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Marci Stahl, Avocado at Law

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Marci’s having a bad fucking day, okay? After the whole deal with Landman & Zach, she’s pretty much untouchable. All anyone knows is that she worked at the shadiest law firm in New York history, and what is she supposed to say to defend herself? Listen, I was one of the good guys. I violated attorney-client privilege and smuggled files to a rival firm. Sure, she can claim whistleblower protection if somebody tries to sue her, but that’s not much consolation if she can’t get a job.

So here she is, sitting alone in the swanky apartment she can’t afford anymore, staring at a closet full of useless power suits. She’s going to have to break her lease and move to Queens, probably to some avocado green monstrosity that hasn’t been updated since 1982. What is her life coming to when she can’t even afford a hipster apartment in Brooklyn? People who own mustache wax and lumberjack shirts have better lives than her.

Her cell phone rings and she snatches it off the table with unseemly haste, but no, it’s not a Fortune 500 company ready to make a job offer. It’s just Daddy Dearest. Again. For the eleventh time this week, probably. Marci, darling, when will you get a job? Aunt Muffy is ever so disappointed.

What?” she snaps, jabbing at the answer button. Can’t dodge Daddy’s calls forever. Pretty soon he’s going to send one of his interns to her apartment, and she’s not being dragged into his office for a disciplinary meeting like some ill-behaved underling.

“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” she says when there’s a break in his drone of invective. “Disappointment to the family name, career suicide, definitely my mother’s daughter. Get a new speech. You’ve been using that one since I was sixteen.”

Well, minus the career suicide part anyway. When she was sixteen, it was more like dire warnings about teen pregnancy and drug addiction. She’s only half-listening to his response when he gets to the part about the job. She actually perks up a bit at that, till she starts picking out all the fun keywords, like “strictly probationary” and “have to prove yourself” and “hire you only as a favor to me.”

“Listen, proving myself isn’t a problem,” she snaps. “I’m good at what I do. But if you think I need my daddy to get me a job, you’re wrong. I’m going some place where they value integrity.”

She hangs up the phone before she realizes that only one firm in New York -- or, probably, the world -- actually meets that description.

Fuck.

***

Nelson & Murdock is in a gritty corner of Hell’s Kitchen, which she had pretty much expected, but that doesn’t make it easier to walk through the door. The building doesn’t even have a lobby, just a dark entranceway with some weird greasy marks on the walls and linoleum tile on the floor. It takes her a couple minutes to process that there isn’t an elevator either. She squints at the dark stairway. Is she even going to be able to climb it in her Louboutins? And it’s creepy as fuck. Good thing she keeps Mace in her purse.

She thought they might at least have a whole floor of the building, but no, they’ve got a chintzy little suite with a handwritten sign taped to the door. She peeks through the frosted glass window. The receptionist’s desk is unoccupied, and the smell of Chinese food and the sound of laughter drifts outside. Marci pauses with her finger over the buzzer as an unexpected wave of longing washes over her. Working here sounds nice, but no no no -- she’s not thinking this way. This is a temporary stop, a way station to get her career restarted. She’s not here to beg for a job, much less some kind of happy legal family. Nelson & Murdock would be damn lucky to have her, and if they don’t know that, she’s turning around and walking straight out the door.

When she rings the buzzer, the laughter stops. She hears heels clicking toward the door, and then the secretary -- Karen -- appears on the other side. Her face freezes when she sees Marci, and then she forces a smile. So much for the warm welcome.

Foggy appears next, with Matt trailing behind them. Apparently a visitor in this office is an event, which doesn’t bode well for their billing potential.

“Marci,” Foggy says. “It’s been awhile.”

“Yeah,” Marci says evenly. They’d hooked up a couple times after Fisk went down, but what did he expect? A relationship? Please. He knows she doesn’t do that. She doesn’t want to look at the stupid wounded expression on his face anymore though, so she adds, “I’ve been busy. You know, resumes, interviews.”

Or hiding alone in her apartment, licking her wounds after losing everything she’d ever worked for.

“And no one wants to hire you, which is why you’re here,” Matt says.

Marci doesn’t have a good answer to that, which is really her fault for not thinking how to spin the conversation. Blaming Matt is easier though, so she lets her mind wander down the familiar fuck you, Matt Murdock route. Back in law school, he’d always been all you can do better, Foggy every time Marci’s back was turned. Now he’s standing here all high and mighty, thinking he’s better than her just because he has some rinky-dink law firm. As if.

“Yeah, a few people have some interesting questions about how my files got out of Lehman & Zach, so I’m kind of unhireable. And I stole those files for you, so I figure you owe me a job,” Marci says evenly. Nothing like a mental tirade to restore her equilibrium.

Matt snorts. “You did it to stay out of prison.”

“You can’t hold it against me if altruism and self-interest happened to align,” Marci says. “It doesn’t change the fact that you owe me.” She’s still not sure how the documents she borrowed led to Fisk’s indictment, but Foggy had thanked her enthusiastically later, so she figures she helped somehow.

“The thing is, Marci, we have a very...particular practice, and I’m not sure you’re the best fit,” Matt says smoothly.

Foggy clears his throat. “What Matt means is that we don’t really have, uh, what do you call them? Clients. Right. We don’t have any of those.”

Marci sighs. “Then fucking get some.”

“This isn’t a good idea, Marci,” Matt says firmly.

Marci glares at him, even if he’ll never know it. So what if she’d been a bitch to him a few times? She is a bitch; what else did he expect? But she’s a damn good lawyer, and if she can sell herself to Lehman & Zach, he ought to know she can tow the Nelson & Murdock company line too.

“What do you need? An interview? References?” she snaps.

Foggy grimaces and looks back at Matt. “Can I talk to you in private?” he asks, and Marci hates herself a little for the flood of relief that washes over her. Foggy’s going to convince Matt to hire her; it’s only a question of how long it will take.

Foggy and Matt retreat into one of the offices, and Marci turns to Karen, who’s back at her desk.

“I take my coffee with cream,” she says.

Karen smiles sweetly. “That’s nice. The coffee pot is over there,” she says, pointing toward the kitchenette.

Marci sighs and ditches her briefcase in one of the spindly office chairs. She could use a cup, and anyway, it’ll be easier to eavesdrop from the kitchenette.

From what she can tell, the conversation is unfolding just like she thought it would. Matt’s saying they can’t trust her, and Foggy’s saying she’d proven herself already. Matt thinks her clients might be evil; Foggy says they should give her a chance. When Matt gets down to arguing that they don’t have space for a third desk, Marci rinses out of her coffee cup and puts it on the drying rack like a good girl. Then she walks around the corner and opens the office door.

“I’ll put a desk in the corner of Foggy’s office,” she says. It’s a step down, but then, she’d known it would be as soon as she opened the door. “And you need clients, okay? People who need help come to my dad’s firm all the time, and half them walk straight out the door when they find out how much it costs. I can get you the referrals, and you can decide who meets your whole truth and justice thing.”

“That sounds fair, right?” Foggy says, looking at Matt. Matt says nothing, and Foggy clears his throat. “I hate to call in my chips from the you-know-what, but I think you owe me a free decision or two.”

Matt nods once and looks toward Marci. How does he always know where she’s standing? It’s weird, but ultimately beside the point. She might be a bitch, but at least she’s not one of the idiots who’s always asking how blind people do things.

“We can hire you on a contract basis only,” he says. “We can’t guarantee many hours, at least not at first, but you’ll keep whatever you bill.”

So this is her life. Top 10 at Columbia Law to part-time contract attorney, all in a few short months.

“It’s a fair offer,” she forces herself to say. She takes a deep breath. “Thank you both.”

***

She doesn’t bother putting photos on her desk; the rest of the firm is pretty stark, and it’s not like this is home anyway. Their office is quiet except for the sound of Foggy clicking away on his keyboard, doing whatever lawyers do when they don’t have clients. Checking UrbanSpoon for new take-out places, browsing Netflix for Bollywood movies...whatever. She doesn’t care, and she’s certainly not asking.

She calls her dad, but his assistant forces her to leave a message. Then she spends half an hour trying to set up a secure password on her laptop that she can actually remember. It’s her personal laptop naturally; all the equipment in this office looks like it was purchased from a real estate auction in 2001.

The office is so quiet that she actually jumps when the clock ticks over to three. Foggy sighs and looks at her for the first time since she moved in.

“Fine, I’ll start the conversation,” he says. “The way you disappeared on me was shitty. I wasn’t asking you for a marriage proposal. I just thought you might return my calls.”

Marci rolls her eyes. “Yeah, well, I’m not a very nice person.”

“Stop doing that,” Foggy says.

“Doing what?”

Foggy frowns. “Pretending to be all mean and hard just because it’s easier for you when people don’t have expectations.”

“You’re the expert on me now? Great,” Marci says. She’d flounce out the door if there were anywhere to go.

“I know some things about you,” Foggy says. “Give me that at least.”

And there he is, always having faith in her better nature even when all the evidence says he shouldn’t. Wasn’t it enough that she’d humiliated herself coming in here and asking for a job? Did they have to comb through every relationship mistake from their past while they were at it? Of course, all her righteous anger won’t change the fact that she’d kind of been an asshole, and Foggy hadn’t deserved it.

“You’re right. It was shitty of me,” she says. “Landman & Zach asked me to resign and…” She lets her voice trail off, hoping that’s enough to satisfy Foggy, but nope, he’s still looking at her. She takes a deep breath and adds, “Look, you know how hard I worked in law school. My dad was actually proud of me for the first time in, well, ever. And when it all fell apart, I kind of fell off the radar for awhile. But you’re right. I could have handled it better, and I’m sorry.”

Foggy nods, and then her phone chimes, sparing her from hearing that she didn’t have to be alone. Or sparing her from Foggy not saying she didn’t have to be alone. Or, most accurately, sparing her from trying to figure out whether she wanted Foggy to tell her that she didn’t have to be alone.

“Daddy Dearest isn’t returning my calls,” she says, “But he had his secretary send me the name of a bank that the CIA accused of funneling money to terrorists. His firm is referring them to us.”

“That sounds right up our alley,” Foggy says. “Matt will be thrilled we’re defending sponsors of Al Qaeda.”

Marci rolls her eyes. “They didn’t actually do it, dumbass. They’re pretty much the only bank that will still make transfers to private accounts in Yemen, and if they shut down, that’s a whole lot of immigrants who can’t get money back to their families. They can pay, but not my dad’s rates.”

Foggy grins. “Maybe we’ll be able to keep the lights on this month after all.”

***

Karen the secretary is weird. She makes photocopies and transfers calls when Marci needs her to, but she insists she only makes coffee for her friends. Then she ostentatiously refuses to make coffee for Marci. When Marci’s in the office -- which is only twenty hours on a good week -- it makes Marci feel like the fourth wheel of their little triumvirate. How ridiculous. Marci always thought a fourth wheel would be a good thing.

“Did you sleep with him?” she asks Karen, looking meaningfully toward Foggy’s office. That would explain the weird attitude problem.

“Excuse me?” Karen asks, looking affronted.

Marci shrugs. “He’s really good. I thought you might have.”

Karen grimaces. “Not that it’s any of your business, but Foggy and I have never been more than friends.”

“Suit yourself,” Marci says. She looks towards Matt’s office. It’s empty. He hadn’t come in today; apparently he’s a fan of mysterious errands and excess personal days. “Well, what about Matt? Did you ever --?”

“Um, Marci?” Karen pegs her with an incredulous look. “I know you are, in some way, my boss, but this is not an appropriate professional discussion.”

“Oh, sorry. Just curious.” Marci likes talking about sex, but whatever. Maybe she should’ve looked for different common ground, like their shared taste in pencil skirts -- but that would’ve been a boring fucking conversation. Office politics could be a decent topic though. She looks back at Matt’s empty office. “You know, Matt was always such a workaholic in law school. I never figured him to be the long lunch type.”

Karen purses her lips. “He gets the job done. Did you need something, Marci?”

Okay, no friendly chit-chat then. “Just the practice notes for section 76A. Whenever you have time.”

She flounces back to her barren and boring little corner of Foggy’s office. She has a bank to defend from the CIA.

***

“What did you do to Karen?” Foggy asks. It’s 11:18 on a Wednesday night. The bank case has blown up, and suddenly Matt “We Can’t Guarantee Many Hours” Murdock needs her here day and night. Not that she has anything else to do.

“I didn’t do anything,” Marci says.

“If by nothing, you mean something to make her hate you,” Foggy says.

Marci would like to tell herself that she hadn’t missed this kind of banter, but she’d be lying -- and while she’s pretty okay with lying to other people, she tries not to lie herself.

“Fine. Is asking if she slept with you something?”

Foggy looks up from his computer screen long enough to give her an exasperated glare. “I don’t often find myself giving advice about appropriate social interaction. It’s novel. In the future, you might not want to ask employees you barely know about their sexual history. Well, not just employees. Pretty much all people.”

“All boring people,” Marci mutters. “Did you seriously not sleep with her? Because I can’t figure out why else she’d hate me.”

“Okay, not sure where to start with this one,” Foggy says, pushing his laptop aside. “One, your concept of female relationships is disturbingly limited. Two, no, we didn’t sleep together. And three, not everyone likes to discuss their sexual conquests the way you do.” Marci starts to respond, and Foggy holds up a conciliatory hand. “I’m not saying you’re wrong to like it, just that you’re wrong if you expect random co-workers to like it.”

“Fine,” Marci says. “I was just looking for common ground.”

“You were pushing buttons,” he says. “It’s kind of your specialty.”

Marci smiles. “Yes, and I am so good at it.” She looks out the door, and she can see Karen sitting at her desk in a pool of lamplight, typing away on some report. In a way, she’s the most reliable person in the office -- no weird errands like Matt, no random rants like Foggy, and not nearly as prickly as Marci. “Do you ever worry about her?” she asks Foggy.

Foggy blinks. “Are you showing concern for other human beings? I’d like to document this.”

“Seriously, Foggy. Do you ever notice she’s kind of jumpy? Always locks the door if she’s alone?”

Foggy shakes his head, and Marci suppresses a sigh. He’s got some kind of weird radar where Matt is concerned, but he can be pretty oblivious to everyone else sometimes.

“Maybe it’s the kind of thing other women notice,” Marci says. “But if something happened to her, we should try to figure out how to help her. She’s good. You need to keep her.”

“Maybe you should lead with that next time,” Foggy says. “But leave out the part where your concern is motivated exclusively by the corporate bottom line.”

***

Foggy can say what he wants, but the longer Marci sticks around Nelson & Murdock, the more she thinks something bad happened to Karen. Not just a little bad. Not just woman-alone-in-the-city paranoia, which god knows Marci has her share of. Thank god for making Uber because she sure as hell wouldn’t want to walk around Hell’s Kitchen at night looking for a cab. But that’s just fear of what could happen. Karen’s jumpy like something bad actually happened, and she’s worried it’ll happen again.

And then there’s the Kitchen Incident, aka that time when Marci surprised Karen in the kitchen and Karen almost killed her. Well, okay, she almost pepper sprayed her, but it was pretty traumatizing, all right?

Marci’s five a.m. soul cycle class had been cancelled, which pissed her the fuck off because the instructor’s six-pack abs were the only reason to get up at ass o’clock in the morning. But as long as she was awake, she figured she might as well go to the office. Everything was locked, dark, and deserted -- just like it should be, because the Avocados at Law or whatever Matt and Foggy called themselves weren’t into insane hours like other firms. Marci didn’t bother turning on the lights; she had other, more pressing matters to attend, like putting on a pot of coffee right away. She was too intent on her work to hear footsteps approaching, but suddenly there was a lot of screaming -- half of which was probably hers -- followed by some shaky-voiced threats and a hysterical stream of obscenities. Marci had her back to the wall with the coffee carafe over her head when she stumbled into the light switch. And there was Karen, brandishing a letter opener and pepper spray, practically in tears.

At the time, they didn’t manage a rational conversation. Marci’s end consisted mostly of what the fuck and Karen’s was mostly hysterical apologies.

When Marci’s heart had slowed down, she managed one intelligent question: “What the fuck are you doing here at five in the morning?”

Karen was looking at the floor. “I don’t like sleeping in my apartment sometimes,” she said. “Don’t tell Matt and Foggy, okay?”

At the time, Marci had just nodded in silent agreement. Karen looked upset, and Marci didn’t want to risk another outburst, so what else was she supposed to do? Obviously, she should have marched straight up to Foggy’s desk first thing in the morning, but she didn’t. So now the whole thing is her problem.

She waits till Matt’s gone on one of his mysterious errands and Foggy’s visiting a client, and then she puts a cup of coffee on Karen’s desk. Karen looks up at her like she’d grown two heads, which is a fair reaction. Marci doesn’t really do things for other people; her style is to saunter in with a latte and innocently declare that she had no idea anyone else wanted Starbuck’s.

“Look,” Marci says, “I’m not very good at concern for other human beings, but I wanted to ask if you’re okay.”

Karen shakes her head, forcing an awkward chuckle. “I -- yeah. I’m okay. I’m sorry about the thing in the kitchen with letter opener and the pepper spray. You startled me. That’s all.”

It would be easy to leave the conversation now, but then, people who are afraid of confrontation probably shouldn’t practice the law. “I don’t think you are okay, Karen,” Marci says. “The thing is, it’s not healthy to sleep in the office because you’re afraid to sleep in your apartment. Your work is important to Nelson & Murdock. Actually, sometimes I think you’re the only one who keeps this office going, so we can't really afford to lose you. This is a card for my therapist. She’s pretty awesome actually, and I think you should consider talking to her.”

Karen closes her fingers around the card, and then the two of them freeze, Karen’s hand on one side of the card and Marci’s on the other. Please don’t emotion, please don’t emotion Marci thinks. Karen blinks and swallows convulsively.

“Look, I don’t know what benefits they give you around this place,” Marci says, letting go of the card and gesturing around the office. “If they’re not adequate to cover what you need, let me know.”

Karen nods once, not quite making eye contact, and Marci nods back. She’s standing at the door of her office when Karen suddenly says, “Thank you, Marci.” She tucks the card into her purse.

Marci shakes her head. “There’s nothing to thank me for. You’re a good employee. We want to keep you. That’s all.”

That’s the last they talk about it, but Marci starts buying an extra latte on her afternoon Starbucks run, just in case it matters.

***

The next week, she lets Foggy know she’s taking a couple days off. Setting her own hours is one of the (few) perks of being a contract attorney, but she figures it’s polite to let someone know she’s going to disappear for a couple days.

Foggy grins. “Long weekend, eh? Who’s the lucky guy?”

Marci studies his expression, looking for even a hint of malice, but of course there isn’t one. It’s Foggy, after all. If someone had screwed her over, she’d be sticking pins in a voodoo doll. He’s wishing her well on a romantic weekend.

Marci smiles ruefully. “No guy, no beach getaway. I’m moving to Queens.”

Oh how the mighty have fallen. No more elevator, no more doorman. No sun-drenched bedroom with a queen bed and a view of Manhattan. But the truth is plain: COBRA’s sucking her slender earnings dry, and she can’t pay her rent and her student loans from the shattered remnants of her paycheck.

“I’m sorry,” Foggy says. “I know that apartment meant a lot to you.”

Marci shrugs. “It’s just temporary, till I get back on my feet. I’ll be back in Manhattan before long.”

“You will,” Foggy says. “I hear there’s a condo in the One57 building with your name on it. Soaring a thousand feet over Central Park, all chrome and glass, all the amenities...yup, that’s you. And in the meantime, I am available to help you move. I will carry your heavy things and put them down in the places you designate, and I won’t even demand pizza and beer at the end.”

“That’s alright,” Marci says firmly. “I hired a moving company.” It’s really a man-and-a-van outfit from Craigslist, but whatever. Hopefully the driver will (a) actually show up (b) not kill her.

They type away in companionable silence for awhile, except that Foggy keeps looking at her. She checks her cleavage automatically -- sometimes the girls get away from her -- but nope, nothing extra showing.

She shoots Foggy a pointed look. “Whatever you want to say, just get it over with.”

Foggy’s face splits into a slow grin. “It was a good thing you did for Karen.”

“Okay,” she says and goes back to her book. So she’s occasionally a decent human being. They don’t have to make a big deal out of it.

“You were right that something bad happened, you know. She didn’t tell me what it was, but she’s been going to the therapist.”

“Good,” Marci says. “She’s a good employee. It’s important that we take care of her.”

“You don’t have to pretend it was just a business decision,” Foggy says.

Marci glares at him over the top of New York State penal code 589-7A. “I’m not debating you about the true nature of my soul.”

Foggy claps his hands. “Excellent. That was easier than I thought. As a reward, I will not foist my companionship on you on both days of your moving adventure. I'll allow you to decide if you'd like my help packing the Manhattan apartment or unpacking in Queens.”

“Neither,” Marci says firmly. She goes back to her book and waits for Foggy to do the same. Then she shifts so that she’s facing him from the best possible angle, and okay, maybe she surreptitiously undoes a button. Then she smiles. “I could use some help saying goodbye to a certain fabulous bedroom though.”

Help a secretary, get free orgasms. It’s not a terrible deal.

***

On Monday morning, she’s eavesdropping in the kitchenette when she hears Matt say, “Are you and Marci sleeping together again?”

“No,” Foggy says. He sounds for all the world like a four-year-old denying he stole a cookie, so the deception doesn’t last long. “Guess there’s no point lying to you, huh?” he says.

“Foggy.” Matt’s voice is grave. “Can you tell me one time this has ever ended well?”

“I think she’d say it ended well the last two nights,” Foggy says, and Marci smiles.

Of course, it’s not like Matt is going to let a sexual innuendo stop him.

“Look, I know you say I'm the one with the thing for women of questionable character, but watch out for Marci, okay?”

Marci tosses her K-cup into the trash and sweeps out of the kitchen. Foggy knows who she is, and she doesn’t care what Matt Murdock thinks of her. Not one bit.

***

The next week, she picks up another contract job filing foreclosures for Bank of America. It's not the groundbreaking legal work she'd imagined for herself, but hey, the hours are regular, the pay is better, and she never has to fish electricians out of the drunk tank. That's more than she can say for Nelson & Murdock.

Actually, it's a pretty good gig. Nobody ever drags her away from her desk at lunch to demand she eat bad Chinese food in the conference room, and no one ever blasts weird Bollywood music through their shitty desktop speakers in the name of practicing Punjabi. All she has to do is her job, nine to five, with the possibility of productivity bonuses and an in-house attorney position if she's halfway decent -- which, naturally, she is.

Of course, since her idea of proper workplace culture has been warped by her month at Nelson & Murdock, it's an adjustment. She rubber stamps the foreclosure agreements like a good little minion, but she keeps wondering about the people who are losing houses in the real world. Then she stays up till midnight reading New York Times articles about the human impact of the foreclosure crisis.

The fucked up thing is that she's happy when her phone rings on a random Monday night and the caller ID lights up with the Nelson & Murdock number.

"Hey, I know this sucks, but is there any chance you're available at night this week?" Karen asks.

Marci suppresses a weird lurch of homesickness when she pictures Karen at her desk in a little circle of lamplight, surrounded by cartons of take-out and the little Star Wars toys Foggy keeps lining up on her window sill.

"What's going on?" she asks. She's already packing up her briefcase, half-listening while Karen describes their latest client, a developmentally disabled woman who'd been coerced into confessing a crime she didn't commit.

And so begins the phase of her life where she works all day and most of the night -- which is pretty much exactly what she was doing at Landman & Zach, except that she's making half the money and wouldn't want to make partner even if she could. So basically, it's irrational and she's only doing it because she's a workaholic with no friends. At least there's one fringe benefit: Foggy keeps going home with her, probably because they're both way too tired to pick up a stranger in a bar. But hey, there are worse ways to end the day than with the Michelangelo of oral sex.

When the confession is ruled inadmissible, Marci feels oddly deflated. It was good legal work, and the social media campaign she'd spearheaded will look great on her resume; there's no way the prosecution would have backed off without it. Now that the Landman & Zach scandal is dying down, she'll be able to spin that into a corporate job for sure.

Foggy's standing over her desk, and she looks up at him slowly, like he'd interrupted her doing something important. She was really pinteresting power interview outfits, which he probably knew.

"Yes?" she asks, leaning back in her chair.

"You're going back to rubber stamping foreclosure documents tomorrow, aren't you?" he asks.

"Girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do." She reaches for her computer again. Foggy's an idealist, but what did he expect? Money doesn't grow on trees, and she's got the same six-figure debt he has.

He turns away, then turns back again. "You know you don't have to do to anything you don't want to, right?"

She should have a biting retort. She really should. Instead she's thinking about how much she's going to miss seeing Foggy every day -- the incessant Star Wars references, the bad movies, the sad inability to consume spicy food. Nothing at her other job makes her smile.

She comes around to the front of her desk and balances on the edge of it, just a few inches from Foggy. There's one thing she needs to say before she can leave here with a clean conscience.

"Listen, Foggy Bear, there's something I need to ask you. Something important. I want you to tell me the truth, okay?"

Foggy takes a little step toward her, almost closing the distance between them. His eyes are wide and sincere when he says, "Yeah. Anything."

"Okay." She takes a deep breath. "Is Matt dying? You can tell me. I'll be there for you." She'd read a WikiHow article and everything.

"What?" Foggy's voice is almost an octave higher.

She takes his hand in hers, but he doesn't hold it back. Typical Foggy. So emotional all the time, but still can't talk about the things that really matter.

"I knew you were going to be like this," she says. "I'm not stupid, okay? All those long breaks have to be doctor's appointments. Then he takes whole days off and he comes back walking all weird and stiff. And all the bruises? I know you say he's just having accidents, but he was never this clumsy in law school. So what is it? Leukemia? AIDS?"

"AIDS?" Foggy practically shouts, pulling back his hand. "You think Matt is dying of AIDS?"

Marci frowns. "It's 2015, Foggy Bear. AIDS is nothing to be ashamed of."

But Foggy's already turning away from her, muttering under his breath. Marci thinks she catches something like "can't believe I thought we were having a moment," but then Karen pokes her head in.

"Hey, am I interrupting something?" she asks, looking back and forth between Marci, who's still got her arms crossed over her chest, and Foggy, who has his back turned to both of them.

"Nope," Foggy says, just a touch too quickly. "I was just leaving."

"Yeah, me too," Marci says, reaching behind her desk for her briefcase.

"Oh," Karen says, looking disappointed. "I guess we're not going out for celebration drinks then."

"I'm in," Marci says, shrugging her shoulders. "Who cares if it's Wednesday?"

Foggy doesn't come with them, which is weird, but at least it means they get to go somewhere that serves actual martinis -- and that cleans and sanitizes the bathroom every once in awhile.

"I have to confess, I have an ulterior motive," Karen says, looking at her pink cocktail. "Matt wanted me to feel you out about, well, a proposal. And Foggy is totally on board with it, of course."

"I don't want to have sex with you and Matt," Marci says matter-of-factly. "I only do two boys-one girl threesomes. It's nothing personal. You're very pretty, but I just really like dicks."

Karen chokes on her cosmo. "Why is everything always about sex with you, Marci?"

"It's not," Marci says, draining the last of her martini. "But in my experience, it's always about sex when someone invites you out for drinks, gets nervous, and then mentions an ulterior motive and a vague proposal."

"Oh. When you put it that way..." Karen blushes. "Guess I'm new to the whole business negotiation thing. Matt -- and Foggy too -- wanted me to find out under what terms you would consider working with us full time."

Now it's Marci's turn to be surprised. The Avocados at Law want her there? They're not just paying her back for stealing files anymore? Marci knows what she should do: she should say no and get a real job. And then she should hijack Karen the awesome secretary, who deserves a real job too.

"Please say yes," Karen says. "You're the only one who thinks about the business side of things, and I really like being able to pay my electricity bill. And you're the only one who can save me from an endless stream of inside jokes."

Marci smiles in a way that some people -- mostly men -- have described as predatory.

"Tell Matt I want to hear him say how badly he wants me to work for him," she says and flags down the bartender for another martini.

The truth is -- not that she's admitting this to anyone -- it feels good to be wanted.

***

Marci drops by Nelson & Murdock on her lunch break on the pretense of cleaning out her desk. Then she sits in her chair and swivels back and forth, waiting for Matt to appear with a job offer. Foggy isn't meeting her eyes, which is weird, but she figures he doesn't want to negotiate business with her. She wouldn't want to negotiate against herself either.

Matt appears in the doorway just before Marci decides he's not coming.

She holds up a finger before he gets a chance to speak. "Wait a second. I just want a minute to savor the fact that you want little old Machiavellian me to work in your sanctimonious truth-seeking enterprise."

She sees Foggy smirk out of the corner of her eye. Even Matt's lips twitch a little. She makes a show of checking her watch.

"Okay, I'm good with thirty seconds. You may proceed."

Matt heaves an exasperated sigh, but there’s a smile lingering around the corners of his mouth. “Marci, we have appreciated your work in recruiting clients, and your social media campaign was vital in the success of our most recent case. We would like to know if you would be interested in contracting full-time with Nelson & Murdock."

Contracting? She hadn't seen that one coming. But then, all the take-away lunches and Bollywood films in the world won't turn Nelson & Murdock into corporate litigators, and that's what she is. If she contracts, she can leave when she wants to without having to explain why she abandoned an associate position after a few months.

"I would be interested," she says. "But I want to choose my own clients."

Matt's eyebrows go up. "That's not really how contract attorneys work, Marci."

Marci folds her arms over her chest. "I see. And what proportion of your clients come from my referrals? Is that typical of a contract attorney?"

"Be that as it may, our practice serves a very specific clientele --"

"Okay, okay, I get it. Believe it or not, I'm not dying to represent the Jeffrey Dahmers and Bernie Madoffs of the world. I do have serious ethical and legal questions about your method of selecting clients. It's not up to us to determine who deserves high quality legal representation."

Matt grimaces. "That's just a line people use to justify helping the guilty escape justice."

"The Constitution is not a line, Matt. It's the basis of our entire legal system. We will represent some guilty people, yes, but even the guilty deserve legal protection. If no one represents them, the government no longer has any incentive to comply with the Bill of Rights. Then nobody is protected, innocent or guilty." Marci sits back in her chair, arms folded, daring Matt to argue with that.

He smiles, for real this time. "I would rather work with you than against you, Marci," he says, holding out his hand.

She takes it. "Smart decision. I owe Bank of America two weeks' notice. I'll see you then."

When Matt's gone, Marci slides behind Foggy's desk and perches on the edge of it so their legs are touching.

"No more rubber stamping foreclosure papers," she says, swinging her leg a little so their thighs brush together. "Wanna come over tonight and help me celebrate?"

Foggy rolls his chair backwards, and Marci's skin feels cool where their legs had been touching.

"Actually, I don't think that's such a good idea," he says. "If you're going to be here full time, we should probably quit with the hooking up. Keep business and pleasure separate, you know."

"That's weird. You've never said no to me before." Marci shrugs. "Well, I guess that's what I've got a vibrator for. See you in two weeks, Foggy Bear."

***

It shouldn’t matter that Foggy isn’t returning her texts; after all, it’s not like he’s got the only penis in New York. She hooks up with a law school buddy a couple times, and once with a guy she meets in a bar that actually serves martinis. Neither of those guys make bad attempts to seduce her in Punjabi, and they stay firmly on their side of the mattress -- if they sleep over at all. She should probably just throw away the toothbrush Foggy was keeping by her sink. Maybe she’ll do it tomorrow. Or the day after. Definitely the next time she cleans the bathroom.

Foggy’s toothbrush is still sitting in her bathroom a week later, but by then, she’s got bigger problems: Nelson & Murdock get their office supplies from the Staples bargain bin, and she’s sure as hell not spending the next six months writing on generic sticky notes with shitty ballpoint pens. So begins the systematic pillaging of the Bank of America office supply closet -- Pilot pens first, then rainbow-colored bricks of Post-It Notes, and finally industrial-sized boxes of binder clips and legal pads that are actually legal size. Thank god she’d splurged on a decent tote back in her Landman & Zach days.

By the time her two weeks at Bank of America have expired, she’s got enough supplies to open her own Office Depot and a lead on a suit against the Manhattan District Court for routinely failing to provide speedy public trials to low-level felony offenders. She's still determined not to think of Nelson & Murdock as home -- how the fuck does a tiny criminal defense practice fit into her career plans? -- but she decorates her desk there anyway. It's nothing much, just her diploma on the wall and a few Japanese knickknacks around her blotter, but it's the first time since Landman & Zach that anything in her life has felt more than temporary.

When Foggy comes back from lunch, she marches over to his desk with a package of the green Pilot pens he insists are lucky. She really has no idea what the fuck is going on between them, but the office feels wrong without his smiles.

"I stole these from Bank of America for you," she says. "Truce?"

Foggy's eyes light up. "We need to send you foraging for office supplies more often."

"Nope," Marci says with a shrug. "Next morally bankrupt office supply mission is yours. You're going to have to whore yourself out somewhere to pay my salary anyway."

"Never! A client with a pure heart and a deep wallet is walking through the door right now," Foggy declares, making a grandiose gesture toward the office door -- which, of course, remains stubbornly shut.

"Okay, right now," he says, gesturing again. He turns back toward Marci. "Okay, yes, truce. But only because you admitted your last job was morally bankrupt."

"Whatever," Marci says, rolling her eyes. "Well, okay, it was. But don't tell anyone else."

Foggy blinks, looking surprised, and Marci holds up a finger. "Say nothing, or I'll take it back."

Foggy pretends to lock his lips and throw away the key, then shakes his head and frowns.

"Did I just do that?" he asks. "I just did that. Don't tell."

Marci almost laughs. Maybe she almost admits how much she missed him. Keyword almost. This is a professional practice. Well, pseudo-professional practice. Professional enough that the partners aren't sleeping with the contract attorneys. And anyway, it's not like she has feelings for him or anything.

***

Now that the tension with Foggy's gone, Marci's free to pursue her two favorite Nelson & Murdock activities: stealing the best coffee cup and figuring out what the hell is going on with Matt.

The office only has four coffee cups, one for each of them. Nobody wants to be the last to arrive in the morning because that means they’ll get the one with the chip in the rim. Marci, however, is not content merely to escape the shitty coffee cup. She wants the best one, the one that’s made from clay that feels like silk and smells like damp earth after a soft rain. Karen and Foggy insist that this cup is Matt’s because the poor blind guy needs things that feel nice. Well, okay, actually it’s because he brought it from his apartment and it has his name on the bottom. Marci knows that possession is nine-tenths of the law, so she shows up at 7:29 every Monday morning just to seize the coffee cup. Plus, if she fiddles around with the coffee pot long enough, she can eavesdrop on Matt and Foggy’s morning meeting.

Really, she's not sure why she bothers. Only about five minutes of the meeting are devoted to business. The next ten are mostly their epic bromance, and after that, who knows? They probably make sweet love on Matt's desk, but Marci sure as hell isn't sticking around to hear what that sounds like.

The morning she hears Matt claim that she's growing a soul, she's forced to burst into his office and set the record straight, even if that means giving away her eavesdropping position.

"Listen, I didn't want to have a touchy-feely conversation with you about domestic violence," she says. "I just couldn't find a Braille brochure about abusive relationships on short notice."

And really, how was she supposed to see Matt's face all bruised every day and say nothing? She's an asshole, but not that kind of an asshole. Besides, if Matt ends up dead in a dumpster somewhere, what happens to her job?

Foggy's face lights up. "You know," he says to Matt, " a couple weeks ago, she thought you were dying. Of AIDS."

Her one moment of weakness, used against her.

Matt frowns. "I think it would be more comfortable for everyone if you left a brochure next time. I have an app that reads that reads things."

"Good to know," Marci says, steepling her fingers in front of her. "But now that I know you're not being abused and you're not dying, I realize that all the mysterious errands and facial bruising mean you're probably dealing drugs on the side. You need to stop that, for the record. Working at another law firm with a felonious partner would really kill my career."

She turns around to leave, then pokes her head back in the door. "I got your favorite coffee cup again, by the way." That'll teach him to say she has a soul.

***

On her one-month anniversary at Nelson & Murdock, Marci goes on a date. Not a hook-up, an actual date. He meets all of her pre-determined criteria: he's over six feet tall, makes time for the gym, and he's on the partner track at his firm. It's weird how she can't remember if his name is Dan or Stan or Steve, but whatever. She'll figure it out by the second date.

The thing is, Dan-Stan-Steve is fucking boring. All he can talk about is making partner -- well, that and the deposition he's taking tomorrow, the brilliant cross examination question he asked last week, and the client he schmoozed on the golf course this morning.

"Hey, Dan. Stan. Steve. Whoever. You've got five seconds to turn this date around," she announces, twirling her martini glass in between her fingers. "Best song of 2014. Go."

Dan-Stan-Steve looks at her blankly. "Uh, Animal? Maroon 5?" he asks.

"Nope." Marci drains her glass and slides off the bar stool. She doesn't date men who like songs about hunting down women and eating them alive, thank you very much. That one can go on the checklist for next time.

Her phone's in her hand and she's dialing Foggy's number before she really even thinks about it.

"Foggy Bear, why are you still at the office? You made partner already," she says, waving down a cab with her free hand. "You should come eat Ethiopian food with me. There's a really good restaurant around the corner from my apartment."

Calling the restaurant really good isn’t an actual lie; it’s more like speculation. It certainly smells...interesting, and it’s the kind of weird thing Foggy would come to Queens for. Why she wants to see him of all people after a shitty date is beyond her, but she’s had a long week and she’s not up for introspection.

Foggy can’t meet her right away, so she stops by her apartment to change. Her fingers stumble over something soft in the back of a drawer, and when she pulls it out, it’s one of Foggy’s old flannels. How long had she had that? Probably since the first time they were dating. Clearly, she needs to clean out her wardrobe a little more often. She shoves the shirt back in the drawer and snatches a crumpled concert t-shirt and a pair of jeans from the floor.

Foggy’s already gotten a table when she walks into the restaurant -- and shit, she’d thought there was no way a random Ethiopian diner in Queens would look like a date venue, but this one does. The tables are low to the ground, surrounded by piles of embroidered pillows, and of course there’s a flickering candle on top of each one.

“You look normal,” Foggy says by way of greeting.

Marci frowns. “Thanks. You sure know how to make a girl feel special.”

“I mean I can’t remember the last time I saw you not wearing a power suit and stiletto heels,” Foggy says patiently.

Excuse me?” Marci snaps. Foggy had seen her without the pencil skirt and high heels plenty of times in the last year, and she thinks her naked body is pretty memorable, thank you very much.

Foggy grimaces. “Also not what I meant. I’ll rephrase one more time, and if you complain again, you’re just trying to be a bitch. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you wearing clothing other than calculatedly expensive professional attire. It’s nice.”

“You were almost an asshole there, Foggy Bear, and I was almost impressed,” Marci says, flicking her menu open.

“And you were almost nice on the phone, so I guess we’re even,” Foggy says, opening his own menu. “So what’s good here?”

Marci shrugs. “Who knows? Gored gored sounds interesting.”

“Except for the part where it’s raw beef,” Foggy says. “And didn’t you say you’d been here before?”

Oops. Marci had forgotten about that. “I meant the Yelp reviews were good,” she says.

“The Yelp reviews are terrible,” Foggy says evenly. “You lied to get me to come up here.”

“Bullshit. You haven’t read the Yelp reviews.”

“Fine, but neither have you. You don’t have to lie to get me to spend time with you.”

Well, this conversation is getting awkward. Marci sees the waiter coming and snaps her menu shut. It’s about damn time for a distraction.

“You order,” she tells Foggy. “Your food always looks better than mine anyway. Just don’t forget the drinks.”

They’re nibbling on an appetizer of injera bread when Foggy says, “Didn’t you have a date tonight?”

She gives Foggy a crooked smile. “Don’t I?” she asks, shifting to give him the best possible view of her boobs. Then she shakes her head. She’s not flirting with someone who’d made it clear he wasn’t interested. “I did have a date, actually. He sucked, so I bailed.”

“What was the matter?” Foggy asks, raising his eyebrows. “He didn’t spring for the top shelf vodka?”

“As if. I have screening procedures for that.” She pops a piece of bread in her mouth and says, “If you must know, he had shitty taste in music and all he could talk about was his career.”

“Wow. Career talk,” Foggy says. “That must have been a real turn-off.”

Marci sighs. “That was me last year, wasn’t it?”

“Last year?” Foggy asks. “Just last year? Or are we talking two years and some change?”

“Okay.” Marci can feel her face heating up. “Since I’ve had, let’s see, a martini and a couple beers tonight, I can admit that I was pretty awful.”

“You weren’t awful,” Foggy says hastily. Of course he could never look anyone in the eye and tell them they were a bad person, even if it was true. It’s part of his charm.

Marci snorts.

“Well, not completely awful,” Foggy amends. “Just…”

“Souless? Self-absorbed?” Marci suggests, poking tentatively at a dish covered in bright green sauce.

“I was going to say focused on the wrong goal,” Foggy says.

"How do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Always assume the best possible thing about people. I mean, I’m always trying to guess the worst possible thing someone would do." Marci shrugs. "Well, everyone except for you. I always assume you’ll do the good thing, and you always do."

Foggy blinks. "That's a really nice thing to say, Marci. It might actually be one of the nicer things anyone has ever said to me."

"I have my moments," Marci says. "I mean, literally moments. I try to keep them under sixty seconds."

She swipes her bread through the green sauce and pops it into her mouth. Whatever Foggy's saying -- probably something about how it's okay to be sincere for more than a few seconds at a time -- gets lost in her sudden fit of coughing. It's ugly. Tears are streaming down her face. Snot might even be involved. It's hard to make a rational assessment when your mouth is literally on fire.

When she's gulped down a couple glasses of water and all the bread on the table, they look warily at the chicken in red sauce perched on the edge of the table. It looks like it might be sprinkled with chili flakes.

"Are you going to eat that?" she asks, cocking an eyebrow.

"Fuck no," Foggy says. "I have a sense of self preservation."

That would have been the end of the evening if the F train were running like it was supposed to. But then, when does the F train ever run like it’s supposed to? Between the train delay and a freak thunderstorm, Uber’s on surge pricing, so it just makes sense to invite Foggy over.

"Look, I've got a fold-out couch in the living room, and don't read anything into this, but I still have your toothbrush. Mostly because I haven't cleaned the bathroom in two months," Marci says. "You might as well just spend the night."

***

Marci figures they'll go back to her place and make up the sofa bed together, but instead Foggy flops down on the couch, grabs the remote, and props his feet up on the coffee table.

"I don't think so," Marci says, swatting at his feet with a throw pillow, but Foggy just gives her a baleful glare.

"It's common knowledge that Ikea coffee tables double as footrests," he says. "And don't try to pretend that this thing cost more than twenty-five bucks because I'm the one who helped you schlep it home from Jersey."

Right. First year of law school, before they were even dating. She'd thought he'd volunteered for the Ikea trip to get in her pants, which was totally unnecessary because Marci slept with lots of people who didn't move furniture for her. And then he hadn't even tried to sleep with her. He just helped her drag an entire apartment full of stuff home from New Jersey because he was nice.

Marci grabs a couple beers out of the fridge and settles down on the couch next to him. "What are we watching?" she asks.

Foggy flips past a soccer game and a horror movie before he settles on Say Anything.

"Mutually acceptable?" he asks

Marci nods and they watch together in silence. When she's finished with her beer, she leans her head against Foggy's shoulder and he wraps his arm around her. She waits for him to make a move, but he doesn't -- no wandering hands, no meaningful looks, nothing but the warm and reassuring weight of his arm around her shoulders until she falls asleep. When she wakes up, there's a throw pillow under her head and Foggy's jacket is tucked around her shoulders. Foggy is sleeping sitting up on the very end of the couch, leaving her plenty of room to stretch out her legs.

There's a moment when she considers prodding him awake with her toes, but she decides against it. One, she hasn't had a pedicure in a month, and two, she's not clear whether she should be touched he was such a gentleman or stung that he hadn't slept with her. The easiest way to avoid an awkward not-a-morning-after is to make a lot of noise in the kitchen -- but Foggy gets the last word anyway by barging into her closet and emerging with the extra button down he'd been keeping there, which of course, she hadn't thrown out. And then he takes her trash out, probably just to prove what a perfect human being he is.

So what if she comes home from work and puts on the flannel shirt from the back of her drawer? It's warm, and it saves her from having to wash a fresh pair of pajamas.

It makes her want to text him, but what would she say? "Can't we just hook up so many times it turns into a relationship?" is possibly not the best pick up line, and anyway, that's what they'd been doing before. Foggy was the one who'd wanted it to stop.

***

At seven a.m., Marci’s stumbling through the office door, dripping wet from a sudden morning rainstorm. And her phone is going off. Great. The bank case is going to trial today, so it’s probably some kind of legal emergency. She fishes it out of the bottom of her purse and spills her coffee all over her hand in the process. Fuck.

She smashes the phone against her ear and lurches toward Karen’s desk, looking for a place to put her rain-splattered stack of file folders. Most of them end up on the floor anyway, and she barely manages to turn holy fucking shit into a reasonably pleasant hello.

She hadn’t gotten to look at the caller ID, so she’s expecting opposing counsel. Instead she gets a wave of trumpets and bongo drums.

“Hello darling!” an enthusiastic voice shouts over the din.

“Mom?” Marci asks. “Is it time for the semi-annual phone call already?”

Predictably, her mother ignores the jab. “Nonsense. I just wanted to be the first to wish you happy birthday.”

Marci blinks. “It’s April twenty-seventh, Mom. My birthday was February third.”

“Well, happy birthday ten months early!” her mother exclaims, unphased. She launches into a long story about the artist commune she’d visited in February, which is her version of an apology.

A fresh wave of trumpets blast through the speaker, and Marci winces. “Are you still at the commune?” she asks.

“Of course not, darling! It was terribly dull after Xavier and I broke up. This is a cruise ship. Eduardo divorced his third wife, so he brought me along instead.”

What the fuck? Marci thinks. It’s her standard reaction to everything her mother says, but she’s learned not to say it by now. Instead she manages a halfway civil goodbye while she’s gathering scattered papers off the floor.

“Marci? Are you alright? I can take something for you if you’d like.”

Marci looks up and Matt’s standing over her, looking bemused. One of his hands is outstretched, and she shoves a jumble of papers into it as she stands up from the floor.

“There’s a first aid kit in the kitchen if you need it,” he says, smoothing the paper into a neat stack.

Marci looks down at her hand. There are coffee stains on the cuff of her shirt, and red welts are already blooming across her skin.

“How did you know?” she asks.

“Lucky guess,” Matt says. “The stream of profanities was pretty telling.”

“Right.” Marci nods even though Matt can’t see it. “Good thing it wasn’t actually opposing counsel on the phone.”

Matt’s lips quirk up in a half-smile. “Might not have been awful. They’re kind of assholes.”

Marci smiles back, which is pointless, and takes the papers back from his outstretched hand. “Thanks, Matt,” she says.

“It’s not a problem,” he says. “Next time ask for help.”

***

A week later, the trial’s over and a little bank in Bay Ridge has been acquitted of making wire transfers to Al Qaeda. It’s kind of a big deal, but of course Foggy and Matt are getting all the credit; lowly contract attorneys don’t generate much buzz in the legal community, no matter how good their work is.

When Matt appears in the doorway of her office, she figures he’s about to tell her they won’t have many hours for her now that the case is done. Instead he asks her to take a walk with him.

It’s weird following a blind guy down the street. She and Matt don’t really socialize outside work; if she sees him out of the office, he’s usually got his hand wrapped around Foggy’s elbow. She wonders if she’s supposed to be doing something to help, but it’s not like Matt is tripping over things or wandering in front of cars -- and obviously, he gets himself to work every morning, so he must know what he’s doing. Eventually they stop in front of an ice cream shop, and Matt opens the door and gestures for her to go inside.

“You brought me to an ice cream parlor?” Marci asks uncertainly.

“Yes. At least, I think so,” Matt says, his lips quirking into that half smile again. “It’s cold and it smells like ice cream, but if I accidentally took us to the hardware store, it would be less awkward if you told me now.”

"Not what I meant,” Marci says, rolling her eyes. “Why are you taking me to an ice cream parlor?"

"I'm buying you an ice cream cone," Matt says levelly, like this is something they do every day.

"Why?" Marci insists. Is he firing her? Over ice cream?

"Order one, and we'll find out," Matt says, gesturing toward the counter.

Marci huffs a bit but does as she's told -- after all, things are going to get awkward if she keeps keeps standing in the doorway, demanding that Matt stop being obtuse.

Even though she doesn’t mean to, she can't help but watch as he pays for their ice cream cones. She figured he'd do everything with a credit card. That's what she does, and she can actually see her money. But Matt's wallet is full of bills folded different ways. He pulls out a five that's folded horizontally in half, and two singles that are still straight and flat.

"I leave the singles flat so they go in vending machines," Matt says, turning back toward her.

Marci blanches. Had she been staring so obviously he could feel it, the way she could feel construction workers leering at her on the street corner?

But Matt doesn't look upset. "You never ask how I do things. It's refreshing."

"I can google," Marci says. Not that she wastes a lot of time googling how Matt gets his shit done. She's got better things to look up, like how Jennifer Lawrence keeps her eyebrows so damned perfect all the time.

Matt must come here often because he seems to know exactly where the tables are. He picks one by the window in the corner. First he wraps a hand around the back of the chair to pull it out. Then he checks the location of the table with the palm of his hand and slides into the seat. Marci waits for him to explain why he'd brought her here, but he just licks his ice cream cone. His tie is loose, and the top buttons of his shirt are undone. It's as relaxed as she's ever seen him.

"Okay. Time for you to tell me why you bought me an ice cream cone," Marci says. It’s going to be super annoying if he tells her not to hurt Foggy, especially since they aren’t even hooking up anymore.

"No one bought you ice cream on your birthday," Matt says.

"Uh, no," Marci says. She still hasn't touched her mint chip. "I'm not eight years old, Matt. I don't really do the cake and ice cream thing anymore."

"You know what I mean," Matt says levelly, and yeah, she knows. Nobody bought her ice cream on her birthday because nobody bought her anything on her birthday. The whole Landman & Zach thing had gone to shit about two weeks before, and the junior associate crew had scattered like cockroaches when you turn on the kitchen light. Marci, the rising star of Fisk's team, had been the pariah -- and after a year of busting her ass to make partner, she didn't exactly have a lot of non-law friends left. As for her father, it was better not to expect him to remember her existence on any given day of the year.

"How did you know?" Marci asks. Her untouched ice cream is melting. Sticky droplets are running down her fingers.

"I overheard your conversation with your mother last week. I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but it was loud and the profanity beforehand was attention-grabbing, to say the least." Matt smiles wryly.

"That's me," Marci says. "Always good for inventive obscenities first thing in the morning." She figures it gives Matt easy opportunities for a rejoinder. He could say, you call those inventive? or obscenities first thing in the morning, obscenities at lunch, at mid-afternoon Starbuck's break...

Instead he says, "I don't know where my mother is. She's alive, but I grew up in an orphanage."

Marci goes still. Beneath the easy grins and late night drinks, Matt’s the most closed off person she’s ever met -- herself included. Is he trying to empathize with her? Why? She already works for him, and she’s not his best friend’s girlfriend anymore.

“That’s pretty awful about your mom,” Marci says. Way worse than hers. “You know I don’t do emotions, right?”

Matt's lips curl upward in a small smile. "We can pretend I did this because you're a valued employee of Nelson & Murdock if you'd prefer."

Marci manages to smile back. "You know, Landman & Zach gave designer handbags as bonuses."

"The chief bonus offered by Nelson & Murdock is a clean conscience and no risk of incarceration," Matt says. "And occasional ice cream."

Marci takes a bite out of her ice cream cone. Mint bursts across her tongue, reminding her of childhood vacations on the Jersey shore.

"Be careful, Murdock," she says. "Soon I'll be expecting this after every not guilty verdict."

***

When a recruiter from DLA Piper calls a month later, Marci's almost shocked. Keyword almost. She hasn't gotten how fabulous she is, even if she's technically working at a firm that's beneath her. It's just that life's fallen into a routine: there are Thai take-out Tuesdays, drinks with Karen on Wednesdays, ice cream with team whenever Matt decides he's a human being, plus all the Fridays that she and Foggy watch movies on her couch. Without realizing it, Marci had stopped thinking about leaving Nelson & Murdock.

But certain harsh truths about the legal profession cannot be ignored. Yeah, maybe half of law school students are female these days, but only sixteen percent of partners are women. If Marci had a dick, maybe she could afford to be complacent, but she knows what happens to female lawyers when they work as contractors for too long. They call it the Mommy Track, and she isn't interested. If the nation's largest law firm calls for an interview, she has to go, right?

Interviewing doesn't mean she'll get an offer; getting an offer doesn't mean she has to take the job. It's interview practice. It's networking. It's a gateway back into the land of skyline views and fully operational office equipment, and first and last month's rent on a decent apartment in Manhattan. Basically, it's everything she ever wanted, and maybe it doesn't sound fun anymore, but who said adulthood is about having fun?

So she says she's getting her teeth cleaned and goes to round one of the interview, and then she invents a doctor's appointment for round two. Then she takes a day off to write cover letters and shop her resume. When DLA Piper offers her a job -- and they will, because Marci gives fabulous interview -- she wants more than one offer on the table. She doesn't do seventy-seven cents on the dollar thank you very much, and counter offers are key to her negotiation strategy.

***

When Marci arrives at work on Monday, there's a gift bag on her desk. A truly hideous gift bag. The hot pink and neon green stripes are blinding, and the tissue paper is a color that could only be described as cat puke salmon. Marci slides into her desk chair carefully, giving the bag a wide berth.

"She's here, guys!" Karen calls out, and then suddenly Matt and Foggy and Karen are crowded around her desk.

"Open it," Foggy says, sliding the bag toward her.

Marci raises an eyebrow. "So I'm guessing a man picked this out? Possibly a blind one?"

Matt's grin is wide and unexpected. "I blame Foggy," he says.

Marci plunges her hand into bag, and her fingers close around something lumpy and round. She pulls it out and blinks. "You guys gave me an avocado?"

The three of them just stand there, grinning at her, and Marci's brain suddenly clicks. They're the Avocados at Law. They want her to be one of them.

Matt clears his throat. "Marci, we know you've been interviewing --"

"Because of all the power suits and manicures," Karen bursts in.

"And Matt heard the stilettos of doom," Foggy says.

"And we want to make sure you have what you deserve here," Matt says.

"Which is partner. We want you to be a partner here," Karen exclaims.

Matt's eyebrows furrow underneath his glasses. "I'm pretty sure that was my line, Karen."

"Sorry," Karen murmurs, not looking especially apologetic. "I just got too excited."

"It might be hard at first," Matt says.

"But we can make it work," Foggy says. He's smiling even harder than the rest of them. "We will make it work. Mostly because you understand money, and the rest of us don't. But we'll help. We promise."

Karen looks at her expectantly. "So, what do you say?"

Matt clears his throat again. "What my colleague is trying to say is, we understand if you need some time to think."

"But if you could just say yes now, that would really be awesome," Foggy adds.

Marci blinks and swallows hard. She is not crying. She's going to take a deep breath and say what she has to say.

"I'm really sorry," she says. "I accepted another job offer this morning."

Karen's smile fades. Matt nods. Foggy's smile flickers and re-establishes itself quickly.

"So unaccept," he says, shrugging. "Tell them you got a better offer. Unless their HR department works at the speed of light, there's no way you signed anything."

Marci shakes her head. "I'm really sorry. I just -- can't."

Matt and Karen shuffle away first, murmuring vague comments about how they understand. That leaves Foggy pacing back and forth in front of her desk. Marci feels anger bubbling up inside her, displacing the sadness she'd felt when she'd looked up at her friends' smiling faces and told them no. Seriously, what did Foggy expect? He and Matt were the ones who'd hired her as a contractor. She'd gone along with it a lot longer than anyone else would have. If they'd seriously wanted her to stick around, they could have done this a whole hell of a lot sooner.

"I do not have to justify my life choices to you," she snaps. "It was a good offer. I took it."

Foggy stops pacing and looks at her. She'd expected him to be mad, but instead he just looks disappointed.

He shakes his head. "I can't believe I thought you'd changed."

He walks out the door without another word. She hears him tell Karen he's going for a walk, and then the office door opens and shuts hard enough for the glass to rattle in the pane.

Marci blinks hard. This is not happening, she tells herself fiercely, but hot tears are pooling in the corners of her eyes -- and yeah, apparently the crying thing is happening. She walks to the bathroom as calmly as she can, being careful not to look at Karen. Once the door's locked, she snatches a wad of toilet paper and presses it hard against the corners of her eyes. Might as well keep her eye makeup from running.

She hadn't seen the partner offer coming. Associate, maybe, but Nelson, Murdock, and Stahl? She hadn't even considered that would be their counter. But it doesn't change anything. Nelson and Murdock had always been Matt and Foggy's dream, and she doesn't want to give up her own path to follow someone else's. And as much as she hates to admit it, Matt is up to something. She might not know what it is, but she knows it's not good, and spontaneous ice cream cones and confessions about his deadbeat mom won't change that.

Then there's the other thing, the thing she'd wanted to ask Foggy, even though the thought terrifies her. But that's a moot point now. He'd made his view of her pretty clear.

When she opens the bathroom door, Matt is standing on the other side. His glasses are off. Without them, he looks strangely vulnerable. She'd always thought he was looking right at her, but now she can see his gaze isn't quite in the right spot.

"I really am sorry, Matt," she says. Her voice sounds weird and a little too thick, but it's steady at least. And if streaks of mascara are running down her cheeks? Well, at least she's looking at the one employee of Nelson & Murdock who wouldn't know.

"I know, Marci," he says. "You don't have to explain."

"Foggy would beg to differ," she says.

"He'll come around," Matt says. He flashes her a small, sad smile. "Trust me, he's forgiven a lot worse."

“Yeah, about that,” Marci says, tossing her tissue into the bin. “I don’t know if you’re dealing drugs or something else, but if you take Foggy down with you, I will destroy you.”

“If that happens, I hope you do,” Matt says, and a chill goes down Marci’s spine.

Well, all the more reason to cut her losses now. Maybe Foggy will be the one coming to her for a job the next time around.

***

Foggy apologizes to her on Thursday night when she comes to clean out her desk. His presence catches her off guard, even though it really shouldn't. Their profession isn't exactly known for 9-to-5 hours, and anyway, whatever Matt is up to means they're both in the office at weird times of the day. Still, if she'd known he'd be here, she would've put on lipstick, and she definitely wouldn't have shown up in yoga pants with her hair in a messy bun.

His tie is half undone, and his shirt is rumpled. There's half a reuben in a styrofoam container on his desk and a coffee stain on one of his file folders.

"I'm sorry for the other day," he says, coming out from behind his desk. "It’s not my place to judge what kind of job you took. You have every right to manage your life and your career however you want to."

"Yeah," Marci says. "I do."

They both stare at each other for a moment, and then Marci turns around and starts piling her little knick-knacks in a cardboard box. Boba Fett had somehow wormed his way in between her nesting dolls, and Marci blinks hard before she tosses him into the box with the rest of her things. Maybe he can live in the back of her drawer with the stupid flannel shirt she can't throw away.

"Later Foggy Bear," she says breezily, shoving the lid down onto her box. She leaves the office without looking back.

She should really go back to her apartment, slap on some eyeliner and a tight skirt, and go out to find someone to fuck her senseless. She thought she and Foggy were friends, maybe even a little more than that. Okay, maybe she'd even hoped for a little more than that. But if they weren't? Fine, move on. If there's one thing Marci doesn't do, it's throw herself at men who don't want her. Moping over men is another thing Marci doesn't do -- in theory anyway. In reality, she might find herself a pint of rocky road and make a point of not looking at Foggy's toothbrush next to her bathroom sink. Tomorrow's Friday; that's a better night for hooking up anyway.

***

On Friday night, Marci puts on the skirt and the eyeliner, and she finally throws away Foggy's damned toothbrush. Not that it makes much difference. The whole time she's standing in front of the mirror, her thoughts keep drifting back to him. Fuck it, she thinks, and shimmies out of the tight skirt and into a ripped up pair of skinny jeans. If Foggy's going to reject her, he might as well reject her for who she actually is, not whatever he's imagining she's become.

She'd imagined she might have to pound on his door for a really long time, but of course, he opens it the first time she knocks. That's her Foggy Bear, nice even when he's mad.

He looks surprised to see her there, and he doesn't invite her in. It throws her off balance more than she thought it would. She'd thought the hard part would be getting the door open; she hadn't even considered he wouldn't let her in.

"Marci, I need you to hear me out about something, okay?" he says, sounding tired. "I know you're not working at Nelson & Murdock anymore, but that doesn't mean we can just start hooking up again. It starts turning into something else, and that never works out for either of us. We both know I'm not who you're looking for, and honestly, I don't think you're what I'm looking for either."

"Wow, that actually hurt a little bit," Marci says. By which she means it hurt a lot, but whatever. She hadn't thought this would be easy, right?

"You've misunderstood a few things, Foggy Bear, and you're going to feel like a real asshole soon." She puts a bag of groceries down on the floor between them. "I am not here to hook up with you. Look in this bag. There's salad mix. I ask you, who brings salad to a booty call?"

Foggy looks down at the bag suspiciously. "Do I smell chicken? Did you make me dinner?"

Marci snorts. "Yeah right. I bought a rotisserie chicken, and actually, I don't know how to cut it up. Maybe we can just look at it and be impressed that it's not Chinese take out." She shrugs. "You know, if you let me in."

Foggy steps back and picks up the grocery bag because god forbid he make her carry something a few feet into the kitchen.

"You're right about the feeling like an asshole," he says, rummaging around in the the cupboards for a salad bowl.

"It's okay. It's probably healthy for you to be an asshole every once in awhile," Marci says. She takes a breath. "What you said wasn't really that bad. It just wasn't accurate -- at least, not the part about you not being what I want. I mean, I can see why you'd think that, but it's not true."

Foggy turns around to face her, a scratched Pyrex bowl dangling awkwardly from his hands. "I'm sorry, Marci, I don't think I understand what's going on here."

Marci leans back against the counter. The Formica is chipped, and she picks at it with her thumb.

"What's going on here is that I don't want us to leave things the way we left them on Thursday night. The offer I took was at the ACLU. We're working on overturning gay marriage bans in all fifty states."

Foggy sets the salad bowl on the table with a hollow thunk. She's not looking directly at him, but she can still see his face light up.

"Marci, that's great," he says, walking toward her like he's going to hug her. "I'm sorry I assumed that you were going back to another Landman & Zach."

She takes a step back, not ready to let Foggy hug her yet. If he does, she'll take the easy way out and never say what she really came here to say.

"I need you to know I'm leaving Nelson & Murdock because that place is your dream, not mine. But I also left because I would rather be your girlfriend than your business partner,” she says, not quite looking at Foggy. “I broke up with you after law school because I wanted someone more career-oriented. I thought I was being an adult, but actually I was just being stupid, and I’m sorry for hurting you. The thing I said in the Ethiopian restaurant, about how I always expect the worst of everyone except you...It's completely true, and if I could have a second chance, I'd be really grateful."

Marci takes a shaky breath. Whoever said talking about emotions made everything better lied. She feels strange and queasy, her voice is too high, and she still can't bring herself to look at Foggy. And really, what the hell was she doing? I brought you a chicken, now take me back? On what planet was that a good proposal?

Except that out of the corner of her eye, she can see that Foggy's walking toward her. Maybe nobody else would accept a store bought chicken, a bag of salad mix, and a bottle of Two Buck Chuck as a peace offering, but Foggy Nelson would.

Moments like this are supposed to end with a big Hollywood kiss, but this one doesn't. It ends with Foggy's arms wrapped around her, and Marci burying her head in his shoulder. He's big and soft and his hands are warm on her back and he's telling her that he missed her. This is her Foggy Bear, the one she never really stopped missing, the only person who can tell her to do better without saying she's not good enough.

She might not have everything figured out -- maybe she never will -- but in this moment, she has exactly what she needs.

Well, except for one thing: she doesn’t know what Matt is doing, but she’s going to find out if it kills her. If Foggy can’t protect himself from it, Marci’s damn well going to find her own way to keep him safe.