Matt Murdock, Jessica learns very early on in their friendship, is a hoverer. But he’s also stoic, which means that this hovering tendency gets expressed in strange ways.
“This is the fourth time you’ve stopped by my office this week,” she says.
He nods, the movement almost apologetic.
“I’m doing some work for an old client of yours from about four months back,” he says. “James Cook?
Her eyebrows shoot up, as Matt sets a couple of paper bags down on her desk. Two wraps, one set down somewhat closer to her.
“The hell?” she asks. “I thought his case went to court a month back.”
“Yeah, he wants to appeal the settlement,” Matt shrugs. “I’ve tried telling him that his deal really could have gone worse, but there are worse things to do for a first case back than taking money off a rich asshole with more money than sense.”
She gives a quiet, amused chuckle at that. “Damn. Here I thought you were an idealist, through and through.”
Matt’s smile has a razor edge to it, and there it is, the shadows of Daredevil within the mild-mannered lawyer. She ought to tell him, warn him that his cover is wearing thin.
She doesn’t. For some reason, she likes being able to see both facets simultaneously.
“Hell’s Kitchen kid,” is all he offers as an explanation, with a shrug. “Foggy’s one too. Still has a mean swing with a baseball bat.”
She tilts her head. She’d never taken Nelson for the type. “Really?”
Matt’s smile turns a little sad. “Oh, trust me. Never, ever cross Foggy Nelson. It doesn’t end well.”
And if that’s not a warning to steer clear of a landmine, she doesn’t know what is.
She picks up the wrap. “Let me guess. You bought too much again?”
Matt’s look of innocence is a thing of beauty, Jessica thinks, as she bites into the wrap.
But hey, if the guy wants to buy her lunch, she’s not stopping him.
She resolutely ignores the flicker of warmth that fills her after that, whenever she walks into her office and sees a sandwich on her desk, or finds soup in her fridge, or sees a text on her phone that says: Chinese or Thai, you pick.
Dwelling on a good thing is the quickest way to jinx it.
2. holding out for a hero
She supposes it’s not too much of a surprise that they’d wind up in the same bar. Hell’s Kitchen isn’t that big a place.
It’s pretty shady, as bars go. It’s more like the Platonic ideal of dive bars, if she’s being truly honest. Matt is lingering near the pool table, visible from the window, but he’s backed into a corner, by some blonde lady in a very short dress. That’s not the part that catches Jessica’s attention, even as her stomach twists with a rush of something hot and furious, something disturbingly like the expression that paints itself across half her clients’ faces when she gives them the inevitable news.
It’s the fact that Matt’s expression is drawn into a pained grimace. He’s frowning, his lips are clenched together tightly, and his shoulders are so tense she could balance a level on them, signalling no in signs so clear they might as well be written in neon above his head.
She’s pushing through the crowd, snarling, “Go screw yourself!” at one man who snaps, “Hey, watch where the fuck you’re going!”
Matt’s head is tilting to the side, and the woman’s hand starts trailing up his chest, and Jessica’s fists clench by her sides. Matt’s head tilts further, his line of sight going past the woman, sunglasses aimed straight at her, and he shakes his head.
Fine. If Saint Matthew insists on her solving this without violence, she will solve it. Without. Violence.
“Sorry I’m late, sweetheart, traffic was shit,” she says, walking up to them.
Matt’s eyebrows shoot up, before he smirks at her. Message received.
“Did you try the parking deck at 41st?” he asks her, sweet and concerned and let-me-fix-your-problems. Just your average boyfriend, in other words. He moves slowly, telegraphing his movement, but he wraps one hand around hers. She’s honestly surprised at how callused his fingertips are, as they interlace with hers. Must be the Braille.
The asshole excuses herself with red cheeks, and Murdock’s fingers are warm around hers. He squeezes it once, and then withdraws his hand. Without the heat radiating from his palm, her hand feels cold, bereft, and she shoves both of hers in her pockets, trying to push that feeling away.
“You always that bad at telling people no?”
He sighs, leaning his head against the wall.
“All I wanted to do was play some pool,” he grumbles. “But no, somebody has to hit on me. And not be able to take no for an answer. And then try and steal my phone.”
Jessica, reluctantly, finds herself impressed by his restraint. And angry, at the same time. “And you were still against me hitting her, Saint Matthew?”
He snorts. “She was an asshole, but…” he shrugs, trailing off.
“But you don’t hit girls?”
“Not if they don’t hit me first.”
She wolf-whistles at that, enjoying the way his cheeks redden in the low, flickering light of the bar. It’s kinda…cute. “You know, somehow, despite the fetish gear you run around in, I am still surprised by your kinks.”
And that makes him blush harder.
“Are you playing, or what?” he says, picking up one of the pool cues.
She grins at him. “Bring it, Murdock.”
3. After Action Patch-Up
He is out of bed and moving, before his eyes are even fully open, because that is Jessica’s footsteps on the roof, and her smell of jasmine and bourbon and leather, but it’s wrong, because crashing through the symphony that is Jessica Jones are the sour notes of anger and fear and blood, she is bleeding, somebody hurt her, somebody hurt her, who the fuck did that, he will rip them apart–
He clenches his fists, forcing himself to count to ten, to focus.
He moves towards the bathroom, grabs the kit he has stowed under the bathroom sink. It’s bigger than the standard first-aid kit he used to own. Foggy had insisted that if he was going to do a double life, he was going to do it right. That included having a first-aid kit that was usually only found in industrial sites, or remote summer camps.
He pads out into the living room, hurrying to sling her uninjured shoulder over his, wrapping his free arm around her waist. Her grip is tight on his shoulder, enough that it’s somewhat painful, and he lets out a long, slow breath. Good. That’s a good sign.
“So what happened?” he asks her.
She huffs, blowing a stray hair out of her face.
“Some asshole from the shit-show by the docks and his buddies tried taking their shit out on me,” she says. “I threw two of them into the river, but the third guy got me in the shoulder. Managed to punch him out, then I called the cops.”
He has to take a long, slow breath at that. “Where was Danny?”
“Tracking down a lead with Luke, and I can handle myself, Murdock,” she says. “You gonna patch me up, or not?”
He huffs, but gets to work, peeling back the leather jacket. It makes an awful sound, as it peels back from her skin, and her pained groan makes him want to hear bones snap, hear cartilage be crushed beneath his fists, as the devil yearns for his pound of flesh.
He inhales the smell of blood, pulsating beneath his fingers, and gunpowder, and shit, the bullet is still in there.
“I’m calling Claire,” he says, standing, and Jessica’s hair rustles like silk as she shakes her head, her uninjured arm reaching out, fingers circling around his wrist.
“I’ll heal. I just need you to get the bullet out.”
“You remember I have no medical training, right?”
“I also know that you stitched up your Dad as a kid, starting from age five. Cut the shit, Murdock. You can use a pair of tweezers as well as any sighted person,” she says.
“No. You are not calling Claire.” And she says it with a particular ring of finality that indicates he can accept her decision – as insane as he finds it – or she will walk out the door, most likely to not seek further medical attention.
He sits down beside her again, and reaches for the bottle of disinfectant, beginning to catalogue the wounds. Scrapes on her knuckles, the smell of dockside and pieces of gravel ground into them. A long, jagged cut over her eye.
“You want something to break?” he asks her, as he uncaps the disinfectant.
She snorts, burying her hands in the folds of her scarf. “I’m good.”
She hisses, as he swipes the disinfectant over the bullet, before reaching for the tweezers, her hands clenching tighter, and tighter. He forces himself to stay calm, to listen, for the exact way her blood coursing through and around the bullet, outside of the wound. This is a risky proposition, but what in their lives isn’t.
The tweezers make a scraping sound as they close around the bullet. Jessica’s pulse spikes, her teeth sink hard into the soft flesh of her lip, there’s a sharp inhale on her part, and he exhales as he drops the main part of bullet onto the coffee table, with a clatter that is painfully loud in his ears. There are a couple of fragments, which are trickier, and Jessica’s forehead beads with sweat. But several aching minutes later, there are three bloodied bullet parts on his coffee table.
“Fucking told you,” Jessica grumbles, her fingers clenching even tighter in the scarf, and he lets out a huff of laughter. “Asshole.”
“Guilty,” he agrees, reaching for a pad of gauze, and dressing the wound. “Just in case,” he says, to her unspoken question.
She hums. “I haven’t needed it before, but I’ll allow it, Counsellor.”
“How incredibly gracious of you, Miss Jones,” he retorts, reaching for her hands. He’s seen her lift a car with them, but they are soft, un-callused, and small, easily half the size of his. He listens again, but her knuckles aren’t broken or bruised, just scraped. “You ever get infections?”
“No. I’ll be fine. The cuts will heal by tomorrow, or the day after.” But her breathing changes a little, with a hitch in it. Her heart-beat accelerates a little. She’s…anxious? “Can I crash here tonight?”
He squeezes her hands.
“Of course, Jess.”
Her pulse slows a little, and she squeezes his hands back.
He closes his eyes. It’s his name in her mouth, her voice is a melody of bourbon, switchblades, Hell’s Kitchen at night, and her tone is somewhere close to soft, making contentment flicker through his chest.
Oh, he is fundamentally, monumentally screwed.
He swallows, trying to keep his realisation off his face.
“Anytime,” he says, before offering her the bed.
He is unsurprised when she scoffs at his attempt at chivalry.
As a matter of fact, he’s counting on it.
Rule one: around the PI with preternatural powers of observation, the only way to lie to her is to lie to yourself.
That’s something at which Matt excels.
Unrequited pining, less so, but evidently he’s going to have a chance to work on that, he thinks, with a little grim smile.
He wakes up to Jessica stumbling out of his elevator. She smells like stress, anger, fear, anxiety, Trish’s citrus perfume, and an unholy amount of vodka. Her gait is louder than normal, stomping through the hallway in her anger, and he raises his eyebrows, trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.
She hesitates when she gets to the door, though, her stance going light, trembly, hesitant. He hates that. Hates that she feels the need to walk on eggshells around him, that she doesn’t seem to realise that she’s welcome here, that he’s not going anywhere. But telling her so straight-up – even if he could, with his questionable communication skills – isn’t likely to end well.
He crosses the living room, and opens the door for her.
“Y’know, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were engineering opportunities to see me shirtless.”
She snorts, walking inside. The smell of the alcohol is strong on her that it’s almost a palpable cloud that just by breathing in, he can feel it going to his head.
“You can smell me or whatever from a block away, Counsellor. Can’t tell me you don’t have time to prepare,” she says, walking over to the couch and sitting on it. She wedges herself into the corner, almost protectively, and he walks over to the kitchen counter.
“Whiskey, or beer. That’s what I’ve got.”
“Whiskey,” she replies.
About what he’d expected. For a second, he feels a flickering moment of doubt – she’s honestly probably had enough, already – but then he shrugs. Ah, to hell with it. He’s never been any good at healthy life choices anyway, and Jessica knows it.
One glass each, and he crosses back to the couch, pressing her glass into her hand before sitting on the opposite end of the couch. The leather is cool against his bare skin, and he sighs, taking a sip of his drink, trying to think of a way to manage the situation.
She’s pissed and tired and on his couch, and she smells like Trish. An argument, maybe. He’s going to bet on her not wanting to talk about it.
“Alright, way I see it, we have three options here,” he says, wincing after the words have left his mouth. It’s come out a little too…bossy for his liking. And it’s not that Matt doesn’t give orders, but he prefers concealing them, when he’s not in the mask. People are so much more comfortable with authority being wrapped in silk if it’s coming from a blind man.
But it’s Jessica, so he’s not entirely surprised when she snorts. “Enlighten me, then, Counsellor.”
He dips his head. He deserves that.
“One. We drink in silence, and you pass out on my couch.”
“Tempting. It seems comfy.”
“Two. You talk about what’s bothering you, and why you’re in my apartment at 3:00am.”
“Thought so. Three.” He takes a breath. “What are your thoughts on hair braiding?”
Her pulse slows a little, and he trains every sense on her. He can hear the minute noises of the muscles in her face shifting, her heart-beat accelerating a little. But the rhythm doesn’t feel like anxiety, and she doesn’t smell like fear, either.
“You can braid?” and her voice is carefully neutral, in the way that he’s come to learn is how she cloaks her amusement.
He smiles. He’s insecure about a lot of things, but not this.
“Yeah, at the orphanage. There was a girl who taught me how to braid. Mary.”
She tips her head against the sofa. “Well, how can I pass up something like the results of a blind man braiding?”
He snorts. “Sight is overrated, Jones. There’s a brush and elastics in the second drawer of the bathroom vanity,” he tells her.
She returns with the brush quickly. It still smells faintly like Foggy, from when he last visited, and she settles down, leaning back against his knees, her hair spread over his thighs.
He starts slowly, methodically. It’s really not a difficult thing, once you get the hang of it. Start at the ends, he remembers. Make sure you get all the knots out. Jessica’s hair is soft and fine, thinner than Foggy’s, but he can work with that. When the brush goes higher, starting at the curve of her scalp, she lets out a long, slow exhale, and leans into the touch. He makes the strokes slower, smoother, and moving very slowly, puts one hand on her shoulder.
Her heart-rate thuds a little faster.
Matt allows himself a quiet smile, and traces a circle into the tendon between her neck and shoulder, pressing into the knot of tension he can feel there.
Her breath hitches, and he takes it as permission to play. If she even feels slightly uncomfortable, he’s pretty sure she will slam him into the walls of his apartment.
But this – even agreeing to this in the first place – is trust.
She trusts him.
He swallows around the sudden lump in his throat at the thought, and trails his fingers through her hair, now neatly brushed back from her face.
“Loose, or tight?” he asks her.
She hums, the sound low and quiet in her throat, and he closes his eyes to chase away the dozen or so possible scenarios where such a sound might be reproduced.
“Loose,” she decides, and he nods, sectioning the hair off. Under and over, over and under, gathering the strands together.
The apartment resounds with silken strands being bound together, the settling thud-thud of Jessica’s heartbeat, the rhythm of her breathing. It feels strangely peaceful, despite the hour, despite whatever Jessica’s running from, and he hopes that she’s feeling that too.
From the slowing measure of her heartbeat, she just might feel safe here.
The thought is enough to make him smile, as he ties off the braid. By this point, she’s almost asleep against his legs, and he shakes her awake just long enough to get her to drink some water, and take the bed, before flopping back down on the couch.
He wakes up at 8:00, to his alarm blaring. Jessica’s heartbeat is no longer in the apartment, and there’s a blanket on him that wasn’t there when he fell asleep, and there’s a piece of paper on the coffee table.
All it says is: Thanks, Matt.
…she left a note in Braille for him.
Matt doesn’t stop smiling for the next two days.
He’d been worried, when he’d gotten her call. Daylight conversations with her, outside of lunchtimes spent poking at hypotheticals and whatever latest nigh-apocalyptic event was battering New York, were rather rare. And it had been the first time he had heard from her since she had left town for one of her cases about a week ago.
She walks into his office as his last appointment for the day walks out, sinking into the chair, and he trains every sense on her, memorising the rhythm of her heartbeat, the song of her blood thrumming through her veins, the full force of how much he has missed this melody slamming into him all at once.
“I didn’t get there in time,” she says. “Missing persons case. I was too late.”
His throat tightens, and he stands, walking around to stand beside her chair.
She reaches out, trapping one of his hands between hers. He keeps his mouth shut. There are no words for the times when you're too late.
“How?” she asks, suddenly, her grip tightening. “How do you do it?”
“Hell’s Kitchen. You care about it, you go after it night after night, you go and you do the hero thing, and I know you aren’t able to save the world. And you get up and you breathe the next day. How?”
Her voice is pained, anguished, and he takes off the glasses, pocketing them, because he can’t have this conversation with his armour on, not when hers has been laid aside in a single breath.
“Because it’s home,” he says. “It – it’s my city. I can’t save everyone. But I can’t abandon my home.”
“And the hero thing?”
He drops her hands, the urge to run, flee from this conversation intensifying. She came to him. He can’t dishonour that by just climbing out the window. “It’s not a pretty story,” he says, instead.
“I don’t need you to give me sunshine and rainbows, Matt.”
No, you’d laugh if I did. But I’d give you the world, if you asked for it, Jessica.
But she’s asked for the story, so he gives it to her.
“Her name was Sophie. She was nine years old, and every night, she was raped by her father. And I heard it. Called Child Services, but her mom didn’t believe her. And he was smart enough to make sure he wasn’t leaving a mark.”
He hears the sharp intake of her breath through her teeth, the muscles of her jaw clenching.
“I tracked him down. Let the devil out. Beat him, until he was unconscious. And Sophie’s Dad never laid a hand on her, ever again. Spending a month in hospital, eating through a straw, might inspire that,” he says, allowing the vicious satisfaction of it to paint itself across his face.
She lets out her breath slowly, and he thinks she’s studying him. But his world on fire can’t tell him so for sure. Her heart-rate isn’t up; the story hasn’t made her more anxious. She’s not scared of him.
He’s certainly not expecting for her hands to encircle his wrists again.
“Pretty good reason,” she says. “I just. I dunno. What do you do? When it’s not enough?”
He tilts his head to the side, thinking about that.
Meditate. Talk to my priest. Breathe. No, all of that is true, but that’s the simple answer, the easy answer.
“Claire and I were talking a while back,” he says, flipping their hands around so that his thumbs are rubbing circles onto the backs of her hands. “I asked her about how she coped with it, when she worked in hospital. How you lived with it, if you lost a patient. She said she’d find some time to go back, spend time with her family, old friends. I guess that’s it. When it’s not enough, when you just weren’t fast enough, or strong enough, you need…home. You need that reason for why you save the world.”
She sighs. “It’s a pretty short list of people who make ‘home’ for me.”
“Yeah?” he asks her, tilting his head back a little.
“Trish. And…” her pulse is accelerating rapidly, now, in a rhythm that feels like anxiety, and he is opening his mouth to apologise for pushing her, when she takes a gulp from her thermos and says, “you.”
The last word is bitten off sharply, like she’s expecting rejection, and that doesn’t make sense, why–
I feel like home to her.
Oh, the past couple of months make so much more sense now.
Later, if asked, he will not be able to say who moved first.
All he knows is that Jessica’s heartbeat is drumming beneath his fingers, she tastes like fatigue and defeat, lingering adrenaline and whiskey, she smells like bourbon and Hell’s Kitchen, and he can't give a damn that they're in his office.
He is home.
They’re in his apartment, Jessica sipping at whiskey-laced coffee opposite him on the coffee table. Considering the adrenaline-fuelled pace of the night before, Matt thinks that the quiet domesticity of the moment is both strange and beautiful.
Jessica’s foot is hooked around his leg under the table; she is teasing him, trotting out a blind joke, and he knows that he is probably looking at her with some kind of expression of dopey adoration. Her pulse isn’t indicating worry, though, so for the moment, he won’t either. For one thing, he’s way too sleepy to worry all that much.
Naturally, that’s when both of their phones go off simultaneously, Matt’s blaring Foggy, Foggy, Foggy and the theme for ‘Who Run the World’ playing from Jessica’s speaker. Trish’s ringtone, that she’d programmed into Jessica’s phone on a whim.
Jessica grabs for her phone, her pulse spiking. Matt can taste the adrenaline from the other end of the table. “Trish?”
“Foggy?” Matt asks, taking a deep, calming breath, forcing himself to focus on the one conversation.
“Dude, Twitter ships it, and it’s the greatest,” Foggy says, his voice cheerful and light, and Matt has to lean against the breakfast table because thank God.
“Foggy, start from the beginning,” he orders.
Across the table, Jessica’s heartbeat is slowing as well.
“There’s a picture on Twitter, of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, with her carrying him bridal-style over a fire escape, juxtaposed very strikingly against the sunrise, posted by one Daniel Rand,” Foggy says, with glee in his voice. “You wouldn’t happen to have known anything about the context of that photo, do you?”
Matt groans. “Sprained my ankle.”
“Ah, buddy. At least tell me Jessica’s going to kick your ass for it?”
“Rain check. So, there’s a picture on Twitter. What about it?”
“Let me put that in context. There’s a picture, a burgeoning fan-base, and you guys are now #4 trending on Twitter, because everyone in New York ships it.”
Matt pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’m going to kill Danny,” he tells Foggy. “Call you back.”
“But it’s a good photo!” are Foggy’s final words of protest.
“Plausible deniability, Murdock,” Jessica grumbles across the table. “Reply tweets include from Trish: ‘Hell’s Kitchen’s own Battle Couple’, along with a link to some stupid website, and Colleen saying, ‘If you want to lift like Jessica, come to the Chikara!’ Foggy’s is just a .gif of a ship.”
“Like a moving photoset.”
“So like a video.”
“Well, that clears everything up,” Matt sighs. He pushes the coffee over to Jessica. “More for you?”
“I’m not doing this without Irish coffee today,” Jessica grumbles, grabbing the whiskey bottle from the kitchen counter and pouring a substantial amount of it into the pot. “I’m going to kick Rand’s ass.”
“Can I help?”
“No. You need to stay off that ankle,” she orders him.
He can’t quite suppress a smirk, so he takes another sip from his mug. “Yes, Miss Jones,” he says, meekly, when he’s sure he’s got his expression under control.
She gives a huff of laughter.
“Asshole,” she says.
But she cards her hand through his hair a moment later, and lets him lean into the touch.