Matt and Kinsey Fight

August 31, 2018:

Like the title says.

Fogwell's Gym

Still standing.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Frank Castle, Tony Stark, Wilson Fisk

Mood Music: Really Dramatic Music

Fade In…

The bombings that rocked Hell's Kitchen six weeks ago changed the landscape of the working class neighborhood forever. Wilson Fisk obliterated historical landmark after historical landmark, as if he were trying to transform the neighborhood into a giant blank slate upon which some new reality could be written.

But somehow, among all the dilapidated buildings blown to hell there on the west side of Midtown, Fogwell's Gym is still standing. The hollowed out and abandoned boxing gym of yesteryear hasn't been used regularly in months, victim of flighty new ownership and a renovation waylaid by a bona fide mental health breakdown.

The gym has been sitting there, and at a certain point you can't let it go to waste. So when Matt and Kinsey get around to talking about that night with the cartels, and how if Kinsey is going to be in the thick of things, she may want to get some training beyond what U.S.A.F. boot camp provided.

And it seemed only practical to use the site of so many storied fights to practice. Even if some of those fights were fought between them, and not with their fists.

But if the shadows of demon viruses and near-breakups lay on Matt Murdock as he walks beside her towards the ring, he doesn't show it. His gait and his posture are loose. If anything his mood is as upbeat as it's been in — well, months. He's shadeless, dressed in a black t-shirt and sweats, water jug in one hand and a white towel draped over his shoulder.

"That sounded like a fancy new suit out there…" he's telling her as they approach the ring.

Kinsey has always been physically slight, but never is that more apparent than when she's dressed in figure-fitting clothing. Running tights and a moisture-wicking t-shirt make her look even less physically imposing than usual, and distinctly out of place for the setting: she looks like she ought to be heading to a middlingly-trendy yoga studio rather than an old-world, traditional boxing gym.

And yet.

"Ah…" She hooks one hand around the nape of her neck. "Yeah. It's not finished yet. It was a little bit premature to take it out that way, but it seemed like the best way to get there quickly and actually be useful in a 'ten plus guns' scenario. I'm sure you remember how well my usual kit deals with bullets." Absently, she reaches around behind herself, fingers slid over the divot of a scar she can still feel, even through the thin material of her shirt.

"I'm still trying to get used to the idea of having something like that."

Matt's lips quirk at the 'ten plus guns' line, a callback to the frantic text he'd sent. Thinking, at the time, that it would mean eyes through security cameras, or an opportunely timed blackout. The latter happened, of course, but Iron Kinsey stomping one of the cartel soldiers out of the sky was something he hadn't counted on. And were he not so distracted by —

By Frank Castle. But they'll get to that, probably. "It's pretty impressive, even unfinished," the man offers while he approaches the slightly raised ring and the red lines of rope that box it in. "Some would say you don't even need to train if you've got it. I doubt Stark's had much if any, and he can obviously hold his own just fine in a fight."

You might expect to find some derision in Matt's voice, given all his complicated feelings about Tony Stark. There isn't, at least right now: just frank assessment.

Matt steps up onto the platform and slips nimbly under the ring like an old hand. He places that water bottle on a stool in the corner before lifting one of the ropes and allowing her easier entry to follow him. "But — you may not always have it. And knowing how to hold your own without it will make you more effective in it."

"So — how much of this have you done before?"

There's something playful in the cant to his head, a glitter in his eye that's almost eager. And why not? This is a side of himself he's rarely been able to share with anyone beyond his old master, or the odd bout with James.


"Equipment is nice to have, but it's not infallible," Kinsey says — a difficult thing, no doubt, for someone who relies on things like that for something as basic as physical autonomy. She follows him to the ring, leans, slides between the ropes, and tries not to remember the last time she was in that ring, on the day everything went very wrong for what they are.

"I'll never be able to compete with well-trained combatants that get the drop on me, but it would be nice to at least have the option of surprising someone." She glances over one shoulder, an involuntary response to the feeling of being watched — something to do with the raised ring, the empty surrounding room, the feeling of being in some way on display — and then drags in a long breath and turns to face him square.

"The basics in boot camp, but that was a long time ago, and a lot of things have changed for me since then, obviously. Some of those are going to matter. I process information really quickly, which is probably good. If I can read a situation, I can probably react to it just that little bit faster — assuming I know how to react. But, uh…" Pause. "Having this neural net in place means getting hit in the head too much could probably kill me. We tried to make it practical for Knightwatch agents to use, which means being combat-friendly, but it was early days and our focus was for the most point still on proof-of-concept." She lifts, spreads her hands. "It might make this sort of challenging."

He's standing there in front of her when she finally brings her eyes up to meet him: towel over shoulder, hazel eyes bright while she outlines her experience. His head wags from side to side musingly as she outlines what gifts she brings to the table. Increased powers of perception — always a plus. Quick study — definite perk. "Not to mention you've probably got a mean right hook," he throws in ruefully.

That mellow good humor of his finds a hitch when she tells him that one too many punches to the head could kill her. It wipes away that subtle smile of his, and maybe even makes him think twice about doing anything that's more likely to put her in the way of that kind of harm.

That pause she gives him doesn't last more than three heartbeats, though. "Talk about a glass jaw," he quips quietly. And then: "Look, I think that's all the more reason for you to train, you know? We'll focus on avoidance. Agility. Your prosthetics probably help with that too, and that right arm of yours can be a powerful shield. I'll teach you how to use it."

He opens his hands. "And I promise to go easier on you than my old sensei went on me. No sucker punches. Deal?"

There's an easy laugh from Kinsey about the mean right hook, though it feels like a strange thing to laugh about, considering: "Yeah…I have to be careful about that." See also: Foggy's shattered coffee mug.

She shrugs and nods, when he calls her brain's augmentation a glass jaw — it is — but in spite of the obvious seriousness of the hurdle, there isn't any reluctance in her voice. "Avoiding being hit sounds like the way to go, yeah. Maybe I'll eventually get my hands on that data, and be able to start planning some alterations to things, but until then I'm all for playing it safe. Plus, I don't really enjoy being hit, anyway? So, double-win."

Making a minor adjustment to the way her shirt and waistband are situated, she spends the next moment giving him a contemplative side-eye. "You mention him a lot, but never in any real detail. Only enough for me to know it sounds like you had a terrible time. Was he really that bad?" Her tone is curious, rather than skeptical: given the amount of punishment Matt voluntarily soaks on a regular basis, it's not difficult to believe that it was.

His thick-set eyebrows lift and drop when she says she'll have to be careful about just how mean that right-hook is; she can find agreement painted all over his fair, stubbled features. He's constantly calibrating his use of force against others — what will it take to subdue, but fall short of killing? For her, that slope is even more perilous.

All the same, he doesn't seem much concerned. Matt has all kinds of insecurities. He carries a mountain's worth of emotional weight on his shoulders? But fighting? Fighting he knows, and seems certain he knows well enough to teach.

She follows up on his off-hand crack about his old master, all innocent curiosity and it prompts a subtle, involuntary, but decidedly visible wince. "Maybe harder than he should have been on a ten-year-old," Matt offers on a sardonic note, some tension creeping into his formerly loose posture. He tosses the towel to his right, where it lands with uncanny accuracy on the top ring-rope beside them. "On the other hand, I can't say it didn't work. You know? Everything I can do I owe to him — and I don't just mean the fighting. He was blind, like me. Or close enough. He's the one who taught me how to use my powers. Filter. Focus. Even function. When those nuns brought him in to see me for the first time I was — I was in pretty bad shape."

For a moment there's a whole wash of complicated and conflicting emotions: appreciation and affection, resentment and anger. But only for a moment, before he reaches for some of that easy good humor. "Still a fucking asshole, though."

Lips tug out a slight smile, broad shoulders roll in a shrug. "So, I guess we'll start at the beginning. Or my beginning, at last. Boxing. Want to show me your stance?"

Kinsey absorbs that in silence, hazel eyes tracking the small changes in his expression as he reflects on that core element of who — and what — he would eventually become. "There are lessons to be learned in that too, I suppose," she says. "How far he chose to go to do what he meant to do, and whether and where he crossed lines. I learned a whole lot from some of the adults in my life who taught me that adults weren't infallible and omniscient, even if it meant they made me powerless at the time. Teachers, bosses. You know."

She tightens the hold of her hair tie on the ponytail behind her head, and smiles a thin smile. "Weird, though, right? He knew that you had abilities, but you were so young. Teaching you to navigate the world, that I can understand. Teaching you this kind of facility for fighting, though? Did he always mean for you to be a vigilante, or…?" Or did he have other plans for you?

Wordlessly on the matter of stances, Kinsey bends her knees, staggers her feet. It's the most basic of all possible positions, meant for stability and flexibility of movement — nothing fancy.

The most basic of basic soldier stuff.

You know. "I do," Matt says dryly of all those authority figures and mentors who managed to impart lessons despite, and sometimes through, their flaws. "Or at least I can imagine. Child prodigy? Military? Then DEO? That all sounds ripe for some seriously problematic mentors."

While she presses a little further on Stick, he observes her stance with a critical — well, not eye. But focus. And steps in closer, to her side. One careful hand comes to rest on her right forearm, shifting its angle and position to bring it a few inches closer to her body. The other hand comes to her core, palm resting flat on the wall of her abdominals. "Your body should be loose, but keep this tight," he says quietly. The hand shifts from her stomach to her hip, tilting the angle. Under other circumstances it might be intimate, and it is, perhaps, insofar as there's a casual familiarity. He nudges her back heel forward and rightward with a toe.

And while he's doing all this, laying that groundwork and foundation for all the work that follows, he's parsing through old memories. "Stick told me he was training me to fight a war," Matt says ruefully, though there's a slightly sour undercurrent to the words. "I'd ask him what it was for, or who it was against, but he always just said, 'We'll get to that!'" For a moment his voice transforms entirely, taking on a hard-bitten, caustic mimicry of a man some forty years his senior.

His eyebrows shrug up and down again after that imitation. He somehow looks sad and amused at once. Distant, too, as he walks a close circle around her. "He cut my training short after a few years. Never saw him again. If anything, I — I think he'd have preferred me younger. More malleable? He said that he needed a soldier, and that I wanted a —"

He stops himself, realizing what he was about to say. There's a jut of his jaw that signals his decision to say it anyway. "—ah, dad."

He takes a step back, nodding a little. "We'll work on it, but it's a good start. Now show me how you throw a punch. Can you cross your fists?"

Kinsey's consciousness splits in those moments, not unlike Five's ability to be in many places at once. A piece of her stays focused on the changes he's making, affixing the differences with intention in both muscle and memory, while the rest of her listens to this fragment of something out of Matt's little-shared past, about which she knows only enough to know that it holds the pain and loss of his vision, and then his father.

"That's kind of fucked up," she says, when she finally says anything, one brow arch. "Not the…not the father thing." She quiets just a little, mindful. "Kids want parental figures they can look up to. Who wouldn't?" Pause. "The soldier thing. Training a little kid to be a soldier in a 'war' you haven't even explained the nature of? Especially in light of what he knew about…" She gestures, a movement of the hand that stands in for everything about his father she can't say. "Everything." Her tone is flat and grim, a little bit indignant, but not wholly disapproving — probably because that very training, whatever the reason, keeps Matt alive.

Or maybe it's this: "Cross my fists?"

"Yeah, no kidding," Matt says wryly of his 'fucked up' mentor, a glint in his eye that's some mix of humor and ire. "Though the child soldier stuff I only realized was fucked up in retrospect. Back then it just felt empowering. I had a destiny, even if I didn't know what it was. After a year of feeling like I was less than. You know?"

She repeats his instructions back at him, and his head ducks. "Sorry, not being clear there," Matt says, reaching around to rub behind his neck. He's used to doing more than talking about doing. His training, especially after Stick left, was haphazard. He steps back from that hovering, watchful position to bring himself alongside her, face forward. "Let's start with this. Show me a left jab, like this."

And then he does, dropping fluidly into a boxer's stance. Torso turned slightly to the side, left side and hand forward, but both hands close to his head. Matt is slighter than "Battlin' Jack" was — middle bordering on welter — but there's strength in the quick fist that whistles through the empty air in front of him. The rest of his body remains loose, largely unmoved as the arm flashes forward.

"It was just — confusing," he adds, jaw a little tight as he circles back to the topic, for whatever reason seemingly content to nlinger on some of the painful areas of his past he'd never been willing to even touch on in the more than a year they'd been together. "To have someone who was so hard on you, then weirdly kind — he'd buy me ice cream, you know? Then just jetting as soon as you responded to that kindness. Who does that to a fucking eleven-year-old orphan?"

He lifts his chin towards her. "Give it a try."

As Matt negotiates the difficult territory of his history, Kinsey watches him move with the thoughtless ease of long practice through the motions of violence. Listening. Watching. Here in Fogwell's, in Hell's Kitchen, discussing his origins as a vigilante, his father — it's like being close to some centerpoint of his existence.

What strikes her in the moment is just how long he's been living with the fact of physical violence — even if, at first, it came only in seemingly sanctioned packaging, in the form of a father who boxed to give his boy a better life.

When it comes to mimicry, Kinsey's movements are virtually flawless reproductions of his own. They lack real strength and consistency of form — her body does not have his years of practice to guide it, and something as simple as the balance of weight between her feet can throw her posture off by small degrees — but the angle of each punch could not be more similar. It's an ability to reproduce what she sees probably owed in no small part to Five — and, of course, completely useless in a fight.

Still, it's a place to start.

"It makes perfect sense to me, on every count. Not just that you'd want something empowering — you, particularly, but also all children. His behavior, too. That's what abusive relationships are like. When you're out to control someone, that mixture of kindness and cruelty, of…of breaking someone down, withholding praise or approval until it's the one thing someone wants, more than anything else…" Between punches, she lifts one shoulder, ticks her gaze off on an angle, their cast momentarily distant. "Kids are especially vulnerable to that, but adults are definitely not immune."

There's a lot he can learn by 'watching' her copy him. This introduction is less a function of teaching her the particular forms — which she will only learn through painstaking and sometimes rote repetition — but more of an assessment of where she is, and how she learns. He knows her mind doesn't work like everyone else's. She's able to see more, retain more. She can seemingly pick up Portugese in minutes on the fly, but how does that translate into what she can do with her body? That's what he wants to get at.

What he sees encourages him, and even finds him smiling despite the ugly dangerous arts he's planning to teach her. The smile doesn't last long, because she follows up her jab with commentary on Stick, and abusers in general. He's one in the classic mold, she says, and he can't deny it, doesn't bother to — even if the lessons Stick imparted to him have kept him alive these last two years.

She ends on an aside, some off-hand mention of an authority figure with a similarly mean and controlling streak. His sightless eyes tick downcast for a moment. They'd be looking at the canvas beneath their feet if they could actually see. There's a beat, before he deadpans: "So what you're telling me is that I need to go beat up Tony Stark. Am I right?"

He doesn't let the joke linger, puts up two staying hands in his defense to ward off any counter. And more seriously, he adds: "I think you're right, though. Adults aren't as malleable as kids, but they carry around injuries and scars and weights on their shoulders. All that's opportunity for the right kind of asshole."

He lifts his chin. "That was good, though. Want a few tips?"

The quip about Tony makes her laugh. Not just one of those laughs held in her chest and throat, but a laugh, something sudden and intense enough that for just a moment her form falls to pieces. "Oh, please," she says, the inevitable response arch and dry.

"Adults are…differently plastic. More dangerous about it, I think, because someone who wants to believe a thing will go to great lengths to do that. If they pin their identity on it, there's almost no hope of changing their mind. Give them what they need to feel validated, and you can point them at virtually anything or anyone by calling it a threat." Her next punch contains something the others did not, an energy that rises on a tide of frustration driven by those thoughts.

Want some tips?

Her hands fall, and she tilts her head and quirks her lips. "That's why I'm here, Esquire. Show me what you've got."

Matt outright grins when that crack on Stark draws a full-on burst of a laugh from Kinsey, not the least because it's a sound he hasn't heard in a while. There was a time when mention of his biggest client would get Matt's back up. Those days, for varying reasons, seem to be gone — at least for now.

She asks him to show her what he's got, right before showing him a jab with a little more fire than the last one. "Good," Matt says, apparently more of a fan of positive reinforcement than his erstwhile mentor. "Most people overdo it, but a jab should be a quick strike. The only real parts of your body you engage are your arms and shoulder."

He comes behind her then, adjusts the angle of her left shoulder. "Next time, try starting out with a little more weight on the ball of your back foot, so that you're transferring that weight forward to the front leg when you throw the jab. It gives your punch speed and momentum. And try imagining your fist is like the crack of a whip, flicking slightly upward. Just the fist, though — the arm should stay straight."

Then he's lining up beside her to demonstrates again, even though he's fairly sure he doesn't need to show her a form more than once for her to grasp the basics. "A jab can do damage, but it's fast and takes comparatively little energy, so it's great for a feint. Particularly for you. A quick left jab with your regular hand…" His front left fist darts forward just so, and then he's following up with a powerful strike from his right that engages his whole frame, his hips and torso rotating to help deliver what would be a powerful blow were it to actually land on a target. "And then a right-cross from your, ah, dominant hand."

Did he lose the thread of the conversation amid the actual work they came here to do? Not likely. He may not have her quad-core CPU of a brain, but he's able to walk and chew gum at the same time. "Before — with the identity, and the othering and all that," he says as he slips out of his fighting stance, turns to face her. "Were you talking about your old bosses and people like me?" A beat, an angling of his head rightward, and the unspoken: Us?

Kinsey takes it all in, head to toe: what he does, how he moves, what he says about both. The hurdle for her resides in reproducing it — but she has, at least, the advantage of being able to focus on multiple parts of her body at once, even if that would be, in a combat situation, a less than ideal distraction from the pressing needs of the now.

Baby steps.

"Why do they call it a cross if you don't actually cross your arms?" Vague annoyance, from a young woman who tends to think in rigidly logical thought patterns.

She's practicing that — one jab, then the cross — and resetting her posture, shifting her weight, leaning into the first, trying on angles and inertias and positioning, when he asks his question. Her side glance is bright, curious, and then slightly amused. "No. Not specifically. But also yes? Because that's just humanity in general, I think. Look at politics in the now, for example. It's probably the most glaringly obvious thing to point at. Subcultures, too, though. 'Fandoms.' People find things to incorporate into their notion of who they are, and if it gives them self-worth in the slightest bit they respond to challenges to it with shocking behavior."

Why do they call it a cross? she asks, when it doesn't seem to cross anything. Matt gives a fleet flash of a grin. "Just to add to your confusion, a cross is also called a straight." He is, for a moment, the very picture of the helpless shrug emoticon. "I'm no historian of boxing, but I think it got the name cross because it's often used as a counterpunch to another fighter's jabs. I just know that it packs a whallop when you twist your body and give the right momentum."

A beat. "Pretty good form there for a first swing, by the way. Don't overcommit, though. Leaves you off balance and vulnerable."

He takes a step back from her, one hand at his abdomen, other at his chin. It's strange how watchful he can be when he can't see anything. "I'm just getting a sense for what you can do, how you hold yourself, and what you're bringing to the table today," he adds. "Next time we'll work on form and stance. It won't always be boxing, either — I tend to mix it up a lot and just use what works. And your style will be different from mine. I — uh, kind of lead with my chin."

Hazel eyes sparkle. "Want to take a jab at me? Has to have crossed your mind at some point or another." Politics and cultural commentary are, for the moment, set aside — but with these two it's almost certain they'll pick it up again shortly.

Want to take a jab at me?

He can't see it, of course — the blink and turn of her head, the uneasy beat of uncertainty that prefaces a slight smile for the joke he attaches to that invitation.

"Actually, I don't usually fantasize about throwing punches at people when I'm frustrated," she muses, taking stock of her inner world as she lowers her fists. "Probably because I've never been built for it. I usually have to get a lot more inventive with my self-indulgent imaginings. Dangling people from the bottom of the Valkyrie, maybe. Or making sure they hit every red light in the city on every morning commute for a week, or…mmm…" Head-tilt. "Their entire music library is replaced with 'Never Gonna Give You Up,'" or something.

She does turn to face him, but there's still a curious reluctance in her posture. "I can if you want me to, but…" Only one side of her mouth tilts upward. "We both know I can't land a punch on you if you don't want me to. It's a little like playing poker for bottlecaps or something, isn't it?"

Matt's brow knits new lines and wrinkles with every creative alternative she offers for punishing the people who cross her. "Jesus Chris, Kinsey, remind me never to get on your really bad side," he says, teeth drawn backwards into a faux-wince. "Thank you kindly for not turning my life into a giant Rick Roll."

She turns to face him, he takes a step closer to her so that they're about five feet apart. His sightless eyes hold a speculative, even skeptical gleam. "Hold on. That first date. You were messing with the traffic lights, right?" He bursts out a laugh, his second of the night, and it shakes his shoulders. "Shit. I remember thinking it was a sign or something. Joke's on me, I guess."

To her question, her reluctance, he shrugs. "We're gonna have to spar at some point, right? The point isn't to hit me — it's for me to watch you try, and for you to watch what I do when you try." He lifts nudges his chin upwards, urging her on. "Jab first, then we'll try the combo."

He looks appalled at her revenge fantasies, and she opens her arms wide, looks — and sounds — indignant, even if there's a thin layer of amusement at the core of it all. "What! How is that worse than imagining beating someone up!"

And then the reference to that date of ages ago — and the suggestion that she's just compromised some assumption of his concerning good omens.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," she says, as dismissively as possible. Even if he were only traditionally blind…he probably wouldn't be fooled.

Still not a very good liar.

A slight shift in her posture, back to a stance more conducive to balance and movement, signals her agreement to his proposal, though the skepticism lingers in some small part. "Are you sure you want to be taking punches from my right arm…? It's only the outer layers that have any give." Pause. "I suppose you could technically say that about the human body, but it's still completely different."

Her first jab is experimental, an exercise in finding out how he's going to be responding rather than any attempt to make something of it.

Even if Matt didn't have his bizarre bullshit detector he could see through that one. He makes an "ochhh," sound in his throat, seeming momentarily pained. "So disillusioned!" he says, turning blind eyes briefly heavenward.

Though she'll be jabbing with her left, she voices concern about the prospect of that right cross with unorganic hand. "Let me worry about your punches," he says. "We'll adjust as we need to. I can wear my suit to some of our sparring sessions, or you can wear gloves." He cracks another smile, some of that old boyish, playful side of Matt coming to the fore. "Also, you're not my first rodeo with super strength, believe it or not."

And then? Then she's punching him. He slips it expertly, restricting himself in these moments to a boxer's art, recalling memories of days spent watching his father do — or try to do — exactly this quick, deft yank back of the head down and to the right, the shift of his weight to the leg on the same side, the bend of his knees. It leaves her tentative punch sailing past him. "We're going to get started on footwork next time," Matt's talking as he dodges, keeping his stance, and as if demonstrating the proposition making slow sideways steps to circle her. "It's core to all of the disciplines — boxing, Jeet Kun Do, Muay Thai, all of it."

That glint in his eye returns. "Okay, jab and cross."

Let me worry about your punches, he says, but she seems incapable of letting go of that anxiety entirely. The hesitation in the way she moves is borne of an obvious reluctance to actually hit him, all joking aside; even knowing, as she must, that she wouldn't do him much harm even if she did — or at least no more harm at the very worst than he's accustomed to, as he points out.

"I'm not super strong," she protests. "I can't bend iron girders or-" She casts about for an example, and lands on her misadventure with Spider-Man, as usual: "Or rip reinforced steel doors off of armored train cars, or something. It's really niche. Plus…" She makes an attempt at that exchange — jab, and cross — and she's feeling her way through adjusting her footing in order to keep him squared in front of her, too, mindful of her center of balance.

"Plus, and I hate to put it like this because how he actually wound up with it is obviously awful, but…I don't have the benefit of Barnes' setup, you know? His limb is…it's actually built into his body. I have some inventive ways to hold these on, but…the truth is, if somebody torques one of them enough, it's going to come off." Slow inhale, slow exhale, stopping just shy of a sigh. "That's another benefit the full suit has, I guess. It'll make my whole body a little bit more…" Lips thin, twist, as she searches for the right word. "Cohesive."

He sees the hesitance in her posture, the way she fails to commit to her first punch or the two that follow. In part because of that, it's the easiest thing to weave out of the way of each swing: another slip of the jab and a step left to avoid her right cross. He keeps his hands next to his face, elbows pointed sharply down.

"You're really never going to hit me like that," he says with that wry little grin of his. The shit talk is set aside when she confesses to her worries about the limitations of her prosthetics and how easily they could be neutralized. "We're gonna deal with limb and joint manipulation, and how to counter them."

Matt continues his circle of her, employing his own certain footwork while watching her own. "All this bobbing and weaving takes energy, though, and doesn't get me very far. Sometimes — most times — the best defense is a good offense. Don't block or dodge; strike before you're struck."

A beat. "Try it one more time."

"I'm not really excited about the idea of hitting you," Kinsey points out, brows skewed as some of that skepticism returns, resurgent, in her expression. As though that weren't painfully, glaringly obvious in everything from her posture to her lack of emphasis with every attempted swing. She eyes the grin he puts on, thinning her lips.

Because if she were really trying to hit him, she wants to say, she wouldn't be doing this, dancing around in a small circle and squaring off with him like a normal person, she'd be-

Internally, she experiences a half-second of debate with herself about the ethics of doing what she's about to do, and then she does it anyway.

There's a jab, and a cross, and then a pause, and then another jab and this time another jab — maybe trying to throw him off? — and then another jab that isn't actually a jab and an EAR SPLITTING SHRIEK as the alarm in the gym goes very suddenly very off and a cross somewhere in there. But she's split her focus by that time, multiple different threads of thought, some of which are devoted entirely to anticipating whether or not he's going to deflect or dodge, which way that's going to be, so that the rest of her can compensate and aim to be where he will be.

Her strong suit in a nutshell: perception, reflexes…and cheating.

I'm not really excited about the idea of hitting you, she tells him. And yet, somehow, he's excited by the idea of her trying. You could chalk it up to masochism, but that's reductive. The truth is that, by virtue of his very strange upbringing, he experiences a kind of intimacy in violence. This is a boy who grew up stitching his father split brows with a swig of whiskey and an old needle; is it any wonder his emotional moorings are a little off kilter?

Not that any of that appreciation prepares him for what she throws at him next. Not just a rote replay of the same tactic, but wild improvisation. Follow-ups and feints that pique his interest and summon an eager smile — good, she's getting into it before she's going RIGHT FOR THE GUTTER and turns on those ear-piercing alarms.

Matt's great strengths — which are aligned with and compliment many of her own — are also his greatest weaknesses. The same powerful sense of hearing which allows him to map a room and predict aggression make him supremely sensitive to loud noises. To say it sets him off his game is an understatement. His whole face twists into a grimace and ducks his head and so that that follow-up jab connects, catching his chin and startling him out of the shock and anguish of the persistent ringing.

A spark of genuine anger is caught then, but it takes it a moment to find expression beyond a renewed focus. He doesn't slip the right cross this time, he tries to parry that hook, intercepting it with a quick strike to the very human flesh of the inside of the bicep to drive that blow off course.

It seems that boxing, with all its carefully crafted rules, is out the window. That's doubly true for the way he goes full on judo, going lower than her swings and getting close enough to embrace her stomach, arms trying to wind their way around her legs for a lift and takedown that would, if successful, leave her sprawled on her back with him on his hands and knees over her, ready to pin her down if she keeps fighting. "God damnit, Kinze, turn that off!!"

There was a time not so very long ago when Kinsey and Matt bonded over their shared struggles, each in the aftermath of their own accidents. Wildly different, but somehow the same: the sheer amount of sensory information suddenly flooding in, and a brain unaccustomed to dealing with it — a biological hurdle to clear involving no little neuroplasticity, and a psychological burden, too.

What this means in practice is very little, in her day to day. Like any exceptionally powerful machine, it makes very little sense for her to run on all cylinders all the time. It would be inefficient, and potentially dangerous…or exhausting at the very least.

Here, where it matters, what it means is that she's perfectly capable of catching Matt's parry in her artificial right hand. She sees, and can react to, that movement on the absolute instant it occurs. Likewise with his rush inward, reaching for her to do she's-not-sure-what.

But that is where the utility begins and ends — and its limits are neatly illustrated therein: she can see him winding something up, but not predict what it is, because she lacks a brawler's intuition, never submersed in physical combat. She might be able to dodge backward or off to the side, but that would buy her — and she knows this, calculates it unthinking in that half-heartbeat of time — all of a second or two before he was on her, stronger and at least in this configuration of limbs, faster, too. And though she can intercept his hand, there's nothing she can do with it. Someone else, maybe all of the bones in it might be forfeit — but not Matt. Even if that were otherwise, even if he were someone else — what then?

For Kinsey there is no instinctual or even academic answer to that question yet. So: once she spares herself a charlie horse in the bicep, she submits to her inevitable toppling with a bright, sudden laugh that seems unlikely to improve his mood, interrupted only by the uff as her back connects with the floor of the ring.

The alarm subsides, but the laughter does not.

Matt Murdock spent years learning to appropriately filter the waves of sensation that bombard him every second of every day. This, too, was a hard-edged but enduring gift of a mean old man in a vintage green military jacket. It gives him not just depth and detail but breadth: a 360 degree view of the world that's absent blind spots. It also gives him what Bucky Barnes once remarked bordered on precognition in a fight. He perceives threats and counters to his moves as quickly as she does, even if they way they process those perceptions is radically different. See when he sees she's about to catch his hand how he adjusts his weight and the angle of his approach, opting for a one-legged drop instead of two.

The result is the same. Kinsey lands on her back against the hard flat plane of the canvas with a thud and an oof, and the deafening ring of alarms are quickly repealed by peals of her laughter, though the former still lingers and echoes and joins with her laughter to creating a strange kind of cacophany in his skull.

Meanwhile, Matt ends up hovering over her on his hands and knees once he confirms that she doesn't need to pinned to the floor and has, in her own giddy way, yielded. His body slackens as some of the tension leaves it. His sour mood — more irritated than genuinely enraged — doesn't depart, but it is softened by something wry. "You are just so hilarious," he says with a little roll of his light greens.

By the time he responds verbally she's largely lapsed into a satisfied quiet, but what he says prompts one last bubbling-up of amusement. "Serves you right, Murdock," she says, and tchs. "It seemed like you might need a reminder that I might never be able to hit you…as long as I'm playing by your rules. According to those rules, you're the only one in the building who gets to bring his cheat codes to the fight."

She lifts her hands to cradle his face — as gentle a thing as she's ever done, and the amusement lingers — and affection, too — but both of them sit atop a bedrock of something else. "So don't you be smug with me. I'm here to take advantage of your expertise, and learn all of the things you have the patience to try to teach me." Glittering mirth in her eyes for one moment, lashes lowered over them the next as her thumbs sweep over the range of his knuckles. "Just don't forget for a second that challenging me to contest you while I'm playing by your rules is like asking me to play the fiddle with both of my hands tied behind my back, while you've got, I don't know, six extra arms. Maybe I actually can play the fiddle — but that's not how I'd do it. And if I had to hit you, baby…" Her smile dawns slow. "Not even you would ever see it coming, because I would surely not be throwing a fist at your chin."

"I don't need a reminder that you fight dirty," Matt says, voice quiet because of the scant space between them, and most of his soreness over her gambit gone as soon as the echo of those alarms his. His eyes back some of that earlier sparkle quick enough. He can't look down at her underneath him, but he can sense her in all the strange and ineffable ways. "I fight dirty too, in case you hadn't noticed. And not every time in this ring is going to be a straight up boxing match. But in the beginning, it's important to learn the forms before you learn to improvise and adapt them to your abilities. That's my theory, anyway."

Something gentles in his red and ruddy features when she cradles his face with her hand, one organic and the other a synthetic facimile. A wry smile paired with a slight, grudging nod of assent meet her note about his tone. Don't taunt. Got it, at least for now.

But it's the last words, and her slow smile that's paired with it, that prompt the amused scoff, the roll of hazel eyes that now exist only to eloquently express emotion: in this case longsuffering exasperation. "Now who's being smug…"

Of course, he can't be taking too much offense. Not from the way he's bending his arms and leaning down to claim a brief but still-tender kiss.

"You seemed to like my improvising just fine, until it got loud," Kinsey murmurs, one dark brow scrawled upward in a wry arch. But she doesn't argue the actual point that he's making. Would agree with it completely, if she were of the mind to delve more deeply into the fundamentals of learning things.

The second roll of his eyes produces another cascade of laughter, quelled only by the shadow he casts over nearly-closed eyes, a thin veil of darkness that draws her back, quiets her so that she can meet his mouth with hers. Fingertips walk lightly over his jaw, wandering the place her fist moments ago connected with it. Funny, how small things can signal intention: if it had been her right hand, she might have been rubbing it in. But it's her left, which isn't her dominant hand — it's just the one best-suited to sensing whether or not she did him any harm, no matter how slight. Her artificial fingertips don't have the sensitivity necessary to do that.

"I wonder what I'll do when we reach that point," she muses, voice soft in deference to his nearness. "I don't have a Stick to teach me how to use what I am with what you do."

A kiss and soft, all-too-human fingertips straying across his chin — still tingling but hardly busted or even bruised — will do a lot to smooth any of Matt's feathers that remain out of place. He smiles towards the end of it before drawing himself back up.

And not just up, but off her, pushing himself over to her side and sitting cross legged there on the canvass. "I don't know," he says honestly. "Stick was with me only for a few years, and I was young. He gave me the foundations, but a lot of it was experimentation, improvisation, practice. I'd go watch people fight all the time. I'm not sure what they made of a blind kid sitting in the audience of a Jeet Kune Do tournament, but at that point I didn't care as much. Five could probably download hundreds of hours off that shit and absorb it the way he does Portugese, right?"

He brings his knees up a little, sets his elbows on them as his head cants to the right, a vaguely feline gesture that she'll know by now is a sure sign that he's taking in the space around them. "Even aside from what I picked up, it just felt good to watch again. I'd watch my dad spar all the time." A beat, and his face flickers with sudden remembrance, warm but also complicated by other emotions more difficult to parse. "There was a little table over there," he says with a vague gesture of one hand over towards the west corner, "where I'd do my homework, or pretend to do my homework while I'd watch my dad spar. Even after the accident I'd sit there learning braille and listening to the sounds of gloves hitting those heavy bags."

He shifts to sit beside her, and Kinsey reaches up and back to strip the tie from her hair, removing the ponytail it was in so that she can comfortably roll her head to look at him, remaining on her back. Looking up at him, listening with a small smile to his reflection on his own patchwork education — at least until the mention of Five, at which point the smile turns rueful. "Five could acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of fighting styles and stances and whatever else, sure. But what he knows isn't always the same thing as what I know, and when it comes to physical things…" Pause. "Sorry, Five, but it's true. It's information that would lack context for him." Because he doesn't have a body of his own, she doesn't go so far as to say — out of, one imagines, polite deference.

Her eyes track his gesture toward the empty place where a table once sat — and a boy, whose future must have seemed so uncertain. To his father. To him.

She remembers him telling her that his father wouldn't have wanted this for him. The guilt that he carries, related to what it is that he does — even though he got out, so to speak, without ever leaving the neighborhood he grew up in. Made something of himself. And here he is, even after the rest of it is rubble and dust. Sitting in the center of the ring and listening, maybe still and in some way, to the sound of gloves hitting punching bags.

"What will you do when you get old, Matt?" Curious. "Will you retire into your practice, do you think?" She sounds amused, but it's only half in jest. "Hang up the headscarf of your real job, and settle for upholding a different sort of justice, as a last recourse?"

Kinsey tells him that all the book-learning and Youtube videos in the world couldn't teach Five to teach her anything about fighting. But what he knows isn't always the same thing as what I know, she sums up, and not for the first time Matt is completely baffled by what her inner life must be like. Stranger still, he's almost comforted by that fact. It underscores that, even if their interiors are so different, the two of them share common ground in having lives that are so dramatically unlike anyone else on Earth.

She has another question for him, though, not about his lived reality now but what it might be like at some point in the distant future.

I'm never going to get that far.

They're the first words that pop into his head, unbidden, and there's no disguising their unsettling ripple across his heretofore slightly wistful features. Part of it is just cold hard logic. No matter his powers or his training or Jane's remarkable suit, he does dangerous and deadly things every other night. One of those nights he's probably not coming home. But he can't bring himself to tell her that. And so, instead, he summons the will to imagine what old age might look like for Matt Murdock.

"I've got about ten to fifteen years of being able to do this physically," Matt says slowly. "After that — you have seen some of the old fighters. Their bodies just start to break down. Fists like oatmeal, cauliflower ears." A beat. "Maybe I'll practice full time, yeah." A sudden thought sparks a smile, sly. "Maybe I could train some batlings to keep going, like the guy over in your city does?" A sudden laugh, bright: "We could call them Devil children."

A hand reaches out beside him, gentle for all their earlier violence, and idly strokes some streaming strands of black hair. "What about you? If you — if you find what it is you're looking for. All the DEO stuff. Will you give up the game? Work at Stark full time?"

"Imps," Kinsey suggests, in place of devil children, amused at the thought — somewhat willfully, because she'd have to have been very imperceptive indeed to have missed the shadow that passed through that expressive face of his. "You'd have to call them imps. It's ridiculous, but so are bat-people, and it works out well enough for them."

His perhaps inevitable flipping of the question in her direction nevertheless meets with a moment of pause — though it's less because she didn't anticipate that he might, and more that he asks a question as part of his question that isn't, technically, a question.

If you find what it is you're looking for.

She draws a long breath, lifting her eyes, angling them upward. Toward the ceiling, but not there at all; into some distant future, containing what she's looking for — whatever that is.


She hesitates, and then starts with the easiest piece, a low laugh in her chest. "No. I'm not a career Stark Industries girl. I don't care how nice the suit is. And…to be honest, I think Tony would maybe be a little bit disappointed in me if I settled for that after putting up such a fight for so long, anyway." She says that with reluctant curiosity. Interested in — even if she's most often exasperated by — the peculiarities of her erstwhile employer.

The feel of his fingers in her hair lids her eyes again, and pulls the corner of her mouth up, all unthinking. "I suppose the rest of my answer depends on what it is that I find out. If I can. When I do. I might find out that I'm functionally immortal — I won't, but what if? — and then my life would look very differently from finding out that my situation has terrible, terminal consequences. So…" She lifts both hands, then lets them fall back to the mat to either side of her. "I haven't thought that far ahead. I should, probably, but I haven't."

He ducks his head and laughs. Two in the space of a minute, and four in the span of an evening? Unheard of for the sad-sack attorney, at least outside of Foggy Nelson's company. "Oh my God, Daredevil and the Imps," he says through an aftershock of a chuckle. "We sound like a really bad band."

Not that the seriousness of what he silently imparted, or what she perceived, is lost on him. It circles back around when she explicitly suggests that her accident may still kill her, even if the appointed hour is a ways off.

It's the first time they've ever spoken with each other about the future, he realizes, whether it's about their individual trajectories or the arc of whatever they're building between them. It's almost unheard of for a couple that's been together (on paper, at least) for going on two years now. Perhaps you can chalk up part of it to the fact that there's always been so much immediately in front of them. Mass-murdering sociopaths, possessed friends, demonic computer viruses.

"We will, or we won't," Kinsey says, in a tone of voice that implies agreement in spite of the contradiction it contains. It manages contentment of a kind — aided, certainly, by the gentle touch at her cheek, but not by much. After all, not unamused: "Those are the only choices we have, right? So at least we have some idea what we're in for."

Already lidded eyes close, the weight of her head rolled enough to tilt into his palm. It's a hand that routinely brings people to within an inch of their own demise, but whatever the frictions between them — and they have been many and often unexpected — she's never been afraid of Matthew Murdock.

Afraid for him. Afraid for herself, in light of what he's come to mean to her, and all of the things that could portend for her, maybe. Of what they are or aren't, or could be, or might never be. But not of him.

"There is absolutely no way that's true," she murmurs to the ball of his thumb, though there's a smile curled into one corner of her mouth, anyway. "Not least because I don't think I'll ever have a passion for it the way you do. But I love that you said so. And I love that you'd be willing to try. Are willing." Head lifted just enough, she turns it to press a kiss into the cup of his palm.

"I'll try not to disappoint you too terribly."

Or you could say it has something to do with the fact that both of them, in their own way, acknowledge that the prospects for any kind of future at all are uncertain at best. Anyone could die at any moment, sure, but the odds for these two are calculated differently. Faced with that fact, Matt's smile ebbs, his expression gentles, and the hand at her hair shifts so that the side of his thumb can graze the soft skin under her high cheekbones and feel the warmth underneath it. There's solace in that. "We'll figure it out," he says, though whether he's talking about the mystery at the core of her or the future in front of them isn't all that clear.

"One thing I can say for sure," he says with a quirk of his lips, "is that you're going to be better at this than me by the time I'm done with you."

"We will, or we won't," Kinsey says, in a tone of voice that implies agreement in spite of the contradiction it contains. It manages contentment of a kind — aided, certainly, by the gentle touch at her cheek, but not by much. After all, not unamused: "Those are the only choices we have, right? So at least we have some idea what we're in for."

Already lidded eyes close, the weight of her head rolled enough to tilt into his palm. It's a hand that routinely brings people to within an inch of their own demise, but whatever the frictions between them — and they have been many and often unexpected — she's never been afraid of Matthew Murdock.

Afraid for him. Afraid for herself, in light of what he's come to mean to her, and all of the things that could portend for her, maybe. Of what they are or aren't, or could be, or might never be. But not of him.

"There is absolutely no way that's true," she murmurs to the ball of his thumb, though there's a smile curled into one corner of her mouth, anyway. "Not least because I don't think I'll ever have a passion for it the way you do. But I love that you said so. And I love that you'd be willing to try. Are willing." Head lifted just enough, she turns it to press a kiss into the cup of his palm.

"I'll try not to disappoint you too terribly."

He is nakedly skeptical of her wry self-assessment — in part for her reasons, and the way she frames them. Does he really have a passion for fighting? Either the artistry of it, or the end result of bloody fists and broken bones? Part of him wants to scoff or balk or demure. To tell her that he does what he does because his powers allow him to, and because someone has to. But he's aware enough of himself now, and the varied forces that drive him, to know she's not wholly wrong.

It doesn't sit easily with him though, and that too shows briefly on his pale features.

Still, it's the only point of bona fide tension to be found in what is otherwise a moment of gentle and easy intimacy hard to come by in the weeks following their reunion. That they achieve it here, in the boxing ring, and not in the opulent environs of Casa Rand, seems appropriate. Whatever happiness they have managed to build between them, and however transitory or contingent or perpetually threatened it may be, it has always been hard fought for.

She kisses a hand that has done more than its fair share of violence, piling sin upon sin in quixotic search of atonement. For all the tenderness of the act, it sends a shiver up his spine, sparking both affection and a sudden and irrational impulse to introduce a few very good memories into this arena that has seen its share of uneasy ones for the couple.

The temptation is powerful, but fleeting. Not the least because: "Then I guess we'd better get to work," he says after a gentle, fleeting caress of her cheek. "I'll try to prove you wrong, and you'll try not to disappoint me, and hopefully we'll end up with a happy medium."

He's standing then, practically hopping to his feet, and extending arm down for her to join him. "Come on, Sheridan. We'll go over stances first. Any fighter'll tell you: it's all in the footwork."

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