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Blind Trust

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"You really should make more friends, buddy."

 

It was one of the last things Foggy said before Matt transformed from daytime defense attorney to nighttime vigilante. His long-suffering, but incredibly loyal best friend had eventually figured out that his efforts to convince the superhero to hang up the mask were in vain. So Foggy instead then shifted his focus into trying to help Matt practice safer crime fighting habits, if such a thing were possible. And after many late night arguments (and daytime arguments...and whenever-we-get-a-moment-alone arguments) over body armor, emergency phone numbers, and better weapons (seriously? Two sticks? Ever heard of a tazer?), his suggestions ultimately boiled down to Matt having to make the effort to socialize more. He wasn't the only one running around in a costume, after all.

 

Matt doubted the Avengers were ever going to come extend an olive branch to him, and he had no desire to do the same. They were too busy fighting aliens and giant monsters to be bothered to look after the humble neighborhoods that fell through the cracks in the aftermath of said epic battles. But the Nelson of the 'Nelson and Murdock' duo was adamant--pointing out that no man was an island. At some point or another, the horn head was going to have to be open to making some new allies beyond his college roommate, his priest, their awesome secretary, and that gorgeous nurse. Not if he wanted to survive past his 40s. Matt came right back with a rebuttal---retorting that people getting too close is what got Ben Ulrich killed. He was still on edge about Foggy being dragged into his nightly excursions. With a final "See you in the morning" (no pun intended), Murdock slipped on the mask and leapt off the roof of his apartment.

 

That was hours ago. And now, at present, in which Daredevil was being circled and bombarded by over thirty guys, he was forced to admit that some back up would've been nice.

 

Ever since the "fall of Fisk", as the press took to calling it, life in Hell's Kitchen had improved overall. But the time to celebrate was short lived. To say that every person on Fisk's payroll had been apprehended was a foolish lie. There were still a few "on the take" stragglers that needed weeding out, and soon enough, smaller groupings of gangs were cropping up to try and fill in the void left behind by the Kingpin. Thankfully, information was much easier to come by, and lips were looser now that the four letter death sentence was behind bars. But out of all the possible Russian and Yakuza wannabe's (which only amounted to two or three guys who thought some bats and brass knuckles made you a force to be reckoned with--hint: they don't), the one the vigilante took the most notice of was a very small group that, oddly enough, carried no discernible weapons on them. But they were clearly making back alley deals of some sort, as attested by how they chose to use the Yakuza's old base of heroin operations as their meeting spot. They must've figured that no one would notice some random passerby sneaking in and out of an abandoned, dilapidated, burnt up building.

 

But HE noticed. No one can hide their sins from the Lord, and they certainly can't hide from the Devil either.

 

With his natural born, gift of the ninja, Daredevil easily snaked his way into the familiar building and made himself invisible amongst the rafters; listening in on the hushed conversation with interest. The room that once housed blinded slave workers and illegal drugs was now replaced by five men in robes not too dissimilar to the ones Nobu wore, passing satchels and briefcases back and forth. And though they spoke English, their terminology was utterly foreign to him---mumbles of "wands" and "orbs" and "ancient mythical dust" being tossed around. One could only figure it was just code words for some drug no one heard of before. Certainly not him.

 

But he had been tailing them for close to a fortnight now, and now that a great many of the main players were all in one spot, he wasn't about to let them get away. They had no guns or knives or any other sort of weapons that he could sense, and even if they did, he handled much worse. Five guys would be a walk in the park. Decision made to break up the party, he waited for the right moment---hit the lights, then took a flying lunge from the ceiling.

 

And that's when all Hell broke loose....but not in his favor.

 

When were the odds ever in his favor?

 

The second his fist connected with the (supposed) dealer's face, a noise he couldn't readily identify sounded off from somewhere behind him, and seconds later, he noticed a steady stream of heat coming from somewhere above him; akin to feeling the sun on one's face on a hot summer's day....except it was two in the morning in mid November at that moment. Absent was the hum of electricity--the lights were definitely off. But whatever this heat source above him was, it must've been lighting up the room, because everyone cried out upon instantly spotting him and went on the attack. Which wouldn't have been too difficult, except for the unfortunate fact that he was suddenly bombarded by blasts of heat and jolts of electricity by strange weapons that gave off no sort of smell or sound until it was far too late. Almost as if these people were pulling stuff out of thin air, which confused the hell out of his radar sense. But true to form, the vigilante managed to stave off the worst of the pain and put two of his opponents out of commission, and for a moment, he wholeheartedly believed he could turn this embarrassing fight around....

 

....until unearthly sounds began popping up all around the area; carrying with them the burning scent of Fourth of July fireworks....and just then, from literally out of nowhere, about twenty more guys came barreling in like a high school football team----people he should've easily heard coming, and the fact that he didn't sent a pang of fright up his spine. If there was ever a more horrible time to start doubting his senses.....

 

His frantic thoughts of why his radar sense was seemingly failing him were abruptly cut off when something that was undoubtedly a whip (that, again, just appeared with no sensory warning), tangled itself around his ankle and yanked his feet out from under him. He hit the floor with all the grace of a lead balloon, and was forced to add a headache to his growing list of injuries, which also included at least two cracked ribs, multiple burns as attested by how bits of his costume were literally melting on his skin like hot candle wax (he'd have to talk to his new tailor about fireproofing the uniform, and the thought of fireproofing the Devil almost made him laugh), the standard cuts and bruises from the punches he was too exhausted to block, and....

 

....all the air escaped him when he let out a gasp as something sharp plunged itself into his shoulder. Something that most definitely felt like a knife; something his suit should've prevented; something that he couldn't hear coming, or feel the air currents as it was swiped at him.

 

It was just...one moment, physics worked as it always did since Creation, and the next second, physics gave him the finger, and a dagger like none he'd ever encountered was lodged in between his neck and shoulder--just barely missing his heart.

 

But he knew his luck had already run out. He was massively outgunned and outnumbered, with his senses on the fritz for some reason, and he had a knife stuck in him that was rapidly making him lose what was left of his consciousness. But all he could think about was Foggy and his words to him earlier that evening--his "power of teamwork" speech now haunting the not-so-super-hero. Whoever these guys were, THEY certainly got the memo.

 

A memory of his dad, and the abstract images he conjured of the possible faces of his tiny list of friends flashed across his mind's eye, and when he accepted that this was a fight he wasn't getting up from, he resigned himself to reciting the 23rd Psalm in his head and asked for forgiveness. He tried his damnedest, but Saint Michael he was not. He hoped his small circle of allies wouldn't kill him a second time when they met again in Heaven....IF he made it there, that is.

 

But just as he got to the line "goodness and mercy shall follow me", a voice suddenly sliced through the chaos like righteous thunder....

 

"FLAMES OF FALTINE!!!!"

 

Seconds later, a burst of immense heat engulfed the area, and for a moment, Matt couldn't shake the feeling of déjà vu, as this was the second time now that he found himself flat on his back while the world exploded around him....until he realized that his swarm of attackers instantly backed off and scattered like a receding ocean wave.

 

....or so he thought, that is, before a hand grabbed him by the arm.

 

Despite knowing full well he was bleeding internally and still dying, on instinct, he tried desperately to wriggle out of the person's grip. The only thing that made him stop was when a surprisingly friendly voice gasped, "Hey! Easy now! I realize I look like everyone else in here, but I'm on your side!" A moment later, there came a mumble of, "At least I think so...."

 

Whoever this guy was (and it WAS a guy, that much Matt could confirm, even though his heartbeat was pounding in his ears), this newcomer must have taken in the Devil's ragged appearance, because he followed up with a bemused, "Yeah, I'd say you weren't here as a buyer."

 

Murdock would've chuckled if he had the strength. All he could muster out was a sarcastic, "How'd you guess?" before stumbling backwards into a wall and contemplating whether to pull out the accursed dagger or leave it in.

 

He could feel the new guy staring at him awkwardly (and for now, "New Guy" was going to be his nickname until further notice), and said Good Samaritan worriedly replied, "Sir, are you--?"

 

But the inquiry was cut short by an odd jingling sound, like sleigh bells mixed with shattered glass. The New Guy's heart rate spiked considerably, and his once-friendly tone dissolved to commanding anger as he shouted, "Stop! Relinquish the orb!!"

 

Matt couldn't begin to guess what his rescuer was talking about, but he DID get the clear impression that the enemy was not only brandishing some otherworldly weapon, but didn't heed the warning. Moments later, he was assaulted by a calamity of noises and sensations he couldn't begin to place. For a solid five seconds, his radar wasn't just on fire, it was being incinerated, and he could do nothing but clamp his hands over his now-ringing (and probably bleeding) ears and hope that it would stop.

 

And praise the Lord, it eventually did. Though the relief was welcoming, everything now both sounded and felt like he was floating underwater. It could've been that crazy weapon....or just massive blood loss. Or both. Either way, through the haze, he could just about pick out a body standing in front of him. Protecting him possibly?

 

The answer was yes. Evidently more handiwork of The New Guy, whose voice went dangerously cold as he growled out in frustration, "You all are becoming quite bothersome."

 

Well THAT would be the understatement of the year. Matt harbored a guess that the Samaritan must've made some sort of threatening gesture, because whoever was left standing let out frightened gasps of "Crap!" and "Quick! Everyone out! NOW!"

 

Much like his horned companion, The New Guy wasn't going to give them the chance to escape. All of his strength and fury echoed in his booming cry of:

 

"WINDS OF WATOOMB!"

 

Before the strange words were even fully spoken, a stinging blast of air shot through the room with all the concussive force of a hurricane. Curses were shouted; items were dropped and abandoned; the unnatural wind sliced at anyone who dared to oppose it, and through it all, Matt could do nothing but sit in a crumpled heap in the corner and ponder just what in the ever loving God was going on.

 

.....and seconds later, as quickly as it had come, it was all over.

 

An unsettling stillness came over the area. By then, all the perps had either retreated, or had been knocked unconscious by whatever forces this drive-by-savior had summoned. To go from such ear-splitting chaos to dead silence was utterly deafening, and at that point, Murdock was in so much pain, so confused, and so disoriented, he couldn't even tell up from down, and it both unnerved him and utterly embarrassed him to be so helpless. He briefly pondered where it all went wrong. Well, in the grand scheme of his life choices, that was debatable, but just in focusing on this night in particular, he settled on figuring it went wrong the moment he assumed this was all just going to be another routine drug bust.

 

Pro-tip: never, ever assume anything. And now he was going to bleed out and die because he failed to follow the most basic of life lessons.

 

"You really should make more friends, buddy."

 

Foggy's words rang in his ear over and over. All of his thoughts drifted to his best friend, and he apologized to him, even though he wasn't there.

 

"You really should make more friends, buddy."

 

He said 'sorry' to Karen, to Father Lanthom, to Brett....to Claire...he thought back on all their kindness to him. He wished he could've done more---done better. A fresh dizzy spell washed over him, and their words began to jumble together.

 

"You really should make more friends, buddy."

 

"You're not alone. You never were."

 

He felt a pair of hands on his chest, and he was too exhausted to flinch away.

 

"You're not alone. You never were."

 

"Matty, I'm here. Here, feel my face."

 

"Sir, can you hear me?"

 

A new voice joined the chorus.

 

"Sir, can you speak to me?"

 

The world continued to grow ever more tipsy. He was sitting...or lying down. He couldn't tell. He didn't care.

 

"You're not alone. You never were."

 

"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."

 

"Oh, good Lord...."

 

More crackling sounds.

 

"Matty, I'm here."

 

"Sir, just hold on! Stay with me!"

 

He couldn't stay. He let the darkness---not the kind he lived in since he was nine---but the actual, sensory darkness, take him.

 

He assumed the last thing he'd ever hear was Foggy. Or even better, his dad.

 

But once again, he assumed wrong, because what he got instead before passing out was:

 

"Wong! Quick! Come help me!"

.

.

.

The only thing Matt knew for certain was that he wasn't dead, if his lapses in consciousness were any clue to go by.

 

Time was completely lost to him. Sounds and sensations became a muddy blur, and in conjunction, flashes of soreness would course through his body at random intervals, only to dissolve away into the hazy ether again. There was only one memorable point where an indescribable pain shot through his shoulder blade like an erupting volcano, and he had no clue if the screams he heard were his own (though chances are, they were). Pairs of hands gently held him down, and his pain dissolved to panic upon realizing he had no strength to fight against whoever or whatever was restraining him. His raw worry only eased slightly when a voice near to him started mumbling (or more like chanting) in low, almost soothing tones....some language he didn't recognize straight away. Latin, possibly? He was too delirious to figure it out, or care. The words became garbled as his mind shut off again.....

 

......only when his brain decided to finally clear up did he take another stab at trying to assess his surroundings. First--himself. All around soreness was still there, in virtually every joint, though considerably less than the sorry state he was in back at that warehouse. And speaking of which, he most definitely wasn't there anymore. He was sitting...? No--lying. Lying down on something quite soft. A bed maybe? No--mattress didn't feel right. The shape was all wrong....a couch. He was on a couch, with his head propped up by silken pillows (further proof that there WAS a God, and He WAS merciful). Feelings of déjà vu hit him like a ton of bricks as he flashed back to the night he was rescued out of a dumpster, and for a moment, he wondered if he, by some miracle, had accidentally butt dialed his burner phone during the skirmish and was spirited away by a nerve-wracked Claire or Foggy (who would probably then finish the job of killing him).

 

But as he tentatively stretched his senses outward, he quickly came to find that he was in a brand new environment. The first thing that hit him, oddly enough, wasn't the sounds, but the smells. Strong wafts of burning candles and incense were in the air, reminding him of church, and the feeling would've been more pleasant had the circumstances been different. Stronger still was the ashen smoke and the continuous crackling that came with it....from somewhere to his right...the heat radiating from it warmed his bones....a fireplace. From somewhere in another room (presumingly), a grandfather clock (he guessed) chimed on the hour. Three soft bells told him it was three o'clock. In the morning or afternoon was another matter. It was hard to tell time when one was doing a tango between life and death.

 

What WAS easy to tell was how sound traveled in this still-unknown area. The bells tolling and the crackling fire gave him a brief clue. Whatever this place was, it had high ceilings and was quite spacious, though said space was packed to capacity with all sorts of furniture and knick-knacks that he would've curiously explored had he the strength to even move. But what was briefly unsettling was the lack of outdoor white noise. Even in the most insulated buildings, he could always pick out the droning symphony of New York's traffic and pedestrians if he so wished. But try as he might, the city was silent, as though this room he was in were in a vacuum, and the outside world had disappeared. If he wasn't in pain and oblivious to his location, he would've actually found it blessedly peaceful.

 

But now wasn't the time to go all zen---he had to find out where he was at and get the hell home. He was about to attempt to sit up when a steady heartbeat coming down an adjacent hallway gave him pause. It was only one person, and as they entered the room, the tiny clatter of silverware gave away the tray they were carrying. Matt held his breath as the stranger circled around the couch and placed the cutlery on a nearby coffee table, then stood still for a few seconds. No doubt, they were examining the battered vigilante on their sofa. All the while, Murdock debated between speaking up or fake sleeping and making a break for it once the stranger left.

 

The latter plan went out the window when the mystery person crept forward and leaned over him---feeling his forehead (for a fever, he supposed), then his chest (to check his breathing, he guessed), then finally took his wrist and checked his pulse. All the while, the hands examining him trembled ever-so-slightly, as though they were afraid their patient was about to spring up and attack (which actually wasn't far from the truth, had Matt not been so battered and coming back from death). But shaky hands combined with a steady and very calm pulse just left him confused.

 

Still, he was reminded so much of Claire and her meticulousness, and anyone with mal-intent towards him wouldn't be giving such a bother. At least he thought so. He hoped so. Only one way to find out....

 

Just as the stranger made a move to force open his eyelids, Matt dared to take a chance and mumbled, "I'm alive, thanks...."

 

A tiny gasp that would've went unheard to everyone else without super hearing escaped the mystery person. Their pulse jumped for all of a second, then quieted again as they composed themselves. They drew back their hands, but remained in a crouched position as they softly spoke, "Hello there, Mr. Daredevil. Welcome back to the land of the living. I would ask how you're feeling, but....I believe I can ascertain that just by observation."

 

The voice was undeniably male....and somehow familiar. Memories of the disastrous fight beforehand came flooding back, and all at once, the baritone accent clicked in Murdock's still-fuzzy mind. It was the good samaritan---the New Guy. Though, it was still yet to be determined if ending up in the arms of this stranger was a good thing or not. But so far, his luck was holding, so he chose to remain cordial for the moment. A quick, cursory assessment of his body via his senses told him that various bones were either cracked (or in three of his ribs' case, broken), along with slashes and burns from tip to toe; all of which were on the mend...somehow....as though a mysterious energy were working inside him to fix everything.

 

Dozens of questions fought for importance, but one enigma at a time. His unknown benefactor semi-asked how he was doing, so he answered with a groan, "Well, I don't feel like I'm about to meet St. Peter anymore."

 

"Excellent. Then you're in much better straights than I thought", the New Guy practically had a smile in his tone as he stood up, "I'm amazed at how resilient you are. Your condition was pretty touch-and-go for a while there."

 

The man's bedside manner may have carried a sarcastic edge at the start, but it was mixed with a good deal of sincere concern. To that end, Matt finally made a first attempt to sit up a tiny bit, and was immediately punished for his haste. Everything, and really, EVERYTHING, hurt. Some spots more than others. And it all added up to him having the epiphany that he was as good as stuck on that couch.

 

Since he wasn't too crazy about being trapped on a sofa in an unknown area with a guy he didn't know, the vigilante bit back the throbbing pain by hissing out his next question, "Where am I?"

 

"My home", the stranger said simply. There came a rustling of fabric as he gestured around the room, "Welcome to the Sanctum Sanctorum. I realize an aging townhouse may not be the most opulent of places to wake up in, but I'm sure you'll find it comfortable."

 

Matt couldn't deny the comfort aspect--physically, at least. And now he had a tiny clue of his location, though it wasn't much to go on. The name was totally foreign to him....but his brief stint of Latin from back in school gave him pause. 'Sanctum sanctorum'....'holy of holies', if his translation skills held up.

 

So, an old townhouse with a divinely inspired name that was unusually quiet and smelt like church---certainly beat falling in a dumpster from three stories up, that was for sure. None the less, he kept his senses on high alert. He knew the saying about something being too good to be true. Only then did he remember how his anonymous host greeted him, and he didn't bother to hide the suspicion in his voice, "How do you know me?"

 

Matt could hear the man shrugging, and he imagined a quirked eyebrow along with it as he got his answer, "I DO get the newspaper. Although my engagements as of late have kept me busy, so there's quite a bit I have to catch up on around here. Luckily, there's this handy new invention called 'Google.' I didn't even finish typing 'Hell's Kitchen' completely before your stories began popping up in the search results."

 

The lawyer-by-day wasn't quite sure what to make of that news. His alter ego was supposed to be a symbol, yes...but he wasn't exactly planning on becoming Avengers-level famous. Of course, it wasn't like Tony Stark was suddenly rapping on his door wanting him to join his little club (and the less chance of it happening, the better)....but none the less, the fact that the Devil's name was out there and gaining precedence beyond his neighborhood was....well, it could be both good and bad, and knowing his track record of luck, he didn't want to push it.

 

Realizing the silence that lingered between them, Matt let his tiny bit of surprise show, "Oh, well...hopefully the bulletins captured my good side."

 

His host suppressed a chuckle, "Believe me, you would be in less-than-accommodating quarters right now if I thought you were going to truly do me harm."

 

Murdock wanted to believe him. He SO wanted to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was perfectly safe in where ever the heck he ended up. But that wouldn't happen until he got a name. Keeping his eyes either closed, or trained on the ceiling so as not to risk glancing at the wrong point of reference, he muttered, "You seem to know about me. Do I get to know you?"

 

The New Guy sighed, "Sorry to say I don't have as flashy a name as yours, though I'm sure I've gotten my share of digs at it as well." A pause, and then, "Doctor Stephen Strange, at your service."

 

A quick check of the heartbeat confirmed he was telling the truth, and so far, the man had been honest for the whole conversation, as far as Matt could tell. 'Stephen Strange'....the name wasn't clicking anywhere, though a quick Google search of his own later on would take care of that....if 'later on' even came. But with a last name like that, Foggy would've been having a field day with jokes. The thought almost made him chuckle.

 

So....a doctor. Great. For someone who hated hospitals, Matt sure had a knack for running into people in the medical profession. He practically groaned at the irony of it all and tiredly ran a hand down his face...

 

....only to discover his bare hand meeting bare flesh. The mask was gone.

 

All at once, his own heart was pounding so hard, he could feel it in his ears, while his blood ran cold at the horror of this stranger having seen his face (and anger at himself for not having noticed his exposure for so long). His breath caught in his throat, and all he could choke out was a petrified, "Oh shit...."

 

The doctor must've anticipated his patient's panic, for he spoke as reassuringly as possible, "I apologize about your...attire. If it's any consolation, I don't know who you are. And I've entertained 'unique' guests before, so mum's the word."

 

Matt DID appreciate the honesty, as attested by the steady pulse, but it proved to be very little comfort. That last sentence should've given him food for thought, but he was too busy prodding around his chest and discovering that he was stripped shirtless, as well as boot-less. His pants were still intact, but that was it. As his world briefly crumbled around him, he could only mutter, "You took my suit."

 

"More like PEELED it off", Stephen winced, as though Murdock's pain were his own, "Those forces we were hit with were mighty powerful. I had to discard most of your uniform, not only to remove the energy dagger from your shoulder, but to make certain that your suit didn't melt to your face." He quickly added in, "I'll repay you for the damages somehow. No need to bring lawyers into this. Though I doubt any would represent citizens like us."

 

Why did the world's humor have to be so cruel? Matt could've cried--he did NOT just hear what he thought he heard.

 

"It's fine. I know a guy", he answered, and left it at that. It was all he could trust himself to say. While Strange was rambling, the vigilante finally dared to prod the area where the weird knife was plunged in to try and send him to an early grave. Gone was the bleeding and gaping hole in his shoulder. What he found instead was an odd pattern of stitching with some substance he couldn't readily identify....but whatever it was, it was cool to the touch, yet internally, left his wound warm and numbed to the worst of the pain, so that all that was left was a dull ache. Whoever this doctor was, he was a damn good one.

 

He could sense Stephen curiously watching him as he proceeded with his own self-examination. But eventually, the silence was broken with a bemused, "You're taking this all fairly well."

 

Matt kind of surprised himself with how calm he was remaining at this turn of events. He chalked it up to him being severely sore, more than a bit out of it thanks to whatever painkillers he was on (and he definitely had something in his system at the moment), and not having the power to turn back time. Thinking back on his past mishaps, he blurted out, "This isn't the first time I've woken up in a strange place with half my clothes gone."

 

He could almost hear Stephen's eyebrows shooting up, and the man's awkwardness was evident, "Oh....you really get around."

 

At that point, Matt let out a weak chuckle. With so many conflicting suspicions and emotions, he had to release at least one, so he chose to laugh---a half hearted one that meant everything and nothing at the same time. But moments later, his tiny giggles dissolved into sore coughing; his broken ribs not enjoying the disturbance. At that, Dr. Strange took a concerned step closer, "Much as it deplores me to not take you to a proper hospital, I had a strong feeling your....'situation' would've been difficult to explain. No one names their child 'Daredevil', and the new patient forms don't have a checkbox for 'costumed heroics' on their list of causes of injury."

 

"Good call...." was all Murdock could say. Finally, someone who understood his problem with the emergency room and didn't put up a fight about it.

 

The odd doctor scratched his chin, "Normally, there's a nurse friend of mine that I call upon for matters like this, but unfortunately, she wasn't available tonight."

 

Matt was so close to asking if the nurse's name was Claire, but thought better of it. If she had met this aristocrat of a host, he was sure she would've mentioned him. And he wasn't about to name drop her and risk exposing her to any more danger than she was already involved in. Still, the eerily similar circumstantial comment made him wonder two things: was Claire part of some secret society of nurses who took it upon themselves to help people in masks? And two: was he really alive? Or was he actually back at the warehouse bleeding out, and this was all some blissful fever dream before death claimed him? He was never, ever this fortunate.

 

He was pulled from his morbid thoughts when Stephen continued, "In any case, I doubt a normal doctor would've been able to properly treat you anyway, considering your wounds are of the mystical variety."

 

Well THAT got the devil's attention. He blinked in confusion, "....I'm sorry, what?"

 

"Matter and energy manipulation", the doctor clarified in a matter-of-fact tone, as though he were commenting on the weather, "The weapons used against you. The dagger that impaled you---all products born from another realm of reality. Sorcery is the more accurate term, though I suppose everyone would just call it...'magic'."

 

For a good few seconds, Matt's brain just shut down. This guy was going to sit there with a straight face (he assumed he was) and tell him he fell victim to MAGIC? He would've written it off completely as him finally have gone insane....except for the fact that as he thought back on the fight, everything fell into place. The oddly dressed individuals, their code words, how a whole squadron of them appeared out of nowhere, the odd sounds, why his radar sense failed him....it was so ridiculous, yet made perfect sense. And considering his own nightly activities, he was one to talk on the subject of one's life becoming ridiculous. The world changed the moment New York was invaded and the Avengers first formed.

 

Aliens, non-aging war heroes, giant monsters...now magic.

 

Sure...why not?

 

Stephen must've noticed his guest trying to process what he told him, for he added in with a smirk in his tone, "Don't worry. I had the same look when I first got involved in all....this."

 

The rustling of fabric told Matt his host was gesturing at his outfit, whom he guessed was wearing similar robes to his attackers, if Stephen's introductory remarks to him back at the warehouse were any indication. It also stood to wonder if the odd sensations he could feel pulsing through his wounds were also of a magical doing. Made sense, but it was damn well unsettling to feel his skin and bones slowly stitching themselves back together by forces he couldn't comprehend. Divine intervention? Or something else....?

 

When Murdock still didn't answer, Strange let out a quiet, but heavy sigh; bracing himself for a complicated discussion, "Right....I think we're going to need a little extra strength for this explanation."

 

With those ominous words, Matt listened as his new acquaintance plopped down in the adjacent chair next to the couch. A second later, a sweet aroma filled the air as a liquid was gently poured into a porcelain cup. At least that explained the clatter of silverware he overheard earlier. Though he could already hazard a guess as to what was being served, he couldn't help but ask aloud, "What's this?"

 

"Just tea", Stephen assured him, then added in with an audible wink, "...with a bit of honey."

 

Now Matt was puzzled, "You didn't know if I was awake or not, yet you brought tea?"

 

"I was planning on keeping a vigil until you woke up", the doctor said simply, "Of course I'd get thirsty."

 

Murdock was torn between whether to be touched or creeped out at the thought of this guy watching him all night, "But you have two cups?"

 

Strange spoke with a chuckle, as if the answer were a no-brainer, "Really now, you thought I wouldn't offer you any?"

 

Matt couldn't believe the absurdness of this entire night. He had gone from nearly being killed, to waking up in some Sherlock Holmes-inspired house in the middle of who-knows-where, being doted on by some aristocrat who spoke of magic as if explaining how the sky was blue. And this man knew next to nothing about him (he hoped), yet offered him tea like one would a close friend.

 

"You really should make more friends, buddy."

 

Foggy's words instantly jumped to the forefront of his mind....as well as memories of that fateful night when Claire opened her house and heart and fished him out of a dumpster to save him, despite not knowing if he was a threat or not....and how surprised he was to find someone so brave and caring towards a stranger.

 

With those thoughts in mind (and the fact that this man did nothing but help him so far), only then did he allow himself to hope that just maybe....lightning could strike twice.

 

Deciding that being rude towards this apparent good samaritan wouldn't play in his favor too well, the injured vigilante forced himself to get up. Much of the pain of his wounds had subdued to an annoying twinge or ache, but that didn't mean the act of moving was a cake walk. It took longer than he liked, but within a minute, he settled into a comfortable sitting position. Funny enough, the supposed sorcerer didn't warn him against moving too much, so the guy must've had great confidence in his first aid skills. That, or whatever voodoo-hoodoo was placed on his body was doing its job. Murdock had to admit to himself he was steadily feeling better than when he first woke up.

 

He was broken from his thoughts when the doctor let out a pointed and impatient, "Well..???"

 

So busy was he in repositioning himself, and so lost was he in his internal debate, Matt didn't realize until it was too late that Stephen was holding a steaming cup of tea out to him. And upon his guest not immediately taking the offering, Strange's slight offense at the rudeness was apparent in his tone as he snipped, "Oh, come now, it's not going to bite you."

 

In Matt's case, it might as well have been, because now he was faced with an important decision. He didn't want to be ungrateful to this person who saved his life and was practically waiting on him hand and foot....but if he were to take that glass, it also meant having to expose his most guarded vulnerability. He was kind of surprised his host hadn't figured it out sooner. He could easily find the cup (and admittedly, the steaming herbal liquid smelled utterly heavenly), but perfect eye contact was indefinitely harder to fake. Even super senses could only do so much.

 

With the realization that his 'situation' would be impossible to hide anymore, Matt heaved a sigh and prayed he wasn't about to regret his next words. Hesitantly, he muttered, "I may have some trouble with that...."

 

He stayed silent after that and let his host do with that answer what he liked. Keeping his head staring straight ahead in the direction of the crackling fire, he soaked in its healing warmth, even while sitting in an increasingly uncomfortable silence while the doctor figured out the mystery for himself. He could hear the tiny, agitated hums and the awkward shifts in pulse as Strange scratched his chin--never letting go of the tea cup in his right hand. He could only imagine the changes in expression as the dots were connected. They WERE pretty close to the fire....maybe there was enough light to see how his eyes reacted to it...or rather DIDN'T react....

 

And then, suddenly, he felt the air currents change as a hand was waved in front of his face--probably making all sorts of gestures; anything to get the average person to instinctively blink. And when he gave no satisfying reaction, the sorcerer let out a puzzled, "Oh...."

 

A second later, Stephen's heart spiked as the realization came full force, "....OH....oh my....I'm so sorry..."

 

Fully anticipating the typical, abled-person's pity party, Matt sighed and very nearly groaned, "Oh, here we go..."

 

But much like the rest of this interesting night, his rescuer threw him for a loop again when he apologized; his voice steeped in embarrassment, "So stupid of me not to have noticed. And here I am waving things in your face and wondering why you weren't reacting." All at once, his tactics changed, and the cup dipped much lower, "Right by your left knee at 7 o'clock."

 

Murdock couldn't believe it. A twinge of sympathy, sure, but...no nice words that were clearly forced. No pity (as far as he could tell). No victim blaming or demands of an explanation....just a tiny little correction, and it was back to business.

 

He briefly thought back on the day he met Foggy...then finally accepted the drink with the tiniest of smiles.

 

As the tea was passed between them, Matt's fingers brushed against Stephen's, in their joint attempt to keep the cup steady. But even in that brief moment of touch, the vigilante instantly noticed the bulging tendons and scabbed over skin. Scars. Thin, but noteworthy ones that stretched all along the length of each of the doctor's fingers....fingers that twitched and trembled, to the point that it was a small miracle he could hold the cup, period, and the tiny clattering of the fine china said as much. And the pulse...the blood flow was all wrong....something foreign there in place of bones that were lost or previously crushed....

 

He must've lingered on Strange's hands for a second too long, for the moment Matt had the glass secured, Stephen quickly withdrew---his heartbeat speeding up over the contact....or rather, a subject that clearly unsettled him. With a quiet muttering of, "Fascinating..." the doctor poured a cup for himself and began sipping.

 

That last word was no doubt directed at the sorcerer's discovery of his guest's visual impairment. And frankly, Matt could've said the same thing. Being raised by a boxer taught him a great deal about hands....and he knew there had to be a story behind Stephen's. But he was treading shaky ground as is, and if the doctor wasn't going to pester him with questions about his blindness, then Matt would grant him the same courtesy.

 

So instead, he diverted the stilted conversation to their drinks. Murdock had always been a coffee and beer enthusiast---when one worked late nights either fishing for case evidence, or putting on a devil suit and punching thugs in the face, caffeine and/or drowning one's sorrows came with the territory. So needless to say, the etiquette behind tea drinking was unreservedly foreign to him. As his fingers ran nervous circles along the porcelain, he asked the only thing that came to mind, "What kind is this?"

 

"Chamomile to be precise", the shifting of fabric gave away Strange's simple shrug, "It always makes ME feel better. Though I COULD change it to something more suited to your personal tastes if you wish."

 

"No thanks", Matt replied (perhaps a tad too quickly), "This is fine."

 

A twinge of guilt ran through him. Stephen was being nothing but kind and helpful, but the overly cautious side of Murdock's brain refused to give in completely. He didn't want to risk the drink being tampered with any more than it already might've been. With finely trained ease, he momentarily stretched his sense of smell to the limit, then his taste as he took a tiny, tentative lick. And when he found nothing poisonous or foreign or otherwise suspicious, only then did he savor the warm liquid as it ran down his dry throat and gently forced him to settle. Though he knew next to nothing about tea, he could gather enough that this wasn't some store bought brand, but rather home grown, with herbs that caused his sensitive taste buds to dance, and rejuvenated him from the inside out, like a happy hug in a cup. He'd have to later tell Foggy what they were missing out on.

 

The odd duo sat in a companionable silence for a good ten minutes; letting their frazzled nerves be soothed by ancient herbal medicine---the aroma of the burning fireplace filling the air; the occasional chime from the grandfather clock the only interruption.

 

But Matt's world was never silent, be it natural, man-made, or verbal. And despite being thankful for his host's lack of intrusiveness, painful curiosity kept nagging at him. It was intriguing to find someone who had next to no shocked reaction to his disability (and the conundrum it caused, considering his nightly profession).

 

Against his better judgment, the vigilante finally dropped the axe, "So this is the part where you start asking how a blind man can possibly fight."

 

It was a statement, not a question. The sorcerer poured himself a second helping as he considered his answer, then countered with asking, "I'm assuming you mean the manner of which YOU practice the art of combat?"

 

There was some slight good natured sarcasm there, but the fact that the guy implied that he knew blind people COULD very much defend themselves if they wished was reassuring. And if nothing else, it broke the ice. For the first time since waking up, Matt made an effort to turn in the doctor's direction and gave him an amused, pointed look that said "really?" He hoped his aim wasn't too far off the mark (anything that landed near someone's shoulder or ear was a win).

 

Strange took one more long, hard sip of his tea, as if steeling himself for an extended explanation. He set the fine china down on the table--the rattle of cup against saucer loud enough to emphasize the oncoming moment--before heaving a sigh, "Of course I'm curious. Who wouldn't be? And since we're both being frank here, if you must know, my abilities and studies into the mystic arts have started to extend to mild telepathy. If I really wanted, I could enter your mind space and easily find out every last dark secret about you...."

 

Murdock's breath caught in his throat, and just that once, he prayed the man was lying. His heartbeat was certainly doing flips....

 

....until he realized that the sorcerer was still remaining truthful....and the increased pulse he was hearing was his own.

 

"And....have you?" he tentatively asked.

 

"No", the sorcerer said simply.

 

The man's heart didn't betray him. It was the truth. Thank God.

 

As if aware of his guest's anxiety, Stephen sought to readily quell it when he went on to say, "That wouldn't be very gentlemanly now would it? Clearly you must have some sort of special qualities. You get along just fine. I don't need to know. If you want to tell me, you can tell me. And if not, oh well. It's understandable." An air of playfulness returned to his voice, "And besides, I can't tell anyone anyway. Doctor to patient confidentiality."

 

"Um....thanks for the honesty", Matt wiped a tired hand up and down his face--thanking God for doctors and priests having similar oaths of privacy. Then again, most doctors also didn't practice mysticism, so just how much of that oath would the guy take to heart?

 

"You're quite welcome", there came the movement of Strange crossing his legs as he reclined back a bit in his armchair, "I suppose in this world we live in, this'll be easier to swallow, but....still, you wouldn't believe the countless number of other-worldly....'things' I've experienced. Of course, I don't wish to undermine your talents--far from it...but just speaking of my own witness, a blind ninja isn't THAT Earth-shattering to me anymore."

 

Matt let out a half-hearted chuckle, and his sad smirk lingered for a second longer. If only his fateful reveal to Foggy had gone just as smoothly....

 

Stephen cleared his throat, "Still, what you do is rather impressive. I suppose we're both victims of a similar happenstance."

 

"Oh?" Matt quirked an eyebrow--his interest raised even more.

 

And then, for the briefest of moments, Stephen's voice dropped an octave as his mind seemed to go to a darker place he didn't want to revisit. Very carefully, he sighed, "Let's just say you're not the only one who learned to turn a disadvantage into an ADvantage."

 

Murdock instinctively rubbed his fingers together, as he was wont to do when he was thinking and needed to give his hands something to do....and found his host doing the same, albeit more slowly.

 

....hands....

 

The scars...the twitching...the grating sound of churning steel as a network of metal pins in the sorcerer's fingers worked to bend mangled digits.....

 

He had a feeling that was all the further he was going to get into the mystery of the hands. And to echo the doctor's earlier words, he didn't need to know. Not now, anyway.....but it was something to chew on.

 

"I could tell you about how I fell into MY practices, if you wish?" Strange broke the awkward quiet---his previous melancholy gone. No doubt he didn't want to linger on any more painful memories.

 

He was probably saying that as a show of good faith, but at the moment, Matt didn't care. He filed that question away for next time, if there even WAS a next time. Presently, he just wanted to get to the bottom of the shit-show that brought them together. With a shake of his head, he spoke, "Nah, it's okay, just....answer me this...." He ran a hand through his hair, "....what the hell was THAT? Back at the warehouse, I mean....if you have a story for THAT, I'd love to hear it."

 

There came the sound of fingers sifting through hair and stubble as the doctor stroked his goatee (the guy had a beard? Matt added that to his growing mental picture of his host). After much consideration, Strange took a breath, "Of course..."

 

Stephen resettled in his chair, before clearing his throat, and it was clear he was debating how to explain such an otherworldly concept in layman's terms by the tone of his voice, "....the world of the mystic arts...it's not just waving your hands around and books and incantations. Sometimes, it also involves employing the use of arcane objects of great significance or power. One such group, who strayed down the path of selfishness and darkness, had stolen the Gnarian Orb, among other occult items that, in the wrong hands, could prove fatal."

 

Feeling like he just stepped into a chapter of Lord of the Rings, Matt raised a brow, "....The Gnarly Orb?"

 

"GUH-narian", the sorcerer corrected him, "It's like a bomb of pure energy that...well, we both felt the results."

 

Murdock unconsciously rubbed his arms and poked at his wounds that were still closing up. He didn't need a long-winded explanation to know how dangerous that crystal ball was. And the doctor himself gave an audible wince--a tiny one that only someone with Matt's super hearing could discern.

 

Stephen continued, "Anyway, this gang of thieves...I've been on their trail for weeks now, and finally managed to track their exact location. But I suppose when they realized how close I was to discovering them, they decided to move their base of operations to a more non-descript place...." His tone dripping with guilt, he sighed, "....and unfortunately, they chose your neck of the woods."

 

The vigilante clenched his jaw at winning the bad luck lottery. Strange, likewise, clenched his fist in frustration, "I should've had a handle on all this. It's inexcusable that you or anyone else should get hurt or mixed up in my problems."

 

All at once, Matt's temper dissipated--his empathy overriding it somewhat. Where did he hear THAT line before? Considering his own situation, he muttered, "I know the feeling."

 

" If it's any consolation, my associates and I have rounded up most of the hooligans, and the ones that got away, I know where they're hiding out", Stephen tried to sound hopeful, but soon enough, his voice was filled with a great sadness, "Still, you got caught in the crossfire because of my incompetence, and for that, I apologize. I'm sorry---truly sorry. "

 

The man couldn't be lying even if he tried. He let out a mortified hum and rubbed at his face, "This is what I get for believing I could handle everything myself."

 

Matt would've usually been angrier at such a confession, but thinking back on the conversations he'd had with Foggy over his nightly activities, he knew he was one to talk. Apparently, he wasn't the only one who had to learn to get off their high horse. And though he was still wrapping his head around this mystical crap, the problem was easy enough to figure out. Gang steals stuff that isn't theirs, and the situation got out of hand. And his rescuer did the best he could.

 

Nodding in partial understanding, the vigilante turned to him again, "Well...we're both alive....and I underestimated who I was going up against. I should've known better. I'll know for next time....we both will."

 

"Right...of course", the doctor said nothing else, but by the odd sound his breath made, it didn't take a radar sense to know that he was a bit relieved to not be chewed out on the matter.

 

But before Matt could say anything else, the lingering pain and his utter exhaustion from his injuries finally started catching up with him. The moment his sides began to hurt, he gently hugged himself around the ribs--his own self examination revealing that one rib was still broken, but starting to mend; another was at the point of a hairline fracture, and the last was completely healed.

 

Evidently, he couldn't hide his discomfort very well, for his host suddenly rose from his chair, "Speaking of which, let's ensure there will BE a next time for you."

 

The doctor gave his patient a quick heads up that he was about to touch him, before beginning to curiously prod at the stab wound. And after having his fair share of examinations from Claire, Murdock knew the cue and sat back to let Strange work. Though most of the pain was concentrated in that one area, it was due to the injury, and not whatever the sorcerer was doing. His twitching fingers may have robbed him of some finesse, but he worked with all the practiced ease of a surgeon; reapplying....well, whatever sort of voodoo-hoodoo he had, much like re-cleaning and re-dressing a wound. All the while, Matt sank a little deeper into the headrest of the couch--fighting to stay conscious, as the last thing he wanted was to pass out on the guy again.

 

He knew at first glance, his eyes appeared normal to most people....yet, he could somehow feel Strange staring at his non-working, brown irises, even while his injury was tended to.

 

To stop the gawking, he suddenly blurted out, "So Doc, will I ever play the violin again?"

 

"Very funny", Stephen stood with a huff, "The enchantments I initially invoked have taken care of the worst of the damage, but you still have quite a bit of healing to do." He tapped a finger where the knife was oh-so-gently plunged into Matt's shoulder, "And that little number still concerns me."

 

Murdock had a sinking feeling where this was headed. He put on his best 'I'm totally not still in a world of pain right now' face, " I've handled worse. You can gimmie' two pills and I'll call you in the morning."

 

"I admire your tenacity", the sorcerer dryly chuckled, but then grew serious, "but I don't think you understand the malevolent energy that was inflicted upon you. The solution to this won't be found in a drug store first aid kit."

 

Dammit. Matt facepalmed, then threw his head back over the back of the couch in defeat, "So I'm stuck here?"

 

Again, Stephen stroked his beard as he thought aloud, "....well....if you're able-bodied enough....I won't force you to stay if you really don't want to.....but I highly advise it. As I explained earlier, a hospital will raise too many questions, and they can't properly help you anyway. But I can."

 

The disconcerting thing was, the doctor was totally right. Matt had only one third of a costume, magic injuries that would make Claire read him the riot act, and super senses that still weren't completely back to 100 percent yet. Even worse, he WASN'T sure if he was able-bodied enough to get home. Not at that moment. And it's not like he knew where he was at. The lack of outside noise was still a bit off putting. Considering all this mystical stuff he was exposed to, what if he walked out the door and found himself in a desert with man eating sandworms, if Foggy's description of the movie 'Beetlejuice' was anything to go by.

 

Realizing (with cringing dismay) that he was backed into a corner (though not down for the count--he refused to give into that), the vigilante groaned, "Okay...what's YOUR solution, then?"

 

Strange sighed--using a matter-of-fact tone as if he were a regular physician telling a patient they had to swallow a teaspoon of cough syrup, "There's a rather strong enchantment I know. In layman's terms, it's referred to as a healing trance. I've had to utilize it many a time myself. All it really does is channel your energy to where it's hyper focusing on treating any and all wounds--typically of the occult variety. It'll deal with the worst of your injuries, and bring them to a level that I can find acceptable."

 

Oddly enough, Matt could find himself understanding. It didn't sound too different to when he meditated to relieve himself of pain after a rough night of ultimate-neighborhood-watch. But sensing a catch, he asked, "So why didn't you...'evoke' it earlier?"

 

Stephen rocked back and forth on his heels as he delivered the ultimatum, "The first aid I performed earlier was for direct emergencies. But now that the most dire area has passed, this will finish the job." He sucked in a breath, "But....I wanted to receive your permission first, if possible....because to undergo a healing trance, it means that you'll be put into a deep state of sleep. One that you won't awaken from until the spell has run its course."

 

Needless to say....that did NOT sit well with Matt.

 

He apparently had turned a shade paler, for Strange tried to reassure him, "I know you realize what I'm suggesting here. If the roles were reversed, I'd be cautious as well. But I can assure you, I'm only doing what I think is best for your health. And you'll feel mightily better afterward."

 

Murdock internally thanked the man for being so patient, as he took a long, uncomfortable, silent minute to think through what could turn out to be either his best or worst decision ever. It wasn't hard to grasp the fact that he'd be completely and utterly helpless when asleep. Sure, his above-average hearing woke him up many a time, but that wasn't a guarantee...and now to throw this wibbly-wobbly magic into the mix....this had 'bad idea' written all over it....

 

.....and yet, he had taken his chances with Claire, and it, for the most part, turned out for the best. And Stephen seemed trustworthy enough--his pulse had been steady the whole time. This guy rescued him, healed his wounds, didn't pity his blindness, and treated him with nothing but kindness from the moment he woke up. Perhaps Strange was the answer to the hastily mumbled prayers he spoke back at the warehouse.

 

Perhaps it was time to start acting more grateful towards the people actually trying to help him, stranger or not.

 

....but that didn't mean he was going to blindly trust forces beyond his comprehension---not without his own personal test first.

 

"Is there anything I can do that will convince you to have faith in me?" the sorcerer tried breaking the tension with a tiny joke, "Shall I cross my heart?"

 

Ironically, he wasn't that far off the mark. To the best of his ability, Matt aimed a hard stare directly at the rough location of the doctor's face, then finally spoke--his voice almost nearly taking on the same intimidating edge he used when scaring criminals, "I want you to repeat these words.....'I, Stephen Strange, swear that I won't betray your trust, or do anything to hurt you while you're sleeping'."

 

The magician's teasing tone made Murdock imagine he was raising an eyebrow, "You sound like you'd do wonders in a courtroom."

 

If you ONLY knew, pal......

 

But when Matt kept giving his best 'don't mess with me' glare, Stephen relented and drew himself up serious; speaking with all the conviction of a man fighting tooth and nail to prove his innocence, as though he were making a pact with the Lord Himself. Gently, but with a firm determination, he said, "I, Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange, Master of the New York Sanctum Sanctorum, do solemnly swear, upon my life, that I will do NOTHING to betray your trust, at least not intentionally. I swear upon the Vishanti and my Hippocratic Oath that I will bring NO harm upon you while you rest."

 

From the first word to the last, Matt studied the rhythm of the man's heart as he recited his promise.....listened to it harder than anything he had before.

 

It remained steady and overly calm the whole way through. Not the tiniest flutter to be found.

 

.....alright then.

 

Decision made, the vigilante let out the breath he was holding, "Fine...do what you have to do."

 

One could hear the surprise in Strange's tone, "That's it? You believe me?"

 

His guest nodded, "I know you aren't lying."

 

"Oh?" the magician was curious, "How?"

 

Matt allowed a tiny, satisfied smirk play across his lips, "Let's just say you've got your superpowers, and I've got mine."

 

The sorcerer didn't sound miffed at all, and just said simply, "Fair enough."

 

With no further stalling (and trusting his instincts), Matt carefully laid back down on the couch--fumbling a bit as he attempted to get into a comfortable position while also being mindful of his wounds. All the while, Stephen stood nearby--ready to assist if need be, but wanting to give his guest his space (and sense of dignity) apparently. When he was finally settled in, Murdock sighed, "So what do you want ME to do?"

 

"Nothing at all", the magician spoke like a doting parent, "It'll be about a minute or two before it takes effect. Just relax and have pleasant dreams."

 

Matt inhaled a still-slightly-nervous breath in his best attempt to take those words to heart. From the subtle change in the air, he could tell that his host was waving his arms and hands about in some intricate pattern--a flurry of incomprehensible words flowing from his mouth like well-practiced poetry in a tone so soft, the normal human ear wouldn't have heard it.

 

....and just then, a wave of....some kind of gentle and warm energy flowed through him in a comforting wave that began at his forehead and traveled all through his body, from top to bottom.

 

"There now...." Stephen spoke aloud, "All set. I'll see you tomorrow, friend."

 

Friend.....

 

He called him a friend.

 

But Matt had no time to contemplate what that meant (if anything at all), for true to the doctor's words, his world began to shift into a soft haze as the so-called-'spell' took effect. His baser instincts briefly tried to fight it, but it was of no use. One by one, his remaining senses began shutting down on him, but in a weirdly pleasing sort of way. Even on the best of nights, the sounds of the world never ceased, so to finally have a period of rest he'd always wanted, with no over-stimulation to bother him, was a God-send. His mind slowly falling into a dreamy haze, he let himself be pulled under....

 

....but just before dozing off completely, his hearing managed to pick up one last sentence or two. Stephen was talking. To who was a mystery, but he could've swore he heard the sorcerer whisper, "Cloak, I'm placing you on guard duty tonight. He shouldn't awaken, but if anything out of the ordinary happens, come get me. Understand?"

 

A moment later, he distinctly felt some kind of material lay on top of him and curl around him....something silken and warm and comfortable.....a blanket, he guessed....the corner of which brushed against his cheek for a second....almost of its own accord....in a comforting sort of way...??

 

It was a funny thought. He chalked it up to the beginnings of a dream, let out an exhausted yawn, then slipped into the blissful ether completely.

 

He would later admit to himself it was the best night sleep he'd ever gotten.

.

.

.

Much like when anyone slept (slept GOOD, that is), time drifted by in a cozy haze. Only later would Matt wonder what sort of state his mind was put into. He was fairly certain he dreamed, but of what, he couldn't remember. Hopefully, it was something nonsensical or unimportant...or maybe anything negative was purposely being blocked.

 

Either way, one moment he was letting some weird doctor send him into a peaceful bubble of warmth and silence, and the next thing he was aware of was the world coming back to life. One by one, the smells and sounds and sensations of the house he was spirited away to made themselves present as his senses slowly woke up, and with it, the memories of last....night? Being put into a healing coma may have done him wonders, but it also made him lose all track of what time, or even DAY it was. There was no way to tell. But oddly enough, he surprised himself at not being too overly worried about such a thing. Wasn't like he could turn back time. He had bigger concerns, like making sure he was in one piece and finally getting home.

 

He could hear his joints creaking as he carefully sat up and stretched--noting how much easier it was to do now versus the pain he was in before his "magic nap" as it were. He fell into old habits; running his fingers through his hair (because being roommates with Foggy taught him he always woke up with the worst, but funniest cases of bed head ever), before making a move to fold up the blanket that covered him. Weird as this situation was, he wasn't going to be a sloppy freeloader.

 

But his hand that reached out grasped empty air. The blanket was gone. But how? He furrowed his brow in confusion; he knew he had thrown it off of him as he got up....or did it slide off? For a brief moment, he swore he could feel a change in the air and hear a rustling of fabric with no heartbeat attached...from BEHIND him? Before he could fully analyze it, the sound disappeared down an adjoining hallway.

 

Weird.

 

Well, whatever. Less clean up for him, then. And he was just getting his bearings again, so it was fully possible he was still a little loopy from whatever magic was used on him. He was still wary of what he truly thought about that, but one thing that WAS certain was that Stephen was right. He felt a thousand times better.

 

Case in point, as he re-examined his injuries, he could immediately tell that great progress was made. Much to his amazement, his ribs were completely healed, and almost all the resulting pain was gone, save for one, tiny, lingering ache in his shoulder--the knife wound of which had lost the stitches and was now a normal, treatable cut. With renewed vigor and confidence, he finally stood up for the first time and began to pace around a bit; working stiff muscles and trying to gauge how well off he actually was. After careful consideration, he decided upon being at the level of, "I wouldn't go Daredevil-ing just yet unless it was serious, and I wouldn't come to the office like this, but I'm not stuck on the couch, and it beats being a grease spot on the street".

 

Satisfied, he then tentatively began exploring the room he'd been confined to. It was definitely a study of some sort, with the couch and two chairs for lounging. The back wall housed a large bookshelf--he could smell the aging, crumbling paper a mile off, and brushed his fingers along the ancient tomes as he passed. The other wall had a row of opened, glass display cases, with a number of objects he couldn't identify. Some of their properties didn't match up with any material he knew. As he stretched his senses, he found nothing majorly concerning, but decided to remain in the room--getting the gut feeling that now wasn't the time to go exploring. Now that he knew this place was an epicenter for mystical stuff, he didn't feel it wise to risk touching something and causing a disaster (knowing his luck). Bad enough he had to explain his super senses to Foggy, he didn't want to add "I poked a crystal ball and morphed into a butterfly" to the list. So with a sigh of resignation, he decided it was probably for the best to just wait for his inexplicable host to show up.

 

But in the meantime....

 

Though November was bringing early winter on everyone, he was comfortably warm inside. He could feel the heat of the fire that was still steadily burning, though not as much as before; proving the large passage of time while he slept. And speaking of the outdoors, again, for whatever reason, there came not a single sound or sign from the world beyond the walls. Before, it unsettled him a bit.....but now he could appreciate the fact that no maddening city racket meant no undue distractions.

 

To pardon the pun, he knew a chance when he saw one, and he wasn't about to waste a golden occasion. So he did what he usually did when he was stressed out and needed to recuperate and regroup.

 

He was going to take the opportunity of being in such a peaceful house and meditate.

 

The fireplace seemed like as good a place as any. He sat before the warming, dancing flames--thankful for the semi-soft throw rug, before taking up the familiar lotus position and centering himself. With every intake of breath, he cleared his mind. And with every exhale, he opened his senses fully, until he found himself exploring again, in his own way, by listening to the house itself. He allowed his radar to wander--gathering clues as he went along. The creaking hardwood floors...footsteps upstairs...weird noises that sounded almost like tiny whispers coming from the objects on display. And through the lingering mist of incense, he could tell the place smelled very old, but very much alive...something that couldn't be touched or heard (or seen, probably), just felt. Not a physical feeling, but....a soulful feeling.

 

But his sensual journey could only last so long, and eventually, his meandering thoughts then began to replay the horrible fight that he nearly lost (well, he DID lose, but at least didn't lose his life). And with it, came the unexpected events of the previous night, and the mysterious good samaritan that saved him. With "magic", no less. Frustrated, he had to re-center himself in an attempt to clear the pathways....but the gut feeling of ignorance just wouldn't stop nagging at him. As crazy as this planet could get, he believed, with all his extra sensory perception, that he knew more about the unseen world than anyone else. But one conversation with this enigmatic doctor, and he realized--his certainty crumbling--that he had only barely scratched the surface.

 

In that moment, he REALLY wanted to talk to Father Lanthom.

 

So deep was he in his pool of thoughts, he nearly missed the heartbeat, and then, from behind, he picked out a soft muttering of, "Oh...."

 

It was only one word, but he knew the voice.

 

Stephen.

 

Matt could only wonder the kind of sight he must've made---awake, but still banged up; shirtless, and sitting by a gradually dying fire, in a position usually reserved for monks. But blindness also taught him how to build a sturdy wall against embarrassment. He didn't make a move--rather, he carefully waited and listened to what his host was going to do.

 

Strange's advancing footsteps barely made an impact on the floor as he practically glided over and quietly sat down next to him on the rug. Murdock, for his part, didn't open his unseeing eyes, or turn, or say anything to even let the doctor know he knew he was there. He just listened....

 

....and a minute later, the sorcerer had become very still; his breathing leveling out into a steady pattern; his heart rate even, but also slowing to a range far more relaxed.

 

And the vigilante was thrown for a befuddled loop again.

 

Stephen had begun to meditate.

 

Matt didn't personally know anyone else who practiced the old art. Really, the only one who knew he did was Foggy. He remembered the day, from way back in college, when his future law partner strolled into their dorm room to find him sitting on the floor and "acting all Buddha" (as Nelson so eloquently put it). And though Foggy was being as open minded as he could, Matt could hear the tiny snickers in his friend's voice, even after an awkward explanation. Ever since then, he kept "quiet time" to himself and only mentioned it if need be.

 

He was so used to solidarity, he wasn't sure what to make of having a "partner" as it were--enjoying the tranquility with him. Not like this, anyway. But there was a first time for everything, and he found it strangely endearing to have someone joining him rather than questioning or bothering him. With that in mind, he re-centered himself and drew back into his introspective little world for a bit. And evidently, both he AND his host needed time to reflect, for the two remained as still as statues as they sat in a calm repose. Who would've imagined such a violent beginning would've had such a peaceful outcome?

 

Murdock's own internal clock told him they had been in reflection for at least fifteen minutes, and he himself about another ten minutes before the magician walked in. At last, he broke the silence when he whispered, "What time is it?"

 

Without missing a beat, the doctor replied, "Nearly noon." He must've anticipated another question, because he then added, "Since last night, I mean. The incident was yesterday."

 

Matt figured as much. At least he now had a confirmation. His eyebrows went up, "Out for that long, huh?"

 

Strange hummed a 'yes' noise, before his tone took on that of a parent, "Did you sleep well?"

 

THAT would be an understatement. But he wasn't about to launch into a three hour discussion about how his abilities worked, and how they kept him up at night sometimes, and how that magic-induced power nap was a God-send. So he instead answered with a simple, "I did. Thank you."

 

He added a sincere smirk for good measure. His host must've been satisfied with that answer, because he lapsed back into silence.

 

....until the sorcerer spoke again, "I didn't wish to disturb you while you were in trance. I'm sorry if I interrupted or startled you."

 

"You're fine", Matt gave a tiny shrug.

 

Stephen still hadn't fully turned towards him; remaining in lotus position, even as he continued, "Forgive me, but....I'm surprised. I didn't take you for the type to practice meditation."

 

"S'okay. You're not the only one who's made assumptions before", Murdock spoke from experience, in more ways than one, "Guess the past 24 hours have been full of surprises.'

 

The magician lightly chuckled, "Agreed."

 

Now it was Matt's turn to apologize, "Sorry if I was being a bit too....'casual' in your house. Typically, I do this to speed up recovery from...well...outings that are less rough than last night."

 

"Not a bother at all", the doctor assured him, "I practice similar techniques."

 

"Although...." the vigilante's face flushed as he awkwardly admitted, "....it was really more or less because of how quiet this place is."

 

"Ah", he could hear the smile of relief in Stephen's voice, "You can thank the protection seals and barriers around the house for that. Not only does it bar against malevolent forces from getting in here, but it has the added side effect of shutting out plenty of sound and other things from outside the walls. Comes in handy when you're trying to study or concentrate."

 

At last, Murdock had an answer for the mystery that was burning at the back of his mind, "Oh....okay." At a loss of what else to say, he added, "It's nice...."

 

And that WAS the truth, and that was all he really COULD muster up. He may have had several hundred questions about the ethics of the "mystic arts" and just how much of it matched up to his own beliefs. But considering all the other weird shit in the world today, he seemed to be asking a lot of the Lord lately. But he was nearly back to normal, so far be it him to question a miracle or the forms that guardian angels took, especially if it produced these kinds of results.

 

But there WAS one, more immediate question that needed answering. Realizing this session of meditation was becoming more talkative, he abandoned his trance and turned so he was facing the sorcerer more. Much like cross examining a witness in the courtroom, Matt deliberated on how to word his response without seeming ungrateful. At last, he settled with, "So what possessed you to save me?"

 

Judging by the increased vital signs, Stephen gave up on "quiet time" too. When he spoke next, Matt knew the doctor was facing him by the direction of his voice, "Well, it wouldn't be in good form to leave a dagger stuck in someone."

 

Murdock smirked at such a simple answer, and held back a chuckle, "True." His mouth soon became a light frown again, "But what I mean is, well...you don't know much about me, save for what the news says."

 

"And I'm sure I'm mostly still a stranger to you, yet you let me place you in a rather vulnerable situation", the magician pointed out in a matter-of-fact tone.

 

"Touché'," the vigilante shrugged, while also trying not to blush at his hypocrisy. He felt like he was one to talk. What possessed HIM to push a random stranger out of the way of a truck? At the time, and really even now, the response was clear---because it was the right thing to do. Maybe the lawyer side of him was making him overanalyze everything. As paranoid as he could get, he had to remind himself that sometimes, the answer really WAS as simple as "I'm doing this just because."

 

His thoughts were broken when Strange shrugged, "Maybe I've just become a better judge of character."

 

That time, Matt DID let a tiny, amused snort escape him, "I'm not exactly dressed very angelic."

 

But Stephen remained serious. He countered with a thoughtful observation, "Forgive me if I presume wrong, but I gather that in light of your....situation, you've learned to see in other ways?"

 

Up went both of Matt's eyebrows. He wasn't expecting such clear and concise scrutiny, nor did he think his host would word it in such a way. All he could say to that was, ".....I have."

 

"Well, so have I", the sorcerer said simply, "In a manner of speaking."

 

The vigilante expected the doctor to elaborate more, but when he didn't, Matt was left to silently chew on it. Was Strange expecting him to ask more, or was he purposely being cryptic to let his guest figure it out? Guess it was only fair, since Matt was being just as vague with the guy. And he was feeling exponentially bad for doing so.

 

But just as he geared up to talk, Stephen beat him to the punch, "Color me curious...why a devil?"

 

There was no humor or malice or patronizing tones to the doctor's voice. Just honest inquisitiveness. Murdock would've appreciated it more had it not meant having to imply the side of himself he tightly tried to reign in. Still, he had been through this rigga-ma-roll enough times with Foggy to have an explanation ready. The response rolled off his tongue like an oft-repeated speech, "....it's a symbol."

 

"To scare criminals and thugs, I take it?" Strange thankfully seemed to 'get it' immediately.

 

Matt gave a tiny, singular nod, "The short answer? Yes."

 

Stephen seemed to take a moment to ponder the short response, then clarified, "I was only curious. Kind of a shame, though--to have to dress so intimidating. You seem like a nice enough gentleman to me."

 

An almost unnoticeable smirk played at Matt's lips at the compliment, but a second later, it was gone, "I wish that were true."

 

The vigilante could imagine the puzzled look on the sorcerer's face as he asked, "And why wouldn't it be?"

 

Matt's shoulders sagged a bit as he shook his head, "Let's just say I don't always have the best track record of keeping my temper in check. "

 

Bless the doctor's heart, his tone remained un-judgmental as he continued his questions, "And I gather it's only the unsavory types who see it?"

 

Matt grit his teeth as he attempted to give voice to a nagging, unpleasant thought that had been crawling around in his brain and festering there for quite some time. His past sins poked him in the shoulder as he slowly confessed, "I wanna' keep it that way....I try to...but..." He bit his lip, "....I always wonder if I'm ever crossing a line...or what that line even is, and if I've already crossed it."

 

He hid his fidgeting hands in his lap as he attempted to salve his conscience, "....but I can't just stand by and listen to innocent people suffer. Not when I can do something about it."

 

He scrunched his unseeing eyes shut as though he were desperately trying to hold back a caged beast, and for a moment, he wondered if the building heat he felt was from the fireplace, or the flame burning inside him. Very quietly and carefully, he grumbled, "Even if it means having to take this...this fire..." He searched for the right words, "...this....devil inside me...and try to wrangle it into a force for good."

 

To the few people who knew of his dual identity, he routinely claimed to them (and to himself) that he didn't enjoy his "job" as it were. The reward of saving a life, yes....but the price that came with it...the process of having literal blood on his hands as he used his fists to dispense justice...or what he believed to be 'justice', anyway...the notion of one day honestly smiling as his fingers met someone's chin is what truly frightened him. And from what clues he could gather, he surmised his mysterious host would somehow understand this. It was one of the few reasons he was being as forthcoming as he was about that which haunted him.

 

Evidently, his gut instincts didn't fail him, for he could feel Stephen staring at him for quite a long moment, and the sympathy and consideration that came though his voice was palpable, "I won't claim or pretend to know what sort of adversity you've faced or been through....but....try not to be so hard on yourself. You're taking on a never ending, mostly thankless task that no one else can or WILL do. We're all walking a fine line of moral ambiguity."

 

"We?" Matt raised a brow.

 

The magician slipped into parental mode again, "You know what I mean."

 

It took a second for the vigilante to puzzle it out. When he did, he said with firm conviction, "I'm NOT an Avenger."

 

"Neither am I", Strange seemed just as assured in his own answer, "But like it or not, we've both joined a pantheon of 'gifted beings', as it were." He was clearly contemplating if such a turn of phrase were accurate, but pressed onward, "And from what I can glean from the reports and from last night, you have your morals and you stick to them." A hesitant pause, and then, "You've never killed....correct?"

 

"No, I haven't." Matt shook his head; his relief only slight, "Came pretty damn close....but no."

 

For a long beat, Stephen remained uncomfortably quiet....and then let out a pained and guilty sigh, "Well...then you've already got a pillar over me."

 

Even the devil could be taken aback by such a deadly admission. And from a doctor, no less. Mouth falling open, all he could muster was a breathless and stunned, "....YOU...?"

 

The sorcerer was obviously disgusted with himself, as attested by his culpable, halting words, "Once. I was being attacked. My life was threatened. Others as well....self defense."

 

The desperation of wanting to assure his guest that they weren't under the doting care of a raving murderer was evident in his tone. And though the doctor's ever steady pulse sang the truth, Matt was left to wonder how well ancient sorcery would hold up as an excuse in court.

 

But before he had a chance to peg him for more details, Stephen continued, "I think about that every time I leave the house...every time my services are called upon....with all the new responsibilities I've taken on, I wonder how much of my original Hippocratic Oath is left." His voice dropped to a near whisper as he articulated something that was undoubtedly weighing on his heart for some time, "What do you do when you have to face a monster...something impossible....and the values that were once so clear to you get dashed to the winds?"

 

Murdock speculated if the magician was invoking some of those so-called mind reading powers he mentioned the previous night, though he somehow doubted it, if the man's constant honesty was any indication. Becoming a walking paradox of being a vigilante lawyer ensured he knew the feeling EXACTLY. From the first time he put on a mask, to his final, fateful confrontation with Fisk, his dualistic dance between what was lawfully right and what was morally right was a continuous struggle. And with that, the unease that shot through him earlier upon learning of the doctor's past deadly action faded...but only slightly.

 

Strange pierced the quiet with an awkward, "Didn't mean to go off on a tangent. Sorry."

 

"Don't be", Matt replied--appreciating the man's truthfulness. If anything, Stephen reminded him a bit of Father Lanthom dispensing advice.

 

The comparison was never more apparent than when the sorcerer spoke next, "All I'm trying to say is....well....a wise person once told me that....we never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them."

 

Matt had no clue what to say to such a phrase that was somehow ominous and reassuring at the same time. He rolled the words around in his head; wondering if he had inexplicably been handed a new mantra to live by.

 

When he remained silent, Stephen went on talking; his tone becoming even more portentous, "Besides, my travels have taken me to some truly foreboding places that be glad you can't see. I've personally seen the devil with my own eyes....and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that you're most certainly NOT him."

 

The sentiment gave a tiny bit of comfort, but Murdock was still left intrigued at what the doctor possibly meant. He had asked the same of both Father Lanthom and himself, and the impressions of such an evil spirit were rather different for each of them. What horrors did this magician possibly face to make him say such a thing?

 

But rather than force an explanation out of the man, the vigilante instead asked, what he believed to be, the more pertinent question, "So what did you do when you faced him?"

 

Stephen swallowed a lump in his throat; no doubt dredging up awful memories as he muttered,  "....I made a bargain. Trapped him and left him begging until he promised to leave the innocent alone."

 

Matt could've swore the clock stopped. He wasn't sure what answer he was expecting, but that wasn't it. Bewildered, all he could muster was, "And....you let him go?"

 

The sounds of churning metal reached the blind man's ears as Strange clenched and unclenched his damaged fingers--his tone taking on a threatening edge, "....he knows if he wants to harm anyone, he has to get through me first....and I'll die thousands of times before he lays a foot in my home."

 

In that moment, Matt prayed that a certain crime lord was aware of this very same promise that the vigilante, in his own way, also lived by. It stood to reason that some higher power ensured that he and the sorcerer crossed paths, if it led to such reassuring, comparable thoughts being exchanged.

 

And speaking of thoughts, a clear image--an actual, honest to God IMAGE--one he had to fight to never lose--appeared in his mind's eye. Memories of his father as he stitched him up after another ill-fated fight; hearing advice that he didn't quite understand at the time, but now took to heart. His dad mumbling through a bruised jaw and bloody nose, "Sometimes, even when you lose, you win."

 

He didn't even realize he had spoken his thoughts aloud, for the doctor suddenly asked, "A wise person once tell you that?"

 

Matt's heart skipped a beat. He gave a singular nod, "VERY wise...."

 

They both sat and basked in the melancholy air for another minute....

 

....and then Stephen abruptly developed a case of mood whiplash when he unexpectedly perked up, "Then perhaps we can talk more over some sandwiches. Care to join me for lunch?"

 

Even while blind, Matt had to blink away his surprise--not anticipating such a dramatic change in tone. But in a weird way, it was understandable. The magician clearly wanted to get off the dark subject, and frankly, Murdock had enough angst for one day too. After being ambushed, stabbed, carted around, and subjected to magic, he just wanted nothing else but to go home and crash at his apartment.

 

Still, the promise of lunch made his stomach growl loud enough that he was certain even the doctor could hear it. The offer was sorely tempting....but...

 

"Thanks, but I don't wanna' impose on you anymore. You've done more than enough", Matt gave a polite smirk, then jerked his thumb behind him for emphasis, "And in any case, I gotta' get back. I got other....obligations."

 

"I understand", Strange said, "Though you're certainly not facing the November air with no shirt now are you?"

 

All at once, the vigilante remembered the unfortunate fate of his protective suit, and his face fell in what was probably the most obvious "oh crap" expression.

 

The sorcerer gave an amused chuckle, "I have you covered."

 

Just then, a soft bundle was dropped into Matt's lap, and he curiously ran his hands across the fabric, "What's this?"

 

"A simple tunic. Should be enough to get you home. Even made sure it was red", the doctor explained, then added in a bit sheepishly, "Well, it's more of a wine red, but it's the closest I could get to matching your suit. Either way, you can keep it."

 

Murdock nearly laughed at the man's stickling for details, even knowing full well he couldn't see the colors, but appreciated the effort all the same. He briefly probed at the shirt--a mix of silk and some other textile he wasn't sure of. But the material was light, yet deceptively warm, and beggars couldn't be choosers. He slipped it on; momentarily fumbling with the odd sashes and belt, then set off to retrieve his boots that were busy drying by the fire.

 

At the same time, Stephen also rose to his feet and cleared his throat, "Now...about your ride..."

 

"Yeeaaah....I think the cabbie is gonna' have some questions..." Matt's sarcasm was only putting it mildly. As he tied his shoes and stood up, a more pressing mystery came to mind, "...which, by the way, how did you get me here to begin with?"

 

Super senses or not, he just KNEW Strange was raising an eyebrow at him, "You want the short version or the long version?"

 

Why did Matt even open his mouth? He sighed, "Lemme' guess...magic?"

 

"Magic."

 

"Right...."

 

The vigilante threw his head towards the ceiling and gave his best "why me?" face. In response, the doctor sighed, "I WOULD just transport you directly home, but I'd need one of your hairs to invoke a tracing spell which could then--"

 

Matt glared in his general direction, and Strange's words died on him, "....or...I would just need to know your address. But I doubt you'd want to tell me that."

 

The sorcerer's partially disappointed tone caused Murdock to ease up a bit. It felt wrong to still be a bit stand-offish with the guy after being treated with so much generosity. With that in mind, a small part of him DID wish to tell him....

 

...but an even bigger part warned him to still be cautious. For now, he'd play it safe. The fact that he allowed this man to get so close and told him so much was a feat in and of itself. One baby step at a time.

 

"You can just drop me off where you found me", the vigilante finally answered, "I can huff it from there."

 

"Very well", Stephen said, "Rooftop or street?"

 

Matt wondered if the doctor was joking or not, considering how disheveled he must've looked. Either way, he smirked for a second, "Rooftop, please."

 

Without another word spoken, the vigilante could sense the doctor taking a few steps back.....and then, there came an odd sound just behind him--a soft, continuous hiss and crackle akin to Fourth of July sparklers....and then suddenly, he was hit by a stream of cold air, and he turned around in total confusion. For lack of a better definition, a hole had opened up--much like opening a door that he knew wasn't there previously. He could feel the temperature difference and sense the change in the air currents and pressure, or rather, he could sense how majorly wrong it was--a literal circle with its own temperature and pressure and gravity and altogether physics was just sitting there like an open wound in the very fabric of reality.

 

If Foggy's love of sci-fi films was anything to go by, the sorcerer had just created a wormhole.

 

Jesus.....

 

But after the night he had to endure, his mind was too tired to even question it anymore. His only concern at that point was praying that when he inevitably had to walk through the damn thing, that he wouldn't be transported into some deeper level of the Twilight Zone. So instead, he turned back to face his host and shrugged, "So what do I owe ya', doc?"

 

"Bearing in mind it was MY oversight that got you into this mess, if anything, I'M the one who owes YOU", Strange let his feeling of indebtedness flow through his words, "Consider it a free consultation."

 

Once more, Matt sincerely hoped this wasn't just some death-induced dream. His luck had never treated him this kindly, and he prayed it was a good omen of things to come. Not knowing what else to say, he tried to express all his appreciation into a singular, grateful smile, "Thank you....for everything."

 

He held his hand out, to which the magician replied, "You're very welcome."

 

Stephen took the offered hand gracefully and shook it. Only then did Matt realize the man was now wearing gloves. To protect his (still trembling) hands? Or to (unsuccessfully) try to hide his scars that he (most likely) unintentionally exposed to him the previous night?

 

Matt didn't hold it against him. He knew all too well that everyone had their scars. He trusted that someday, he'd find out the full story.

 

As their hands parted, he felt something being slipped into his palm. A piece of paper? No--a card. And the sorcerer confirmed it when he replied, "And by the by, here's my address if you want it."

 

Matt nearly chuckled. Really? Of all the bizarre things he was subjected to over the past 24 hours, the fact that a doctor who practiced the mystic arts carried business cards was the thing that weirded him out the most?

 

He was just about to remind said-physician about his little visual impairment, when Strange suddenly gasped, "Oh, wait. My mistake. Give me a moment."

 

Quickly, the magician snatched the card back from his guest, and Murdock tilted his head to listen as his host rubbed the card between his hands. A few twinkling noises later, the slip of paper was handed back to him, along with an apology, "There we are--nearly forgot."

 

The vigilante raised a brow; wondering what that little hang up was all about....until he gave the card another inspection, and his mouth dropped open a moment....

 

It was now written in Braille.

 

More magic....damn.

 

Heh---magical AND accessible. He liked this doctor.

 

He ran a finger over the all-familiar dots:   177A Bleecker Street. Greenwich Village.

 

Dang. He was REALLY far from the Kitchen. But at least he was still on Earth, so he had THAT to be thankful for. 

 

As he slipped the card into his pocket, his thoughts were broken when Strange assured him, "If you ever require assistance, or need sanctuary...or just a quiet retreat, the sanctum is always open, friend."

 

Friend.

 

That was twice now that the sorcerer used it. Murdock hung on that one word for a long moment; contemplating it and the previous evening....

 

And then he sucked in a hopeful breath; said a prayer in his head, and took a leap of faith:

 

"Matt."

 

He could hear the smile in the doctor's voice, "Oh...well...a pleasure to meet you, Matt."

 

It was a start.

 

As he turned back towards the (admittedly intimidating) portal, Stephen called over his shoulder, "Take care of yourself."

 

Murdock almost said "I will", but he wasn't certain how well he could keep that promise.

 

So instead, he went with, "You too."

 

And with one last thankful wave goodbye, Matt held his breath and stepped through the swirling vortex. A portal that felt like walking through a normal doorway in one's house....

 

....until he was momentarily thrown off balance when his senses were suddenly bombarded by everything outside--sounds and sensations that were completely cut off from him just a second ago. For a second, he wondered if his host felt the need to prank him and toss him out on the sanctum's front stoop or something....

 

....until he heard a mixture of sirens and voices coming from far below him. One of them was the familiar voice of Brett Mahoney.

 

The police, then. HIS police. Hell's Kitchen. He was home. FINALLY home. And as promised, the Twilight Zone door DID deposit him on a rooftop....

 

...one that was thankfully opposite to the warehouse that nearly claimed his life. He had gone there so many times, he knew it's after-smell of long destroyed drugs and fire damage anywhere. He sat at the edge of the roof, just out of sight of any curious flatfoots who decided to glance up, and listened in on the police radios. They babbled on about a reported disturbance the previous night--weird sounds and flashing lights and some undetermined explosion. They were left scratching their heads as to what happened, but Brett was resolved to make sure that this incident would mark the final push to have the trouble-inducing spot demolished. Matt smiled to himself; it was at least one less thorn in his side to worry about now. Mission accomplished, then...even if it was accomplished in a painful, roundabout way he didn't expect.

 

He also didn't expect to hear a phone ringing, and it took him a second to realize it was his own. He pulled out the (surprisingly) fully intact burner phone from the leg pocket on his pants and, not really knowing what to expect, answered with a slightly confused, "Hello?"

 

A voice more recognizable to him than any other responded, "Well, well--speak of the devil."

 

Foggy.

 

He let out a sigh of relief of being back in his neighborhood and finally hearing someone familiar. FINALLY, something close to normal again...or, as normal as one's life could be when they spent their evenings putting on a costume and roughing up criminals. Fearing the argument he knew was coming, he nearly groaned, "Please, no jokes."

 

"Wish it WAS one, pal", his law partner was clearly trying to contain his river of worry that always spilt over when Matt got too banged up, "Do you remember what we agreed upon? About checking in after one of your little 'nighttime adventures'?"

 

"I do", Murdock winced--only then realizing his mistake.

 

"Well then, I hope you got a solid defense prepared for why I called you no less than four times this morning and got no answer", Nelson snapped, "And don't even try the 'my battery died' excuse."

 

Matt REALLY didn't want to tell him that more than just his phone battery could've died last night....but he promised to be totally honest with his friend ever since his secret was let out of the bag. If Foggy put up with his vigilante shenanigans, then he at least owed him an explanation.

 

Rather than try to wrap his head around how that supposed magical barrier must've also been blocking out any phone signals, Matt released a heavy sigh, "Look, Fog...I...had a really strange night last night."

 

His right hand to God, he was NOT trying to make a pun. He nearly laughed anyway.

 

"Strange enough that a nurse had to stitch you up?" Foggy was nothing but suspicious of the level of his friend's latest injuries.

 

"Something like that..." Murdock shrugged, then added in a desperate attempt at keeping the conversation light, "....but if it makes you feel any better, I went to Greenwich Village for the first time."

 

There came a long pause on the other end of the line. No doubt Foggy's brain was trying to process info that did not compute. And then, suddenly, he answered excitedly, "Okay. You and me. Drinks. At Josie's. Tonight. I want every last physical detail, ya' get me?"

 

Matt finally let out a full hearted laugh--one he didn't realize he needed after such a crapsack of a battle that led to such a weird, but eye-opening night (and again, he swore to himself he WASN'T trying to make puns). Through his chuckling, he said, "It's not like that. I was just doing what you told me to do."

 

He was sure Foggy was doing a double take on his end of the phone, "Really? Am I hearing things? You're ACTUALLY listening to me? You mean you're finally gonna' settle down and be a mild mannered lawyer like a normal person?"

 

Foggy had no clue how much he really DID entertain that dream time and again....

 

.....but then he overheard the police down below and the new call they had to answer, and he remembered it was only a dream. He let out a tired puff of air, "Maybe someday....but no."

 

And yet, in that moment, he couldn't find it within himself to be as melancholy as he might've normally been when he considered such thoughts. He found himself pulling the doctor's card out of his pocket and running his thumb over it again---tracing the bumps that felt more like a personal signature. He caught the faint whiff of herbal tea still lingering on the paper...

 

And he smiled.

 

"I was just...making a new friend."