prospect of hearing her footsteps retreat away from him has his chest seizing up and leaves him gasping out a short breath.

"Please," he calls out down the street, tone ragged. "Please don't go."

There is a parallel thought process to his own happening, but not even Matt Murdock has senses strong enough to pierce the interior of her skull: all he can do is measure the results in heartbeats and hormones, make hypotheses. She does want to leave. And it is, in its way, because of the fight that they had. But it's not because of the biting things he said, and it isn't because he tried to push her away.

Standing in the shattered remains of Hell's Kitchen, it's impossible for her to deny the bitter truth: he'd been right, that night. She'd been arguing for patience, planning, a long-game approach, and this is the result: no long game from Fisk. She may never know what set him off — why now — but in these moments, surrounded by blackened, gutted buildings, bodies and sirens, it's hard to find her way to caring about the what or the why. If he'd been dead-

One step forward turns into two, turns into a faster step turns into a jog and then a run to finish out the distance, weary muscles protesting every step of the way. She isn't thinking about it, she just runs until she's there. It doesn't bear thinking about, because there's no choice, really: she couldn't leave him there. Cannot. Once she acknowledges that, there's no point in worrying about the rest of it anymore. Resignation is a strange thing to carry with her to that reunion — but they've always been defined by their strange things.

She's wanted to strip that helmet off for hours. It's sweaty and hot, smudged and cramped, but she hasn't dared. With her eyes stinging as she closes in on him that desire doubles, but still: she can't.

He can't know her reasons, but he can hear the results. Footsteps that quicken with each passing second until they finally break into a sprint towards his hollowed-out ruin. She's fast on those remarkable prosthetic feet, and he barely has a chance to push himself up against the girder before she's on him. His heart is hammering in his chest, he's breathing like he's run a marathon himself. His face briefly wrenches, though only the lower half of it is visible to the eye.

Thank God. Thank God, thank God, thank God. He tries to use her momentum, pull her into an embrace that would, to an outward eye, seem all kinds of absurd. A masked man in a battered devil costume and some — what? Plate-faced android? Matt crushes her to him, and the sense of relief and euphoria he feels is like the crack in a dam; it lets everything else out with it. Tears well in eyes, spill over into the gaps between his skin and helm.

"Look at what he did to my home," Matt says, his voice cracking even though his tone is just above a whisper. It's clear enough he doesn't mean the apartment, or even the building. This neighborhood, the one he toured her through on their first night together, is his world. The people in it are his people. And now it's a ruin, and everyone he knew…

She's spent all day feeling her own weakness acutely, but she's stronger than she looks. Not as measured against a Luke Cage or a Jessica Jones, but still: once she collides with him, pulled inward, she could probably hold him up if his legs went out from under him in those moments. Her grasp is tight as she dares, with no sense of his physical condition. The unyielding alloys of her arm would be uncomfortable if it weren't for the suit that Jane Foster made to keep him safe.

She can't remove her helmet, but she can do him the courtesy of turning off the filter, so that he can hear her voice. Her voice. Quiet as can be, pinched because her lungs are being squeezed and there's a knot in her throat, but real.

"I see it," she manages to say, words that strain at the seams with other things. "I see."

I'm sorry, she wants to say, but it feels…wrong. Obscene, even; the scale of the thing too big, belonging to too many other people, for her to say anything like that. Anything that would make it personal, claim it, even in so small a fashion.

And once that becomes clear — that she can't, won't say that — she isn't sure what to say. So she's silent for a while, until something of use does finally occur to her, and she tilts back just enough to look at him through that bleary, soot-streaked faceplate. "Are you-" Pause. "Were you injured?"

They grapple with each other there in the ruin. Matt's hands clutch and re-clutch at her back, as if confirming she's really there or checking for injuries. He hears her own natural voice, battered and constricted as it is, and feels powerful currents of emotion surge behind his breastbone. He holds her tighter, if it's possible.

Were you injured? she asks him. "No," is his immediate reply, though he doesn't add that it was only by virtue of some strange woman who walks around carrying frag grenades with her. "I'm alright," he affirms again before his jaw juts again. "There are just — there are so many who are — who are gone." A beat. "It's so goddamn quiet out there, Kinze."

It's an odd thing to say. The sirens and fires and sounds of excavation would seem to make Hell's Kitchen noisier than ever. But to Matt, who walks through life to the tune of a million heartbeats and exhalations, the neighborhood is a mausoleum.

With anyone else, she'd feel a guilty relief at being able to conceal her expression at a time like this behind a mask like that one. With Matt it doesn't matter, really; it provides her no privacy at all. She's still nonsensically grateful for it in that moment, expression twisting around the lack he's talking about. It's a dangerous thing, that wobble in her self-control. She draws a breath big enough to fill her ribs out, holds it until equilibrium is restored, because she's afraid that if she lets herself think about it too much now — if she really opens the door to measuring the losses — she might well and truly buckle, and she can't do that now. Not yet.

Not yet.

There's a fine, silken grit of ash on the slick surface that gently rests against his masked crown. Two hands, one organic, the other metallic, lift from around him to cradle either side of his head. "I know."

Silence, brief but long enough to put some distance between that last thought and the next one. Then: "Listen…" She sounds uneasy. Uncertain. "I know you're going to want to stay here to do more, but…you look…exhausted. You must be exhausted. I'm exhausted. We're…" She pauses, uneasy. "We're vulnerable like this. If we're going to do more, we have to be around to do it, and we won't be around if that-" She only notices the increasing pressure of her fingertips against the curvature of his helmed head when the little sharp bits at the end make an audible sound against its texture, and remind her to relent, relaxing her hands with intention. A breath, a continuation on a different track: "We need to not get snatched off of the street while we're weak and tired."

They're both teetering on the brink, worn ragged, and still in varying degrees of shock. Kinsey takes stock and owns up to it, proposing they — relocate? She's right. The very idea meets internal resistance from Matt. There may still be people we can save, and I can sense them where others can't, he thinks, but he knows it's folly. He's made his rounds. If there were heartbeats still to be found in those hollowed out buildings he would have heard them. At this point they are just tombs. The only thing to do now is to exhume them, and avenge them.

After wrestling with her suggestion for a long moment, he nods his assent. "There's the gym," he says of Fogwell's, his temporary base of operations these last few months — spared from the fire. "You could have your stuff delivered there from the tower." His brow knits again and he lets out a pained gasp. "I haven't heard from Fog — or Jess." A renewed surge of panic quietly seizes him; he thinks he's lost everything, but the idea that either of them in those fires is unthinkable. "We need to — we need to find out if they're okay. But my cell network is down."

The gym. She can gauge her own condition by the way she leaves a space inside of herself to listen for the cramp of discomfort, of dread, that she expects that to cause…only to find that nothing happens inside of her at all. It's for one distressing moment similar to the way she felt when Five was corrupted by the virus, but the moment passes. No, she thinks. Just shock.

The tone of his voice brings her back to the moment, and then she processes what she heard him saying. Foggy missing. Jess too. Her stomach sinks. "Yeah, the infrastructure is a fucking mess, I've been bouncing signals off of satellites to get updates out to responders. Maybe…" She shifts her weight. "Maybe I can try to get their phones that way."

And what if they don't answer, Kinsey? What then?

"You should try it," Matt says to her suggestion, and as if sensing her attendant worry, says: "We may not get them. No one's out there charging their phones right now. But leave a message, send a text." His whole world has been leveled to the ground, he's almost assuredly lost friends, clients, and a vast network of neighbors and acquaintances. But for all that he's been gutted, he's not willing to yet contemplate the possibility that those two are lost. He can't.

He presses his helm against her smudged and sooty faceplate. "Come on," he murmurs. "You're right. We should move and — "

What, plan their next steps? The notion seems risible. The idea that any of their valiant little stings or brawls with Fisk amounted to anything is laughable in hindsight.

All this time, they had no idea what or who they were really dealing with, the game they were playing, or the stakes at hand. The admission brings a taste of bile to the back of his throat.

"— and rest," he manages to finish after a hard swallow. "Try to reach who we can."

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