Due for a Fight
Roleplaying Log: Due for a Fight
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Matt and Kinsey meet up for their weekly sparring match and talk about the latest on the Defenders, her new job, and what it means for both of them.

Other Characters Referenced: Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Jamie Sullivan, Corey Abrams
IC Date: July 10, 2019
IC Location: Fogwell's Gym, New York City
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 25 Aug 2019 21:23
Rating & Warnings: R (Language)
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

They were due for a fight.

It makes for a strange date night, sure, but nine months in it is now an unofficial ritual. Every Wednesday night, no matter the hour, or what work is like, absent really anything but a bona fide emergency, Matt Murdock and Kinsey Sheridan step into the empty ring of Fogwell's Gym and duke it out.

Sometimes their hands are padded, but sometimes not. Sometimes they're wearing their suits and visible prosthetics, and other times they're in gym clothes. She needs to be comfortable with the things he's teaching her no matter what the situation is, or what she's wearing. The training is rigorous, intensive, often painful. He promised her, and himself, that he would be a gentler sensei to her than Stick was to him. That's easier said than done. He's pulled between two conflicting impulses. First and most obviously, an overwhelming tenderness that begs him to hold back. But just as strong, a fear for her that sometimes has him pushing her to her limits.

It started with boxing, but now encompasses Matt's whole kaleidoscopic repertoire. Judo. Silat. Jeet kun do. Capoeria. Aikido. He wants her fighting style to be eclectic, unpredictable, and dirty as hell.

Now it's nearly dusk, one week to the day after the two of them stood in this room and she told him she had to make a surprise trip to Palo Alto the next day, the 4th of July, for this mysterious mission her old DEO colleague has conscripted her into. He's learned at this point not to ask too many questions, to pull back on his natural curiosity and the protective instincts that scream at him to just throw himself in the middle of this mess she's in and fix it all through force of will and a few well placed right hooks.

Instead, he just told her to be careful, and trained her even harder, making sure to leave no bruises where they were likely to show.

She's back now, safe and sound, she tells him. And so he waits at the usual hour, in his grey tank-top and black boxer's shorts, his hands wrapped and his hair short-cropped, newly cut. He's leaning against the sagging ropes with a water bottle in hand and a towel over his shoulder, with the dying daylight filtering through the grimy windows on the west wall, striking his stubbled profile with shafts of amber. His head cocks, the way it does when he's listening for the things only he can hear.

—-

Necessity remains the mother of invention. Testing prosthetic limbs and other equipment in new ways — in combat, particularly — has led to iterative changes in the way Kinsey equips herself, which makes the ring at Fogwell's gym a testing ground as much as it is a classroom for Kinsey.

Like: it's not possible for Matt to hear the sound of additional straps securing Kinsey's limbs into place against excess forces, the way they once did. New stresses meant new challenges, and those in turn meant new designs utilizing new materials. The effect of what they do here has changed her in ways that most people will never see or understand in the way that he does: right down to the way she sounds when she shows up.

To all appearances — or, in Matt's case, in every way that can be sensed — she seems to be in the same condition now that she was when she left, with the exception, perhaps, of a bruise or two now faded once again into obscurity.

The door bangs shut behind her, and clacks to locked.

Her voice echoes up the little hall: "Whew. Being out there is like being trapped in somebody's armpit." Rounding the corner into the body of the gym and catching sight of him quirks her lips. She pauses just inside, like she's sort of taking that whole tableau in, and then drops her duffel bag with a THUMP. It has two changes of clothes and her toiletries in it, customarily, though it sounds heavier tonight than usual, at least to the canny ear of Matt Murdock. Something in there crinkles.

—-

Fogwell's provides at least some relief from the swamp outside. Matt had a new central air unit installed as part of the renovations, and on Wednesdays he tends to keep it a few degrees cooler for a woman for a woman who runs hot under even ordinary circumstances.

He can't hear the changes in her straps and tethers, but he can hear her before the door ever swing open. The rythm of her sneakered footsteps on the sidewalk. And when she opens the door, she brings in both the fetid summer smell of the city and her own sensory cocktail: her soap and perfume, the days old waft of jet fuel. All those processed sugars to satisfy her brain's hunger. That bundle of senses is unmistakable to him now, as unique as a fingerprint.

Which is all to say, there's a fond little twist of his lips waiting when she rounds that corner.

"Yeah, stay out of the subway," Matt recommends, pushing himself off of the ropes and ambling towards the center of the ring. "It's always twenty degrees hotter down there."

He can't pick up obvious changes, beyond what's in the bag. So really, he has to ask: "Good trip?" It's the trickiest balance, the weight of his own curiosity set against his desire to respect her privacy and stated need for secrecy.

—-

Levering her shoes off toe-to-heel, it only takes her a moment to lean down and pull her other pair of sneakers on — a pair that she hasn't been trucking around a metropolis in, to spare the ring the indignity.

If she'd harbored any illusions about putting off the difficult dance they've been forced to do, navigating and negotiating around her current predicament, then they're pretty well shattered by his return quip, before he even gets to his careful question.

Really, it's the footwork involved in this ongoing balancing act that she has to gird herself for, and not the prospect of stepping into the ring with a man careful enough not to break her but serious enough to consider reparable harm a necessary evil in the pursuit of their mutual goal.

She slinks underneath the low rope, and glances up and sidelong at him as she gives her laces a needless check. "I got the job, so…I can probably afford to invest in a chauffer, or something. No more subways unless I'm, uh…" She gestures airily with one hand. "Slumming it with the hoi-polloi." The words are aiming for wry, dry humor, maybe something ironic, but they have a stale, flat sound that says a great deal about her feelings about getting the job.

She pushes up to stand, and regards the man in the ring with her with full eyes that he can't see. Guarded and cautious, weary and resigned, apprehensive, determined, irritated and impatient, watchful — the little micromovements in her face and slight changes to the set of her brows manage to convey all of those things in a blink. "I gave Stark my two weeks today. Not that he didn't already know this might be coming, but…" The pause lingers while she looks for a way to finish that sentence, and eventually gives up with a meaningless, "…yeah."

—-

"Hell's Kitchen is definitely the right place to slum it," says Matt, trying on some of that dry humor she just adopted. He steps in towards her slowly, undaunted by that small flurry of emotions he can't see, but can almost surely sense. They'll be fighting in minutes, or hours. But the broad, calloused hands that soon enough will be leaving more bruises, or twisting her good biological arm behind her, or pinning her to the matt, now try to find gentle resting places on either of her hips. The corner of one lip curls into a smirk.

"Does that mean I'm your boyfriend from the wrong side of the tracks?"

Then she confirms it. She has a new job with a man who is somehow less likable than Tony-Fucking-Stark. A job on the other side of the country. Even for a man as used to guarding and suppressing his emotions as Matt Murdock, she likely can't miss the conflicting emotions roiling beneath the surface. Frustration. Worry. Helplessness, too, in a way that he hasn't felt for over a year, back when his neighborhood was literally in flames. It may have been surprising, how quickly he agreed not to butt into her mission. To allow her the space to tackle this ugly legacy of her work on her own. More predictable, perhaps, is how much he has to struggle with it after the decision has been made.

He tries to shove it all down. To focus, instead, on her. With a yogi's powers of attention he inhales a small breath of her through his slightly squat, downturned nose. And when he does speak, it's sideways. "The East River fireworks were great this year," he murmurs. "Foggy and I went out to the harbor to see them."

Yes. Blind Matt Murdock goes to watch the 4th of July fireworks. He can't see the brilliant bursts or the play of lights against the starless pitch of a New York City night. But he can hear the burst and pop, the gasps of delight. He can feel the energy of the crowd coursing through him like he's a live wire. He never misses it.

A beat. "We missed you."

—-

Kinsey takes it all in with hazel eyes: the way his effort toward wryness is ousted by the things he wrestles with in the face of her news, and the way he talks about them without talking about them, and the inevitable hurts of both, separately and together.

It's not unexpected, but knowing it would be this way doesn't ease the difficulty at all.

Lips pressed thin and brows knitted, she watches all of those small changes with silent, particularly useless regret. Regretting things rarely changes anything, for lack of any way to turn back time…but in this case even if she could turn the clock back, she'd be in Palo Alto again, trying to fix-

Something.

"I missed you, too." One hand rises to settle on his shoulder, the other lifting to ghost in an almost-but-not-quite cradling of his face. "We'll make up for it next year." Their certainties have never extended much beyond this moment or the next, much less out to the length of an entire year. Still, she says the words and sounds as though she means them, whatever her reasons. The addendum is more careful: "All of this will be over before then, I'm sure."

One way or another.

—-

Even though it never touches him, he can sense that hand that hovers just above his cheekbone. Feel the heat emmanating off of it across the inches of empty space. He can even hear, ever so subtly, the currents of electricity that run along it and give it vibrance and animation. Her and not her at the same time.

He brings one of the hands resting at her hip up to seek it, taking it in his own and folding it against his chest.
He closes his sightless hazel eyes, brow briefly knitting when she stresses of the finality of all furtive work of hers.

"Hey," Matt says, eyes reopening. Their gaze turns towards her collarbone. "There's something else. Luke — he left, Kinze. While you were out there. Left everything. The bar, the SHIELD job —" Jessica — "All of it." He swallows hard, looking briefly stricken. "He left Jessica a, ah, goodbye note, saying he had a lead on his old friend. The one who set him up with the drug charges back in Georgia. He didn't — he didn't want her to be a part of whatever he was going to do next."

There are layers and layers underneath that terse, matter of fact explanation. First, the fact that Luke is gone, perhaps for good. Their friend. A Defender. Jessica's man, on whom Matt had hung so many hopes for her much deserved, long-deferred happy ending.

Then the fact that Matt had left Kinsey right here, on this very spot, more or less exactly one year ago, articulating similar lone-wolf justifications. And beneath that, the uncomfortable fact that Kinsey is flying solo on a mission of her own, unable or unwilling to fold others into it.

It's a landmine of a topic. But Matt turns his attention instead towards the biggest question he's sure she has: "Jess is - okay. She called me that night." And he found her, of course, surrounded by bottles of booze. "She was in rough shape, but she's — gonna be okay."

—-

It's not a perfect reassurance. Maybe Kinsey wishes she could give him something better, watching the way he receives that sentiment…but even if she does, there isn't anything better that wouldn't also be a lie. A lie or, more charitably, baseless optimism. Her silence sticks.

She's definitely still focused on the Now Problems Of Them, which makes everything to follow feel that much more astonishing.

She clearly doesn't immediately internalize the magnitude of what he's saying: Luke left furrows her brows, but it's the look of someone mildly concerned about a friend gone temporarily rogue, and not the aghast expression of someone hearing about a friend turning all of his bridges into bonfires. That comes, though. Swiftly enough, she exchanges befuddlement for something more stricken, deepened immeasurably in the pause between Jess is and the word okay, a hesitation that may as well be a gulf.

The heat of her hand disappears from his cheek when she brings it to half-cover her mouth, an inadequate baffle for her exhaled, "Oh, shit." Hazel eyes slip away from him, wandering over the empty space beside them — but not really that. The pieces of that story. The ripple effects and damage. They tick back up, a welter of intensity that has no outlet. In the face of this upset in the life of a friend, she's no more immune to that helpless desire to fix it than Matt Murdock is.

It starts in hushed shock, something sad and pained, something like grief: "Oh, god. That's…awful."

It doesn't stay there, though. Something indignant, appalled, begins to winnow its way in. "That's awful! Why? How could he?"

Then the second-guessing; the wanting to believe the best of Luke and his choices: "Did his old 'friend' find him, figure out — figure out where he was? Who he was? Was he in trouble?"

Then the daggered-down brows, the sound of something quietly incensed. Not even Kinsey could say why she's half-whispering. "You're not seriously telling me that he ditched Jess to go off on some kind of, of — crusade in the name of vengeance? Are you?"

—-

Kinsey cycles through gut reactions to the awful news about Luke's jilting of Jessica Jones with dizzying speed. She does it even more quickly than she ran through her reactions to Matt's failure to show for their first date at a Hell's Kitchen bar, three years and one lifetime ago.

All of them are appropriate and understandable. Matt's felt at least a few of them himself, and the weary mix of recognition and resignation on his face shows it. "Jessica thinks that this guy found Luke, yeah," Matt says quietly. "Though she doesn't have proof. I don't know if it's vengeance or — or what Luke plans. He said —"

Matt pauses. Something rueful, even sardonic, slips into his features. "He said he didn't want her to get hurt, the way she did during the Fisk stuff."

How many times have they told each other that? Don't get involved. Let me handle it. I don't want you getting hurt. It's often been the emotional battlefield over which their relationship has been fought. But now there's a new casualty.

"Jessica's been looking for him," Matt adds. There's something skeptical in his tone, as if he isn't sure that looking is good, or healthy, for Jessica or anyone else. "But he seems to have ghosted pretty thoroughly. You'd think a man with his profile would have a hard time disappearing, but…"

He said he didn't want her to get hurt has certainly been a minefield for all of them — lone operators weirdly thrown together, trying to accustom themselves not just to working together as a team, but existing together as social humans, the latter arguably the more difficult task.

It doesn't slow Kinsey down much, though, minefield or not. She lifts both of her hands out to either side of her in the universal gesture for WELL?

"Of course she's looking for him! Because she's Jess! She's an investigator. That's literally what it says on the tin! What did he expect?"

Not that Matt has time to slide an answer in there, whether he would've or not; she half-turns where she's standing, gripped by a need to pace but stopped short by his hands on her hips, albeit less due to his grasp than the desire not to displace it. "I'll tell you what he was thinking. He was thinking that if they had a discussion about it, he'd never be able to make her accept his stance on it, and if she seemed to agree to stay out of it then maybe she'd just agree to pacify him, then follow him anyway, so his only real chance to make a break for it was to go and let the explosions happen in the distance as he walked away. Even though he knew exactly what that would do to her. And I wouldn't rule out a little bit of cowardice, either. It's easier to hurt people if you don't have to see it happening right there in front of you." Something about that last sentence has an ugly sour note, the twist of her lips in distaste suggesting it's more to do with her own recent concerns than Luke or Jess.

She rakes pale fingers back into her hair, loosening the bun, which in turn makes her impatiently strip the tie out altogether. "Is it wrong of me to say I hope like hell he had no choice but to leave? Because otherwise I can't, cannot, comprehend any of this. The waste of it."

—-

Matt lets out a small, almost silent sigh when Kinsey tells him Jessica is just following her nature. She's right, of course. Jessica Jones is famous for her tenacity. It's just —

"If anyone is going to go looking for Luke and save him from himself, it should be us, not her," Matt says with quiet conviction. "Obsessing over this won't do her any good at all. It'll just drive her closer to the —" he searches briefly for the right word. "To the brink."

The brink of what? one might ask, but Matt Murdock doesn't elaborate.

Kinsey pivots as if to make to base, but thinks better of it. And even if she had tried to bolt from his grip, he might not have let her go. As it is he circles around behind her, hands clasping over her stomach as he fairly well enfolds her. The dark locks of recently freed hair tickle his nose and jaw, catch on the stubble of his jawline. He lays a brief kiss on her temple.

He can't dispute her judgment. "Even if he was doing what he had to do, leaving without saying goodbye to her face…" he trails off. There's a note of discomfort in his voice and on his face. It's difficult to throw stones from within the comfortable vantage of Matt Murdock's ornate glass house.

Then Kinsey zeroes in on the rawest point for Matt. The waste of it. "I really thought they were going to make it," the blind boxer says quietly. Jessica and Luke seemed to have cracked the code somehow, even as Matt and Kinsey struggled to find their footing, or carve out space for each other in the mutual messes of their very thorny lives.

Matt's brow creases at that sudden note of sourness. The fact that Kinsey is carrying around some extra baggage isn't lost on him. He's felt that undercurrent of anger course through her from time to time, even if he's unaware of its origin point or direction. Strange to find it here, in this context. "She was staying with Trish the last few days," Matt adds. "I told her it didn't make sense for her to be alone right now."

—-

it should be us

Being blind spares him the look at that Kinsey arrows in his direction, and the kiss quiets whatever words were going to tumble out of her next, one over the other, in an inevitable torrent. They probably won't hold all of that at bay forever, but it's enough that he's able to finally get a word in edgewise.

If Kinsey draws parallels between Luke's wordless goodbye and any of their own history, littered as it has been with Matt, everywhere else but here, then she keeps them to herself. There's no hint of that kind of uneven emotional territory in her voice: "You're probably right about that. She shouldn't have to be. I'll text her." Pause. "Call her? Which one is less shitty, keeping in mind that this is Jessica we're talking about, and I want to check on her without cornering her? …I'll text. No, I'll text asking if I can call. Or…" Another pause. "I'll text to tell her that I have cake." For no reason that might immediately suggest itself to Matt, that latter thought sounds sad.

Sad is an emotion, and being one it kindles the fiery things in her that his quiet words and gentle kiss waylaid, like it reminded all of her other feelings that they exist.

On the upshot, when they finally arrive, they come in a different tone than they would've had the conversation not gone to those other, more reflective places. "But I don't think I agree with you, Matt. About who 'should' look for Luke. That's her life we're talking about. Her fiance. Her personal betrayal, however well-meaning it may have been. What gives us the right? Sure, sometimes friends have to look out for other friends, and sometimes people don't know what they really need, but where's the line? And what would any of us be hoping for, even if we did go looking? What exactly is that supposed to fix? It's not ours. We can't fix it."

—-

"Text and cake sound right," Matt agrees. Kinsey's emotion carries: his lips press into something short of a smile, and his eyes turn downcast towards the canvass at their feet. "Anyway, I wouldn't worry too much about her feeling cornered. She'd appreciate it."

Silence greets the slow unfurling of her thoughts. Long seconds of it, while Matt — reflects? Wrestles, more like it. There's a sudden tension in the frame of the man behind her. "We probably disagree less than you think," he says first. "It may not makes sense for any of us to go after him. And if any of us do, it shouldn't be to — fix them."

What then? It's another long beat. "But when I went off the reservation," he begins in a murmur, "And made all my bad decisions, Luke Cage didn't just let me go. He went looking for me. So did Jess. And so did Bucky and Jane. Not to fix you and me, but to — help." To save me. And they did, more or less. Nine months now, and the blackness that had him back then is nowhere in sight.

"It's why we built this team, right? To look out for each other. That doesn't mean we should always be butting into each other's business, but —" he lets out a breath. "Effectively leaving Jessica Jones at the altar — it doesn't sound like someone who is thinking straight, does it? He had so much. He was rebuilding his life, able to own his name for the first time in a decade." And Matt did that, orchestrating a deal with law enforcement that seemed impossible at first.

"Why throw it all away?"

—-

For long moments after Matt lays out his thoughts Kinsey remains quiet, having listened as much to the tensions of his body as she does the words that come out of his mouth.

"If you amend 'us' to include Jess, then…sure. I can get behind that." Except she can't, can she? "I want to help. Finding him, figuring out where he went — that's the kind of thing I do. Tracking someone's movements through infrastructure — that's every day, isn't it? But I can't, Matt." The arms gently laid over the top of his tighten, fingertips with the rest, in answer to some otherwise invisible frustration that knuckles into her stomach. "Right now I'd — it would be more dangerous than helpful if I try to get involved. The lab is half-dismantled, everything in boxes, and Sullivan — I promise you, anytime I'm visible he's got someone watching me." A slow exhale bleeds out of her, cheeks puffing as she lets her head tip back against his shoulder, eyes closing. "He picked an…inconvenient time to run off."

The strain of having her hands tied in that (for now?) figurative way simmers until she pushes it aside with an indrawn breath and light prying at his arms to unwind them so that she can pivot to face him. Her lips are quirked in a determined offset to discussion of the many, many things she can presently do very little about. "Anyway, my memory of how all of this came together seems distinctly different from yours. I wasn't aware we 'built' the team at all, unless that's what you call it when a lot of misfits accidentally wind up making friends as weird as they are, and everybody involved is too stubborn to run off when things get difficult as a consequence."

—-

Right as soon as she says she can get behind it, that Muskateer's rallying cry of all for one and one for all, she tells him she can't. The worst part is that the reasons she lays out are wholly sensible.

The world has been under Kinsey Sheridan's microscope for years, all its secrets laid bare. And now that glare is turned back on her. And, if she's not careful, on them. What does a costumed superhero (?) do when their cover is effectively blown? Six is finding out.

Again he feels that sense of frustration coil, low and cold in his gut. What can he do? He can hold her through the night in sturdy but useless arms, as he did when she stumbled shell-shocked into his room months ago, rocked by too many revelations and turns of fate. He can be a preternaturally balanced support for her in that backward lean against his solid bare shoulder. And when she tries to disentangle, and turn on her heels to face him squarely, he can let her go.

It's all so painfully inadequate.

"Maybe we did all fall into it together," the vigilante admits ruefully, and meets the forced quirk of her lips with a curl at the corner of his own. It's melancholy, like most of his honest smiles, but it's true. No sooner had he released her than his hands find their way back to her, pulled like magnets to rest and clasp at the small of her back. "But we built it, too. We made a choice there, at the end, to stand together. Most good things in the world are a mix of accident and will, aren't they?"

And we're as good thing a thing as any, aren't we?

"I get it," he says, quieter. "Even if we look, we'll keep you out of it. And — ultimately it's Jessica's call. It's got to be."

—-

It would be a little bit misleading to describe the sound Kinsey makes as amused, though it apes the format: two descending notes, sardonic if they're anything. "Matthew…" She says his name with a familiar comingling of affection and rue, exasperation and tenderness. Whatever thought she'd intended to follow it never arrives, silenced by second thoughts, or possibly his solemn amendment. Maybe both.

"Yeah." Which of the things he's said she's agreeing with isn't clear — possibly doesn't matter. She twists one fingertip around in the fresh-cut strands of dark hair at the back of his head, eyes on a slight angle down to look at nothing much in the space between them, and spends a moment looking for a measure of the momentum that brought her here to face down a bout in the ring with him, in more ways than one. It's elusive.

"I keep hoping this is going to be the most difficult part," she admits, at length. "The waiting, the…not knowing. Not knowing how much this guy knows, how far he's gone, how much he may've changed about what I was doing, if anything. What it's going to take to stop it. But I'm going to know more, soon. There will be specific problems to solve, instead of a, a mysterious threat on the horizon, and no way to sense the scale of it. It's hard for me so I know it's worse for you, because I've told you even less than I know, which isn't enough by half. But that's going to change. Soon. Maybe I'll be able to help somehow, after all. We'll see."

—-

"Yeah, it sounds God awful," Matt says with wry resignation, sightless brown eyes turned briefly upward. "Your handler knowing. Your target maybe knowing. And maybe even knowing that he's your target to begin with. And your handler knowing all that, and not giving a fuck."

His jaw shifts at the last, an involuntary, reflexive register of anxiety. You're walking into a goddamn trap, he wants to shout at her. As if she didn't know it was possible. As if it would change anything at all if she was.

Instead he mirrors some of that gallows humor she tried on earlier. "That's why I opt for beating guys up in alleys over the spy shit."

That kind of feigned humor can't last. The calloused fingers at her back shift, resettling. His jaw juts. "I know you're doing what you've got to do," he murmurs, training his eyes down towards her gaze, as close to meeting it as he can come. "Tell me you're doing everything you can to protect yourself while you do it. Tell me you're being careful."

—-

"It may end with me beating guys up," Kinsey admits, tipping her head as though in allowance of the point. The humor in it reads as genuine. "Probably a hallway or a lab rather than an alley, but if it comes to that I've got a few tricks up my sleeve to even the odds."

His gallows humor wanes, and the weight of his quiet worry pulls hers down with it, draining that brief lightness and replacing it with something else. Serious or solemn, but other things too: guilty and worried, wanting to reassure him but being unwilling to lie — yet — to do that. "I'm being as careful as I can. Or…as careful as it's possible to be, having decided that I'm going to do the dangerous thing." One of her hands, both at his shoulders after she turned to face him again, slides down the length of his right arm, then up, then down — a gentle, repeating sweep of contact. Something soothing. "I spent all of that time as Six figuring out ways to equip myself to shore up the areas I'm weakest, or prepare for situations that could land me in trouble. I'm doing the same thing now, I promise you. And that's part of what nights like tonight are for, isn't it?" Her hand slows near his elbow. "Us. This. Teaching me to fight anything but-"

fair

She neglects to finish the sentence, trying to turn that moment of tender reassurance into a krav maga hip throw with a sharp pivot toward the place she has a hand against his arm.

Trying to get the jump on Matt is like trying to swat a fly: it's not impossible, but the creature in question is engineered to see that coming from a mile away, reacting almost as quickly as the decision to take the swing is made.

But still, she tries. It's dirty, yes, but he has only himself to blame: 'dirty' is the way he's teaching her how to fight.

—-

It's a pretty good ploy. There are a lot of reasons it could work. He is visibly emotional. Open and relatively unguarded, or at least as unguarded as Matt Murdock ever is. And she's reaching out, reassuring him, like he asked for. Promising him that she is doing everything she reasonably can to protect herself under dangerous circumstances. Telling the orphan boy exactly what he needs to hear: that even if she leaves him to do this thing she has to do, she's going to do what she can to make sure she comes back.

And that uptick in her heartbeat he's bound to sense — that involuntary tell of her fight or flight response? It would be so easy for him could it be to misinterperet it in the context of the moment. A sudden surge of affection, or of lust, or of fear, or any of the feelings they've traded between them over the years, and any of which are perfectly appropriate to the moment.

The problem for Kinsey is that he's heard so many of her heartbeats now, in so many gradations and rhythms. It's a wordless soundtrack, the post-rock opera to which their relationship is set. Like excitement and fear and anger, aggression has its own singular beat.

So yeah, he hears it coming. That gentle sweep of her hand turns into a clutch and, just as she starts to maneuver him he goes low, bending his knees to bring down his center of gravity and using his arms, already helpfully encircled around her, to try and throw her onto the ground with his weight atop her.

Either way, he'll laugh. "Aww, you are such a bitch," he says. It sounds like: I love you.

—-

If things were different, she probably wouldn't just let him take her down to the mat.

He's given her, on nights prior to this one but almost just like it, any number of ways to reverse that reversal. Her safety counts on it: in a toe-to-toe fight with someone bigger and stronger than she is, she is intensely vulnerable. One punch to the head and that could be it. Game over. It wouldn't just be the fight at risk of coming to a quick stop, it would be her whole entire life.

Thinking fast in pressure situations happens to be one of her superhuman strengths, and as Matt has discovered as he tries to turn a svelte stealth-based vigilante into a competent combatant, the challenge for her lies in bridging the gap between her ability to see an opening and make a plan, and her body's ability to execute that plan: the gap between the two is predictably wide. Less so, when she's wearing Six's arm-and-legs, but even so.

All of which is to say she probably sees what's coming and has time to come up with a dozen ways he's taught her to attempt to refute it, and still, down she goes without a finger lifted to that effect. A choice, then, rather than a lapse.

She hits the mat with a thud and a half-wince: learning to land hard and spare her head any impact meant learning to soak more of the impact in other places. Her lungs spend a moment deciding whether or not they want to expand again immediately, eventually come down on the side of 'yes,' and allow her, once she's taken a breath, to laugh. It's a little hoarse and stays in her throat, but changes the shape of her eyes. "I know." I know I'm a bitch. But also, I know you do.

—-

In other circumstances he might chastize her. Upbraid her for letting her guard down or getting sloppy. Remind her of the cost, even if she already knows it better than anyone. And he'd hear his master's voice in his head as he did it.

Here and now, he recognizes her sudden surrender for what it is, as quickly as he recognized her krav maga equivalent of a sucker punch for what it was. He relaxes his grip and more or less settles his weight on top of her, knees and forearms planted across from either shoulder.

Matt lets her lungs find their air again, and cracks an honest-to-God grin when she tells him she knows. "I know that you know," he says. He knits his careworn brow, cocks his head thoughtfully. "And you know that I know that you know. It's almost like we're… spies."

He leans in then. Because of course he does. It probably isn't the first time one of their bouts has ended this way. There were too many bad memories attached to this place, with each of them forced to confront funhouse mirror versions of the other, for them not to try to replace those memories with some good ones.

And why not, he thinks as he seeks her lips, try to store up just a few more against everything that's coming next?

—-

There are a lot of good reasons not to digress from the purpose for Kinsey's being here. They've only just finished discussing a scant, heavily-redacted handful of those reasons. While it's true that a little bit of hand-to-hand training probably won't save her if the shit well and truly hits the fan, it could just as easily turn out to be the one small advantage that turns the tables in a moment of crisis — a thing nobody would expect her to have that could make all the difference in the world.

And, sure: Sullivan's said he's going to have a team locked and loaded, ready to deploy and extract the moment things go south, but if Kinsey's learned anything since the moment her life was blown apart in a laboratory, it's that things have a habit of going south faster than anybody's able to deal with in the moment. She can probably count on his team to clean up the aftermath, but she knows — and Sullivan knows, and probably knows she knows — that up to a point, she's as good as alone in there. As alone as she ever is, anyway. Equipping her for those moments is arguably what matters most.

But if the aim is to send her into the lion's den as prepared as she can be for whatever may come — solid, confident, with all of her myriad shit in a passable pile — then there's something to be said for the digression, too. Because life is messy, and potentially short. Because there are no guarantees. Because the world makes no sense, sometimes; because good people who love one another and surely mean well can end up like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, separate and suffering, seemingly out of the blue.

These interludes may assuage the difficult memories of the past by countering them with better things in the present…but they counterweight the future, too, stockpiled against a moment yet to come when everything is bleak. It is the alchemy between what was, what is, and what will be — but also what might be again, when the dark feels absolute.

…But also, there is making out with a good-looking man in the middle of a boxing ring, which, if she's being honest with herself, sounds like a hell of a lot more fun than having him carefully beat her up for a couple of hours.

On balance? Probably not a waste of anybody's time.

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