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People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.
Eleanor Roosevelt

 

  

1. Fourth Grade

He's getting better at split-second decisions, even as the world tumbles into confusion around him. Each day, each week, more and more awareness creeps in, sounds and smells and the constantly moving air that batters him from head to toe. Everyone knows there's something going on with him, you can't hide in a place like St Agnes', but he hasn't said anything to anyone yet, even as he hears them talk about the weird, creepy, blind kid who sits twitching at the back of the class.

He feels the ball before he even hears it, before he realises that the muttered conversation from the corner of the school yard about 'trying something' was about him. It's not a fast throw, the air that makes the hairs on his arms prickle isn't moving at more than a slow breeze, and at least it's not aimed at his head, like last time. And this time, in this second, he has a decision to make.

He's almost made up his mind when someone gives him an out, shouts a warning from the right direction, letting him drop his cane and raise his hands, fumbling the ball as much as catching it, half-instinct, half-accident. The irritated grumbling suggests that he just spoiled something, maybe a dare of some kind.

Turning the ball to get a better grip on it, he smells dirt and concrete dust, feels a fleck of something that's probably paint where it got bounced off the lines of the basketball court. As he squeezes it a little, there's some give and the slightest puff of air, so that he knows this ball is not long for this world. Still, it should have enough bounce left.

"You want it back, you're gonna have to tell me where," he says, tilting his head a little as though he's not sure.

More muttering, a quickly shushed giggle, and then someone says, "Sure, over here."

The school yard concrete, not exactly a precision job in the first place, has been worn unevenly over the years, and Matt can hear how the air moves differently across it, the dips and bumps that make it unpredictable to everyone else. He's distracted for a second, listening to the wind swirl the dust, tracing the surface, finding the right spot. Across from him, someone makes an impatient noise and takes a step forwards.

Matt's already kneeling, feeling for his cane again when the ball hits its target. He hadn't thrown it hard, returning like for like, and it fell short of most of the group of boys, apparently. Fell short, hit the ground just where it slopes into the gentlest of dips, and bounced off, catching the leader in the stomach. Well. Mostly the stomach.

The whoosh of air being exhaled, the surprised laughter, the sound of the ball as it drops again and thud-thud-thuds its way away, the wind in the trees, the city traffic two blocks away, the laughter of girls coming through the school doors, the thrum of a fan somewhere in a building to his right, the murmured conversation in an alleyway behind the school, the thwack-thud of someone jumping rope and the shimmer of dust that rises and falls below them, pages turning in an office somewhere, the hammer-beat of hearts everywhere, deafening and disorienting.

He stumbles, the end of his cane rapping against the concrete, and he focusses on that, uses the steady tap-tap of it across the playground to anchor himself again, even as he brings his free hand to his ear, blocking out some of the noise.

Behind him, the ball bounces, wheezing out a little air each time, and the boys go back to their game.

  

2. College

College could have gone worse. At least he's had his own room, which is more than Law School is offering. He'll need to get better headphones. Clearing out doesn't take long, and once the room is empty, he sits on his stripped-down bed, listening to the chaos of packing in the building around him. He doesn't trade on his dad's name, ever, but he doesn't regret asking around at Fogwell's, finding some guys who'll lug boxes for cash. And if he knows that that they undercharged him, he figures the extra he slips to the management for out-of-hours access more than covers it.

All he has now is his coat and bag, his laptop far too important to entrust to anyone else. He's inhabited this space for long enough that most traces of the previous tenant have faded, just the faintest scent of lilac that still clings to the floorboards. It's sentimental nonsense, of course, but he takes a deep breath before heading out of the door, pulling it behind him for the last time.

There are people everywhere, parents and students, everyone chatting and shouting, carrying boxes, bags and parcels from rooms to cars. It makes the hallway feel like a battleground, and Matt keeps his right hand on the wall, holding his cane against his bag with his left as though fending off the world. The other students on the corridor are used to him by now, but the parents aren't, and he hears the whispers as a constant stream under the general conversation, like the ebb and flow of the tide.

He pays them as little attention as possible, resisting the urge to thread his way through the crowd, letting them avoid him instead. Someone waits until the last possible moment to go around him, and it's only three years of practice that keeps him from him stopping dead or stepping to the side. He's been walked into more times than he can count, from people who don't see the cane in time. It's annoying, but he deals with it by thinking of it as a learning exercise for them.

The crowd is thinning as he gets to the stairs, so he stretches out with his cane, feeling for the top step. There are people on the floors above, and some below, but for a precious few seconds, he has the staircase to himself. Relaxing a little, he shifts his cane to his right hand where it's more comfortable and moves to the other side of the stairs, letting his left hand trail down the bannister. Every dent and rough patch where the varnish has worn off is familiar, and he hadn't realised until now how much he's going to miss it. He pauses halfway between floors, leaning into the central well and just listening, tuning out from the sound of people and into the voice of the building, its creaks and groans, the water in the old pipes and air through the vents. It's always been so alive to him, and the wave of sentiment gives him a second's pause.

The flutter comes before the shout, a waft of air carrying the smell of dusty pages from books that weren't opened as many times as they should have been. Somewhere above him, a pile has slipped, probably stacked too high on unsteady boxes, and the books are flying free, straight down the central well of the staircase. Standing where he is, Matt can feel the airflow changing, hear the progress of the books as they descend towards him. He probably won't get whacked on the head, but from the tone of the startled shout above, at least something in the pile is important.

Without thinking, he puts his hands out, his cane dangling from his wrist on its strap. Even as the cloud of paper rustles it way towards him, he can hear the one that's different, the pages stiffer and heavy with the smell of glue and ink. Making a grab, he snatches it from the air, trying his best to make it look like a lucky catch.

"Oh my God." It's a girl, running down the stairs towards him as he steps away from the edge, still feeling the imprint of the bannister against his stomach. He cocks his head towards the sound. "Matt, you're a lifesaver."

The voice is familiar. "Helen?" An English major, lives three floors up, goes home every other weekend to see her dog. They've crossed paths enough to be more than acquaintances, even if they're not exactly friends, but then that goes for most of the people in Matt's college classes.

He gets a better grip on the thing he caught, feeling the weight of it, the plastic coating to the cover and pages.

"You're a lifesaver." Her footsteps clatter to a stop in front of him, heat from fear and the run in unsuitable heels rolling off her, her breath coming slightly short.

"Sorry, I missed the rest," he says, running his fingers over what he now knows is a photo album, the words embossed on the cushioned cover.

She takes it when he offers, grabbing his hand and squeezing when he tries to let go. It's something people do, not quite knowing how to communicate non-verbally with someone who can't read their face. Matt smiles, squeezes back, his fingers getting a little crushed as she presses the album to her chest.

"No, really. Thank you so much. This thing means the world to me."

The album is heavy enough that it's probably three years' worth of pictures, a record of the most important part of her life. The rest of the pile has settled below them now, and people on the lower floors are starting to call up, wondering who the hell just tried to kill them with books when College couldn't manage it.

"Happy I could help," he says, and manages not to anticipate it when she leans in to kiss him on the cheek.

"Thanks," she says softly. "Stay in touch."

"You too."

She releases him and carries on clattering downwards, calling an apology and warning people not to steal her things before she can get there. Matt listens to her go, to the conversations bubbling up as she passes, her presence rippling through the staircase like a pebble dropped in a pond. When he follows her, his own footsteps are deliberately soft, leaving no impression as he quietly slips away.

 

 

3. L1

"De Witt!"

At the call, Matt turns and automatically brings his hand up in front of his right shoulder. His fingers curl around the object that smacks into his palm before it can fall, and he frowns for a second, trying to identify it. That was easier said than done, after more than a few beers and half a pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea.

There's a cheer from somewhere in front of him, and he just about manages to focus. Four voices, three female. One Foggy.

"Is this a shot glass?" he calls, bringing up to his nose although he's already picking up the traces of something strong and sweet. "Did you just throw a used shot glass at me?" His cane makes contact with someone's ankle as he makes his way to the bar, but as most people in here are three drinks in and feeling no pain, he decides not to worry about it.

"Could have been worse. Could have been a full one." Foggy's coming a little closer, off his barstool and taking a few steps to intercept. He moves into Matt's space, which isn't all that unusual, and throws his arms around Matt's shoulders, which is also not that unusual. "They're so gorgeous, Matt. You gotta help me."

That's not unusual either, so Matt just pats Foggy's back gently and shifts their weight so that Foggy has to stand on his own. "Such a loser," he says, softly enough that only Foggy will hear, and he's grinning when Foggy makes an indignant noise and, probably, glares at him. There's a certain tilt to his head when he does it that Matt has come to recognise.

"Only if you don't help me," he says, turning on his heel and putting a hand under Matt's elbow.

Matt lets go of the glass when Foggy takes it, and lets himself be introduced to Becky, Kate and Lauren, Foggy's hand steering him to shake hands with each of them. Six months into Law School, and it feels seamless, their movements as synchronous as a well-practiced dance. Foggy claims it makes girls more comfortable if they don't have to wave around for Matt's hand. For his part, Matt's happy enough for him to think that.

He tunes back in just as Foggy is explaining the shot glass thing to… Lara? Laurie?

"Turns out," he says, and he's leaning on the bar now, a tiny change in his voice coming from the new angle of his lungs and windpipe, "Studying at Law School is really boring. Did you know that? Really, totally boring."

"Pretty much," Matt agrees, smiling his thanks as one of the other girls presses a fresh glass into his hand and stays close, the warmth of her against his arm suggesting both a sleeveless dress and more than a little interest. The glass is sticky on the outside, the cocktail having been poured a little sloppily, but it tastes fine as he takes a sip. Shifting his cane to his other side and his weight in her direction, he's rewarded with a slight press against his elbow.

Foggy is saying, "So you need to take breaks, but not too long breaks."

"Or you end up in bars," Matt puts in, waving his drink for emphasis.

"Too true." Foggy sounds wistful for a moment, then Matt hears him give his head a slight shake. "Our neighbours took up juggling. Marci down the hall paints her nails, one at a time, one per study break, then takes them all off again and starts over."

"But we couldn't find a colour I liked." He hears the pause before the laughter, the girls momentarily not sure whether or not they're supposed to find that funny. He's found it better this way, though, to get the first joke in. Sooner or later, when he's meeting new people, one of them will make a joke or use a metaphor that will make them feel awkward. If he's already broken that ice, things tend to go a lot faster.

He downs about half the rest of his drink in one hit, on the basis that if he can still think that clearly, he has not had nearly enough for someone who just finished their first year exams.

"Right. So Hell's Kitchen Pitching was born." Reaching over, Foggy pokes Matt in the shoulder, more or less where he'd caught the shot glass. "We both grew up there, and it turns out, when he's got a reference point, Matt's a pretty good catch."

"Seems that way," the girl at his elbow, who he's pretty sure is Becky says, close enough to his ear that Matt feels the warmth of her breath move his hair.

Even if Matt can't actually hear Foggy's eyes rolling, there are just some things he knows are happening.

"It's pretty neat," Foggy says. Then there's the scrape of a glass from Foggy's direction, and Matt catches the sweetness he'd noticed in the shot glass before. He holds his own glass out in Becky's direction, and she takes it from him quickly, just as Foggy says, "Javits Centre," and throws the glass.

Except, probably because he's at least two drinks ahead of Matt at this point, there's not enough of a gap between the call and the throw, so that there's no way Matt should have been able to get his hand down to his right hip in time.

Except, probably because Matt has also had more than he should have at this point, he's already moving his hand as soon as the glass leaves Foggy's fingers, instincts kicking in and letting him intercept it before it can bounce off his pants.

He only realises when he lifts it up again that the others aren't quite drunk enough not to notice, and he tips his head a little, going for 'knowing grin' and hoping it comes out okay.

"You always call them in the same order, buddy." He taps himself with the glass as he lists off the locations, "De Witt Park, Javits Centre, Air and Space Museum, Carlo's and the Belvedere." It's more or less true. That's the order they started with when they were first going out of their minds with boredom and came up with this stupid game in the first place.

Foggy sighed. "Am I really that predictable? It's sad, really, what Law School has done to me."

Matt throws the shot glass back in Foggy's general direction, making him fumble for it. Now his hands are free, he turns a little to probably-Becky and holds out his hand. She presses the drink into it and he feels the warmth again as she leans into him just a little too far. Given the other two girls are making gently sympathetic noises in Foggy's direction, Matt isn't going to feel too sorry for him. He empties the glass in one go, and passes it to Becky, whose hand has come to rest on his arm. Then he turns back to Foggy. "Try it again," he says. "Surprise me this time."

"I'm just full of surprises," Foggy says, downing his own drink and settling himself more comfortably on the barstool again. "Ladies, care to place your bets?" And the game is on.

 

 

4. After Law School

It turns out that the worst thing about the final year of Law School isn't the exams. It's the packing.

More accurately, it's both Matt and Foggy packing. Because Matt is tidy out of necessity, but sometimes forgets about stuff, and while Foggy isn't a slob, he's not a neat freak either. And after three years of sharing space, some things get kind of muddled up.

Once they're both done with books, computers, the bathroom and clothes, they're left with the odds and ends that have accumulated over the last few years. In a moment of frustration, Matt gathers it all onto his bed, fingers scraping along the backs of drawers and under the wardrobe to make sure he's got all of it. It's not until he's done and hears Foggy's huff of laughter that it dawns on him that wasn't exactly an original idea.

"How did you do that?" Foggy says, coming over to stand next to Matt. "I think you actually managed to gather up more than I did. You wanna-"

"No," Matt says, putting his arms out to stop Foggy heaping yet more stuff on top. "No, we are not combining the two small pieces of chaos into one big one. No good can come of that."

Foggy seems to consider this for a moment. "Probably fair," he says. "And anyway, I don't think I can disentangle most of mine from the Christmas lights."

They'd made a distinctive, if not exactly unpleasant noise that Matt doesn't remember hearing for a while. "I thought we took those down in April."

"We did. But they only got as far as under my bed, where they began an unholy union with some discarded rubber bands, a sweater and those bluetooth headphones I thought I'd lost. It's not pretty, my friend. Be glad you can't see it."

It takes them nearly ten minutes to wrangle the lights into a semi-neat loop, which Foggy fastens with the rubber bands. "I'm guessing you're not going to want these."

"I don't know," Matt says, making his way back across the room. "Do they make good mood lighting?"

"Why yes, yes they do, and that is why I'm going to be keeping them." There's the sound of a box being opened and a rustle as Foggy tries to stuff the lights into a space that's already too full. "You do not get any more advantages than you already have."

"Advantages?" Matt's trying for wounded, but it never works on Foggy.

"Shut up and tell me what else you've got there. Did that Magic 8 ball ever turn up?"

"Not over here. Although I do seem to have a whole bunch of CDs without boxes, and boxes without CDs. Any of them match?" He gathers up the stack, passing it over when Foggy tugs at it. "Otherwise, it's mostly socks, pencils and probably enough loose change to pay off our student debt."

"Result." Foggy takes a second, probably scanning the rest of what's on Matt's bed. "Yeah, that's mostly yours, although the t-shirt's mine when you get to it." He moves away, and Matt hears the slide-clatter of the CD stack being put on the uneven surface of his bed only to instantly topple over. "Weirdly, as normally things migrate further than under the bed, I think this stuff is mostly mine, although why the hell I have so many flashcards is anyone's guess. Oh, but these socks are yours, I think."

He's got his back to Matt, and without turning around, he grabs the socks and throws them over his shoulder. The idea had probably been for them to land on Matt's bed, but Foggy's aim sucks, and the balled-up socks head straight for Matt's face instead. Instinctively, Matt plucks them out of the air, feeling the familiar softness that tells him yes, these are his.

The second in which he realises what just happened seems to stretch out forever. If Foggy had turned around, if he'd just glanced over his shoulder, Matt would have had no way of explaining. It wasn't like Foggy had even known where he was throwing it and called it out. Half of what Matt did he'd had to explain away with things like 'practice' and 'instinct' and 'I just know you', relying on Foggy's good nature to carry the lie through.

For the next half second, Matt wonders what it would be like to just tell him, to try to explain. His hand tightens around the socks, gripping them so tightly that he's surprised his fingers don't tear straight through them. He sucks in a long breath.

Then he relaxes his hand, letting the socks fall to the floor. Ten minutes later, Foggy picks them up for him, handing them over more sensibly this time. Matt takes them with a smile.

"Thanks. Is that the last of it?"

Foggy's shoulder bumps against his as he turns to look around the room. "Looks like it." He hesitates. "Did you really want the lights?"

He's really asking, Matt knows. And if Matt says yes, Foggy would hand them over, no questions asked.

"Nah, I'm good," Matt says instead, closing the top on the last box. "Let's get out of here."

 

 

5. After Fisk

Even a normal person would have been able to hear the giggling from halfway down the stairs, so Matt was pretty sure he was going to walk in to find Foggy and Karen up to something.

He didn't expect to walk in to a muffin to the forehead.

Without thinking, he puts out a hand, letting the muffin fall into it as it bounces off him. The moment of silence that had fallen when he'd opened the door is broken by what sounds like two grown adults trying desperately to stifle laughter and, as a result, both sounding like they're blowing raspberries.

"Is this how we're greeting people now?" he asks, raising his eyebrows a little. "With baked goods?"

"I am so sorry," Karen says, managing to sound mortified even as she fails to suppress her giggles. "It was, uh-"

"I told you she was trouble when we hired her." Foggy is almost wheezing with laughter, and as he comes over to Matt, he's half-staggering, which is sort of impressive in its own right. Apparently this is only the last move in a much longer game. "Didn't I tell you?"

"Me?" There's a note of amused outrage in Karen's voice now. "You're the one who started it."

"Am not."

"You threw a pencil at me."

"You refused to do your job."

"Getting bagels is not my job."

"Children?" Matt breaks in, aware that if he doesn't intervene, someone's going to get hit in the face with pastry again. He can smell more muffins, and fresh-baked bread, and something that might be baklava, sticky and sweet in the air. "Is someone going to explain to me why the office seems to have turned into Hell's Kitchen's newest bakery? And why there isn't any coffee to go with this?"

"Speaking of things that aren't my job," Karen says, but she's already crossing the room towards the alcove where they keep the coffee machine. "You don't pay me to do your catering."

"Then just as a favour to a friend?" Matt asks, turning to follow her and trying his most winning smile. "A friend who just got hit in the head?"

"Hey, no sympathy. That's blueberry and it was supposed to be mine." Close enough to make a grab now, Foggy makes the mistake of brushing against the hand Matt still has on his cane, so that Matt has an excuse to know exactly where he is. He pushes back, gently, while moving the hand holding the muffin further away.

"Oh, that's what it's come to, has it?" he asks, trying to lean away while still pushing Foggy off him. "You're so desperate for cake that you'll mug a blind man for it? Really? Really?"

"Really, really," Foggy says. He's got one hand trapped against his chest thanks to Matt, but is trying to reach across to get the muffin anyway. "Mrs Martinez made them, and as I'm the one who filed the three million forms for her case, I get first dibs on the muffins."

"If I remember rightly, she only came to us as a client because of me." Matt shifts a little, steadying his feet as Foggy pushes a little harder.

"And she's paying us in muffins! That's hardly a sustainable business model!" Foggy pulls away for a second, only enough to free the hand not currently groping the air in the direction of the muffin, and pokes Matt in the ribs.

For once, miraculously, nothing there is bruised or broken, and the contact makes Matt yelp more from surprise than anything else. He doesn't drop the muffin, but he does let go of his cane, trying to bat Foggy's hand away.

The whole thing degenerates from there, and by the time the pot of coffee is full, Karen has had to sit down back at her desk to get her breath back, Matt's actually lost track of where his cane ended up, and Foggy's tie is a casualty of war. He's got a slight weight advantage over Matt, and he uses it with a final lunge, getting his hand onto the muffin that Matt's been trying to hold behind and above himself at the same time.

"Victory!" Foggy says, making a grab before stepping away, only to find that all he's managed to do is break off the top, with Matt still holding the case and the bottom half.

There are a few breathless moments, where Foggy is apparently considering making a play for the rest. Leaning back against the wall, Matt tries to get himself back under control, only for the giggling to find its way out again. One flailing hand finds the chair next to the door and he sinks into it, shaking his head.

"You know, when they said that going out on our own could be risky, I really had no idea, did I?"

"Oh, you haven't heard the last of this, Murdock," Foggy says, the conviction in his voice somewhat undercut by the way he's having to get the words out between gulps of air. "You just see if I tell you where the blackberry pie is now."

For answer, Matt unwraps some of the muffin and takes an obnoxiously large bite.

Karen sighs. "If you two are done roughhousing, there is actually some work that might pay in more than food and favours to be done?" But Matt can hear the smile in her voice, and she passes him his cane again as she comes over to pour them all some coffee.

"Until next time," Foggy says, and makes a complicated gesture that Matt thinks might have been a salute before ambling back to his office.

Matt takes the offered coffee from Karen, feeling the steam move across his face as she shakes her head. "Maybe next time, don't catch the muffin?" she says.

"I note that you're fully expecting there to be a next time," he says, not surprised when she just sighs again. "And no way. Next time I'm heading back out of the door and locking it behind me. Apparently you two just can't be trusted."

He hears her huff of laughter at that, and Foggy's from the office beyond. The coffee is far too strong, as always, and the smell of it is filling the small room. Unable to juggle all three things, Matt stuffs the last of the muffin into his mouth, picks up his cane and gets to his feet.

There is always work to be done, but it's probably too much to hope that all his working days will start like this.

 

 

+1. After Elektra

To Matt's relief, Foggy and Karen agree to come to him. He hasn't really been getting out much since. Well. Since everything. He's not hiding, he tells himself. He's recovering. Recuperating.

Grieving.

Anyway, Foggy and Karen turn up on time and together, which is nice, and probably has nothing at all to do with neither of them really wanting to be alone with him. Foggy turns on the lights and Karen makes coffee and at least Matt has three comfortable pieces of furniture so no one has to share a couch with anyone else.

"The real estate agent got in touch," Foggy says, once they've established that they're all fine, they're all tired from work, and Matt isn't concealing any life-threatening injuries from them. He doesn't even have any stitches at the moment. It's become their version of small talk, and while it's not exactly comfortable, it's given them a starting place, a way to settle.

Karen looks over at Foggy. "Did we leave something behind?"

"Nope. But they're having trouble renting out the space to anyone else. Wanted to know if we'd like it back for a discount on the first six months."

"Only if that discount is a hundred per cent." Matt's mostly working out of his apartment, coffee shops and the courthouse these days. "I can't afford to rent a broom closet, let alone three whole rooms."

"That's what I said. But we're technically paid up for another two weeks anyway, so I stuck another month on that. Nope, don't want to hear it." Maybe it's Foggy who has the super-senses, because he gets the words in almost before Matt's got his mouth open. "If you're going to stick at this, you need somewhere to meet clients where the barista doesn't interrupt you every two minutes. It's only a month, but it might get you on your feet enough that you can rent somewhere of your own."

"Yeah, you could even splash out," Karen says. "Be ambitious. You can do so much better than a broom closet."

"Exactly. Stationery cupboards are way more spacious."

Matt can hear the smiles in both of their voices, and he's grateful enough not to argue. "Thanks, Foggy. I'll pay you back."

Foggy waves it off. "Consider it recompense for eating the last cheese scone without telling you." He pauses. "Could you actually tell that I ate the last cheese scone? Did you know?"

It's a gentle enough push that Matt manages not to get defensive. He lifts his coffee mug instead, hoping his smile looks suitably mysterious. "I always know," he says, as gravely as he can manage, and getting a laugh from Karen as reward.

"Damn superheroes," Foggy mutters, shifting in his chair and pulling out the keys that were in the pocket of his pants. They aren't his house keys, Matt had already known, but he'd assumed they were something to do with Foggy's new job. "Here."

The throw is high and fast, and Matt has to reach up and snatch them out of the air before they go right over his head. For all that Foggy and Karen have a good idea of what Daredevil can do thanks to all the news footage, Karen is still adjusting to the idea of what Matt Murdock is capable of, and he hears her quick intake of breath, Foggy's snort and the shake of his head. Three months ago, he would have retreated from it, played it off somehow. But that's not the agreement.

Dropping the bunch into his lap, he shrugs a little. "You're not the first person to throw keys at me," he says, pretending he can't hear his own heart speed up a little just at the idea that he's going to actually talk about this. "Maybe it's something about my face." He hesitates, trying to find a way to start that will make sense to them. Even with Foggy, he only really skated the surface of the story, for his own sanity as much as anything else. There are some things he doesn't think about too much for fear of drowning in the memory.

Karen comes to his rescue, curling up more comfortably in the armchair and resting her cup on her knee. "Who was the first?" she asks, and it's Foggy who answers.

"It was that old guy, wasn't it? Stick."

Matt nods, aware that Karen hasn't really heard much about this yet. "You have to understand," he says, his voice sticking in his throat, "what it was like. Before. I was nine years old, and no one had any idea what was happening to me. I had no way of filtering, no way to block out all the noises and smells and everything else that the city throws at you." He hesitates, swallows, tries for calm even though his words are shaky to his own ears. "I thought I was going mad. Probably would have if the nuns hadn't called Stick."

"Who was he?" Karen asks, and, of course, Matt still doesn't have a good answer to that.

"A cross between Mr Miyagi and Frank Castle," Foggy says, shaking his head as though anticipating Matt's denial. "Seriously, Matt. However much he helped you with the whole 'going crazy' thing, even you can't deny that teaching a kid to kill is pretty screwed up."

"He tried to teach me that." Matt shifts, more than a little uncomfortable, because this whole 'be honest with us' thing doesn't really come naturally. "He walked out when he realised that killing was never going to be something I could do. Not deliberately."

"But he did teach you to fight." There's surprisingly little judgement in Karen's voice, and it gives Matt the push he needs.

Nodding, he presses his lips together, getting himself under better control before he goes on. "Amongst other things. I don't think either of us really knew what I could do when we started. For me, I just wanted the noise to stop, to be alone in my own head again. He was looking for a soldier. But he started," Matt lifted the keys and jangled them a little, "by throwing his keys at me. Right at my face."

"And you caught them." Foggy doesn't need to make it a question.

"It was like…" He doesn't think about it if he can help it, but Matt is drawn back into the memory, into the sense impression of a whirlwind and chaos. "Like a single moment of clarity. Everything was just a blur at that point, not much more than voices shouting into the wind. He must have known what would happen, that once I had something immediate to focus on, things would start to get easier, that I'd be able to learn to tune it all out. To concentrate."

"What if you'd missed, and those keys had smacked you right in the face?" The question cuts through some of the tension in the room, and Karen makes an exasperated noise at Foggy. "No, I'm serious. What if you hadn't caught them? Do you ever wonder?"

"All the time," Matt says, his voice sounding more like his own again. There's something freeing about just being honest, after a lifetime of hiding. "Maybe I would have figured out some of it on my own, maybe I wouldn't. And I probably would have had a scar just about here." He gestures to his right eyebrow. "Might have made me look distinguished. I hear women love a guy with scars." For a second he thinks it's too close, that Foggy is going to take that the wrong way and go entirely in a different direction with it.

But these are well-worn paths for the two of them, so instead, Foggy makes a disgusted sound. "Oh yes, because you really need more help with that."

The comment sends Foggy and Karen back into comfortable bickering, giving Matt a chance to drink some of his cooling coffee, and listen to them talk about him, rather than to him. It's something they do, and he's content enough with it. He's not the only one trying to work these things through.

As he settles back on the sofa, the keys slip from his lap onto the cushions, the gentle chink too soft for Foggy and Karen to hear. For the moment, Matt decides, they can stay there, and he tunes back into the conversation, letting the familiar voices drown out the noise beyond his apartment. He can't put off listening to the city forever, but for now, this is all he wants to hear.