Aftermath: Part 2

July 01, 2018:

Matt and Kinsey retreat to Fogwell's, where they talk about everything except each other.

Fogwell's Gym in Hell's Kitchen

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Foggy Nelson, Jessica Jones, Wilson Fisk

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Navigating back to Fogwell's through the ruined landscape of Hell's Kitchen would have been a far more tense thing if Kinsey had enough energy left to sustain tension of any kind. In the aftermath of her reunion with Matt the last of her reserves are spent, and while she's aware enough of the need — now more than ever — for Fogwell's to remain off of the radar as a place the Defenders have any association with at all, and she and Matt stick as closely to back ways and cover as they can, there's just no way to ensure they remain out of sight. Sightlines are compromised, wide open with gaps where blocks used to be.

She kept waiting to feel a pang as they stepped into the gym, but there had been nothing. Shock, still. Down into the basement, where nothing is familiar, and that helps. A cartridge of sedative carefully expended from the loaded hypodermic device seated in her prosthetic wrist, for herself if not for him, and then clumsy stripping, exhausted collapse on a cot.

It's the cold that wakes her, eventually. Bleary, suffering a splitting headache — all of that time yesterday spent managing traffic, real and electronic, and no soda to be found anywhere — she shivers as drags herself out of the cot and, eyes mostly closed, half-asleep, finds her way to the showers she was offered use of the night prior, before deciding all she wanted was sleep.

For a moment she's afraid there's no water — the pipes rattle and groan, hiss and spit — but it eventually comes, whatever damage has been done apparently not enough to completely drain the city main in Hell's Kitchen.

She's in there a long time, though. Head down, hair a curtain, under a jetstream of water so hot it toes up to the line of painful. Grit and ash sluice out of mechanical limbs, flushed from between one sealed mechanism and another. The smell of smoke fills hot, humid air, washed up off of her skin. It brings all of the previous day's memories back in a long, nauseating blur.

Matt has a few tricks for keeping them out of sight, including a back-alley entrance that, clogged with heavy-hanging smoke as it is, should hopefully keep them out of sight as they slink into the old gym. He declines the sedative, both because he wants no hangover or hard wakeup to cloud his mind and because he knows he doesn't need it. His strange sensory knowledge reflects inward too, and he knows on a gut level that once his body finally hits that cot he'll be out like a boxer KO'd in eighth round. He lets her take his shot, makes his own use of the shower, and then collapses into oblivion on the cot across the room from her.

He awakens to the sound of her own hot shower from up the stairs to the smells she carried into the building with her and all the associations it brings — the worst form of Proustian sense memory he could imagine. He shuts his eyes tight; as if he could block it out. Old reflexes die hard, even for blind men.

This was not a space meant for living, but it is livable. There's a kitchenette off the main office with a mini-fridge, a microwave, and most importantly a coffee machine. He sets about making himself a pot, as much for the aroma to counter the smell outside and within as for the caffeine itself.

He's dressed in his sleepwear: boxers, a black T. Most of the blood and grime and soot has been scrubbed off his face and neck, but he's still walking wounded — shell-shocked in the worst way.

Eventually Kinsey adds soap to her washing-up routine, going through the motions on autopilot, and when the last of the soap and water run clear rather than some variant shade of grey, she rinses and cuts the water, finds a towel, and winds it around herself tightly before making her way back downstairs. She didn't send for her things the night prior. Hadn't wanted to interact with Tony, because the conversation he wants is going to be-

So she's wearing goosebumps by the time she gets back to that room, and as always the contrast between the flesh of her body and the angular artificiality of her limbs leaves her feeling slightly uneasy: these were never meant to be worn in this sort of situation.

"I don't suppose you have something with sugar in it," she says, as she reaches the entry to the kitchenette and leans against the side of the door frame.

"Hey," Matt says when she appears, and for the first time the sheer strangeness of this situation fully impresses itself on him. It might resemble any number of next mornings for them in their year-long affair: her in a towel as she leans by the doorframe, asking for sugar in her coffee. Except that they are in a half-renovated old gym instead of either of their apartments, and that she has her 'business' prosthetics that don't even try to emulate the original article — and well, every other single thing about this.

"Sure," he gives a little nod. "We've got sugar. Headache?" he asks, familiar enough with her biorhythms by now to hazard a guess. He reaches for another cup from the cabinet, and pulls a packet of brown raw sugar from the jar against the wall. Don't ask how he knows it's not one of the undifferentiated splenda packets.

"We should try to get in touch with the others again," he says as he walks her coffee cup over. "And then figure out — what else we can do to help."

"Yeah." The fragile tone of her voice suggests that 'headache' might be too kind a word for the thing presently setting its hooks on the inside of her head, but she doesn't follow it up with any complaints. In the grand scale of things, a headache — even a migraine — seems like a very petty thing to complain about. She murmurs a thank-you as she reaches for the cup he brings for her, still not quite at a point where she's comfortable looking at him, her attention turned to the mug, instead. To the smell it carries up on steam, a strong mask for the smell of the gym, the hints of the devastation outside, and — uncomfortable in a different way — the scents she associates with Matt, too.

"I've been trying. There's a message from Jess. She's safe." In the pause, she swallows audibly, apology in her halting, oh-so-quiet delivery. "Nothing…nothing from Foggy, yet. But his carrier's network is still congested. It doesn't mean anything."

His glasses are gone — gone forever — so there's no hiding the flicker of worry that registers across his brown eyes when she says she still hasn't heard from Foggy Nelson. I should be out there tracking him down right now, I never should have gone to sleep, he berates himself before shutting that line of thinking firmly down. Among his many realizations over the course of the last six weeks is that all the mental self-flagellations worthy of some overzealous monk haven't helped a single goddamn. Beating himself up constantly hasn't saved anyone, and has more to do with his issues than objective reality. That burst of self-awareness won't stop the recriminations from coming, but he is (slowly) learning how to step back and shut that process down before it goes too far.

So instead he says, quietly, "Okay. We'll keep trying."

He's as acutely aware of their proximity as she is, and if she is unsettled by the scent of him, how much more must he be by his sense of her? "Tonight I'm going to go back out there. See what I can shake loose," he murmurs. "The radio mentioned that some people like us stopped a few of the bombs — under a school." His expression goes taut again, veins in his foreheads briefly standing out as he contemplates the kind of person who would set bombs under a schoolhouse. "One of them was your friend the Spider-man. We should reach out and see what he knows."

"We'll keep trying," she says to the lip of the mug, words that sound more like a promise than agreement, for all of their soft tonelessness.

While he speaks she silently sips from her cup and stares at nothing, eyes angled down, off to one side. Eventually — when she thinks about next steps, and the overwhelming immensity of it all threatens to crash down on her like a cresting tidal wave — they close.

"Usually I'd want to…to look at the bombs, the materials involved, do some forensic investigation, but…" The word hangs, futility in her tone. "It's not like we don't know what this is. There's no mystery here to solve. Just a question: what are we gonna do about it?"

And though it matters not at all any longer, the one that sticks with her, under the surface: what should we have done before, to keep it from happening this way?

Which inevitably leads her thoughts toward more difficult territory. What they are or are not isn't something she's ready to address yet, but that fight-

Her forehead creases between her brows as she squeezes her eyes shut in a useless effort to keep them from pricking with tears. It doesn't help the headache; emotion, even held in check, just makes that hot throbbing in her skull even worse. Her lips press tightly together, bleached of all color, then twist, miserable. "You were right, Matt," she says, the words strained hoarse. "You were right that night and I'm…sorry I didn't listen to you."

She tells him that ordinarily she'd want to investigate, but here the facts are so transparent, there's no question. What's the point? But Matt has questions. Why is Fisk doing this? Simple payback? There's a Devil of Hell's Kitchen making his life marginally more difficult, so he decides to… wipe out Hell's Kitchen? It staggers the imagination. Fisk is nothing if not careful. To risk the kind of retaliation he'd provoke just to perhaps take out a motley crew of street vigilantes —

She can probably see those questions taking shape, the need to voice them, registering on his stubbled and wan features. He's about to, before her face crumples and she tells him that he was right that night they fought so bitterly and seemed to come apart at the seams. His brow knits and his soulful brown eyes flicker with pain and regret. he shakes his head once, twice. "No," he says, voice thick with emotion. "None of us knew what Fisk was capable of. Not even what he did with the drugs, or to those women even suggested it. I know I'm about to sound like the world's biggest hypocrite, but you can't blame yourself."

And now that she's brought up that night, now that she's apologized to him, of all people, he can't leave the enormous things between them unaddressed. "And maybe… maybe you didn't listen to me because I was being an asshole of epic proportions," he says. The conversation is too fraught and the circumstances that surround it too dire for anything beyond the most muted brand of gallows humor, and it's easily banished by the quiet fervor of the following words: "I had no right to talk to you like that. To treat you like that. I am so sorry."

"I knew. I knew. I told you. I told all of you. I meant what I said, when I said he had terrifying amounts of reach. When I said- when he-" She quiets for a moment because the knot in her throat turns into a genuine cramp, and because she reaches on instinct to wipe underneath her eyes with the pads of her fingers only to bring pointed metal perilously close to the fragile skin there, expression twisting all over again. She has to switch hands, coffee mug carefully resettled into an alloy grasp, and by the time that's done she's already turning away, wiping her face and letting the rest of his words wash over her from behind, like a wave cresting her back.

It's sooner than she's ready for it. It may be impossible for him to avoid addressing, but when the moment arrives all she can do is shake her head and founder, the messy tangle of injuries and insecurities in her impossible to sift in her present state. "I don't…" Want to talk about this.

But even that would be talking about it, so it takes her a moment to reorient herself on the conversation. Nowhere is her lack of readiness to deal with it clearer than in the decision she makes to stick to discussing Fisk, when everything else between them remains an open wound. It's so…transparent. Graceless, even. "I don't blame myself for what he did. That's on him. But I blame myself for not listening. And now this is too late to stop, but we can deal with it now. Deal with him now. He's going to be…" Another surge of weariness passes through her. "He's going to be so deep underground after this, but unless he's eschewing everything electronic I will find him."

Matt's peculiar powers normally make him slightly more adept at this sort of thing. He's a better reader of people than most, and it gives him a surprisingly deft interpersonal touch when he puts it to use. But his own emotions were out of whack even before this living nightmare they've stumbled into, and so it takes her literally turning her back to him to realize that now is the wrong time to remotely try to make amends.

He flinches at the gentle reproach, and it's fair to say he takes it and directs it further inward — because that's what Matt Murdock does, whatever newfound self-awareness he thinks he has.

And, like her, he focuses on the work: "I agree," he says after a beat, "that he's going to go to ground. But I don't think this is the end of it. I don't think this was about us at all really. It's not his MO. He uses different tools for different problems. For most of us, it's been a scalpel. Luke's bar. Those women. Even the visit to Spider-man's friend. This… he's tackling a different problem." he turns himself, goes back to the counter to fetch his own cup. "I think that's good for us," he tells her with a glance over his shoulder. "There'll be avenues to chase."

Guilt and relief flood into her chest when he elects to roll with her clumsy refusal to engage in that particular conversation, for the time being. It solves nothing, and she knows that, but it alleviates the worst of a crushing pressure against her ribs. They can't ignore it forever, but-

But she'll think about that later.

"What he just did was…expensive," she says, after a long silence, during which she forcibly redirects her attention to the things he's saying, and what they might mean. She doesn't turn back to face him, but it hardly matters, with Matt, save in principle perhaps — he can hear her just fine, and he doesn't read her expressions in the typical way, anyway.

"Whatever this was for, it was worth…not only the amount of money you'd have to spend to pull it off, which is, even taking into account he owns laboratories…" Her cheeks puff as she exhales. "A lot. …A fucking lot. But it's more than that. Something this big, you run the risk of being caught trying to set it up, so it was worth that risk. And it was worth knowing the kind of response it's going to get. From rival controlling interests in the state of New York, from the feds, from private intelligence agencies, from foreign interests…that's a lot of heat. So I agree, I don't think it was about us. Or not…" She pauses, quiets. "Not…just about us."

She talks about the enormous risks Fisk has incurred to commit this atrocity, the level of scrutiny he's brought to bear on himself. "Yeah, every law enforcement agency in the country has swooped down here," Matt agrees, though without elaborating on how he could possibly know it. "They'll be here for a month at least. Which will constrain him — along with us."

A beat, a set and reset of his jaw. "We ought to get the team together," Matt says before bringing that cooling coffee cup up for a sip. "Luke, Rand, Jess. Maybe a few others. Divide up roles, and — and get hunting." It's a remarkable statement from a man who, six weeks ago, was ready to wage a one-man war against Wilson Fisk and vehemently rejected anyone else's involvement.

The team, he says. In those moments he sounds more like the Matt she thought she knew than she ever really expected him to again, after that last incident. Determined. Committed. Stubborn. Pragmatic. Methodical — to a point, anyway.

Some part of her finds it reassuring. Much of the rest of her thinks that part might be naive. And what remains, after that, are pieces of her that aren't sure about her place on the team, anymore. Or in his life. Or her place anywhere, possibly.

All of that falls under the umbrella of 'things Kinsey isn't ready to think about.' "I only really do the one thing," she says into her cup of coffee, only dregs left in the bottom. "So I guess my part is clear. I'll start on it…uh. What time is it, Five?"

Silence, at least as far as Matt can tell. And yet: "Shit. Already?" She brings her left hand up to rub gently at her face, her eyes, her pounding head. "Tonight, anyway. I don't think I'm going to be able to keep Tony on the sidelines anymore after this one, Matt. He's going to get involved whether we want him to or not, but at this point we could probably stand to take him up on that. He can scale up the team's operations like nobody else. He's an asshole and you have to be careful, dealing with him, but he's brilliant, and he's going to be incredibly pissed off about what happened. He could help." And yet, as she sinks back against the side of the kitchenette, she mostly sounds…tired. "God. That is a conversation I'm not looking forward to. Maybe I should get that done tonight, too."

What time is it, Five? she asks aloud. She's talking to him again. That's news to Matt, and probably something that started during their long weeks of separation. Up to now he'd been privately grateful that her resident A.I. had cut off contact after Jane Foster zapped it with some mystic anti-virus, but it was probably always unrealistic to imagine he'd stay gone.

Besides, at this point what right does he have to feel one way about it or another?

Then she's talking about Stark, and bringing him in on all of it. He has in the past been a touchy subject between them, for varying reasons. But here he lifts his hand up just a touch, just a second, to dismiss the notion that he has any concerns. "I think a lot of people are going to want in on this now," Matt says quietly. "From Stark to Spider-man and the, uh, teeny-boppers or whatever. I trust you to handle him."

He takes a long swallow of his coffee and sets the mug aside. "And I should — ah. Get back out there."

Where? The streets. His streets. Where else?

Which means, of course, she should go.

Not that he would begrudge her staying, if she needed to. She knows that. But staying here, in the mausoleum of his history, and now nearly the only monument to it that remains standing, is too uneasy a thought to stomach — and in any case, she needs painkillers of a strength and number she isn't sure he has on-hand, boxing gym or no boxing gym.

So:

"Right." She sets her own mug aside after tipping it back to drain what amounts to drops, and then turns to face him, still not quite looking at him. Looking at his feet, actually. His shins. Probably bruised. If there were ever a moment to loop back to acknowledge what he said earlier — his apology — without risking opening that whole conversation, it would be now. On her way out. Just enough to absolve him, hold out hope or temper it — something. She hesitates there, so maybe she thinks about it. Gets closer to him with some reluctance, but quiet determination, so maybe she's thinking about it. Lifts her hands, and reaches, carefully, toward his shoulders, eyes on the center of his chest.

"I'm…" For her, it's a pause. For him, it's a silence defined by the rapid beating of her heart. Once she leans in to hug him, so carefully and with sincerity, if not with anything like ease, he'd be able to feel it, too — if he lets her. "I'm glad you're safe, Matt. Please be careful out there."

She doesn't know what she wants, anymore, save that she doesn't want to think about it yet. But she means every word.

Even if he were ordinarily blind he could hear her coming, metal footsteps sounding as they do on the ceramic tile of the kitchenette. But, as usual, he hears so much more — including the rapid pace of her heart. She holds him in quiet suspense until she finally chooses from among the words whirling around inside her. The ones she gives them offer neither absolution nor encouragement nor even reproach. Just a general, honest well-wishing.

It's the most she can give him, and he realizes it. Honestly, he's not even sure what he wants from her, much less has any reason to expect. There are a hundred things he'd wanted to tell her before his world went to hell, and now that it has all the things that stand between them seem at once so infinitesimally small and cavernous at the same time. How's that possible?

So he accepts the offered embrace, a slightly awkward and subdued version of their desperate grappling hours ago outside. "Thanks," he says, because for now that's all there is to say. "You too, Kinze. Just, ah, use your magic and shoot a text to my burner when you're back in Gotham. So I know."

"I will."

It's a moment that lingers, but whether that's because she doesn't want to let him go, or she doesn't want to face what she's going to have to face when she leaves, isn't entirely clear. Both, maybe. Neither. She lets him go because she has to, of course and she's practically turning around when she realizes, and stops dead, and actually colors a little.

Adjusts, slightly, her towel.

"Um…can I…borrow some clothes?"

Because this wasn't already incredibly awkward.

There's an audible catch in his chest when the hug lingers a little longer than expected; their closeness shaking loose any number of feelings he's trying to contain, and only some of which actually have to do with the two of them. Then inevitably she's withdrawing, turning away.

He feels her flush from across the room, even before she says a word, so when she finally does it's no surprise. "Uh, yeah, of course, you're welcome to what I've got," the man says. Which is, suffice to say, not very much anymore. Gone are the suits and ties and chambrays and chinos; all the costumes he put on every day during daytime hours.

"There should be a pair of jeans and a t-shirt in the dresser by the cot," he adds, chin pointing in the general direction. "It should get you through the day."

A beat. "Let's — ah. Let's talk soon."

"It just needs to get me to-" Stark Tower. "…a change of clothes," she says, crossing to the dresser and dragging the drawer open. She'll have to wrap cloth around her mechanical arm, but that's fine; there are, she's sure, walking wounded everywhere. She'll make it look like she's carrying a load of laundry, she thinks, or-

His follow-up turns her head, tired hazel eyes bright on him over her shoulder, behind tendrils of damp, dark hair. She knows what he means, and her insides are all the frightened word no, looping on repeat. No. I don't know. No.

But how can she say that? How can she possibly say that to this man at this moment…? Who suffered so much to protect a place that burned down around him last night…? The fear redoubles, vague and lacking any specific object — she doesn't know if she's afraid they won't mend fences, or if she's afraid they will — but she nods, anyway, and then remembers herself with a blink and slight shake of the head, swallowing. "We will. I promise." One prolonged pause, and then the sounds of her rifling through the dresser resume. Moments later she has both items, and she turns to retreat up the stairs with the bundle of them held against her chest, smelling like him and making everything so much worse.

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