Kinsey Sheridan's Very Long Day
Roleplaying Log: Kinsey Sheridan's Very Long Day
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Immediately follows 2-17-16. Kinsey comes clean with DEO Agent Sullivan, for better or worse.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: January 10, 2019
IC Location: Chinatown, Hell's Kitchen
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 29 Mar 2019 01:28
Rating & Warnings: R (Language)
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

When the time to leave finally arrived, Kinsey's departure must have felt abrupt and emotionally distant, brusque in the manner of someone pulling a bandaid off: set-jawed and determined to get through something deeply unpleasant.

If things get serious, she said to Matt, standing on the threshold of that unfinished residence and not quite able — nonsensically, irrationally — to lift her eyes to his, Five will be able to get the word out.

She could call for a cab, but elects to walk — not least because it gives her time to compose herself, shedding the softness, the vulnerability and emotion that time with Matt Murdock coaxes out of her, in favor of…

…of whatever this is. This stone-faced resolve. The grim resignation of someone in freefall.

She sends the text the moment the sky has light in it that wasn't produced by something terrestrial:

I need to see you at the Chinatown location today. It's important. Sooner is better. Sorry.

—-

The terse reply comes back: Be there at 7:30.

And then it's a walk through Chinatown, this time in the light of day with the bustle of the burgeoning rush hour around her. No empty alleyways or side streets to be found here.

She can buzz in, walk to that old fashioned elevator, and take it right down to the basement. A long walk down a quiet hallway and she's in the room where they unlocked so many of the hidden secrets of others less than twelve hours ago.

Jamie's there, seated at the desktop. He barely spares her a glance. He's dressed to go into the office: Light blue dress shirt, smart black tie, navy suit. There's a duffel bag in the corner, alongside his briefcase. His hair is slicked back, still wet. He's just come from the gym.

"You need sleep like I need sleep," he says to her breezily. Which is to say: Not very much.

"What's up?"

—-

She has the sense to stop in a coffee shop to change on her way, into the clothes she'd initially planned as part of a weekend with Matt before her nerves overtook her personal wants in order of importance. It spares her the discomfort of walking into that building wearing precisely the same things he saw her in the day before.

There are more than enough other discomforts to be borne, instead.

Agent Sullivan's lack of attention on her allows her the opportunity to stand just inside, hands gripped to the strap of her purse at her shoulder, eyes on his broad back and what slice of his face she can see. Here is the man, the inevitable thought comes, You're trusting to decide your fate.

Only that's not exactly it, is it? It's more about his trust in her than her own in him.

"I keep odd hours," she admits, trying for a response in good humor. It sounds flat even to her own ears. She sets her purse down and makes her way over to the space next to him, glancing at the screen with only distracted interest. She can feel her heart punching at the inside of her own chest with every beat. Her mouth feels dry. Staring at his face in profile doesn't give her the resolve she needs, so she drops her eyes to the placement of her hand on the counter's edge, thumbnail worrying a ding in the laminate.

She takes a breath deep enough to get the whole sentence out. It helps, but not much. "Jaime, I wasn't…I wasn't completely forthcoming with you yesterday about the contents of Wolmer's encrypted partition."

—-

The uncharacteristic flatness in her voice is the first thing that has him glancing over in her direction, really looking at her for the first time and taking in that wary and watchful expression she wears along with her change of clothes.

So that must be why his sidelong eyes are slimming, even before she tells him she's been hiding something from him. His eyes tick down to the thumb scratching at the corner of the table.

He feigns something casual. "Oh yeah?" he says to his old colleague, and current partner in — something. His head turns in her direction, eyes hooded, but his frame stays planted where it is. "So what're you holding out on me, Sheridan?"

—-

By the time he finally does look at her, she's not looking at him anymore, and it's just as well. There's enough to read in her expression even without the eye contact. It would probably be overstating things to call her shamefaced, particularly when she's making an effort to buckle down and get through this with a minimum of emotion, but the regret of it, the unease of having made that choice, is obvious enough.

Maybe that's why she turns away from him, retracing her steps of a day ago to the laptop that once belonged to Wolmer. Then again, maybe it's a way to conceal the way her voice fails her after she opens her mouth to answer him, and finds herself unable to assemble words sufficient to the task.

"I'll just show you," she finally manages, the words quiet and just a little bit watery for the lack of breath. Grim, too, especially when she adds: "You'll understand when you see it."

—-

I'll just show you.

There's a little nod of his head, seemingly to himself. He twitches a smile before swiveling that chair so that he's facing her. Hands on his thighs, he pushes himself up to a full stand.

He can't begin to register emotions the way Matt does, but he knows guilt when he sees it. And even if he didn't, no one could mistake that long pause. For a moment he seems to be wrestling with something. In the end, there's a flicker of finality in his eyes. He swallows his cheeks.

"Okay, Sheridan," he says, irritation and resignation in his voice in equal parts. He puts his hands on his hips, parting his suit jacket to reveal more blue twill, the black handgun holstered at his side. "Hit me with it."

—-

Beyond the sound of the fans in the banks of equipment behind that chain link wall, the room is so silent that every last mechanical whir of the laptop being turned on and the information — the recording — being extracted from behind that partition sounds like a clap of thunder for Kinsey, only outmatched by the sound of her pulse in her ears.

It ought to help, going through the motions. Setting up equipment for someone else to use — pulling the VR headset from the box and connecting it, then checking the calibrations — but one of the endless downsides to her condition is that distractions are so much less effective for her than they are for other people. No matter how much of her focus she applies to the menial task of arranging it all, a fragment of her remains fixated not on what she's doing, but why she's doing it — and where it may lead.

When she's checked that the tether is uncoiled and the headset is responsive, the footage queued up, she pivots in place, returning her gaze to the man behind her, mouth already opening-

"You'll need to-"

-only to stop mid-sentence when she finds him standing that way, gaze ticked down to the sidearm he's wearing. They snare there for a long moment, caught and uneasy, and return to meet pale blue eyes with the heavy look of someone who suspects that display was intentional. It doesn't shake her resolve, but her shoulders pull inward, making her smaller, as her eyes slant away. She's probably not even aware of the change in posture.

"…need…to watch it through the headset."

—-

If he meant to intimidate her with the display, at least he doesn't look happy about it. Or about much of anything. His expression is flat, his sharp blue eyes alert and watchful as she visibly wilts in front of him. Wary, even.

Watch it through the headset.

"Oh, fuck me," he says, Boston-accent tinged with disgust as he looks towards one of the final purchases of Dr. Adam Wolmer. The one he dismissed earlier as the province of teenagers. "You bring one of your own, at least?" he says with grim rue. "Gonna join me?"

He walks over and takes the headset. His eyes snap back to her, weighing, assessing. He reaches behind his back, underneath his suit jacket, and pulls out a pair of handcuffs — slender, almost delicate, seeming more plastic than metallic. He offers them to her while nodding to one of the nearby tables.

"Either way set things up, and then handcuff yourself to the leg of that table." A beat, a working of his jaw. "The left hand."

The one he knows for a fact can't break it.

—-

All Kinsey can do is shake her head when he asks those questions. One shake of the head, two questions — probably sufficient to answer both, though, if the lack of color in her face is any indication. It had been bad enough to watch it alone. Watching it again, now, with this man, in this situation? Impossible. Even though thought makes her want to throw up.

Either way, set things up-

"It's all ready to…"

go, she doesn't say, because there's more.

Maybe Jaime Sullivan isn't the world's most advanced empath, but it would be difficult to mistake most of the things that pass through her face as her eyes alight on those handcuffs, even for an amateur in human behavior. Surprise that borders on shock. Injury. Fear. It happens in that order, and it's all mingled with other less straightforward things, floating on the thought that happens behind her eyes, cold and leaden: this is how it starts. He'll see her lashes flicker, almost certainly, as visions of restraints bubble up out of the darker corners of her thoughts, even if he doesn't know why. The tremble in the shape of her mouth that she ruthlessly crushes out by pressing her lips together, because she'll be god damned if she's going to cry in front of him. She strives for businesslike as she closes the short distance to take the cuffs from him, and it mostly works…but the trembling in her fingers — even the right ones — paints a different picture of her inner world.

She says nothing about it. Not a word of protest. What could she possibly say? She stops at the table, flipping one end of the cuffs around her left wrist, and after only a motionless moment sinks down onto her knees to attach the other side to the table's leg. It leaves her back to him, but she lifts her left hand and tugs with it twice to the end of that short length: see? It's secure.

After that, she sits back onto her calves to wait. She probably ought to turn around, watch him, try to discern what he makes of it all, but she finds she can't bring herself to do it, and supposes, the thought dim, distant, and surreal, that this is why people wore hoods at their executions.

—-

There is, to be sure, an undercurrent of regret in Sullivan's features as her trembling hands take the handcuffs from his. Regret, but no apology, and even then it sits there alongside agitation and continued wariness. This is a man who doesn't like surprises; perhaps in part because shocks tend to get men like him and those around him killed. He watches her bind herself to one of the tables, finding a repose with her back facing him. Only after she's done does he slip that VR visor on, sit back in his chair and enter —

Fuck me. This time it's all thought, and not spoken aloud. He knows exactly what he sees because he's watched the security footage as part of his casework. But it's one thing to see it on video, and entirely another to be immersed in the moment right before a person's whole world is deconstructed and burnt to ash.

He watches her small talk with the men. Watches the ghost of Christmas Past, Adam Wolmer, walk through it all and narrate the action. Watches as a single subatomic error starts a chain reaction of a test gone horribly, catastrophically wrong. It manifests itself first in Kinsey herself, then in the self-contained world around her, consuming and destroying both. It looks like the worst of what he saw overseas, men turned to meat by landmines and grenades, or tortured and stripped bare of every shred of dignity and composure while he was forced to watch by —

His already tight chest seizes, and it's a moment before he comes out of his own head and processes what he's seeing. A shade, a shadow, kneeling by a girl blown half to bits by her own handiwork. That ghost reaches out and tries to touch a strand of her hair; he praises the being he is suddenly convinced is still inside of her.

That gentle gesture and expression of wonder that lit such a fire in Kinsey's breast, shaking her out of her shellshock and allowing her grief and rage to manifest, draws no such reaction from Sullivan. He doesn't throw his visor away. He watches the simulation continue and listens to what Wolmer had to say next.

"Oh God, I didn't know," the ghost of Adam Wolmer tells the dismembered, bloody, unconscious figure of Dr. Kinsey Sheridan. His voice is every bit as gentle as his stroke of her hair strands might be, if he were really touching a real person. "I can't even imagine how confused and afraid you must have been. Suddenly bound together like that, two of a kind. One of a kind. Capable of — what? If you could peer into the video cameras around you, could you see hospital cameras while you were comatose? Monitor your own EKG? Search Facebook for posts of your own family and friends' grief?"

The shadow has no lips through which to sigh, but Sullivan can hear its gentle, mournful sound all the same. "Even together, you must have felt — must feel — so alone," he says with bottomless regret.

Wolmer's shadow-thumb grazes over her burned and bloody cheek that before he adds a hushed: "But you're not. We'll show you. You two are not alone. You're just the first."

And then, just like that, the video ends, and Jamie Sullivan lets out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding all this time.

—-

Without a doubt, Kinsey could have converted the VR footage to something watchable on the screen of the laptop. She didn't.

She didn't because putting it there, on a small, flat panel, bounded by the bezel of a machine, would reduce it to something easily managed, something so much less than what it was that it bore almost no resemblance whatsoever to the truth. Even in virtual reality it can't compare — senses stifled, save that of sight — but it's better. Worse.

The choice to force Agent Sullivan into experiencing it that way, submerged in it bodily, was not idly made.

It just doesn't feel like anything could ever be enough.

Certainly not while she sits there on largely synthetic legs, staring at nothing, listening to the faint patterns of sound emitting from the headset and imagining, not because she wants to but because she can't help it, the unfolding of events that match those sounds and words. The tinny, distant sound of screaming. The raw blaring of alarms. The moment her life was blown apart. Sullivan, too. His breathing, and the moment that his breathing stops.

The moment it starts again.

It's hard to tell her relief apart from her nausea. She's pretty sure that the floating, disconnected feeling she's having is some sort of trauma response — a slight dissociation, maybe? — but in the moment she's grateful for it, because the alternative would almost certainly be emotional hysterics, and a fight-or-flight response that would only get her killed.

There is relief, though. Relief that the worst 'what if' she's been able to imagine for the last three years has finally happened, and is over. It's not a good sort of relief, but it counts. It sits alongside an existential fear so enormous that it has yet to even begin to process.

She says nothing, in that after-silence. Even if she thought she could speak, there wouldn't be anything to say.

—-

That silence hangs heavy in the air because it is mutual. Jamie Sullivan sits there in his chair, shaken to his core, having forgotten that he's wearing a visor that makes him feel like an asshole. He's undoubtedly processing not just what he's seen and heard, but all its potential implications, past and present.

It's ten heartbeats before he takes it off and sends it carelessly clattering onto the table next to him.

"You, uh, gonna give me a reason why I shouldn't take you in right now?" he asks her tonelessly. And it's an actual question. "I mean, you're her, right? The girl on the train. I mean, I knew you coulda been. The prosthetics all lined up. But —"

He didn't want it to be true? He didn't see a real motive up to now? If it were true, he didn't gather the full import of what it meant, what she could mean?

Maybe all of these. Maybe none. He lets that qualifier hang in the air, along with his former questions.

—-

It takes a long time for her to find her voice. What transpires in that silence remains private. All he has of her to look at is her back, and the dangling line of her arm, linked to the table leg.

"I just wanted to know what happened to me." The words ought to be emotional. They ought to be afraid, full of grief, but emotions like those happen when a person wakes from a nightmare, in the aftermath, and hers is still happening. They're small and border on listless.

The quiet that follows is conspicuously long, but she finds her way back to the moment eventually. "You'll do whatever you think has to be done. I knew that when I came in here. Just…" Her breathing hitches around a pause, her tone less steady when she continues. "Just let me help you make sure they don't do this, first. Let me…fix this, and then…"

A tremor quakes through her, subtle but visible. The tension creeps back into her shoulders — enough to pull at her bound wrist, where the material of the handcuffs blanches her skin pale and pink. Viewed from that angle, where tension seems only to make her smaller, the thought that she could ever be capable of breaking free appears laughable at best.

She can't finish her own sentence, either, but whether for emotion or some other reason remains unclear.

—-

When she answers him in that small and listless voice Jamie Sullivan's blue eyes tick downward, away from the slope of her back towards the concrete floor of the basement. Thoughtful at first, and then his lips press into a thin, knowing line. "And you couldn't come to us, because you thought we'd pickle your brain and put it in a fucking jar," he says, quiet and grim, with the certainty not only that it's what she feared but that it's more likely than not what would have happened.

Men like Bell and Pressley (and Sullivan?) are both more numerous and more potent within the agency than liberal types like Dr. Adam Wolmer. In light of everything Wolmer has unleashed, those close-minded types would probably say that's for the best.

He runs an absent-minded hand through his high-and-tight hair, shaking loose strands held together with pomade. She's offering to help, coming clean and offering a clear and readily understandable motive. She's even offering herself up for the aforementioned pickling once it's all done.

But it's not that simple. His gaze snaps back up to her. "Even if I got past the — the sneaky shit " and it's clear he's taken at least some offense from it, however understandable her motivations "you're not the only one I'd have to trust, are you?"

—-

Because you thought we'd pickle your brain and put it in a fucking jar.

Kinsey bows her head enough that the stark light glares off of the bony rise at the nape of her neck, glints on an unexceptional necklace chain, thin and silver. Nice enough, but nothing special: the same could be said for almost all of her attire. Sweater and jeans, boots and jacket, purse and messily pinned-up hair. Normal, all of it, and erring on the side of blandly ubiquitous east-coast fare. Trying to square that with the sleek, acrobatic, visibly mechanical thing on the train is not easy, not least because these normal things aren't costumery or misdirection — they're just Kinsey.

"If I was lucky," she says, of her brain in a jar, a statement at all odds with all of that normal. "It would probably make more sense to keep me alive." Pause. Murmured: "Nominally, at least."

She meets his question with silence again, still floating in that strange, slight remove from the present. Every word, every gesture, feels preordained — like this moment has always existed, was always going to exist in precisely this way, and it's of absolute importance that she remember her lines and blocking.

She's pretty sure that that's also some kind of trauma response.

"That's true. But…if anyone stands to lose more than I do by doing this, coming to you…it's Five. But he's the one who decrypted Wolmer's partition for you."

Maybe it's talking about Five that does it, but some of the fogginess seems to burn off for her, returning some color to her tone of voice. "'Sneaky shit.' I guess it becomes a habit quickly when it's the thing that keeps you alive. Don't think of it that way, Jaime. Think of it this way, instead: I could have disappeared. Instead, I…" She turns her head. It's not enough to look at him over her shoulder, but it's enough to let him see a slice of her face in profile, eyes still angled low, unfocused. "I…chose…to put my life in your hands."

It might have stopped there, but something in that crescent of face that he can see changes, and she's continuing on before she stops to think. Her tone straddles a line between humor and melancholy. "Which…honestly, a couple of years ago, would've been pretty poor compensation for being deceived, because it wasn't worth much. My…" Pause. "My life." Something changes in the visible slice of her face, just before she turns back to the fore, and even that margin of expression disappears from view. "Not to me. But…lately…"

She quiets. The moment has a quality of something almost: like she's hovering at the brink of saying more, and can't quite get there.

—-

She quiets, unable to articulate what she'd say next, leaving Jamie Sullivan to fill in the gaps on his own. A boyfriend, even if he's some blind bleeding heart. A good job that she likes, even if it's for a primadonna asshole. Maybe he even guesses at her friends — he's studied enough of the mercenary 'Six' to know that she's part of the Defenders crew that helped SHIELD take down Wilson Fisk. He can't see the details, but he can see the contours of…

…a life. The sort of life that someone would reasonably want to protect, even if it meant lying. Even if it meant worse.

I chose to put your life in my hands.

He scrubs his tired features hard, though his face is flushed red even before he works it over with his hands. It's a long moment before he speaks. "Kinsey," he says, using her first name in perhaps the whole of their history together, "you know how it is in the DEO. It's not about the good people have done, like coming back to me and coming clean. Or even the bad, like misleading the company in the first place. It's about — the risk."

And you are very risky. It goes unspoken. Hangs between them in the overheated basement air.

"What can you do?" he asks. "Not just you. Five. What can you do together?"

—-

You know how it is.

"I know," she says, a quiet and half-empty affirmation. The knowing is what kept her in hiding, all of this time. The knowing is what made her choice matter. This choice, and every other choice.

The question he asks next is the one she's expected, but in spite of all of her silent worrying at the edges of it, it's the question she's least certain sure about the answer to — not because she doesn't know, but because it's the final unknown between them, the one place where she might lie and preserve some sort of advantage. The one place where failing to disclose everything might make the difference, because the truth, the whole truth of what it is she's capable of, makes her more than just a risk. The world is built on systems, and almost none of them are proof against the thing that Six has become. The silence that meets his question is ponderous.

"The DEO would class me as a technopath," she says, eventually. She tries for that businesslike tone of voice again, and is only partially successful; her delivery is stilted, hitching around pauses that betray the difficulty of staying fully in the present. The difficulty of keeping focused, when the rest of her is fighting to keep her head above the whitewater rapids of it all. "But we're not clear on what the division of labor really is. Five's strengths are the same as they were when I wrote him. He has machine intelligence and logic. His processing speeds are greater than mine. But mine are…different, now, too. Better. I can focus on more than one thing at the same time, but he and I can act independently, too. Still…" Pause. Softer, "He's trapped where he is."

It's a risk. It's a huge risk, but she has to offer, and tentatively does, almost shy: "You can…talk to him yourself, if you want to."

—-

She gives him the faintest inklings of an unknown and likely impossibly complicated inner life, one where the dividing line between her cognitive powers and the computer program she wrote are virtually inseparable and indistinguishable.

Sullivan is well-acquainted with the weird. Managing the weird is part of his day job. But he still feels the hair stand up on the back of his neck when she offers to let him speak to Five.

"If he's 'trapped,' how does he talk?" Sheridan asks with a little upnod she can't see, back turned as it is. It's the closest he'll get to asking her to make introductions.

—-

There's a beat of silence that, in hindsight and with thought later, will probably be easy to identify as a moment when Kinsey Sheridan held some conference with the entity living in her skull.

"There are many resources in the modern world that facilitate external communication," Five says, through the speakers of Adam Wolmer's laptop. The smooth, artificial, vaguely masculine delivery can't possibly be native to the machine itself, and isn't: his voice is strictly his, part and parcel with the software of his being.

It's a voice that Kinsey hears almost without cease throughout the day, but hearing it here, now, out in the open in front of a DEO agent — even of her own volition — is enough to have her head ducking and her spine rounding, the discomfort an almost crushing thing. It's her turn to stop breathing.

"Though rarely any cause to use them. Hello, Agent Sullivan. We regret the necessity of our deception yesterday. I feel confident you understand the reason for our reluctance. It would not be exaggerating to say that this development has been our worst-case scenario for some years."

—-

Sullivan isn't usually one to startle, but his head snaps when he hears a strange voice in the room. He looks to the door — empty — and then back to the source of the disembodied thing that's somehow still talking through the speakers of a dead man's computer.

Recognition flickers. He's heard Five speak in old recordings enough by now to know the tone. His brow creases into a pained expression. "Your worst-case scenario, huh?" Jamie says, wincing as he brings his hand back around behind his neck to squeeze at tension-stiffened sinew. "You're not the only one."

She hasn't scratched the surface of what she's capable of with him, but Five's ability to suddenly access an unnetworked computer from across the room hints at it. The wheels and gears turn behind Jamie Sullivan's pale blue eyes.

Finally, he pushes himself to stand. He takes some slow steps over to where Kinsey Sheridan kneels on the floor, back turned to him, and crouches down behind her. "Wolmer said you were the first," he tells her. "No offense, Sheridan, but why would anyone want to duplicate this shit?"

—-

"We were aware that this development would place you in a potentially difficult position," Five agrees, readily enough. "Which is to say, we hoped that it would be difficult, as the alternative was likely to be suppression, confinement, and vivisection."

"Five," Kinsey whispers.

"It's important to establish the stakes," Five says, unapologetic. "Explaining the dangers from my own perspective is unlikely to curry any sympathy. Humanity is still undecided as to whether or not I may even be considered a person."

The politics of transhumanism are a subject that Kinsey might excitedly hold forth about on any other occasion, but at this moment Five's determined pressing of the point only abrades her raw nerves. She lifts her free, still unsteady hand to press over, and then pinch at, her own eyes and brows, and that's how she's sitting — in grim silence — as she hears Sullivan get up and cross the room, sinking down behind her, until his voice is coming from a place not much elevated above her own.

To ask that question.

It makes her lift her head, dropping her hand into her lap sharply enough that it's audible. "Because they have no fucking idea what they're doing." It's the first time since she walked in that she's been anything but adrift, a sudden flash of something bright and hot and very, very angry. An echo of the wrath that threatened to tear her apart, earlier this morning, and brought on the swift death of a delicate peripheral. Her fingertips curl into a tight knot atop her thigh. "I'm not offended. You have absolutely no idea how, how — how obvious that question is to ask, and how absurd it is from where I'm sitting. That anyone would even think about trying to reproduce what happened to me. I trusted Wolmer. God - I admired him. And this…this stupid, brilliant, naive man stood there with his goddamn headset on, taking notes, acting as though he gave even the smallest shit about me, and his take-away from that footage you just watched was that this is something the world needs more of. You want to know what offends me, Sullivan?" Breathless, livid, her voice cracks as she spits the follow-up: "That does. That fucking offends me."

After that furious tirade, Five's cool, collected voice feels at all odds with the charged intensity of the moment. "Doctor Wolmer never contacted Kinsey to ask her about our circumstances. Had he, we might have been able to encourage him to abandon his plans."

"He should have known," Kinsey snaps, turning her head slightly, as though Five were really behind her, centered in that laptop. "He did know. Doing this deliberately is unethical, and I refuse to believe he couldn't see that. I won't excuse him that way. If he didn't see that then it was because he didn't want to see it."

—-

Five says that humanity's jury is still out on whether he's a person or not, and Sullivan validates that opinion by — ignoring pretty much everything Five is saying. The only thing that gets a visible reaction from the DEO agent is when the A.I. forthrightly says they've manipulated him by putting him in a position where he will feel constrained, boxed in. That gets a sharp and incredulous look at the laptop from which that matter-of-fact admission sprung.

But it's brief, cut short by the white-hot anger in Kinsey's reply to his question. Even if Kinsey has told a lot of falsehoods over the last three years, the echoes of her rage and indignation from that first viewing hours ago read true enough to the agent.

His jaw juts. His eye twitches. It's all prelude to a decision being made. After a long moment she'll feel his hands around her bound wrist, working at the mysterious handcuffs that binds her to the table. "That video was taken the day before he died," he's saying as he lets her loose. "He might have reached out if he had the time. Hell, maybe that's why he was killed."

A beat. "Fuck me," Jamie Sullivan breathes with longsuffering weariness. He gets up from his crouch, offering a hand down to her to rise. "Come on, Sheridan. Get up."

—-

It's an irrational reaction, but instinctual: if she were asked she would honestly say that she didn't believe Sullivan is the kind of man who'd hurt her physically unless she forced him into it, left him with no choice. Not himself. Not directly. Nevertheless, the moment she feels him touch her wrist she startles, everything in her body tensing inward, as though in expectation of something like violence. It's the clearest, most honest expression thus far of the absolute vulnerability she's feeling — that sense of being wholly and completely at someone else's mercy. A loss of control of the kind that she's worked desperately to avoid since the accident, with a visceral rejection of the helplessness that losing so much of herself made her feel.

Her throat clicks, dry, as she draws her freed wrist inward, cuffing it with her other hand to rub gently at the pink ring left behind. Her eyes land on his hand whole moments before she consents to take it, careful when she does. It's her right hand, and the one he knows for a certainty can't be real, but it certainly doesn't feel artificial.

Her eyes linger in the vicinity of his chest, not quite ready to rise and meet his. Not sure what she'd find there. Not sure she wants to know. Certainly not sure that she wants to see what might surface there when she finally works her way up to saying the thing she needs to say.

"I wish things were different. I do. But I still…I still meant what I said. Nobody else gets hurt by my work if I can help it. That…includes you."

—-

This close, he can pick up on that involuntary startle easily enough. And even without it, he can tell she's worlds apart from the confident woman who led him into a glitzy Midtown bar weeks ago. This is someone who has been stretched to their breaking point, left raw and exposed in a way that would be difficult to feign, if not necessarily impossible.

It inspires a certain latent protectiveness in the federal agent that really is at the core of his job, for all that he sometimes gets caught up in the hunt and the chase of extranormal threats. It's about protecting people.

That protectiveness, of course, is at war with other sentiments and emotions. If she looked up she'd find a stony face awash in a conflict that has yet to resolve.

She can't meet his gaze, but he's looking down at her while she says those words. He lifts his chin. "Why'd you tell me now, Sheridan? Why not just — keep it to yourself? You had so far."

—-

Kinsey's brows knit slightly, eyes distant under half-mast lashes. "A lot of reasons. Once I understood that part of Wolmer and Abram's plans involved recreating the results of the accident, it seemed inevitable to me; going to Palo Alto would mean uncovering information that would lead you to the same conclusion as the footage. The choice wasn't between telling you, or hiding it. Not anymore. It was a choice between telling you and…leaving. Disappearing. I could, you know? It's probably not smart to stand here talking about how finding me would be next to impossible, even for the DEO, but…" She drafts a sad, lopsided half-smile. "Anyway. It wasn't a choice. I've spent the last three years wondering what I would do if this happened — if someone from the DEO learned the truth. Wondering whether I'd cut and run, or…or face whatever was waiting for me. I was never sure." A moment of silence later, something in her expression brightens, softens. Not a lightness, but something like relief, or maybe gratitude. "It's…kind of nice to know that this is the answer."

Her eyes sharpen again, ticking toward the shoulder of his suit jacket, and then his collar, and eventually, finally, up to his actual face. They're guarded, but it all feels like part of that overpowering sensation of exposure, the kind of defensive reaction provoked by a serious threat. "But honestly, Sullivan, it wasn't just that. It wasn't really a choice. I was never going to be able to walk away from this. I have to fix it. You're my best shot at doing that the right way. I'm going to need you, and you have to be able to trust me. None of that would work, if I didn't trust you first." She lifts her hand, hooking it around the nape of her neck, and offers him a bleak, rueful quirk of the lips. "It's easier for someone to trust you after you hand them your killswitch."

Gallows humor is entirely Kinsey's style, but this turns out to be a little soon for her, the thought enough to have her half-turning away from him, going a little bit green at the gills. "Any…anyway. The bonus round truth is, I felt like shit about it. I used to be so into the classified thing. Top secret stuff, need-to-know only. I loved that. You get really tired of having secrets when you don't have a choice, though. The whole reason I wear a helmet as Six is that I'm just…not very good at lying to people. Yesterday, what you — what you said, about…" It's probably her awkwardness that pinpoints the thing she's referring to: that moment of honesty about his reasons for trusting her, and how much that had obviously meant to her. "It didn't feel right. Lying." Murmured: "Not that giving you the truth is doing you any favors, I guess."

—-

A lot of reasons, she says, and lays out many of them. Some were pragmatic, like her desire to preempt Jamie's inevitable discovery of her nature as they delved into Abram and Cybertech. Others were principled, like her desire to fix this mess without cutting corners or flouting the law. And still another was rooted in — emotion, with varying shades of gratitude or guilt.

It's the last reason that tick Jamie's eyes downward, forcing them off their prior searching scrutiny of Kinsey's features. He'd seen the impact that simple appreciative sentiment had on her last night, and isn't any better at dealing with its reality here in the light of day than he was then. "There you go, sticking your neck out again when you don't have to," he says with a little puff of humor, and maybe some grudging admiration.

He rolls his eyes towards the ceiling. "Fuck it, even if I turned you in right now I might be out of a job for trusting you in the first place," he notes of whether giving him the truth was doing him any favors, something sad and wry and weary in his voice. She's not the only one who likes gallows humor. "But that's — not what's important right now."

Because, all of a sudden, he is quite sure of what is important. He puts his hands on either side of her shoulders, looks her square in the eye. "We're going to get this bastard," he tells her. "We're gonna get your work back. And then we're going to bury it so deep no one will find that shit again. You hear me?"

—-

That grudging respect from him over her evident self-sacrifice produces a faint, small smile in Kinsey, but for completely different reasons than one might expect. It would be natural to assume she's grateful for the implied compliment, but the truth is that it conjures up for her a mental image of Matthew Murdock, and the blandly knowing smile he might exchange with her on the subject of sticking your neck out again when you don't have to.

On the nature of have to, specifically.

The splinter of guilt that his observation about his job causes can't survive in her face given what comes next. That weight on her shoulders, the determination in his expression, the promise — it sounds like a promise — that they're going to fix this. More than fix this. Fix everything. Fix the mistake she made, naive and optimistic, patriotic and proud and curious, in pursuing Cerberus in the first place.

She's horrified to feel her eyes prick, and upbraids herself internally: Don't cry in front of the hyper-badass spec-ops guy, Kinsey, for fuck's sake!

There's little chance of missing the wobble in her emotional state, but she fights it with every stubborn ounce of her willpower, jaw tight and breath held, the grip of her hands at the outsides of his forearms like a brace against all of those hurricane feelings passing through her. She has to close her eyes to get through it without losing her hold on her self-control; shut out the sight of this unexpected, unlikely ally and his solid, solemn certainty.

She does get through it, though, to her own overpowering relief and very probably his, too. She blinks rapidly when she opens her eyes, and her voice is a little hoarse, but it doesn't dissolve into sobbing tears. "Yes. I hear you." In someone smaller than he is, her grasp may have bordered on uncomfortable for just a moment, a squeeze that helps her get the words out without going to pieces. "Thank you."

Uttering them is like unlocking something in her chest — something tight that unwinds, suddenly lets go. It surprises a deep breath out of her and then, to her own shock, an actual smile, as much a dizzy product of relief and incredulity as anything. She lets go of him, takes an uneven breath, and nods once. "Okay."

—-

In the face of an emotional journey Kinsey can only partially obscure, her — what? partner? handler? former co-worker? — projects confidence and solidity. How deep that runs is an open question, because there are surely layers to Jamie Sullivan the same way there are layers to Kinsey Sheridan. He has been a spy, he has handled spies and undercover agents. In both situations, projecting precisely this sort of confidence and certainty is essential, whatever his private, clear-eyed assessment of the situation.

But at the moment, he seems to be with her, and he even smiles a little when she blinks through her tears and gives him a self-surprised smile of her own. "Okay," he repeats with her. You've got this, the tone says.

He doesn't let go of her shoulders though, not right away. Because there's more. It can't be that easy, and because it has to be said. He levels a look at her. "Listen, you took one for the company in the worst possible way. That means something to me. I'm not going to screw you over, Sheridan — we're going to figure it all out. You've just gotta keep things on the level with me here on out. Otherwise, there's nothing I can do for you. With Abram or — anything."

His sharp eyebrows lift ever so slightly upward. "You understand what I'm saying to you?"

—-

Some part of Kinsey must recognize that Jamie Sullivan was only elevated to this position because he's capable of playing the long game — and good at it. Some part of her must understand that all of this could easily be his way of managing a situation that spun out of control unexpectedly — probably the best way of managing it, in point of fact, so few of his other options likely to have predictable results.

Even if no part of Kinsey did, Five would understand it, and thus Kinsey, too.

She seems to believe him, even so. Maybe he reads as genuine — probably he does, either way. Maybe she just wants to. Maybe, to get through this, she just needs to. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with him at all, and instead has everything to do with the one thing that matters, about which they appear to agree.

There's no reluctance in her nod. "We'll figure it out," she agrees, with a degree of steadiness she didn't have a moment ago. It's not a statement with gravity and faith, though — it's a placeholder, a phrase that sounds like a way to set aside things that she doesn't want to think about. It's not a deep belief that he can save her from the consequences of her choice, but it's an acceptance, at least, of the fact that they're not coming yet. That there are other things to focus on first.

The gallows humor returns. Just a little. Her brows nick together. "I get it, Sully. I don't know what you think I'd ever want to hide from you more than all of this, but I get it. I'm pretty all in at this point, though, don't you think?" Something in her expression softens, draining the black wryness a bit. "I came here this morning from the place Matt just bought. His old building got blown up with the rest of the Kitchen, so…he found a new place. Under renovations. It's…big." Her mouth changes shape. Her eyes slip away. "Too big for one person."

Solemn hazel eyes return to meet blue in a few heartbeats' time, pressing the meaning of that knowledge into him almost through force of will. This is what I chose to put on the chopping block, along with my neck.

—-

"I don't know," Sullivan tells her, straight-forward, of what she might ever want to hide from him that's bigger than the bomb she just dropped right in his lap. "You don't even know, because you don't even know what you're going to find at Cybertech. And since you're my eyes and ears over there — yeah, of course I'm gonna make you say it."

Despite the grim words and intimations, a glint of his own humor returns as he drops his arms from her shoulders and cocks his head: "You holding that against me?"

She goes further, providing further shape to the life that she feels is finally worth protecting. A Manhattan townhouse with a pain-in-the-ass lawyer who loves her. "We are giving him a lot of business, I guess," Sullivan says of Murdock and his spacious Manhattan property with a loose and insouciant shrug. Matt and Kinsey's domestic bliss: courtesy of metahuman registration.

But despite the little jab he seems to get it, newlywed that he is. His eyes tick downcast. "No one can ever promise a happy ending. Not with these kinds of stakes. But you do your part, and we'll get you settled, Sheridan."

—-

Is she holding it against him?

Is she?

It's a toss-off remark, but Kinsey finds it worthy of an answer. "No. None of this is your fault." This, at least, is easy for her to believe, easy to embrace. Maybe an Agent Sullivan was always a possibility — maybe even an inevitability, eventually, as the tangles and snarls of her past finally come due to be shaken loose. But Agent Sullivan, himself?

It's as personal as a situation can ever get, but still not personal at all.

She watches his eyes angle elsewhere as he makes those not-exactly-promises. It's not clear whether she takes that for evasiveness or not. Her response is steady, quiet, and final as she repeats the words she said to him earlier. "You'll do whatever you think you have to." She follows it with a touch to the outside of his arm, not a clap or a clasp, but like that, then turns to retreat toward the table and begin putting the VR headset away. "And I'll deal with whatever that is, whenever it comes. Until then, I want to focus on what we're doing. I don't need to be worrying about what happens afterward. I'll put together my CV, you and I can talk about how to get Abram's attention, and once we're ready I'll give Tony my two weeks' notice. I can manage the interview. I can be a compelling hire. Everything other than that, though…I'm counting on you to tell me what you need from me."

—-

He offers her nothing like certainty. And perhaps to her credit she seems, at first blush, at peace with that uncertainty. He certainly seems subtly appreciative of the words that absolve him of responsibility for what comes after they've put these restless ghosts to bed.

She withdraws, and he sticks his hands in his pockets and walks back towards his chair at the desktop.

"You know, in some ways you're better suited for this than I thought," Sullivan tells her as he plops back into his seat. "With this computer-hopping shit. But bottom line: Cybertech has plants and offices all over the country now. Whatever they're doing with these projects could be at any of them. Narrowing that down is priority number one."

He plops back into his seat. "That and getting close to Abram. Getting him to trust you enough to let you in. He'll already be tempted because of your, uh," — a beat, a shrug. "Background."

The chair creaks as Sullivan leans back in it. "We'll get you everything you need to do the job."

And after? As she says. We'll just see.

—-

"Better in some ways," Kinsey agrees, pulling the cord from the laptop and tucking the headset back into the box. She stares at the screen for a moment, debating, and then directs the file back into the encrypted partition. It won't change anything if Sullivan decides to go to the DEO with the truth, but at least she won't have to worry about anyone finding out accidentally, should he involve someone else, or the evidence change hands.

"Worse in others, depending on how far along they are with whatever they're doing. If he knows the truth, he may have — probably has — been spending time figuring out the weak points, the vulnerabilities. I have unique strengths, but they come at a cost. There are things that are dangerous to me that aren't dangerous to other people, and honestly? I may not even fully understand my own situation."

She closes the laptop with a click once the file has been relocated, and exhales something that isn't quite a sigh. "If he trusts me enough, then…yeah. He'll probably involve me. I'm not keen on telling him more about my situation than he may already know, though, so…how?" One elegant brow arches, head turned to look at Sullivan over her shoulder. "Do you think he's really the egotistical maniac he seems to be? Does he want admirers or people who challenge him? He was almost certainly using Adam."

—-

It would be foolish to assume that Jamie Sullivan wasn't watching her, mindful of her, as she hovered over that laptop making her decision and as he watches some random point on the far wall. He doesn't see the choice she makes, and so can't know it now — but it stands to reason he'll know it not long after she leaves the room. Maybe he'll take it badly, maybe he'll just think she's the right kind of careful for the snake pit he's likely sending her into.

She asks for his assessment of Abram and his outsized public persona. Jamie shares Matt Murdock's contempt for much of the ruling class, but he's far more pragmatic about them than Matt has been known to be in the past. So it's not a roll of the eyes that greets her question, but a narrowing of them. He considers the question carefully. "This little fucker… is not looking for a Pepper Potts," Sullivan says with a little wince and shake of his head. "He wants everyone in awe of him, all the time. Sorry in advance."

Now he does flick a glance towards her. "Any glaring weaknesses I should know about?" he says, rounding back around to her point about potential drawbacks and vulnerabilities.

—-

His thoughtful silence and considered response have her absolute attention. Kinsey is a quick study, and as her confession has made plain she's more capable than most might assume, in more ways than they suspect…but she seems prepared to trust his expertise here. It gets a huffed note of dry, weary humor out of her. "Well, at least I have experience working for inordinately self-involved, brilliant, billionaire engineers."

It's a natural question for him to ask, that follow-up. It's still upsetting. Sullivan knowing about her is still upsetting. He asks, as her heart lurches in her chest, stumbling along more quickly, making her swallow. Giving him all of the ways she's weakest runs against every instinct she has.

But she promised.

"Yes." Beat. Nod. She turns to face him again, hands on the edge of the table behind her. "The neural net, the prototype, is still in my head. It wasn't meant to be the final product, we meant to design something safer for combatants to use. As it is, with enough blows to the head the monofilament could cause serious damage to my brain tissue. I usually describe the effect as similar to pushing an egg through one of those egg slicers. I'm sensitive to EMP charges if I'm not properly equipped. There was a magical explosion at a gala once a few years ago, and it also, ah…" She hesitates. The corners of her mouth turn up into a thin, humorless smile. "Knocked me offline, you might say. It may just be any kind of sufficient release of energy close to me — we don't know. Five and I can be vulnerable to certain external influences if we're…linked to them. I can have a terrible feedback response if I'm suddenly 'ejected' from a system." Beat. "I need a lot of sugar. I burn through it quickly."

—-

It's hard to imagine he didn't know what he was asking of her, there at the end. Confessing her weaknesses to what she's probably regarded as her most significant threat over the last three years of her newfound and very strange life. But she does it, and it wins a short, slight nod from the agent.

And more importantly, not a quip, not a barb, not a "make sure to bring some gummi bears." Not a single word beyond the practical. It's an unmistakable token of respect for the gesture.

"If there's a chance Wolmer told Abram about you, then you need to be ready for an EMP at all times," Sullivan tells her. "And we'll be tracking your phone everywhere, all the time. If there's a blackout of more than a few meters where you are, that'll be a head's up for us."

He folds his arms over his chest. "I'm going to put an extraction team together that'll be located no more than ten miles away from where you are at all times when you're on the clock. Something goes sideways, we'll get you out of there. That's a promise."

—-

Her expression says that ready for an EMP at all times is not that straightforward, but she listens to the rest of what he says rather than interjecting, and in order of priority, responding to that last promise seems more important to her, in the end. This smile is softer, touched by rue but not insincere. "I believe it." She brings her hands up in front of herself, fingers worrying at one another, eyes angled briefly down to watch them fidget. "What does 'sideways' mean, exactly?"

It probably reads as nerves about the danger she's going to be in, but her glance up, and the amendment, put that possibility to rest. The truth is certainly more in keeping with the kind of person that might rob a Knightwatch-guarded, high-speed train by clinging to the outside of it as it bulleted through New York city. "You mean something unrecoverable, right? Because I'm not a wilting violet, exactly. I'd rather get a few bumps and bruises and succeed here than lose the chance to fix it through overcaution. It's risky. I know it's risky, I accept that." Her hands untwine, lifting, palms up. Her smile is thin and flat. "I'd offer to sign a waiver, but…"

But everything.

—-

"I mean something short of a few punches to the head, apparently," Sullivan says with the faint intimation of a smirk, of the demarcating line between when the mission — or Kinsey herself — can be salvaged.

But she's right that she's far more akin to an undercover agent than a C.I. they've flipped. Regardless of what she's done or what she's hidden to date, she's aware of the risks and willing to undertake them anyway because the mission matters to her. It makes an impression.

Then she one-ups it all by mock-offering to sign a waiver, and he drops his head back and rolls his eyes ceilingward. "Sorry, kid," he says, hands planted on man-spread thighs, "this one's off the books for now. If there were a record, though, it would officially show that you're a badass."

There's a beat. "You haven't slept in more than a day, have you, Sheridan?"

—-

No blushing. No bashfulness. It's not his eyerolling that prevents her from doing those things, it's…

It's Six.

A few years ago, she probably would've looked inordinately pleased about his assessment, even paired with an eyeroll. Even if it's only largely to humor her — she's sure she'd never be able to tell.

Six, though.

Six has seen some shit.

"My father would appreciate hearing you say that," she says by way of answer, with another bland smile, this one overlaid with something sad. It says a great deal about her relationship with her family — not least that her parents are not in-the-know about her condition.

Mentioning sleep bleeds a slow exhale out of her. It's almost like pointing out that she hasn't slept reminds her that she's tired. "There wasn't a whole lot of sleeping happening last night, no."

—-

Kinsey says a great deal about herself to Jamie Sullivan in a sentence. Both about how she sees herself, and how she has been interacting with the world since all this strangeness happened to her. Whether it's wise to disclose as much as she's revealed to him remains an open question, but at the moment he is — surprisingly generous.

"Colonel Sheridan doesn't need me to tell him you're a badass," Jamie Sullivan says as he stands up. No matter what he knows or doesn't about you, goes unspoken but is baked into every word.

"Come on, get out of here," he adds with a little upnod her way, and another towards the doorway. "Go sleep in your new mansion or whatever the fuck. Tell your boyfriend to keep fighting the good fight."

—-

The reality of being allowed to leave — instructed to leave — washes over her in a slow wave. Kinsey closes her eyes and lets her head hang forward, pressing her fingertips into the space between her brows, and stands, quietly waiting for her equilibrium to return. It does, with a long, deep inhale as she straightens and squares her shoulders. Enough for her to nod, and, after a glance around the room to figure out where she left her purse — the state she was in when she got here kept her from keeping track of that sort of thing — she makes her way toward the door, stopping only to pick up said purse on the way.

"Couldn't keep him from it if I tried," she says of Matt Murdock. This is true, so far as it goes, but also means nothing at all — just a breezy bit of banter. Distracted. Tired.

She thumbs the call button for the elevator, and the door opens. Sullivan gets a glance. "You know how to reach me."

She doesn't wait for an answer — just steps into the elevator, and waits for it to take her back to the real world.

**

One work in progress — Matt Murdock's new house — has taken priority for another. Fogwell's Gym is still roughly in the same half-refurbished condition it was all those months ago. He'd purchased it with the hopes of meeting space for the Defenders, a reasonable 'legitimate' place of work for Bucky Barnes, and to honor all the memories that swirl around the dimly lit environs like old ghosts.

As it is, shafts of late winter sunshine through old windows, casting light on spare, white-washed walls and a new boxing ring with crimson ropes. It's an unfinished canvas, delayed by one mental health breakdown, an existential conflict with a murderous gangster, a demonic invasion, and now by Matt Murdock's emerging second trial of the century.

But it's still an excellent place to meet in private, to catch a few winks while he's on patrol — and even to spar with Kinsey, as he teaches her the basics of self-defense.

He's in the kitchenette off to the side, putting on a much-needed coffee. This has been an all-nighter for him too, and though he's had his share of those as both a lawyer and vigilante, even the Devil of Hell's Kitchen needs a pick-me-up now and again.

He'll let her let herself in. She has a key now, and the alarm has never been a concern for her.

—-

Walking most of the way to Chinatown en route to that fateful confession had been a relief, a physical opportunity to vent some of the tension threatening to crush her chest. She chooses to cab it back to the Kitchen, by contrast: her body still hums, even vibrates, with aftershocks of the adrenaline and foundation-shaking terror, but beyond the limits of that nervous energy she can sense an exhaustion so profound that she can't run the risk of it overtaking her when she's only halfway there.

He'll hear her before she even opens the door, of course, quietly exchanging necessary words as she pays for her cab at the curb. Hear the moment she spends standing outside of that gym door, eyes closed, breathing and looking for the self-control she's held onto, white-knuckled, since yesterday.

When she reaches the main room, she says nothing. No I'm here or it's me. He knows. She knows that he knows.

Instead, she takes a weary seat on the edge of the boxing ring, drops her purse on the floor, and waits.

—-

The Matt that steps out from the side kitchen is out of sync with his surroundings. He came from the office, after all, and didn't bother to change. So instead of a devil suit or a sleeveless shirt, he's dressed in a white buttondown, grey slacks, and a slim navy tie.

Some things he's abandoned, of course. The suit jacket that matches the slacks he'd thrown over one of the ring ropes on his way in. The round-rimmed glasses, a custom-made copy of the pair he'd lost in the Hell's Kitchen fires, is sitting on the kitchen counter. He's unmasked, and while those soulful hazel eyes of his can't pick up on the lingering vestiges of her harrowing day, or the weariness that has for now supplanted them, he has other, better ways of reading that she is a woman at the very end of her rope.

And if the eyes can't take in, they still convey eloquently: worry, affection, and even frustration that he can't do more right now. As Daredevil, he saves people nearly every week. Why not her, this time?

For a multitude of reasons. But there are other things he can offer. "Come here," he murmurs as he strides towards where she sits on the bench.

—-

If he could see her, he'd surely be able to see the way that all of those things he senses from her are layered with complicated, other things, emotions and impulses that have no easy biological tell: confusion, uncertainty, apathy, resignation, contradictory but obvious hope in equal proportion to those opposites of hope.

The way her expression softens, too, as he appears in the door that leads to the little kitchenette, a familiar silhouette. The suggestion, in that, that he might have a part to play in saving her, after all.

In silence she abandons her seat on the ringside, standing to lean into him when he's close enough. As they did in the home he hoped they might one day try their hand at making together, her arms go over his shoulders, around his neck; it's a different kind of embrace than before, loose and tired.

She turns her head and lowers it, resting her cheek on his shoulder, eyes closing. If she were asked to gauge how much time passes that way, she wouldn't be able to.

—-

In that unfinished home he'd practically grappled with her, holding her tight for fear she'd shake herself to pieces with all that trembling. But here he's a rock; some sturdy and immovable place that allows her to collapse and take shelter. His arms circle around the middle of her back, gentle but firm enough to keep her from falling backward if she goes truly boneless.

He graces with a brief kiss the thin skin at her temple, the dark wisps of hair around it.

Gratitude floods him. Thank God. Angry as he can get at the man upstairs, he's enough of a believer to feel real gratitude when things don't go to hell. And here, against all the odds, even though her worst case scenario has been realized, she's come back to him. He'd thought through a thousand bleak scenarios in the brief span of hours she spent traveling to and from a Chinatown basement, most of which ended with a one-man war with the DEO.

"You're alright," he says after some a stretch, at once reassurance and an expression of profound relief.

—-

Under the weighted blanket of numb that steals in during that quiet embrace, she feels a flutter of mixed feelings answer his — assertion? Assumption? You're alright. It's a bundle of restless things that respond in her, by no means convinced that it's so straightforward, but she can't bring herself to contradict him, seized by a sudden superstitious belief that to question her luck would be to end it.

"For now," she says, finally, still feeling the ghost of his mouth at her temple. She lifts her head, takes a breath, touching that center in herself again. "He says we'll figure it all out when we're finished doing what needs to be done. I want to believe him. I can't promise you that he's not lying, but…" A pensive silence later, she adds, "At the very least, I believe that if he turns me over when all's said and done, it won't be something he enjoys doing."

Thin, cold comfort…but, to gauge from her tone, comfort she feels, anyway, even if only thinly, and coldly.

—-

For now, she tells him, thinking that she's qualifying his profound relief as somehow unfounded. His frame shakes once with a puff of humor. "Now's all we ever really have," he whispers to her temple and the shell of her ear. Thus says the man who regularly leaps from rooftops. "So I'll take it."

The rest, her estimation of James Sullivan and how he'll eventually resolve the genuine problem that is Kinsey Sheridan, Matt absorbs quietly as he holds her. "If you ever want to tell if he's lying, just get me in a room with him," he offers to her, rueful and sincere at once. As unnerved as she'd been by his listening in on her first conversation with Sullivan, Matt knows he's useful in any sort of sting.

"It went better than it could have gone," he suggests, running one hand up and down the length of her back soothingly. There's a long beat. "Do you want to tell me?" he finally asks her. "About 'what needs to be done.'"

—-

Those first whispered words express a thing about which they're in perfect agreement, these two people who've stared death in the face on more than one occasion. Survivors, however improbably that may be — at least, in the case of Kinsey Sheridan. "Yeah. Me too. It's more than I'd let myself hope for."

It's not a bad suggestion, the use of Matt Murdock as a lie detector in the discerning of difficult truths. She's weighing that in silence, letting the passage of his hand over her spine help her jangled nerves quiet themselves again, when he…

Asks?

Offers?

Poses, anyway, a question. Puts it to her in a manner that makes it difficult to answer. So instead, she backtracks to the first thing, and buys herself a moment to consider."Jaime may not even know himself what he plans to do about me, yet. Let's give it time."

Her hands slide down his shoulders and come to rest at the place his upper arms wind around either side of her. "I trust you, you know that. I would tell you everything, but it's safer if I don't — for both of us. One of the projects that Wolmer lifted information for involved a drug being considered for off-label use as a truth serum in interrogation. I'm just…" Her eyes wander the top of his chest, the knot of his tie, not really seeing either. "I want to be careful. I can tell you I'm going to resign from working for Stark."

—-

She defers any decision on whether to use Matt's specific set of skills to gauge Jamie Sullivan's intentions. His acceptance is marked by the dip of his head, the beats of quiet on his end that follow while she —

— declines to tell him about what she's going to do, and offers several reasons why. Even here, where they're so close that perspective makes it hard to tease nuance out of his expression, she can probably sense his displeasure with her severely limited answer. His lips part then close again; his eyes hood. He lets out a long, quiet breath she can feel through exhalation of warm air, the shifting planes of chest and abdomen pressed up against her.

"I get caution," says 'Daredevil,' finally, and with some knowing and rueful irony. He presses his lips against her forehead this time. It's brief, and meant to soften what comes next. "I also know what it's like to want to shut people out to protect them, and because I feel this bone-deep responsibility. Guilt. That's had me making some pretty stupid decisions in the past."

Some of them right here in this very room, with just the two of them in it.

A beat, a twitch at the corners of his lips. "You're smarter than I am, though."

—-

It cannot possibly come as any surprise. In his shoes, she'd feel exactly the same way. Has felt that way, before.

That last remark — or maybe just the twitch of his lips — meets with a weak rise of mood in turn, but it's rueful at best. "There are different kinds of smarts. This isn't about that, though. I said safer for both of us, and I meant that. If things go sideways, if…someone targets you because they know we're a thing, if you know every detail of what I know, and Jamie knows…if they decide they're going to use that drug to get what they want out of you, and you tell them because you can't help it…"

It's a lot of 'if' statements on which to hinge her reluctance, and Kinsey knows that. She turns her head away with a pressing of her lips together, the uneasy tension of indecision finding its way back into the familiar shapes of the body he's holding to his own.

"Somebody wants to recreate what happened to me during the accident," she says, finally. Coming to that decision doesn't do anything to resolve the renewed tension in her. "My situation, with Five. My former colleague figured it out the day before he died, and I have to assume that he got that information to his co-conspirator. It's — that obviously can't be allowed to happen."

—-

"I'm a hard guy to get the drop on," Matt notes. Though not impossible, of course. He has been captured in the past, and even if he eventually won his freedom on his own it was proof that he's not actually the diabolic force the Russian gangsters of Hell's Kitchen once thought him to be. He could be captured, and — if she is right — could be compelled. For all his outsized confidence, he gets that.

Besides, all of it is overshadowed by what she says next. Someone wants to recreate what happened to me, she tells him, and his eyes narrow and his brow furrows and his whole frame tenses in a moment of disbelief. "It… can't," he agrees, but that agreement only extends so far.

"Are you sure," Matt asks quietly, carefully, "that this isn't the time to bring the team in? I know the DEO makes all this complicated. But — the stakes sound high."

—-

"No." Visceral. Instant. A wholesale rejection of that thought, probably louder and more knee-jerk than she intends it to be, as she stiffens in the place in front of him. "No! Maybe if Sullivan didn't now know what I am — who I am. For one thing, if you get involved, he'll know that was my doing, and he will bury me so fucking deep for breaking his trust that you'll never see me again. And for another thing, none of you are safe as it is."

Here she takes a moment, breathing, and works to calm herself enough that she can bring her tone back down to something less strident. "We…helped…the city. We helped with Fisk. That's the kind of thing that'll buy a line of credit with Agent Sullivan, if anything will, but if he feels for a second that this investigation is being taken out of his hands or moving in a direction he doesn't like, we're all screwed, Matt. Please. Please don't get them involved. You know I trust you. All of you. But this is…" In her restless tension, she lifts a hand and sweeps it back into her pinned-up hair, dislodging dark strands. "Delicate. Besides…"

She finally finds that equilibrium again, exhaling some amount of the tension from her shoulders and placing her hands on his. Looking him in the eye doesn't matter, but she does, anyway — or gets as close to that as it's possible to get. "There's something to be said for giving me the opportunity to make an ally in the DEO by doing this myself. Right? I need one. Having the agent in charge of the New York office owing me one can only be good for me."

—-

It has all the markers of the beginning of one of their fights, and one fought over familiar terrain. There's always been that tension between their reliance on each other and their mutual impulses to wrestle with their pasts and personal demons alone. With their outsized senses of personal responsibility, it's so easy for either of them to say: "I'll handle it myself."

That, in turn, often sparks resistance at best and resentment at worse.

Often, but not here. His jawline tightens, a retort gathers in his throat, but it never arrives. Maybe because it's because he can sense how off-balance she is, run-ragged and worn, and she's let him on at least a few of the reasons. Or maybe it's because, as much as he dislikes her train of thought, he sees the logic in it.

Or maybe he just doesn't want to go one more round in this particular ring. Either way, he shakes his head. "I get it," he murmurs. The words are quiet but clear: it's a clear throwing of a bout. "So. What do you want to happen now?"

I get it, he says. He can't see her expression — can't see the intensity with which she pins him with her eyes, as though she could pierce his expression to sample the thoughts beyond — but maybe the silence contains some of the weight of that moment. "I hope you do. I really hope so. This isn't me trying to keep you on the sidelines out of some reluctance to put you at risk. You're already at risk. This is me, in the most difficult, impossible situation imaginable for me, seeing one through-line to a result that doesn't involve me being chucked into a black site laboratory for the rest of my miserable life, and asking you to please trust my assessment. Maybe I'm wrong. It's possible. But you won't be more right than I am. Not about this."

"I couldn't help you with Barnes' trial, and I couldn't help you in Wakanda, either. I couldn't rescue you from Fisk when you were on that boat." She squeezes his hands, the pressure firm, though her voice softens. "It's not a failure of love to have no way to go on the offensive, baby. Sometimes…there isn't a way that makes sense. If things were different, if I knew about this before Sullivan came to me…" Pause. "But I didn't. This is what we've got."

She did hear his actual question, even if she judged the interpersonal matters to be the more important thing to address. She circles back, after a brief silence. "Now, I want to focus on finding time to spend with you, as often as possible, for however long it takes for this operation to kick off." Her slow exhale is equal parts resignation and regret. "That's going to be the most difficult part. Being away. Maybe I'll be able to telecommute…I don't know."

—-

They aren't easy words to hear, much less digest, and the struggle plays out on his unguarded features. His brow knits in consternation, though it's paired with a wry smirk. "Going on the offense is how I show love," quietly protests the man who nightly beats people up in allies, as a thumb strokes the top of the hand that clutches his own. It's a wry little quip meant to defuse tension, but there's some truth in it. Fighting and the mending of wounds were the currency of affection in the Murdock household. "But," he adds, his quiet tone rueful and pained, "I trust you, Kinze. I'll follow your lead."

But apparently where she's leading is… away. He'd already asked her who the target in all this was and been rebuffed, so he doesn't immediately press the obvious question: Where? Where you are you going? She'll tell him when she's ready to tell him. But suffice to say it won't be in easy traveling distance, even by the standards of these two twenty-somethings who have carried on a romance between Manhattan and Gotham City.

It pains him, the thought of her leaving, especially situated as she is in a deceptively placid eye of the storm, where one false step could send her into the hurricane. "I'll take it," he says of her time, drawing her closer to him with one arm. "Whatever time you've got, I'll take it. And that house — it's, ah, not going anywhere."

—-

"I promise," Kinsey says, little more than a whisper as she feels the sweep of his thumb against her hand, "That if things change, and I need you — you, them, anyone else — you'll know. I'll ask."

When he pulls her in, she lets him; sags against him, practically, because the sum of the day's events has stripped her down to raw nerves that feel like naked, sparking wires. Her arms wind around him again, more a drape than a vise, and her eyes close. Her head tips to the side, finds rest against the cliff of his shoulder. "I'm still sorry. You thought you knew what you were getting into with me when we met…" Bleak, amused: "I know you never guessed it could get this wretched, though. It still feels a little like…" Pause. "Like letting us become us was unethical, somehow." Her eyes open, but only barely, seams of hazel that don't focus on the bare walls or empty floor of the boxing gym. The follow-up is not without humor, but it's drowsy and edged with something melancholy, just the first inkling of the vast ocean of feelings she's not had time to process yet. "Add it to my long list of crimes."

—-

"Yeah, you better," he says of her promise in a rueful hush. He doesn't like this arrangement, even if he sees the logic and knows she's immovable on the point.

Her weight against him is nothing at all, his preternatural sense of balance being what it is. And the truth is that the warmth of her body against him is as much a comfort for him as it is for her. You thought you knew what you were getting into with me…

A soft, solitary chuckle. "I knew more about you than I let on," he reminds the nape of her neck. "And I held back my fair share about all my messes." It's a point he's made with her before, but what she says next is new: real regret at letting them become what they are. He feels a sharp pang of sadness in his chest, which exists entirely apart from the ever-present worry and frustration he's felt since Jamie Sullivan found them on Tony Stark's doorstep.

"Even if it were a crime, counselor, and I don't concede that point," he says with one of his subtle smirks, "It was worth it. Kinsey, you changed my whole life. Do you know how fucking lonely I was, before I met you? How cut off?" It's true, he realizes as he says it, even if he lacked the powers of introspection to see it before. He'd had Fog, who had long been his lifeline and tether to the world. And others had come in and out of his life and made their marks, but this is the first real, honest relationship he's had in — ever.

"The truth is I'm so grateful, even if I'm scared as hell for you now," he tells her, fingers flexing and resettling against her shoulder blades. "But if you really need it? 'Ego te absolvo,' Kinze."

—-

Held up against many of the other fraught periods of this relationship, this moment is one of relative quiet. Standing there and speaking in hushed, intimate voices in an otherwise uninhabited building while outside New York bustles about its morning errands, no threat of attack from armed criminal elements in play: at a glance it cannot possibly compare with the catastrophe and horror of a collapsing Hell's Kitchen, or the heart-punching adrenaline of facing down a bevy armed men at the docks on a cold winter's night.

But it's worse, anyway. So much worse. These threats haunt the near horizon like malevolent ghosts, waiting not with assault rifles or explosives but armed with the laws of the land.

The quiet in the room is a lie. On the inside — even as she's listening with gratitude to Matt refute her self-sentencing — Kinsey is a deafening chaos. She hears him say those words, those remarkable words — you changed my whole life — and it's a sentiment she wants to bathe in, submerge herself in completely, but some piece of her is playing on repeat the sound of her former colleagues screaming over the sound of alarms and crackling electricity. She's listening to him tell her he'd been lonely with an upswelling of affection for this man in front of her — me too — and also remembering a moment from years ago that she hadn't thought about until just this moment, not for any reason save that her memory has spit it up out of the fissures in her emotional state: one of her earliest afternoons at Arkandale, reading and eating alone in the cafeteria when a man with a face she should have recognized and did not dropped his tray down opposite hers with a clatter, hitched up his slacks over argyle socks, and sat down to chat her up about her work. Awkward, ruddy-cheeked, charming. He had a gravy spot on his tie. She didn't have the heart to tell him. He'd sounded just as enchanted about it being chocolate cake day as he was when he narrated the carnage of her accident.

Her fingers tighten against his back. She turns her head, closes her eyes again, and presses her face into the crook between his head and shoulder. "I couldn't have helped it, anyway." Tired, but wry. "I was doomed after the first date." Pause. "Which…was good, in hindsight. Because we've really had a lot of crummy ones, haven't we?" Anyone else would feel, rather than hear, her little tremble of laughter. He'll doubtless do both. "Always with the explosions."

In the moment, she kisses the side of his throat. In the moment, she's maimed again and again, explosion rendering her whole and fragmented over and over in a nauseous, cycling loop.

She wants to say: I think I might not be okay.

But there's no time to be anything else. No way. And what would it do to him, to know that, when none of this can be helped?

"Do you think Rand would let me get a little bit of shut-eye at his place?"

—-

The chaos may be a lie, but Matt Murdock has always been good at sussing out falsehoods. He can't imagine what she's been through or seen today, seeing still in her mind's many eyes, but he feels its physical impact upon her. The tension that sings in her muscles, the exhaustion that bleeds off her, the off-beat rhythm of her breath and the beat of her heart, the lingering traces of saline on her cheeks, and of sweat from her one good palm. He can tell she hasn't slept in more than a day, has eaten only sugary junk in that same span of time.

Kinsey Sheridan is barely holding her fragmented self together, and Matt can sense it all. And by her own insistence, there's nothing at all for him to do about it but to try to keep her from coming apart at those ugly seams.

His smile is slight and rueful when she dredges up their spotty dating history. "Don't forget the monsters," he adds on top of explosions. "That's half the reason for the house, you know? If we're going to be shut-ins, we might as well be comfortable shut-ins."

They aren't shut-ins, though. Could never be. Moreso than any shared experiences with trauma and disability, perhaps their deepest similarity is that they are driven by their respective pasts and personal demons to do, to act, to make amends for the things they have done as well as the things they have left undone. And more, to do so despite whatever wounds they've incurred. Once he saw that truth, and past the strangeness of Five and the morally questionable burglaries, falling for her was practically inevitable.

He brings his hands to cup her face, palms at her jawline, fingers threading through jet-black hair at where her temple slopes into her crown. He kisses her brow once, fiercely, though the lips break into a tired smile when she mentions Danny's place.

"Rand's been letting us freeload with him for months," he whispers dryly, lips still hovering close to the pale skin of her freshly-kissed forehead. "He won't mind a few more nights. Come on, Kinze. Let's get you some rest."

The rest of it: the details, the ominous talk about her leaving New York, Stark, her life. It can wait, at least for a while.

—-

There are always deeper truths beneath the apparent ones. They aren't always contradictory. Six has been broadly immoral, but for arguably moral reasons. Her inner world is in crisis and turmoil, but for all that, none of the tender qualities of this weary embrace are forced — even if the very sweetness of it sits at the heart of her fears about the future, showing her all of the things she has to lose.

She's seen him do things with the hands that so carefully, lightly cradle her face that would raise the hair on the back of an ordinary citizen's neck — vicious, violent things, unhesitating, full of a black wrath deeper than she's ever witnessed him articulate in any other language. But she's known those hands in countless other ways, and none of those have been false. They've held open doors for her, literally and figuratively. They've made her breakfast. They've learned her body's secrets. They've worked to exonerate a man with a life imperiled by a shadowy organization through no fault of his own, and in the doing secured a well-earned, deserved place in the history of American law.

They are two people — just people — who've found comfort in one another, cautiously looking toward a future that each might have found impossible to contemplate not so long ago, struggling to make sense of the way that life gets in the way and doing their best to push forward, anyway. In that, they're like everyone else, everywhere else.

They just happen to be more than that, too.

Kinsey is fragmented in the worst way, but at least that's nothing new. It still manages to surprise her, when the answer he gives her — come on, Kinze, let's get you some rest — lances something through her that feels so different than anything else she's felt for days. She takes the short breath, just shy of a gasp, and opens her eyes again, looking at him with faint surprise and other things difficult to name. Hope? Relief? Something that closes her throat, anyway, and makes the cadence of her heart quicken. Her voice, usually all velvets, goes threadbare. "You're coming?"

It's morning. He has to work. But the tips of her fingers curl into his shirt, inspired by the insinuation, more honest than her careful, "I can make it over there, I don't want to…throw your whole day off."

She doesn't lie to him often. Almost never. And this is why: even without his uncanny truth-sense, she's really not very good at it.

She does.

She does want to throw his whole day off by making him go with her to Rand's, to lay next to her and with the warmth and solidity of his presence, ward off the horrors waiting for her on the other side of sleep.

—-

He does have to work, these days more than ever. She has probably noticed he's going out less at night, but he hasn't yet told her the reason: that he and Foggy are contemplating taking on a trial with stakes so high that they make the Barnes case seem like an episode of Judge Judy. He's had cause to hold back. All these ghosts have come back to haunt her, to hang around her neck like chains, and he has been obstinately unwilling to add one more ounce of weight to her slender shoulders.

But whatever he hasn't told her, these needs are real and imminent. There's hiring to do — associates, clerks, and more — research to conduct, money to raise. Taking the day off means moving at least five appointments and asking Foggy to make a brief appearance in court to cover him.

To be Matt Murdock is to be continuously pulled in three wildly different directions all at once. When you live two lives and pick up more about the world around you than most in both of them, it's practically inevitable. Often it's a matter of making a hard call: where is the biggest fire, where can he make the most difference?

He finds that this one, though, isn't hard at all. Not when he hears the thin edge of her voice or all the emotions that run along it. Not when he hears her heartbeat betray her, a light and rapid skip-step that outs her immediately and all but begs him: Stay with me. Not when he has a sneaking suspicion that something has shaken her to the core, separate and apart from this Hobson's choice she's in.

Matt Murdock has a spotty record as a boyfriend, inconstant at best. He's abandoned her at some truly terrible moments in both their lives. That's part of the reason he wishes, not for the first time, that he could actually meet her gaze. It might not be necessary, though. Conviction fills his unfocused liquid hazel eyes, the tender hands at her cheeks, as well as every syllable of his whisper: "I'm. Not. Leaving. You."

—-

It's unflattering to admit that there are moments when Kinsey feels anything like gratitude for Matt's blindness — mitigated, maybe, by the certain knowledge that no amount of personal comfort would ever take priority over his ability to see, if any such choice were ever real…

But even so, it's true. Those moments happen. Moments like this one where the tide of emotion comes rolling in, buckling her expression and twisting the shape of her mouth, knotting her brows together in a desperate effort to push back against a wave that could otherwise drown her: a cramp of an expression, and one she'd prefer not to share with anyone. Not even Matt.

Not yet.

In the explosive aftermath of her viewing at the Garage — when Wolmer found amidst the wreckage of Kinsey's life something he believed worthy of salvaging, and in so doing struck a spark close to the powder keg within her, containing of years of unresolved grief and anger — Kinsey had sensed the danger of allowing herself to succumb to those feelings before the job is done. It had been a moment of allowing herself to get close to things she's stifled for years that came close to undoing her, dark and poisonous thoughts rising up to erode her self control. Here, now, it's overwhelming gratitude, a sudden and crushing abundance of affection. Beyond the boundaries of mild feelings, out on the fringes of extreme emotion — good, or bad — she can sense the fissures in herself, and beyond those…? All of that trauma. All of that anger, bitterness, and grief. All of those thoughts about her past and the life that she lost in an instant — the abandoned hopes and dreams, the plans, the tally of time wasted pursuing a destroyed career, the faith compromised by naivete…

All of those things she's spent all of this time pretending were blown out of existence in that lab along with much of the rest of who she was. Things that have been waiting all of this time to eat her alive, if she lets them. If she opens the door even that littlest bit.

White-knuckled to her mastery of self with an almost trembling determination, she chokes back the flood of tears that so obviously wants to start. It leaves evidence in the form of too-bright eyes, inadequate to the task of conveying the scale of the disaster so narrowly averted.

Not yet.

She can fall apart when it's over — whenever that is.

"I love you," she says, and means it, though it's flattened by that rebuke of everything else she's trying not to feel. "And Foggy. I love Foggy. Tell him I'll send sandwiches 'round again for letting me borrow you."

—-

He can't see the nuances of her expression, no. And even with all his strange powers of perception and his own tumultuous emotional life, he has no reason to know about the cauldron of rage that roiled her at the lab less than twelve hours ago. Still. He can taste the salt in the air between them from those barely-held-back tears, hear the choking sound in her voice, and feel her svelte frame taut as a wire. Matt knows better than most what it's like to walk that tight-rope of self-control with the emotional abyss below just waiting to swallow you up. And even blind, he can see her walking it.

She's so goddamn brave, he thinks, but doesn't say, because unexpected compliments to a person on the brink are a dangerous thing, however truly they're felt.

"Yeah, right back at you, babe," he murmurs, curling a lip at one corner. Absent is the stoic mask or any of the simmering anger that so often marks his fair features. His expression is tender and rueful, and it cracks open into a smile when she mentions Foggy. "But I've gotta say, those sandwiches and Foggy are the real romance of this story. He'll be fine."

His fingers drift away from her temples, settle on either side of her shoulders to run up and down in a short, soothing cycle. "Come on," he tells her with a nod towards the door. "Let's go abuse Danny Rand's hospitality one more time."

And get you some god damn rest. There'll be time enough later to sort through what madness Kinsey has committed herself to. Sufficient time to game out what role, if any, it makes sense for Matt to play. For now, this blind man is clear-eyed on what the woman standing before him needs: to take a hot shower, and then drown herself in the deepest possible sleep.

—-

She claims one of his hands at her shoulder, weaving her fingers through his, and with the other summons the splurge of a hired car, incapable of facing a crowded train. At Danny's she slips up to the room with Matt with a stealthy, hastened gait that says a great deal about her desire to avoid being intercepted en route, and once there takes a scalding shower long enough that it must seem she's determined to bottom out the hot water supply.

She topples into bed afterward, hair still damp, and stays awake just long enough to say that she doesn't think she'll be able to sleep.

At first it's a sleep that has more in common with unconsciousness than rest, a dreamless pit of nothing. That gives way to restlessness, hints of nightmares that quell at the sound of his voice, or touch of his hand. Eventually those wane, too, and the cadence of her breathing slows, deepens, with the onset of real sleep.

From an outside view, this may not look like the kind of quality time she was referring to, when she told him she intended to spend as much time with him as possible before the DEO job stole her away…

But it is. Nothing will be fixed when she wakes. Nothing will be solved. But, for just a little while, having him close allows her a respite from nightmares real and imagined, and a peace that might well make the difference in her strength to go to war with both.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License