The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before.
Matt was almost home when the storm broke. The pressure had been stuffing his ears and clawing at his skin all day, barely eased by the cooling of the sun going down. It had made him tense and antsy, his temper not much improved by his nightly prowl. Apparently the criminals of Hell's Kitchen, sensing the incoming weather, had gone to ground for the night, leaving Matt with itchy knuckles and nothing to hit.
The relief as the first flash of lightning struck was wonderful. He didn't need to count down to the thunder to know that the bolt it followed had been caught on a conductor eight blocks to the north. The second strike was even further away, and from the direction of the wind, Matt felt safe enough to stand for a moment, drinking in the cold wash of air sweeping over him and the rumble of thunder that he could feel all the way to his bones. It seemed to shake some of the tension out of him, as though he was taking his first clear breath of the day.
His loft door was right at his back, but as the rain started to hammer off the roof, he decided that he didn't have to go in right away. Pulling off his gloves and helmet, he dropped them and pushed back his cowl, lifting his face to the sky.
The rain was coming down in huge drops, a torrent of water so fast and heavy that it all merged into one. Touch, sound and vibration blended into a white noise that overwhelmed his senses however hard he stretched them, so that for a blissful few second there was nothing in his mind but the rush of water, rivers of it streaming down his armor and over his hands, almost impossibly refreshing after the stickiness of the day.
Eventually, the torrent eased into something more like a regular rainstorm, although he could still feel the thunder rumbling in the distance. Leaning back against the door, he kept his head tipped upwards, focusing in on the water, taking a moment to just enjoy the feel of it, chasing the path of each drop back to the clouds above.
His distraction was why he missed the approach of the other man until feet slammed into the surface of the roof, the tremors of it clear even through Matt's boots. His helmet was on the ground, probably full of water by now, and with the interference of the rain and his own lack of focus, he couldn't immediately tell which way the newcomer was facing. If Matt went for the helmet, the movement might draw attention to him. If he didn't-
"My apologies. I did not realize this roof was already taken."
The voice was clear, confident and instantly recognizable, the bass notes rumbling through Matt's chest even over the rain. At least now he knew why he hadn't heard the man approach through any normal means.
"It's fine," Matt said, pushing himself upright. "Although I don't normally have company up here."
"I'm sure." The footsteps that came towards him were lighter than Matt would have expected for a man of Thor's size. "As I said, I did not realize there would be anyone else risking the storm."
Matt shrugged. "I like the rain," he said. "And there are plenty of conductors on the buildings around here." He had his face turned in Thor's general direction - slightly to his left and definitely up - but knew the glow from the neighboring billboard would give him away. "Also, I could feel it blowing over."
"Indeed?" Thor came another step closer, and Matt let himself tune in a little more, pulling Thor's heartbeat, slow and sure, from the surrounding pattern of rain. It didn't change as he came closer. "Daredevil, is it not? I have heard of your exploits." He tipped his head to the side a little. "Although you are not quite what I expected."
"Yeah, I get that a lot." He should have been more worried than he was. Thor was not just an alien with tremendous power, he was also an Avenger. While Matt hadn't gone out of his way to avoid them, he hadn't been too sorry that their paths had never crossed. There were enough complications in his life, without having to keep his identity from yet more people. Still, if he'd had to choose, Thor wasn't the worst Avenger to find out about him. At least his own complications were mostly in another dimension. And it was probably too late now anyway. Might as well make the best of it.
So despite himself, Matt took a deep breath, grinned, and stepped forwards, holding out his hand. "I'm shorter, right?"
Thor laughed, a warm, rich sound, before bypassing Matt's hand to take his arm. This close, there was no way that Thor couldn't tell that Matt hadn't been able to meet his eyes, and that it wasn't just down to neck strain. Even through the armor, there was a noticeable flex in the grip on Matt's arm, and when Thor spoke, he sounded more thoughtful. Interested.
"Amongst other things." He released Matt, stepping back a little, so that Matt had the definite feeling that he was being surveyed. "Just when I think I have seen all the surprises Midgardians have to offer, there is something new. You see…" He trailed off, as though unsure how to phrase the question, although whether for sense or politeness, Matt couldn't tell.
"Nothing," Matt said. He'd come this far. There was no point in trying to deflect and while Thor might be plainspoken, he was definitely not stupid. "Not the way you do, anyway.”
"Most intriguing." There was the slightest of pauses, as though Thor was weighing up the statement. "I would be pleased to hear more of this, if you would not mind sharing. I was not aware that this was something Midgardians were capable of."
That sounded weird, even for a surreal conversation with a Norse god on a roof in a thunderstorm. Shrugging again, Matt gestured to the door behind him. "Sure," he said. "I haven't got anything else on tonight. Want a beer?"
"Would you guys mind keeping it down?" The whisper rattled around the inside of Matt's skull, threatening to break it.
He swore he could hear Karen raising her eyebrow. "Matt, I haven't even turned on my computer yet."
"Ignore him," Foggy said from his own office, in his normal speaking voice which was just about equivalent to yelling it in Matt's ear. "Someone's feeling a little the worse for wear this morning." There was the sound of his arm waving in what Matt guessed was Foggy miming him downing a drink. Or perhaps cutting off his head. That might actually help.
"Oh, in that case." Karen turned on her computer, the fan startling Matt enough that he jumped in his chair, jolting his head. To his surprise, it didn't actually fall off his neck and roll under the desk. "No sympathy. Totally self-inflicted."
Matt gritted his teeth. The sound of his refreshing Braille display had hit him like hailstones when he'd tried it this morning. Maybe he could just use his screen reader with the earbud on the desk. Or possibly in the next county over.
As Karen went to make coffee, Foggy walked - stomped - across to Matt's doorway, waiting until the machine was running at the approximate volume of a steam train to lean in and whisper, "Matt, seriously, what the hell happened to you?"
"Never drink with a Norse god," Matt said. He thought about laying his head down on the table, but as it seemed an awfully long way away, he settled for staying as still as he possibly could. In the relative silence, he tried to work out if he could actually hear the penny dropping inside Foggy's head. Probably not, but he did hear the intake of breath as he figured it out.
Matt shuddered, the movement of each bone reverberating up his spine like fireworks going off in his brain. "Do I look like I'm making it up?"
Foggy whistled, and Matt brought up a hand, trying to stop himself being stabbed in the eardrum. "Karen's right then," Foggy said, turning and stomping away again. "No sympathy whatsoever."
While it wasn't how he normally operated, Matt had to admit that it felt pretty good having a plan for once. After a few nights of surveillance, his head full of the chemical taste that rose up from the building, and the large number of heartbeats - never fewer than twenty - it was finally time to act.
Making his way to ground level, he followed the hum of electricity to the breaker boxes, taking his time to trace the cabling. This wasn't exactly his area of expertise, and while he could take out a fuse box safely enough, he wasn't going to risk punching a hole in something without being really, really sure it was the right place to punch. However much Foggy had described it to him, neither of them had known what the actual configuration on the building would be like, and Matt took a deep breath before reaching into the toolbag.
Here goes nothing.
The shouting from the building when all the lights went out was deeply satisfying. Matt was already inside by the time flashlights started to click on, but most of those were on the floor above him. Distantly, maybe in the next building over, or the one beyond that, he heard more sounds of surprise, as though someone had been watching when he cut the power. Logging the location for later, just in case, he pulled the back door shut and breathed in.
Food. They'd ordered take out, Chinese and Thai mostly, although someone had ordered pizza. There was always one. Drugs. The unmistakeable scent of chemical reactions that rose up from the basement. Gunpowder. A lot of it. Mostly handguns, but a few bigger pieces too. Plenty of metal from knives and the tang of brass knuckles that he could always pick out from everything else for some reason. The smell of bodies, odors suddenly sharp in the air as temperatures rose with surprise, sweat springing up on foreheads and in armpits. He could count eight heartbeats just on the first floor with him, more travelling above, and only two below.
He took another long breath before moving out of the room, to help him pause, to focus, to identify the heartbeats that weren't racing, the ones that were dealing with the new situation more calmly. The ones with training that gave them a procedure for the unexpected. There weren't too many of them, and Matt focused on the three just beyond the next door, tagging them for immediate take down.
It turned out that they'd been expecting him to come from the roof. It seemed Daredevil had a reputation by now, and all eyes were turned upwards. So when he emerged right behind the first group of men, he had even more of an element of surprise than he'd hoped for. Two went down quickly, their heads thudding together in a way that could never be anything other than satisfying. A third yelped when Matt's thrown club impacted his flashlight, plunging the space into total darkness. It wasn't a big building, and it only took Matt a couple steps to close the distance to the fourth man, hoping his friend wouldn't just shoot blindly.
His target was one of the ones with training, and he already had his arms up, gun in one hand, knife in the other, to block Matt's first blow. Smart. He must have tagged the movement in the brief second of light. The trouble was, as Matt ducked a wild swing, the other man was now dependent on his hearing. That wasn't going to go well for him.
The sound of the body hitting the ground induced his companion into a wild charge in their direction, only to meet Matt's foot directly in his face. He crashed down as well, leaving the room in temporary silence. Again, somewhere in the distance, Matt heard that surprised voice, now apparently narrating something into a cellphone, from the occasional electronic voice in the gaps. He'd catch it if he focused, but it wasn't a priority right now.
A faint electric fizz told him that whoever was coming into the room next, they were likely to be waving a flashlight. Bending over, he scooped his club off the ground, reaching the door just as it was flung open. From the sudden warmth on his face, he guessed the beam of light had been angled to try and dazzle him. Instead, he dodged as the man's pistol tracked towards him, stepping in and slamming his club into the man's wrist, although not fast enough to stop a finger tightening on the trigger.
Unlike the light, the close-range shot did throw Matt for half a second, forcing him to rely on the heat of the man's body and the sweep of movement in the air to direct his next punch, which sent the man sprawling backwards, taking out his buddy as he fell. Matt dropped to one knee, bringing his fist down at the same time, making sure neither of them were going to get up for a while.
Crouched, he dropped his head for a second, concentrating. He was barely breathing hard yet, but he tuned the sound out anyway, and that of his own heartbeat. The ones beside him were slow and rhythmic, as were the four he'd left in the next room. That was six of the eight, assuming everyone else had more or less stayed put.
Which they hadn't. Tightening his fist for a second, Matt resisted the urge to swear, letting the pinch of his gloves against his fingers ground his irritation. Where there had been two people below him, there were now four, no doubt getting ready for him or maybe already destroying the evidence. He'd been too slow.
Throwing his senses wide again, Matt straightened up and began stalking towards the door to the basement, keeping his footsteps as light as possible. At least the rest of the guards seemed to be staying put, and no one was calling for reinforcements.
Not from here, anyway.
Somewhere, beyond the walls of the building, Matt could hear the unmistakable crackle of a radio, and voices conferring. He knew he had a choice: to tune into the conversation and try to work out what was going on; or press forwards, hoping that there was still time to finish the job before anyone else got here. There were the men in the basement, the poison they'd been pushing, and the rest of the goons in the house.
Really, that wasn't much of a choice at all.
Even Matt would be prepared to confess that at this point, he was pretty much frozen. Every knuckle hurt with it, even with his hands tucked under his arms, and he'd long since given up on his feet. It wasn't technically cold enough up here to get frostbite, but moving was going to be a bitch.
Keeping his head tipped down, and his forehead on his drawn-up knees, he forced his awareness away from his aching joints and down into the street.
"...does that," Brett Mahoney was saying.
"Anyone ever figure out how?" That was the voice Matt had picked up in the next building before making his entry. "Even I couldn't see a damn thing in there, and he took out all the flashlights."
"You see him, you ask him for me." Brett snorted. "Not like he's much of a talker."
"We noticed." The woman had joined the man about half an hour ago, both of them helping to put down the last of the thugs and clear the building. "And we're sorry to barge in on your operation, Officer, but we had strong reasons for believing Hydra might be involved."
"Hey, no complaints here. Some of the stuff down there looked pretty nuts."
They all waited as a batch of boxes, bottles and powders rattling inside them, was carried out.
"We'll handle it from here," the man said. "And if you see Daredevil, tell him we said hi."
There was the smack of leather on leather, and Matt guessed the woman had slapped the man, probably on the shoulder from the resonance.
"We said hi?"
"Sure." Leather rustled again, probably a shrug. "What are we supposed to say? Come and tell us how you took down a small army in the pitch black without breaking a sweat?"
Brett did a very poor job of turning his laugh into a cough, and Matt resisted the urge to grin. He'd been huddled up here against the parapet for nearly ninety minutes now, as soon as he'd realized that the newcomers were much better equipped than the average cop. Moving was too much of a risk, and as he heard the scuffing of feet, the sound of someone turning in a slow circle, he knew it had been the right decision. From reputation, Hawkeye could pick out a fly in a sandstorm, and neither he nor the Black Widow were easily fooled.
Matt pressed his forehead harder against his knees, shivering inside his armor and hoping his teeth didn't chatter loudly enough to give him away. Only when their car was two blocks away did he start to move, gently flexing his fingers and toes, letting the feeling come back slowly rather than in a rush. It was going to take a while before he could stand, but that was okay. He'd use the time to compose a text in his head. Thor was going to love this.
It was like taking the number of one Avenger had doomed Matt to encounter all of them, and the next time was less avoidable. Hydra was definitely trying to get a toehold in the city, and with so many buildings still being repaired after The Incident, it had plenty of scope for buying up real estate.
Apparently it also had plenty of money for fancy toys, because Matt's ears were full of an electronic whine as he tried to punch the next goon out. None of the group around him were fast, but whatever they were wearing seemed to be protecting them somehow, because despite a clean connection, the man only staggered a little, taking half a step backwards but not going down. The humming was all around Matt by now, each suit giving off enough of a different pitch that they might as well have been announcing their moves before they made them, and he was having little trouble dodging. He didn't get the sense that he was up against trained fighters, but with at least ten of them around him and their suits giving them protection, he wasn't making much headway either.
Growling in frustration, he ducked a wild swing from behind him, turning and coming up with his hands protectively in front of his face, slamming the man in the ribs with his knee. As he stepped away, he could already hear the wheezing and creaking that would give him some space from that direction. He'd needed to hit hard, but at least now it confirmed that they could actually be hurt.
This was going to be a slog of a fight, he knew, each blow having to land hard enough to break through the suit's limited protection. It wasn't fast or skillful work, just picking them off, one at a time, keeping the others at bay while he concentrated on taking down the man in front of him. By the third, he knew his left hand was going to be impressively bruised, and he'd had to switch to knees and elbows or risk breaking a finger, even through his gloves.
Still, he'd worked his way through four of them when he picked up a new electronic note, deeper and more reverberant than the suits around him, and coming in from a high angle. You couldn't live in New York for any amount of time without knowing that sound, heightened senses or not.
That was all he needed.
To his slight surprise, Iron Man didn't join the fight at once, hovering above the rooftop instead, apparently just watching.
"This isn't a private party," Matt gritted out, spinning in the air to get momentum and clocking his opponent in the head with a kick hard enough to knock him out. "Feel free to join in any time."
"Uh…" Under the suit's speakers, Matt could hear Tony Stark's voice, live and unfiltered and coming a millisecond earlier. It was a little disorienting. "Join in with what?"
At this point, Matt was fairly sure Iron Man was just screwing with him for reasons known best to him, even if he had sounded genuinely puzzled. Between that and the weird echo between voices, he was distracted enough that two of the men managed to rush him, slamming him into a third, who got a hit in before all four of them went down in a heap.
Cursing Iron Man, Matt twisted, trying to get free of the hands grabbing at his armor. Being this close, he was able to get a couple of good punches in and make sure one of them wasn't get up again. On the downside, he was pretty sure his middle right finger was dislocated. Which was a shame, because that was the one he'd planned to show Stark.
"Holy crap, what the hell is going on down there? JARVIS?"
Matt had really had enough at this point. Rather than try to struggle free of the man on top of him, he twisted and grabbed him in a wrestling hold instead, one arm around his throat, Matt's ankles locked around his waist.
"Okay, so either this guy is even kinkier than the outfit suggests, or he's not on his own down there," Stark said, and Matt had a bare second to wonder why Stark would even think that before the air filled with something heavy and thick.
Smoke bomb, Matt realized, releasing the man he was holding as his body went limp, and rolling to try and deal with the one they'd both landed on, who'd been hammering fairly ineffective punches against the side panels of Matt's armor. True to annoying form, he grabbed at Matt's arm as he tried to pull away.
Above him, Iron Man swore. "JARVIS, did that help?”
Matt had just enough time to think seriously? when another body crashed into his, the newcomer having apparently tripped over them in the newly-obscured battlefield. The man Matt had been lying on still had a grip on his arm, and the sheer weight bearing down on him was enough to twist Matt's body at an improbable angle, something in his shoulder snapping sickly as he fell. He lost his senses to the pain for a second, overwhelming and agonizing, before his instincts kicked in, shunting conscious thought aside and overriding the screaming in his brain. Only one arm reacted when he punched out, so he worked around it, not pulling the blow like he so often did. Distantly, he told himself that the suits his opponents were wearing would stop him from actually cracking skulls. Probably. In truth, it was suddenly hard to remember why he cared about things like that as he got dizzily to his feet, useless arm held in place only by the grip of his bodysuit. Restraint was not what he needed right now, not if he was going to end this.
There were moments, in the hardest of fights, when Matt lost himself for a second. When the flow of movement took over, so that each step, kick, and punch followed the next as naturally as breathing, and he reacted without conscious thought. It was usually too dangerous to let himself do that, too likely that he would go too far, beyond what either he or his opponents could take. There was no such thing really as a safe way to knock someone out, but he tried, he really did. Most of the time.
Matt's mind seemed to drop back into his body with a thud, and he found himself standing on the very edge of the rooftop, swaying a little and clutching at his right arm, which wouldn't respond at all now when he tried to move it. All that happened was that the jagged shards of pain shot through him again, and he bit his lip to hold back a shout that was as much surprise as anything else. On the plus side, he thought, with just a touch of hysteria, at least it was the same arm as his dislocated finger.
"Easy there, Horny." The whine of flight was gone, and Matt picked up the Iron Man suit a few feet away, both arms raised. Not surrender, he realized. He thinks I'm going to jump. He's not wrong.
Drawing in a deep breath, Matt stretched out his senses backwards and down, wincing as everything came in too hard and fast at first. At least the armor was still more or less supporting his arm, which meant he might avoid tearing anything else, even if he couldn't use it.
"Sorry about that," Stark was saying. "Those suits were meant for me, I think. Well, not for me, of course. Not my color. But they were invisible even to JARVIS, which takes some doing. Once we've got you patched up, maybe you can tell me how you could see them"
It was good that Matt was still biting his lip, because he might have been inclined to say something stupid. Invisibility suits. Of course. And he'd just stood on a rooftop punching them.
"Maybe next time," he said, tasting blood. "Don't let any of them get away." Getting up onto the edge of the roof, he turned and stepped off, letting himself drop onto the fire escape six feet below. He didn't dare roll with it, so the landing hurt like hell, but it was better than having to dodge questions.
He was nearly a block away by the time Stark had finished yelling at him.
Claire agreed with Matt's assessment that it was incredibly useful having a Norse God on speed dial. Thor had already heard half the story from Stark, but he held off asking any stupid questions until Matt's shoulder was back in one piece. It hadn't been all plain sailing, and at one point, Matt and Claire (from the speakerphone) had both yelled No! in unison loudly enough that Thor had actually jumped in surprise and stopped trying to shove Matt's arm back to where it should be with sheer brute force. After that, resetting his finger had just been another drop in the pain bucket.
While Thor put on a pot of coffee, Matt let himself lie back on the couch, carefully strapping his finger and reassuring Claire that he'd take her seriously this time and do his best not to hit anything with his injured arm. For once, he actually meant it, which sort of surprised him, but with Hydra trying to move on Hell's Kitchen, he was going to admit that this one wasn't entirely his fight.
Thor agreed, watching Matt as they drank their coffee. "Romanoff and Barton have been monitoring this for some time. If you do choose to intervene, it is likely that you will run into more of my compatriots."
"Yeah, I figured as much." Thor made the coffee far stronger than Matt would have, but at least it took his mind off his injuries. "I'll stay out of your way for a while."
Matt gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Claire said to give it three weeks, but that's because she knows I won't be able to stand it for more than one."
"Idleness does not come easy to warriors," Thor said. "Yet I think you would do well to heed her advice."
"I'll try." Which was true enough for now. "And honestly, I'll do my best to avoid anything complicated until you've got it swept up."
"If that can be done." Thor shook his head, voice growing serious. "This Hydra is a more pernicious entity than we had anticipated. It truly has wrapped its tentacles around your world, digging into more places than I would have believed possible."
Not wanting to think about what that might mean for his city, Matt shifted uncomfortably on the couch. "Well, if I run into any more of them, I'll be sure to let you know."
"Thank you. Which reminds me." Reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket, Thor dropped onto the table a small rectangle of metal that Matt couldn't identify. "Stark requested that I give this to you."
About to reach for it with his good hand, Matt froze. "You told Stark you were coming here?"
"He was concerned for your welfare. And I think he bears some guilt for his part in your injury. You should not underestimate him," Thor added, his voice serious. "If he had wished, I believe he could have located you himself, and would have done, if I had not reassured him that I was already aware of you and your desire for privacy."
It wasn't as reassuring as Thor seemed to think, but Matt supposed he had to take what he could get. "So what's this?" he asked, setting down his coffee to pick up the object. It was small, metal and rectangular, without the glass he'd normally associate with a cellphone. It didn't seem to weigh anything. "Another number to memorise?"
"Not exactly." This time, Matt could hear the smile in Thor's voice. "JARVIS, are you there?"
"At all times, sir."
Luckily for Matt, the object appeared to be smash-proof, because he was startled enough to drop it as the voice seemed to come out nowhere. "Uh-"
"Do not be so concerned, my friend," Thor said, getting up to grab it from the floor and pass it back. "I have explained to JARVIS that your location and identity are not to be revealed to anyone else. However, should you require assistance, or if you should locate more of our Hydra enemies, this gives you a direct communicator to the Avengers."
"I have been instructed that your location should only be shared in case of life-threatening emergencies."
"And I'm supposed to just believe that?" Matt was torn, still not sure if he should pocket it or throw it back at Thor.
There was another of those slight hesitations. "I have, in the past, been known to assist members of the Avengers in protecting their secrets from Mr Stark."
Thor nodded. "It is true. Despite our current unity, we all have matters which are only for ourselves. I have not known JARVIS to betray that trust."
There was such sincerity in that, in Thor's tone and heartbeat, that Matt gave in, tipping his head back against the sofa cushions. "How's your accessibility, JARVIS?" He carefully ran his fingers around all the featureless sides of the communicator, picking up the tiniest change in temperature above one face that he guessed was coming from a projected screen. Foggy and Karen sometimes joked about working in a holographic office. Matt generally thought he'd settle for a screen reader he actually liked the sound of.
After a second's pause - which was probably an age for an AI - JARVIS said, "Excellent, sir. This device is entirely voice-activated, and contains a portion of my programming even when disconnected from all networks. I think you will find Mr Stark's natural language processing to be considerably more advanced than anything else you have encountered."
Talking to both Thor and JARVIS was turning into a translation exercise, and it was starting to bring the ache up from Matt's shoulder into his head, but he thought he'd understood that one well enough. "So what you're saying is I should just talk to you and you talk back?"
"More or less, sir."
He really shouldn't. He should be trying to protect his identity, not carry around a beacon that could give him away at any time. On the other hand, Matt was pretty sure he could trust Thor, who was nothing if not a man of his word. While he might say the wrong thing at the wrong time, he'd never deliberately give Matt up to the others.
And there was also the fact that, having argued with more than his fair share of voice assistants over the years, it might make a change to talk to one with actual intelligence. "Okay then." He smiled at Thor, "Tell Stark thanks. But let's leave the rest of the answers a mystery, shall we? There should be some things in this world that even Tony Stark can't figure out."
Matt had done his best, he really had. He'd given it ten whole days of resting, letting the tendons in his shoulder heal, and he thought that was probably a personal best. Foggy and Karen had fussed over him at work, and he'd meditated as much as he could in the evenings. It had helped that, on the fifth day, his arm hadn't cooperated enough to let him even get into the suit without everything going dizzy with the pain. A few months ago, he would have ventured out anyway, but knowing Hydra and the Avengers were prowling the streets as well, he'd decided to give in to Foggy's nagging and take at least some of the time he needed.
By day eleven, he was itching to get out again, and while his shoulder protested as he pulled the suit on, he could move well enough to hit things, as long as he mostly used his left hand. All he planned was a circuit of Hell's Kitchen, checking on things, nothing too strenuous. At least, that was his story and he was sticking to it.
The building site at the end of his route had long been a favorite for drug dealers, and while normally Matt would have gone in search of bigger fish, it did no harm to check it out and remind the local criminal element that Daredevil was keeping an eye on them.
He'd expected to find the place mostly deserted, so he paused on the next roof over, listening to the muffled thuds and shouts from inside. A fight, by the sounds of it, mostly fists and the occasional shot that hit metal rather than flesh. Four men in that melee, with more below and above, although whether they were waiting or running, Matt couldn't tell in the half-second's attention he spared them. Beyond that, he heard an unmistakable electronic whine from basement level, and his heart sank, realising what the bullets must have bounced off. Despite his best efforts, he seemed to have wandered into another Avengers mission.
On the other hand, it didn't seem that anyone was doing anything about the six people making a break for the rooftop, and Matt was already up here. Sighing, mostly to himself, he fished the communicator out of his pocket. At least he didn't have to worry which way up it went to talk into it, and he'd warned JARVIS about lighting up the screen and giving him away.
There was the slightest of pauses as JARVIS came online. "Yes, sir?"
"Please tell the Avengers not to shoot on sight. I'm coming in from the top."
The jump to the next rooftop wasn't that far, and the roll barely jarred Matt's shoulder at all. He'd pay for that later, he knew, but he couldn't turn away either. Having the clubs in his bad hand would give him some extra force there, and he got the chance to test the theory as he took the stairs down two at a time, meeting the group who were still coming up.
They weren't wearing the weird electronic suits, which was good, and even better, they were all bunched together on the stairs. From the general wheezing and elevated temperatures, Matt guessed these were support staff rather than muscle. That didn't cut them any slack as far as he was concerned. It was just going to save him time.
It wasn't quite like knocking down bowling pins, as the two in the back managed to jump aside, but four of their comrades went down in a tangle of limbs, with enough groaning and moaning that Matt only paused for a second, picking out who needed knocking down again. It gave the escaping pair a chance to run for it, back down the stairs. That suited Matt too, because he could hear the heavy footsteps that suggested someone else had started towards the stairwell. Someone carrying a large piece of metal that was like nothing Matt had ever heard before.
At the back of his mind, Foggy's voice reminded him that he'd promised to ask Thor for Captain America's autograph.
Unfortunately for both of them, one of the guys that Rogers had probably thought was down for good recovered enough to start firing randomly. The building was still only half-finished, with gaping holes and temporary panels where there should have been walls and floors. The Daredevil armor was good, but Matt didn't want to risk having to ask Claire to dig a bullet out of him, so he stayed where he was on the stairs, listening as shots ripped through the plasterboard walls below.
Eventually, there was a click of an empty magazine and the swearing of someone who'd realized too late that they'd failed to hit Captain America with any of the few bullets they had left. Satisfied that he wasn't likely to get shot for the moment, Matt continued on down, chasing after the two escapees.
He caught up with them as they burst onto the same floor as Rogers, throwing themselves to the left and into the next space over. Behind him, Matt could hear the sound of fighting, and he kept half an ear on it, just in case, as he tracked his quarries. They'd taken shelter behind a concrete pillar, presumably hoping to ambush him, or just that they wouldn't be noticed.
Sucked to be them.
"You know," Matt said, his voice echoing strangely in the half-finished space, "if you make me come over there and drag you out, it's going to hurt a lot more." He didn't really expect it to work, but his shoulder was aching, and he didn't think these were hardened fighters.
Apparently, fighters or not, Hydra operatives didn't give up that easily. With a shout, one of them came running out of their poor cover, something large and metallic raised above his head. Probably a wrench or hammer picked up from a toolbox at some point. Matt waited until the last second, then side-stepped the amateurish attack, slamming the guy on the back of the head with his clubs as he passed. There was the thud of a body hitting the deck and the skittering of the weapon traveling across the bare concrete floor and sliding over the edge of a void.
Sighing, because apparently he just had to do everything for himself tonight, Matt strode over to where the other man was still cowering. Just in time, he recognized the scent of something else metallic, and stepped to the side before rounding the pillar, putting a bit more distance between them. It meant the knife flashed into empty air, and Matt brought his clubs down hard onto the man's outstretched wrist.
He caught the sound of something snapping, almost drowned out by the howl of pain.
"I did warn you," he said, using his good arm to grab the man by the collar and haul him back towards the stairwell.
If he hadn't been half-listening already, Matt would have missed it. The fight in the other room was still going on, and he'd vaguely registered the strange, too-quiet echo of Rogers' shield whenever something impacted it. So although he didn't know exactly what the hum was when it started, his hindbrain apparently put two and two together faster than his conscious mind, and he was already dropping to the floor, dragging his captive with him, when Captain America's shield tore through the plasterboard almost exactly where his head had been.
Rather than bouncing off the wall, presumably as Rogers had intended, it hit the concrete pillar behind Matt, throwing up a cloud of dust as it rebounded back along its original path. Matt released his grip on his now-gibbering captive, and got to his feet in time to catch it. In the next room, someone choked on a gasp.
"Careful," Matt said, turning the shield over in his hands, listening to the metal sing. "You could hurt someone with that." He spun through a full turn, mostly for the look of it, before sending the shield flying back towards Rogers, who caught it easily, even if his pounding heartbeat gave away his surprise. Turning his head towards the man at his feet, Matt shrugged, just a little.
"I guess I'm making these guys your problem," he said, and headed back towards the stairwell as calmly as he could when Captain America was watching him. Only when he was sure that he was out of Rogers' eyeline did he start to run, vaulting over the pile of bodies still on the landing, and reaching the roof door before Stark could make it up through the building.
"You've got to be kidding me," Stark called, his voice echoing as he yelled into the stairwell. "Again? Who is this guy?"
"And more to the point," Rogers added, his shield clanging onto what Matt guessed were magnetic grips, "how on earth did he see that coming?"
"JARVIS?" Stark said, and Matt held his breath for half a second.
"Care to enlighten us?"
"I believe the parameters of Daredevil's involvement with the Avengers have-"
"Yeah, yeah, privacy, blah, secret identity, blah, blah, you're all boring. Romanoff, you get anything on this guy yet?"
"That would imply that I've been looking." The voice came from the next building over, and Matt jumped, glad he was still on the inside of the roof door and out of sight. Careless, Murdock.
"Come on, you dumped all of your own secrets on the internet, you're telling me you don't want to learn some new ones?"
"I'm telling you that I have better things to do with my time than unmasking vigilantes, believe it or not." She hesitated. "I'm also telling you that he reacted before your shield hit the wall, Cap. Is there any way…"
"It's solid," Rogers said, and Matt heard him tap the section that was still intact. "He'd have to have x-ray vision to have seen me throw it."
There was a long silence.
"Huh." Stark said. "Looks like we need to open a betting pool."
"So," Matt said to Foggy, some time later, "this is going to be the story that begins, 'Let me tell you about the time I was nearly decapitated by Captain America.'"
Foggy choked on his beer.
"This can only go well," Matt muttered as he crouched in front of the cupboard. Above him, he could hear the distinctive boom of Iron Man's repulsors, as well as the sharp crack of shots from a gun significantly different to the average police pistol. "Great. Are they following me around now?" Pulling the communicator from his pocket, Matt tugged off one glove, holding out his hand to the tangle of wires in front of him, trying to get a better sense of it. "JARVIS? I think we have a problem."
Switching the comm across so that he could get his other glove off, Matt's thumb found the tiny scratch he'd had to put on the device so that he knew which way up it went. It didn't make a difference for voice commands, but the weird holographic screen and its camera still needed to be oriented, which was tricky when all you could feel was smooth metal. JARVIS had been unimpressed with the defacement, but had agreed to note it for future R&D.
"Yes," the electronic voice said after a moment, "yes, I would say this is potentially a significant problem. Perhaps I should alert one of the Avengers."
"Is there time? I can hear something ticking, which I assume is a countdown." It was the distinct electronic blink of a digital display changing at regular intervals, but 'ticking' seemed more appropriate for the situation. Matt could smell the explosives, right at the back of the cupboard, and against a concrete pillar. "It'll take out the whole floor if it blows, won't it?"
"At the very least." There was a pause, with the electronic whine that Matt had come to associate with the comm's processor as JARVIS worked something out. "While it could be catastrophic if allowed to explode, it is a relatively simple device. I believe that between us, we can disarm it."
"Hang on, then." Reaching out, Matt snagged one of the office chairs and positioned it in front of the cupboard. Carefully, he balanced the communicator on the arm, so that JARVIS would have a decent view while being far enough away that Matt wouldn't knock it. "Okay," he said, drawing in a long breath. "Just don't tell me to cut the red wire."
Ten minutes later, he stood up slowly as the doors burst open and two rather out-of-breath Avengers came running into the room.
"I'm a friendly," he said, lifting his hands a little, showing they were empty. "And I'd appreciate not getting shot. It's a pain getting blood out of the suit."
"Daredevil?" That was Barton, the string of his bow whining as he released the tension in it. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Feeling safe enough to lower his arms, and taking a few steps away from the cupboard, Matt shrugged. "This and that. Breaking and entering. Defusing bombs. You know, the usual." He tipped his head towards the cupboard where he'd found the explosives. The room was an average open working space in an average building in an average neighborhood. Nothing fancy or splashy, and barely touched in The Incident. Matt was only here because he'd picked up the scent of the explosives as he'd been passing on the way back from stopping two muggings and a burglary, but if the Avengers were here too, that meant something bigger was going down. He gestured to the filing cabinets that filled most of the room. "I only glanced at the papers, but I don't think they're going to be of much use to you."
Romanoff had already crossed to the nearest one, stopping with one hand on the drawer handle. "Suddenly you're an expert on what's useful to the Avengers?" she said, turning her head towards Matt and probably giving him a hard look. He kept his own face towards her, the mask giving the illusion of eye contact.
He shrugged again. "Like I said, I only glanced at them but-"
"Did you really defuse this?" Barton asked, drawing Matt's attention to him. "Seriously? Tasha, this is just not fair."
"No, I mean it." Barton pointed one end of his bow at Matt. "This guy keeps showing up and doing our jobs. We should unionise. First he takes out a building of goons while we watch, punches guys in suits that Stark can't even see, then he catches Cap's shield, and disarms explosives. What's next? Is he our new Hulk? Is he going to lose his temper and go all big and red on us?"
Romanoff made a choked sound that was probably a suppressed laugh, and Matt didn't even try to hide his grin.
"Sorry," he said. "It's just a wrong place, wrong time thing at the moment. The sooner you get Hydra out of my city, the sooner we'll stop falling over each other."
"Yeah, well." Barton sniffed, sounding a little mollified. "Nice job with the thing with Stark, by the way. From one eye guy to another, it was definitely impressive."
"That's me," Matt said dryly. "The eye guy. I see everything." Because if the Avengers were going to jump in the wrong direction with the evidence they had, he sure as hell wasnt going to correct them. Let them figure it out themselves.
Romanoff's voice broke in before Barton could reply. "Don't let him bait you, Daredevil. He's just trying to win the betting pool." She turned, a wad of papers in one hand. "And you were right about these papers. We thought Hydra were going old-school as a countermeasure." Crossing to them, she handed the pages to Barton. "Looks like that was another feint."
"These are blank," Barton said. "Seriously?"
Matt hadn't actually opened any of the drawers, but there hadn't been nearly enough toner or ink in the air to suggest that the papers had been printed or written on. Still, he held his hand out for the pile, pulling one sheet free when Barton held them out.
The lights were still on, and he made a show of holding the piece of paper up, trying to place exactly what he was sensing.
"Invisible ink?" Romanoff asked, and he heard her mimicking him, her hair brushing her collar as she tipped her head back.
Matt didn't think so, as most of those would also have had a distinctive smell. "Not exactly," he said. After a second, he ran a hand down the page, feeling the weave of the fibres, smelling the chemicals from the finishing process. That wasn't it either.
"Become an Avenger, Fury said," Barton said behind him, flapping his own piece of paper as though he expected to be able to hear whatever was wrong with it. "Fight international criminal masterminds, Fury said. No one mentioned office supplies. Not once. Do we have to go take out Staples now?"
He was still waving the paper around, which meant Matt finally heard what he was listening for. He kept his hand over the page as he dropped it to a more sensible height, and this time, he could feel it.
"Microdots," he said. "Not on the page, in the page. Like, tiny perforations." Now he knew what it was, he could pick it up as Romanoff moved her own piece of paper around, the tiny whistling of air through holes that shouldn't have been there. It was almost inaudible, even to him. "It's probably code. Maybe even Morse or Braille, or something like that."
"I can't see anything," Barton complained. "Are you sure?"
"Like I said," Matt said. "I see everything."
"I see everything? Seriously?"
"That's what he said."
"Are we even sure there's anything on these?"
"That's what I said."
"Tony!" That was Rogers, apparently getting fed up with Stark and Barton's back and forth. "Could you maybe scan it and check?"
"What? Oh. Right. Yes. Sure. Of course. JARVIS?"
Matt kept to his dark corner of the room, leaning against a filing cabinet and listening to the Avengers bicker. He didn't turn as Thor came up behind him.
"So," Matt said, keeping his voice low. "You guys have a betting pool."
"We do." Thor didn't sound in the least apologetic. "Naturally, since I cannot participate, I am the judge and am…" He hesitated, apparently trying to remember the word. "Holding the pot? I think."
"That's what it's called." Matt huffed a laugh. "I thought you'd have better things to do with your time."
"We do, but there are long waits between missions, and it is good to have a distraction."
"Glad I could help."
The sound of JARVIS' scan finished. "The papers are indeed punched with almost undetectable holes, forming distinct and repeating patterns. However, they do not conform to any language with which I am familiar, and will require some time to decrypt."
"Don't sweat it, J. Take your time," Stark said, starting a slow walk towards Matt. Out of the suit, his steps were light and poised enough that Matt had the sudden feeling of being hunted. When Stark spoke, his tone was somewhere between pissed off and disbelieving. "Is there some kind of tech in that helmet? Microscopic, telescopic? How's it powered?" He was getting closer now, and Matt braced himself to take half a step backwards, already calculating the distance to the window. "Because that thing looks close fitting, so if there's a battery pack in there, you'd have to be missing some brain tissue. Is that it? Are you a cyborg?"
Matt was saved from having to retreat by Thor, who stepped in front of Stark before he could get within five feet.
"Are you trying to cheat, Tony?" he asked, keeping his tone light although his voice was low.
"No, of course not. I'm just trying to figure this out." He leaned around Thor, waving a hand at Matt. "No offense, but I like to know things."
"None taken," Matt said lightly. "And I'll give you this one for free. It's not tech."
"You're enhanced, then?" Rogers was still on the other side of the room, leaning on the table where they'd been poring over the papers, but he lifted his head at Matt's admission. It was a word the newspapers were starting to bandy around, and it made the back of Matt's brain twitch.
"For want of a better term."
"So what you got?" Stark asked, and if Matt had hoped the tidbit of information would put him off, he'd been sorely mistaken. Stark sounded more like a hound who'd scented its quarry. "Super-vision? Can you see across the whole spectrum? Or more like a fly, can you see in all directions at once? Do you have 40/40 vision?"
"That's not actually a thing," Matt said, mapping his escape route with more care this time.
Stark waved a hand dismissively. "Whatever." He made a strangled sound. "Wait, are you like a fly? Do you wear that mask because you've got insect eyes?"
"Tony," Rogers said warningly, as Matt began to retreat towards the window, grateful for Thor's protective bulk.
"Actually butterflies have more cones in their eyes than humans do. So do mantis shrimp," Barton said, and Matt took advantage of the others' surprise to take three more steps towards his exit. "What? I've been doing some reading. Someone's got to win the pot."
"What is it, then?" Stark asked, turning back and bumping into Thor, who hadn't moved. "Are you more like a butterfly or a shrimp?"
That made Matt actually laugh out loud, and he caught the change in heartbeat rhythm as the others realised how far away he'd gotten. No longer making a secret of his intentions, Matt finished crossing to the window, which had been broken at some earlier point in the evening.
"Sorry, you're going to have to keep guessing," he said. They were high up, much higher than the surrounding buildings, which at least meant he had a handy nearby rooftop to jump down onto. Beyond that, the breeze on his face told him that there was clear air for a good distance and. Well. He was half-amused, half-annoyed by Stark’s assumptions and, well. Impulse control had never been his strong point. It wouldn’t hurt to screw with him, just a little. Matt turned his head to 'stare' out of the window, taking a deep breath. "Wow. Look at this view. I wish you guys could appreciate it like I do."
He slipped out before anyone could do anything but gape at him, rolling as he landed on the roof of the next building. It hurt his shoulder a little, and he knew he wasn't done with his evening meditations just yet, but it was totally worth it as Stark leaned out of the window to yell at him.
"Next time, Shrimp-boy!"
It was one of those nights where Matt was immensely grateful for chimneys. He pushed his back against the brickwork, trying to sit up enough to draw in a full breath, which was easier said than done. Nothing was grating or creaking, so it wasn't broken, but the blow had been hard enough to dent his armor, and the bruising was going to be spectacular.
Scratch that, he decided, as he tried to sit up straighter and had to pant to get his breath back. More spectacular.
"You want me to find you an oxygen tent?"
Matt grinned up at Romanoff through gritted teeth. "Only if I pass out." That wasn't an idle threat from the way his side burned every time he tried to take in more than a shallow breath. "You get them?"
"Just about. We still can't see them, but I'm starting to get a handle on what they sound like." She came over to crouch in front of him, and Matt had the sense he was being inspected. "I'm assuming an ambulance isn't going to work for you, but if you need a lift home, I can arrange that."
"I'll be fine." It was an automatic response, but given half an hour and a bit of concentration, it would probably be true.
Romanoff didn't reply, just sighed and dropped the bag she was carrying next to Matt and settled more comfortably in front of him. There was a waft of antiseptic and plastic wrapping, and Matt realized it was some kind of first aid kit.
"Here," she said, opening a packet and snapping something. The air around her hands chilled instantly, the cold drifting towards Matt as she offered him the ice pack.
He hesitated, then cautiously unwrapped one hand from his side to take it. It must have been Avengers-strength, because he could feel the cold even though his armor as he pressed it to his side.
She was watching him carefully, he knew, so he just tipped his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, in case she could tell from the rest of his face what the muscles around them were doing. At some point, Matt's life had gotten distinctly complicated.
"What did they get you with, a crowbar?" She could probably see where his armor was buckled, the plate digging into Matt's side.
He shook his head. "Sledgehammer. They mostly missed, but it turns out even a glancing blow hurts like hell."
"I'll bet." Leaning back on her hands, she tilted her head, just a little. "Don't tell Stark, or he'll try to make you a new suit."
That startled a laugh out of Matt that sent a ripple of agony through his side, and he had to take a few seconds to get his breath back before he could reply. "I didn't know he cared."
"He's annoyed. JARVIS won't tell him anything, nor will Thor. You keep jumping out of reach every time he comes near you and none of us know what the hell your powers really are." She must have caught his slight wince at 'powers', because she sounded a little more coaxing as she added, "Come on, no point pretending you're just an average Joe off the street."
"Tell that to my ribs," Matt said. The ice was doing its job and he felt safe enough to sit up away from the wall a little, testing his range of movement. "What do you think?"
There was a long enough silence that Matt wondered if he was missing something. He'd know if she was smiling or frowning, but small gestures or the nuances of people's expressions usually escaped him. He wondered how much of the Black Widow's interrogation technique relied on the person being able to see what she wanted them to see, and just how much he was screwing with that right now.
"I watched the footage Tony took of you on the roof," she said, carefully enough that Matt had the sense she was trying not to spook him. "You trained with someone good. All the standard stuff from Aikido to Krav Maga, but you fall back on boxing when you're tired or struggling, and you don't miss when you punch. You have enough of your own style that I'd say you haven't worked with a trainer in years, maybe more than a decade, which means you started young, and you're as confident in the air as on the ground, so you've got good spatial sense. You use that in a fight, and-" she hesitated, long enough that Matt tipped his head to the side. Raising his eyebrows didn't do much good under the mask.
"I won't say you're wrong so far. Not about everything."
"You duck blows without looking," she said. "Even if they're coming in from behind." It was clearly meant to be a prod, a nudge towards admitting something that he was supposed to think she'd already worked out.
"Not all blows,” Matt corrected. The ice pack was starting to get warm, so he threw it back to her, making her jump to get a hand up in time. He stood up slowly, setting his jaw against the pain that came from stretching, even under the surface numbness.
"So, what? You have eyes in the back of your head?" Romanoff was on her feet too, getting up with considerably more grace than Matt. "Is that why you wear the helmet?"
"Is that one of the bets?" It was a deflection, and she'd know it, but he wasn’t really in the mood for an interrogation, especially not one that was already so far down the wrong road.
Apparently giving in, Romanoff dropped the ice pack into the bag and put her hands on her hips, still keeping her attention on Matt. "There's more to it than just seeing, isn't there?"
"Agent Romanoff," Matt said wearily, wanting to get home before the numbness in his side wore off. "I really do see the world totally differently to you. In many ways, I suspect. Let me know if you encounter any more invisible men."
He didn't give her a chance to answer, swinging himself up onto the chimney stack and across the roofs from there, favoring his injured side but able to move at least.
Behind him, Romanoff sighed, then spoke into her radio. "Yeah, he took off again."
"Score. That's ten you owe me, Tasha." Barton sounded entirely too gleeful. Apparently there were now side bets as well.
"You get anything out of him where the rest of us have failed?" Stark asked.
"He didn't deny that he can see things coming in from behind him, but I think your multiple eyes theory is a wash. It didn't look like the back or sides of the helmet could be transparent. In fact- Huh."
"What?" That was Stark again, out of the suit and apparently catching a hint of something in Romanoff's voice. "What?"
Matt blew out a long breath before making the last jump to the roof of his building. None of them had followed him, and he found he was actually grateful to Romanoff for not saying whatever it was she'd noticed. Between her and Thor, maybe he could learn to like the Avengers despite himself.
Groaning just a little, he pulled the door open and leaned on the top bannister for a moment, getting his breath back. On the other hand, they apparently couldn’t imagine a world where sight wasn’t everything, and he was going to have to keep answering annoying questions. He should probably stop winding them up about it, but if they weren’t going to widen their ideas, he didn’t really see why he should help them. All in all, he decided, he'd like the Avengers a lot more when they were long gone from New York.
By the time Matt got back from the door - Thor had insisted on pizza and, after the week he'd had, Matt was too tired to care about eating on the Avengers' dime - there was something in the middle of the coffee table. It fluttered as Matt put the pizza boxes down next to it.
"What's this?" he asked, running a finger lightly over the surface.
"The list you requested." Claiming the top box as his own, Thor sat back on the sofa. "From the betting pool."
"Right." Laser printing left enough of an imprint that, with concentration and time, Matt could have deciphered it. But his ribs still hurt from being hit with a damn sledgehammer last week, and two run-ins with invisible Hydra agents on successive nights had left him bruised and out of patience. "You do know that I can't just read this, don't you?"
There was a slight pause in the appreciative chewing noises that had been coming from across the coffee table. It was sometimes hard to tell, but Matt was fairly sure it sounded embarrassed.
"You did forget, didn't you?" Sighing, he dropped the paper again and helped himself to a slice of the other pizza. "It was the list, wasn't it? You're spending so much time listening to people speculate about my super-sight-"
"Super-vision," Thor corrected.
"-super-vision," Matt said, without missing a beat, "that you forgot." Juggling the slice and a napkin, he pulled off his glasses and gave Thor an unimpressed look.
"I must admit that some of the guesses are so ingenious as to be quite convincing. And you did ask to see it."
Which was technically true. And most people would have understood that it was just that phrases like that were so embedded in the English language that they were almost impossible to avoid. Most people who weren't Norse gods, that was, although Matt was starting to have his suspicions that it might just be Thor.
"Fine." Unable to summon up the energy to be properly annoyed, Matt leaned forwards again to drop his glasses on the table and scoop up the communicator, which he pointed it in the general direction of the piece of paper. "JARVIS, would you mind?"
"Of course, sir. One moment, please."
As he leaned back in his chair, and JARVIS started to read the list to him, Matt wondered if he could use it at work as well. OCR had come a long way lately, but it wasn't a patch on true AI. If he was really careful, he could probably slip it into the office. Or maybe pass it off as part of a trial.
On the other hand, he was in his living room eating pizza with an Avenger, paid for on an Avenger's credit card, while the Avengers’ AI read to him. Maybe he'd already pushed his luck far enough.
These suits were really starting to get on Matt's nerves. He ducked a punch, turning as he came up so that he could slam an elbow back into his opponent's mid-section, while being ready to fend off the next two men who were coming towards him. They still emitted the hum, but the pitch and volume were different, lower, and it was making them much harder to locate while setting Matt's teeth on edge at the same time.
On the other hand, the heartbeats inside the suits were as loud as ever, so Matt switched his attention to them, as well as the swirl of the air around him. It felt more like going up against professionals this time, as his first kick was blocked, and he had to change tactics, closing in where his clubs could do more damage.
Something heavy plowed into him from behind, and he grabbed hold of the man he'd just hit for support, using the unexpected resistance to shrug off the tackle, turning and using the momentum to add force to his blow. It caught his attacker in the side of the head, and Matt pulled himself free as the man went down.
Still, as more of them came running, it was starting to feel like he was drowning in bodies, even though he knew there couldn't be more than ten or twelve of them. The noise was getting to be almost too much, and twisted his wrists, letting the familiar swish of the clubs through the air ground him. If he was going to make it out of this one, he needed to be able to concentrate.
Naturally, that was when a blast of Metallica ripped through the air. Matt had been so preoccupied with his attackers that he hadn't heard the thrum of the Iron Man suit, and he yelled as loud as he could as he swung his clubs in a wide arc, hoping he could be heard over the cacophony.
"JARVIS, cut the speakers!"
It had only been a moment of distraction, and luckily it seemed that the men in suits had been as put off as Matt had, but his ears were still ringing from the volume of it, and it took him valuable seconds to tune in. Cursing Stark, Matt kicked out as someone tried to grab him from behind again, only too aware that he was going to be swarmed if he didn't get out of here soon.
Rather than concentrate his attack, he turned in a tight circle, hitting out as he went and hearing Stark swear above him.
"I thought we had a handle on these guys, J. What's going on down there?"
As Matt thought the answer was pretty self-evident, he completed his spin, having found what he needed. Without turning his head, he struck out to his left, as hard as he could. The man was wheezing a little, perhaps from coming running or because Matt had previously hit him. Either way, he wasn't up to the blow, and he stumbled backwards, giving Matt his out. He took a long step towards the man, kicking him hard enough to double him over, right at the perfect height for Matt to use him as a springboard, jumping up onto the top of one of the shipping containers that surrounded them.
He'd say this for Stark; the man wasn't an idiot. Almost before Matt had scrambled to safety, he fired something into the ground where Matt had been, the sound deep and booming, so not just a normal repulsor blast. The shockwave rippled out, and Matt fell back from the edge, not wanting to get caught inside the blast radius.
"Effective," he said, as Stark came to land next to him.
"When you got it, you got it," Stark said. "Speaking of. Did I get them all?"
Carefully sliding forwards, Matt tipped his head a little, listening. "Most of them. One's making a run for it, back towards the river. Two more are trying to head into the city."
Matt pointed. "About twenty yards and moving away."
Stark fired again, and Matt guessed it was some kind of specially developed missile, meant to stun and with just a hint of something more powerful underneath.
"I guess I get the one who's headed to the water?" he said, failing to keep the annoyance out of his tone.
"You know. Only if it's not too much bother. The others are kind of busy."
"Oh well, sure. If they're busy." Matt was already moving, staying low and trying to tread as lightly as possible. The escapee wasn't going fast - Matt suspected the suits made it hard to run - and Matt was able to follow him to the edge of the container row.
As the man stepped into open ground, Matt jumped, catching him around the shoulders and bearing them both to the ground. It wasn't enough to knock him out, though, and Matt rolled to a crouch a little way away, aware as he did so that there was suddenly a lot of chatter on the Avengers comm line, voices coming from a boat behind him and echoing inside the Iron Man suit. He hesitated, not sure whether it was something he should worry about. It was a mistake.
He'd been right about these not being the same men he'd fought before. This one knew what he was doing and he was good, even impeded by the suit, and Matt found himself defending a flurry of blows and kicks, one catching him hard on the shoulder to send him sprawling. He'd dropped a club, and the man grabbed it, trying to bring it down on Matt's head, but the sound was as familiar to Matt as his own heartbeat, and he had no trouble deflecting it, taking the second of free air to roll away and come to his feet. He had mobility over the other man, but the suits meant that an already trained fighter had an extra layer of protection. Time for a different tactic.
As the other man charged him again, Matt let him come, let him bear them both back into the crates stacked behind him. They took his weight, and like a boxer on the ropes, Matt leaned into them, his arms protectively in front of his face, one hand still holding a club as part of his defence, and trusting to his armor for the rest. He'd been right about the man having training, and as much as he was able to block some, plenty of blows were landing. A jab to his shoulder made him drop his arm, just a little, and the man used the opening to bring Matt's club down, cracking the mask at his right cheek. The sharp edge drew blood, a hot, metallic trickle running into the corner of Matt's mouth as he tried to breathe through the pain. More hits landed across his ribs, and Matt knew he was going to be bruised to high heaven in a few hours. As he waited for his moment, he wondered distantly if the Avengers could arrange for all fights to be on a Friday night so that at least he had the weekend to recover for work.
His chance came quickly, the man's own suit and the resistance of Matt's armor wearing down his opponent, and there was the slightest of pauses in the onslaught. Matt seized it, the hand holding the club striking out as hard as he could towards the man's head. With the extra support of the metal, it was a hard blow, and although Matt felt something crack in his finger, he doubted he could have landed it any more perfectly if he'd had a week to plan.
He heard a body crumple to the ground in front of him, and he listened for a moment, checking that it wasn't just another trick. The heartbeat was slow, the breathing even, but Matt kept his attention on it as he moved away, picking up the dropped club and carefully uncurling his fingers from the one he was already holding. As expected, he needed to use his free hand to unwind his index finger, and he winced as the bone shifted. That was going to make reading fun for the next few weeks. His ribs screamed as he breathed, and his face was stinging fiercely enough that everything was rather fuzzy around the edges.
Cradling his hand, and making an effort to re-orient himself, he tried to tune back into what the Avengers were saying, but on top of the pain there was the the water lapping at the boat and the ever-present hum of the suits making it difficult to focus.
Matt stopped in the small passage between containers, just leaning his forehead against the cool metal for a moment, and shutting out everything he didn't need. The water, the boats, the dock workers, the Avengers chatter, he pushed it all away, trying instead to focus in on his breathing, letting it calm him and clear his head. One breath followed another, and on the third, he picked up something else that pulled him back into the world around him. There was a chemical in the air that was faintly familiar, the memory retreating when he tried to chase it. He took another breath instead, through his nose this time, and let his mind drift. Nothing triggered memories as strongly as scent, if only he could track this one to its source.
Groaning, Matt pushed off the container, turning his head so he could get a direction, finally able to place it. He'd smelled it back at the house in Hell's Kitchen, weeks ago. Apparently that hadn't been all of their supplies.
There was no buzz of lightbulbs from the warehouse, and so although Matt could hear some heartbeats in the distance, he didn't have much fear about being spotted. The whole of the main space was filled with the tang of chemicals, sharp on his tongue, and for a second, Matt didn't know where to spit or swallow, not sure if he was safe to take it in. What if that why the Hydra agents had been in suits?
On the basis that he'd been fine after raiding that house, he decided to risk it, fishing out his communicator with his good hand.
"JARVIS? Could you tell the others I've got something for them. It's...uh. A warehouse. Can you locate it?"
"Indeed, sir. And I believe that help is already with you." Before Matt had time to wonder what that meant, a phone chimed from somewhere deep in the back of the warehouse.
The heartbeat that had been so low and faint that Matt had assumed it was outside suddenly jumped into a normal rhythm, and Matt heard someone swear in the darkness.
"Doctor Banner?" JARVIS said, making Matt freeze. "I believe your assistance is required. As yourself," JARVIS added, making the heartbeat calm again, slower than the average person's but not outside normal ranges.
"Oh. Right. Uh, sure. Where?"
"Over here." Matt said, wiping at his cheek, not wanting to pull the mask free, even though talking hurt. It was only a scratch, but it stung like crazy. "I think this is where Hydra's storing whatever it is they've been working on."
"It's a drug." Banner was coming over to join him, and Matt could hear the distinctive electronic whine of a phone being used as a flashlight."The others found a lab on the boat, so Tony's trying to dismantle it enough for us to move it." The light swept across Matt's face, hesitated and came back again. A little too late, Matt remembered to lift his arm to shield his eyes. "Are you okay?"
"I will be." Turning away, Matt surveyed the room properly this time, taking a couple of steps and listening to the echoes, still picking up that chemical trace all around him. "I think they've got a bit further than one lab," he said.
Together, they pulled a box out from one of the dark corners, and Banner held the light as Matt opened it up.
"Although I've heard you don't really need it," Banner said. It wasn't quite nonchalant, but it was certainly less probing than the rest of the Avengers had been.
"Something like that," Matt said, then hissed. "I think you're going to have to take over," he said, straightening up and taking the phone from Banner. "Broken fingers aren't good for opening small parcels."
Banner made an unhappy noise, but Matt was paying very, very close attention to his heartbeat, and it didn't waver. He fished around inside the larger box for a while, finally giving a grunt of triumph as he got into of the smaller packets inside.
The chemical smell came out at Matt in a wave, and he took half a step back, forgetting he was holding the only light source.
"You wanna bring that back for me?" Banner asked. If the smell wasn't strong enough for him to pick up, it probably wasn't as bad as Matt thought. Even so.
"Is it safe? It smells kind of funny."
Sniffing a little, Banner shrugged. "Near as we can tell, you have to ingest it, not breathe it, but you might have a point." Rather than ask Matt to come back, he stepped over, something small and rattling in his hand, the distinctive sound of a pill bottle. "Well, would you look at that?" he said, tipping the bottle up towards Matt. From the scent of glue and ink, he had to be holding the label up for Matt to read.
Matt worried his tongue between his teeth for a moment, torn. There had to be a clever way out of this, something he could say to deflect or distract. He could even just drop the phone and run, and he doubted Banner would follow him. But after a month of accidentally chasing Hydra and the Avengers around New York, he was tired, and sore, and despite everything, he thought he could probably trust Banner. If anyone understood the need to keep two identities apart, it was him.
"I think you'll have to read it to me," Matt said, and held out the phone for Banner to take. Once his hands were free, he carefully pulled at his helmet, hissing through his teeth as the cut opened up again. There had been blood inside the mask, and it smeared along the side of his face as he worked himself free, trying not to deepen the cut.
He wasn't really surprised when the light lingered on his eyes for a moment, Banner obviously confirming the lack of reaction. But it was at least a little surprising that Banner's heartbeat didn't waver, even as he made a small sound of realisation. One day, Matt would have to ask him how he managed that level of self-control, although he suspected it was a rather complicated answer.
"You know, that wasn't even one of our guesses. You must think we’re all idiots." Banner said after a second, and Matt could heard something like a smile in his voice. "So, what? Is it echolocation?"
"That's part of it." Despite himself, Matt found his mouth twisting up in a lopsided grin. "You've got to leave me some secrets."
"I guess so." There was a touch of disappointment in Banner's voice, but he went on, "And I guess we should worry more about these." He rattled the bottle in his hand again. "You said they smelled funny?"
"I can smell the chemicals in them. I picked it up back at the house that Romanoff and Barton were watching. It's why I was there. I thought it was a new type of heroin or something."
"If only." Banner shook his head. "These are labeled like normal aspirin. The kind of thing you could pick up in any hospital or pharmacy in the city."
"They are definitely not aspirin," Matt said, making Banner look back up at him.
"You can tell that just from the smell?"
"And the sound." Reaching out, Matt tapped the bottle, listening to the rattle. "They're too heavy."
"Huh. That's a neat trick." Carefully, Banner put the pills in his pocket. "I am, technically, a sort of doctor. If you wanted me to have a look at that." He gestured towards Matt's face. "And your finger."
Technically, Matt could call Claire. And Claire would sigh at him, and patch him up, and ask him disappointed-sounding questions.
"That would be appreciated, thanks," he said. "It doesn't matter so much elsewhere, but I'd rather not end up with a scar on my face."
"And yeah, there's a sentence I'm not even going to ask about," Banner said. He kept the flashlight on as he pressed his finger against his phone. "JARVIS, can you get a message just to Thor, please? Ask him to bring in the first aid kit. It's not for me."
"I believe he will already have realised that, Doctor Banner," JARVIS said. "I will pass on the message."
"I swear he gets more like Tony every day." Sweeping the space with the light on his phone, Banner apparently found what he was looking for, and started steering Matt towards it. "Come on, have a seat. We can discuss later who wins the pot."
It took Matt a second to identify what Thor was holding out to him.
"Wait," Foggy said, leaning over Matt's shoulder. "It's a literal pot?"
"We were not being metaphorical about the bets," Thor said, trying to get Matt to take the pot, realizing after a second that it probably wasn't a good idea to hand heavy pottery objects to someone with a broken finger, and offering it to Foggy instead.
"That's-" Foggy started, but Matt cut him off.
"We can't accept this."
"Matt." Foggy dropped his voice to barely a whisper. "Be nice to the big Avenger when he's trying to give you a pile of money."
Thor all but shoved the pot into Foggy's hands, his tone brooking no argument. "We have agreed that it is yours by right. Since you gave Doctor Banner permission to share at least part of your abilities with the group, and no one had considered it as a choice, you were declared the victor." Clapping Matt on the shoulder, gently, but still enough to make him stagger a little, Thor started to steer him back into the living room. "Also, as we will be leaving New York soon," he added, voice more serious, "we are turning our minds to other things."
"The scepter?" Matt asked, lowering himself carefully onto the couch, aware of Foggy's quick turn in his direction. He'd explain later.
"Indeed. It is rumored to be on your European continent. It is only a rumor, of course, but still, I cannot afford to let it pass me by."
Carefully, Foggy set the pot on the coffee table, and Matt tilted his head a little, listening to the notes rustle inside. It really did sound like a lot of money.
"You'll be missed," Matt said.
"Not just by him," Foggy said as he settled on the couch as well. "It was kind of nice knowing that if he got dropped in the Hudson again, there might be someone around to fish him out."
Matt flicked Foggy in the side, only getting away with it because Foggy knew just how covered in bruises he was at the moment. He'd been reliably informed that his ribs looked like someone had been finger-painting on them in reds and purples, and he felt like he'd been run over by a bus that had then reversed back over him for good measure.
"Your comrade has a good point," Thor said, taking one of the chairs. There was genuine concern in his voice. "You are not always as careful as you might be."
"I'm not always fighting invisible Hydra agents with a biological weapon," Matt said. At least Foggy had already heard about that part, even if it lifted his stress levels up a notch. "Hopefully once you're out of my city, things will go back to normal."
"Oh, sure," Foggy said. "Armed robberies, muggings, drug dealers, gun runners."
"Normal," Matt interrupted. "I think we've had quite enough of gods and super-soldiers for a while."
That made Thor laugh, which made Foggy relax a little, which meant Matt could as well. He hadn't been sure that this was a good idea, but he'd been blackmailed into it after Foggy had caught him making a mess of changing the splint on his finger. And it wasn't like he didn't owe Foggy anyway.
"You must have many stories of your friend's exploits," Thor was saying, making Foggy turn to Matt with a grin wide enough that it was a splash of sudden heat across his face.
"I might have one or two from law school," he said.
Matt grinned back. "I've got one or two of my own." He couldn't pick up on the nuance of Foggy's expression, but he knew that uptick in his breathing, the slight rise in temperature. Foggy was enjoying this.
"Excellent." Thor slapped the arms of his chair, leaning back and crossing his legs. "It is always a pleasure to hear tales of the folly of youth."
"I thought you'd prefer daring battles and heroic acts," Matt said. "Do you really want all the embarrassing ones too?"
"Especially the embarrassing ones," Thor said, his voice warm. "If you are able to find a Midgardian beer strong enough, I may even tell you of the time Sif and I smuggled a druflage into a council meeting."
There was only the slightest of pauses before Foggy coughed, just a little. "Sounds like an absolute riot, doesn't it, Matt?"
"Absolutely." Leaning back, Matt stretched out and poked the pot on the table with his foot. "Tell you what," he said, "the pizza is on us." He didn't doubt that after enough Asgardian Mead (which was probably about half a drop), Foggy would start on about the time their entire class had pranked their contract law professor with half a dictionary, a bunch of flowers and a bottle of rum. In their defense, it had been pretty epic.
"So, what's a druflage?" Foggy asked, and Matt sank a little lower on the couch, getting as comfortable as he could. He'd been wrong before, he decided. He was, in fact, going to miss the Avengers when they left town.